Back in the saddle again Rick Jason
in The Saracen Blade
Part Three: 1949
1959, Hollywood Studios
The Saracen Blade at Columbia Pictures:
staring Ricardo Montalban, Michael Ansara, Carolyn Jones
Walking into Harry Friedmans office was like entering a
mini-museum of fine arts: old paintings on the walls, everything just a little nicer than
the offices of those agents junior to him.
"We have an appointment to see Sam Katzman," Harry said.
"Sam Katzman!? He makes those nine- and eleven-day wonders for
Columbia Pictures, doesnt he?"
"I need some film on you that I can show around town. Now MGM has
just dropped Ricardo Montalban after fourteen years. Hes starring"
"For Sam Katzman?!"
"The business is changing. Theres a great part for you as
the heavy. Its a period piece about the Crusades. The Saracen Blade, from a
novel by Frank Yerby."
"Jesus, Im gonna wear chain mail and a tin
"Plus beautiful costumes. Just the opposite of what you did in Sombrero.
He got up. "Lets go." And we went.
On the way, as he drove his Cadillac, I asked, "I guess its
secondary at this point, but do you mind if I ask how much this nine-day picture is going
"First, its a fourteen-day picture
"Katzman is coming up in the world."
and the picture gives you first feature billing and $750 a
week on a two-week guarantee."
"Are you sure my career is going forward? I got a thou a week from
"I need the film. At this point, Rick, thats the most
important consideration." So I shut my big mouth. He was right.
Sam Katzman and Columbia Pictures
Sam Katzman, whose production unit made bread-and-butter films for
Columbia, had a reputation as a solid money earner who paid very little of it to actors. A
big salary to him was about $250 a week. If he had to pay an actor $500 it was already the
big time. Ricardo was getting forty thousand for the picture, a gigantic sum to Sam, but
then he had one of MGMs biggest stars in his first film away from the
His lot, consisting of several sound stages, was located near downtown
Los Angeles where it had originally been a silent film lot. Often he visited the Columbia
lot or the Columbia ranch while they were filming a high budget feature to examine the
sets. Whatever the historical period, hed have a script written for it and tell the
studio not to tear down the sets. Hed shoot part of his film using those sets, which
meant that Columbia was getting twice the use for the same money. Katzmans movies,
made on tight budgets, never lost money. He may not have been known as an auteur film
maker but, what the hell did he care, hed become very, very wealthy.
Michael Ansara, Carolyn Jones, Rick Jones, and Betta St. John.
The Saracen Blade, Columbia Pictures.
He was about as tall as Harry and about seventy pounds heavier, little
mustache, no pretensions, pleasant and often smiling around a big cigar that almost never
left his mouth. He could have been in the junk car business, there was really no
difference to him; he just happened to be making movies. How could you not like a man like
We talked in his office for a whiled. He told me how much hed
enjoyed Sombrero (he was, after all, a movie buff) and how nice it was to have me
in his picture.
As he walked us off the lot, me between the two of them like a tall
"Jeff" between two short "Mutts," Sam reached up and put an arm on my
shoulder. I smiled down at him. A nice man.
"Rick," he said, "I know the only reason youre working
here is because of the money."
The Saracen Blade came in on time and on budget. Ricardo and I were pleased to work