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 Posted:   May 22, 2012 - 7:38 PM   
 By:   Robert0320   (Member)

Anyone familiar with this relatively obscure biblical epic with good score by the equally obscure Albert Hay Malotte. He was co composer on DR CYCLOPS (1940) and did a few others.

 
 Posted:   May 22, 2012 - 8:48 PM   
 By:   Sigerson Holmes   (Member)

Yes!



I'm fond of the film, mostly for the performance of one of my favorite actresses, Susan Kohner, a rare dramatic acting opportunity for the great musical star Howard Keel, and for its naive good intentions.

The script is based on a very intelligent, thoughtful novel by former clergyman Lloyd C. Douglas, the same author as "The Robe," but I found that the movie "dumbed things down" a bit for a broader audience, which unfortunately probably hurts its chances at succeeding with modern audiences.

Another aesthetic concern that might have helped matters, but which ultimately disappoints, I think, is the music. Malotte delivered an interesting score which seems to have all the elements (touches of middle-eastern exoticism, use of a choir for the religious scenes), but it lacks real power. The film therefore also suffers for a lack of dramatic "punch" a better score might have lent it.

Still, the movie has a lot to recommend it. Nominated for three technical Oscars (all lost to "Ben-Hur"), it was also shot with the very same cameras as "Ben-Hur," and was supposedly a sumptuous visual spectacle when it was first exhibited.

It has a very interesting cast beyond Kohner and Keel. Standouts include young John Saxon, very energetic as the Arabian romantic lead, Herbert Lom (Dreyfuss from the Clouseau movies) as a dour Herod, and Jonathan Harris (Dr. Smith from "Lost In Space") in an over-the-top campy appearance as the sort of "head butler" at Herod's palace.

The film was released by Disney, under the "assumed name" of "Centurion Films," and they still hold the rights. The last time anyone has seen it anywhere, as far as I know, was about twenty years ago on The Disney Channel (which is the source of my VHS copy). From previous times I've mentioned the film here at the board I've learned that there is a complete multi-track stereo print being stored at the Library of Congress. A restoration of the film was reportedly on someone's "list of things to do" at Disney, but apparently the money to do a proper job of it has never been seen as a good risk, so it's never happened.

 
 
 Posted:   May 22, 2012 - 9:38 PM   
 By:   Bob DiMucci   (Member)

The score for "The Big Fisherman" was composed by Albert Hay Malotte. Malotte (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, May 19, 1895 - Los Angeles on November 16, 1964) was an American pianist, organist, composer and educator. He studied with Victor Herbert, W. S. Stansfield, and later in Paris with Gordon Jacob. His career as an organist began in Chicago where he played for silent pictures and later concertized throughout the US and Europe. Malotte wrote uncredited stock music for many films in the 1930s and early 1940s, including twenty-two of the Disney Silly Symphonies and other shorts such “Little Hiawatha” as well as “Ferdinand the Bull.” He also composed cantatas, oratorios, musicals, and ballets.

Although two movies for which he composed scores won best Short Subject Academy Awards (“Ferdinand the Bull” in 1939 and “The Ugly Duckling” in 1940), he is best remembered for a setting of the Lord's Prayer. Written in 1935, it was recorded by the baritone John Charles Thomas, and remained highly popular for use as a solo in churches and at weddings in the U.S. for some decades. It has also been sung in numerous films, particularly by Gracie Fields in 1942’s “Stage Door Canteen” and by Mario Lanza in the 1952 film “Because You’re Mine.” Malotte composed a number of other religious pieces, including settings of the Beatitudes and of the Twenty-third Psalm which have also remained popular as solos. The last of his three feature film compositions was “The Big Fisherman.” The others were “Dr. Cyclops” (co-composer) and “The Enchanted Forest.”

