Hello there, fellow cultural mutants. Humble writer BAADASSSSS! is here to announce the launch of a special new regular column for Geeks of Doom, “If BAADASSSSS! Controlled The Universe.” I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of alternate timelines where certain events had radically different outcomes than the ones we know of, outcomes that forever altered the course of human history. Many books and articles have been written about the greatest movies that were never made. Most of those aborted features would have been dreams made reality for movie fans the world over were they made. With that in mind I will devote each edition of “If BAADASSSSS! Controlled The Universe” to the construction of my own personal alternate history of cinema where the movies that we beat ourselves over the head with our own shoes wondering how come they were never made did in fact make it to the big screen, and each time the results were glorious.
For this inaugural edition I take a look at The Expendables, but not the one we all know and mostly love. The all-star 2010 action epic headlined by Sylvester Stallone and a small army of the screen’s greatest ass-kicking manly men defied the odds by becoming a global box office sensation and giving rise to a sequel set to open this Friday that looks even better than the original. But let us consider for a moment what would The Expendables have looked like if it was made with an entirely different cast in a much different time. In this alternate reality the Stallone movie is actually a unacknowledged remake of a star-studded spectacular of bullets, bombs, and babes from the late 1970s that unfortunately remained unfinished and unreleased. Now imagine that the footage from the production of the original Expendables that survived had recently surfaced and we were about to get a first hand look into a movie that had the potential to be one of the greatest action films ever made.
The Expendables: The Original 1976 Version
In the beginning there was the word….
Robin Moore, the Army Air Corps nose gunner-turned-writer of the books on which the films The Green Berets and The French Connection were based, had hashed out over the course of a slow weekend in the summer of 1974 the first few chapters of what was to be his latest work, an action-packed novel about a team of battle-hardened mercenaries who become embroiled in a bloody power struggle between the corrupt military dictator of a fictional Latin American country and rogue ex-government operatives exploiting the country’s poorest citizens as free labor for a massive drug manufacturing and smuggling operation. Moore had based the book on his experiences in the Special Forces and interactions with various mercenaries around the world. The following Monday he presented his publisher with the chapters and a rough plot outline for the proposed novel which he titled The Expendables. The published rejected the book after reading a few pages from the first chapter, believing the narrative too grim and violent to make a good addition to the shelves of bookstores and grocery stores across the country.
Pictured: “Toll” Rhodes (William Smith) and Barney Ross (Clint Eastwood) meet up in Tool’s (Warren Oates) saloon to discuss their next mission.
Undeterred by this rejection Moore turned the unfinished book into a screenplay and sold it to Philip D’Antoni, the Hollywood producer who had helped bring The French Connection to the screen as well as the classic Steve McQueen police drama Bullitt. D’Antoni in turn shopped the script around to several major studios, but no one would take a chance on financing an Expendables movie (particularly since it would cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $15-20 million to produce – no small amount of cash in the ’70s). Moore, who was also serving as a producer on the gestating film, suggested to D’Antoni that they secure financing for The Expendables from independent sources. They met with potential financiers at the following year’s Cannes Film Festival and left the fest with more than enough to get the movie made – $17.5 million to be exact. Now all they needed to do was make the damn thing.
Pictured: Hale Caesar (Fred Williamson) secures weapons and ammunition for the Expendables’ incursion into Valverde.
D’Antoni and several of the moneymen decided that the script needed further work but Moore disagreed, leading to the first rift between the two producing partners. Following their disagreement Moore consented to a reduced role in the production and D’Antoni hired John Milius, who had then completed filming on his directorial debut The Wind and the Lion, to do a page one rewrite of Moore’s original screenplay. Over the course of eight weeks Milius strengthened the characters and amped up the action set pieces with his trademark flair for mythical machismo. Alan Sharp, the acclaimed Scottish screenwriter of Robert Aldrich’s western Ulzana’s Raid and the modern film noir Night Moves, was tapped after Milius’ departure to work on further character development and adding an undercurrent of post-Watergate political paranoia to the narrative, but Milius would return to the production for additional rewrites during the course of principal photography.
Pictured: Barney Ross (Clint Eastwood) reflects on his violent past after meeting with Mr. Church (William Devane).
