End Credits #35: Cinema's 2015 Lost Treasures
John Guillermin (November 11, 1925 – September 25, 2015) an incredibly talented U.K. director has died at age 89.
Guest contributor Bob DiMucci has provided this tribute to his motion picture accomplishments:
The Films of John Guillerman
I've been a fan of many of John Guillermin's films. But I'm generally unfamiliar with his early work. His first film as director, 1949's HIGH JINKS IN SOCIETY, did not get a U.S. release. His second film, 1950's TORMENT, was released in the U.S. as PAPER GALLOWS. The film was a story of two brothers, both writers of crime novels, one a fine, upstanding gentleman and the other a moody, neurotic, psychopath. John Wooldridge scored the film.
Of Guillermin’s next three films--the crime drama THE SMART ALECK, the drama FOUR DAYS, and the comedy TWO ON THE TILES (all 1951)—only the latter may have received a brief American release. 1952’s BACHELOR IN PARIS definitely had a U.S. release, by Lippert Pictures in 1953. The comedy had original music by Bruce Campbell.
1952's MISS ROBIN HOOD was released in the U.S. in 1953 by Union Film Distributors. Richard Hearne starred as a writer of stories for a children's' comic. Then he meets Miss Honey (Margaret Rutherford), who encourages him to go into minor crime. Temple Abady scored this comedy.
Guillermin teamed up with Don Chaffey (JASON AND THE ARGONAUNTS) to co-direct 1953’s STRANGE STORIES, which was comprised of two different tales. The film did not get a U.S. release.
OPERATION DIPLOMAT (1953) played in the U.K. and Australia, but not in America. The thriller was scored by Wilfred Burns.
The 1954 family film ADVENTURE IN THE HOPFIELDS did not play in the U.S., but reportedly received a CBS network showing in 1969! All copies of the film were thought to be lost until an American film fan found a copy in a garbage container outside a Chicago television station. He sold it to a UK enthusiast who showed it for the first time in fifty years on 8 March 2002 in the village hall at Goudhurst, Kent where it was originally filmed.
THE CROWDED DAY (aka SHOP SPOILED) was a 1954 drama about one day in the lives and loves of the staff in a large department store. On original release in Britain, this film failed to cover its costs, since Adelphi Films as a small independent studio found themselves unable to negotiate a satisfactory distribution deal with the big exhibitors. Intended (and financed) as an A-feature, it only received a limited release as part of a double bill. The film, which also played in Australia, was scored by Edwin Astley and was not released in the U.S.
In my opinion, despite the fact that there are two separate entries for the films in the IMDB, TORMENTA (“Storm,” in Spanish) and THUNDERSTORM are the same film. They basically share all major production credits. Another clue is that someone has entered “Franco Vich Production Inc.” into the IMDB as one of the Spanish-sounding companies that produced TORMENTA. In clearing up the confusion, it helps to know that Hemisphere Films Ltd., which produced THUNDERSTORM, was a company operated by Mike Frankovich, the husband of THUNDERSTORM’s producer Binnie Barnes.
The film was shot on location in the village of Mundaka (Bizkaia), Spain from late April to late July 1955. Given Mexican-born Christian’s popularity with Spanish-speaking audiences, I suspect that both an English-language and a Spanish language version were produced, with Guillermin and Alfonso Acebal alternating the direction. Both Guillermin and Acebal are credited on the Spanish poster below (the only feature film for which Acebal is credited as director). But the American prints, which were released by Allied Artists in 1956, credit only Guillermin. Note also that the Spanish poster properly spells “Frankovich.” Allied Artists had a pre-production involvement in the picture's making.
The story concentrates on Linda Christian’s character of “Maria,” a woman who is rescued from the sea near a small fishing village. She is a tall, blonde, fair skinned and slim woman who ends up the center of attention for all the men of the town. Her presence threatens the town’s way of life, as she becomes much of a distraction. A British DVD of the film was just issued this past May.