Rowland Lee originally considered shooting "The Big Fisherman" abroad, but, as noted in a 3 October 1958 Daily Variety article, he decided to shoot it entirely in California, partly due to "skyrocketing" foreign production costs and partly due to a lack of appropriate overseas locales. That article stated that the filmmakers would shoot for six weeks at the Rowland V. Lee Ranch in the San Fernando Valley of CA, a frequent site of movie location shooting, and two weeks in La Quinta, as well as nine weeks at the Universal-International lot. The opening credits include the following statement: "Made in Hollywood, USA. With deep appreciation to the other members of the cast, all of the highly trained extras, and skilled technicians."

Studio press notes state that the film’s final cost was $4 million and state that, because Lee believed that Jesus was "beyond the comprehension of man," the figure of Jesus would not be seen in the film; even the name of the actor providing his voice was kept a secret. However, an 8 Dec 1958 item in Hollywood Reporter's "Rambling Reporter" column stated that the voice belonged to Rev. Donald Curtis.

Press notes describe the extreme care lavished on the production, from casting (3,746 actors appear in the film), to costumes, to the authenticity of the set (6,000 props were used). 300,000 feet of film were shot and then reduced to 16,000 for the final version. Historical accuracy was overseen by technical advisor George M. Lamsa, who was a renowned Bible expert.

"The Big Fisherman" was nominated for the following 1960 Academy Awards: Best Art Direction-Set Decoration (Color), John DeCuir and Julia Heron; Best Cinematography (Color), Lee Garmes; and Best Costume Design (Color), Renie.

 
 
 Posted:   May 22, 2012 - 9:42 PM   
 By:   Bob DiMucci   (Member)

Nominated for three technical Oscars (all lost to "Ben-Hur"), it was also shot with the very same cameras as "Ben-Hur," . . .


The same 65mm film cameras as BEN-HUR, but with different lenses. BEN-HUR used anamorphic lenses and was produced in Camera 65 (Ultra Panavision). THE BIG FISHERMAN used spherical lenses and was produced in what came to be known as Super Panavision.

 
 Posted:   May 22, 2012 - 10:48 PM   
 By:   Sigerson Holmes   (Member)

Studio press notes state that the film’s final cost was $4 million and state that, because Lee believed that Jesus was "beyond the comprehension of man," the figure of Jesus would not be seen in the film; even the name of the actor providing his voice was kept a secret. However, an 8 Dec 1958 item in Hollywood Reporter's "Rambling Reporter" column stated that the voice belonged to Rev. Donald Curtis.


Lee's approach to the Jesus character, while not unusual for movies at the time, I guess (both "The Robe" and "Ben-Hur" show him from behind, focusing on people's reaction to him), was a fundamental difference from the novel, in which he was portrayed as another one of the humans. Other characters had normal interactions with him.

In addition, his lines spoken by Rev. Curtis (who had a very pleasant voice, but more like a radio announcer than a dramatic actor) were taken not from the novel but rather directly from scripture, in antiquated "King James" English. It made for an interesting dramatic effect, but also made it impossible, at least in scenes involving Jesus, to be faithful to the Douglas novel.

 
 
 Posted:   May 23, 2012 - 5:09 AM   
 By:   Robert0320   (Member)

It's a pleasure to start a thread and have all of our cleective knowledge unleashed. I have learned so much about a forgotten film and I guess if it had been a full-fledhed Disney prodcition. restoration $ would have been found by now.

 
 Posted:   May 23, 2012 - 6:24 AM   
 By:   SoundScope   (Member)

Though I've never seen this film, I was always intrigued by the John DeCuir production sketches included in a program that I found. Because of that, i've always had a desire to see this film. Odd that Disney won't release it, at lease with a "family" or "holiday" tag.

This brings us to the question of whether or not it's "worthy" of being released.

To be sure, there are a lot of "bad" movies out there. Whether a film is "good" or "bad" is always a subjective discussion. In my own humble opinion, there is always "something" in a movie that is worth seeing, no matter how "bad" anyone else thinks it may be. From the music, to the production design, to a particular performance, or the photography, there are few movies, in my my mind, that are absolutely "worthless" when it comes to such a collaborative art form.

