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Robert Bolt's play A Man for All Seasons came to the attention of director Fred Zinnemann when producer Mike Frankovich phoned asking if he'd seen the play and if he was interested in directing it. Zinnemann quickly said "yes" to both questions and contacted Bolt who was able to get a screenplay written in only five weeks. A hit play does not guarantee that a film can be made and Zinnemann had trouble convincing Columbia Studios to make A Man for All Seasons . "As far as Columbia was concerned this was a very modest, and in a box office sense, totally unpromising project. It had many counts against it: 'Nobody wants to see a costume movie'; very little action, let alone violence, no sex, no overt love story and, most importantly, no stars, in fact hardly any actors that the US public had ever heard of. No wonder the budget was tiny and no attention was paid to us by the front office during the shooting - this is of course always a blessing." It was only the first of many blessings for Zinnemann and his crew.
For the lead role of Sir Thomas More, Zinnemann fought for, and got, Paul Scofield, who had played the role on the London stage and on Broadway. Richard Burton had refused to consider the role, Charlton Heston lobbied hard for it, and the producers wanted Laurence Olivier, but Zinnemann knew Scofield could be the only one. He proved it shortly after filming began, as Zinnemann wrote, "For the first few days the crew did their usual work very well, the way they would have done on any job, but on the third day, when Scofield made his speech about the majesty of the law, they were suddenly mesmerized by the magic of those words and they remained that way throughout the rest of the filming. So totally did Paul convey the scope of More's character that for months afterwards I couldn't help but look at him in awe, as a saint rather than an actor."
Orson Welles, as Cardinal Wolsey, wore a reproduction of Wolsey's robes, carried an exact replica of Wolsey's official seal, and even used eye drops to make his eyes red, as Wolsey's were. All his preparations seemed to be only physical, as director Zinnemann wrote, "Reluctant at first to play the part, [Welles] arrived on the set only superficially acquainted with his lines. Fortunately, his personality and his genius were so immense (and Paul Scofield's patience so enormous) that he succeeded in creating the illusion of absolute self-confidence. Welles had a marvelous, endearing sense of humor. We were working on a scene with the Duke of Norfolk coming to collect the Chancellor's chain from Wolsey. During rehearsals the 'dying' Cardinal was lying on his cot, puffing the longest, fattest Monte Cristo cigar. We started shooting. Nigel Davenport (the Duke) entered, played his scene and on leaving said, 'Have you a message for the King?' - 'Yes,' said Orson. 'Tell him the take [the scene just shot] is no good - there was a plane in it!'"
Vanessa Redgrave, who plays Anne Boleyn, was originally set to play More's daughter, Margaret, "but then she arrived one day very upset: she had been offered the lead in a new stage play, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Could she be released? It seemed impossible to say 'No'. Luckily, we found that the marvelous Susannah York was available and she saved the situation. However, the next crisis followed promptly: a very brief scene was to be filmed with Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII at their wedding reception. For Anne we needed an actress who, in forty-five seconds, could convince the audience that she was capable of changing the course of an empire...we couldn't find anyone who seemed right. Finally, in desperation, I turned to Vanessa, who was now playing Miss Brodie at night and filming all over swinging London in Antonioni's Blow Up during the day...She immediately agreed, but insisted on two conditions: no screen credit, and no salary. She and Robert Shaw rehearsed for an hour, and we shot the scene in less than a day."
Luck seemed to be with Zinnemann and his crew in other ways as well. For the scene where the Duke of Norfolk rides through the snowy countryside to visit the dying Wolsey was to be shot in mid-April, when there would be no snow in England. Zinnemann had arranged for two large trucks full of Styrofoam to be brought to the set. As the trucks arrived the night before the scene was to be shot, "lo and behold, snow started to fall. It snowed all night and at dawn the hills looked sparkling white; the Styrofoam trucks stayed where they were. Stranger still, just after we had finished shooting and I had said 'Cut' for the last time, the sun came out and all the snow melted in less than half an hour, as if on cue." Zinnemann's autobiography contains photographs taken on the set that day. At 7 am, the snow was on the ground. By 9:30 it had almost disappeared.
Nature cooperated with Zinnemann in another scene, this one with Robert Shaw. During a scene with Scofield and Shaw in More's garden, Shaw's character becomes angry. Each time he spoke a certain line, a violent gust of wind would blow up and shake the trees. "The sudden wind sprang up each time that particular line was spoken - in long shots, reverse shots, close-ups and we always had a perfect match in the editing. We had exactly the kind of weather we wanted all the way through shooting, but on the last day, just when I had finally said, 'It's a wrap,' rain started and fell for weeks afterwards."
The critics raved when A Man for All Seasons was released on December 12, 1966. Bosley Crowther in the New York Times wrote, "Fred Zinnemann has done a fine job putting upon the screen the solid substance of A Man for All Seasons, Robert Bolt's play about Sir Thomas More, and in doing so he presents us with an awesome view of a sturdy conscience and a steadfast heart. Mr. Scofield is brilliant in his exercise of temperance and restraint, of disciplined wisdom and humor, as he variously confronts his restless King or Cardinal Wolsey, who is played by Orson Welles with subtle, startling glints of poisonous evil that, in this day, are extraordinary for him."
The film that Columbia thought no one would want to see won Best Picture, Best Actor for Scofield, Best Director for Zinnemann, Best Writing Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium for Bolt, Best Color Cinematography for Ted Moore, Best Color Costume Design for Elizabeth Haffenden and Joan Bridge, and Robert Shaw and Wendy Hiller were nominated for Best Actor and Actress in a Supporting Role, respectively.
Producer: William N. Graf, Fred Zinnemann
Director: Fred Zinnemann
Screenplay: Robert Bolt
Cinematography: Ted Moore
Film Editing: Ralph Kemplen
Art Direction: Terence Marsh
Music: Georges Delerue
Cast: Paul Scofield (Sir Thomas More), Wendy Hiller (Alice More), Leo McKern (Thomas Cromwell), Robert Shaw (King Henry VIII), Orson Welles (Cardinal Wolsey), Susannah York (Margaret More).
by Lorraine LoBianco
A Life in the Movies by Fred Zinnemann
The New York Times
Retakes: Behind the Scens of 500 Classic Movies by John Eastman
The Internet Movie Database