1957’s TOWN ON TRIAL was a crime drama filmed in England. The film opens with a sequence in which a handcuffed man is taken to police headquarters and recounts the events that led up to his committing murder. Throughout the sequence, the camera focuses only on the actors' torsos, avoiding their faces so that the murderer will not be revealed until the end. Similarly, during the film, the killings are shown from the murderer's point of view, concealing his identity from the audience. Tristam Cary scored this film, which was produced by Marksman Films, Ltd. for Columbia release.
THE WHOLE TRUTH was a 1958 murder yarn, based on the 1955 play of the same name by Philip Mackie. It was filmed at the Walton Studios, Walton-on-Thames, Surrey, England. Romulus Films, Ltd. had bought the motion picture rights to Mackie's play, intending to film a co-production with Twentieth-Century Fox which would co-star Stewart Granger and his then wife, Jean Simmons. But the deal fell through, Donna Reed replaced Simmons, and the film ended up being released by Columbia. Mischa Spoliansky scored the film.
Written by Bryan Forbes, I WAS MONTY’S DOUBLE (1958) was the true story of how a low-ranking British officer was recruited to impersonate Field Marshal Bernard L. Montgomery to mislead the Germans about his intentions before the Normandy campaign. The film opens with a written prologue that begins “The story you are about to see is the story of one of the boldest deceptions of our time in which Meyrick Clifton James, late of Her Majesty's Pay Corps, re-enacts his own real-life role.” John Addison provided the score. NTA acquired the film for American distribution and opened it in the U.S. in early 1959, under its original title.
Despite its success in Britain, I WAS MONTY’S DOUBLE did not fare particularly well at the American box-office, so later in the year, NTA changed the film’s title to HELL, HEAVEN OR HOBOKEN, and paired it on a double bill with another 1958 British World War II drama, BATTLE OF THE V-1, which NTA retitled as MISSILES FROM HELL.
TARZAN’S GREATEST ADVENTURE was the first film for producer Sy Weintraub. He would make Tarzan adventures, including the popular television series, throughout the 1960s. Guillermin co-wrote as well as directed the film, which many of the contemporary reviewers and modern critics regard as the best feature in the series. Douglas Gamley scored the 1959 film, which was shot in Kenya.
Guillermin directed Peter O’Toole in his first major role, in THE DAY THEY ROBBED THE BANK OF ENGLAND. The Bank declined to give permission to film its vaults for security reasons, so the sets were based on sketches and old prints from the British Museum of the vaults as they looked in 1900. Edwin Astley scored the 1960 film.
1960’s NEVER LET GO was a crime drama in which a cosmetics salesman sets out to prove to himself and his wife that he is not a failure. John Barry scored the film, but except for the title song, none of the score has been released. The film was released in the U.S. in 1962 by Continental Distributing.
WALTZ OF THE TOREADORS was a 1962 comedy that found “General Leo Fitzjohn” (Peter Sellers) retiring to his Sussex manor to write his memoirs. Unfortunately, his private life is a disaster. The film was based on the 1952 play La Valse des Toreadors by Jean Anouilh. Richard Addinsell scored the film, with Muir Mathieson conducting.
Guillermin returned to co-write and direct 1962’s TARZAN GOES TO INDIA, with Jock Mahoney stepping into the Tarzan role in place of Gordon Scott. Scott had been in six Tarzan films, the last two for producer Sy Weintraub. But Weintraub replaced Scott because he wanted a leaner, less muscular, Tarzan. Scott was able to cash in on his incredible physique by becoming one of the most popular stars in the Italian-made sword and sandal/mythological muscle-man movies. Ken Jones provided the action score, while Ravi Shankar and Panchal Jaikishan provided the Indian music. This was Guillermin's first "scope" film.
