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Suez

Suez(1938)

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MPPDA notes on the production in this film's file at the AMPAS Library state, "Except for the fictitious character of 'Toni' played by Annabella, and the scenes centering around her, the film story of Suez is quite faithful to historical fact." A pre-production New York Times news item stated that the studio made efforts to conform to fact. According to the article, the Twentieth Century-Fox research department sent memos to executives stating that a scene in the script, in which Ferdinand de Lesseps arises in the Chamber of Deputies to pledge that Louis Napoleon would make no attempt to seize the State, never occurred. The script was then revised to have de Lesseps make his pledge privately in a coffee house, which, though not authenticated, could, the studio presumed, have happened. Also the article noted that the prop department was building dredges duplicate in appearance to those used on the canal. The article added that certain elements of the story that would have added confusion to the plot had been dropped, such as the loss of control of the canal by France because of an English coup and the great furor caused by charges that forced labor was used on the canal. A later New York Times article noted that originally Tyrone Power was to declare that the waters would make the desert "bloom like a rose," but technical advisors informed the director that the Suez was a saltwater canal.
       Contemporary reviewers and modern sources, however, comment on the film's divergence from historical fact. New York Times called the film "ponderously implausible," while Variety stated, "The fictional liberties taken...comes under acceptable Hollywood license." Variety hypothesized, "Some of the dialog seems to have deep-rooted significance as regard 1938's history in the making-'peace without honor'; England's lifeline through the Suez Canal to its far-flung Empire; Prussia vs. France, and the need of Britain's friendship to swing the tide, etc." The addition of these themes May account for some of the divergence. The need for a starring vehicle for Tyrone Power (nowhere near the age of de Lesseps, who was born in 1805), Loretta Young and rising star Annabella May also have been a factor in diverting the script from historical fact. Despite the attacks on the film's accuracy, director Allan Dwan, in a biography, is quoted as saying, "as an example of what can be done to put history on the screen...I thought it was great."
       According to a Film Daily news item dated June 16, 1937, Simone Simon was originally cast for the film, presumably in the role that later went to Annabella. According to Los Angeles Examiner, production head Darryl Zanuck wanted George Arliss to play "Benjamin Disraeli," a role he created on stage and screen. Los Angeles Examiner also stated that the film cost $2,000,000 to produce. A "Film Guide" published in 1938, in the AMPAS production file on the film, gives the following production information: the All-American canal, under construction at the time to divert water from the Colorado River, near Yuma, AZ, was used in many long shots; a company of 1,000 extras, 300 horses, 200 burros and 20 camels spent 36 days near Yuma shooting long shots and background material; Otto Brower, who directed 2d unit shooting, enacted battle scenes at Lake Elsinore, CA and in old clay pits near Corona, CA, where a small mountain was dynamited for a landslide scene; two "prop deserts" were built at the studio, a small one for close-ups, on an interior sound stage, which was filled with 200 truckloads of sand and a dozen tents, and a large one, for scenes of a controlled storm, built over a twenty-acre former golf course using 3,000 truckloads of sand (a wind, however, blew most of the sand away two days after it was laid, and the studio lost $30,000); the simoon scenes, which cost $250,000, were staged with twenty-four wind machines by Lou Witte and Fred Sersen, who the previous year created the fire scenes in the studio's In Old Chicago; seven historic landmarks were recreated at the studio at a cost of $250,000, including an Alexandria, Egypt courtyard, which cost $50,000. Dwan, in his biography, is quoted as saying that ground cereal was blown by airplane propeller fans, because sand, which was tried originally, cut into the skin. He explained that in the scene where Annabella was blown away by the wind, she was attached to a wire and flown through the air.
       According to information in the Twentieth Century-Fox Records of the Legal Department at the UCLA Theater Arts Library, a "Countess de Lesseps" claimed to have unpublished records and facts relative to Ferdinand de Lesseps, and the studio employed her for a week, but it soon became apparent that she had no new information. In September 1938, M. Paul de Lesseps, the son of Ferdinand and the Director of the Suez Canal, informed the U.S. Department of Commerce that in the event that the film was harmful to his father's reputation, he intended to take up the matter with his attorney. According to the legal records, Paul de Lesseps also contacted the European manager of Les Productions Fox Europa and said that he was going to bring legal action against the company because he had been working on a scenario about his father, which was not completed, and the film made by Twentieth Century-Fox destroyed any chance a film based on his work had of being produced. The manager in Europe reported that de Lesseps wanted "a fabulous sum" to settle the matter. A lawyer for de Lesseps subsequently tried to get a court to issue an injunction to stop the film's exhibition. Zanuck wrote to Sidney Kent, the studio's president, that de Lesseps' action was an "attempted hold-up" and stated, "We certainly glorified Ferdinand and if we had wanted to we could have told the part of his life about his failure to build the Panama Canal and the lawsuit which followed, in which he was accused of bribery and everything else." [According to modern sources, de Lesseps was the president of a company that worked on the construction of the Panama Canal. After he gave up the project because of financial and political difficulties, he was sentenced to imprisonment by the French government for misappropriation of funds, but the decision was reversed.] Empress Eugnie's grand-nephew, Marquis de Casa Fuerte, also instituted a court case to stop the film's exhibition, but a judge in January 1939 ruled that there was no reason to seize the film and joined the two writs to have the case tried on its merits. No further information regarding the disputation of the suits has been located. Information in the legal records states that the charge d'affaires for Egypt wrote to the studio in November 1938 to complain that the portrayal of the young Prince Said was inaccurate and liable to offend Egyptian feelings. The charge d'affaires specifically objected to the scenes of the prince at an official festivity, in which the manners and etiquette depicted "could not accord with the dignity of his high position" and the boxing training scenes between the prince and de Lesseps, of which the charge d'affaires wrote, "As this is a matter which pertains to his private life, it would have been better not to show it to the public." The charge d'affaires requested that the studio examine the possibility of deleting those scenes. The studio's legal counsel then recommended that "objectionable material" should be removed from the Egyptian release if the removal would not destroy the story value. According to a New York Times article, scenes in the film showing a donkey named "Hassan" were deemed objectionable and deleted from showings in India because Hassan, the revered grandson of the prophet Mohammed, was a martyr still mourned in India for ten days every year.
       According to a Hollywood Reporter news item, Robert "Believe It or Not" Ripley was filmed in his study at his home in Long Island for the film's trailer, in which he told the story of the canal and introduced the cast. According to modern sources, Power and Annabella fell in love during the production, and he proposed to her in July 1938. They were subsequently married in April 1939. Of Young, who, modern sources state, felt she was being used in this film to help advance Power's career, Dwan commented, "Loretta was always above everything.... And she used that quality as Eugnie, of having complete control over her situation and being vastly superior to everybody. It came naturally for her to make you feel that everyone she came in contact with was far beneath her." He noted that she collaborated with the costume designer to fashion "the largest hoopskirts ever" and let her fingernails grow long to attract attention to herself. Dwan, who credited Zanuck with the idea for the film, thought it was overwritten by two reels, yet considered it one of his better films. Writer Philip Dunne in his autobiography, however, called the film "pretty bad." Suez was nominated for Academy Awards in three categories: Cinematography (Peverell Marley); Sound Recording (Edmund Hansen); and Original Score (Louis Silvers). The film's end credits contain the statement, "This is one of the movie quiz $250,000 contest pictures." No information has been located concerning this contest.