The Big Fisherman (1959)

180 mins | Epic | August 1959

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HISTORY

Although the onscreen credits include a copyright statement, it was illegible in the viewed print, and the film was not registered for copyright. The opening credits include the following statement: "Made in Hollywood, USA. With deep appreciation to the other members of the cast, all of the highly trained extras, and skilled technicians." The following written title precedes the film: "Love and hate, the two greatest forces in the heart of man...today or yesterday. In Arabia...during the memorable years of the first century." The incidents in Lloyd C. Douglas' novel and the film are based on passages in the New Testament of the Bible and Christian religious traditions.
       Press notes report that producer Rowland V. Lee, who had stopped making films thirteen years earlier, first gained interest in the book when Douglas, who had at that point just completed writing The Robe , told Lee of his plans to write The Big Fisherman . (For information about the screen adaptation of The Robe , see record below.) Lee, who, according to a 12 Oct 1958 NYT article, had earlier considered producing a film on the life of Jesus Christ and discussed its financing with the Ford Foundation, read Douglas’ book upon its publication in 1948.
       On 10 May 1954, HR reported that Bryan Foy had purchased a one-year option on the screen rights to the novel and planned for Douglas' daughter, Ginger Douglas Dawson, to write the screen adaptation. On 9 May 1955, HR noted that Century Films, Inc. had purchased the rights, and on 24 Oct 1957, DV stated that Lee had negotiated the purchase of the ... More Less

Although the onscreen credits include a copyright statement, it was illegible in the viewed print, and the film was not registered for copyright. The opening credits include the following statement: "Made in Hollywood, USA. With deep appreciation to the other members of the cast, all of the highly trained extras, and skilled technicians." The following written title precedes the film: "Love and hate, the two greatest forces in the heart of man...today or yesterday. In Arabia...during the memorable years of the first century." The incidents in Lloyd C. Douglas' novel and the film are based on passages in the New Testament of the Bible and Christian religious traditions.
       Press notes report that producer Rowland V. Lee, who had stopped making films thirteen years earlier, first gained interest in the book when Douglas, who had at that point just completed writing The Robe , told Lee of his plans to write The Big Fisherman . (For information about the screen adaptation of The Robe , see record below.) Lee, who, according to a 12 Oct 1958 NYT article, had earlier considered producing a film on the life of Jesus Christ and discussed its financing with the Ford Foundation, read Douglas’ book upon its publication in 1948.
       On 10 May 1954, HR reported that Bryan Foy had purchased a one-year option on the screen rights to the novel and planned for Douglas' daughter, Ginger Douglas Dawson, to write the screen adaptation. On 9 May 1955, HR noted that Century Films, Inc. had purchased the rights, and on 24 Oct 1957, DV stated that Lee had negotiated the purchase of the rights from The Centurion Corp. and Douglas' estate, as Douglas had died in 1951. According to an 11 Feb 1959 HR news item, Walt Disney provided some of the picture's financing.
       HR reported on 9 Jul 1958 that Lee had hired Michael Curtiz as director, but on 4 Aug 1958, it was announced in DV that Curtiz had dropped out of the production due to scheduling conflicts. On 21 Aug 1958, HR stated that Dennis Hopper had turned down a role in the film. On 15 Sep 1958, HR reported that Lee was negotiating with MacDonald Carey for a starring role. Lee originally considered shooting the film abroad, but, as noted in a 3 Oct 1958 DV article, he decided to shoot it entirely in California, partly due to "skyrocketing" foreign production costs and partly due to a lack of appropriate overseas locales. That article stated that the filmmakers would shoot for six weeks at the Rowland V. Lee Ranch in the San Fernando Valley of CA, a frequent site of movie location shooting, and two weeks in La Quinta, as well as nine weeks at the Universal-International lot.
       Studio press notes state that the film’s final cost was $4 million and state that, because Lee believed that Jesus was "beyond the comprehension of man," the figure of Jesus would not be seen in the film; even the name of the actor providing his voice was kept a secret. However, an 8 Dec 1958 item in HR 's "Rambling Reporter" column stated that the voice belonged to Rev. Donald Curtis.
       The Big Fisherman was the first picture to be filmed using Panavision 70mm, which allowed for superior depth of focus and definition. In addition, the filmmakers used a new six-channel, directional hi-fidelity sound system. Press notes describe the extreme care lavished on the production, from casting (3,746 actors appear in the film) to costumes to the authenticity of the set (6,000 props were used). 300,000 feet of film was shot and then reduced to 16,000 for the final version. Historical accuracy was overseen by technical advisor George M. Lamsa, who was a renowned Bible expert, as noted in a 7 Dec 1958 LAEx article.
