Stephen Boyd in Westerns : “Montana Trap” (Potato Fritz), 1975

Stephen Boyd started his Hollywood career in a Western (“The Bravados”) in 1958, so in a bittersweet way it is appropriate that he would close out his career (albeit far too early!) with another Western.  During 1975 Stephen made a flurry of pictures that were German productions (“Lady Dracula”, “Frauenstation”) and this ‘sauerkraut’ Western called “Montana Trap”, or “Potato Fritz”, or “The Massacre at Condor Pass”. It was directed by Peter Schamoni, whose own relatives had immigrated to Montana in the 1860’s.  The film was shot primarily in Almeria, Spain, the same location as “Shalako” (1968). Most of the cast was German, including it’s main star, the always delightful Hardy Krüger (“The Flight of the Phoenix”), who actually started out in movies around the same time as Stephen did. He became one of the biggest German stars of the 1960’s. For more about Hardy’s very interesting life in Germany during and before WWII, see IMDB bio here.  Veteran German actor Anton Diffring also co-stars as Lieutenant Slade.

The movie starts off with a flashback to a massacre of an army unit on the march in rough Indian country transporting gold funds for both the settlers and the Indians who have been displaced. After the massacre, some rifles are stolen, but the gold disappears. A certain Captain Henry escapes the attack, unbeknownst to his attackers. However the attackers were not Indians but white men dressed up as Indians, which no one yet realizes. These men rule the isolated settlement beyond the pass (which includes some settlers alongside these ruffians), and because of their predicament (which they blame on the Indians), they are trapped here.

Along comes Bill Addison (Stephen Boyd), who rides unscathed into this settlement to the surprise of the settlers and the roughnecks in town. He’s on the hunt for this legendary cache of lost gold. He settles into the saloon to sample some of the local whiskey. Potato Fritz (Hardy Krüger) arrives next,  looking for his next drink to ease the sorrow of this trampled potato crop. His small abode has just been ransacked again, this time by the real Indians. He is an pacifist farmer who lives with a baby black bear and a cow out in the wilderness. He keeps his weapons tied up on a pole to show the Indians he means them no harm. When he arrives in town, he is known by everyone there and mocked for his drinking and quirky behavior. Of course, Addison takes an interest in this character as well. Addison hints that he is looking for the aforementioned Captain Henry who is presumed dead among the massacred soldiers. Henry had a reputation for dispensing justice by shooting criminals through the wrist. Addison had been one of his unfortunate victims.

As the story develops, these two form a tumultuous bond of sorts which, after a knock-down-drag-out brawl in the dirt, becomes a cooperative understanding. They work together to help the settlers get through the pass eventually, and also dispense their own justice against of the ‘gang’ of ruffians who had been terrorizing the pass. In the end it is revealed that Potato Fritz was the long lost Captain Henry all along. Addison reveals his wound in the wrist to Captain Henry before riding off into the proverbial sunset…and so does Stephen Boyd as he exits his final Western.

Stephen wears a full beard in this movie. He looks older in this film – graying and definitely thinner –  yet still handsome. His hair is as thick and curly as ever and his bright blue eyes sparkle, along with that wry, mischievous grin. He continues to wear Western clothes with a certain flair and swagger. I especially like the silk scarf he ties around his neck, one of his favorite Western fashions it seems. He wears an almost identical scarf like this in “The Man Called Noon”.

I really enjoy the chemistry between Hardy and Stephen in this film. They really seem to have liked each other’s company and they certainly work great on screen together with a true mutual respect for one another. It is sobering to think that they would have been co-stars again in “The Wild Geese” had it not been for Stephen’s untimely death in 1977.

Luckily there is a fairly decent DVD version of this movie available on www.ioffer.com aand Amazon (Germany).

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Rare Stephen Boyd Press Photos from Germany 

Stephen Boyd as Brad Killian in Kill!

Barney (Ernest Borgnine) tries to blackmail Frankie Fane (Stephen Boyd) in The Oscar 

A scene from The Oscar
Frankie Fane (Stephen Boyd) fights his way to stardom in The Oscar
Fantastic Voyage
The abduction of Bortei (Francoise Dorleac) by Jamuga (Stephen Boyd) in Genghis Khan
Stephen Boyd as Jamuga in Genghis Khan
Omar Sharif and Stephen Boyd practice swordplay for their battle scene in The Fall of the Roman Empire
The Big Gamble
The Big Gamble
The Big Gamble

Stephen Boyd filming “Jumbo” at MGM Studios 1962 – The Circus Maximus

Below are some nice newspaper ads for “Jumbo” starring Doris Day and Stephen Boyd when the movie was released in December of 1962, and a few funny stories about the filming of the movie in early 1962 at the MGM Culver City Studio. The film was so big that it covered two enormous lots and two large stage sets at MGM!

