Fear and Desire


1h 8m 1953

Brief Synopsis

Four soldiers crash behind enemy lines.

Film Details

Genre
Drama
War
Release Date
Apr 1953
Premiere Information
New York opening: 31 Mar 1953
Distribution Company
Joseph Burstyn, Inc.
Country
United States
Location
Bakersfield, California, United States; San Gabriel Mountains, California, United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 8m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
5,568ft

Synopsis

After the plane of Lt. Corby, Sgt. Mac MacClellan and soldiers Fletcher and young Sidney crashes in a forest behind enemy lines, Corby immediately forms a plan to follow the nearby river to the front line by building a raft and traveling by night. With no better suggestions, the scared soldiers begin the dangerous journey, their anxieties racing through their minds as they walk: Corby bears the weight of responsibility for the group, Mac blames Corby for placing them in danger, Fletcher worries about the risk and Sidney is overcome with desperation and fear. They finally reach the river, where Corby casually teases the men as they build a raft. Scouting across the river, Mac discovers an airstrip next to a command post that is manned by high-level enemy personnel, including a general. When a plane flies overhead, the group, afraid they may have been spotted, abandon the raft and take cover in the forest. They soon come across two soldiers in a hut, and in need of the food and guns inside, they attack. Sidney watches in horror as Mac brutally murders the soldiers. When another soldier enters, Corby is forced to shoot him, and they flee again in fear that someone has heard the gunshot. Outside, Corby decides to return to the raft, even though they risk being caught in a trap, and as they set out for the river again, Mac needles Sidney for his cowardice. Along the river, they spy a woman washing, and hide in the bushes. She spots them, however, and they are forced to take her prisoner, and tie to her to a nearby tree. Corby strokes her hair, but after Mac urges him to act "civilized," he tries unsuccessfully to communicate with her. Leaving Sidney to guard her, the other men continue on to see if the raft is still there. During the hours that they are gone, Sidney grows more and more unbalanced, first trying to entertain the beautiful young woman with the story of Shakespeare's The Tempest , then embracing her desperately. Meanwhile, the others find the raft untouched, and Mac, watching the enemy general through field glasses, dreams of killing him. Corby deflects Mac's attempts to discuss the general by sending him back to Sidney, who is at this point feeding the girl water out of his hand. When she laps at his palm, Sidney falls on her and frees her hands. She runs away and, afraid she will reveal their location, Sidney shoots her, then collapses. By the time Mac arrives, Sidney is crazed, muttering that Prospero the Magician has killed the girl before racing off into the river. Corby and Fletcher join Mac and mournfully assume that Sidney has drowned. That night, Corby once again refuses to endanger the group by attacking the general, but Mac convinces him that he must be allowed to perform one act of great courage before he dies. Corby finally agrees, and they return to the river, where the men attempt to say goodbye without sentiment. Mac takes off on the raft in order to act as a decoy for the soldiers guarding the general, while Corby and Fletcher hide by the general's airplane, waiting for Mac's signal. Inside the post, the general is musing with his captain over the evil spirits in the forest, his complicity in sacrificing lives, and whether or not their own lives are in danger. As Mac floats down the river to his almost-certain death, he thinks that although no one will mourn him, he is eager to come to glory. When he reaches the post, he shoots to draw the guards's attention, and as they gather to attack him, Corby and Fletcher rush to the post and fire into the windows. The wounded general crawls to the door and surrenders, but Corby kills him, only then recognizing the general's face as his own. Corby and Fletcher race to the plane and take off, while a wounded Mac floats down the river. In the mist, he bumps into Sidney, now completely insane, and the two drift on together. Hours later, Corby and Fletcher have reached the American lines and wait by the river for the raft. There, they discuss how much they have changed in the forest, wondering if they are still lost. When the raft finally floats into view, bearing Mac's dead body and a raving Sidney, Fletcher replies that he is not built for war, and Corby states that no one ever can be.

