FILM INTERVIEWS, ESSAYS AND ARTICLES BY PAUL ROWLANDS
TONY KLINGER ON MICHAEL KLINGER (PART II)
PAUL ROWLANDS talks to TONY KLINGER about his father, MICHAEL KLINGER
This is the second part of my interview with Tony. The first part can be read here
Michael also worked with Roger Moore and Bond director Peter Hunt on two adventure films based on Wilbur Smith books, GOLD (1974) and SHOUT AT THE DEVIL (1976). Is it true they were tremendously difficult films to make?
This is a huge question warranting a chapter or two in any book. I was working as assistant producer on GOLD, and as a line producer on SHOUT AT THE DEVIL. The work was intense, fascinating and fantastically challenging on every level, especially on SHOUT AT THE DEVIL since Michael suffered a secret heart condition when we started filming in the Transkei, so I had to secretly assume control because he had to undergo treatment in Johannesburg. I remember it particularly well for a multitude of reasons. My father being ill was especially upsetting. Then there was inflation running at an impossible 15-20%, and an effective devaluation of the pound against the dollar etc. of something like 22%, but our budget was set, and only so many millions were going to come in to set against a much increased cost in real terms. On top of that, one of the investors didn't come up with their cash. I had to threaten to take the crew back home, as we didn't know if we could cover the shortfall, but the first guy raided the kitty to take back some of his money from the second, new investor. So we were now left both short of money and facing two investors who wanted to declare war on each other and us. Add to this, I was bitten by a scorpion and was pretty ill, and I got some ribs busted saving a member of the crew from a raft accident on the surf when I saved an extra from drowning (it was during the scene in which you see some guys coming into the shore). It was a very tough few months, and when Michael was back in action, I had to go to Central Africa to see if we could pick up some locked in French funds to use on the production as we were still short of money. We were going to match the hunting scene with Lee Marvin and Roger Moore from the Kruger Park with similar action in the jungle in Gabon a few hundred miles from Libreville. Again that's a story that could fill a book. As could my wild and crazy experiences in Gabon. How was working with Lee Marvin?
I have to admit a real preference for real people who don't pretend to be something they're not, and Marvin particularly fell into that category. A real man's man, and what you saw on the screen was pretty much what you got. He was more than a bit scary, like a volcano ready to explode. One time, for SHOUT AT THE DEVIL, we were filming the sequence when the battleship Blucher was going to be discovered and blown up. It was an immense sequence involving a plane flying over that we had re-built from the original designs from the First World War, a Vickers Gun Bus. It was a real feat of engineering, and we had to build two of them and get certificates of air-worthiness before we could use them. It was a push-me plane, with the propeller at the rear of the cockpit and seats for two. The whole thing was very difficult since the reason the Vickers Gun Bus had not been widely used by the British in that War was because they weren't too great. We had another problem at the time, and that was the rumour going round the farming community near to the river Umzimbubu, or was it the Niafu? Anyhow, I know it translates as The Watering Place for the Hippopotamus, and these farmers believed that when we were going to blow this ship up, which was a full-scale replica, it was going to be a nuclear explosion!
We did everything we could to assure them no nuclear detonation was going to take place, but nothing would persuade them. We came up with the idea of letting them know that we would be adjacent ourselves, and would we ever do something as nutty as expose ourselves to nuclear fall-out? The sequence was set, the Vickers Gun Bus, complete with a double for Roger Moore and a camera person were going to fly over the ship and shortly after this, we were going to blow it up.
Lee Marvin had the day off because, in the movie, his character was supposedly somewhere else during this action sequence, but he felt we didn't have enough extra sailors to play the Germans. Many rumours have also flown about regarding Lee's legendary drinking capacity, but up to this point he had never drunk when he was working. I was stationed at a corner on a dusty road leading to the field of vision surrounding the battleship, with the intention of keeping it clear, and I wasn't ready for Lee suddenly driving around the corner, dressed as a German sailor. I put my hand up to halt Lee's progress, and he got out of his car somewhat erratically. I realised that this wasn't a day he was called to work, and noticed his hands were full of a large case of beer, and that half the bottles were already consumed:
'You can't go to the set now Lee, you're not supposed to be in these scenes.' I said this as politely as I knew how. He looked at me with those rheumy eyes, and it was as if I was transported into a surreal version of his film CAT BALLOU (1965). He wasn't smiling.
'Are you going to try and stop me?' he asked. I thought about where this was going, and despite my being a fit, strong and younger man, I wasn't keen on a physical attempt to stop Lee.
'No, Lee. They're filming and you aren't supposed to be in it.'
'I know that. I can be another extra. I figure there aren't enough. I can bend low and be polishing some brass work, and keep my head down', he insisted, miming the action he was keen to undertake. I smiled and tried to shepherd him back to his car, but he was big and strong, and wasn't enthusiastic about moving. We stood looking at one another.'You're a nice kid' he said. 'But if you don't get out of the road right now, I am gonna put you on your ass!'. He said it quietly, but with definite menace. My mother had always insisted you never hit the talent in the face, as it will affect the next day's filming, and she also insisted, when I was in the school boxing team, that I shouldn't get hit in the face. At this moment I remembered her words and weighed up the chances: either he decks me, or I manage to punch him and potentially ruin filming the next day. Discretion being the better part of valour, and Lee being awfully tough, I decided the only thing I could do was wave him through.
As he was driving through to the set, I got on my radio to the director, Peter Hunt, to tell him that Lee had insisted on being an extra, at which point Hunt proved to me why his name was perfect except for the first letter of his surname, as he berated me for encouraging Marvin to come to the set.And that's why, if you look closely at the extras down below, as the plane flies over the battleship, the German sailor with some white hair sticking out from his cap is Lee Marvin.
How about Roger Moore?
Roger Moore was a very different kettle of fish. Always a great raconteur and usually the centre of attention, he wasn't really sure how to handle Lee on SHOUT AT THE DEVIL. Here was an American icon, a real tough guy who never backed down.
There were numerous occasions when Roger tried a bit of one-upmanship with Lee but always came off second best. Even to the point when Roger, who has a very nice singing voice which he was willing to share when the mood took him, was on the set singing and turned to Lee and said 'Let's hear a little something from you, Lee', to which Lee replied, 'I already won my Gold record, thanks', referring to his song 'Wand'rin' Star', from his movie PAINT YOUR WAGON (1969).
There were several times when there were stunts to do, and Roger's stunt double would replace him for the action sequence, but Lee would insist on doing his own. He also made sure his face was seen on camera when he did so, and he told us that the audience always knows. But there was one thing about Lee that most people didn't know, and that was that he had served as a Marine in the Pacific theatre of the Second World War, and was also a stuntman when he first went into movies. He was entirely comfortable with physical stunts.
Roger was, I think, a little insecure about his acting ability, and as a consequence was always protective of his image, like most movie stars that are less actor and more star. I guess that's why we got the message loud and clear that he turned down our first choice for the director for GOLD. I had been bunking off to see a film at the Prince Charles cinema off London's Leicester Square, and the second feature blew me away. It turned out to be a TV film that was so good it had had a limited release as a feature. It was called DUEL (1971), and a young man called Steven Spielberg directed it. I sat through the bill twice to see it again, and I knew he would be the perfect director for our film.
I got hold of Spielberg's people in Los Angeles almost immediately, and in a move way beyond my pay scale, managed to convince them that Steven should seriously consider our story as his directorial feature film debut. We even pencilled in fees for the deal. I rushed round to my father to tell him I had found the next great director, and frogmarched him to the cinema to see for himself. We agreed and followed up with Spielberg's agent. We then arranged for Roger to see DUEL, and he was knocked out by it. It was only when he found out that Spielberg was still in his twenties that his opinion changed, and he decided he didn't want to trust his career to a kid. I don't know if the Spielberg deal would have gone through, but I wish we had been able to try. It would have made a very good film into something fantastic.
And how about Peter Hunt? He edited the first five James Bond movies, and directed, in my opinion, the best in the series, ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE (1969).
Peter Hunt was a very curious man about whom there are many anecdotes, but I shall tell just the one. It illuminates a darker corner of his character. During the making of SHOUT AT THE DEVIL, the relationship between Peter and my father broke down almost totally, and I found myself in the curious position of peacemaker and sometime arbitrator. For some reason, Peter would still communicate with me despite knowing that if I had had my way, I would have fired him on the first day of filming, which Michael stopped me from doing since that could have meant losing either Marvin or Moore, who each had a say in who directed them.
