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Saturday, February 9, 2013

Bad at the Bijou Interview - Part 3

The final part of the LVC interview from Bad at the Bijou.

"In your opinion, then, justice must prevail?" I asked.

"Not necessarily `justice'," he said, putting a finer point on it. "I think the truth should. If a thief gets away with it, let him not be trafficking in the wrong stuff. Let's not show the rapist ormurderer getting away with it-unless it's some kind of documentary you're filming but neither one of those. Otherwise, I don't want to be involved."

"It seems your presence on film has provoked strong reactions from the critics," I posed. "On the positive side, several have expressed admiration for you as an actor; but by arid large, few have been able to find kind words for the type of pictures you've done since striking out on your own. The general tone of the reviews-even when favorable to you, personally -is scornful of what you described as your outdoor adventures'."

"I don't think the critics know what the hell they're talking about sometimes," Van Cleef shot back. "I don't see anything wrong with a good honest approach in a film, and a good deal of feeling that somebody's put into it. I don't see anything wrong with that at all. No, I don't believe in the critics. Usually when they get negative, they bring in more people to the show than they turn away."

"The lack of critical acclaim doesn't bother you?"

"I don't think there was any lack of critical acclaim, on the Leone pictures. Some of the others," he warranted, "I can understand ... but I don't agree with! I don't believe in an awful lot of what the critics do. This local newspaper we've got here in Los Angeles knocked the hell out of me on pictures that I think were damned good. El Condor, for instance, where I played kind of a humorous heavy. They really wanted to knock that one out of the box! But nevertheless, it came out, and people have enjoyed it."

"One reason for the opprobrium your pictures have drawn, obviously, is the prevalent violence in their content," I stated, "something we're finding universally condemned lately in movies and television. The theory goes, of course, that imitations of-that buzz word-violence, by actors, would leak out into the surrounding society in the form of real criminal acts."

"Yeah, I understand you," Van Cleef responded wearily.

"Suppose, hypothetically, you were hauled before the P.T.A. or some other anti-violence-in-media group, and in some kangaroo court scenario, you were prosecuted for your work in films. What would be your defense? Would you just tell them to frig off?"

"Besides sayin' that," he laughed, "I would just say basically, '1 am an actor; and I will do goddamn near anything, as long as it doesn't go against my grain. And that would include belting women, kicking dogs, or hurting children. I won't do things of that nature'."

"Have you really rejected scripts on that principle?" I pressed."Scripts that were passed on to, and done by someone else?" ' "True. Very true," Van Cleef affirmed. "But basically I would say : I am an actor, that I enjoy what I'm doing and want to continue doing it, I want the public to enjoy it as much as I do, and that I'll never quit, until I'm dead. The things I do in a movie, I try to justify. If it's not in the script, I can't justify it; but if it's in the script, I will. What the real bad guys are doing is something entirely different. What they're doing is out on the street. My movies'll play on the street, but I'm not doing anything ' on the street. I'm in there to do a job; just like the P.T.A., or whoever, is out to do their job ... when they're doin' it, instead of horsin' around!

"I don't think it should be shown that the rapist, or murderer, or something like that gets away with it," he said. "That's when it begins to get a little sticky, because some goddarn nut-who's probably nuts already-will probably go out and try some dumb thing. That's what they say about too much violence on screen, which I don't agree with, because if they showed violence as realistically as it can be, then that would be a deterrent. But they don't. They make it look like fun and games, and you don't see the gore and blood. Then is when you're gonna have trouble, because it doesn't look like anybody gets hurt when they get punched in the mouth. Try it sometimes! Jesus Christ.

"I think the more gory violence is made, the more realistic, the better it is. And that way, I do notthink it is anything that's gonna entice anybody-unless they're already nuts! That doesn't necessarily agree with a lot of psychiatrists and psychologists, but it's my personal opinion. Show war as it is. Nobody'11 want to go to war. They don't want to go to war now, because they've seen it."

"As you certainly have," I said. "I understand your naval service in World War II took you to the Caribbean on a submarine chaser; then through the Mediterranean, Black and China seas on a mine sweeper. In effect, as a very young man you had seen the world, but a world half destroyed by war. What was the sensation of going back to many of these places years later, not as a sailor, but as a fflm star, and seeing them in peace and prosperity"

"Well, it's always a thrill to see a place when it's not at war," Van Cleef stated the obvious. "When we went over to Israel to make a couple of pictures, I had my wife with me. And she wanted to go to Jerusalem so bad. But a journalist I was having an interview with said, `Don't go to Jerusalem' Because they weren't printing half of what the actual damage and killing was, at that particular point. That was a few years ago when all holy hell was breakin' loose there. They would only print a portion of it. They wouldn't tell of all the innocent bystanders that got it, shot or stoned or blasted with a bomb. So wherever there's any turmoil in this world in any shape or form, and I'm aware of it, I avoid it. I won't take my wife into it, and I won't go anywhere without her."

"She accompanies you on location?"

"She goes with me everywhere. Most generally, we're together on all occasions. We made a pact when we first got married, back in 1976, that if she goes on a concert tour, I go with her. If I'm on a picture, she goes with me, and that's the way it's been. It's a mutual agreement. I don't push her into anything. I don't have to. She's more than willing to please me, just like I am willing to please her. And we respect each other's need to be alone once in a while, too. That counts for a lot. She likes to go walk on the beach, wherever we are; as she did in Israel, and up and down our own coasts here," Van Cleef said. A hard edge in his voice had disappeared, possibly as the mental pictures of actual, headline-making villains were replaced by one more tender. "I let her go wanderin' off," he said. "So, she's off on her own, just like I'm alone with my own thoughts. She can't see me ... but I've got my eye on her, my safety eye. Nothing's going to happen to her."

Footprints in the sand, a brush on canvas, keyboard duets, hearth and home. Such idyllic pastimes are not the wages of cinematic sin. Fortunately, real life has been kinder to Lee Van Cleef. Add one more reward so contrary to the deserts of most of his screen characters, one he would agree has been the best.

He got the girl. [October 1979.]

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