Film Details

Genre
Drama
War
Release Date
Apr 1953
Premiere Information
New York opening: 31 Mar 1953
Distribution Company
Joseph Burstyn, Inc.
Country
United States
Location
Bakersfield, California, United States; San Gabriel Mountains, California, United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 8m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
5,568ft

Articles

Fear and Desire


For a first movie by a director who would later be hailed as a cinema genius and visionary, it has achieved a near-legendary status. Yet very few people have actually seen Stanley Kubrick's feature film debut, Fear and Desire (1953), because the young director, after heavily promoting it at the time of its release, later revisited the effort and found it "an embarrassing apprentice work" and withdrew it from circulation where it remained unseen for decades.

Kubrick almost succeeded in preventing any public viewings of his fledgling effort during his own lifetime (1928-1999) but in 1991, a print of Fear and Desire was screened at the Telluride Film Festival and then in 1994, it was shown on a double bill with Kubrick's Killer's Kiss (1955) at New York City's Film Forum. The director was highly displeased with these developments and even pressured his longtime distributor Warner Bros. to issue a press release in his words, stating that Fear and Desire was "written by a failed poet, crewed by a few friends, and a completely inept oddity, boring and pretentious." Could the film be as bad as Kubrick claimed? Obviously not, according to some of those fortunate enough to have seen it, and now viewers of TCM will get an opportunity to judge for themselves when the network airs Fear and Desire, courtesy of The George Eastman House Film Archive.

Kubrick, a former photographer for Look magazine, had been wanting to become a film director ever since he left the high profile magazine and had already dabbled in moviemaking, having poured his own savings into the documentary Day of the Fight (1951), based on his own pictorial essay in Look entitled "Prizefighter." He sold it to RKO and was commissioned by the studio to direct a second documentary, Flying Padre (1951), and later created a thirty minute promotional film, The Seafarers (1953), for the Seafarers' International Union.

Kubrick had already been laying the groundwork for his feature film debut as early as January of 1951 when he approached Richard de Rochemont, brother of Louis de Rochemont of the famous "March of Time" newsreel series, to produce it. Although de Rochemont passed on the offer, he was sufficiently impressed enough with the young Kubrick's determination that he later recommended him as an assistant to actor/director Norman Lloyd, who was assigned to direct a five-part series on Abraham Lincoln (written by James Agree) for the Omnibus TV series. In the interim, however, Kubrick managed to make his feature film after obtaining the financing from his uncle Martin Perveler, the wealthy owner of a drug store chain and other businesses in Los Angeles. Perveler's initial offer was a contract that agreed to Kubrick's request in exchange for a set percentage of the profits from every film Kubrick would make henceforth. The young director rejected that offer but was rewarded in the end with a one-picture deal with his relative, who received an associate producer credit.

The screenplay for Kubrick's debut film was entitled "The Trap," and later changed to "Shape of Fear" during the production process. Kubrick had coaxed his friend, the poet Howard Sackler, to pen the script and the storyline was inspired by the Korean War which had erupted in June of 1950. Heavily influenced by the work of Eugene O'Neill with allusions to William Shakespeare's The Tempest, Sackler's screenplay focuses on four soldiers who are trapped behind enemy lines in an unspecified war.

Kubrick's original plan was to shoot the movie in upper state New York using a rented 35mm Mitchell camera, a minimal cast and crew and add the dialogue and sound later in postproduction. As New York was teeming with plenty of talented, ambitious actors, the director had his pick of the lot, casting unknowns Kenneth Harp and Steve Coit as two of the soldiers and Paul Mazursky, who was spotted in an off-Broadway production of Leonid Andreyev's He Who Gets Slapped, won the part of the young private who has a mental breakdown. Virginia Leith, a photographer's model, was cast in a small role as a woman who is taken hostage, and Frank Silvera, a well-known Method actor who worked with the Actor's Studio and Harlem's American Negro Theatre, played Mac, the platoon sergeant.