STAR! with Julie Andrews was such a film, PORGY And BESS is still on the (why should we do this) list, and here we have THE BIG FISHERMAN.

I wish it well!

 
 
 Posted:   May 23, 2012 - 6:25 AM   
 By:   John B. Archibald   (Member)

Well, it was never a success. Originally released as a roadshow, it seems to have disappeared pretty quickly. I remember having a mild interest in it at the time, but don't even remember it playing anywhere nearby; so I never saw it then.

I was able to obtain the (hardbound) souvenir program, in a secondhand bookstore I used to frequent back then, in Pittsburgh, and I've seen the program now and then on e-Bay Movie Memorabilia, in the "Programs" section. The program is very nice, with lots of color photos.

(Interestingly, since I noticed John DeCuir worked on it, there are photos of both a set design and the finished set, a staircase flanked by 2 stylized, sort-of-Chinese-looking, presumably stone, lions, which also seem to appear in Fox's CLEOPATRA, when Charmian appears with Cleopatra's newborn baby, to be accepted by Caesar. Wonder if the designer pulled these lions out of storage for the scene, as I don't recall seeing them in any other scene in CLEOPATRA.)

I finally caught up with the film, when I obtained it on a DVD-R from a friend. It's probably a copy from the Disney Channel, which I know was showing it. Unfortunately, the script and acting were so melodramatic and hammy that I had trouble watching it, and gave up well before I was halfway through it.

Maybe it would work better on a large screen, where the design might be able to keep one interested.

And I found the music score mostly unmemorable, which surprised me, as I'd had higher hopes for it.

Frankly, I think the Disney people are wise to leave well enough alone, as I can't imagine people being very interested in it, let alone wanting to buy it.

 
 
 Posted:   May 23, 2012 - 6:28 AM   
 By:   Doug Raynes   (Member)

This is the only 65mm shot film I've never seen. I don't even recall seeing any publicity about it in 1959. As far as I can establish it wasn't shown in London in 70mm (was it shown at all?). Reviewers described it as plodding and too reverential but nevertheless it would be interesting to see it so that I can cross that one off my unseen list!

 
 
 Posted:   May 23, 2012 - 6:43 AM   
 By:   Rozsaphile   (Member)

Saw it in first release. Exactly two memories linger: the Sadducees and Pharisees costumed in contrasting robes of brilliant scarlet and green, and a young woman signing her name in blood. (And did Howard Keel bump a couple of heads together in time-honored movie fashion?) It's funny what endures. And what doesn't.

 
 
 Posted:   May 23, 2012 - 9:46 AM   
 By:   Preston Neal Jones   (Member)

As a director, Rowland V. Lee is perhaps best known for SON OF FRANKENSTEIN (1939). Certainly more is now known about the history of his work on that film than on any of his other pictures, thanks to the extensive enthusiasm for researching the Universal horror classics. (And, as it turns out, the saga of that film's creation was rather tumultuous and dramatic.) I seem to recall reading some archival publicity written contemporaneously with THE BIG FISHERMAN which asserted that Lee intended the Biblical epic to be his swan song to movie-making, sort of his ultimate statement.

(Among the films to shoot at his ranch in Chatsworth: THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER.)

 
 
 Posted:   May 25, 2012 - 2:08 AM   
 By:   manderley   (Member)

Here's something I wrote about the restoration of THE BIG FISHERMAN on the FSM Board about 7 years ago. I can't imagine much has changed since then:

.....I once spoke with Scott MacQueen about it (.....he was then in charge of restoring the Disney-owned films and properties, including the Selznick library). He had investigated the possible restoration of the film, but found that it had been re-cut a number of times to get it to a general release length, and that assembling the master negatives into a new usable whole would have been a very extensive---and expensive---project and Disney simply didn't want to foot the bill on such a chancey commercial project. Too bad, because, though it is a bit of a lumbering epic, it has several good performances and certainly superior production work enhancing it.....