       Lee borrowed actor John Saxon from Universal for his role in this film. HR news items add the following actors to the cast: Ned Weaver, Gordon Jones, Dee Carroll, Gloria S. Marshall, Nan Boardman, Paul Burns, Ken Christy, Joan Bradshaw, Maria Korda, Maria Stevens, Joseph Abdullah, David Bond , Austin Green, Charles Horvath, Bob Hoy, Alex Sharpe , Gordon Clark, Ken Terrill, Joe Hayworth, Minta Durfee, Paul Fierro, Paul Weber, Peter Damon, Lynne Allen, Richard Gaines, William Blakewell, Jason Lindsey, Art LaForest, Claire James, Dan White, Ann Dore, Mary McCarty, Sylvia Lewis, Karen Kandler, Richard Mitchell, Dud Leonard, Marshall Bradford and ex-prizefighters Mushy Callahan, Billy "Sailor" Vincent, Abe Bain, Bobby Michaels and Phil Bloom. Their appearance in the final film has not been confirmed.
       Upon The Big Fisherman 's release, critics had mixed reactions to the film. While many praised its scope and ambition, the Newsweek reviewer stated: “The acting is properly atrocious [for a parody], the settings magnificently tasteless, the dialogue a splendid refresher course in the use of the cliché, and the production a study in minor technical errors.” Several contemporary sources remarked on the film’s departures from the novel, including the elimination of the historical figure of Salome. A 1959 Worship and Arts article stated that this omission was due to the “eroticism and licentiousness” commonly associated with Salome.
       The Big Fisherman was nominated for the following 1960 Academy Awards: Best Art Direction-Set Decoration (Color), John DeCuir and Julia Heron; Best Cinematography (Color), Lee Garmes; and Best Costume Design (Color), Renie. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
American Cinematographer
Aug 59
pp. 480-81, 504-506.
Box Office
6 Jul 1959.
---
Box Office
13 Jul 1959.
---
Daily Variety
24 Oct 1957.
---
Daily Variety
4 Aug 1958.
---
Daily Variety
3 Oct 1958.
---
Daily Variety
29 Jun 59
p. 3.
Film Daily
29 Jun 59
p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter
10 May 1954.
---
Hollywood Reporter
9 May 1955
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
9 Jul 1958
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
21 Aug 1958
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
2 Sep 1958
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
3 Sep 1958
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
4 Sep 1958
p. 5.
Hollywood Reporter
9 Sep 1958
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
15 Sep 1958
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
17 Sep 1958
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
1 Oct 1958
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
3 Oct 1958
p. 8, 11.
Hollywood Reporter
7 Oct 1958
p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter
9 Oct 1958
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
10 Oct 1958
p. 5.
Hollywood Reporter
14 Oct 1958
p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter
15 Oct 1958
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
16 Oct 1958
p. 11.
Hollywood Reporter
21 Oct 1958
p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter
22 Oct 1958
p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter
27 Oct 1958
p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter
28 Oct 1958
p. 11.
Hollywood Reporter
31 Oct 1958
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
4 Nov 1958
p. 5.
Hollywood Reporter
5 Nov 1958
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
18 Nov 1958
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
19 Dec 1958
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
22 Dec 1958
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
23 Dec 1958
p. 14.
Hollywood Reporter
7 Jan 1959
p. 4, 11.
Hollywood Reporter
12 Jan 1959
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
13 Jan 1959
p. 3, 23.
Hollywood Reporter
11 Feb 1959
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
29 Jun 59
p. 3.
Los Angeles Examiner
7 Dec 1958.
---
Los Angeles Examiner
9 Aug 1959.
---
Los Angeles Herald Express
7 Feb 1959.
---
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
4 Jul 59
p. 325.
New York Times
12 Oct 1958.
---
New York Times
6 Aug 59
p. 18.
Newsweek
10 Aug 1959.
---
Variety
1 Jul 59
p. 7.
Worship and Arts
Aug--Sep 1959.
---
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
Asst dir
Asst dir
Asst dir
Dial dir
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
PHOTOGRAPHY
Photog
1st asst cam
Asst cam
Cam op
Stills
Comany grip
Best boy
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Art dir
FILM EDITORS
Ed supv
Assoc ed
Assoc ed
Asst ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Set dec
Lead man
Props
Standby painter
COSTUMES
Cost
Cost supv
Asst ladies' cost
Ladies' ward
Asst men's cost
Men's ward
Men's ward
MUSIC
Mus contractor
Mus mixer
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
Eff ed
Asst eff ed
Asst eff ed
MAKEUP
Makeup
Hairstylist
Hairdresser
PRODUCTION MISC
Casting
Asst casting dir
Scr supv
Tech adv
Unit mgr
Pub dir
Unit pub
Spec pub
Pub asst
Treasurer
Loc auditor
Coord
Asst coord
Ramrod
Transportation capt
Caterer
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel The Big Fisherman by Lloyd C. Douglas (Boston, 1948).
