Behind the Scenes: “Planet of the Apes” (1968)

J. Lee Thompson (The Guns of Navarone, 1961) saw a much-needed boost to a drifting career vanish when he ducked out of this project – he had spent considerable time developing the project – in favor of Mackenna’s Gold (1969). Blake Edwards, first director attached, probably also lamented losing out. This was to have been Edwards last outside film before committing exclusively to Mirisch.

Producer Arthur P. Jacobs, who had bought the rights to Pierre Boulle’s Monkey Planet in 1963, could hardly believe his luck after the calamitous Doctor Dolittle (1967). Unusually, the two films were not cross-collaterized, a standard studio device whereby the losses on one film were played against the profits in the other, which would have almost certainly resulted in no profit payments to Jacobs.

And you could probably say the same for eventual director Franklin J. Schaffner, relegated to television and movie stiffs like The Double Man (1967) after the failure of big-budget historical drama The War Lord (1965) and his abortive attempt to film the Travis McGee novels of John D. MacDonald, whose total sales exceeded 14 million. He wasn’t involved in Darker than Amber (1970), the first McGee title to be filmed. Heston, who Schaffner had directed in The War Lord, pushed for his involvement.

Charlton Heston was also in dire need of career resuscitation, his past five movies – Sam Peckinpah’s Major Dundee (1965), The Agony and the Ecstasy (1965), The War Lord (1965), Khartoum (1966) and realistic western Will Penny (1967) – had all tanked. “In my view,” he opined, “I haven’t made a commercial film since Ben-Hur,” clearly ignoring the success of El id (1961).

And once it became a success Warner Brothers regretted letting it go. The studio had been involved in the project when Blake Edwards was to direct.  The movie was cancelled due to cost – it was budgeted then at $3-$3.5 million – and script and production problems. The studio might also have shied away after learning of the booming budget and lengthening schedule for MGM’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Twentieth Century Fox ended up forking out $5.8 million to turn the project into reality.

As was often the norm in Twentieth Century Fox pictures, studio head honcho Darryl F. Zanuck found a part for his mistress, in this case Linda Harrison as Nova, the mute love interest. She  was a graduate of the studio’s program of investment in young talent. Others included Jacqueline Bissett (The Detective, 1968) and Edy Williams (The Secret Life of An American Wife, 1968).  Had Raquel Welch (One Million Years B.C, 1966) considered the opportunity to don a fur bikini again, it is doubtful Harrison would have won the role. But she turned it down as did Ursula Andress (The Southern Star, 1969). Angelique Pettyjohn (Heaven with a Gun, 1969) was auditioned

Former child star Roddy McDowall (Lassie Come Home, 1943), Kim Hunter (A Streetcar Names Desire, 1951) and Maurice Evans (The War Lord) fleshed out the ape contingent. Ingrid Bergman (The Visit, 1964), also in much need of a career uplift, turned down the role of Zira. Other stars in the frame for roles included Yul Brynner, Alec Guinness and Laurence Olivier. Edward G. Robinson should have played Zaius, but couldn’t manage with the make-up.

Source material was Monkey Planet by Pierre Boulle, author of Bridge on the River Kwai. Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling took a year and a reported 30 drafts to turn in a viable screenplay and the former blacklisted Michael Wilson, whose name had been removed from the credits of Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) and Lawrence of Arabia (1962), added the polish.  Wilson had won an Oscar for A Place in the Sun (1951) and another one for Friendly Persuasion (1956) although that was actually awarded to Jessamyn West since Wilson’s involvement was kept secret. If he had not been blacklisted, he would have been in the unusual position of having won four screenplay Oscars, although in the end the others were retrospectively awarded.

If you were looking for a sci-fi picture with dramatic heft, decent action, mysterious outcome and an examination of the human condition this was a more straightforward bet than 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). While Fox reckoned its previous sci-fi venture Fantastic Voyage (1966) had worked out well, it had reservations about the cost of Planet of the Apes and the possibility of making an ape setting believable. In this case the special effects’ conundrum was make-up for the apes. If they just looked like humans wearing monkey suits the movie would not fly. Fox spent $5,000 on a test with Heston in a scene with two apes before it greenlit the movie.

Faces that could not express emotion and were as stiff as a botox overdose would invite audience ridicule. In the end the studio spent a reported million dollars on pioneering ape renditions by John Chambers, who  previously been a surgical technician repairing the faces of wounded soldiers. He had a team of 78 make-up artists There were almost as many scripts as crew and the changes wrought as the picture moved closer to being greenlit were to switch from a futuristic setting to a primeval one (which, incidentally, saved on costs), covering up the breasts of the female prisoners and inventing the stunning ending.

There were three possible endings, the one shot being that favored by the star.. Heston’s hoarse voice was not in the script, but an incidental by-product of him catching the flu. Apart from studio sets, the movie was filmed in blistering heat in Arizona. The rocket ship crashed into Lake Powell in Utah, ape city – modeled on the work of celebrated Spanish architect Gaudi – was constructed in Malibu Creek State Park, and the final scene was filmed on Zuma Beach in Malibu.

Unlike Fantastic Voyage which told audiences what the mission was, but in keeping with 2001: A Space Odyssey, Planet of the Apes opens with mystery. Like Rosemary’s Baby, the movie is viewed through the eyes of an innocent, one who cannot quite cotton on to his fall down the evolutionary food chain. Albeit more hirsute and muscular than Mia Farrow, nonetheless the casting of Heston dupes the audience into thinking he is somehow going to win, rather than just escape. He is an experiment who has wandered into the wrong planet. But there are few films that can top that shock ending.  And the movie more than fulfills the “social comment,” on which Heston was very keen, contained in the Boulle novel.

SOURCES: Russo, Joe, Landsman, Larry, and Gross, Edward, Planet of the Apes Revisited, The Behind the Scenes Story of the Classic Science Fiction Saga (New York: Thomas Dunne Books/St Martin Griffin, 2001); Hannan, The Making of The Guns of Navarone, 187. “Warners Ape World,” Variety, March 18, 1964, 4; “High Costs Impress Capital,” Variety, March 23, 1964, 3; “Planet of Apes Off for Present,” Variety, March 10, 1965. “Michael Wilson Under His Own Name For A.P. Jacobs,” Variety, December 14, 1966, 7. “MacDonald Novels Cue Major Pictures Corp.,” Variety, May 17, 1967, 5; Austen, David, “It’s All A Matter Of Size,” Films and Filming, April 1968, 5; “Fox’s Talent School,” Variety, June 26, 1968, 13; Film Locations for Planet of the Apes,”

I have to confess this Behind the Scenes article would have been better if I had not loaned out – and never got it back – my copy of The Making of Planet of the Apes by JW Rinzler which was published five years ago.

Behind the Scenes: “100 Rifles” (1969)

100 Rifles was easily the most underrated film of the year. Even if the sum of all its parts did not add up to greatness, it had a lot more going for it than has generally been attributed. For a start, there was the attempt to build Jim Brown into a mainstream African American star. Secondly: the return of the bold female character that had largely disappeared since the heyday of Barbara Stanwyck, and Joan Crawford. Thirdly: the conjunction of these first two elements in a sex scene raised the issue of miscegenation that Hollywood had otherwise sought to avoid.

Fourthly, and perhaps most hard- hitting of all: the issue of genocide, the mass slaughter of the Yaqui Indian population providing an uneasy parallel not just to the United States treatment of its own indigenous Native American population but also to its actions in Vietnam.

But there was a danger that, without both incisive direction and potent performances, the movie would spiral downwards into another simple case of “When Beefcake (Jim Brown) Met Cheesecake (Raquel Welch).” Since nobody had expected Sidney Poitier to ascend the Hollywood ladder so fast, and in so doing set a trend, the industry had nobody lined up to ride in his wake and exploit what now appeared to be, at the very least, acceptance of African Africans as stars in their own right, with an audience ready to embrace a new kind of hero. Although MPAA president Jack Valenti called for more African Americans in more African American films, the number of highly touted big- budget African American–oriented pictures that offered stardom potential rarely made it out of the starting blocks.

But there was one potential crossover star waiting in the wings: Jim Brown. While lacking Poitier’s acting chops, he had the physique, looks and charisma. Cleveland Browns football legend with strong supporting roles in The Dirty Dozen (1967), Dark of the Sun (1968) and Ice Station Zebra (1968), top-billing had been limited to low-budgeters like Kenner (1968), The Split (1968) and Riot (1969).

