In search of lower costs and exotic locales, film producers have marched across Europe from Spain to Italy to Yugoslavia. Now they're coming to Lebanon.
Actually Lebanon has served as a movie set before. In addition to an active Arabic-film industry of its own and a series of lamentable Iranian, Italian and Indian films, the country began playing host to western film makers as early as 1964, when David Niven did Where the Spies Are. Not long after, Mickey Rooney and Lex Barker came out to film a grade-B thriller called 24 Hours to Kill, a French company made La Grande Sauterelle and Ann-Margret, prior to her Carnal Knowledge comeback, teamed up with Laurence Harvey in an obscure thriller called Rebus .
But in the last couple of years Lebanon has begun to attract major film-makers too. In 1971 producers of Steven Coulter's Embassy chose Beirut over Paris for the locale of an all-star film. In 1972 Diana Sands of Georgia! Georgia!, Calvin Lockhard of Cotton Comes to Harlem and an all-black company spent the better part of the summer and fall filming Honey Baby, Honey Baby , a comedy-thriller which is to have its world premiere in Beirut. More recently, reports have been received that British director Peter Granville is checking out locations in Lebanon to film a well known book.
Embassy, which was released in England last spring and tried out in Georgia, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Minnesota in the fall, is a tense story about a Russian spy who defects to an American embassy in "an unnamed developing country in the Middle East."
In a canny bid for audiences at all levels, actor Mel Ferrer, this time behind the camera as producer, put together an all-star box-office package that has something for everyone. For the newly-tapped and very lucrative black audiences, there's hardhitting Richard Roundtree of the Shaft series; for nostalgic survivors of the Hollywood era there's Ray Milland, his Love Story baldness covered with a handsome gray wig; for the cinematography crowd there's Sweden's Max von Sydow, star of Ingmar Bergman's brooding masterpieces, Raoul Coutard, director of photography in the unforgettable Z, and French actress Marie-Jose Nat. Even the TV addicts have their delegates: towering Chuck Connors of The Rifleman, Broderick Crawford of the old Highway Patrol and director Gordon Hessler of Alfred Hitchcock Presents.
The film also has Squad 16, Lebanon's strapping, red-bereted emergency police, an army helicopter and the handsome American Life Insurance Building (Aramco World , July-August 1971).
Less pretentious, and less richly financed, is Honey Baby, Honey Baby. A "black capitalism" venture from Kelly-Jordan Inc., independent producers from New York, this film is frankly aimed at the 30 million U.S, blacks that film producers are now enthusiastically wooing. With Diana Sands, the most famous black screen personality since Sidney Poitier made it big, and Calvin Lockhard, star of the sleeper Cotton Comes to Harlem, and director Hugh Robertson, who edited Shaft and Midnight Cowboy , it would be a hard target to miss.