Archive for The Hi-Lo Country

Phantom Phones

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 2, 2021 by dcairns

More from Goin’ Crazy with Sam Peckinpah and All our Friends by Max Evans “as told to” Robert Nott.

Not many people know that Sam Peckinpah was a mystic, though Fern Lea, his only sister, said once that only she and I knew about it. About ten days after his return from the Major Dundee shoot, he asked me to go into town with him to meet some industry people for a business lunch at a place that was called either the Steak ’n’ Ale or the Scotch ’n’ Sirloin. We were driving down Highway 101. He was driving a Corvette at the time. A car was coming straight at us in our lane, but it was quite a ways off. Then a phone in Sam’s car rang, and then again—except there was no phone in the car. Lord.

And just at that time the car coming at us went right through us—head on.

Sam looked at me and said, “Did you hear the phone?”

“Yeah.”

“Twice?”

“Yeah.”

“Did you see what just happened?”

“Yeah.”

It was a miraculous metaphysical phenomenon. We were sober. It happened. I don’t care what anybody else thinks.

This fascinates me partly because it’s so cinematic. And yet I can’t think of a single really mystical scene in a Peckinpah film, though scenes like the departure from the village in THE WILD BUNCH have a kind of unstated magic to them.

Since Sam didn’t discuss this with anyone, apparently, I guess when he worked with Ida Lupino on JUNIOR BONNER he probably never learned that she;d received a mysterious phone call from a family friend, the mystery being that said friend had hung himself three days before.

Sam expected his friends to know what he was thinking. After that phone incident, he would often say to me, in a crowd or during one of his business luncheons, “Did you hear the phone?” to tip me off that he wanted something to change. Sometimes I would catch on; sometimes not. If he was in a business meeting with some industry people he didn’t like, and he wanted it to end, and I was there, he would turn to me and say, “Did you hear the phone?” and I was expected to find a reason to end the meeting there and then.

This jibes with L.Q. Jones’ remark that Peckinpah would get frustrated with actors and crew because he’d have thought he told them to do something when he really hadn’t. Maybe he’d used telepathy and it hadn’t worked. Or maybe, as Jones suggests, he’d been thinking about each project for so long her assumed everyone else understood it as thoroughly as he did, and would know what was required.

Not long afterward, while Pat, the girls, and I were still living in Studio City, the four of us were going down to Sam’s Broad Beach house for another mandatory weekend. Pat was carefully driving the twins and me from Studio City, where we lived, to Broad Beach. The road down to Broad Beach was a narrow pavement drive with what I would call “land waves” up and down along its surface to the front or back of the houses along Broad Beach. There was only one dangerous spot on this Broad Beach road, right at the bottom of the last of the “land waves,” just before the turn parallel to the beach. As Pat navigated the car at this point, a phone rang in our car three times, so loudly it shocked the hell out of all of us.

There was no phone in our car. The twins stood up in the back seat and peered over the front to double-check, wide-eyed—they wanted validation.

Pat slowed to a stop as we hit the turn. Just then a huge car came our way at a great, reckless speed, missing us by about six inches. We were all stunned and thankfully silent as Pat stopped our Buick sedan. That phone sound saved our nice little family from becoming a pile of hamburger meat—and we were thankful. Without any doubt, we were still alive because of that nonexistent ringing phone.

We didn’t talk about it at all that day—except for when Pat and I decided not to bring it up to the girls again since it was something we could not explain. We were justified in this silence as the twins slowly adjusted to similar “happenings” as they grew up. Varied beyond-the-norm incidents became a part of natural life for them over the years.

I told Sam about the incident. He wasn’t surprised. “The ringing is saving us for something, huh?” he said with a smile. “We better get after it.”

What Evans and Peckinpah wanted to get after was a film adaptation of Evans’ novel of the cowboy life, The Hi-Lo Country, to star Lee Marvin. The magic moment when Lee was available, his star riding high, and Peckinpah was employable, never quite materialised. Stephen Frears filmed the book in 1998 with Woody Harrelson. The invisible phone didn’t ring to stop him, or if it did, he never heard it.

One image is from THE GETAWAY, a Sam Peckinpah film, the other from VANISHING POINT, not a Sam Peckinpah film, but a mystical one.