Torremolinos, Spain, 1975. I met a great white hunter at a party. He complained that by the mid-70s the great white hunting business wasn’t what it used to be. Thanks to unfriendly poachers, vigilant rangers and inflation, there just weren’t that many safaris any more. Things had come to such an ugly pass, he continued, that he was available for almost any reasonably legal employment. Consequently, when a British movie company came to his part of Africa on location, he signed on with them as an assistant animal handler.
The plot of the movie was unbelievably bad by any standards. A white man and a black man were “chums” at Oxford. But even then the black man knew that he was going to return to his tribe, put on a lion skin, and become the chief. The white man knew that he was going to be a park ranger in his friend’s territory.
And there they both were, in the same part of Africa. But before the black man could assume his role as chief, he had to murder somebody. He did so, and lo and behold, the white man now had to bring his former friend to justice. I really wanted to leave the party right there and go out and see this movie. Not.
That’s where the movie was when the company arrived in Africa. According to the script, the black man fled to the “Land of the Snakes.” The actual film later even thoughtfully provided a title on the screen as the men entered the little patch of jungle. “Land of the Snakes.”
The black man was to enter the jungle with the white man in hot pursuit. As soon as the white man entered the jungle, the script called for a python to drop onto his shoulders. The white man was to brush the snake off, whirl, shoot the snake with his rifle, wipe his manly brow, and press onward. The rifle hand blanks, of course, because the head animal handler was using his own pet python for the shoot. The head animal handler was to stand on a tree limb drop his python on the actor as he ran underneath. The assistant animal handler cum great white hunter was to retrieve the python and pass it back up into the tree in the event things did not go well.
The only thing was, the actor was deathly afraid of snakes. As soon as he ran into the jungle someone called “Make Up” and the make up man ran up and squirted him in the face with water mist. This procedure even has a technical term, spritzing. The actor didn’t really need to be spritzed: he was already sweating profusely. It’s a good thing the film was in black and white because the actor was definitely an unhealthy shade of grey.
He finally mustered enough nerve to enter the jungle patch, but when the snake landed on his shoulders he threw the rifle high into the air and screamed “S HI T!” The director yelled, “CUT!” and said they had to do the shot over.
After the seventh shit-cut the python decided he’d had enough and tried to wriggle off through the jungle. The great white hunter caught him by the tail and tried to pass him back up into the tree, like passing a column of cooked spaghetti.
It took three days to get the shot, and then only because the director felt they had enough footage to cobble together, frame by frame, enough to get seven acceptable seconds of film. The snake had been dropped close to two dozen times, and it’s a wonder he didn’t slip a halfhitch around the actor’s neck and end everyone’s misery. That's what I would have done if I'd been the python. "Look, mate, we're all in this together. Can't we just do this shot?"
Neither python nor actor be.