But Variety had singled him out at the start of 1969 as one of its “new stars of the year” and judged him “the strongest contender to inherit some of Sidney Poitier’s earning power.” 100 Rifles had double the budget of any of his previous pictures.

Raquel Welch was in a similar situation to Jim Brown regarding Hollywood acceptance. However, she was not in a minority as far as female stars were concerned. The 1960s had been dominated by the likes of drama queen (in more ways than one) Elizabeth Taylor,  comedy queen Doris Day and musical queen Julie Andrews, not to mention Audrey Hepburn, (Breakfast at Tiffany’s, 1961), Italian import Sophia Loren (El Cid, 1961), Jane Fonda (Cat Ballou, 1965), Natalie Wood (Sex and the Single Girl, 1964) and Shirley MacLaine (Sweet Charity, 1968). There was also an overabundance of new talent in Julie Christie (Doctor Zhivago, 1965), Vanessa Redgrave (Blow Up, 1966), Lynn Redgrave (Georgy Girl, 1965), Mia Farrow (Rosemary’s Baby, 1968) and Faye Dunaway (Bonnie and Clyde, 1967).

But those stars had more to offer than mere beauty, whereas Welch, having made her name primarily as a pin- up and as eye candy in movies like One Million Years B.C. (1966) and Fantastic Voyage (1966), had trouble shaking off the idea that she won more parts on the basis of her body than for the acting skills, appearing in a dry bikini in Fathom (1967) and a wet one in Lady in Cement (1968).

However, like Jim Brown, she was actively looking to fill a niche, and set out her stall as a player of dramatic intensity, and she found it in the most unlikely of places: the western. That she chose 100 Rifles was interesting given her other choices. She was offered the Katharine Ross part in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid when the lead roles had been offered to Steve McQueen and Warren Beatty and again when Paul Newman came into the frame. She was also up for the Faye Dunaway role for The Crown Caper (title later changed to The Thomas Crown Affair), again with McQueen, and a film with Terence Stamp (which was never made). But she clearly felt those roles were more decorative.

At one time, the female western star had been a staple. Claire Trevor was the star of Stagecoach (1939) and Texas (1941). Gene Tierney made her name with The Return of Frank James (1940) and Belle Starr (1941). Barbara Stanwyck carved out her own niche as a western icon after taking top billing in Union Pacific (1939), California (1947), The Furies (1950), Cattle Queen of Montana (1954), The Maverick Queen (1956) and Forty Guns (1957). While Maureen O’Hara took second billing in Rio Grande (1950), McLintock! (1963) and The Rare Breed (1965), she was the star of Comanche Territory (1950), The Redhead from Wyoming (1953) and The Deadly Companions (1961). Yvonne De Carlo headlined Black Bart (1948), The Gal Who Took the West (1949) and Calamity Jane and Sam Bass (1949). Rhonda Fleming had the female lead in The Redhead and the Cowboy (1951), The Last Outpost (1951), Pony Express (1953) and Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957). Johnny Guitar (1954) achieved classic status largely on the performance of Joan Crawford.

There had even been modern precedent: Inger Stevens had nearly cornered the recent market after A Time for Killing (1967), Firecreek (1968), Hang ’Em High (1968) and 5 Card Stud (1968) while Claudia Cardinale went from a supporting role in The Professionals (1966) to top billing in the forthcoming Once Upon a Time in the West.

Raquel Welch set out to follow suit. In Bandolero (1968) she proved capable not only of holding her own against veterans James Stewart and Dean Martin but as adept on the pistol- packing side of things. While Welch professed herself “no Anne Bancroft,” she was pleased that she was not “running around half- naked all the time.” After that punched a hole in the  box office, she was offered the female lead in 100 Rifles to be directed by Tom Gries who had made his name as a director with his unflinching portrayal of the cowboy in Will Penny (1968).

The basis of the film was Robert MacLeod’s The Californio, published in 1966, and the essence of the story concerned a “reckless stranger” who refused to turn the other cheek while innocent people were being killed. After Clair Huffaker turned in his screenplay, Gries wrote two further drafts. It is safe to assume that the casting of Jim Brown came after the Huffaker script had been handed in. When Huffaker did not like the way his work had ended up on screen, he insisted on using the pseudonym Cecil Dan Hansen, as he had done on The Second Time Around.

For 100 Rifles, he was so upset at the end result that he demanded either his name removed or the pseudonym installed, complaining that the finished product “bears absolutely no resemblance to my script.”

The story of The Californio bears little resemblance to 100 Rifles. Not only is the hero of the book, Steve McCall, white, he is a rawboned young man and not a lawman in his 30s. He is not a gunman either, being more proficient with the lasso. In fact, when forced into bloody action, he discovers that he abhors violence. The book could more aptly be described as a “rite of passage” novel where a young man, sent south “on legitimate business in the interests of the (U.S.) Federal Government,” leaves home for the first time, becomes a man, loses his virginity and kills his first man.

Nor is Yaqui Joe a bank robber in the book, and after meeting up with McCall, they embark on further legitimate business. Maria, named Sarita in the film, is most like her feisty movie counterpart, and although in the MacLeod version she is married, that does not prevent her taking Steve’s virginity. Of the villains, Verdugo (the name means “Hangman”), while not elevated to general, is still as ruthless, but the foreign adviser is not.

Most of the film’s action was invented by the screenwriters, including the concept of the 100 Rifles, Sarita’s sexy shower as a way of stopping the troop train, and the children being taken hostage (although in one episode in the book, children are shot). Trying to reshape the book to suit the new requirements of the characters makes the picture unnecessarily complicated. Burt Reynold’s solution was simpler: “Keep his shirt off and her [Raquel Welch’s] shirt off and give me all the lines,” he reportedly advised producer Marvin Schwartz.

The movie was shot over a ten- week period in Spain beginning in July 1968. Although that country had become a viable alternative for westerns looking to keep budgets low, in part in 1968 due to the devaluing of the peseta against the dollar, the volume of films shot there had declined by nearly a third compared to the previous year.

Despite the popularity of the location, Almeria, the actual area of countryside where most spaghetti westerns were shot, was very small. This resulted in a limited variety of available landscapes compared with films shot in the U.S. such as The Stalking Moon. The actors had to contend with extreme heat, and Gries was laid low for three days after contracting typhus. Gries decided to get the sex scene out of the way on the first day of shooting, probably to ensure that tension about the content was not allowed to linger until later in the shoot. However, it had the opposite effect. Neither Brown nor Welch had been given time to get to know one another nor to adjust to different styles of acting and to understand the perspectives of each other’s characters. Welch was not happy with the scene and tensions between the two stars continued throughout the film, some press reports putting this down to squabbles over close- ups, others to unresolved sexual tension. Welch later complained that scenes edited out of the picture had reduced audience understanding of her motivations. The MPAA also did some judicial trimming, axing Welch’s shrieks during lovemaking.

Critical reception ranged from sniffy to downright hostile. Perhaps like The Stalking Moon, advance publicity, although not this time pointing in the direction of the Oscars, had served to put critics off what sounded like an exploitative film. For the western traditionalist, sex scenes were off- putting, and although naked breasts had started appearing in a handful of movies, there were precious few full- on sex scenes, never mind one that featured miscegenation. Variety judged it a “routine Spanish- made western with a questionable sex scene as a possible exploitation hook.” On the plus side, Welch’s performance was “spirited” as was the Jerry Goldsmith score; Brown and Reynolds were just “okay.” The Showmen’s Servisection took a different view: “Fast pace, fine performances lift western several notches above the ordinary.” Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun- Times called it “pretty dreary.” Howard Thompson, the New York Times’ second- string reviewer, said it was a “triumphantly empty exercise.”

Twentieth Century–Fox had been affected by recent financial disasters such as Doctor Dolittle (1967) and Star! (1968); the former collecting $6.2 million in domestic rentals on a budget of $17 million, the latter $4.2 million in rentals after costing $14.5 million. To counter mounting exhibitor panic about production being slashed, Fox had drawn up an ambitious program for 1969, promising one new movie every month. The program kicked off with a $7.7 million adaptation of the Lawrence Durrell classic Justine with Dirk Bogarde (January), followed by Michael Caine and Anthony Quinn in the $3.77 million film of the John Fowles bestseller The Magus (February) and the trendy $1.1 million Joanna from new director Mike Sarne (March). British star Maggie Smith in the $2.7 million The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (April) came next with 100 Rifles (May) and another Marvin Schwarz production, Hard Contract starring James Coburn, costing $4 million (June). Summer highlights were Omar Sharif in the $5.1 million biopic of Che! directed by Richard Fleischer (July) and Gregory Peck in the $4.9 million Cold War thriller The Chairman (August). Come fall it was the turn of Paul Newman and Robert Redford in the western Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid coming in at $6.8 million (September), Richard Burton and Rex Harrison as aging homosexuals in The Staircase costing $6.3 million (October) and Warren Beatty and Elizabeth Taylor in George Stevens’ $10 million The Only Game in Town (November). The year ended with John Wayne and Rock Hudson in the $7.1 million Civil War western The Undefeated (December).

