Fear and Desire (1953)

68 mins | Melodrama | April 1953

Director:

Stanley Kubrick

Writer:

Howard Sackler

Producer:

Stanley Kubrick

Cinematographer:

Stanley Kubrick

Editor:

Stanley Kubrick

Production Designer:

Herbert Lebowitz
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HISTORY

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 Mar 1953 NYT 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 (see above) 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 Var review, the film was shot on location in the San Gabriel Mountains and at a river in Bakersfield, CA. Kubrick, who had previously produced ... More Less

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 Mar 1953 NYT 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 (see above) 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 Var 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 31 Mar 1953, and its subsequent Los Angeles opening on 13 Jul 1955, the film received a mixed critical reception. Although Var 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 Jun 1996 DV article, tried to destroy every print. A 1994 NYT 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. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
2 May 1953.
---
Daily Variety
27 Jun 1996.
---
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
4 Apr 53
p. 1782.
New York Times
15 Mar 1953.
---
New York Times
1 Apr 53
p. 35.
New York Times
16 Jan 1966.
---
New York Times
14 Jan 1994.
---
Newsweek
13 Apr 1953.
---
The Exhibitor
22 Apr 53
p. 3508.
Variety
1 Apr 53
p. 6.
Village Voice
18 Jan 1994.
---
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
Dial dir
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
ART DIRECTOR
FILM EDITOR
MUSIC
Mus comp and cond
MAKEUP
Makeup
PRODUCTION MISC
Unit mgr
Title des
DETAILS
Release Date:
April 1953
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 31 March 1953
Production Date:
1952
Copyright Claimant:
Martin Perveler
Copyright Date:
30 March 1953
Copyright Number:
LP2595
Physical Properties:
Sound
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
68
Length(in feet):
5,568
Country:
United States
Language:
English
Passed by NBR:
No
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 ... +


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. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.