The Brothers Karamazov
Cast & Crew
Lee J. Cobb
In the small Russian town of Ryevsk in 1870, young monk Alexey Karamazov visits his decadent father Fyodor to request money on behalf of his older half-brother Dmitri, an officer in the army. Although Dmitri claims that he inherited the money from his deceased mother, Fyodor denies the assertion, forcing Dmitri to sign loan notes. Maintaining that Dmitri already owes him too much, Fyodor gives Alexey half of the amount that Dmitri has requested. After Alexey delivers the money, Dmitri wrecks a tavern in a brawl, when he is accused of thievery. Back at his apartment, Dmitri is visited by Katya, the daughter of a respected military commander who is liable for five thousand rubles recently stolen from his company headquarters. Having secretly arranged with Dimitri to loan her father money in exchange for sexual favors, Katya prepares to remain the night. Dmitri playfully proposes to Katya, but when she declares that would only further her degradation, Dmitri gives Katya the money and sends her away. Several weeks later, Katya visits Dmitri, who has been arrested for the tavern incident, in a military prison in Moscow to thank him for saving her father from scandal. Despite Dmitri's confession that he always intended to give her the money, Katya belatedly accepts his earlier proposal and declares her devotion to him. After she reveals that her grandmother has given her a generous dowry on which they can live, Dmitri uncertainly agrees to their betrothal. Katya then asks Dmitri to leave the army, but when she suggests that she can settle his debts with Fyodor, Dmitri refuses. Katya bails Dmitri out of prison, and the couple return to Ryevsk where they are welcomed at the train station by Alexey, and his full brother, writer Ivan, and Fyodor and his bastard son Smerdyakov. Later, when Katya presses Ivan for details of Dmitri's youth, Ivan finds himself attracted to her. Angered by Fyodor's expectation that he will pay off his notes upon marrying, Dmitri leaves town for several months. During that time, Ivan visits Katya daily, while Fyodor takes up with young, enchanting tavern owner Grushenka. When Dmitri returns to demand his inheritance, Fyodor challenges his son to sue him, knowing that a court scandal would taint Katya. Fyodor then urges Dmitri to marry in order to repay his debts. Exasperated, Dmitri agrees to present his grievances against Fyodor to Father Zossima. Later that evening, Fyodor tells Grushenka of Dmitri's return and impulsively proposes, reminding her that he thought so much of her that he gave her Dmitri's notes to collect for herself. Grushenka refuses the proposal, then suggests that she have one of her employees, former army captain Snegiryov, buy all of Dmitri's debts at half value and demand repayment. As Dmitri will be unable to pay, he will be put in debtor's prison, leaving Fyodor to legally keep Dmitri's inheritance. Later, upon learning that Snegiryov has purchased his debts, Dmitri confronts him in the street, humiliating the frail, older man in front of his young son Illusha. Snegiryov confesses to acting on behalf of Grushenka, who is league with Fyodor. Dmitri angrily tells Katya of his father's latest ploy and she again offers to pay off the loans. When Dmitri refuses, she asks him to mail a letter to her father that contains three thousand rubles, knowing that Dimitri will keep the money for himself. Dmitri sets off to confront Grushenka, but is unexpectedly captivated by her radiant charm. The two ride to an out-of-town tavern where Dmitri spends Katya's money. When Dmitri tells Grushenka that he will never marry Katya, Grushenka forgives him the debts she holds. Over the next several weeks the two embark on a passionate affair. When Dmitri meets with Fyodor and Father Zossima, Fyodor berates him for the false inheritance claim and for his flagrant romance with Grushenka. Dmitri surprises Fyodor, Ivan and Alexey by stating that he wishes to drop his claim, settle one particular debt and leave Ryevsk. Fyodor attempts to provoke Dmitri, compelling Father Zossima to declare that he is helpless in settling the matter. After several weeks, Dmitri's obsession with Grushenka turns into possessive jealousy and she chafes under his suspicions. Dmitri then asks Alexey to speak to Katya about breaking their engagement. When Dmitri laments that he is unable to pay back the money that he took from Katya, Alexey offers to ask Fyodor to loan Dimitri the money. A few days later during a discussion at Fyodor's