Monday, August 26, 2013

John Landis and the Spaghetti Western

'John Landis In Toronto. July, 20, 2013, at the TIFF/BELL Lightbox'
by Michael 'Biltmore' Ferguson, with notes by Meredith Usher.
In late July Hollywood director John Landis (1950- ) was in Toronto, Ontario, Canada at the 'Animal House' reunion at the TIFF Bell Lightbox cinema. It had long been rumoured that Mr. Landis had been in Europe as a young man working both as a stuntman and as a crew member. First news of this came on the web-site Trailers from Hell which posted a short interview with Mr. Landis where he talked about his early career. At first we were all shocked by the news that he had appeared in 'Once Upon a Time in the West' (1968) Could this be true? We wondered, why would he make this up? It sounded so out-there that it had a ring of truth to it. After this evening with the man himself, it can be told that all of his remarks were true. He told the audience about working in Europe. He went over in 1968. He was most proud of having worked on the Sergio Leone's masterpiece, where he appeared in numerous background scenes as an extra and as a stunt-man. He said that he lived in Almeria, Spain for about two & a-half years and worked on over 50 movies (totaling about 70 different scenes, or days of work). He didn't keep track. Mostly they were westerns, with the occasional pirate and modern-day actioner thrown-in for good measure. He said to the crowd that he and the other 'foreigners' would get offered work as day-players. Rarely were they told what the film was called. Sometimes they would get called back and only then they would figure out that it was for the same film that they had already worked on. Being an American he quickly became a valued commodity on the 'Hollywood' productions that had set up shop in the south of Spain. Too bad he didn't keep a list...

If you go to either the IMDb or Wikipedia you get a hint at a few of the other titles that he worked on. The wiki info seems to be more reliable than the credits listed for him on the IMDb. Go figure. Wikipedia has him down for the westerns John Guillermin's 'El Condor' (70), Robert Parrish's 'A Town Called Hell' (71), Terence Young's 'Red Sun' (71) and Michael Winner's 'Chato's Land' (71). All of these films were shot in the period that Mr. Landis said he was staying in Spain. Wiki even includes a nice quote from Landis on how Toshiro Mifune ran him through with a sword on 'Red Sun'. The Internet Movie Database has Mr. Landis lists the same films as Wikipedia, but also credits him for two dubious entries. They start off his European vacation with Sergio Leone's 'The Good, The Bad and The Ugly' (1966), which mathematically isn't possible as Landis has said on numerous occasions that he went over to Europe at the age of 18. They conclude Mr. Landis' stay with Tonino Valerii's 'My Name is Nobody', which was shot a good year after he had left Europe. At the Animal House function he made no mention of either film.
During the winter of 1969-1970 Mr. Landis and a number of the Spanish-based expat Americans (Gene Collins, for one) joined Clint Eastwood and travelled to Yugoslavia to work on Brian G. Hutton's 'Kelly's Heroes'. Once that film was finished Mr. Landis appears to have headed back home to the States, and made a schlock of a name for himself in Hollywood.

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