1964’s GUNS AT BATASI starred Richard Attenborough as a Regimental Sergeant Major who refuses to turn over a wounded native African officer to rebels in the newly independent country of Batasi. His was the quintessential portrait of the stiff-upper-lip British soldier who does his duty as God and country give him the light to see it. Attenborough won the BAFTA award as Best British Actor that year for both GUNS AT BATASI and SEANCE ON A WET AFTERNOON. John Addison composed the score, and conducted it using the Sinfonia of London.
In 1965’s RAPTURE, Agnes (Patricia Gozzi), a lonely teenage girl, and her father (Melvyn Douglas) befriend an escaped convict, named Joseph (Dean Stockwell), who arrives at their farm in Brittany, France. This art film had rentals of $1.3 million worldwide. Georges Delerue’s score was released by Intrada in 2011.
Guillermin helmed his biggest film to date in 1966’s THE BLUE MAX. The film pulled in $7.3 million in rentals in the U.S. alone.
One of the few Guillermin films that has never had a video release in any format, P.J. starred George Peppard as a New York private investigator who takes a position as bodyguard to “Maureen Preble” (Gayle Hunnicut), mistress of wealthy “William Orbison” (Raymond Burr). Neal Hefti scored the film, which also has never had a release.
Guillermin directed his third film in a row starring George Peppard, with 1968’s HOUSE OF CARDS. In this thriller, Peppard played a young American in Paris who is engaged by the lovely widow “Anne de Villemont” (Inger Stevens) as a tutor for her precocious 8-year-old son. The film played throughout Europe in 1968 before finally getting a limited American release in 1969. Like P.J., HOUSE OF CARDS has never been on video. Francis Lai did the film’s unreleased score.
A decade after I WAS MONTY’S DOUBLE, Guillermin returned to the subject of World War II in 1969’s THE BRIDGE AT REMAGEN. The film told the story of the Allies' attempt to capture the last remaining bridge over the Rhine River in the final year of the war. Apart from three or four large interiors, the film was shot entirely on location. The film's producer, David L. Wolper, obtained permission to use the Davle Bridge, 24 km south of Prague on the Vltava River. Much of the filming, however was carried out in the Czechoslovakian town of Most, 100 km northwest of Prague. There was an unexpected halt to filming in August 1968, when the Russians invaded Czechoslovakia, and all American and British cast and crew members had to be evacuated. A half-replica of the bridge was built near Castelgandolfo, the Pope's summer residence south of Rome, and the film was completed in Hamburg, Germany and various Italian locations. Elmer Bernstein’s score was released by Film Score Monthly.
Guillermin made his first western with 1970’s EL CONDOR, in which an escaped convict (Jim Brown), and a loner gold prospector (Lee Van Cleef), team up with a band of Apache Indians in 19th century Mexico to capture a large, heavily armed fortress for the millions of dollars in gold that are rumored to be stored within. Having built the “El Condor” fort, the producers were so taken with it, they had Larry Cohen re-write the script to have the story focus more on the impressive set. The film was shot in Spain. Maurice Jarre’s score was released by Universal Music France in 2011.
1972’s SKYJACKED was a film torn from the headlines of its time, when airline hijackings were commonplace. Shot on a $2.7 million budget, the film was a major hit for MGM. SKYJACKED marked the film debut of actress Susan Dey, who became best known for her work on television in such popular series as “The Partridge Family” in the early 1970s and “L.A. Law” from the mid-1980s to early 1990s. The film also marked the motion picture debut of Roosevelt "Rosey" Grier, a former defensive tackle for the New York Giants and Los Angeles Rams (1955--1966). Airport scenes were filmed at Oakland Metropolitan International Airport. Perry Botkin, Jr. did the score, of which only two tracks have been released, on a promo 45.
