Back in 1970, Michael Winner directed his first Western starring a 58-year-old Burt Lancaster, who had a notoriously bad temper. The ageing Hollywood star was joined by a young Robert Duvall in the movie Lawman, which managed to book a shoot in Durango, Mexico, just before John Wayne’s Rio Lobo. The filmmaker says that the crews of both movies met in the middle of the town of Chupaderos like in a Western showdown, but one without guns. In the end, Duke’s production with Howard Hawks had to spend an extra $1 million to film near LA, while Winner pressed on with his revisionist picture. However, it was not to be easy given the heated arguments with his star, who he claims tried to kill him on a number of occasions.
Winner, who died in 2013, told Sense of Cinema: “Burt Lancaster tried to kill me three times… I mean, he grabbed me by the throat, shaking me around.”
One heated argument was over which gun Lancaster used in the scene of Lawman, which is on ITV4 today, where his character shoots a horse. In the first take, the star used a Colt 45, but then later switched to a Winchester 73 rifle. When the director told him of this continuity error, the actor threatened to kill him by throwing him off a 1000ft cliff.
Winner told Vice years later: “We would always argue. He threatened to kill me… when he got in a temper. He dragged me up by the pelvis screaming, ‘You c**k-sucking a***hole British piece of s***!’, the lot. F*** me.”
In the end, Winner agreed to say that Lancaster had used the rifle in the first take, even though the evening rushes later proved the contrary. Despite these feuds, the director was happy to say of the star: “He remained a dear friend and he was a wonderful man so who cares if he tried to kill me a couple of times?”
In fact, after the attack on the set of the Lawman, Winner was consoled by someone who knew Lancaster well, saying: “It was a very good sign. Burt only threatens to kill his friends.”
Incredibly, there was a moment on set that Winner found even more terrifying than this. It happened one evening when he needed to urinate.
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Little did Winner know, but he was peeing on a sleeping Mexican crew member. The man immediately awoke and began shouting with a knife in hand at the filmmaker, who wrote in his autobiography that this was the scariest experience of his entire career.