Saturday, February 27, 2010

Dino gives Fleischer another contract.

by Richard Fleischer

BARABBAS had its world premiere on Monday, June 4, 1962, at the Odeon Haymarket in London. It was also the premiere of the theater itself. There was a glamorous, celebrity-studded dinner afterward at Quaglino's. Seated at my table were John Davis (chairman and managing director of the Rank Organization), Mike Frankovich (head of European production for Columbia Pictures), Sam Goldwyn, Dino, the Right Honorable Ernest Marples, M.P., Lord and Lady Morrison of Lambeth, and Tony Quinn. Scattered around the room were, among others, the Dunchess of Argyll, Lord Balfour, the Duke and Duchess of Bedford, Paul Getty, Nubar Gulbenkian, Harold Lloyd, Sir. Michael Redgrave, Peter Sellers, and David Susskind.
The opening of BARABBAS also marked the end of my nineteen-month job for the Dino De Laurentiis Cinematografica. Since it was a biblical epic, it was only fitting that there be an elaborate Last Supper. But Dino wasn't ready to let me go. He had another project in mind, called ZACKARY, the story of an American spy living in Japan just prior to Pearl Harbor. It was an interesting and unusual yarn based on reality. I signed a one-year contract, commencing August 15, 1962, to do the picture. My family was simply delighted. To them, Paris now seemed like a summer romance compared to their true love, Rome. The mysterious seductress had worked her wiles on them.
Work did not go well on ZACKARY. Dino seemed to have a staff of truly terrible Italian hack writers under contract. He gave them a crack at the story, with ghastly results. Then he got a great idea. He'd heard of a famous Japanese screenwriter (famous in Japan, that is) and thought it would be a fine idea to have him write the script. He brought him to Rome, set him up with a suite at the Excelsior Hotel, and told him to do his stuff.
About four weeks later I inquired as to how he was getting along, so a meeting was set up for me to go to his hotel apartment and review what he was doing. I arrived with an interpreter who spoke English, but not Japanese, to find a writer sitting cross-legged in the center of the huge, completely empty living room. All the fancy furniture, lamps, and carpets had been removed. Next to him were a large inkpot, several paint brushes, and a large, rolled-up scroll of paper. We did the customary bowing and smiling, then he took the paper scroll to one corner of the room and started to unroll it. It went clear across to the opposite corner and was covered with large, brush-painted Japanese characters. This was the script. We stood there admiring his handiwork. It would have made wonderful wallpaper. I hadn't the foggiest idea what it meant and there was no way he could explain it to me, since he spoke no English or Italian. After about five minutes of staring at the scroll the interpreter and I bowed and smiled our way out the door.
I don't know what Dino was expecting, but when I reported my experience to him, he threw up his hands in exasperation and said, "I fix! I fix!" Apparently he then found an Italian who knew Japanese, because shortly after that I received a page-and-a-half translation of what had been written on the scroll. It was pure gibberish. The writer was sent back to Japan and the picture was abandoned.

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