The studio needed several box office home runs because the following year it was already committed to three roadshows—Tora! Tora ! Tora!, Hello, Dolly and Patton—costing over $60 million. By spring it was clear that the first two movies in the schedule had been major flops, Justine bringing in only $2.2 million in rentals, The Magus $1 million. Income from Joanna and The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie barely exceeded costs.

By the time 100 Rifles swung into action with two largely untried leads and a director making only his second major picture, the pressure was on. “

At the box office 100 Rifles got off to a great start and Twentieth Century–Fox reported with delight that it had outgrossed Bandolero! by 40 percent in Washington (and by 500 percent in the ghetto areas), and by 300 percent in Philadelphia. In Baltimore it grossed $50,000 from a single theater compared to $80,000 from eight for Bandolero! and in Atlanta first run it had been $61,000 for the new film compared to $38,000 for the previous one. However, while Brown and Welch fans were out in force in certain areas, that did not make up for less interest in regions where westerns were associated with bigger or more traditional names. Ultimately, 100 Rifles fell short of expectations given the budget. U.S. rentals amounted to $3.5 million, and it registered in 29th position on the annual chart— the sixth highest- grossing western of the year and ahead of Mackenna’s Gold, The Stalking Moon, Paint Your Wagon and Once Upon a Time in the West.

But, of course, the domestic performance did not take into account the popularity of westerns overseas and the distinct following Raquel Welch had accumulated. So where some of the studio’s major dramas stumbled in the global market, 100 Rifles hit the ground running.

SOURCES: This is an abbreviated version of much longer chapter devoted to the film that ran in The Gunslingers of ’69: Western Movies’ Greatest Year (McFarland, 2019) by Brian Hannan (that’s me). All the references mentioned can be found in the Notes section of that book.

100 Rifles (1969) ****

Highly under-rated but effective western that cemented Raquel Welch’s position as the queen of the genre, established Jim Brown as the first African American action star, scored points for its parallels with Vietnam, and provided the only image of the actress to rival that iconic fur bikini.

Arizona lawman Lyedecker (Brown) arrives in Sonora, Mexico, in 1912 on the trail of half- breed bank robber Yaqui Joe (Burt Reynolds). He finds the Mexican army callously executing Yaqui Indian rebels. To prevent further killing, Joe creates a diversion, which, while failing, permits the captured Sarita (Raquel Welch) to escape. The $6,000 Joe stole buys the titular 100 rifles to help the rebel cause.

Most posters played up the action but here the emphasis is on La Welch.

Helped by Lyedecker, Joe escapes, picking up Sarita on the way. Both Lyedecker and the Mexicans are in pursuit, and the Mexicans soon recapture Joe and Lyedecker, who is now viewed as a rebel. Sarita again escapes. Lyedecker and Joe are returned to the garrison where the Mexicans have taken possession of the rifles. Just as the pair are put in front of a firing squad, Sarita, leading a group of rebels, frees them and steals the weapons.

In retaliation, the Mexicans attack a village, slaughtering the inhabitants and taking the children as hostages. At night, Lyedecker, Sarita, Joe and some rebels capture the garrison before the soldiers return, freeing the children. Lyedecker has been injured in the battle; after Sarita binds the wound, they make love.

When they take the rifles to the rebel stronghold, they discover the rebel leader is dead. For no particular reason, the rebels elect Lyedecker their new “generale.” Seizing a Mexican troop train is pitifully easy once Sarita creates a diversion by taking a shower under a water tower. The empty train is sent cannoning into the town and in the ensuing battle Sarita is killed. Yaqui Joe takes over leadership of the rebels while Lyedecker rides home.

While the capture- escape-chase-capture formula is overdone, the movie’s biggest structural problem is Yaqui Joe, clearly turned into a drunk to avoid becoming a romantic encumbrance for Sarita, leaving the way clear for Lyedecker. His other contributions are to brawl with Lyedecker and try to get the American to give up his quest and stay and help the rebels. There are other unnecessary characters and touches. We know it is a modern western because  a motor car is involved as there would be in The Wild Bunch. The sole purpose of a German military adviser Von Klemme (Eric Braeden) is to act as a sounding board for Gen. Verdugo (Fernando Lamas), whose actions in any case speak louder than words. Railroad magnate Grimes (Dan O’Herlihy) represents equally callous big business. When Americans get drunk in westerns, that usually leads to fisticuffs, but when Indians knock back the liquor in 100 Rifles they act like clichéd drunken Indians, tearing up the town, looting and destroying anything in sight.

These reservations apart, the film has a great deal to recommend it. On the whole, it is well directed, although without much of an eye for landscape. Sarita, wearing a red headscarf, thus  continuously color-coded, is accorded the greatest emotional depth, haunted by guilt for sacrificing her father in the name of freedom: “I helped him to die.” But she has another weapon at her disposal: her body. When captured, she distracts a soldier with sight of her breasts before stabbing him, the shock in her eyes suggests this is the first time she has killed a man.

Although the narrative advocates her as feisty leader from the start, this scene, and in particular her reaction, suggests otherwise. More than capable of taking care of herself, it is she, and not the two stronger men, who effects an escape. When she organizes the rescue of the two men, she’s more interested in the guns than them. But when it comes to children, they take precedence.

The genocide theme, pertinent both to American treatment of its own indigenous Native Americans and to the current war in Vietnam, is raised. It is more trouble than it’s worth for Gen. Verdugo to clear the Indians from their lands and ship them elsewhere, as the Americans had done when putting Indians onto reservations. Verdugo has few compunctions. Unlike in The Wild Bunch and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, here the railroad is a tool of control. Trains loaded with troops and guns (including Gatling guns, also seminal to The Wild Bunch) and artillery can travel with ease across alien territory to keep the inhabitants in check. As exemplified by Grimes, railroads also represent the intrusion of big business into politics and ordinary lives, and the railroad man, while concerned that Lyedecker’s possible execution could jeopardize U.S.- Mexican relationships and, by extension, possible halt the American railroad’s expansion, is ultimately more apprehensive about damage to running stock than the cost in human lives of his partnership with the Mexicans.

There’s a nod to seminal Sidney Poitier picture The Defiant Ones (1958) with Lyedecker and Joe chained together, and the American, initially disinterested in rebellion, only takes up the cause after a child he has befriended is slaughtered.

100 Rifles shares with The Stalking Moon, The Wild Bunch, Mackenna’s Gold, and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid the theme of relentless pursuit, of an implacable enemy, often with justice or morality or power on their side, who will never give up, and, in a twist on this, in True Grit Rooster Cogburn is the one in fearless pursuit.

At the time, in male-dominated society, the sexual centerpiece was Raquel Welch in various states of undress, forgetting that women, too, were apt to be partial to the sight of an unclothed muscular male. It is Jim Brown who is first seen shirtless. And it is Sarita who takes control of the scene, kissing him as a reward “for all the bad things I said to you.” (Another gender twist, for usually it is the man making reparation.) A more tender scene between Lyedecker and Sarita, ostensibly of the more traditional kind, feisty female   transformed into docile housewife by cooking her man a steak invited another reading, more in keeping with her character, not, you may notice, clinging to him, desperate for his love, but happy to enjoy the moment and abandon him when it suits (as Katharine Ross will in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, departing before the outlaws die).

For many, of course, the highlight is Sarita, the leader in all but name, using her body as weapon. As the train approaches the water tower, the soldiers see Sarita standing underneath dressed in only a man’s shirt, taking a shower. The train shudders to a halt for this voyeuristic delight; the camera too, for the audience’s sake, lingering on Sarita’s curves.

Although 100 Rifles is ponderous and improbable in places, with too much emphasis on escape- and-rescue, it certainly achieves its immediate aims, setting up Brown as an action man, giving Welch a role that’s hardly subordinate, ensuring the combination is as sexy as all get-out, while at the same time supplying enough shoot- outs and battle scenes to keep traditionalists happy. As important, director Tom Gries (Will Penny, 1968) is not afraid of using the film to make points, if sometimes a little heavy- handed, about Vietnam and genocide. Clair Huffaker (The Hellfighters, 1968) wrote the screenplay along with Gries based on a Robert MacLeod novel.