home, Smerdyakov and Ivan agree that if there is no God, all behavior is permissible. Dmitri then bursts in looking for Grushenka and when Fyodor taunts him, Dmitri attacks his father. Threatening to kill Fyodor if he tries to see Grushenka, Dmitri departs. The next evening, Alexey goes to see Katya and is surprised to find her with Grushenka. Katya assures Alexey that Dmitri will never marry Grushenka, who has told Katya of Dmitri's jealousy and her desire to return to her first lover, a Polish officer. Angered by Katya's confidence, Grushenka ridicules Katya's manipulative insincerity and class prejudice, and insists that she has not given her word to leave Dmitri. As Grushenka departs, Ivan arrives to inform Katya that he is leaving for Moscow. When Katya pleads for him to stay, Ivan derides her for using him while caring only for Dmitri. Meanwhile, Dmitri pawns his pistols for two hundred rubles, which he asks Alexey to give to Snegiryov as an apology for his insulting behavior. Dmitri confesses to his younger brother that he has realized that only by taking responsibility for all his actions will he be able to move forward with life. While Dmitri departs to collect debts owed him by army colleagues, Alexey takes the money to Snegiryov, who is overwhelmed. Illusha, made ill by the shame of his father's insult, pleads with him not to accept the apology, forcing Snegiryov to refuse the money. Later, Smerdyakov tells Ivan that he believes that Dmitri will murder Fyodor out of jealousy. When Ivan expresses doubt, Smerdyakov divulges that he is planning to arrange a confrontation between Fyodor and Dmitri. After Ivan departs for Moscow, Smerdyakov puts his plot into action, arranging for a rendezvous between Grushenka and the Polish officer. When Dmitri returns and finds Grushenka gone, he hastens to Fyodor's. Although convinced of Grushenka's infidelity, Dmitri is unable to attack his father, even when Fyodor beats him. Drawn by the commotion, caretaker Grigory attempts to prevent Dmitri's escape and is struck down. Learning of Grushenka's whereabouts from her maid Marya, Dmitri confronts her and the Polish officer, only to find that the officer has been gambling all evening. After the officer proposes to Grushenka, she realizes that he only wants her for her money. Grushenka rejects the officer, then apologizes to Dmitri and pledges herself to him. As Dmitri is about to confess the assault on Grigory, the police arrive and Dmitri is stunned to learn that while Grigory will recover, Fyodor has been murdered. At his trial, Dmitri pleads guilty to a life of debauchery and debt, but insists he did not murder Fyodor. The prosecutor reveals that three thousand rubles were stolen from Fyodor the night of his murder and Katya testifies that Dmitri had taken the same amount from her, but insists that she did not expect reimbursement. Later in private, Ivan, who has returned for the funeral, laments to Katya that Dmitri will be found guilty, then reveals that he has a plan to smuggle Dmitri out of the country. Later, Ivan confronts Smerdyakov at home and is angered to find him wearing Fyodor's clothes and drinking his liquor. Smerdyakov confesses to killing Fyodor, but insists that Ivan was complicit when he confirmed Smerdyakov's belief in a godless world. When Smerdyakov shows Ivan the money that he stole from Fyodor to implicate Dmitri and reveals that he murdered Fyodor to gain respect, Ivan demands that Smerdyakov go to the police. Dismayed, Smerdyakov accuses Ivan of hypocrisy, but Ivan departs for the police. Later that evening, Alexey and Grushenka arrive at Fyodor's seeking Ivan and find Smerdyakov has hanged himself. The following day in court, Ivan desperately repeats Smerdyakov's confession and implicates himself as well. After Ivan, Dmitri and Alexey reconcile, Katya submits a letter into evidence in which Dmitri claims that he will get the money owed her from Fyodor even if forced to kill him. Before being found guilty, Dmitri declares that only through punishment will he find salvation and regeneration. The next day, Katya watches the train taking newly sentenced prisoners to prison camp and is stunned to realize that Dmitri is not among them. Ivan and Alexey have arranged to transport Dmitri and Grushenka out of Russia. Before departing, Dmitri insists on stopping at Snegiryov's, where, in front of Illusha, Dmitri offers his sincere apology and pleads for forgiveness. Illusha accepts his apology and Snegiryov forgives Dmitri, freeing him to start a new life.
