Wild Westerns, part 3

Good the Bad and the Ugly stillRead part one of this article

Read part two of this article

Today dubbing scripts are translations from the original language into words and phrases which, when spoken, match the filmed lip movements, and with the new electronic equipment that can split a word in half and slug in a syllable, a good dubbing job is hard to tell from an original sound track. The big advantage of dubbing is that since a picture can be shot virtually as a silent film, there are no problems either with noise or with actors speaking different languages.

The projection room at Fono-Roma Dubbing Studio was dark. Rod and a tall cowboy actor stood at two lighted podiums, facing the screen. The cowboy had a hangover and was gripping the stand, trying to steady his nerves while he looked at the script in front of him.

At the side of the room, with his dog at his feet, John Gayford, the dubbing director. Gayford’s job is to help the dubbers synchronize their speeches with the lip movements on the film, and he is allowed to make on-the-spot changes in the script when necessary. In the scene they were doing that morning, a man about to be shot was digging his own grave. In the script, the gunman about to kill him said, “OK, half-breed, you’d better say your prayers.” Watching the film closely, Rod tried the line. It didn’t work. It was too short. The lips on the screen were still moving after Rod stopped talking. Gayford said, “Change the ‘OK’ to ‘all right.’ And try a chuckle on the end.” They ran it once, twice. The third time it was perfect.

During a break, Gayford told me about his favorite bloopers in Italian Westerns. “A few months back, we had a film with a big 1870 cavalry charge. Right up in front of the cast of thousands in glorious Technicolor, the American flag was flying-with fifty stars. Another time we had a film with a flag showing thirteen stripes and only seven stars.” He drew me a picture showing two stars on the top row and one on each of the five rows underneath. It turned out the Italian researcher on the film had found a World War II photograph of an American flag that had been shot to pieces, and thought it was the official flag.

At the Doney that night, I told Jennings Clayton I was getting tired of running around in circles and asked if he’d heard of The Greatest Robbery in the West . He hadn’t, but said he would drive me out to Cinecitta the next morning and help me check it out.

Jennings showed up at 8 a.m. in a sleek black Lincoln long enough for Al Capone. Half an hour later we cruised through the main gate at Cinecitta, passed rain-streaked and faded Corinthian columns from the Cleopatra filming days, passed a German tank with busted springs sitting low in the tall weeds outside a mock-up of Buchenwald, and headed toward the back of the big lot. We turned a corner, and there at the end of rutted dirt street complete with saloon, church, general store, blacksmith shop and sheriff’s office were an Arriflex camera, actors, grips, horses and manure. It had to be a Western!

I thanked Jennings.

“Glad to do it.” He skinned the cellophane from a cigar. “Listen, do me a favor. Don’t mention my name in your article. I probably talk too much.”

“How about a phony name?”

“OK. Make it Clayton. Jennings Clayton.” He winked. “Got a nice ring.”

I clicked my ballpoint, checked my note pad, and hotfooted it down the street. Sitting with his feet up on the porch rail of the general store, with a Franciscan monk’s robe pulled up to his waist to keep cool, was Hunt Powers. It was The Greatest Robbery in the West. Hunt invited me into the shade of the porch, bought me a Coke and introduced me around.

The director, Maurizio Lucidi, who got his movie training cutting film for Orson Welles, speaks English, Spanish, Italian, French and German. When I explained my assignment, he looped his arm over my shoulder, gave me a script to read and told me to talk to anyone I wanted. Said the movie was going to be great-a combination of Desperate Hours and High Noon -a sure sale to America and a natural for a television series. I went out behind the set with the script, a hunk of cheese and an apple. Strange choppy story, strange bad dialogue. A sample of Italian 1880-Western conversation: “As soon as the guide comes, we cut out.”

When Lucidi asked me what I thought of the script, I told him I didn’t like it much.

“Don’t worry. We’ll change it as we go along. You won’t recognize it when we’re through.”

I asked him why have any script then?

“We need an idea where we’re going. Watch a few shots. You’ll understand.”

A scene was set up. The camera, the arc lights and the reflectors were pointed at the porch of the general store. Leaning and sitting on the porch rail and steps were Erika Blank from Trieste, who speaks Italian; George Hilton from Uruguay, who speaks Spanish; Katia Christine from Holland, who spoke French on the set; and Hunt Powers and Walter Barnes, another American, who spoke English. As the reflectors were jockeyed to catch the sun and kill the shadows, Lucidi shouted ” Silenzio!” Then, ” Luci!”

The lights came on. “Azione!” The scene began.

Lucidi was everywhere, begging for more enthusiasm, more humor, more pathos, understanding. The actors’ different languages mixed in the air. Checking the Italian version of the script, Lucidi moved his hands apart and together, indicated how long or short each speech should be.

Between takes I asked him who should be starred. “We have three stars,” he said. “In Germany, Walter Barnes gets the top billing. He has a big following up there. If the film goes to Spain, George Hilton becomes the star. If America, Hunt Powers. It’s really up to the distributors; they decide who will bring the public in.”

Mr. Mattei, the producer, wearing a plaid suit, dagger-pointed shoes and wraparound dark glasses, was stalking back and forth, measuring the minutes and computing the cost of every take. Jennings Clayton told me that Roman producers often have only enough cash to film for a few days. By showing the first week’s shooting to the distributors and angels, they may be able to finance the second week. The pressure is incredible, the scramble continuous.

Read part four of this article

About Matt Blake 889 Articles
The WildEye is a blog dedicated to the wild world of Italian cinema (and, ok, sometimes I digress into discussing films from other countries as well). Peplums, comedies, dramas, spaghetti westerns... they're all covered here.

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