Sam Peckinpah was originally hired to direct The Expendables for a fraction of his usual salary because of his affinity for the Milius/Sharp screenplay, not to mention that his last few films were financial flops that put him at odds with several major Hollywood studios. The director was in desperate need of a hit movie that would put him back on top in the industry and convinced Philip D’Antoni to move the production to Mexico after a week of filming establishing scenes in Los Angeles. Peckinpah then hired several of his most frequent collaborators – cinematographer Lucien Ballard, costume designer James Silke, editor Lou Lombardo, and composer Jerry Fielding – to work on the picture. Five weeks into filming Peckinpah was at war with D’Antoni over cost overruns and the director’s infamous drug and alcohol abuse. Despite D’Antoni’s reservations about canning Peckinpah, especially since the footage he had completed up to that point was astounding and would feature some of his finest cinematic moments since The Wild Bunch, the decision was made to replace him with Jack Starrett.
Pictured: Galloway (Timothy Carey) toasts the coming fall of Guerrera’s regime on the eve of the Expendables’ attack.
A veteran of low-budget action flicks such as the “Hell’s Angels versus the Viet Cong” B-classic The Losers and the freewheeling crime comedy The Dion Brothers, Starrett was no stranger to nightmarish productions but still found it difficult to get the film completed on a more truncated shooting schedule than he was used to. To offset potential headaches during filming Starrett brought in Monte Hellman, a journeyman filmmaker who had a reputation in the film industry for making superior B-movies as well as the acclaimed 1971 road movie Two-Lane Blacktop, to serve as second unit director. Once Peckinpah was sacked most of the production crew he brought on left in protest. William A. Fraker (Rosemary’s Baby) took Ballard’s place as director of photography, while Fielding’s scant compositions (created mostly from reading the script and watching early dailies) were trashed and D’Antoni decided to wait until filming wrapped to hire another composer.
Pictured: Masao Kanagawa (Sonny Chiba) endures brutal treatment at the hands of the Peste brothers after being captured by General Guerrera’s secret police.
By the time the production of The Expendables was shut down on April 23, 1976 filming had gone six weeks over schedule and nearly $3 million over budget – money that neither producer D’Antoni nor his international consortium of financiers really had. Initially Warner Bros. had agreed to distribute the film in the United States as a negative pick-up for a modest fee but ended up into the production for nearly half its budget after several of the financiers pulled out of the production amidst questionable circumstances. A completion bond company took over The Expendables soon after, leading to a legal and financial quagmire that would lead to the film’s complete dissolution and a protracted court battle that would drag on in various countries for nearly two decades until Warner Bros. agreed to settle with the film’s financiers and assume control of the footage shot by Sam Peckinpah and Jack Starrett.
Pictured: Following the botched African mission Lee Christmas (Michael Caine) keeps the unstable Gunnar Jensen (Rutger Hauer) at bay as the Expendables barely escape with their lives.
A plan was put into action to complete a reconstructed edit of The Expendables as best as possible with the available footage and release it to select theaters and on home video, but after a review of the the footage executives in Warner’s home entertainment division sadly determined that there were too many crucial missing or unfilmed scenes to finish the film. The footage was packed off into a storage vault at the studio and the unfinished film became a Hollywood legend. But recently there have been persistent rumors that the treasured Expendables footage would finally see the light of day as part of a documentary about the tumultuous production currently being assembled by Warner Bros. for possible inclusion on a future Sam Peckinpah Blu-ray box set. Let us pray those rumors turn out to be true.
Pictured: Galloway (Timothy Carey) and his powerful co-conspirators have a tense encounter with the Expendables.
The photos included in this article are color production stills originally prepared by Warner Bros. for a press kit promoting the American release of The Expendables originally scheduled for Christmas 1976 and then pushed back to the summer of 1977 – which would have pitted it against such box office juggernauts as Star Wars and Smokey and the Bandit – along with character descriptions, a breakdown of the plot, and a few behind-the-scenes anecdotes from one of the most troubled shoots in the history of cinema.
Pictured: Barney Ross (Clint Eastwood) is approached by a representative (Morgan Paull) of Mr. Church.