SHAFT IN AFRICA marked the third and final entry in the "Shaft" film series, with Guillermin taking over the direction from Gordon Parks, who had helmed the first two films. It was the only one of the films not to be shot entirely in New York City. African sequences were filmed entirely in the Kingdom of Ethiopia. Addis Ababa was the production center, with the Mediterranean scenes being shot at Massawa, inland scenes shot at Harer, and rustic countryside sequences set in Arba Minch. Additional location shooting was conducted in Madrid, with second-unit filming done in New York City and Paris.
The screenplay was inspired by an actual incident reported in a French newspaper in which a truck crossing into France from Italy was found to contain approximately thirty Africans who had been smuggled into the country on their way to virtually unpaid work. Several reviews of the film remarked on the picture’s timely commentary on human trafficking in Europe. Johnny Pate’s score for the 1973 film is one of the most well-regarded of all of the “Blaxploitation” scores, and was released on CD by Hip-O Select.
From April through June 1973, several major studios engaged in a bidding war for the yet-to-be released, high-rise disaster novel, “The Tower,” by Richard Martin Stern. Soon after Warner Bros. outbid producer Irwin Allen and Twentieth Century-Fox, Allen purchased a similarly themed, but not yet published novel, “The Glass Inferno,” by Thomas N. Scortia and Frank M. Robinson. In August 1973, a Daily Variety article revealed that in a historic first, Fox and WB would join together to finance and release a film to be titled THE TOWERING INFERNO, which would be adapted from both novels. The collaboration came about because of the unique events that led to both studios having the rights to similarly themed novels and the increasingly high cost of action-effects films. Fox had paid $400,000 for “The Glass Inferno,” and WB paid $300,000 for “The Tower.” The cost for the production was set at $11,000,000.
Producer Allen, who had produced Twentieth Century-Fox’s 1972 successful box office disaster picture, THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE, wanted to direct the new film. But Fox was not comfortable with putting the entire production in his hands. It was decided that Allen would direct the action sequences for the film, and John Guillermin would be hired to direct the actors for non-action sequences. With the second units, there were generally a total of four film units shooting at the same time.
In the original script, the role of the fire chief (known at the time as “Mario Infantino”) was considerably smaller. According to Guillermin, the role was offered to Ernest Borgnine with Steve McQueen playing the architect. McQueen offered to play the fire chief if someone of his star-power would play the architect. So Paul Newman was brought into the project as the architect. Both McQueen and Newman were salaried at one million dollars each for their respective roles, as well as a percentage of the gross. McQueen demanded the script be augmented so that he and Newman had the same number of lines. Both actors insisted on personally doing as many of their own stunts as possible, resulting in Newman receiving a moderate burn and McQueen sustaining a sprained ankle that resulted in several days of shooting him in a seated position.
The 1974 film grossed $55,000,000 at the North American box office. John Williams score was released by Film Score Monthly.
The screen rights to remake RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.’s KING KONG (1933) were contested between producer Dino De Laurentiis and Universal Pictures. Universal sought the property as an opportunity to showcase its new sound system technology, Sensurround, which debuted with the 1974 release EARTHQUAKE, and the studio had begun negotiating remake rights with RKO General, the successor to RKO Radio Pictures. Around the same time, however, De Laurentiis signed a $200,000 deal with RKO General and announced his production in May 1975. Universal responded by filing a $25 million lawsuit against De Laurentiis and RKO General, but by early November 1975, a trial date had not yet been set, and the De Laurentiis production was moving ahead with a reported $10-$12 million budget, a first draft of the script completed by Lorenzo Semple, Jr., and casting scheduled to begin December 1975. Universal, which was in also in preproduction on the remake at the time with Hunt Stromberg, Jr., as producer and Joe Sargent directing, made a second attempt to defend its legal rights to King Kong with a federal district court lawsuit that argued the story’s “basic ingredients” were public domain. Universal sought to differentiate Edgar Wallace’s original serial and Delos W. Lovelace’s novelization from the 1933 KING KONG screenplay. On 19 November 1975, RKO General filed a $5 million counter-claim against Universal for copyright infringement. By that time, Universal had titled its production “The Legend of King Kong” and had established a 5 January 1976 start date for principal photography, confident that the film was exempt from RKO copyright because it was based on the Lovelace novel, not the RKO motion picture. However, RKO General sought an injunction against Universal’s production, fearing that a second King Kong release would violate its deal with De Laurentiis.
