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January 17, 2009

Hollywood Boulevard ramblings

In L.A. at the moment for the American Cinematheque's John Sturges retrospective. I've been asked to sign copies of my biography "Escape Artist" and say a few words about the scheduled films, including "The Magnificent Seven," "Bad Day at Black Rock" and "Gunfight at the O.K. Corral," which, in burnished deep-focus VistaVision, has never looked better.

The event is a homecoming of sorts for Sturges, who died in 1992: Several of his films, including "BDABR" and "Marooned" had early previews or were premiered at this weekend's venue, the wonderfully gauche Egyptian Theatre on Hollywood Blvd.

Friday night's screening of "Mag 7" was well-attended by -- surprise, surprise -- a mostly male audience, some sporting black Stetsons. Eli Wallach, who was so memorable as the bandit Calvera, didn't attend, but he sent someone to collect a book. Nice. Jon Gregory, the British editor of "In Bruges" and the upcoming Cormac McCarthy adaptation "The Road," shared his boyhood memories of Sturges sightings. Fascinating. Another Sturges fan arrived with pages of notes on the book, which he said he had read twice. Scary.

Sturges is back in the news with the sad passings this week of Ricardo Montalban and Patrick McGoohan.

Though clearly ailing at the time, Montalban, one of Hollywood's true class acts, consented to a book interview, maybe his last. Sturges had cast him in "Mystery Street" (as a non-race-specific cop) and as a boxer in "Right Cross" who's romantically involved with Hollywood's Girl Next Door, June Allyson.

Recalling his days as an MGM contract player, Montalban told me, "I had something of a following in those days, but I was still playing Hispanic characters. The Sturges film ('Mystery Street') was a definite breakthrough for me. It was a well-written scenario that just told it like it was and made no apologies for my character having an accent. It was the first time that had happened for me, and, I think, one of the first times it had been done in a Hollywood movie."

About "Right Cross" he added: "We were dealing head-on with racial issues, and my self-hating (boxer) was controversial to a certain extent. But the movie was considered a step in the right direction."

Patrick McGoohan, aka Secret Agent Man and The Prisoner, starred as a James Bond
manque in Sturges' "Ice Station Zebra," Howard Hughes' favorite sick-room diversion.

January 17, 2009 1:02 PM | | Comments (0)

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