Eagles Attack at Dawn

We weren’t back at Benedict Canyon more than a month when we packed for Australia to do a remake of a great film noir, D.O.A., which had starred Edmund O’Brien. It was to be directed by an old friend and very capable American movie maker, Eddie Davis. Eddie’s signature was a cigar stub that he never lit and which never left his mouth. It’s possible he slept with it in place.

The time in Australia was pleasant and uneventful. When we got home, there was a message from my manager. A fellow was in from Israel (where Combat! was a popular show) who wanted me for a film about one of that country’s real live war heroes from the Six Day War of 1967.

 The catch was that he didn’t have much money, so my manager, Gene Yusem, had cut a deal with him, depending on if I liked the script. He’d meet a sixth of my salary, pick up the tab on a hotel suite including all food and beverages, a car and driver, and the usual $750 a week (in Israeli coin) for expenses. He would have balked about the suite if he knew I had room service for breakfast, a couple of martinis before dinner and a good wine with it.

The good part was that I would own the negative for Japan. Gene had already been in contact with a Korean distributor who lived in Japan and owned a chain of theaters there. He was ready to buy the rights for a hefty sum; so, in the long run I’d come out way ahead.

Menachim Golan, who I later dubbed The Thief of Israel, showed up at Benedict Canyon the next afternoon with a script tucked under his arm. We sat around the pool and discussed the movie. He drank Coke while I sipped my favorite libation, a dry martini. He was quite charming, and like most con men, could turn it on and off. At the time, I had no reason to doubt him. After all, the Israelis had fought a hard battle for what they had, and they were working their asses off to turn the desert into a sea of productive farmland. I read the script, which was the usual action stuff, sort of the Israeli version of Combat!. I like it and signed on. Two first-class round trip tickets went with the deal and my salary was paid in a lump sum up front.

When we checked in at the Sheraton in Tel Aviv, we were met by Menachim and his producing partner, and cousin, Yoram Globus, later known by me as "Global Gonif Globus" — gonif being Yiddish for "thief." Yorum explained that Israel was a poor country and didn’t have limousines. They asked if we minded taking taxis and they’d reimburse us from the receipts. I’m so smart! I actually fell for that line!

There was another American actor in the film, Peter Brown. He’s very good, had starred in the western series Laredo in the early sixties. He stayed at our hotel and spent a lot of days getting a tan at the swimming pool and dating the local Israeli girls and the good-looking female tourists. He was a delightful bachelor, with a great sense of humor and obviously quite a stud.

From day one of production I could see we were in trouble. I stepped out of makeup and wardrobe onto the set, which was in an old deserted mosque just outside Tel Aviv, to the noise of hammers and people scrambling around like ants, seemingly knowing what they were doing. Menachim was shouting orders all over the place in Hebrew. Besides producing, he was also directing the picture.

As I watched this not-so-organized chaos, I got a sinking feeling that this was maybe his first directing chore, maybe even his first as a producer. Unfortunately, I was right. I watched a man placing squibs in a six-by-six wooden post, about seven feet high, painted white. He’d drilled holes in the front of the post about two inches apart, placed his squibs in the holes and ran his twisted wires down the post, covering them (and the holes) with putty and then painting them white. I ambled over to Menachim.

"What’s that guy doing?" I asked, pointing.

"Planting squibs for a machine gun effect."

"Where’s the special effects man?"

"He’s the special effects man."

"Well," I said, "he doesn’t know anything about special effects."

For the first time since I’d entered the set, Mencahim turned to me. "He’s an explosives expert."

"Oh?" I said.

"Do me a favor, Rick. Maybe we don’t do it like you do in Hollywood, but believe me, we know what we’re doing. All I want from you, is just to act for me. We’ll take care of the rest. Go sit down and relax until we call." And he went back to pointing here and there and shouting instructions into the bedlam.

I sat down in a canvas chair and watched until Yoram Globus came over and said they were ready for me. As Menachim placed me just in front of the post and about three inches to the side of it he said, "This will be your first shot of the picture. On action, the squibs will go off in sequence and you’ll react to the gunfire so close to your head. Then we cut."

I stepped out of the set. "One," I said, "this will not be my first shot of the picture because I won’t be in it. When those squibs go off, whoever is standing next to them is going to get a face full of powder burns and wood splinters."

Menachim got an expression on his face like, Oh, my God, I’ve got a temperamental Hollywood star on my hands. "I told you Rick, we know what we’re doing, so please, step into the set."