Clint Eastwood stars as Barney Ross, an ex-Marine, Vietnam veteran, and leader of the mercenary outfit the Expendables. After being honorably discharged from the Corps following two tours of duty in Vietnam Ross formed the Expendables with several of his fellow combat veterans always on the lookout for a great battle and a hearty paycheck. Eastwood and Peckinpah had long desired to work together but couldn’t find the right project until The Expendables came along.
Joining Eastwood in the original The Expendables were:
Pictured: Michael Caine as Lee Christmas in the opening sequence of The Expendables.
Michael Caine as British marksman and knife expert Lee Christmas. Caine signed on to The Expendables for a career-high salary and the chance to work with Eastwood and Peckinpah. At the time the actor was best known for playing hardened badasses in his home country in movies such as Zulu, The Ipcress File, and Get Carter. Caine saw the role of Lee Christmas as a summer holiday compared to the darker characters he’s essayed in the past but he still sought to instill a soul and complexity in the cool-headed merc who dispatches his enemies with cold precision and gallows’ humor.
Pictured: Masao Kanagawa (Sonny Chiba) contemplates returning to action after almost getting killed on the African mission.
Sonny Chiba as hand-to-hand combat expert Masao Kanagawa, a former enforcer for the Yakuza who was targeted for assassination after his affair with a powerful Tokyo crime lord’s mistress was discovered. An international action movie star thanks to the success of the Street Fighter series, Sonny Chiba leaped at the chance to work with Sam Peckinpah and Clint Eastwood. Due to Chiba only knowing a little English at the time he was cast in the movie most of his character’s dialogue was deleted, instead letting the actor’s intense screen presence and brutal martial arts techniques do the talking. Chiba had several extended fight sequences that he choreographed personally, but only one of the fights made it to the shooting stage before the production was shut down. The raw dailies of the bloody battle that have been kept in a film storage vault at Warner Bros. for more than three decades were screened recently and the consensus was that the fight was too violent even for a Peckinpah film and would have been edited considerably in order for The Expendables to secure an R rating from the Motion Picture Association of America.
Pictured: Fred Williamson, as Hale Caesar, in his climatic battle with Galloway henchman Enzo Peste (David Hess).
Former professional football player-turned-actor Fred Williamson as heavy weapons specialist Hale Caesar. Before he was cast in The Expendables Williamson had become a movie star thanks to his work in blaxploitation classics like Black Caesar and Hammer and he figured a major supporting role in an ensemble action-adventure movie where he would be playing alongside stars like Eastwood and Caine and fellow grindhouse gods Sonny Chiba and William Smith would be his ticket to big time Hollywood stardom. During production Williamson saw his role severely downsized during the endless rewriting of the script and would often engage in heated arguments with Peckinpah and Milius. He felt that the other characters in the film were being sidelined in favor of more scenes with Eastwood and Caine, and rightly so. Not surprisingly Williamson couldn’t have been happier when the production was shut down even though he had fond memories of working with his fellow icons in celluloid badassery. At least the former gridiron god was given several prime opportunities to kick major ass during the production of The Expendables; he was even given a few helpful pointers in swift hand-to-hand combat by co-star Chiba, a handy new skill he would employ with glee in his climatic battle with one of the main villain’s chief henchmen (as shown in the photo above). Williamson would go on to have a more pleasant and productive experience working on Enzo Castellari’s Italian WWII actioner Inglorious Bastards.
Pictured: “Toll” Rhodes (William Smith) works his charm on a lady friend (Connie Strickland) before returning to the fray.
William Smith as suave ladies’ man and demolitions expert Lucas “Toll” Rhodes. A three decade veteran of film and television at the time, Smith’s contract only guaranteed him a certain number of scenes so he could work on The Expendables and keep his acting commitments to various television shows in the U.S. On the set he became close friends with Milius and would later work with him on Conan the Barbarian and Red Dawn. Smith had also previously worked with Williamson in Hammer and acted for Starrett in The Losers; after the collapse of The Expendables Smith and Starrett collaborated on Hollywood Man and in 1980 he would play Clint Eastwood’s enemy in the comedy hit Any Which Way You Can.
Pictured: After being forced out of the Expendables Gunnar Jensen (Rutger Hauer) plots revenge on his former teammates.