Lee J. Cobb
Frank De Kova
John W. Zweers
John Warren Leland
Mary Ann Bernard
Pandro S. Berman
Julius J. Epstein
Philip G. Epstein
Charles K. Hagedon
William A. Horning
Frank La Rue
Dr. Wesley C. Miller
Best Supporting Actor
The Brothers Karamazov
History has shown the titular characters of Dostoyevsky's final opus to each embody separate aspects of the author's personality. The soldier Dmitri (Yul Brynner) is passionate, intemperate, and a slave to a gambling compulsion that keeps him mired in debt. The journalist Ivan (Richard Basehart) is intellectual, rational, and unable to reconcile with the abiding faith of his younger brother, the novitiate priest Alexei (William Shatner). Last in line is Smerdyakov (Albert Salmi), the epileptic, amoral, unacknowledged bastard who lives in service to their father, Fyodor (Lee J. Cobb).
The sons all chafe under the control of their father, a sybaritic lout who keeps a close grip on the inheritances left by his late wives. Particularly galled is the always-needy Dmitri, who chooses to confront the object of Fyodor's favors, the free-spirited slattern Grushenka (Maria Schell). Dmitri finds himself falling for Grushenka, much to the public humiliation of his fiancΘe Katerina (Claire Bloom).
Brooks opted to leave his primary focus on the arcs of Dmitri and Grushenka, and the murder mystery that followed in their passion's wake, leaving the moral dilemmas of Ivan and Alexei as peripheral elements. He also attempted a form of visual shorthand to capture the essence of Dostoyevsky's novel, as evidenced by the bright palate of primary tints that he and cinematographer John Alton hoped would evoke states of mind that could not be conveyed by dialogue. With little onscreen time to convey the piety of Alexei's mentor Father Zosima, Brooks cast the actor William Vedder in the belief that he "would give, by his very appearance, an immediate and lasting impression of the spiritual qualities required."
The best successes of The Brothers Karamazov lay with the performances that Brooks coaxed out of his cast. Cobb heartily devoured the scenery as the boorish patriarch, and procured an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor as a result. Salmi, who would go on to be a ubiquitous character heavy, was quite effective as the calculating Smerdyakov, as was Shatner (in his first film appearance) in conveying the placid selflessness of Alexei.
Schell made the most of her luminous smile in conveying the girlish abandon of Grushenka, a role that Marilyn Monroe had desperately wanted to play. Brynner, at the height of his star power, lent the requisite intensity to Dmitri. For him, it was the most daring artistic challenge of his career to date. "When we were working out his character in Karamazov," Brooks revealed in an interview, "Yul must have asked three hundred questions a day. He was constantly aware of the importance of the picture and of himself in it." Brynner's contract for the film also reflected his serious intent; the studio was obligated to provide him with his own private Russian historian (Count Andrei Tolstoy, the nephew of the novelist, was eventually hired to instruct him). Brynner's dedication to his part is much more remarkable in light of the fact that he cracked two vertebrae on the first day's shooting. While filming one of The Brothers Karamazov's more memorable set pieces, Dmitri's horseback competition with a Russian officer, Brynner felt a pop in his back, and he collapsed on his dressing room floor an hour later. "On the next day, Friday, he missed work," recalled Rock Brynner in Yul: The Man Who Would Be King: A Memoir Of Father And Son (Simon & Schuster), "but he was back in front of the camera first thing Monday morning-broken back and all."
While his degree of success at adapting Dostoyevsky to film has and always will be vigorously debated, Brooks and his collaborators at the very least rendered a compelling entertainment in The Brothers Karamazov. Saturday Review critic Hollis Alpert probably put it best in his February 1958 review when he opined "Why, after all, should the combined efforts of many skilled people, the outlay of a few million dollars, ever be expected to approximate the achievement of one poor man of genius?"