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“MGM hasn’t seen anything like it since the Circus Maximus – if then. “Billy Rose’s Jumbo” (as they are calling it now) is all over the place…The elephants are housed on Lot 2; so are the horses being trained for Doris Day…The picture is spilling all over the sprawling Culver City studio. The main tent has been erected twice–on Lot 3, about a mile from the studio proper measuring 130×180 ft, and capable of seating 2,000 people, and on Stage 15, MGM’s largest. Here the actual circus acts, some 50 in number, will be shot, and here Miss Day Stephen Boyd and others will perform on trapeze and tightrope.

The big top on Lot 3 is surrounded by a menagerie, a mess tent, a wardrobe tent, wagons, and a sideshow, complete with a merry-go-round. Still another stage, 29, will be utilized for filming the close-up dramatic scenes.

The Los Angeles Times, Feb 7, 1962

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“On the set of MGM’s “Jumbo,” Stephen Boyd, who appears opposite Doris Day as a high-wire specialist and clown, recalled his own humble beginning as a London street busker, or funny man. He remembered that a Bobby watched him try to raise a crowd to earn a few pennies. The policeman sauntered over and said : “After you’re through bein’ funny, mate, you can join the mourners at St. Paul’s.”

The Los Angeles Times, Feb 25, 1962

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Stephen Boyd, co-starring with Doris Day in MGM’s “Jumbo,” discovered, much to his discomfort, that the sequence in which he goes into the cage and subdues a lion was scheduled for the last day of shooting. So Boyd went to the animal’s trainer to ask about the lions culinary habits. “Oh,” the trainer said nonchalantly, “I wouldn’t worry too much about Pete. He’s ferocious looking, but he’s from Italy, and over there he chomped up so many martyrs in those Italian movies that I don’t think he’d go for you.” Boyd retreated as gracefully as possible and was heard muttering: “I played Messala in ‘Ben-Hur’ and I don’t think you could call him a martyr.”

The Los Angeles Times, April 29, 1962

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“Jumbo” has completed filming at MGM, and a variety of amusing incidents during production have been noted here and elsewhere. There was one on the final day when Stephen Boyd was called upon to drive a farm wagon drawn by a spirited horse. After Boyd finished his rehearsals, director Charles Walters commented :”That’s great, Steve, but can you come around that curve a little faster?” The star answered with a question: “Didn’t you see ‘Ben-Hur’?”

The Los Angeles Times, August 26, 1962

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Stephen Boyd, a Rolls-Royce and a Chariot!

In early 1963 Stephen Boyd, a man who loved his automobiles, became the proud owner of a brand new Rolls-Royce, which apparently was delivered to him while he was filming “The Fall of the Roman Empire” in Spain. The two humorous anecdotes below about Boyd’s new car are from the Los Angeles Times.

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“Chariot Race Champ Drives Rolls-Royce”

Feb 17, 1963  Los Angeles Times

Stephen Boyd has become the unchallenged modern chariot champion. Because of his work in “Ben-Hur” and the currently shooting “Fall of the Roman Empire,” Boyd qualifies as the Sterling Moss of the chariot set and the Donald Campbell of the Roman racers. “Five years ago I made ‘Ben-Hur’ and people still call me ‘Messala,'” the actor said. “It makes you wonder how far you can go in life without a chariot. I figure they have taken me farther than a conscientious Roman Red Arrow messenger.”  A Rolls-Royce owner off the set, Steve says chariots compare favorably to modern vehicles as far as safety is concerned. “The auto driver forgets he has a hundred times more horses in his hands than the charioteer, but he isn’t one-tenth as careful.”

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Stephen Boyd shows off his chariot riding skills during the making of “The Fall of the Roman Empire” in early 1963 in Spain.

May 19, 1963  Los Angeles Times

Hardy passers-by braving a rugged location of Samuel Bronston’s “Fall of the Roman Empire” in the Guadarrama mountains of Spain, witnessed the arrival of a brand new Rolls-Royce from which alighted two royal Romans in full regalia and a man in a red snow suit. They were actors Stephen Boyd, owner of the car, Christopher Plummer and director Anthony Mann. En route, Boyd had extolled the virtues of his new auto, not even sparing that bit about hearing only the clock. As he and Plummer mounted their chariots, Mann growled to Boyd : “This AD 180, two horsepower, no stand-up top sports coupe is hardly as smooth running as your Rolls. But if you don’t give me a more exciting ride in it than you just did in that gold-plated hearse, I’ll let you lose this one too…just as you did in ‘Ben-Hur.'”

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Boyd, Mann and Plummer in snow-bound Spain during the filming of “The Fall of The Roman Empire”

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Was Stephen Boyd the inspiration for this 1965 paperback artwork?

I came across this book in one of my many book store visits one day, and was startled to pick it up and see Stephen Boyd’s face on the cover! This Pocket Cardinal edition was published in December 1965, just around the time of “The Bible” and “Genghis Khan”. “The Fall of the Roman Empire had been out the year before. It seems that the artist took Stephen’s face and modified it (he did not include Stephen’s magnificent cleft chin, for example!) for the Greek warrior on the cover.