Rutger Hauer as Gunnar Jensen, a German-born sniper who had proved invaluable to the team in the past but couldn’t deal with the toll the dangerous work has taken on his body and mind without the use of alcohol and heroin, which naturally only made things worse. After Jensen’s increasingly unstable actions in the field almost result in total disaster for the team on their African mission that opens the film, Ross respectfully shows him the door, but as in the unpublished novel and the 2010 remake Gunnar soon returns briefly working for the other side. Hauer signed on to The Expendables hoping it would launch his career in American movies. When the production was shut down and the project permanently scrapped he returned to Europe to star in Paul Verhoeven’s World War II drama Soldier of Orange, the movie that helped him lock down the part of Roy Batty in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner – the film that would ultimately do what The Expendables wasn’t given the chance to. Seven years after The Expendables Hauer would star in a film adaptation of the Robert Ludlum novel The Osterman Weekend, the final film directed by Sam Peckinpah before his death in 1984.
Pictured: Tool (Warren Oates) drinks and regales the Expendables with his tales of derring do.
The Expendables operate out of a Texas border town piano bar owned by Tool (Warren Oates), a retired team member and friend and mentor to Barney. Oates was cast in the role by his frequent collaborator Peckinpah and it was assumed he would be replaced by another actor when Starrett took over the production, but Starrett had previously worked with Oates on Race with the Devil and their working relationship remained solid and professional. Thus Oates was able to remain in the part and was even granted an extra scene that was to give the audience some insight into his terrible past, written in less than an hour by Milius with input by the actor.
Pictured: CIA agent Mr. Church (William Devane) threatens Barney Ross (Clint Eastwood) during their meeting.
Ross is contacted by mysterious CIA agent Mr. Church (William Devane) with a mission just a hair shy of suicidal. He demands a million dollars in payment for his team: half now, the other half upon completion of the job. Devane was cast in the movie by Starrett after Peckinpah’s original choice James Coburn quit prior to filming his scenes and was only on set for one day. Rumor has it that in one of Milius’ other drafts Church had a few additional scenes and was supposed to play a larger role in the action-packed climax. Producer D’Antoni ordered those scenes removed to give the character a elusive nature and also because he had hopes that The Expendables would be successful enough to warrant a sequel in which Devane would return for an expanded role. Interesting bit of trivia: Alan Sharp named Mr. Church as a little nod to Frank Church, the Idaho Democratic senator who in 1975 served as chairman for the United States Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities. The committee was given the responsibility of investigating illegal intelligence gathering on the part of the CIA and FBI in the wake of the Watergate scandal that brought down the presidency of Richard Nixon.
Pictured: General Guerrera (Emilio Fernandez) holds court with his besieged cabinet after learning of his betrayal at the hands of Galloway (Timothy Carey).
The Expendables’ latest and deadliest mission is to mount the overthrow of General Eduardo Guerrera (Emilio Fernandez), a Mexican military hero who was installed as the president of the fictional Latin American nation Valverde at the behest of political and corporate interests in the United States. Fernandez was cast in the film at the insistence of Peckinpah having previously worked with the director on The Wild Bunch and Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia. The noted Mexican actor and filmmaker had been a revolutionary fighter in his younger years and could relate to the character of Guerrera. Out of fear that this character could become another violent and decadent monster like the vicious General Malpache from The Wild Bunch Fernandez worked with Milius and Peckinpah during the production to further develop Guerrera into a much different character. In the process the general became a much more complex person, a man who realizes that too late that he has betrayed every noble ideal he was instilled with growing up that he had hoped to pass along to his only daughter Serena, who in an interesting plot twist is revealed to be the great leader he once was. Fernandez even fought to give his character a third act redemption. Although The Expendables would never see completion Fernandez remained proud of his performance as Guerrera up until his death in 1986.
Pictured: Frank Galloway (Timothy Carey) plots against Guerrera in an Americanized Valverde strip club.
Unbeknownst to Ross and his team the general is under the considerable influence of Frank Galloway (Timothy Carey), an eccentric former agent with the CIA who went rogue after being assigned as Guerrera’s handler. Galloway sought to make his fortune by using the general’s office to control all cocaine production in Valverde. Known for being a difficult person on and off camera Carey initially got along well with director Peckinpah, but eventually the two demanding personalities clashed as Carey would veer from the script and improvise dialogue in his scenes. By the time Starrett took over most of Carey’s scenes were in the can; all that was left was for his death scene. Galloway was to have died with a grenade stuffed in his mouth, courtesy of Barney Ross. Reportedly the scene was never filmed and to this day only exists via water-damaged storyboards and script pages that were hastily written the day Carey’s explosive exit was scheduled to be filmed – the very day in fact that production on The Expendables was shut down for good.