DETAILS
Release Date:
August 1959
Premiere Information:
World premiere in New York: 5 August 1959
Los Angeles opening: 12 August 1959
Production Date:
1 October 1958--late January 1959
Physical Properties:
Sound
Westrex Recording System
Color
Eastman Color; Technicolor
gauge
70mm
Lenses/Prints
process lenses by Panavision
Duration(in mins):
180
Length(in feet):
16,000
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
19341
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In Arabia during the first century, Princess Fara celebrates her eighteenth birthday with her sweetheart, Prince Voldi, inciting the jealousy of suitor Prince Deran. Deran is the firstborn son of King Zendi, who married Fara’s mother Arnon after her divorce from her first husband, Judean nobleman Herod-Antipas. Although the haughty Deran insists that Zendi facilitate his marriage to Fara, Zendi has promised Arnon to allow the girl to choose her own husband. After Voldi declares his love to Fara, Deran presents her with a costly necklace and proposes, stating that he will change the laws forbidding a king from marrying a princess who is not of pure blood. Fara, who has believed herself of pure blood, is shocked to hear from Deran that her father is a corrupt and hated Judean who has disgraced her mother. She runs to her ailing mother, who reluctantly explains to her daughter about her early marriage: Herod-Antipas convinces his father Herod that a marriage to Arnon will form an alliance between the ancient enemies of Judea and Arabia, thus preventing an attack on Judea by Rome. After the wedding, Herod-Antipas ignores Arnon but impregnates her with Fara, whom he calls Esther. One day, Arnon witnesses her playboy husband’s legendary brutality, when he kills two bearers for losing a footrace. Soon after, Emporer Tiberius forces Herod to divide his kingdom, naming Herod-Antipas Tetrarch of Galilee. At the ceremony in Rome, Arnon catches her husband making love to his sister-in-law, Herodias, and renounces him. The shame of the ensuing divorce enrages the Arabians, who declare eternal opposition to Galilee and call for the assassination of the younger Herod. Back in the present, Arnon tries to ... +


In Arabia during the first century, Princess Fara celebrates her eighteenth birthday with her sweetheart, Prince Voldi, inciting the jealousy of suitor Prince Deran. Deran is the firstborn son of King Zendi, who married Fara’s mother Arnon after her divorce from her first husband, Judean nobleman Herod-Antipas. Although the haughty Deran insists that Zendi facilitate his marriage to Fara, Zendi has promised Arnon to allow the girl to choose her own husband. After Voldi declares his love to Fara, Deran presents her with a costly necklace and proposes, stating that he will change the laws forbidding a king from marrying a princess who is not of pure blood. Fara, who has believed herself of pure blood, is shocked to hear from Deran that her father is a corrupt and hated Judean who has disgraced her mother. She runs to her ailing mother, who reluctantly explains to her daughter about her early marriage: Herod-Antipas convinces his father Herod that a marriage to Arnon will form an alliance between the ancient enemies of Judea and Arabia, thus preventing an attack on Judea by Rome. After the wedding, Herod-Antipas ignores Arnon but impregnates her with Fara, whom he calls Esther. One day, Arnon witnesses her playboy husband’s legendary brutality, when he kills two bearers for losing a footrace. Soon after, Emporer Tiberius forces Herod to divide his kingdom, naming Herod-Antipas Tetrarch of Galilee. At the ceremony in Rome, Arnon catches her husband making love to his sister-in-law, Herodias, and renounces him. The shame of the ensuing divorce enrages the Arabians, who declare eternal opposition to Galilee and call for the assassination of the younger Herod. Back in the present, Arnon tries to temper her daughter’s fury, reminding her of the kindness of men such as Voldi, but now Fara realizes that marrying Voldi will harm his chances of ever becoming king. Fara despairs over her inferior social status, causing Arnon to become distressed, which leads to her death. Determined to avenge her mother, Fara disguises herself as a boy, signs an oath to kill Herod and sets off alone, soon stopping for the night at an inn. When Zendi discovers the oath and the shorn locks of her hair, he sends Voldi after her. That night at the inn, three thieves attack Caesarian proconsulate Mencius, and when Voldi arrives searching for Fara, he helps Mencius escape. Grateful, the Roman offers to aid Voldi in his search for an Arabian “boy,” but then jails the prince to protect him from the Romans, who assume he is scheming to kill Herod. Meanwhile, Fara continues on her treacherous journey, but one night, after she is beaten and her horse and coat are stolen, she must struggle to reach the next town on foot. There, she is treated kindly by wandering prophet John the Baptist, who counsels her to