Sunday, April 4, 2021

5 X 5: EASTER FILMS


5 facts about 5 Easter films . . .



The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965)


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Telly Savalas shaved his head bald for his role as Pontius Pilate. He kept his head shaved for the rest of his life.


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The film has many cameos and roles by famous actors and actresses, one being John Wayne. Even some movie posters feature him.

From a past Bytes post:

. . . Max Von Sydow, who played Jesus as an intense, morose man who only displays warmth and happiness when he is with children. That movie, The Greatest Story Ever Told, has remained in my mind from first viewing for two reasons: firstly, the number of big name stars in it, and secondly, that one of those stars was John Wayne. "How does John Wayne feature in a movie about the Christ?" I hear you ask. Suffice to say that he did not meet Jesus on the road to Jerusalem and say to him “Where are ya headed, pilgrim?” But more of that later.

The movie was made in 1965 and includes in the cast Charlton Heston, Jose Ferrer, Carroll Baker, Claude Rains, Richard Conte, Van Heflin, David McCallum, Martin Landau, Angela Lansbury, Pat Boone, Roddy McDowell, Sal Mineo, Sydney Poitier, Telly Savalas, Jamie Farr, and so on and so on…

When I first saw it, I waited for John Wayne to appear, wondering who he played (this was in the days before the internet or reading the back of a DVD box). The movie is 3 hours and 19 minutes in length. At about the 3 hour mark, everyone has forgotten about John Wayne. Instead, they are caught up in the climax of the film: the crucifixion and death of Jesus. Jesus suffers, asks why his God has forsaken him and finally commends his spirit to his Father. Even Nature reels at His death - there is darkness, thunder, lightning flshing...

I will not tell you what role was played by The Duke or when and how he appears; instead I will show you.

Click on the following link:

If you don't feel like watching the whole of a 10 minute clip, and fast forward to about the 2.30 minute mark and watch from there.

Don’t read further until you have viewed the above clip.

Being a perfectionist, the director of the movie, George Stevens did many takes of John Wayne’s single line, "Truly, this man was the son of God." A rumour has long persisted that at one stage Stevens pleaded with Wayne to show more emotion, an overwhelming sense of awe. During the next take, Wayne changed the line to, "Aw, truly this man was the son of God."

As a further point of interest, he was paid $250,000 for the role.


Pre-production poster from 1960, with John Wayne as the Centurion

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Commercially, the film was not successful. By 1983 it had grossed less than $8 million, perhaps 17 percent of the amount required to break even, and its inability to connect with audiences discouraged production of biblical epics for years.
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Max von Sydow said that the hardest part about playing Christ was the expectations people had of him to remain in character at all times. He could not smoke between takes, have a drink after work, or be affectionate with his wife on the set.

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In his diaries, Charlton Heston says that when he filmed the baptism scene with Max von Sydow that if the river Jordan had been as cold as Pyramid Lake where they shot the sequence, Christianity would never had gotten off the ground.



Easter Parade (1948)


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Gene Kelly was originally scheduled to play Don, but he broke his ankle when he stamped his foot in anger after losing a volleyball game. It was his suggestion that he be replaced by Fred Astaire. Cyd Charisse was up for the role of Nadine, but a torn ligament in either one or both of her knees forced her to drop out. She was replaced by Ann Miller. Although she had been a star for years, Judy Garland had never met Astaire and was afraid to speak to him until they were properly introduced.


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The shedding feathered gown worn by Judy Garland when she dances with Fred Astaire in one number is an inside joke reference to Ginger Rogers' problematic gown dancing with Fred Astaire in Top Hat (1935). An ostrich feather broke loose from Ginger Rogers' elaborate gown and stubbornly floated in mid-air around Astaire's face.



Fred Astaire with Ginger Rogers in the feather dress
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The original title for the song "Easter Parade" was "Smile and Show Your Dimple".
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Fred Astaire was 49 years old in real life at the time of the film release. Judy Garland was 26 years old.
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Sidney Sheldon revealed this in an interview decades after the film came out: On the first day of filming, before the first scene, Sheldon was telling Judy Garland a story. Though it was time to shoot, Garland pressed him to continue, ignoring the calls. When Sheldon jokingly asked if she wanted to do the scene, Garland admitted that she didn't, because the first scene was a kissing scene with Fred Astaire. She was nervous because she had never met him before. This had never occurred to anyone on the film - since Astaire and Garland were both already big stars at the time, it was assumed that they knew each other. Sidney brought Judy over and introduced her to Fred, and they proceeded to film the movie.