By the way, this novel “The Shining” written by Stephen Marlowe (not to be confused with Stephen King’s horror novel of the same name – so many Stephen’s in this post!) is an excellent ancient Greek novel written in a very Mary Renault sort of fashion. It is about a fictional character who is an actor turned warrior called Hiero of Marathon. Hiero gets caught in all sorts of Peloponnesian war adventures, including the siege of Syracuse and ending with Xenophon’s famous march of the Ten Thousand through Asia. There are some excellent character sketch’s of historical figures, such as Alcibiades, Socrates, Cyrus, Lysander and Gylippus.  It’s a hard one to find, but if you love ancient Greek fiction, it’s worth tracking down. And the added bonus- you have Stephen Boyd inspired artwork on the cover!

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Part 7. “The Fall of the Roman Empire” by Harry Whittington- Taming the Princess 

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On the farthest reaches of the Danube frontier, the Roman legions found themselves filled with a despair, which for the first time in twelve centuries came from within. They had been cold before, faced overwhelming odds, gone farther from home, met defeat, but for the first time they huddled in the desolate marshes into which their pursuit of the Macromanni had led them, feeing cut off from hope, depressed and dispirited because whisper had it Commodus Emperor was ending support of the north campaign.

No man liked to enter such a swamp of desolation, but disciplined fighters went where the battle was. Never before had they faced the probability of abandonment by Rome.

There was no warmth in this chilled land. The marsh was wild, infested with death and unseen terrors, all of it blanketed with low-lying fog.

Behind the soldiers in a picketed prison pit, the captive barbarian women and children huddled together against the cold.

Livius moved past the prisoners, gazing at his soldiers but not speaking to them.  He went through the dank encampment, sharing the loneliness of his legions, but haunted  by something he had lost that most of them had never known.

A light glimmered from a tent ahead of him in the fog. He walked toward it without any sense of anticipation.

Through the slit of the tent-flap, Livius saw Timonides and the barbarian princess Xenia. Timonides was reading by the inadequate flickering of a swinging oil lamp. Before the Greek teacher, Xenia sat rigidly.  Her eyes glittered with sullen hatred. Holding a wax tablet and a stylus clumsily, she watched Timonides intently, trying to gather some gleam of sense from all he was teaching her.

When Livius entered the tent, Xenia’s eyes darkened. The look of hatred in them became even more intense. Livius saw that glitter impaling him, but ignored it.

When Timonides saw it was Livius, he put away the document from which he was reading. Sighing with relief, Xenia instantly dropped stylus and tablet.

Timonides stood up, a warm smile lighting his dark face. “I am teaching the princess how to read and write.”

Livius nodded, glancing at Xenia with a look of curiosity. She averted her gaze.

“I am teaching her Greek,” Timonides said with a smile. “That is my way of trying to make a Roman out of her.”

Livius exhaled in weariness. “A Roman out of her?” He paced morosely, both of them watching him. “This is a war without end–no matter what they say in Rome. You think you have Ballomar beaten, he disappears only to come back stronger than ever.” He heeled around, face gray with rage, his dark eyes fixed on the savage princess. “What sort of people are you, Xenia? You have no homes, no families. You live on horses.”

Xenia straightened on the ground. Her voice was tinged with contempt. “We are warriors–”

“Warriors?” Suddenly Livius stride over to her, grabbed her. He pulled her to her feet before she could struggle at all. “Don’t you ever yearn for a man?” He held her savagely against him, his face gray and taut, and no sign of pleasure in his eyes, his mouth a rash of rage. “To be held like this? To be loved?”

For a moment, breathless, Xenia pressed against him, her heart hammering, her untamed emotions violently and quickly roused.

Her fingers dug into his arms, she clung to him. But this lasted less than the space of a harried breath. In that time she was flooded with raging memories. She remembered the way she had gone on her knees to him, waiting for him to act the victor claiming his rights over a female prisoner. This was the treatment she understood, and even when she fought him–if she opposed him that night in that tent at Vindobona–she would not have hated him because there was no man even among her father’s people to match this splendid man. Her opposition would have been half-hearted, but her passions would have been of a violence he would never know in the effete cities of the South. She had offered herself, even if he were her hated enemy. Nothing could ever erase the memory of the strange treatment he’d shown her, acting as if she were not only unlovely, but not a woman at all.

Defiantly, she writhed free, hurtling her words and her hatred at him. “No! No.”

Livius stepped toward her. He saw Timonides watching them, but Timonides would not attempt to deter him, no one could stop him if he meant to take her. A man needed a woman, worse than ever in this desolate place, even a barbarian like this one.

Suddenly he spoke somewhat more gently. “Then what do you live for? Even warriors must yearn for peace?”

Xenia crouched defiantly, voice shrill. “Peace is for pigs. We live for victory.”

Livius pushed her away from him roughly. The sudden fire that had flared to instant life was even more abruptly quenched. He didn’t want her. He didn’t want any woman. It was a hellish truth he had learned, when you feel rage toward the only woman you could love, you hated all women with that same fierce intensity.

He needed something, but it wasn’t this half-wild creature. He drew the back of his hand across his forehead, for that instant almost overcome with dizzying weariness. His clothing was intolerable, the weight of his flat, short sword unbearable. With a tired movement, he removed the sword, place it on the table without even glancing at it.

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