LES LANNOM REVISITS SOUTHERN COMFORT
Walter Hill's cult classic SOUTHERN COMFORT is one of the great all-time action flicks, pitting a group of National Guardsmen against some angry Bayou Cajuns who use shotguns, big dogs and even bigger trees in this gripping thriller featuring character-actor LES LANNOM as "Sgt. Casper," the second-in-command who winds up leading the ill-prepared troop against some bad odds...
How was the scene where “Bowden” (Alan Autry) tips the canoes filmed?
The camera and sound were on boats and were there in the water with us. There was no marked difference in the number of takes required to cover the stuff. You always have cover shot from the distance and that is followed by a number of closer shots from various angles and covering varying numbers of cast members. Walter just took these shots until he felt he had the scene and action sufficiently covered. He just shot until it was right, and Walter seemed to be very good at knowing when to stop and move on to the next shot.
The one significant problem we encountered was losing a very expensive M-60 machine gun in forty feet or so of damned cold water. They looked for it but never found it. We were all wearing wet suits, so none of us were in danger of drowning (you couldn't sink!); and the most difficult part about it was making it look like it was a desperate situation. Fun stuff, though!
And when we finally waded ashore and filmed the rest of the scene, we couldn't wear the wet-suit booties. Had to wear the combat boots, as our feet would be seen. Everybody's feet were aching from soaking in the water. The water was cold (this was fairly early in the shoot) and the air temp was about 36 degrees. The socks were not much insulation when they got wet. All of us parked our feet up next to some kerosene heaters to try to thaw them out.
A little later, because this was an ongoing problem, Keith [Carradine] found out that he could peel off the sole from the booties and stuff them into a slightly over-sized combat boot and make the situation bearable. All of us followed suit, and the rest of the shoot was a lot more comfortable... if you discount the fact that every morning we arrived at the set and had to put on still-freezing damp wet-suits that had hung all night in our un-heated dressing rooms in the honey-wagons!
The part when the Rottweiler dogs attack the men… Was this as scary as it looked?
Jim, those dogs were not Hollywood dogs. They were trained attack dogs... but (and this is a BIG "but"), they were trained to go after the arm... mainly. If you resisted them they would go after damn near any part of you they could reach.
The idea was to offer them an arm and then struggle with them. They were scary. They had tried to use "Hollywood-trained" dogs, but they just didn't have the same level of ferocity Walter was looking for. I didn't really have to have actual contact with them, and was I glad.
I made it look like I was hitting the dogs, but the very last thing you wanted to do was get one of these Rotts pissed off at you. I made the mistake of making eye contact with the only female dog they were using, and she started preparing to come and get me... and I was about 40 feet away.
The dog's handler was a German woman, and she alerted me that looking at the dog was an act of aggression, and that I should refrain from doing so. The female was actually the most difficult one to work with, and they sort of put her off on the sidelines while the close work was being done. Not fun. Fortunately, nobody else pissed them off either, and the dogs did their "thing," which was to grab and shake like hell, and nobody got hurt.
Of course, some of the hairier long shots had stunt men in them. They weren't 2,000 pound trees falling at you, but they sure could have done some serious damage if they'd gotten carried away.
Were there any injuries during the falling trees scene?
One of the falling fake trees nearly cut short my career. Almost got me, and my son, who was about twelve at the time, was on hand to see his old man damn near get pile-driven into the swamp! That was invigorating, believe me! You can actually see it in the shot. It's the last two trees that are dropped.
The very last one was released by the special effects guy just a teensy bit early. I saw that thing coming and made a mad scramble up the bank. Dropped my rifle (buried the barrel in the mud!), dropped my helmet, and clawed my way out of that shit.
Lewis [Smith] ducked into the one safe hole between the branches... of course he did that every time anyway... liked to live kinda on the edge... and Carlos (now Allen Autry) went high-stepping out into the swamp!
When they cut it together, they used a couple of different takes, so you see me fall and bury the rifle barrel, but still see me come up the bank with the helmet on and the gun in my hand. My son still talks about the day he was almost made a fatherless child. Those trees were made of fiber-glass, except for the branches, and weighed a couple thousand pounds. Wouldn't have been good.
There’s a DVD cover that predominately shows “Casper” as he’s running through the swamp (right before he’s shot)… Have you seen this?
I had never seen it... didn't even know it existed! Son-of-a-gun! I sure as hell remember the day this picture was shot. It was as cold as hell. I walked out to the set and looked out at the bayou. There was a skim of ice all over it, and I just knew I was in for a real treat. Walter had me rehearse the run toward camera about three or four times.
Once I tripped and fell in the water, lost my helmet, scrambled up and grabbed it and kept on running. When you first walk out into the bayou the water is crystal clear and it's like stepping on a trampoline. You can feel the years of fallen twigs and cypress needles bouncing under your weight.
Do a couple of runs across it (or have about six or seven guys walk through it) and you break through to the soft mud bottom. Couple more passes and you've dug a trench. Water that was only shin-deep is then up to your thighs. Deviate from the path you've created and you trip on the side and down you go. Happened a lot! After a couple of takes they re-set for the close shot of me taking the bullet-hits, and I went off to wardrobe to put on the jacket they had wired up with the squibs.
And your death scene…
They had submerged a wooden platform that I had to step onto and then spring backward to simulate being shot by those buffalo guns. Everything went fine on the first take (except for the ice-water hit to the brains when I hit the water), but Walter wanted to cover himself, and, besides, they had a second jacket all rigged out for the bullet hits! Yay!
Got to freeze my cranium a second time and we moved on to the next set-up. As they say in the song: "Hi diddle dee dee, an actor's life for me!"