All in all, a movie that deserves a good bit more respect.

This review is an edited version of an article that appeared in The Gunslingers of ’69: Western Movies’ Greatest Year (McFarland, 2019) by Brian Hannan (that’s me).

Shoot Loud…Louder, I Don’t Understand (1966) ***

The Raquel Welch picture nobody’s seen. Which is a shame because she demonstrates considerable comedic flair. And there’s a freshness and naturalness – almost a youthful gaucheness – about her that’s lacking in other movies where she was developing her more iconic acting style.

Tania (Raquel Welch) literally bumps into sculptor Alberto (Marcello Mastroianni) when his latest acquisition, an iron gate (locked naturally), blocks a footpath. Intrigued, she enters his Aladdin’s cave of artefacts and is frightened by his mad uncle who communicates via fireworks. With a start like that, you’re either headed for gentle romance between sensible young woman and less sensible artist, the usual on-off on-off scenario, or, this being quirky Italy and the director the even quirkier Eduardo Di Filippo (better known as a playwright – Saturday, Sunday, Monday) it’s going to follow a different route.

While Raquel Welch is for the most part costumed in alluring dresses she does not wear a bikini as in the poster at the top.

And so it does. Alberto thinks he has witnessed the murder of neighbor Amitrano (Paolo Ricci) – blood-soaked glove one clue – but when he confesses it might have been a delusion, something to which he is prone, he is arrested because the dead man was a gangster.  That sets a surreal tone – chairs raining from the sky, anyone?, a coffin full of potatoes, fortune tellers – and for some reason Alberto (who has received a bang on the head) begins to think Tania is also a figment of his imagination.

You can see where that idea came from, the delectable Tania in cleavage-resplendant form wearing dresses with clasps that appear unwilling to do their job. But on the other hand, he is handsome enough, with an artistic beard, and I doubt it would be the first time he had attracted a beautiful woman.

Tania is certainly a character, driving around in a sports car (with pink drapes) that appears to float rather than drive, containing another receptacle for a blood-soaked glove and with hot food in the glove compartment. In fact, she carries around a goodly supply of this local delicacy in case she might feel hungry in a police station or what have you.

Raquel Welch wasn’t girl of the year when this was made but by the time it was released in the USA in 1968 she had made a name for herself, in particular being named Star of the Year by one of the industry’s exhibiting organisations.

There’s certainly a bunch of dream-like sequences. After he finds a bloody knife and bloodied clothes Alberto gets punched on the head by a turbaned man, only to wake momentarily and fan his face with a fan, the kind of imagery Fellini could have dreamed up in his sleep. But this is set against a realistic backdrop, neighbors screaming at each other in the traditional Italian manner.  

So, what we are left with is a perfectly acceptable comedy where Alberto is accused of a crime he didn’t commit but the film might be too Italian for most tastes. This was made before La Welch achieved screen notoriety through the donning of a fur bikini and critics tended to look on Mastroianni (A Place for Lovers, 1968) as a serious actor rather than someone mixed up in this kind of gentle tomfoolery. I thought he was excellent in the role. But that was par for the course here, everyone dismissed.

De Filippo (Ghosts – Italian Style, 1967) didn’t have the kind of critical following ascribed to the likes Fellini and Antonioni so if this fitted into his normal style nobody was aware of it. But I’ve a feeling that this quirkiness was one of his hallmarks.

If you accept it on face value without looking to insert some kind of meaning then it makes perfect sense. As I mentioned, although her voice is dubbed, Raquel Welch (Bandolero, 1968) comes across very well, especially as, despite the enticing attire, she is not required to be all sexed-up or carry the dramatic weight of the tale, unlike the westerns where she is generally an object of lust and continually attempting to assert independence.

Having said that, this is particularly hard to track down, so you might not think it’s worth the bother. But, of course, if you are a Welch completist, nothing will be too much trouble. However, you’ll need to scour the second-hand markets to find a DVD.

Year End Round-Up 2022: Top 30 Films Chosen By You

As is by now traditional (well, it’s the second full year) this isn’t my choice of the top films of the year, but yours, my loyal readers. This is a chart of the films viewed the most times over full calendar year of January 2022 – December 2022.

  1. Jessica (1962). Angie Dickinson plays a young widow who turns so many heads in a small Italian town that their wives seek revenge. The film had debuted at No 30 in the previous year’s chart so showed remarkable staying power.
  2. Once Upon a Time in the West (1969). Sergio Leone’s masterpiece now acclaimed as the greatest western ever made. Top class cast – Claudia Cardinale, Charles Bronson, Henry Fonda and Jason Robards – and one of the greatest scores ever written courtesy of Ennio Morricone.
  3. The Swinger (1966). Ann-Margret sparkles as author reinventing herself by writing a sex novel.
  4. Fraulein Doktor (1969). Suzy Kendall as German spy outwitting the British during World War One.
  5. Can Heironymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humpe and Find True Happiness? (1969). Fellini-esque musical with abundant nudity as writer-director-star Anthony Newley tries to unravel the meaning of life.
  6. Father Stu (2022). Under-rated biopic with Mark Wahlberg as unlikely priest.
  7. Blonde (2022). Andrew Dominik’s controversial reimagining of the life of Marilyn Monroe with Ana de Armas
  8. For a Few Dollars More (1965).Sergio Leone re-teams with Clint Eastwood in the second in the spaghetti western trilogy with Lee Van Cleef as a rival bounty hunter.
  9. A Place for Lovers (1968). Faye Dunaway and Marcello Mastroianni in Vittorio De Sica doomed romance.
  10. Fade In (1968). Burt Reynolds disowned this romance filmed against the backdrop of making the Terence Stamp western Blue but it’s better than he thinks.
  11. The Secret Ways (1961). Richard Widmark in spy thriller set in Hungary during the Cold War and adapted from the Alistair MacLean novel. Senta Berger has a small role. Top film for 2021, so demonstrating the ongoing popularity of films based on the author’s works.
  12. The Sisters (1969). Complicated menage a trois that borders on the semi-incestuous starring Nathalie Delon and Susan Strasberg.
  13. Pharoah (1966). Epic Polish picture about political shenanigans in ancient Egypt. Another film with legs – it was No 3 in the 2021 annual chart.
  14. Water Gate Bridge / Battle at Lake Changjin II (2022). Another epic, non-stop action from the Chinese point-of-view in a sequel to one of the most famous battles of the Korean War.
  15. Harlow (1965). Carroll Baker as the blonde bombshell who rocketed to fame in 1930s Hollywood.
  16. Baby Love (1969). Morality tale as orphaned Linda Hayden tries to fit into an upper-class London household.
  17. Moment to Moment (1966). Hitchockian thriller set in the South of France with adulterous Jean Seberg suspected of killing her lover.
  18. Secret Ceremony (1968). Elizabeth Taylor, Mia Farrow and Robert Mitchum in atmospheric Joseph Losey drama.
  19. Lady in Cement (1969). Gangster’s moll Raquel Welch steals the show in Frank Sinatra’s second outing as private eye Tony Rome.
  20. Subterfuge (1968). Suzanna Leigh steals the show as a sadistic henchwoman trying to prevent Gene Barry uncovering a mole in M.I.5.
  21. P.J. / New Face in Hell (1967). George Peppard taken to the cleaners as down-on-his luck private eye.
  22. The Golden Claws of the Cat Girl (1968). Cult French movie  starring Daniele Gaubert as a sexy cat burglar. This was No 6 last year.
  23. The Gray Man (2022). Spectacular Netflix misfire with Ryan Gosling and Chris Evans as rival assassins and Ana de Armas adding some spice.
  24. The Brotherhood (1968). Martin Ritt Mafia drama sees siblings Kirk Douglas and Alex Cord falling out.   
  25. Some Girls Do (1969). Richard Johnson returns as Bulldog Drummond battling archvillains Daliah Lavi and Beba Loncar.  
  26. Pressure Point (1962). Prison psychiatrist Sidney Poitier treats racist patient Bobby Darin. Very unusual imagery.
  27. The Double Man (1967). C.I.A. operative Yul Brynner battles Russian espionage in Switzerland with Britt Ekland providing the glamor.
  28. Operation Mincemeat (2022). Re-telling of “The Man Who Never Was” World War Two plot that duped Hitler over Sicilian invasion plans.
  29. Orgy for the Dead (1965). Bizarre cult horror tale where most of the female characters appear to be auditioning for a nudie film.
  30. Texas Across the River (1966).  Alain Delon acts against type in Dean Martin comedy western.

