Elephant Walk (1954)

102-103 mins | Drama | June 1954

Director:

William Dieterle

Writer:

John Lee Mahin

Producer:

Irving Asher

Cinematographer:

Loyal Griggs

Editor:

George Tomasini

Production Designers:

Hal Pereira, Joseph MacMillan Johnson

Production Company:

Paramount Pictures Corp.
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HISTORY

The film opens with Peter Finch as his character “John Wiley” reciting offscreen the first few paragraphs of Robert Standish’s novel Elephant Walk . Contemporary news items add the following information about the production: In Oct 1951, Dougfair Productions, a company owned by Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. and Alexander Macdonald, acquired the screen rights to Standish’s novel as a vehicle for Fairbanks and Deborah Kerr. In Jun 1952, Dougfair relinquished the property to Paramount in order to concentrate on television production, and Irving Asher, who had been stationed in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) during the war, was assigned to produce. Fairbanks, who had already made arrangements with the British, Ceylonese and Indian governments, agreed to stay on as a consultant, but the extent of his contribution to the final film has not been determined.
       In Jan 1953, Paramount announced that Dana Andrews was to co-star with Vivien Leigh, after plans to co-star Leigh with her then husband, Laurence Olivier, fell through. Olivier, who had just starred in Paramount’s Carrie , turned down the role after reading the script and meeting with Asher in London. According to modern sources, Olivier then recommended Peter Finch, a complete unknown in Hollywood, for the part. Principal photography began in Colombo, Ceylon, in early Feb 1953, but after the company returned to Los Angeles a month later, Leigh, who suffered from manic depression, had a complete breakdown and was removed from the film in mid-Mar. Although her doctors declared that the breakdown was the result of the long flight from Ceylon and Leigh’s fear of flying, some contemporary reports, as well as modern ... More Less

The film opens with Peter Finch as his character “John Wiley” reciting offscreen the first few paragraphs of Robert Standish’s novel Elephant Walk . Contemporary news items add the following information about the production: In Oct 1951, Dougfair Productions, a company owned by Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. and Alexander Macdonald, acquired the screen rights to Standish’s novel as a vehicle for Fairbanks and Deborah Kerr. In Jun 1952, Dougfair relinquished the property to Paramount in order to concentrate on television production, and Irving Asher, who had been stationed in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) during the war, was assigned to produce. Fairbanks, who had already made arrangements with the British, Ceylonese and Indian governments, agreed to stay on as a consultant, but the extent of his contribution to the final film has not been determined.
       In Jan 1953, Paramount announced that Dana Andrews was to co-star with Vivien Leigh, after plans to co-star Leigh with her then husband, Laurence Olivier, fell through. Olivier, who had just starred in Paramount’s Carrie , turned down the role after reading the script and meeting with Asher in London. According to modern sources, Olivier then recommended Peter Finch, a complete unknown in Hollywood, for the part. Principal photography began in Colombo, Ceylon, in early Feb 1953, but after the company returned to Los Angeles a month later, Leigh, who suffered from manic depression, had a complete breakdown and was removed from the film in mid-Mar. Although her doctors declared that the breakdown was the result of the long flight from Ceylon and Leigh’s fear of flying, some contemporary reports, as well as modern sources, note that Leigh’s erratic behavior was evident at the start of production.
       A few days after Leigh’s departure, Elizabeth Taylor, Jean Simmons and Claire Bloom were announced as Leigh’s possible replacement. Paramount cast Taylor and paid M-G-M $150,000 for the loan-out. Modern sources claim that Asher had actually offered Taylor the role before Leigh, but that she had turned it down due to pregnancy. Because Taylor was about the same height as Leigh and the Ceylon footage featured Leigh only in long, establishing shots, most of the Ceylon footage (ninety percent, according to modern sources) was retained in the final film. In order to match up shots of Leigh and Taylor, Leigh’s wardrobe had to be refitted or replaced, as Taylor was a bit heavier than Leigh, and Taylor had to wear a wig to cover her “poodle” haircut.
       Elephants used in the picture were borrowed from the Cole Brothers Circus in Chicago. Emmy, a female elephant, was fitted with false tusks for the production, and a mechanical trunk was constructed for one of the stampede shots. Modern sources note that furniture on the plantation set was partially sawn away to facilitate its destruction during the rampage scene, but that the elephants initially balked at orders to wreck the place. A HR news item adds E. A. Gould-Porter to the cast, but his appearance in the final film has not been confirmed. According to the Time review, the film’s budget was approximately $3 million. Taylor required eye surgery after a piece of metal, thrown by a wind machine, damaged one of her eyes during a publicity still session, according to modern sources. On 3 May 1955, Joan Fontaine, John O’Malley and Les Tremayne appeared in a Lux Radio Theatre version of the story.
More Less

GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
American Cinematographer
1 Jun 1954
p. 270.
Box Office
10 Apr 1954.
---
Daily Variety
4 Oct 1951.
---
Daily Variety
10 Jun 1952.
---
Daily Variety
2 Jan 1953.
---
Daily Variety
29 Mar 1954
p. 2.
Film Daily
29 Mar 1954
p. 6.
Hollywood Citizen-News
17 Mar 1953.
---
Hollywood Reporter
28 Jan 1953
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
30 Jan 1953
p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter
18 Feb 1953
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
11 Mar 1953
p. 9.
Hollywood Reporter
12 Mar 1953
p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter
13 Mar 1953
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
18 Mar 1953.
---
Hollywood Reporter
19 Mar 1953
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
20 Mar 1953
p. 18.
Hollywood Reporter
23 Mar 1953
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
15 May 1953
p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter
25 Aug 1953
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
29 Mar 1954
p. 3.
Life
12 Oct 1953.
---
Look
4 May 1954.
---
Los Angeles Daily News
7 May 1953.
---
Los Angeles Examiner
16 Mar 1953.
---
Los Angeles Examiner
19 Mar 1953.
---
Los Angeles Herald Express
24 Mar 1953.
---
Los Angeles Times
21 Mar 1953.
---
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
3 Apr 1954
p. 2245.
New York Times
24 May 1953.
---
New York Times
22 Apr 1954
p. 37.
Time
19 Apr 1954.
---
Variety
31 Mar 1954
p. 6.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
2d unit dir
PRODUCER
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
2d unit photog
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Set dec
COSTUMES
Cost
MUSIC
Mus score
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec photog eff
Spec photog eff
DANCE
Choreog
MAKEUP
Makeup supv
PRODUCTION MISC
Scr supv
COLOR PERSONNEL
Technicolor col consultant
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel Elephant Walk by Robert Standish (London, 1948).
DETAILS
Release Date:
June 1954
Premiere Information:
New York opening: week of 21 April 1954
Los Angeles opening: 26 May 1954
Production Date:
2 February--28 February 1953
early March--mid March 1953
23 March--mid May 1953
Copyright Claimant:
Paramount Pictures Corp.
Copyright Date:
1 June 1954
Copyright Number:
LP3991
Physical Properties:
Sound
Western Electric Recording
Color
Technicolor
Widescreen/ratio
up to 1.85:1
Duration(in mins):
102-103
Length(in reels):
12
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
16642
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In Shillingworth-on-Thames, England, book shop clerk Ruth has high hopes for her upcoming marriage to John Wiley, the owner of a Ceylon tea plantation, despite having known him for only two weeks. Upon arriving at Elephant Walk, John’s plantation, Ruth is thrilled to discover that John’s “bungalow” is an exotic mansion filled with servants, including John’s devoted head servant, Appuhamy. Troubling her, however, is the fact that John’s father Tom deliberately built the mansion across the path long taken by elephants on their way to the river and constructed a wall to keep them at bay. John’s violent hatred of one particular bull elephant surprises Ruth, and she is also startled to learn that Tom is buried in a lavish marble grave behind the house, while John’s mother is buried in England, because, according to Appuhamy, she hated Ceylon. Soon after his return, John’s friends, fellow English planters and his American overseer, Dick Carver, drop by the house to meet Ruth. The men welcome Ruth, the only white woman in the area, then proceed to get drunk while toasting the greatness of John’s father. Dick, who is leaving for Paris the next day, assures Ruth that Tom was more vain than heroic and counsels her not to take his legacy too seriously. Later, Ruth is awakened in the middle of the night by the sound of John and his friends playing polo on bicycles across the mansion’s spacious floors. When Ruth tells John she was frightened by the noise, he coldly dismisses her fears as childish. Ruth runs crying back to her bedroom, and suddenly shamed, John follows and ... +