Because of the unpredictable weather in upper state New York, Kubrick decided to shoot Fear and Desire (the official release title) in California instead after scouting and securing ideal locations in the San Gabriel Mountains. Mazursky, who was still a student at Brooklyn College, had to get permission from his dean to go on the four week shoot. In his autobiography, Show Me the Magic, Mazursky recounts the entire experience in delightful detail, noting that Kubrick, at one point, had to leave the production to secure additional financing from his uncle amid much shouting and persuasion. The base of operations for everyone was a deserted Boy Scout camp and completely isolated from any nearby towns or decent restaurants.

"Conditions were never easy," Mazursky recalled. "The crew consisted of four Mexicans who moved the equipment and did a little building; Steve Hahn, a friend of Stanleys who recorded the dialogue (no sync sound); Bob Dierkes, a former coworker with Kubrick at Look magazine who handled follow-focus on the Mitchell camera; Skippy Adelman, the still photographer; and Toba Kubrick [Stanley's wife at the time], who served as the script supervisor. There was no dolly track, just a baby carriage to move the camera. Stanley did all of the shooting. No matter what the problem, Kubrick always seemed to have an answer. To me there was never a question that Stanley was already master of his universe."

Despite the severe limitations, Kubrick was able to complete Fear and Desire within his allotted thirty day schedule though there were a few mishaps. "Too strapped for cash to rent a fog machine for Mac's drift down the misty river," wrote biographer John Baxter, Kubrick "discovered that Hollywood's devices burned a soluble oil called Nujol, and improvised one by loading an insecticide sprayer with mineral oil and water. The resulting miasma choked everyone, though the effect was impressively atmospheric."

Returning to New York City after the shooting, Kubrick plunged himself into the post-production process which ended up costing him much more than he had originally budgeted. With a film score composed by Gerald Fried and performed by 23 musicians plus the editing and dubbing expenses, the Fear and Desire costs soared to $53,000. During this process, Kubrick had to take on additional work, hence his involvement on the Abraham Lincoln TV series, to finance the film's completion with some additional funding from Richard de Rochemont.

Kubrick eventually was able to preview the completed film to select opinion influencers in the film world. Among these were James Agee, experimental filmmaker Curtis Harrington, and Mark van Doren, the former film critic for The Nation, who proclaimed Fear and Desire, "brilliant and unforgettable," and even wrote, "nothing like it has ever been seen in a film before, and it alone guaranteeds that the future of Stanley Kubrick is worth watching for those who want to discover high talent at the moment it appears." The latter was an acquaintance of Kubrick (the young director had attended his film classes at Columbia) so perhaps he was being overly generous. However, there were reports that some audience members laughed at Paul Mazursky's overwrought performance and that Sight and Sound editor Gavin Lambert remarked after a screening, "I think it's incredibly awful...and I think he's incredibly talented."

When Fear and Desire had its official New York premiere though, most of the major media reviewers from Time, Newsweek, The New Yorker and others were positive with Variety calling the film, "a literate, unhackneyed war drama, outstanding for its fresh camera treatment and poetic dialogue." Despite the critical acclaim, Fear and Desire generated little interest at the boxoffice beyond the small art house circuit and quickly faded from public view as Kubrick moved on to his next project, Killer's Kiss. According to some sources, Kubrick was said to have personally destroyed the negative to Fear and Desire in 1953 to insure that no further prints would be made. That didn't prevent a few prints, however, from finding their way into various film archives. Kubrick's final words on the entire Fear and Desire experience were simply, "Pain is a good teacher," though viewers seeing his film for the first time will most likely be more forgiving and see an audacious and visually sophisticated debut feature which is much more accomplished than the first efforts of most directors.

Producer: Stanley Kubrick, Martin Perveler
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Screenplay: Howard Sackler
Cinematography: Stanley Kubrick
Editing: Stanley Kubrick
Art Direction: Herbert Lebowitz
Music: Gerald Fried
Cast: Frank Silvera (Sgt. Mac), Paul Mazursky (Pvt. Sidney), Kenneth Harp (Lt. Corby), Stephen Coit (Pvt. Fletcher), Virginia Leigh (young girl).
BW-72m.

by Jeff Stafford

Sources:
Stanley Kubrick: A Biography by John Baxter (Carroll & Graf Publishing) Stanley Kubrick: A Biography by Vincent LoBrutto (Donald I. Fine books)
Show Me the Magic by Paul Mazursky (Simon & Schuster)
IMDB
Fear And Desire

