“Do ya feel lucky, Pilgrim?” What Dirty Harry Could Have Been


Paul Newman as San Francisco Police Detective Harry “Dirty Harry” Callahan?

Today, it sounds unthinkable that the outspokenly liberal Newman could ever have been a contender for the role of Harry Callahan, a police detective who is quick with a quip but even quicker on the trigger.  As everyone knows, Clint Eastwood played Harry and, as a result, he finally became as big of a star in the United States as he already was in Europe.  Today, it’s impossible to imagine anyone other than Clint Eastwood torturing the Scorpio Killer for information and then announcing himself to be “all torn up about his rights.”  Just try to imagine Paul Newman snarling as reflexively as Clint Eastwood did upon hearing that the whiny guy in the liberal office taught constitutional law at Berkeley.  Try to imagine Paul Newman calling someone “a punk” or bragging about the power of his gun.  It can’t be done.

And yet, as hard as it is to believe, Clint Eastwood was not the first choice for Harry Callahan.  In fact, Eastwood apparently wasn’t even on Warner Bros.’s list of contenders when they initially bought the rights for the script that would eventually become Dirty Harry.

Written by Harry Julian Fink and Rita M. Fink, that script was originally called Dead Right and it took place in New York.  In the original script, Harry Callahan was world-weary, veteran New York cop, in his 50s and just a few months away from retirement.  In the original script, Harry pursued a serial killer named Travis.  When Warner Bros. bought the script in 1969, they viewed it as being a potential vehicle for Frank Sinatra with Irvin Kershner directing.  (Kershner is probably best remembered for later directing The Empire Strikes Back.)  As was his habit, Sinatra immediately demanded rewriters.  John Milius wrote three drafts, each one expanding on the idea of Callahan as a rebel against the system.  Terrence Malick (yes, that Terrence Malick) was also brought it and came up with a storyline in which the serial killer would specifically be targeting mobsters and other people who had escaped justice.  Somewhere, amongst all the rewrites, the action moved from New York to Seattle.

After all that effort, why didn’t Frank Sinatra play Harry Callahan?  Reportedly, he broke his hand and, as a result, he was told that he wouldn’t be able to hold a microphone or a gun or anything else while it was healing.  Since you really can’t have Harry Callahan without a gun, Sinatra left the project and Irvin Kershner went with him.

While trying (unsuccessfully) to recruit Sidney Pollack as their new director, Warner Bros. searched for a new leading man.  Reportedly, the script ended up on John Wayne’s desk.  Wayne later said that he turned down the role because he felt the violence was gratuitous.  Other sources indicate that John Wayne actually was interested in the role but that the studio didn’t consider him to be contemporary enough.  (After the success of Dirty Harry, Wayne would play a similar cop character in McQ and would provide a hint of what Dirty Harry starring John Wayne would have been like.)  Burt Lancaster turned down the role because he didn’t like the script’s politics.  Lee Marvin and Robert Mitchum both turned down the role because they refused to play cops.  George C. Scott reportedly refused the role because of the violence.  Marlon Brando was considered but, probably wisely, was never approached.

Having been turned down by all of the older tough guys, Warner Bros. went with the younger tough guys.  Steve McQueen turned down the role because he had already played a cop in Bullitt and he felt the critics would accuse him of repeating himself.  (He was probably right.)  Paul Newman refused the role on political grounds but, as he often tended to do whenever he turned down a role, he also recommended another actor for the part.  That actor was Clint Eastwood who was an old friend of Newman’s and who, obviously, had no problems with the film’s politics.

(Let’s take a moment to give some respect to Paul Newman, who was reportedly one of the nicest guys in Hollywood.)

Once Eastwood was on board, his requested that his friend and frequent collaborator, director Don Siegel, be hired to direct the film.  The script was again rewritten, moving the action to San Francisco and making Harry into a far less talkative character.  The serial killer known as Travis became the serial killer known as Scorpio.  The idea of the killer targeting criminals was abandoned at Siegel’s insistence, though Eastwood liked the idea enough to use it for Dirty Harry’s first sequel, Magnum Force.