In Shillingworth-on-Thames, England, book shop clerk Ruth has high hopes for her upcoming marriage to John Wiley, the owner of a Ceylon tea plantation, despite having known him for only two weeks. Upon arriving at Elephant Walk, John’s plantation, Ruth is thrilled to discover that John’s “bungalow” is an exotic mansion filled with servants, including John’s devoted head servant, Appuhamy. Troubling her, however, is the fact that John’s father Tom deliberately built the mansion across the path long taken by elephants on their way to the river and constructed a wall to keep them at bay. John’s violent hatred of one particular bull elephant surprises Ruth, and she is also startled to learn that Tom is buried in a lavish marble grave behind the house, while John’s mother is buried in England, because, according to Appuhamy, she hated Ceylon. Soon after his return, John’s friends, fellow English planters and his American overseer, Dick Carver, drop by the house to meet Ruth. The men welcome Ruth, the only white woman in the area, then proceed to get drunk while toasting the greatness of John’s father. Dick, who is leaving for Paris the next day, assures Ruth that Tom was more vain than heroic and counsels her not to take his legacy too seriously. Later, Ruth is awakened in the middle of the night by the sound of John and his friends playing polo on bicycles across the mansion’s spacious floors. When Ruth tells John she was frightened by the noise, he coldly dismisses her fears as childish. Ruth runs crying back to her bedroom, and suddenly shamed, John follows and apologizes. The next day, Ruth notices Appuhamy praying at the foot of Tom’s grave and tours the enormous kitchen with him. Appuhamy shows Ruth the items that were special favorites of “the old master,” which are still being purchased, and balks when she offers to plan the menu so as to reduce the amount of waste generated by the plantation. Appuhamy also refuses to give Ruth the key to Tom’s old study, piquing Ruth’s curiosity. That night, Dick stops by to say farewell and, before going, encourages Ruth to contact him if she needs help. Later, John fractures his leg while drunkenly playing bicycle polo and is confined to his bed. During his convalescence, Ruth tries to sneak into Tom’s study but hides when Appuhamy appears. After overhearing Appuhamy declare to a portrait of Tom that Ruth “does not belong” at Elephant Walk, Ruth learns from John’s doctor that John’s belligerent attitudes are impeding his recovery. Ruth writes to Dick for help, and he quickly returns and resumes his work as overseer. John’s mood does not improve, however, as the expected monsoons have not started and the elephants have become agitated over the lack of water. When John yells at her for changing his lunch menu without permission, Ruth rushes to Dick, and while out riding with him, confesses that John is still ruled by his dead father. Dick kisses Ruth, who, despite her attraction, pulls away, protesting that she still loves John. Back at the plantation, John apologizes to Ruth and tries to appease her by announcing a special upcoming celebration. The celebration turns out to be an elaborate birthday party for Tom, and Ruth finally explodes with frustration, ordering John’s drunken friends out of the house. The next morning, John condemns Ruth for driving his friends away and, when she insists that he hates Tom as much as she does, slaps her. Stunned, Ruth runs to Dick’s quarters and begs him to take her to Paris. At the same time, however, one of John’s servants collapses with cholera and the plantation is placed under quarantine. Trapped at Elephant Walk, Ruth and Dick toil long hours to help John curb the epidemic and soothe the terrified workers. When John, who is aware of Ruth’s plans to leave him, insists on burying the dead himself, Ruth is impressed by his selfless dedication. Later, after the quarantine is lifted, Ruth tells Dick that she cannot leave John before the rains come, despite Dick’s protests that John has not changed. As a final precaution, the workers’ huts are set ablaze, and the elephants, agitated by the fire, start to stampede. With no workers available to beat them back, the elephants crash through the plantation wall and storm the house. Appuhamy, who has finally recognized Ruth’s true worth, rushes to alert her and is killed by an angry elephant. While crashing through the house, the elephants cause a fire to erupt, and John barely arrives in time to rescue Ruth. Just then, the rain starts, and as Elephant Walk burns to the ground, John and Ruth embrace and pledge to start a new life together. +

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

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