Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Tudor Gates (1930-2007)

I've just heard the sad news that British screenwriter Tudor Gates -- a friend to the Bava book -- has passed away at the age of 76. His obituaries are certain to mention his work on Roger Vadim's BARBARELLA (1968) and Hammer's "Karnstein Trilogy" of THE VAMPIRE LOVERS (1970), LUST FOR A VAMPIRE and TWINS OF EVIL (both 1971), but they will also surely omit the key films that brought him to these bigger commercial successes.

In those days, Tudor was always co-billed with his Argentine partner Brian Degas. As he explained it to me, Degas never did any actual writing on their projects, but he had an uncanny knack for always putting over a sales pitch. "So I would do the typing, and Brian would do the tap-dancing," he summarized. Somehow or other, Tudor and Brian came to the attention of American film producer Lawrence Woolner in the mid-1960s. Woolner and his brother Bernard were theater owners who became producers and distributors (via Woolner Brothers, a subsidiary of Allied Artists) in order to manufacture product for their chain of southwestern drive-in theaters. They had great success with Mario Bava's HERCULES IN THE HAUNTED WORLD and BLOOD AND BLACK LACE and appealed to Bava to relocate to America and work exclusively for them. Bava turned them down, as he had done when American International's James H. Nicholson and Samuel Z. Arkoff had made him an even more attractive offer to do the same thing. AIP had responded by taking the mountain to Mohammed, so to speak, by setting up a series of Italian co-productions, which began with EVIL EYE (1962, released 1964) and lasted through the unfortunate DR. GOLDFOOT AND THE GIRL BOMBS (1965). When Bava's contract with AIP expired, Larry Woolner (and his wife Betty) swooped in and tried to set up something similar. Unfortunately, the only thing that came from that alliance was a screenplay that started out as SEVEN VIRGINS FOR THE DEVIL and was finally called CRY NIGHTMARE. The script was credited to Tudor Gates and Brian Degas, and was the fruit of many script meetings between Bava, Gates, and Bava's personal secretary Rosalba Scavia. Tudor told me that a lot of the storyline was suggested by Bava himself.

Evidently Woolner had trouble raising the money to produce the film, but Bava cast and storyboarded the picture before moving on, tempted away by an irresistable offer on the table: Dino De Laurentiis wanted him to make DANGER: DIABOLIK.

CRY NIGHTMARE was eventually filmed by Antonio Margheriti as NUDE... SUL MUORE; it was released in English-speaking countries as THE YOUNG, THE EVIL AND THE SAVAGE, starring Michael Rennie, Mark Damon, and Bava favorite Alan Collins (aka Luciano Pigozzi). For reasons unknown, the screenplay was credited to Margheriti and one John Simonelli. Tudor Gates had no idea that the film had actually been made until I told him about it in our interview for the Bava book. He was flabbergasted. He sent me a copy of his original script, which contained scenes not included in the English version, but which I found present in the Italian cut of the film -- notably the tongue-in-cheek ending in which a spy-crazed teenage girl (played by Sally Smith) is revealed to be the daughter of 007. The script had to do with a series of murders at a secluded school for teenage girls, so it seems a premonition of the settings for Tudor's first two Karnstein films. I understand the film is forthcoming on DVD from Dark Sky Films, under the new title NAKED YOU DIE (street date April 24).

Bava got along so well with Tudor that he told Dino De Laurentiis that he wanted him to write the script for DANGER: DIABOLIK. Though their collaboration again went very smoothly, Bava found the added pressures of helming an expensive production insufferable, and he and Tudor lost touch as they went their separate ways in low-budget horror. Tudor was pleased, if a bit baffled, by DIABOLIK's belated cult popularity and I'm glad that he lived to see it find its place in film history. What most people don't know, as he told me himself, is that it was his work on the DIABOLIK script that won Brian and him the opportunity to write the English language script for BARBARELLA -- it wasn't the other way around.

Tudor donated generously of his time and materials to the Bava book and it grieves me that he won't be around to see the finished product. He's very well represented in its pages, however, and I hope this will be adequate compensation for his friendly availability over the years.


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