For the western “The Wind of the Plain”, Burt Lancaster and the director John Huston thought they had to teach actress Lillian Gish how to shoot … who gave them a good lesson!
The Wind of the Plain is a western directed by John Huston and brings together former acrobat and athlete Burt Lancaster, Ariadne’s heroine Audrey Hepburn and WWII hero turned actor Audie Murphy. We are in 1960, and all three are already stars.
The story is that of a family of farmers, the Zachary, settled in Texas for two generations. The father was killed by the Kiowas Indians while defending his house and a climate of hatred against the Indians has since developed between the two communities. A vagabond, Abe Kelsey, dressed in an old military outfit, harasses the Zachary by defying them …
Before the shoot, John Huston and Burt Lancaster decide to teach Lillian Gish to shoot a gun, an actress who plays the mother of the Zachary family. The latter, 67, lets herself be taken into the desert for training but on the spot, puts the two men in their places.
Lillian Gish demonstrates a mastery of gun mastery, leaving Lancaster speechless as Huston. The actress, who started young on the boards and then at 19 in the cinema in The Invisible Enemy (1912), tells them that she learned to shoot a long time ago by taking lessons from Al J. Jennings.
The latter was a lawyer who had become an authentic “gunslinger” and “desperado” of the American West, then, upon the arrival of the cinema, had reconverted into an actor and – like the rest the real Frank James, brother of Jesse – in western firearms consultant. Sacred course! Jennings will also see his story adapted to the cinema in Al Jennings of Oklahoma by Ray Nazarro in 1951.
Lancaster and Huston, who expected to give Lillian Gish a shooting lesson, received one instead.
For the record, the project was to be directed by Delbert Mann and written by JP Miller, but both wanted a dark film where the producers – including Lancaster – wanted a more commercial film. At the time, we talk about Kirk Douglas for the role of Lancaster’s brother then, following the departure of Mann and Miller for creative differences, the names of Tony Curtis and Richard Burton circulated.
The co-writer John huston finally ensures the realization, and it is Audie Murphy who is finally chosen for the role of Cash Zachary. There again, problems will appear between the director (who wants an anti-racist film) and the production which wants a pure action film. Who won the final cut? It’s up to you to decide!
Western heroines through the ages (movies and series):