Behind the Scenes: “Bandolero” (1968)

A western dream team. Beginning with Winchester ’73 (1950) James Stewart had revived his career post-World War Two with a string of tough westerns and had made seven movies in the genre in the 1960s including The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) and Shenandoah (1965). Starting with Rio Bravo (1959) Dean Martin had made six including The Sons of Katie Elder (1965). Genre debutante Raquel Welch had hit the box office running with One Million Years B.C. (1966) and Fantastic Voyage (1966). Following McLintock (1963) and Shenandoah, director Andrew V. McLaglen was considered one of the hottest western directors around.

Legendary Twentieth Century Fox producer Darryl F. Zanuck put together the cast and director as a “package” before calling in screenwriter James Lee Barrett (Shenandoah) to shape an idea by producer Stan Hough. McLaglen explained: “It was a Zanuck thing from the beginning.” He was working on another picture when he took a call from Zanuck. “I got a six-page outline for a western,” said Zanuck, “and I figure you ought to direct it. James Lee Barrett out to write it and Jimmy Stewart, Dean Martin and Raquel Welch ought to be in it. Nobody else. That’s the combination I want.” McLaglen took Hough’s six-page outline to Barrett who wrote it based on the actors involved.

Originally entitled Mace after the James Stewart character, the movie quickly became Bandolero!, the exclamation mark possibly to differentiate it from the 1924 Spanish picture of the same name which had been made for Metro-Goldwyn (as the studio was then known).

Despite the success of the Matt Helm spy pictures and a number of decent westerns, Dean Martin ceded top billing to James Stewart (had they shared the billing, Martin would have come first in the traditional alphabetical order).

Marc Eliot, one of Stewart’s biographers, arrived at a more unlikely scenario for the movie being greenlit, concluding that because Martin and Stewart had got on so well when the latter appeared on the former’s television show they decided to make a picture together. Given the show was taped in summer 1967 and the movie went into production a few months later it left an improbable amount of time for the picture to be set up.  

Director Andrew V. McLaglen would be reunited with two of his favorite movie characters – screenwriter James Lee Barrett and James Stewart, both key to Shenandoah. The actor had been the driving force behind McLaglen’s recruitment for that Civil War picture. “I just loved working with him,” said the director, “it got to the point where any time he did a movie he wanted me to direct it.” He viewed Barrett as “one of the best dialog writers I’ve ever known in movies.”

Although theoretically, the movie was set up as a package, with stars and director in place, Dean Martin remained a doubt since he was already committed to a film with Columbia that might clash. And Stewart might easily have dropped out if producer Frank McCarthy’s plans for Patton, with Burt Lancaster in the title role and Stewart as General Omar Bradley, had come to early fruition.

Raquel Welch was on a publicity high, featured on 400 magazine covers, generating such industry buzz that she had been named “International Star of the Year 1967” by U.S. cinema owners, her growing screen popularity ranking her eleventh in Box Office magazine’s female “All-American Favorites of 1968.” Dean Martin, incidentally, came ninth on the corresponding male chart, two places above Clint Eastwood, Paul Newman topping the poll.

George Kennedy (Cool Hand Luke, 1967) had small parts in Shenandoah and The Sons of Katie Elder before graduating to second male lead in McLaglen’s previous western The Ballad of Josie (1967). McLaglen, you might like to know, was highly regarded by the trade as “more concerned with entertaining the public than making intellectual and emotional demands on the audience.” Just after the movie’s launch the director signed a two-picture deal with Fox, The Undefeated (1969) next on his dance card.

One of the few studios to persist with a talent school – Welch claimed as the most recent high-flying graduate – Fox gave current student Clint Ritchie a role in Bandolero!, others in the Class of 1968 including Jacqueline Bisset (The Sweet Ride, 1968) and Linda Harrison (Planet of the Apes, 1968). Relative newcomer Andrew Prine had acted with Martin in Texas Across the River (1966) and enjoyed a supporting role in McLaglen war picture The Devil’s Brigade (1968).

As well as genre newcomers Welch and Ritchie, the cast included western character actors like Will Geer (Winchester ’73), Don “Red” Barry (The Adventures of Red Ryder, 1940) and  Harry Carey Jr. who had appeared in three previous McLaglen westerns. Even current “Tarzan,” Jock Mahoney, who played Maria’s husband, had a string of B-westerns in his portfolio. Possibly as important was the presence of James Stewart’s horse Pie, his onscreen companion for two decades.

Shooting began in Paige, Arizona, on October 2, 1967, before shifting two weeks later to Brackettville and the Shaban ranch where The Alamo (1960) was filmed. Parts of the San Antonio de Bexar set were revamped as the Texan town of Val Verde where the hanging in the film took place, while The Alamo doubled as the Mexican village of Sabinas which provided the action for the climax. Seven buildings were added to the San Antonio set including the jail, while a curio shop was transformed into a bank, a gift shop became a hotel and, conversely, an old hotel was turned into a general store. Thirty-five thousand traditionally-cast adobe bricks were made on site to create the dozen buildings required for Sabinas plus the locale’s arch, fountain, wells and wall.  

Other locations included Arizona, Utah and Texas with interiors filmed at the Fox studios. The shootout between the posse and the outlaws was filmed near Turkey Mountain in Texas. The Rio Grande was forded at Devil’s River but Mace crossed the river at Pinto Creek. Glen Canyon National Recreation Area was utilized for the bandit attack and, naturally enough,  for sequences requiring canyons. Other scenes were shot at Lee’s Ferry in Arizona, Balanced Rocks, and Big Water in Utah. But the first time we view Sabinas is an effects shot.

You do wonder why this film entered the studio books as costing $5 million. None of the principals were in the million-dollar salary range and the cost of 40 days shooting at the Shaban ranch was put at $25,000 a day.

The principals eventually enjoyed on-set camaraderie. Initially, Welch was too serious for the others, bombarding the director and more experienced actors with questions about her character’s motivation and psychology. “I wouldn’t say creativity was the primary concern on that picture,” commented the actress. “Barrett was there mainly because everybody said nobody could write dialog for Jimmy like he could. As far as other things in the script were concerned, they weren’t really supposed to be questioned.

“And with McLaglen it was all by the book. McLaglen created a very constrained atmosphere. It was an inoffensive nine-to-five project with a lot of very senior people, the old John Ford gang. Very cliquish. Except for Jimmy who’d always kind of throw out little things. I felt pretty lonely the whole shoot.”

To “loosen her up,” the two stars invited her out to dinner and “got her good and drunk.” Remembers McLaglen, “Dean and Jimmy and I would take Raquel Welch to dinner and we’d kid around with her.” Quite whether that was sufficient to rid Welch of her feelings of alienation was never established. However, she did register that she was surrounded by talent. Stewart “could cry on cue. No mess, no fuss. Just like that you could see tears in his eyes.

McLaglen equally enjoyed an esprit de corps with the male stars. “When I think of my time with Dean, there’s nothing but joy in my heart…without doubt the most conscientious actor I have ever worked with,” adding, “I think Jimmy had more fun on that location than he ever had.”

Texas was chosen for the June 1968 launch on the grounds that Shenandoah had done so well there. Instead of a city-by-city premiere lasting a week with many stars in attendance, the studio opted for a “new kind of premiere,” opening night at the Majestic in Dallas accompanied by a 30-minute live telecast broadcast to 23 Texas television stations. Also available was a 16mm featurette on Welch promising “an intimate look at a new star.” Welch contributed her vital statistics and preferences to a computer program that would help select the winner in a beauty contest to find the woman closest to the star in looks and personality.

Stewart, of the tub-thumping generation, believed stars should hit the publicity trail, public appearances adding 10 per cent to the gross, rather than insisting it was beneath their dignity or not worthy of their time. He claimed publicity tours were “good for the soul. Unless he has a real bitter selfish attitude (an actor) has to enjoy getting out to different parts of the country and meeting people.” Raquel Welch was one of the stars he chided for adopting the wrong attitude with autograph hunters.

Little of the weaponry seen on screen was from the period, the movie being set in 1867. And even the supposed Remington 1858 New Army revolver used by Martin, Kennedy and Welch, was improvised from another pistol. But Stewart used a genuine Single Action Army “artillery” revolver. There was some cheating going on, Martin firing a Winchester 1892 saddle ring carbine, and others using a Winchester model 1892 rifle and a Winchester Model 1873 carbine.

Despite claims by James Stewart biographer Gary Fishgall that the “film opened to near-instant obscurity” Bandolero! proved a solid box office success in the United States, where it was the top western for the year, finishing 18th in the annual chart, collecting $5.5 million in rentals (not gross) and performing very well overseas. It was a signal year for westerns, though some languished. Hang ‘Em High was 20th with $5 million, The Good, The Bad and the Ugly 24th ($4.5 million), Five Card Stud 34th ($3.5 million) and The Scalphunters 43rd ($2.8 million).  In the flop category were Will Penny in 54th spot ($1.8 million), Villa Rides 75th ($1.2 million), Firecreek 79th ($1.2 million) and Shalako 85th ($1.1m).

SOURCES: Gary Fishgall, Pieces of Time, The Life of James Stewart, (Scribner, 1997) p314; Marc Elliot, James Stewart, A Biography, (Aurum, 2007, paperback) p365; Howard Hughes, “Welch Out West Part 1,” Cinema Retro, Vol 11, Issue 31, 2015, p10-17; internet movie firemarms database; “Raquel Welch To Get Int’l Star Award,” Box Office, February 19, 1967, p4; “Mace Retitled Bandolero!,” Box Office, August 7, 1967, pE6; “Cast Patton and Bradley,” Variety, September 20, 1967, p13; “Bandolero! Moves to Texas Oct 16,” Box Office, October 16, 1967, pC1; “Filming of Bandolero! Ending at Bracketville,” Box Office, December 4, 1967, pSW1; “Fox On Texas Trail for Kickoffs,” Variety, May 15, 1968, p32; “James Stewart: Stars Should Tout Films in Television Age,” Variety, May 29, 1968, p19; “Now There’s A New Kind of Premiere,” advertisement, Variety, June 12, 1968, p17; “Bandolero! Dallas World Premiere Covered Live By 23 TV Stations,” Box Office, June 24, 1968, pSW1; “Fox’s Talent School,” Variety, June 26, 1968, p13; “20th-Fox Signs McLaglen to Two-Picture Pact,” Box Office, August 26, 1968, pW1; “Big Rental Films of 1968,” Variety, January 8, 1969, p15.

Bandolero (1968) ****

Darkest – and possibly the most under-rated – western of the decade featuring a top-class cast playing against type, down-and-dirty in its depiction of the itinerant cowboy, an ending you won’t see coming and if it’s not a heretical notion close cousin to the later The Wild Bunch (1969).

Gang of outlaws led by Dee (Dean Martin), condemned to death for robbing a bank, is rescued by his brother Mace (James Stewart) posing as a hangman.  While a posse led by Sheriff Johnson (George Kennedy) is in hot pursuit and the outlaws kidnap as potential hostage recently widowed Maria (Raquel Welch), Mace, sauntering through the deserted town, indulges in a bit of larceny himself.

All head for Mexico, a pitiless region, where the posse are picked off by bandits, the outlaws directed by the native Maria towards a small town which turns out to offer no safety at all. While there’s plenty action, this is more character-based. Mace and Dee are on the Civil War divide, the former (still sporting his Union uniform) riding with General Sherman, the latter with the Confederate Quantrill’s Raiders, despised by Mace as nothing more than glorified killers.

And while they are both outlaws, Mace blaming his situation on the Civil War, they are divided too by a sense of honor, Mace making it a point of principle never to harm women or children, Dee, far removed from any sense of himself, guilt-ridden, past caring, and lonely, can’t remember the last time he was with a woman he respected.

Sheriff Johnson is in pursuit in part due to unrequited love for Maria. Quick to action  in a professional capacity, he is tongue-tied in her presence. Nor has the newly-wealthy Maria much need of a male protector. A whore since the age of 13 to provide for her extended family, sold into marriage nd acceptance that for security not love, she has been, ironically, set free by violent robbery. Dee’s gang views Maria as plunder, rape imminent should the brothers turn their backs. While Maria has little interest in another male protector she finds herself attracted to Dee.

Mace is mostly peacemaker, prodding his weaker sibling into responsibility, trying to instil into him the kind of code by which the likes of The Wild Bunch swore, but, still on the shifty side himself, concealing from the others the loot from his own robbery. But where The Wild Bunch are essentially sanctified by Peckinpah, especially with their hypocritical codes of honor and their unlikely redemption, the lives of Dee and Mace are unfulfilled, lawful or lawless drifters enjoying little of life.

There’s an ambivalence to Mace, theoretically a law-abiding rancher, but apparently turning outlaw on a whim. We are introduced to an impoverished Mace being ripped off for food and accommodation, spending the night in an overcrowded bunkhouse, his Unionist uniform doing him no favors two years after the end of the Civil War in Confederate Texas. He appears less prone to violence but we are not privy to how he persuaded a hangman to part with his outfit. And he’s a mean hand with a rifle, helping his brother escape his pursuers.

You might wonder just how Mace came to be an outlaw when he witters on so often about his God-fearing mother and his upbringing on a farm and you always have the sense he’s part of that woeful Hollywood creation, the “good” outlaw, as if there was such a thing, certainly no sign of him dispersing ill-gotten gains to the poor. He might just be as deluded as his brother.

Of the three, Maria is the most clear-sighted, no qualms about her behaviour, and,  provided with weaponry, perfectly capable of defending herself. Mexican bandits offer her no clemency either, assuming that, escorted by gringos, she has abandoned the land of her birth, or just because any woman is prey.

So it’s a perfect onion of a western, layers upon layers, the pursued needing to defend themselves not just against the pursuers, but bandits lying in wait, and within their supposed close-knit community the brothers guarding against fellow outlaws and protecting the  woman.  

James Stewart (Shenandoah, 1965) played many a tough guy at the reinvention of his career in the early 1950s in Anthony Mann westerns, and while his characters often displayed venal qualities they were not outlaws. Career-wise this was a dicey role for an established western hero. That he brings the common touch that was the hallmark of his original screen persona to this characterisation of an outlaw with a code of honor does not disguise the fact that he is still an outlaw.

Dean Martin had essayed a really mean bad guy in Rough Night in Jericho (1967) but again this was his debut as an outlaw, and a conflicted one at that, enjoying the boost to his self-esteem that leadership brings, but finding himself enmeshed with the dregs of society, and certainly not on the look-out for any acts of kindness or redemption. This is a beautifully nuanced performance especially when he realizes Maria is responding to him.

Raquel Welch (Fathom, 1967) in what amounts to her first major film opposite two Hollywood legends more than holds her own. Not able to rely upon her overt sex appeal as in her previous outings, she portrays an upstanding women, abused by men in the past, determined not to take that route in the future. Alone of all the characters, having accepted her fate at an early age, she has developed a self-esteem not sacrificed to circumstance. The whore and the outlaw might be the oldest trope in the book but it works very well here as two characters find solace in each other.

George Kennedy (Cool Hand Luke, 1967), more accustomed to playing tough guys, leavens his portrayal by appearing idiotic with women. This, too, is a departure for Andrew V. McLaglen. Anyone aware of Shenandoah or The Undefeated (1969) will be familiar with his dexterity for widescreen composition, but here he tamps down on that stylistic device, concentrating more on group reaction and interaction. James Lee Barrett (Shenandoah) wrote the biting script based on a story by producer Stanley  Hough.  

While there’s plenty action it’s not a rip-roaring western, too much character involvement for that, but certainly ranks as one of the top westerns of the decade.

Apologies again for the premature appearance of the blog “Behind the Scenes: Bandolero!” but that will definitely appear tomorrow.

Behind the Scenes: “A Swingin’ Summer” (1965)

Might be a stretch to imagine A Swingin’ Summer has anything of note to add to the momentous cinematic history of the decade except for it falling into a booming phenomenon – the actor-producer. John Wayne (The Alamo, 1960), Paul Newman (Rachel, Rachel, 1968), Jack Lemmon (Cool Hand Luke, 1967) and Kirk Douglas (Lonely Are the Brave, 1962) led the way in actors taking complete control of their careers and putting together the movies they wanted to make rather than pitching up as hired hands.

Dale Robertson was an unexpected entrant into the hyphenate business, never having achieved the marquee clout of others, best known for string of B-westerns and the television series Tales of Wells Fargo (1957-1962). Television could be lucrative, especially if you were the star of a long-running show, but the longer you worked on the small screen the more you jeopardised the continuation of a big screen career. Law of the Lawless (1964) was his first movie for six years.

Advert in “Variety” heralding the arrival of Dale Robertson’s new business.