Meanwhile, De Laurentiis had negotiated domestic distribution rights with Paramount Pictures, and John Guillermin had been hired to direct, though there was no set start date for principal photography. December 1975 brought an additional lawsuit, this time filed by De Laurentiis against Universal with charges of copyright infringement and “unfair competition.” The complaint sought an injunction against Universal “from interfering with the De Laurentiis production,” and $90 million in damages. In January 1976, De Laurentiis and Universal ended their litigations, agreeing that De Laurentiis’ Paramount release would open eighteen months earlier than Universal’s version. It was later revealed that De Laurentiis had agreed to give Universal’s parent company, MCA, Inc., a “significant participation in the gross receipts” of his production.
Universal maintained its original legal battle against RKO General, but in March 1976 it was announced that Los Angeles Superior Court Justice Harry Hupp threw the case out of court, ruling that Universal held no legal claims to the picture. Although Daily Variety opined that a Universal remake of King Kong would never materialize, the studio released Peter Jackson’s KING KONG two decades later in 2005.
KING KONG was filmed over eight months in locations including Los Angeles, New York City, and Hawaii. Principal photography was initially scheduled to begin 15 April 1976, but due to competition from Universal, De Laurentiis pushed the production start date forward four months, to begin on 5 January 1976, even though the sets were not yet constructed and the forty-foot mechanical “King Kong” had not been fabricated. By the time of Universal’s settlement with RKO on 5 March 1976, the production was already well into filming and headed to Hawaii. De Laurenttis estimated that the contest with Universal cost the production up to $4 million.
The character of King Kong was portrayed by an uncredited costumed actor, Rick Baker, as well as the forty-foot robotic gorilla. The completed 6.5-ton model was structured by an aluminum skeleton that contained 3,100 feet of hydraulic hose and 4,500 feet of electrical wiring. Its chest measured twenty feet in width, with an arm span of the same distance. The machine could walk, turn at its waist, and move its arms in sixteen unique positions with the operation of hydraulic valves that were controlled by six men. The hands alone were six feet across and the arms weighed 1,650 pounds each. The arms were constructed separately from the rest of the Kong model, then suspended from a crane, so actress Jessica Lange could be lifted thirty to forty feet. Safety features were installed in Kong’s fingers so they were not able to close around Lange entirely. Michael Dino, a famous wigmaker and the hair designer for Kong, created the gorilla’s fur with 4,000 pounds of horse tails, imported from Argentina. One hundred assistants weaved the horsehair into four types of netting, and the work took months. The hair panels were then attached to pieces of latex that were, in turn, glued onto the model’s metal frame. The mechanical Kong cost $2 million.
Because the film’s mechanical “Kong” weighed over six tons, it was too large to be hoisted on the top of the World Trade Center. Therefore, a forty-foot non-mechanical, styrofoam model was used as a replacement. The World Trade Center sequence was filmed twice, for a total cost of nearly $250,000, and the throng of approximately 45,000 background personnel marked the largest crowd scene in motion picture history to date. The U.S. Department of Labor initiated an investigation into the ethics of using so many unpaid extras. The outcome of the case remains undetermined. Principal photography concluded on 31 August 1976, four days behind schedule, with a budget that increased from $6.7 to $23.7 million in eight months. The film took in $37 million in rentals in the U.S. alone.
DEATH ON THE NILE was the second Agatha Christie movie in the series of films from producers John Brabourne and Richard Goodwin. The picture was originally titled “Murder on the Nile” so as to connect with the first Agatha Christie movie in the series, MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (1974). Some of the film's poster artwork was even designed to evoke the earlier movie. DEATH ON THE NILE was the first of three produced screenplays from novels by Agatha Christie written by Anthony Shaffer. The others were EVIL UNDER THE SUN (1982) and APPOINTMENT WITH DEATH (1988).