The atmosphere was sometimes impossible, and never less than poisonous, with a battle raging between Peter and the entire production department. I never experienced anything else quite like it. Somehow we battled through to a conclusion when it was all filmed and finally edited.
We were now ready for the music recording, which was going to take place at De Lane Lea's studios in Wembley. As was the custom, the Managing Director of the studio invited the honchos of our film, including me, to a formal lunch on day one of the recordings in the boardroom. Michael was going to arrive later that afternoon, and he had left it to me to make sure everything was set up and ready to go for our composer, Maurice Jarre. The run-through with the vast orchestra went wonderfully, and everyone, including Peter, expressed their satisfaction. It was a very pleasant morning, and we walked to our lunch with great anticipation for the work to follow in the first recording session.
As we were starting the main course, Peter, in great form that day, leant over to me and said 'I have to go for a bit of a chat, but I will be back later, please carry on.' We said goodbye, and 'see you later'. And that was the last time any of us saw Peter until about ten or more years had gone by. We ran into each other at the restaurant in Pinewood Studios. He very pleasantly said 'Hello, how's Michael?', and I responded, 'He's still at De Lane Lea waiting for you.'
Ironically, we were to find out later that Peter had flown from the recording studio to be interviewed by Carlo Ponti for a film directing job. Ponti wrote to Michael, asking for a producer-to-producer reference, to which Michael responded with a very short letter: 'I can't give Peter a reference which I believe is reference enough.'
It was a great pity that Peter became so difficult, but sometimes people believe their own publicity!
How do you feel about your father's legacy? Do you wish he had been awarded an OBE or been more famous?
I am immensely proud of my father's legacy. He was a great guy and the best producer I'd ever met or worked with. Also the finest script editor I ever met. He was very famous in the UK in the era in which he produced, and was clearly the most successful producer in the UK for about 10 to 15 years. I don't think he got the accolades he deserved because he was so much his own man. He never backed off from a fight, and as a consequence he upset the then very straight-laced and then snobby British establishment. They didn't like his in-your-face style, or the fact that he took on the unions twice and wiped the floor with them. He almost never got funding for any of his films from British sources, despite the fact that he managed a better return on investments on his films than any other British producer of his era. Of course he should have got formal recognition for his enormous contribution to the British film industry but he could live without it.
But it's interesting to note that there is now a £200, 000 Arts and Humanities Research Council grant for a study into his career being conducted via the Universities of the West of England (who have his archives and mine) and the University of Portsmouth, led by the noted academic Andrew Spicer, who is also writing a book for publication in 2012 on my father's film producing career. I am also making a film on the same subject as a lesson for truly independent film producing. All of this is nearly 23 years after his death.
How did he feel about you following in his footsteps?
Michael loved the idea of my continuing in our family business of filmmaking. However, I am actually a writer first and foremost, and always saw filmmaking as a side line to writing. I get the impression that a great many people think I got to filmmaking via my Dad, but actually my wish to write for visual media pre-dates that desire on his part by several years. Take a look at my book and other material, and you will see I was aimed at the direction from 1958 when I was a small boy. My father started a few years later, and I quite frankly resented the fact it seemed to me then, as a small kid, that he was supporting my dream, but I guess it was his dream also.
What do you think you have learned from your father that has helped you in your own career?
The biggest lesson I learned from Michael was that you have to be passionate about what you want to do. It's a very tough profession with no easy choices, so you'd better really want to do that film or book or whatever else it is you aim to do creatively. Because before you're done you're going to be really tested, so unless you truly are passionate about your next project, give up now and do something easier, like nuclear science.
Can you tell us about the documentary you're making on your father, THE MAN WHO GOT CARTER? GET CARTER has really lasted. It must be one of the most loved British films.
I think I'm going to change the title of the documentary because it is not about the film GET CARTER. I was just using it as the perfect example of an indie producer getting to make an indie film despite all the odds. It's about being true to yourself about making films independently, and not taking crap from anyone, and still making quality films despite all the odds. It's about my Dad, Michael Klinger, a great producer and above all, a great father and a great man.
Tony was interviewed by email from 4th to 10th January 2011.
I'd like to thank Tony for generously giving his time to answer my questions so extensively. A future interview will focus on Tony's own incredible career, so watch this space.
Thanks to Richard S. Barnett.
Tony's book, 'Twilight of the Gods', can be ordered here