But Dale took an unusual approach to the production business, planning even more control than his predecessors, by setting up a distribution company, United Screen Arts (“USA” a useful acronym”). He had a simple credo, the “clean family film” seen as niche market worth exploiting at a time when only Disney paid it any continuous attention and when Hollywood stood accused of eroding family values with salacious product.

He had teamed up with Earl Collins, intending to release a dozen pictures a year, claiming their operation would be “the salvation of the independent producer.” On top of that, they spent $200,000 acquiring for U.S. television syndication rights to 39 foreign films starring the likes of Elke Sommer and Bebe Loncar.  There was talk of The Redeemer, a low-budget rival to The Greatest Story Ever Told, of handling British film The Quare Fellow and Tom Laughlin’s debut The Young Sinner which had been languishing in distribution limbo for four years.

But the company’s first move was, as trumpeted, into the family market, straight into the lion’s den with The Man from Button Willow (1965), an animated feature, Robertson lending his voice to the main character. And while the family market could offer substantial returns as Mary Poppins (1964) had proved, there was an even more attractive subgenre awaiting exploitation: the teen market.

Your face looks familiar – Dale Robertson with “billboard girl” Raquel Welch in tv show “Hollywood Palace.”

It was estimated that U.S. teenagers had $11 billion in pocket money to spend on records, clothes and movies. Teenagers assumed to have outgrown the Disney animated features were too young to be permitted entrance to more racy fare. But the Britpop explosion, headlined by The Beatles, had emphasised this market’s buying power.

From just a handful of pictures targeting the older young, there were now close on 20 features heading its way, split almost evenly between beach movies and those featuring pop stars – The Dave Clark Five, The Mersey Beats among other British exports along with Elvis Presley – or movies with little attempt at narrative, no more than a “filmed variety show with little variety.”

These movies exhibited acceptable anomalies, one of which was that the pop stars playing the lead roles retained their own first names in order “to speed up and simplify teener identification with their roles.” Remove parents and the threat of a morals clause, and it was a fresh approach to sexuality, and with nudity never an option well within the Production Code definitions of harmless fun.

AIP had successfully segued from its Edgar Allan Poe line of horror movies to beach pictures. Beach Party (1963), with over 10,000 bookings so far, had kick-started the mini-genre, and another half-dozen AIP offerings had entered the movie food chain. Along the way it made stars of Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello who acted as a junior version of Doris Day and Rock Hudson, bedroom shenanigans reimagined as more innocent beach shenanigans, and instead of being dressed to kill the main characters were as undressed as much as possible, bikinis and shorts the order of the day.

Dale Robertson set out to tap into this market, A Swinging Summer “custom-tailored for the vast teenage audience.” USA lacked the $500,000-$700,000 budget of AIP which permitted the presence of older stars like Dorothy Malone, Vincent Price and Peter Lorre. USA’s aim was, effectively, a C-picture with sunshine and music. Record companies were happy for screen exposure for their artists, so guest spots, which might otherwise have stopped the narrative dead in its tracks, turned into highlights.

With a no-name cast – Robertson knew Raquel Welch from television variety show Hollywood Palace – and a simple location at Lake Arrowhead in California, the movie was quickly filmed in summer 1964 but held back a year. USA managed tie-ups with Suzuki and Yamaha motorbikes, the former promising a free ride to anyone brandishing a ticket stub, and with record company Moonglow, which offered prizes of the latest album by The Righteous Brothers. A press conference and screening was held for 300 high school newspaper editors and Robertson managed to put together a nationwide tour with some of the participants, although its biggest piece of publicity came from a woman who got her finger stuck in the spoke of a steering wheel during a drive-in screening in Milwaukee.

A few years before or a few years after, A Swingin’ Summer would have been support material, speedily in and out of theaters. But riding a short-lived zeitgeist and taking advantage of the unexpected rise in popularity of Raquel Welch it did much better.

There was a saturation release in 71 houses in North Carolina, “impressive grosses” at the Pacific Drive-In circuit, topped by a record-breaking opening in the Crest Theater in Bakersfield, a good $7,500 at the Twin Drive-In in Cincinnati, a very healthy $28,000 in a New Orleans break, and $26,500 from five cinemas in Kansas City. First-run proved hard to come by but it still snapped up $7,500 at the 2,432-seat Fox in Denver. Supporting features included Major Dundee and Wild in the Country.

There were sightings through 1967, no doubt on account of Raquel Welch’s growing popularity. And if it wasn’t a shoo-in for big city center palaces, it found a hearty welcome in smaller operations in small towns. “The best beach picture ever played,” was the opinion of the Fayette Theater in Fayetteville while at the New Theater in Arkansas it was considered “one of the smaller pictures” that outgrossed bigger-budgeted efforts.

But this was a short-lived phenomenon, and within a few years a beach picture would be a rawer affair like The Sweet Ride (1968) and music would have segued from pop into drugs and rock’n’roll.

Dale Robertson’s foray into production was equally short-lived, moving back into television and developing a night club act. The beach genre generated not one long-term talent outside of Raquel Welch.

SOURCES: “Swingin’ Summer Release To United Screen Arts,” Box Office, February 22, 1965, p10; “Advert,” Variety, February 24, 1965, p21; “Teenagers And Their Pocket Money, A Film Market Unto Themselves,” Variety, March 10, 1965, p4; “Kansas City,” Box Office, May 31, 1965, pC4; “Dale Robertson’s Distribution Credo,” Variety, June 16, 1965, p11; “A Swingin’ Film,” Box Office, June 27, 1965, pNC2; “USA’s Summer Starts Strong in Bakersfield,” Box Office, June 27, 1965, pW5; “Swingin’ Summer Set for Pacific Drive-ins,” Box Office, August 9, 1965, pW5;  “Honolulu,” Box Office, September 13, 1965, pW4; “USA’s Swingin’ Summer Opens in 71 NC Dates,” Box Office, September 20, 1965, pSE4; “USA Sets Record Tie-Up for Swingin’ Summer,” Box Office, September 20, 1965, pB1; “USA, KFWB Host Schools To Promote Summer,” Box Office, November 1, 1965, pA3; “The Exhibitor Has His Say,” Box Office, October 24, 1965, pB4; “The Exhibitor Has His Say,” Box Office, September 11, 1967, pA4. Variety box office figures: June 9, 1965, p9; August 4, 1965, p9; September 22, 1965, p9.

A Swingin’ Summer (1965)***

I admit it: spotting this on YouTube I couldn’t resist. After all, someone has to report on the first proper Raquel Welch picture. Plus, I had never seen a beach movie, such a staple of the decade. Plus, depending on your point of view, Raquel gets to sing.

But why waste any brainpower coming up with a new idea when you can recycle an old one – let’s put the show on in the barn. Or a version of it.

Raquel Welch – distinctive in any language.

When their summer plans are dashed, students Mickey (James Stacey) and Rick (William Wellman Jr.) decide to promote a series of beach concerts. That doesn’t sit too well with lifeguard Turk (Martin West) who takes an unwelcome shine to Mickey’s neglected girlfriend Cindy (Quinn O’Hara). Rick, meanwhile, is intrigued by nerdy Jeri (Raquel Welch) but a bit put off to discover she’s more interested in a meeting of minds than anything more obvious, and possibly by her independent, proto-feminist streak, in that she selected him for her “summer romance.”

Just in case you thought there wasn’t much else to do but wait till the wannabe promoters got their act together and people fell in and out of love, there’s a hefty amount of subplot: a fistfight, a robbery and a water-ski version of “chicken.” Plus if there was any chance of you getting bored, house band Gary and the Playboys and a variety of other acts, including as the climax The Righteous Brothers, hit the stage and, in the interests of gender equality, the platoon of good-looking women hanging around are matched by a squad of good-looking men. 

There’s even some effort at comedy, a few pratfalls, mostly thanks to the distractions of Jeri, and one gender-switch sight gag which seemed pretty daring for the times, and even a nod in the direction of health food fads. Perhaps, more surprisingly, are the solid characterisations, the principled Mickey who refuses to sponge off Cindy’s rich father. Discovering she bailed him out behind his back, securing the sum required for the project from her father, he accepts the money as a loan but renegotiates the interest rate.

Jeri is way ahead of her time, analysing the men she fancies and with the repartee to keep them in line. It’s pretty even-handed in the beach costume department, for every girl in a bikini or tight top there’s a bare-chested topless hunk, though it still manages to be overtly sexist, girls needing measured by an obliging male in order to enter a beauty contest.