Audie Murphy

Originally, James Caan was approached for the role of Scorpio but Caan turned it down (which, of course, left him free to play Sonny in The Godfather).  Perhaps most intriguingly, Audie Murphy was offered the role.  Murphy was one of the most decorated combat soldiers of World War II.  He had gone from the Army to appearing in movies.  By the time Dirty Harry went into production, Murphy was largely appearing in B-westerns and was as known for his temper as his films.  (He was acquitted of attempted murder shortly before filming began on Dirty Harry.  Murphy said that his anger issues were largely due to the trauma of World War II and he was one of the first prominent people to openly speak about what has since become known as PTSD.)  Murphy undoubtedly would have been an intimidating Scorpio but he died in a plane crash before he could accept or refuse the role.

Instead, the role went to Andrew Robinson, who an unknown at the time.  He was also, in real life, a pacifist who had difficulty not flinching whenever he had to fire a rifle in the film.  That said, Robinson gave a brilliantly unhinged performance as Scorpio and reportedly had to get an unlisted telephone number because of all the angry and threatening phone calls that he received after the movie was released.

Now, I have to admit that I personally find the idea of Frank Sinatra/James Caan or, for that matter, a John Wayne/Audie Murphy police procedural to be kind of intriguing.  And goodness know, I would certainly like a chance to see Marlon Brando doing the “do you feel lucky, punk?” speech.  In the end, though, I think things turned out for the best.

Great Moments in Television History #18: Frank Sinatra Wins An Oscar


On this date, 68 years ago, Frank Sinatra won his only Oscar when Mercedes McCambridge announced that he had won Best Supporting Actor for his role in From Here To Eternity. This is the role that some claimed the mob got for him, though the truth was that he was given the role after his-then wife, Ava Gardner, made an appeal to studio head, Harry Cohn. At that time, Gardner was actually a bigger star than Sinatra, whose career was considered to be in decline.

Sinatra in decline? The Academy disagreed! And so did the audiences who would make Sinatra a star for many decades to come.

Previous Moments In Television History:

  1. Planet of the Apes The TV Series
  2. Lonely Water
  3. Ghostwatch Traumatizes The UK
  4. Frasier Meets The Candidate
  5. The Autons Terrify The UK
  6. Freedom’s Last Stand
  7. Bing Crosby and David Bowie Share A Duet
  8. Apaches Traumatizes the UK
  9. Doctor Who Begins Its 100th Serial
  10. First Night 2013 With Jamie Kennedy
  11. Elvis Sings With Sinatra
  12. NBC Airs Their First Football Game
  13. The A-Team Premieres
  14. The Birth of Dr. Johnny Fever
  15. The Second NFL Pro Bowl Is Broadcast
  16. Maude Flanders Gets Hit By A T-Shirt Cannon
  17. Charles Rocket Nearly Ends SNL

Music Video of the Day: My Way by Frank Sinatra (1974, dir by ????)


This was filmed at Madison Square Garden, back in 1974. I’m sharing this on Presidents Day because I’m sure this is the song that most presidents would probably sing while being kicked out of the White House. We really should consider using My Way as the new national anthem.

Enjoy!

Great Moments In Television History #11: Elvis Sings With Sinatra


The fourth episode of The Frank Sinatra Timex Show was officially called It’s Nice To Go Trav’ling but it’s unofficial name was Welcome Home Elvis.  That’s because this special, which aired on May 12th, 1960, also marked Elvis Presley’s first appearance on television after his release from the U.S. Army.

It was a 30-minute special, sponsored by Timex.  Elvis only appeared in 8 of those minutes.  The rest of the show’s running time was made up of Frank Sinatra hanging out with his Rat Pack pals.  Still, in those 8 minutes, Elvis performed with Sinatra and television history was made.  (Elvis even wore a tuxedo for the occasion, so he would fit in with Frank and the pack.)  This special was the highest rating program of the week and it proved that being away in Germany hadn’t diminished Elvis’s popularity one bit.