Pictured: Enzo Peste (David Hess) intimidates the peasants of Valverde the only way he knows how.
Galloway also has high-dollar enforcers in his employ to keep Guerrera under his control and the cocaine flowing: Enzo (David Hess) and Giovanni (Fabio Testi) Peste, two brothers from Italy who are also the most ruthless killers the nation has produced since the fall of Mussolini – appropriate since their last name translated into English means “plague”. Unlike Testi David Hess, who passed away last year, was not Italian but he had achieved notoriety as the evil Krug in Wes Craven’s grimy shocker Last House on the Left and would play variations on the character in Italian films like Hitch-Hike and House on the Edge of the Park. The parts of the Peste brothers were tailored to his and Testi’s acting strengths: Enzo was originally envisioned as an insane mute who had cut his own tongue out on a challenge while serving a ten-year sentence in Italian prison but Hess’ casting inspired writer John Milius, who was on set for the majority of production, to change the character to a hyperactive psycho who indulges himself too much on cocaine, making him a liability to Galloway’s operation.
Pictured: Giovanni Peste (Fabio Testi) gears up for the final battle against the Expendables.
Testi was a ten-year veteran of Italian cinema at the time he was cast in The Expendables, which was to mark his American film debut. On set he developed a friendship with second unit director Hellman and the two would work together on the films China 9, Liberty 37 (also starring Warren Oates), Iguana, and most recently Road to Nowhere. His performance as the more controlled of the Peste brothers, according to sources close to the aborted production and people who have seen Peckinpah and Starrett’s dailies, was said to be one of the strongest and most accomplished of his career. In the final draft of the shooting script written by John Milius Giovanni kills Rhodes before being having his neck broken by Kanagawa, but his death scene was never filmed. Special effects make-up master Dick Smith took a cast of Testi’s head, neck, and shoulders and designed a gruesome effect for the scene where the false neck would twist almost 360 degrees and bone would protrude through the skin.
Pictured: Isela Vega as Serena Guerrera, following an emotional confrontation with Barney Ross (Clint Eastwood).
During the course of the movie Ross finds himself falling in love with the general’s beautiful daughter Serena (Isela Vega). At first she appears content as a child of privilege but it’s soon revealed Serena is one of the secret leaders of a rebel uprising who have claimed responsibility for destroying much of Galloway’s prized cocaine shipments. Vega was approached for the role personally by Sam Peckinpah due to their having working together a few years before on Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia. What had interested the actress the most about the script was the honest but nonetheless swooningly romantic relationship between Serena and Ross, one of the crucial additions made to the script by Alan Sharp. Unfortunately much of the love story was gutted from the script during extensive on-set rewrites by Milius. In the process both the emotional core of The Expendables and Vega’s principal motivation for doing the film in the first place were deleted for all time. The relationship as filmed is but a pale shadow of what Sharp and Peckinpah had originally intended. However Vega’s tender yet tough characterization of the emotionally wounded warrior Serena was so good it most likely would have made her an international film star had The Expendables been given its fair chance at the box office.
There you have it my friends. While the pulp masterpiece that I wrote about in this article may never have happened in reality I like to think that in some amazing alternate universe it was made and was classic and badass and would be enjoyed for generations to come. Maybe an even better version of this story has been made somewhere beyond our meager comprehension. Who knows? The important thing is that we’re able to dream of the possibilities, and maybe one of these days most of the people reading this will be able to make those dreams come true.
And before I forget, The Expendables 2 opens this Friday, August 17, 2012.
Disclaimer: The photos used in this article were taken from the films Any Which Way You Can, That Man Bolt, The Gauntlet, The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, The Street Fighter, The Wilby Conspiracy, The Outfit, Play Dirty, Black Caesar, Black Samson, Nighthawks, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, Rolling Thunder, The Wild Bunch, Hitch-Hike, and The Big Racket. Each of these films are currently available on DVD and/or Blu-ray.