Producer: Pandro S. Berman
Director: Richard Brooks
Screenplay: Julius J. Epstein, Richard Brooks, Philip G. Epstein; based on the novel by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Costume Designer: Walter Plunkett
Cinematography: John Alton
Editing: John D. Dunning
Music: Bronislau Kaper
Cast: Yul Brynner (Dmitri Karamazov), Maria Schell (Grushenka), Claire Bloom (Katya), Lee J. Cobb (Fyodor Karamazov), Richard Basehart (Ivan Karamazov), William Shatner (Alexei Karamazov), Albert Salmi (Smerdyakov), Judith Evelyn (Mme. Anna Hohlakov), David Opatoshu (Capt. Snegiryov).
C-147m. Closed captioning.
by Jay Steinberg
The Brothers Karamazov
William Shatner's Hollywood film debut.
The onscreen credit for Richard Brooks reads: "Screenplay and Direction by Richard Brooks." The onscreen literary source credit reads: "From the novel by Fyodor Dostoyevsky In its English Translation by Constance Garnett." A Hollywood Reporter January 1955 news item noted that German producer Eugen Frenke was in negotiations with Constantin Films to simultaneously make both an English and German version of The Brothers Karamazov . The article indicated that Niven Busch had already completed a treatment, Philip Yordan would be writing the screenplay and Joan Collins was in consideration for the female lead.
Frenke had attempted to make the film in 1937 and again in 1942 using Busch's treatment and starring Anna Sten, who had appeared in a version of the Dostoyevsky's novel in 1931 for Germany's Terra Films. A March 1947 Los Angeles Examiner news item indicated that M-G-M had purchased the novel rights and Robert Taylor and Van Heflin were to be cast in the film. A September 1956 Hollywood Reporter item noted that Millard Kaufman was to write the screenplay. According to a 1957 Los Angeles Times article, Marilyn Monroe was in negotiations with M-G-M for the role of "Grushenka." Brooks indicated that negotiations with Monroe fell through due to "her contractual demands and personal troubles." The same article noted that Carroll Baker was also in contention for the role, but could not secure a release from Warner Bros. According to a June 1957 Hollywood Reporter news item, Yul Brynner suffered a fractured back while practicing strenuous trick riding for the picture. Brooks shot around Brynner for two days, after which the actor insisted on returning to the production.
Several major differences occur between the film and the book. In both, "Dmitri" returns to his hometown for his inheritance, but in the film Dmitri already owes his father a debt, which becomes central to the plot, while in the novel Dmitri owes money to "Katerina." The novel's central character is Dmitri's brother, the apprentice monk "Aloysha," who questions his own convictions and develops a strong relationship with his mentor Zosima and neighborhood children, while in the film this character, known as "Alexey," has a smaller role. At the end of the film, "Katya" submits evidence against Dmitri, thus securing his conviction, and his brothers arrange for his escape and reunion with Grushenka, while in the novel this character, known as "Katerina," assists Dmitri in his escape and reunion.
In an article he wrote for the New York Times in September 1957, Brooks discussed the difficulties of condensing the massive novel into script form. Brooks explained that he decided to change the central character from Alyosha to Dmitri because the latter was a more action-oriented character and thus provided the motivating force behind the complex tale. Brooks also felt Dostoyevsky's constant use of flashback was not well suited for the film as a direct story line.
The Brothers Karamazov was shot on location in London and Paris. The film marked the American film debut for Austrian-Swiss actress Maria Schell (1926-2005), who previously had worked primarily in West German and British productions. The film also marked the feature debut of young Miko Oscard. Lee J. Cobb received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his role as "Fyodor." Two German adaptations of The Brothers Karamazov have been made for the screen, one in 1918, and the other, noted above, made in 1931. In 1947 an Italian production was released, directed by Giacomo Gentilomo. In 1968 a Soviet version was produced, co-directed by Mikhail Ulyanov, who also starred in the film. This latter version was distributed in the United States in 1980 by Columbia Pictures.
Released in United States Winter February 1958
Screen debut for William Shatner.
Released in United States Winter February 1958
Voted Best Supporting Actor (Salmi) and One of the Year's Ten Best Films by the 1958 National Board of Review.