Fear and Desire

For a first movie by a director who would later be hailed as a cinema genius and visionary, it has achieved a near-legendary status. Yet very few people have actually seen Stanley Kubrick's feature film debut, Fear and Desire (1953), because the young director, after heavily promoting it at the time of its release, later revisited the effort and found it "an embarrassing apprentice work" and withdrew it from circulation where it remained unseen for decades. Kubrick almost succeeded in preventing any public viewings of his fledgling effort during his own lifetime (1928-1999) but in 1991, a print of Fear and Desire was screened at the Telluride Film Festival and then in 1994, it was shown on a double bill with Kubrick's Killer's Kiss (1955) at New York City's Film Forum. The director was highly displeased with these developments and even pressured his longtime distributor Warner Bros. to issue a press release in his words, stating that Fear and Desire was "written by a failed poet, crewed by a few friends, and a completely inept oddity, boring and pretentious." Could the film be as bad as Kubrick claimed? Obviously not, according to some of those fortunate enough to have seen it, and now viewers of TCM will get an opportunity to judge for themselves when the network airs Fear and Desire, courtesy of The George Eastman House Film Archive. Kubrick, a former photographer for Look magazine, had been wanting to become a film director ever since he left the high profile magazine and had already dabbled in moviemaking, having poured his own savings into the documentary Day of the Fight (1951), based on his own pictorial essay in Look entitled "Prizefighter." He sold it to RKO and was commissioned by the studio to direct a second documentary, Flying Padre (1951), and later created a thirty minute promotional film, The Seafarers (1953), for the Seafarers' International Union. Kubrick had already been laying the groundwork for his feature film debut as early as January of 1951 when he approached Richard de Rochemont, brother of Louis de Rochemont of the famous "March of Time" newsreel series, to produce it. Although de Rochemont passed on the offer, he was sufficiently impressed enough with the young Kubrick's determination that he later recommended him as an assistant to actor/director Norman Lloyd, who was assigned to direct a five-part series on Abraham Lincoln (written by James Agree) for the Omnibus TV series. In the interim, however, Kubrick managed to make his feature film after obtaining the financing from his uncle Martin Perveler, the wealthy owner of a drug store chain and other businesses in Los Angeles. Perveler's initial offer was a contract that agreed to Kubrick's request in exchange for a set percentage of the profits from every film Kubrick would make henceforth. The young director rejected that offer but was rewarded in the end with a one-picture deal with his relative, who received an associate producer credit. The screenplay for Kubrick's debut film was entitled "The Trap," and later changed to "Shape of Fear" during the production process. Kubrick had coaxed his friend, the poet Howard Sackler, to pen the script and the storyline was inspired by the Korean War which had erupted in June of 1950. Heavily influenced by the work of Eugene O'Neill with allusions to William Shakespeare's The Tempest, Sackler's screenplay focuses on four soldiers who are trapped behind enemy lines in an unspecified war. Kubrick's original plan was to shoot the movie in upper state New York using a rented 35mm Mitchell camera, a minimal cast and crew and add the dialogue and sound later in postproduction. As New York was teeming with plenty of talented, ambitious actors, the director had his pick of the lot, casting unknowns Kenneth Harp and Steve Coit as two of the soldiers and Paul Mazursky, who was spotted in an off-Broadway production of Leonid Andreyev's He Who Gets Slapped, won the part of the young private who has a mental breakdown. Virginia Leith, a photographer's model, was cast in a small role as a woman who is taken hostage, and Frank Silvera, a well-known Method actor who worked with the Actor's Studio and Harlem's American Negro Theatre, played Mac, the platoon sergeant. Because of the unpredictable weather in upper state New York, Kubrick decided to shoot Fear and Desire (the official release title) in California instead after scouting and securing ideal locations in the San Gabriel Mountains. Mazursky, who was still a student at Brooklyn College, had to get permission from his dean to go on the four week shoot. In his autobiography, Show Me the Magic, Mazursky