Elvis, who was born 87 years ago on this day, would later go on to star with Nancy Sinatra in 1968’s Speedway.

Previous Great Moments In Television History:

  1. Planet of the Apes The TV Series
  2. Lonely Water
  3. Ghostwatch Traumatizes The UK
  4. Frasier Meets The Candidate
  5. The Autons Terrify The UK
  6. Freedom’s Last Stand
  7. Bing Crosby and David Bowie Share A Duet
  8. Apaches Traumatizes the UK
  9. Doctor Who Begins Its 100th Serial
  10. First Night 2013 With Jamie Kennedy

Cleaning Out The DVR: Tony Rome (dir by Gordon Douglas)


The 1967 film, Tony Rome, is about a detective named …. can you guess it?

That’s right! Tony Rome!

Tony works out of Miami and, because he’s played by Frank Sinatra, you can be sure that he’s a tough guy who knows how to throw a punch but who, at the same time, also knows how to have a good time. He’s got a bottle of liquor in the glove compartment. He’s got his own boat. He’s got a snappy quip for every occasion and a properly cynical sense of humor but at the same time, he also cares about doing the right thing. He says what’s on his mind and if that hurts your feelings, tough. Again, none of this should be a surprise, considering that he’s played by Frank Sinatra and Sinatra could play these type of sentimental tough guys in his sleep.

That’s not to say that Sinatra sleepwalks through the role, of course. Far from it. As played by Sinatra, Tony comes across as an authentic tough guy, as someone who has seen it all and who, as a result, understands that importance of stopping to have a drink and appreciate the world around him. Tony Rome might be a Rat Pack-style private investigator but that doesn’t mean he can’t solve the case and, even while Tony’s having a good time, Sinatra never lets you forget that he takes his job very seriously.

As for the film, it’s a story that beings when Tony is hired to drive a passed out rich girl back to her home. This leads to him investigating a jewelry theft and eventually discovering an extortion plot. Sue Lyon plays the rich girl. Gena Rowlands plays her stepmother while Simon Oakland (the psychologist at the end of Psycho) plays her father. Richard Conte, who played bad gangster Barzini in The Godfather, plays Tony Rome’s best friend on the police force. (Every good private eye has a best friend on the police force.) Jill St. John plays Ann Archer, who helps Tony out with his investigation. Ann is recently divorced. Will Tony claim her heart or will she go back to her husband? It wouldn’t be a Sinatra film without a little heartbreak. (To a large extent, St. John’s performance here feels like a slightly more serious version of the performance she would later give as Tiffany Case in Diamonds are Forever, which is perhaps as close as we’ll ever get to a Rat Pack-style James Bond film.)

The story itself is surprisingly easy to follow. This is not one of those detective stories that will leave you shocked over who turns out to be the bad guy. For a film that often takes something of a light-hearted approach to Tony’s efforts to solve the mystery, it’s also a rather violent film. More than a few people get killed. Tony gets kicked in the ribs at one point and the sound of the 50-something Sinatra groaning in pain is disconcerting. Of course, Tony recovers quickly and immediately gets his revenge. When you watch the scene, you think to yourself that anyone who would try to beat up Frank Sinatra has to be a fool. That’s largely because Tony is Sinatra and Sinatra is Tony.

It’s an entertaining film, one that works well as a time capsule of what it was like to cool and swinging and middle-aged in 1967. Tony Rome is smart enough to focus more on Sinatra’s charisma than on trying to impress the viewers with its own cleverness. If I ever have to hire a private detective, I hope he’s like Tony Rome. I hope he gets the job done. I hope he has a good time while doing it. And I hope he comes with his own Nancy Sinatra-sung theme song. That’s not too much to ask, is it?