 
 
 Posted:   May 26, 2012 - 5:29 AM   
 By:   Rozsaphile   (Member)

I'm reminded that this was Frank Borzage's last film (an uncharacteristic effort to be sure). We don't hear much about him today, but he was a leading figure in the twenties and thirties and won the very first best director Oscar for SEVENTH HEAVEN. Last night Turner paired his THREE COMRADES (1938) and THE MORTAL STORM (1940), two fascinating and often beautiful attempts to address the rise of the Nazi menace. The latter is also of current interest as one of the few pictures where Eugene Zador (uncredited) contributed original music. Zador had a long career at MGM, yet we know so little about him. The new Naxos recording of his music makes a good introduction.

 
 
 Posted:   May 26, 2012 - 11:45 AM   
 By:   Preston Neal Jones   (Member)

I'm looking forward to my copy arriving any day now, to put beside a couple of other Zador CD's on my shelf. It's about time they had company.

 
 
 Posted:   May 26, 2012 - 12:54 PM   
 By:   manderley   (Member)

.....Last night Turner paired his THREE COMRADES (1938) and THE MORTAL STORM (1940), two fascinating and often beautiful attempts to address the rise of the Nazi menace. The latter is also of current interest as one of the few pictures where Eugene Zador (uncredited) contributed original music. Zador had a long career at MGM, yet we know so little about him.


Both wonderful and strong films, with fine performances and really excellent direction. Why do so many continue to believe that MGM only made fluff and Viennese-set musicals??? They need to look at more of the MGM catalog in depth.

It should also be pointed out that the "uncredited" score for THE MORTAL STORM was actually credited---to one "Edward Kane".

The score was written by Bronislau Kaper and Eugene Zador. It would be interesting to find out who wrote what---and why the faux credit, which was very unusual for any of the studios in those days. (Shades of Alan Smithee!!!)

 
 
 Posted:   May 27, 2012 - 10:13 AM   
 By:   ANHaupt1337   (Member)

"The Big Fisherman" was about the first roadshow movie I ever saw. It played at the Warner Theatre in Washington, with reserved seats. A thrill.

A dim (and perhaps incorrect) memory: that during the main titles, the screen image widened at the edges once or twice--to introduce the true magnitude of Panavision.

The movie had a very nice bit of art direction: an oversized sculpture of a horse's head, left over from some earlier civilization, that sat in the sands outside (Susan Kohner's?) desert tent without explanation. It was just so cool.

 
 
 Posted:   May 28, 2012 - 12:05 AM   
 By:   mulan98   (Member)

This is the only 65mm shot film I've never seen. I don't even recall seeing any publicity about it in 1959. As far as I can establish it wasn't shown in London in 70mm (was it shown at all?). Reviewers described it as plodding and too reverential but nevertheless it would be interesting to see it so that I can cross that one off my unseen list!

It certainly got a Rank release as I remember seeing it at my local Gaumont although in 35mm.

 
 
 Posted:   May 28, 2012 - 12:52 AM   
 By:   haineshisway   (Member)

I do have a memory of it playing roadshow in LA but am having trouble remembering where exactly. I know I looked at the ads many times but I never did see it. I would love to see it now, of course. Maybe it was the Beverly Theatre where it played. I'll have to do some research.

EDIT: Thanks to Manderley in another thread, The Big Fisherman's roadshow engagement in LA was at the Vogue Theater, so it played right across the street from where Ben-Hur was playing.

 
 Posted:   May 28, 2012 - 9:55 AM   
 By:   Sigerson Holmes   (Member)

Must've been the holiest street in Hollywood for a while.




I picked up this movie tie-in reprint of the novel:

 
 
 Posted:   May 28, 2012 - 11:03 AM   
 By:   haineshisway   (Member)

Must've been the holiest street in Hollywood for a while.




I picked up this movie tie-in reprint of the novel:



Very interesting rendering of the Vogue and stores - of course, it never looked like that, and next door is Musso and Frank, which also never looked like that - it's still there, BTW, Musso's is (and has been since the 1920s), but the Vogue is now some awful trendy club thing.

 
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