recounts the entire experience in delightful detail, noting that Kubrick, at one point, had to leave the production to secure additional financing from his uncle amid much shouting and persuasion. The base of operations for everyone was a deserted Boy Scout camp and completely isolated from any nearby towns or decent restaurants. "Conditions were never easy," Mazursky recalled. "The crew consisted of four Mexicans who moved the equipment and did a little building; Steve Hahn, a friend of Stanleys who recorded the dialogue (no sync sound); Bob Dierkes, a former coworker with Kubrick at Look magazine who handled follow-focus on the Mitchell camera; Skippy Adelman, the still photographer; and Toba Kubrick [Stanley's wife at the time], who served as the script supervisor. There was no dolly track, just a baby carriage to move the camera. Stanley did all of the shooting. No matter what the problem, Kubrick always seemed to have an answer. To me there was never a question that Stanley was already master of his universe." Despite the severe limitations, Kubrick was able to complete Fear and Desire within his allotted thirty day schedule though there were a few mishaps. "Too strapped for cash to rent a fog machine for Mac's drift down the misty river," wrote biographer John Baxter, Kubrick "discovered that Hollywood's devices burned a soluble oil called Nujol, and improvised one by loading an insecticide sprayer with mineral oil and water. The resulting miasma choked everyone, though the effect was impressively atmospheric." Returning to New York City after the shooting, Kubrick plunged himself into the post-production process which ended up costing him much more than he had originally budgeted. With a film score composed by Gerald Fried and performed by 23 musicians plus the editing and dubbing expenses, the Fear and Desire costs soared to $53,000. During this process, Kubrick had to take on additional work, hence his involvement on the Abraham Lincoln TV series, to finance the film's completion with some additional funding from Richard de Rochemont. Kubrick eventually was able to preview the completed film to select opinion influencers in the film world. Among these were James Agee, experimental filmmaker Curtis Harrington, and Mark van Doren, the former film critic for The Nation, who proclaimed Fear and Desire, "brilliant and unforgettable," and even wrote, "nothing like it has ever been seen in a film before, and it alone guaranteeds that the future of Stanley Kubrick is worth watching for those who want to discover high talent at the moment it appears." The latter was an acquaintance of Kubrick (the young director had attended his film classes at Columbia) so perhaps he was being overly generous. However, there were reports that some audience members laughed at Paul Mazursky's overwrought performance and that Sight and Sound editor Gavin Lambert remarked after a screening, "I think it's incredibly awful...and I think he's incredibly talented." When Fear and Desire had its official New York premiere though, most of the major media reviewers from Time, Newsweek, The New Yorker and others were positive with Variety calling the film, "a literate, unhackneyed war drama, outstanding for its fresh camera treatment and poetic dialogue." Despite the critical acclaim, Fear and Desire generated little interest at the boxoffice beyond the small art house circuit and quickly faded from public view as Kubrick moved on to his next project, Killer's Kiss. According to some sources, Kubrick was said to have personally destroyed the negative to Fear and Desire in 1953 to insure that no further prints would be made. That didn't prevent a few prints, however, from finding their way into various film archives. Kubrick's final words on the entire Fear and Desire experience were simply, "Pain is a good teacher," though viewers seeing his film for the first time will most likely be more forgiving and see an audacious and visually sophisticated debut feature which is much more accomplished than the first efforts of most directors. Producer: Stanley Kubrick, Martin Perveler Director: Stanley Kubrick Screenplay: Howard Sackler Cinematography: Stanley Kubrick Editing: Stanley Kubrick Art Direction: Herbert Lebowitz Music: Gerald Fried Cast: Frank Silvera (Sgt. Mac), Paul Mazursky (Pvt. Sidney), Kenneth Harp (Lt. Corby), Stephen Coit (Pvt. Fletcher), Virginia Leigh (young girl). BW-72m. by Jeff Stafford Sources: Stanley Kubrick: A Biography by John Baxter (Carroll & Graf Publishing) Stanley Kubrick: A Biography by Vincent LoBrutto (Donald I. Fine books) Show Me the Magic by Paul Mazursky (Simon & Schuster) IMDB

