Monday, July 4, 2011

Classic Television Showbiz's Late Late Show: Captain Apache (1971)

Here is a trashy and obscure Spanish western film written by Philip Yordan, starring Lee Van Cleef. Unfortunately for you - or perhaps fortunately - everything other than the opening theme is dubbed in German.  The real star of this film is its moving, rousing theme song and score, both composed by Dolores Claman. Claman is well known to Canadians as the composer of the Hockey Night in Canada theme song. Here's what she had to say about this experience. 

Kliph Nesteroff: Obviously you composed the Hockey Night in Canada theme, but I wanted to ask you quickly, before we wind up here, about – you moved to Spain and started scoring some Western films…

Dolores Claman: Yes. We did a lot of commercials over there as well. Big things. It was okay. We did a lot of work for people ... We worked for Xerox. At the time they had this new color and we did that for New York. We did everything. Real estate (laughs).

Kliph Nesteroff: Do you own copies of some of these jingles you did in the sixties?

Dolores Claman: You know, I really don’t. When we moved, we moved so often and things get left behind every time. I tell you, I look up in the cupboard and I just don’t know what’s up there. I don’t think there’s anything decent left. It would be fun. I would have liked to have kept that Xerox score because it was very good on the whole. And westerns. Paello Westerns.

Kliph Nesteroff: Did you meet Philip Yordan?

Dolores Claman: Yes. What a character. Absolutely. We worked for him. We worked on some… mainly Captain Apache and maybe something else. It’s the worst movie you’ve ever seen. I still don’t know what it’s all about. He was a very cheapo guy. He would only allow three takes or something – if that. It was “Third take – that’s that.”

We had Lee Van Cleef who would only do fifty seconds on a horse. A horse had bitten him in his earlier days and he hated horses. So, as he got more famous, his contract would not [allow] him to ride a horse for one long take! It’s a western! We’re with the editor … we were trying to move this fifty second bit and cut it up and use it again. It was very funny. Those were very funny days in Madrid. At the time, Franco was still there. And there was the American base with a lot of people there that we knew like the head of education … who was very left wing. Then you’ve got all the very right wing people that were to do with the base maybe. Then you get all the Phil Yordan people who came from the days of McCarthy. Some of them were living abroad and he’d maybe bring a writer in to cheer up a script or something who was quite well known.

Maybe not one of the Hollywood Ten but they were all over. You’d go out for dinner and … oh, Irving Lerner was the famous editor. He was so left wing. He had Che Guerva posters all over his apartment in Spain when he was working there. We said, “Look – Franco is in [power] here. You better be a bit more careful.” I had all my friends to a party and they were all that crowd and all the other crowd that was there (laughs).

Kliph Nesteroff: Is that why Philip Yordan was there? He was escaping the blacklist?

Dolores Claman: Well, have you ever seen the Woody Allen film The Front?

Kliph Nesteroff: The Front, yes.

Dolores Claman: Okay, that was Philip Yordan. He did it – only in Hollywood. He had all these guys writing and he would present them to the various film companies and they thought he wrote very quickly. But he even provided houses for them. Apartments where he lived in California for these guys to write in.

Kliph Nesteroff: I know that Bernard Gordon was one of the guys he fronted for…

Dolores Claman: Bernie Gordon! Absolutely. He was another one. They knew each other and during that time they were … they couldn’t work, so they did it at Phil Yordan’s house. Bernie Gordon. I’m very fond of Bernie and his wife.

Kliph Nesteroff: I’m fascinated that you knew all of these people.

Dolores Claman: Well, you see it’s a small place Madrid among English speaking people – in those times. And we met them all. We had dinner all the time. Philip Yordan – not. I’ve only been to his house once or twice because he kept changing wives. Everytime you see a film of his with his wife in it, you’d know that they were ready to separate.

Kliph Nesteroff: Why is that?

Dolores Claman: It just happened. He’d say, “Oh yeah, you can be in this film.” That was the kiss of death because none of them could act.

Kliph Nesteroff: Was Ben Maddow another guy that was there?

Dolores Claman: I don’t know that name.

Kliph Nesteroff: Another guy he fronted for. I was always a great fan of Yordan, but maybe it’s really just all the guys he fronted for I like.

Dolores Claman: He wrote half of a great play. I really have a terrible memory. It was one of the first [plays] with a race [theme].

Kliph Nesteroff: Gentleman’s Agreement?

Dolores Claman: No, it was before that I think. It was a Broadway play I think. Maybe if you look it up. He did write it with somebody else. He said he never did a film that he liked that made money. It was back during that era. A lot of the best [blacklisted] writers went to Rome, or London, or Paris. So, they were easily at hand for him to call them in for a fee to just sort of help the script out because [the Spanish pictures] were terrible scripts. They were cheapo productions, but it was fun.

Kliph Nesteroff: I heard that you had to work with Lee Van Cleef because he was going to “sing” the title theme.

Dolores Claman: Yes, absolutely. He never did get any better other than the first time I heard him do it. You know some people - they do catch on, they do get better. He got worse. He wasn’t a very popular man. We did two songs. They thought they’d just pick one of them, but they chose both of them and stuck them in (laughs). It’s the worst film you’ve ever seen and I’m not proud of it. All the editing has gone wrong and all the music is in the wrong place. It’s a real, well, as far as I’m concerned it’s a satire – I wrote the music like that.

Kliph Nesteroff: Well, it sounds like a hoot. I’ve only seen the opening credits and that theme song with him talk singing.

Dolores Claman: Yeah, well, that’s it. You can’t be proud of everything you do.


Bob Lindstrom said...

I think the Yordan play Ms. Claman refers to is "Anna Lucasta." However, like so much (all?) of Yordan's career, it isn't clear how much of it is really his. It is a fact that he was sued by several black writers who he hired to rewrite his original Polish family drama as a play for a black cast.

Anonymous said...

Excellent read!
I've also talked with Claman (when she was living here in Vancouver) about Van Cleef & her great 'Captain Apache' score.
The other western she was involved with was 'Bad Man's River', which her husband did the lyrics for and, I believe, she helped with the barbershop quartet arrangements, as the spaniards didn't have a clue.