Life of Brian (1979)


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When Sir Michael Palin as Pontius Pilate addressed the soldiers daring them to laugh, he was truly daring them. The soldier extras were ordered to stand there and not laugh, but not told what Palin was going to do. Palin, in fact, can barely stifle his own laughter when saying "Biggus Dickus" in front of the soldier asked if he finds the name "risible".

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In the interview section of Monty Python's Flying Circus: Live at Aspen (1998), John Cleese said that because of the massive protests against this movie from all denominations of Christianity, he would joke with Sir Michael Palin, "We've brought them all together for the first time in two thousand years!"
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After the first take of the scene where a nude Brian addresses the crowd from his window, actor, writer, and director Terry Jones pulled Graham Chapman aside and said, "I think we can see that you're not Jewish", referring to Chapman being uncircumcised. It was corrected in subsequent takes with a rubber band.

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Originally financed by EMI, who backed out because they considered the script blasphemous. The Pythons sued EMI and settled out of court. George Harrison, a huge Monty Python fan, thought it was the last chance to have another Python movie. He created Handmade Films, and "pawned" (his words) his home in London and his office building to raise the £4 million needed. When asked why, he said "because I want to go see it." Eric Idle joked that it was the highest price ever paid for a cinema ticket.
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Norway banned this movie for one year for blasphemy, then gave it an "18" rating and included a warning from the censors at the beginning. It has been marketed in Sweden as "The film that is so funny that it was banned in Norway!" Ireland banned this movie for blasphemy until 1987. Torbay Council, Devon, refused to show this movie until September 2008. Aberystwyth, Wales, lifted its local ban in 2009 after cast member Sue Jones-Davies was elected Mayor.


Ben Hur (1959)

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The chariot race required 15,000 extras on a set constructed on 18 acres of backlot at Cinecitta Studios outside Rome. Tour buses visited the set every hour. Eighteen chariots were built, with half being used for practice. The race took five weeks to film.



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The desert sequences were all set to be filmed in Libya until authorities in the country--a Muslim nation--realized that the film was promoting Christianity. The government ordered MGM out of the country, forcing the studio to shift filming to Spain, which has the only desert in Europe.
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This is the first of three films to have won 11 Academy Awards, including the Best Picture Oscar. The second was Titanic (1997) and the third was The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003). Several of the categories won by "Titanic" and "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" didn't exist in "Ben-Hur"'s day, making its 11 wins that much more impressive. It is also the first-ever film to win 10 Academy Awards in competitive categories, with Gone With The Wind having won 8 competitive Oscars and 2 special Oscars.
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One of the models of the Roman ships was on display at the amusement park Worlds of Fun in Kansas City, Missouri. It was outside and exposed to the elements for many years.

(Ever see it, Ron?)
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When the film's budget blew out to $10 million, nearly fifty percent higher than the original budget, Joseph Vogel president of MGM's parent company Loew's Inc., went to the set from New York. He conveyed growing concern by the board of directors and asked William Wyler if there was anything he could do to help. Wyler politely said "No, thank you," and continued shooting. Vogel left for a five-week European business trip. When he returned to the set Wyler was reshooting the scene he had been working on when Vogel had left for his trip five weeks earlier, now improved by some new dialogue. Vogel thought they had been filming the same scene the entire time.



Jesus Christ Superstar (1973)

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Seventeen-year-old John Travolta auditioned for the role of Jesus. He didn't get the part, but producer Robert Stigwood kept him in mind for future productions. Three years later, Stigwood cast Travolta in "Saturday Night Fever” in 1977.
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The Roman soldier who nails Jesus to the cross was played by an Israeli who spoke very little English. He thought Ted Neeley, who was playing Jesus, was actually supposed to have nails hammered through his hands! Just in time, director Norman Jewison saw what was happening and screamed, "NO! NOT IN THE HAND!"
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The "39 Lashes" scene was so realistic that Ted Neeley's mother walked out on it. Mrs. Neeley had never laid a hand on young Ted in an anything but affectionate manner, and could not bear the sight of her son being whipped and tortured by anyone else, even though she knew it was just acting.
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After Ted Neeley invited director Norman Jewison to see him in a matinee performance of The Who's Tommy (1975), Neeley was injured during a show just prior to the one Jewison had bought a ticket to see. He recovered in time for the next show. Immediately afterward, he drove from Los Angeles to Jewison's hotel in Palm Springs and dressed up as Jesus Christ. Jewison was planning to leave for Israel soon after. Not only did Jewison accept his explanation and apology, but he also gave Neeley the title role in the film.

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The movie jettisoned the Broadway show's concept of having Herod be a flaming drag queen. Jewison apparently thought that was too shocking and would divert attention away from the serious drama in the show. So they changed it to a fat; hippyish; Hugh Heffner-type playboy; wearing a bathing suit; on the beach with several crazy hippyish characters.








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