The location shoot in Egypt went for seven weeks of which four were spent aboard the paddle steamer “Memnon” (in the movie named “Karnak”) and three filming in places such as Luxor, Cairo, Aswan and Abu Simbel. The “Memnon” was one of the few paddle steamers remaining on the Nile. Visitors were barred from the set by director John Guillermin so as to preserve the secrecy of the whodunit plot. Under orders from the producers, Guillermin and the cast and crew were barred from seeing the dailies. The rushes were sent directly to the production office in London.
Filming had to be stopped every day at noon for around two hours because temperatures reached around the 130 degrees Fahrenheit mark at that time. To accommodate this, make-up calls were scheduled for 4 am with filming starting at 6 am. On this, veteran actress Bette Davis once quipped: "In the older days, they'd have built the Nile for you. Nowadays, films have become travelogues and actors stunt men".
The film grossed $14.5 million in the U.S. Nino Rota’s score was last released on CD by DRG in 2006.
From the giant production of KING KONG, Guillermin moved to a small drama with the film MR. PATMAN. Filmed in Vancouver, this Canadian tax shelter film was about a male nurse working the night shift at a psychiatric hospital who begins to lose his own grip on reality. The film was not exactly low budget though, costing an estimated $CAD 6.9 million. The film did not get a U.S. theatrical release, but was eventually released on video under the title CROSSOVER. Paul Hoffert (MONKEY SHINES) scored the film.
Guillermin teamed up again with KING KONG scriptwriter Lorenzo Semple, Jr. for 1984’s SHEENA. Despite Guillermin’s experience on the Tarzan films, and other Africa-set films (SHAFT IN AFRICA, GUNS AT BATASI), this time he came a cropper, and was rewarded with a Golden Raspberry nomination as Worst Director. In fact, the film was nominated for five Golden Raspberry Awards at the 5th annual ceremony held in 1985. The other nominations included Worst Picture, Worst Actress (Tanya Roberts), Worst Screenplay (David Newman and Semple, Jr.) and Worst Musical Score (Richard Hartley), but the film failed to win a Razzie in any category. In the U.S., the film grossed about $6 million on a $25 million budget. Hartley’s score was released on CD by Varese Sarabande in 2004.
After two flops in a row, Guillermin went back to the scene of a recent success, KING KONG. But 1986’s KING KONG LIVES was a pale shadow of the success from a decade earlier. In the U.S., the film made back only about half of its $10 million budget. The only good news surrounding the film was that Peter Weller was offered a part in it, but he opted to play the title role in ROBOCOP instead. John Scott’s score was most recently released by Intrada in 2012.
Guillermin’s final film was a western made for HBO, THE TRACKER, starring Kris Kristofferson. Kristofferson played legendary tracker “Noble Adams,” who is pulled out of retirement to capture “‘Red Jack’ Stilwell”, a murderous renegade, dead or alive.
DEAD OR ALIVE is the title by which the 1988 film was known in some of its theatrical engagements overseas. Sylvester Levay’s score for the film has not had a release.
John Guillermin retired from film-making at the age of 63.
The obituary for Guillermin in The Telegraph credits him with directing 1976's MIDWAY. It's unclear how much work Guillermin may have done on the film MIDWAY. According to a 14 April 1975 article in Boxoffice magazine, Jack Smight replaced Guillermin as director on the film. It's unclear when shooting on MIDWAY began. Location shooting on the film concluded over the 24-25 May 1975 weekend, near Pensacola, FL. Shooting at Universal Studios in Los Angeles, CA, started on 27 May 1975. Guillermin may have just been involved in pre-production work on the film, or he may have actually done some of the early shooting. Only Jack Smight is credited on the film.