Cannonball Run II (1984, directed by Hal Needham)


In 1981, director Hal Needham and star Burt Reynolds had a surprise hit with The Cannonball Run.  Critics hated the film about a race from one end of America to the other but audiences flocked to watch Burt and a group of familiar faces ham it up while cars crashed all around them.  The original Cannonball Run is a goofy and gloriously stupid movie and it can still be fun to watch.  The sequel, on the other hand…

When the sequel begins, the Cannonball Run has been discontinued.  The film never explains why the race is no longer being run but then again, there’s a lot that the sequel doesn’t explain.  King Abdul ben Falafel (Ricardo Montalban, following up The Wrath of Khan with this) wants his son, The Sheik (Jamie Farr, returning from the first film) to win the Cannonball so he puts up a million dollars and announces that the race is back on.  Problem solved.

With the notable exceptions of Farrah Fawcett, Roger Moore, and Adrienne Barbeau, almost everyone from the first film returns to take another shot at the race.  Burt Reynolds and Dom DeLuise are back.  Jack Elam returns as the crazy doctor, though he’s riding with the Sheik this time.  Jackie Chan returns, riding with Richard “Jaws” Kiel.  Dean Martin and Sammy Davis, Jr. return, playing barely disguised versions of themselves.  They’re joined by the surviving members of the Rat Pack.  Yes, Frank Sinatra is in this thing.  He plays himself and, from the way his scenes are shot, it’s obvious they were all filmed in a day and all the shots of people reacting to his presence were shot on another day.  Shirley MacClaine also shows up, fresh from having won an Oscar.  She plays a fake nun who rides with Burt and Dom.  Burt, of course, had a previous chance to co-star with Shirley but he turned down Terms of Endearment so he could star in Stroker AceCannonball Run II finally gave the two a chance to act opposite each other, though no one would be winning any Oscars for appearing in this film.

Say what you will about Hal Needham as a director, he was obviously someone who cultivated a lot of friendships in Hollywood because this film is jam-packed with people who I guess didn’t have anything better to do that weekend.  Telly Savalas, Michael V. Gazzo, Henry Silva, Abe Vigoda, and Henry Silva all play gangsters.  Jim Nabors plays Homer Lyle, a country-fried soldier who is still only a private despite being in his 50s.  Catherine Bach and Susan Anton replace Adrienne Barbeau and Tara Buckman as the two racers who break traffic laws and hearts with impunity.  Tim Conway, Don Knotts, Foster Brooks, Sid Caesar, Arte Johnson, Mel Tillis, Doug McClure, George “Goober” Lindsey, and more; Needham found room for all of them in this movie.  He even found roles for Tony Danza and an orangutan.  (Marilu Henner is also in the movie so I guess Needham was watching both Taxi and Every Which Way But Loose while casting the film.)  Needham also came up with a role for Charles Nelson Reilly, who is cast as a mafia don in Cannonball Run II.  His name is also Don so everyone refers to him as being “Don Don.”  That’s just a typical example of the humor that runs throughout Cannonball Run II.  If you thought the humor of It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World was too subtle and cerebral, Cannonball Run II might be right up your alley.

The main problem with Cannonball Run II is that there’s not much time spent on the race, which is strange because that’s the main reason why anyone would want to watch this movie.  The race itself doesn’t start until 45 minutes into this 108 minute film and all the racers are quickly distracted by a subplot about the Mafia trying to kidnap the Sheik.  Everyone stops racing so that Dean Martin and Sammy Davis, Jr. can disguise themselves as belly dancers to help rescue the Sheik.  By the time that’s all been taken care of, there’s only 10 minutes left for everyone to race across the country.  After a montage of driving scenes and a cartoon of an arrow stretching across the nation (the cartoon was animated by Ralph Bakshi!), we discover who won the Cannonball and then it’s time for a montage of Burt and Dom blowing their lines and giggling.  Needham always ended his films with a montage of everyone screwing up a take and it’s probably one of his most lasting cinematic contributions.  Every blooper reel that’s ever been included as a DVD or Blu-ray extra owes a debt of gratitude to Hal Needham.  Watching people blow their lines can be fun if you’ve just watched a fun movie but watching Burt and Dom amuse themselves after sitting through Cannonball Run II is just adding insult to injury.  It feels less like they’re laughing at themselves and more like they’re laughing at you for being stupid enough to sit through a movie featuring Tony Danza and an orangutan.

