CineSavant Column

Tuesday July 17, 2018


Just a note today from correspondent Bill Dodd, after screenings of The WAC’s Billy Budd brought back memories of renaissance talent Peter Ustinov. July 14, 2018:

Glenn — one of the less desirable things about getting older is the feeling that one may be repeating one’s self. If I’ve already waxed poetic about Billy Budd back when the DVD came out, please forgive me and disregard this.

I saw the movie when it first came out, and three things are burned into my mind: Robert Ryan’s performance which deserved every award possible. Terence Stamp’s first role which probably also deserved every award in the book. The end, when Billy shouts “God Bless Captain Vere,” the look on Sir Peter’s face was beyond anything I’ve ever seen in the movies.

Later, in 1966, Ustinov was in town for the San Francisco Film Festival. I walked a couple of blocks from the radio station where I was the morning guy and stumbled into him, almost literally. I told him how much I loved the movie, and left him to his activities.

But there was more. The owner of the British Motorcar Distributors was a friend of Ustinov and asked him to do some radio commercials for the upcoming Imported Car Show. I was elected to record these on a Saturday morning. It was an incredible three or so hours I will never forget. I rolled the tape and he ad-libbed, about 3 minutes each. Voices, sound effects, the whole thing. I was then faced with the agony (you will understand) of cutting these down to sixty seconds each. I managed, and they were incredible. Did I save them? No. What an idiot!

Anyway, during a break we all wandered out onto the roof of the Nob Hill building where the radio station occupied the top floor. I wandered over to the ledge and sat on the very wide surround. Sir Peter came flying across the roof, pulled me off and said “Don’t do that! I can’t stand heights!” So I asked him how he managed to direct all those scenes in Billy Budd where people were up in the masts, and he replied “I let other people direct those parts!”

I have no idea if that’s true or not, but I can tell you that’s what he said. And he gave a 22 year-old broadcaster an unforgettable day. I managed to write a letter to him about a month before he died to thank him for that day. I hope he got it. — Bill Dodd, Retired Broadcaster and movie freak.

I told my own ‘meeting Peter Ustinov’ story in a footnote to my 2010 review of his film Hot Millions.

Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson