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During the 1810 rebellion in Spain against Napoleon's army, a ragtag group of Spanish peasants drag a huge cannon across the rugged terrain from Madrid to Avila, a destination of roughly one hundred miles. Their objective is to reach Avila and defend the city before the French invaders arrive.
Based on The Gun, C.S. Forester's 1933 novel, The Pride and the Passion (1957) is a film epic of monumental proportions which is remembered by film historians and moviegoers for all the wrong reasons. Director/Producer Stanley Kramer has referred to it as his most difficult and disappointing experience and in his autobiography, A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (Harcourt, Brace & Co.), he provides some fascinating details about the troubled production from the beginning.
To get permission to film in Spain, Kramer had to meet with the Spanish dictator, Franco, a former ally of Hitler and Mussolini, despite strong anti-fascist sentiment within the Hollywood community. The casting was more problematic. Kramer originally wanted Cary Grant, Marlon Brando, and Ava Gardner for the three key roles but after Brando rejected the script, Kramer offered the role to Frank Sinatra. Since Sinatra was estranged from his wife at the time, Ava Gardner, it was decided her role should go to Gina Lollobrigida but she was already committed to Trapeze (1956) with Burt Lancaster. Carlo Ponti then stepped in and convinced Kramer to cast his "discovery", Sophia Loren, as Juana, the paramour of guerrilla leader, Miguel (played by Sinatra). Grant immediately voiced his objections, saying to Kramer, "My God! You want me to play with this Sophie somebody, a cheesecake thing? Well, I can't and I won't." He had a point. It would be Loren's first film in English and she could hardly speak the language.
Once Grant met Loren, his opinion changed drastically and he soon found himself falling in love with her on the set, despite the fact that he was married to Betsy Drake or that Loren was romantically linked with Carlo Ponti. Frank Sinatra was initially interested in Loren himself but became antagonistic toward her when it became clear she favored Grant's company. He would taunt her with remarks like "You'll get yours, Sophia" to which she eventually responded, "But not from you, Spaghetti Head." Meanwhile, relations between the married screenwriting team of Edna and Edward Anhalt reached a breaking point and they refused to work together, forcing Kramer to act as intermediary.
If tensions on the set weren't bad enough, the physical aspects of production were even more challenging. Recruiting a huge cast of Spanish extras and dressing them in nineteenth-century costumes was easier than directing them in crowd scenes where some of them would wave at the camera in case their relatives saw the movie. The real star of the film, the gigantic cannon (there were three different models used in the film), was extremely difficult to maneuver over the rough terrain, complete with explosions in the battle scenes, and presented a threat to the safety of the cast and crew. Loren, who insisted on doing the charge to the wall in the final assault sequence, came very close to sustaining injuries from a nearby explosive device. Further complicating matters, Sinatra returned to the U.S. on personal business before completing his filming and Kramer had to remedy the situation with a stand-in, scene rewrites, and some clever editing.
Considering all the problems surrounding The Pride and the Passion, it's no surprise it was not a critical or financial success. Nevertheless, once seen, it's hard to forget Loren's low-cut peasant blouses and tight skirts or Sinatra's peculiar Spanish accent. But, more importantly, the film really does feature some truly spectacular action sequences which are beautifully shot by Franz Planer; the night sequence where the peasants attack a French encampment with flaming balls of pitch, a massive religious ceremony in the famous basilica at Escorial, and the climatic destruction of the wall at Avila.
Director/Producer: Stanley Kramer
Screenplay: Edna & Edward Anhalt, Earl Felton (uncredited), based on the novel 'The Gun' by C.S. Forester
Cinematography: Franz Planer
Editor: Ellsworth Hoagland, Frederic Knudtson
Art Direction: Fernando Carrere, Gil Parrondo
Music: George Antheil
Cast: Cary Grant (Anthony), Frank Sinatra (Miguel), Sophia Loren (Juana), Theodore Bikel (General Jouvet), John Wengraf (Germaine).
by Jeff Stafford