The dumb charm of the first Cannonball Run is nowhere to be found in this sequel and, though the film made a profit, the box office numbers were still considered to be a disappointment when compared to the other films that Reynolds and Needham collaborated on.  Along with Stroker Ace, this is considered to be one of the films that ended Reynolds’s reign as a top box office attraction.  Cannonball Run II was also the final feature film to feature Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra.  This could be considered the final Rat Pack film, though I wouldn’t say that too loudly.

Cannonball Run II is a disappointment on so many levels.  It’s hard to believe that the same director who did Smokey and the Bandit and Hooper could be responsible for the anemic stunts and chases found in this movie.  The cast may have had a good time but the audience is left bored.  Stick with the first Cannonball Run.

 

Music Video of the Day: My Way performed by Christopher Lee (2006, dir by ?????)


Christopher Lee recorded this version of My Way for Revelation, a 2006 album of covers.  This video features Lee at his home in London’s Tufnell Park.

My Way was originally written by Paul Anka, who based the song on a French song called Comme d’habitude.  The song, of course, was made famous by Frank Sinatra but it’s also been recorded by everyone from Elvis to Sid Viscous to Jay-Z.  As for Lee’s version — well, whatever he may have lacked in vocal range was made up for by the fact that he was Christopher Lee!  As for the music video, how could any Hammer horror fan resist the chance to see the inside of Christopher Lee’s home?

There is a strain of melancholy running through Lee’s version but then again, I don’t know if it’s possible to record a non-melancholy version of My Way.  On the one hand, it’s a song of triumph.  On the other hand, it’s a song that acknowledges that we’re all mortal, even those of us who refuse to compromise and who maintain our independence.

Enjoy!

Music Video Of The Day: The Night We Called It A Day, performed by Bob Dylan (2015, dir by Nash Edgerton)


This song, of course, has been around even longer than Bob Dylan.  It was originally published in 1941.  Frank Sinatra’s first ever solo recording was a performance of this song and he would later record two more versions of it, in 1947 and 1957.

The Bob Dylan version appeared on Dylan’s 36th studio album, Shadows in the Night.  (Shadows in the Night consists of covers of songs that Sinatra originally made famous.)  Dylan performed this song on the second-t0-last episode of Late Show with David Letterman.  Even though my musical taste usually runs the gamut from EDM to More EDM, I’ve always liked Bob Dylan.  David Letterman, on the other hand, I’m a bit less impressed with.  (Is he ever going to shave off that stupid beard?)

This nicely melancholy video feels like a throw back to the gangster films of the 30s.  Helping to create that retro atmosphere is the casting of Robert Davi, an actor who would have fit right in with Cagney, Bogart, and Edward G. Robinson.  Interestingly enough, Davi is also known as a skilled interpreter of Sinatra.

(He also once wished me a happy birthday, which was a nice of him.)

Enjoy!

Rat Pack – 3 = FOUR FOR TEXAS (Warner Brothers 1963)


cracked rear viewer

The wait is finally over, my new DirecTV receiver has arrived and is all hooked up! Unfortunately, all my DVR’d movies have vanished. And since it was filled to about 70% capacity, that’s a lot of movies! Needless to say, I’ve got to load up the ol’ DVR again. Thanks to TCM, I re-recorded one of my old favorites the other day, FOUR FOR TEXAS, an action-packed Western comedy I’ve seen about 100 times already (ok, that’s a slight exaggeration). This combines the two leaders of the Rat Pack, Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin , with the talents of director Robert Aldrich. The result is an all-star, slam-bang entertainment that is loads of fun for film fans.

The pre-credits sequence looks like we’re about to watch a traditional Western, with a gang of outlaws led by Charles Bronson   riding out to ambush a stagecoach. But wait, that’s Frankie and Dino…

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