Quotes

If you have to hate me, please try to like me also.
- Private Sidney
We spend our lives running our fingers down the lists in directories, looking for our real names, our permanent addresses. No man is an island?
- Lieutenant Corby
Perhaps that was true a long time ago, before the Ice Age. The glaciers have melted away, and now we're all islands -- parts of a world made of islands only...
- Lieutenant Corby
There is war in this forest. Not a war that has been fought, or one that will be, but any war. And the enemies who struggle here do not exist, unless we call them into being. This forest, then, and all that happens now is outside history. Only the unchanging shapes of fear -- and doubt -- and death -- are from our world. These soldiers that you see keep our language and our time, but have no other country but the mind.
- Narrator
You know, there's nothing so refreshing as an afternoon outdoors in enemy territory. It's really too bad that the sun doesn't burn us green instead of brown - camouflage.
- Lieutenant Corby
Cold stew on a blazing island. We've just made a perfect definition of war, Mac.
- Lieutenant Corby

Trivia

Stanley Kubrick got his uncle, a pharmacist, to put up most of the money to finance this film.

Stanley Kubrick insisted on setting up the lighting himself, as he liked to do, and did it without allowing a place for microphones. When his sound recordist Nathan Boxer objected, Kubrick fired him and recorded the sound himself.

Kubrick later denounced this film as amateurish, saying he considered it like a child's drawing on a fridge.

Notes

The film, which does not indicate a specific time or place, begins with the following spoken narration: "There is a war in this forest, not a war that has been fought or one that will be, but any war. And the enemies that struggle here do not exist. And that's why we call them into being. This forest, then, and all that happens now, is outside history. Only the unchanging shapes of fear and doubt and death are from our world. These soldiers that you see keep our language and our time, but have no other country but the mind." Stanley Kubrick's opening credit reads: "Directed, photographed and edited by Stanley Kubrick." Although Paul Mazursky is listed before Kenneth Harp in the opening credits, Harp is listed first in the closing credits. A March 1953 New York Times article refers to Mazursky, who made his motion picture debut in Fear and Desire, as "Irwin Mazursky," his given name. Mazursky went on to act in the 1955 picture Blackboard Jungle and direct such films as Down and Out in Beverly Hills.
       Fear and Desire did not receive a certificate number from the Production Code Administration. The film was Kubrick's first feature. Although modern sources disagree on the film's exact budget, Kubrick stated in a 1994 Village Voice article that he raised $10,000 to shoot the film, and spent another $30,000 to add the sound during post-production. According to the Variety review, the film was shot on location in the San Gabriel Mountains and at a river in Bakersfield, CA. Kubrick, who had previously produced two short films distributed by RKO, made the film with his then-wife Toba, who acted as the film's dialogue director, and fellow Taft High School graduate Howard Sackler, who went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for his 1968 play The Great White Hope.
       After its initial release at the Guild Theater in New York on March 31, 1953, and its subsequent Los Angeles opening on July 13, 1955, the film received a mixed critical reception. Although Variety called the film "literate" and "unhackneyed," and Newsweek described the twenty-four-year-old Kubrick as "bound to make his mark in the near future," Kubrick himself reportedly grew to despise the film, and, according to a June 1996 Daily Variety article, tried to destroy every print. A 1994 New York Times article reported that Kubrick had "recently asked Warner Bros. to issue a letter to call the film a 'bumbling, amateur film exercise.'" The print viewed, which sources state is the only one to survive, was preserved and is part of the collection at the George Eastman House in Rochester, NY.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States 2012

Released in United States September 1993

Released in United States Winter January 1, 1953

Re-released in United States January 14, 1994

Shown at Telluride Film Festival September 3-6, 1993.

Released in United States 2012 (Official Selection)

Released in United States Winter January 1, 1953

Film's 1994 re-release is a presentation of George Eastman House.

Re-released in United States January 14, 1994 (Film Forum; New York City)

Released in United States September 1993 (Shown at Telluride Film Festival September 3-6, 1993.)