"You know what you’re doing?" I asked. I reached into my pocket and pulled out some Israeli money. I hadn’t learned how to count it yet, but it had to be at least a $150. "Here’s some dough that says you don’t. So prove it to me. Set off the squibs, and, just for the hell of it, you stand in my spot."

For the first time Menachim wavered. He got an extra, dressed in fatigues (as all the cast members were), and placed him where I was supposed to stand. He stepped back to the camera, raised his hand and I grabbed it. "Does that kid speak English?" I asked.

"Not much, why?"

"Tell him to keep his eyes closed and his face turned away from the post." Menachim must have, because the lad did so. On a command from Menachim, the squibs went off in sequence, beautifully. The wire blew out, showing itself in a long hanging string. The neatly drilled holes where the squibs had been were torn out and the back of the kid’s head was splattered with splinters, some of them sticking in the skin on the nape of his neck. His fatigue cap and neck were blackened with powder burns. I turned to Menachim. He immediately walked over to his injured soldier to assess the damage, while other extras picked little pieces of wood out of their friend. He was sent off to a hospital and I asked Menachim where he had gotten his special-effects man.

"He sets explosives in mines," Menachim said. He was furious that the poor guy didn’t understand movie work. If I hadn’t spent afternoons sitting around MGM backlots 2 and 3 loading squibs with our special effects guys on Combat!, I probably wouldn’t have known what to do either.

While the two thieves put their heads together and decided they’d have to spend the money to hire a genuine effects man, I was putting two and two together and concluding that these gonifs were making Eagles Attack at Dawn on the cheap. These two were dangerous! They had no idea what they were doing.

Other picture-makers shoot all the exteriors first, just in case of inclement weather, and save certain interiors as "cover sets" in case of unexpected rain. Menachim and Yoram had their own system. The second day on the picture was also an interior. A bunch of us were to scale an eight-foot wall. That action called for me to run into the shot, set my back against the wall, clasp the fingers of my hands together and hoist my men up and over one at a time, as they ran into the shot at me. I told Menachim that I wanted each of the men to wear his gun sling across his chest, with the gun at his back so nothing could swing around and hit me.

"Everyone of these boys fought in the 1967 war," he exclaimed. "They know what they’re doing. Some are still on active call. You can’t tell them how to handle firearms, they’ve been taught by the best."

I shrugged an okay. After we set places, Menachim shot the scene without a rehearsal. On action, I ran in from camera left, turned at the wall to face the camera and linked my hands together as I motioned with my head for the others (off stage). One by one, they ran and lifted a foot into my palms. I pushed each up and he disappeared over the wall.

I didn’t see it coming, everyone was moving too fast. One of our "well trained riflemen" had his gun just slung over one shoulder. As he came forward and I began to hoist him up, his gun barrel swung around and slammed me on the left side of my mouth. What a wallop that thing packed! I turned my head away from camera just in case I was bleeding. It was an instinctive thing, to save the shot.

It just so happened that Pat had decided to visit the set that day. She was sitting in my canvas chair, watching, and as I turned toward her, the color drained from her face. I put a hand up to my mouth, which was really feeling the blow of the steel that had hit it, and came away with blood all over my fingers. Menachim called, "Cut!" and there was deathly silence on the set. I looked at my fingers and put them back to the injury.

My lower lip had been opened and the upper tooth just to the left of my incisor was aimed toward the rear of my mouth at a crazy angle. I reached in and pulled it forward, then walked over to Menachim. Nobody moved. I looked at the blood on my right hand, raised it and flicked it across his face. It splattered his cheeks with red. He stood, frozen.

"So they don’t need any training, huh? You Schmuck! Somebody, get me to a dentist."

Nobody moved. Nobody seemed to know what to do.

"NOW!" I shouted.

Suddenly everyone came alive. I was handed a handkerchief, somebody took me by the arm and started to take me outside. I yanked away.

"Don’t pull me! Just lead, I’ll follow." We got into the prop truck and drove to a dentist. He took some X-rays and declared that the tooth didn’t appear broken above the gum line. "Just loosened. Don’t chew on it for five or six weeks until it heals," he announced. I told the driver to take me back to the hotel and to tell Menachim to shoot around me for the next several days. Looking in the bathroom mirror, I saw I was quite lucky — the cut didn’t need any stitches. I sent downstairs for some peroxide and cotton and took care of it myself. When I returned to shooting three days later, a scab had formed which I was able to cover with makeup (the makeup man didn’t quite know how to do it) and Menachim, for a short period, at least, was somewhat subdued. My lip healed, leaving a slight scar, but my tooth ached for the rest of the two-and-a-half months I spent in Israel.

About three weeks after we started shooting, Peter came over to me on the set. "I was talking to an Israeli girl at the pool yesterday," he started to say.