Scottish actress Quinn O’Hara (The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini, 1966), a former beauty queen and girlfriend of pop star Fabian (Mr Hobbs Takes a Vacation, 1963), must have thought the prospect of becoming the breakout star pretty high, what with her reimagining of the Lana Turner/Jayne Mansfield tight top. Her only rival was the girl playing the nerd who hooked the male lead’s best friend. Ostensibly, the nerd was not much of a part, spouting psycho-babble most of the time.

A nerd is still a nerd, O’Hara must have assumed. Unless she’s Raquel Welch.

Welch handles the dialog very well, probably longer speeches than anyone else, but even with  her horn rim glasses and hair in a bun, and determined to measure potential partners by their brain cells, she stands out as an independent thinker long before she releases her secret weapon, a yellow bikini, and smart enough to work out that if that doesn’t set a man’s pulse racing to head for second base – jumping onto the stage to strut her stuff.

It’s a bit of a stretch to argue that an appearance in a low-budget beach movie ushered her into the Hollywood fast lane, but, hey, timing is everything, especially if you happened to catch the eye of a producer looking for someone to model a fur bikini.

None of the men made much of a splash in the movie business though James Stacy was the male lead opposite Welch in Flareup (1969). Supporting actor Allan Jones was the biggest name in the cast but well past his heyday as a Marx Bros stooge.

Some of the singers were better known than the actors. Topping the bill in that respect were The Righteous Brothers – hot after “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling and “Unchained Melody” – who sang “Justine” (no smash, reaching just No 85 in the U.S. singles chart). Gary Lewis and the Playboys also topped the charts in 1965 with “This Diamond Ring.” But The Rip Chords were coming to the end of their chart life. Raquel’s song “I’m Ready to Groove” did not set the house on fire, it’s fair to say.

Robert Sparr (More Dead Than Alive, 1969) was at the helm. Leigh Chapman (Dirty Mary Crazy Larry, 1974) and Reno Carrell (Winter a-Go-Go, 1965), also the producer,  collaborated on the screenplay.

A harmless curio – a neat 80 minutes long – and if you’re intent on watching a beach movie it might as well be this.

Raquel Before She Ruled

Raquel Welch did not exactly come out of nowhere. Potential audiences had probably seen her image without necessarily knowing her name. In retrospect, she had one of the cleverest build-ups of any new star. Of course, it wasn’t unknown for glamor pictures to pave the way for a new sex-queen, Marilyn Monroe had posed for plenty cheesecake pictures before she hit the screen.

But those kind of pictures did not break out of the confines of cheesecake magazines. Raquel Welch was different. Although she had taken the usual route of an ingenue, bit part in movies and television programs, there was no obvious sign that she was made for bigger things.

Not what you’d expect when you see the term “cover girl.”
And hardly the magazine men were going to buy.

Blink and you’ll miss her debut as a call-girl in A House Is Not a Home (1964). You wouldn’t have seen much more of her in Roustabout (1964) or Do Not Disturb (1965). When she won a role on television, she wasn’t credited much more than as saloon girl (The Virginian, 1964), stewardess (Bewitched, 1964), beauty queen (The Rogues, 1964) or the billboard girl in three episodes of Hollywood Palace (1964-1965).

There might have been an inkling of something in A Swingin’ Summer (1965). Reviews said she “shows promise” and “it’s hard to look away when she’s in view” but this was a low-budget beach movie with little chance of becoming a breakout. (Though by the time it reached Britain in October 1966, she was miraculously the denoted star.)

Amateur photogrpahers of course lived the dream.

And although Welch would later claim all the fuss over One Million Years B.C. took her by surprise, that she was just an ordinary mother of two, that was far from the case, as she was actively involved in trying to expand her movie career, whether with the help of studios like Fox and MGM, or as an independent producer. I mentioned in a previous article that the company she ran with her husband Patrick Curtis – Curt-Wel Productions – was attempting to put together starring vehicles for her. Long before Twentieth Century Fox entered the equation Curt-Wel announced that production would start in fall 1965 of The Other Side of the Fence, an original musical comedy.

Yet, even as her best efforts to improve her career prospects faltered, somehow she seemed to get far more coverage than other young women in her position. You were as likely to find her photo in a newspaper with Salvador Dali (involved with Fantastic Voyage) or Groucho Marx. But while her face adorned the covers of ordinary magazines in the U.S. – Real Story, Intimate Story, U.S. Camera & Travel and she modelled for adverts for Wate-On, it was a different story abroad. Magazines in Europe could not get enough of her, either adorning their covers, or given a full-page feature inside, parading in a bikini or skimpy clothing. No photographic editor on a European magazine turned down the opportunity of a spread featuring Raquel Welch.

Nothing could define the differences between current generations and that of the 1960s – unless anorexia was a hidden scourge – than this advert telling women to get bigger. A more sexist ad you could not find – “a full figure…is a man’s way of judging a woman.” !!!

And despite her lack of proven screen product, she was a guest at the world premiere in London of Born Free, was photographed cutting the cake to celebrate the first anniversary of The Sound of Music at the Dominion in London’s West End and was tabbed as “one of the most publicized stars of the year.”

Whereas features might use her name and explain that she was a rising star, perhaps justifying her presence by pointing to her role (sixth- billed) in A Swingin’ Summer (1965), she was usually anonymous on covers, just the gorgeous woman who attracted buyers on the newsstand.

And if the fur bikini doesn’t attract their attention, thought Hammer, we can always fall back on a more straightforward bikini shot. Tjhis advert appeared in “Variety” – one month
after the initial fur bikini advert.

And while Twentieth Century Fox had her under contract, and could throw out a whole rash of glamour pictures aimed at the glamour market, it was unlikely that more prestigious magazines would come calling. Yet they did. “There is no pinpointing exactly what it is about her,” noted the fawning author of a two-page feature, “Raquel Welch: The Definitive Chickie,” that appeared in the October 1965 issue of Esquire.

But if the journalist didn’t know what she had, Welch certainly did. “I just seem to have glomped on those foreign cats. I’m on every one of their covers,” she explained.

In those more innocent times, an actress might have Playboy sniffing around for a tasteful nude shot, but it was more usual for an actress to only apparently be naked but in reality conceal her entire body either by clever use of her arms or behind a bikini or a skimpy dress. Prior to One Million Years B.C., Welch had often been photographed in a bikini.

Spoof newspaper produced for the Pressbook.

But the fur bikini was something else. The image proved iconic.

Hammer knew and Twentieth Century Fox, the company that had built up Marilyn Monroe on the back of her sexuality, knew it. Welch was signed to a one-picture-a-year deal with the studio but it had exercised its option six months early when One Million B.C. – that remained the title as late as November 1965 – came up as part its contract with Hammer.

One Million Years B.C. received its world premiere in London in December 1966 and opened in the U.S. a couple of months later. The movie had gone before the cameras in the Canary Isles on September 19, 1965. In December 1965, 15 months ahead of the U.S. launch Hammer ran the first fur bikini advert in Variety. How prescient, you might think. The studio clearly knew Raquel Welch in a bikini could sell tickets.

Spot the Raquel.

It just didn’t know which bikini. It followed up that ad with another one of the actress in an ordinary bikini (if that word could ever be applied to how the star wore that item of clothing) standing on a beach in front of a boat. Eventually, of course, studio, exhibitor and public reaction made the decision for Hammer. Fur bikini won hands done.

The poster sold a million copies.

By the time the movie appeared she was one of the best-known women on the planet. If there had been an Internet in those days, she would have broken it. There hadn’t been an image like it since Monroe stood over grate and let the wind blow up her dress in The Seven Year Itch (1955).

Critics tended to be dismissive in the 1960s of anyone who led with their looks but Welch, like George Peppard for example, soon proved she could act, even if that was routinely ignored.

SOURCES: “Review”, A Swingin’ Summer, Variety, March 3, 1965, p6; “Review”, A Swingin’ Summer, Box Office, March 22, 1965, pA11; Advert, Screen Stories, June 1965; “Other Side of the Fence,” Box Office, July 26, 1965, pW5; “Raquel Welch Will Star in One Million BC,” Box Office, September 6, 1965, pW3; front cover, U.S. Camera & Travel, October 1965; “London Report,” Box Office, November 8, 1965, pE4; advert, Variety, December 1, 1965, p21; Advert, Variety, January 5, 1966, p179; front cover, Intimate Story, February 1966; “London Report,” Box Office, April 4, 1966, pE4; Real Story, 1966; “Review,” A Swingin’ Summer, Kine Weekly, October 20, 1966, p22; “MGM Productions Showcase New Talent,” Box Office, December 5, 1966, p12.

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