Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Clint Eastwood Saves a Genre for a Mere $12,000

Hollywood, Historical, Westerns, Spaghetti
The Wholesome and the Good

Hollywood overdoes things. If something works, they just keep doing it until it doesn’t. There were 26 Western series on television in 1959, and most daytime programming used old Western B movies to fill airtime. A good thing taken to saturation. By 1964, the Western genre was waning due to overexposure in pulp, movies, and television. In case you believe Hollywood learned its lesson, think about the permutations of CSI and reality shows.
One of the remaining Western television series in 1964 was Rawhide, an endless cattle drive under the watchful eye of Rowdy Yates, played by a young Clint Eastwood. Despite the prominence of Eastwood’s image on the covers of newly released DVDs, the series starred Eric Fleming as Gil Favor, with Yates as the trusty sidekick.

By 1964, Eastwood saw that Rawhide was winding down. What to do? His Rawhide contract would not allow him to film any other movie or television shows in the United States. Then he heard about an Italian director named Sergio Leone who wanted to make a Western. Leone's low budget project had already been turned down by Henry Fonda, James Coburn, Charles Bronson, and probably others. Eastwood accepted the role for $12,000, which even in 1964 represented a pittance in tinseltown. Eastwood didn’t have an inkling of the upcoming significance of this odd film shot in Almería, Spain.

After the six-week filming of The Magnificent Stranger, Eastwood returned to Southern California to make two more years of Rawhide episodes. He seldom thought about his European sojourn and heard nothing further about the film.

Due to legal hassles, the movie didn’t debut in the U.S. until almost three years after filming. Eastwood didn’t initially recognize the renamed A Fist Full of Dollars as the Western he had made with Sergio Leone. It was a hit. A huge hit. Made for a paltry $200,000, the film grossed over $134,000,000 worldwide. The Leone/Eastwood partnership would continue with For a Few Dollars More, and The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. Eastwood persona and Leone’s idiosyncratic cinematography created huge appeal worldwide. (It wasn’t sound or film editing, as any quick perusal of IMDb Goofs will show.) After the success of the Dollar Trilogy, Henry Fonda and Charles Bronson succumbed to Leone’s entreaties and agreed to star in Once Upon a Time in the West, a box office dud, but a classic nonetheless.

From this $12,000 gig, Eastwood went on to become a Hollywood icon with a reported net worth of $375 million. (A bit more than a fistful of dollars.) This kind of puts into perspective the manufactured row over the disparity in pay between Harrison Ford and Daisy Ridley in The Force Awakens. IMDb reports, “Daisy Jazz Isobel Ridley is an English actress. She is best known for her breakthrough role as Rey in the 2015 film, Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” I hope this low paid role in a groundbreaking film works as well for Ridley as it did for Eastwood.

Daisy Ridley, Clint Eastwood
Tip of the hat, Ridley
And now for something completely different ...

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