"Of course you were," I smiled.

He smiled back, "And I’ve got some interesting news for you."


"Menachim has been handing you a lot of bull. This very pretty girl said there are plenty of limos in Israel."

"Thanks, Pete. Keep dating those gals, will you?" and I walked over to Menachim, who was going through the next scene while the crew set up the lights. Besides having lied to me about the limo, he was supposed to deliver my weekly expense money to the hotel every Sunday (Saturday we didn’t work since it was the sabbath). For the past two weeks, he had been two days, then three days, late and I’d had to ask him for it. From the manner in which he gave it to me, one would have thought it was a handout.

"I’m going home," I announced.

He looked up startled. "Back to the hotel? This time of day? We have a lot of work to do."

"No, I mean home. California."


"You, and your cousin here, are two of the biggest fucking liars I’ve ever had the discomfort to know."

"I don’t like that kind of language. Four-letter words. English I understand very well!" he stormed.

"English you understand? Okay, go fuck yourself. No limos, huh? You know something? You’re not only a bad liar, you don’t know shit about making pictures. And I’ve got the sore mouth to prove it."

I walked off the set, to a cubbyhole that had been set aside as my dressing room, changed, and got a cab back to the hotel. As I took my makeup off, I told Pat what had happened and asked her to call the airline and book us on the next flight back. I already had my salary in the bank. It would just about make up for three weeks, the inconvenience, and the injury.

An hour later, a somewhat chastened Menachim knocked on the door of our suite. I was relaxing with a martini, Pat must have had several by then, because I noticed she wasn’t too steady.

The first thing he did when he was invited to sit down was remonstrate about my huge hotel bills for food and liquor. He must have figured a good offense would obviate a good defense. I just sat and looked at him. Since I said nothing, the earlier chastened director now sailed into me for all the time I was costing him.

Pat knew how fast I could work, and her latest martini was doing its thing. She stood up and said, "You…you…you Jewish HITLER!"

This to an Israeli? Oh, boy! He jumped to his feet, his mouth opening and closing like a fish out of water, no sound coming out. "How dare you treat my husband the way you have!" She glared him down, but that was it. She’d shot her bolt and was now out of steam. She sat down.

I just stared up at him.

Finally he said, "I’m sorry. This won’t happen again. I’ll make arrangements for a car first thing in the morning."

"Our plane doesn’t leave until early afternoon," I said.

"I mean to bring you to the set."

"What makes you think I’m coming back?"

"You have to come back."

"I don’t have to do anything of the kind."

He let out a deep breath. "Please."

Am I smart? I bought it! AGAIN!

We cancelled our flight and had a drink with Peter Brown when he got back to the hotel. "You really scared hell out of those two," he said. "I think you finally got them into line." He was smart, too. Almost as smart as me.

The next morning, there was a limo waiting at the hotel. I invited Peter to ride with me. When we got to the set, Yoram was standing outside. As we got out of the car, he said something to the chauffeur in Hebrew. "What’s that about?" I asked.

"I told him to come back at five-thirty to pick you up."

"Hold it," I said to the driver. I turned to Yoram. "You obviously don’t know the rules. This car is mine. It waits here for me."

"For why?" said Yoram. "For what purpose, to just sit around?"

"Because that’s the deal. I’ll probably go out to eat. I can’t take any more of those crappy box lunches you call food."

"You don’t like our cooking in Israel?"

"Don’t bullshit me, Yoram. The car stays here!"

He nodded and shrugged.

"And another thing. It doesn’t do any company errands. Understood?"

Peter put an arm around my shoulder and we walked into the building. "You really know how to do it, old buddy," he said.

"Pete, you’ve gone out a lot here in Tel Aviv. Figure a place for us to have a nice leisurely lunch."

A few weeks later, we were due to go to the Sea of Galilee for ten days of location shooting. It was the beginning of July 1969 and the heat was intense. I have several memories of that place that remain with me as if it were yesterday. The hotel we stayed in was right at the water’s edge. When I got home from shooting at the end of the day, I could get into a pair of swimming trunks and dive right off the veranda, just outside our bedroom, into the softest, sweetest water in which I ever swam.

The most lasting memory is the night the astronauts landed on the moon. The hotel had set up a television in their dance hall and put folding chairs out for all the guests. Fifteen feet behind the TV, the French doors were open onto the water. As I watched Neil Armstrong descend the ladder from the module and step onto the surface of the moon, I looked past the TV, out through the doors, to where two thousand years ago Jesus Christ is supposed to have walked on the water. It was a strange and wondrous feeling.

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