seek The Preacher, a Nazarene who says he is the son of God. After switching clothes with a beggar boy to avoid further notice, Fara seeks shelter from a storm under an overturned boat. Just off the coast, fisherman Simon-Peter battles the elements and manages to save his catch, with the help of his crew, John, James and Peter’s brother Andrew. In the morning, Peter discovers a bedraggled Fara and, assuming she is a boy, offers her food. Later, when John and James irritate Peter by whispering about The Preacher, he impulsively fires them, leaving him no choice but to hire Fara. He takes her with him to sell his catch in Galilee, where the locals chafe under Herod’s harsh treatment, and asks his mother Hannah to bathe the filthy “boy.” Upon seeing Fara’s silk underthings, Hannah deduces that she is a girl, and clothes her in her late daughter’s lovely dresses. Fara, hoping to pass as Judean, calls herself Esther and pretends that she has come to hear The Preacher. In the nearby palace, Herodias, grown depraved and aloof, convinces the increasingly paranoid Herod to fete visiting Romans to improve his reputation with Pontius Pilate, who spurned them after Herod’s divorce from Arnon and the subsequent rift with Arabia. Just then, an Arabian attempts to stab Herod, and although the ruler’s armor protects him, his fears intensify. Meanwhile, Peter sees that Fara is female and demands that she leave his home, but later, when Herod notices Fara in the town square and sends an underling to see if she is single, Peter defends her as a member of his household. She soon secures employment as a translator of Greek prophesies at the palace, where Herod’s proximity allows her to plot his murder in detail. Over the next weeks, Peter is tormented by his cynicism toward religion in the face of The Preacher’s growing esteem. Although he gruffly denounces this latest holy man, he finds himself drawn to the hill where The Preacher speaks. Outside the palace one day, newly arrived John the Baptist embarrasses Herod in front of his Roman guests by proclaiming his imminent downfall. Herod has him jailed, arousing the antipathy of the Galileeans, including Fara, who sneaks into the cell and offers to help the prophet escape. John refuses, however, instead again encouraging Fara to seek The Preacher. The next time The Preacher speaks, Galileean magistrate David Ben-Zadok gathers the leaders of the local competing churches, the Pharisees, Sadducees and Scribes, to listen. Also in the crowd are Fara, who runs away when The Preacher urges nonviolence, and Peter. Although moved by the speech, Peter is still unconvinced until he carries a blind baby to The Preacher, who heals the baby and touches Peter’s shoulder, transforming him into a devoted believer. That night, however, when his fellow townsmen taunt Peter, he responds with violence and then berates himself for being a weak sinner. The next morning, The Preacher calls to him, and after Peter identifies him as the true Christ, he calls Peter the rock upon which he will build his church and names him, John, James and Andrew to be his disciples. In Caesarea, meanwhile, Voldi attempts to gain release from captivity, and when Mencius refuses, still hoping to guard his friend, Voldi attacks him and escapes. At the same time, Herod vaguely recognizes Fara and approaches her, but she deflects his attention by reading a prophecy that declares a curse on Herod’s kingdom. After overhearing Herodias plan John the Baptist’s beheading, Fara tries to warn him, but is too late and instead witnesses a violent wind suddenly whip through the palace. Galilee is outraged at John’s murder, and although Peter counsels Fara to turn the other cheek, her fury also grows. Soon after, Voldi arrives in town, and when he asks after an Arab boy, Peter brings him to Fara. As the lovers embrace, Voldi informs Fara that Zendi has died and Deran, now partially paralyzed, has ascended to the throne. David, realizing Esther is Princess Fara, tries to hide the pair when the Romans arrive, but they arrest Voldi and send him, under guard, back to Arabia. Upon hearing from Fara that Deran will surely kill Voldi, Peter offers to sail her to Arabia in advance of the Roman guard, who are traveling on horseback. Just then, Hannah is struck ill and calls to them. Fara urges Peter to pray for help, and to their wonderment, Christ appears and lifts Hannah from her deathbed. Still, Fara cannot overcome her desire to avenge her mother, and sneaks off to the palace. There she reveals her true identity to Herod who, though weakened by paranoia, tries to reconcile with her. Resigned to die at her hand, Herod urges her not to ruin her own life by becoming a murderer, and as Peter arrives and watches from the doorway, Fara recalls Christ’s words and puts down the knife. Peter embraces her, declaring her free from her own chains, and they race to Arabia as the Romans arrive with orders from Pontius Pilate to arrest Herod. On the shore of Arabia, the guards recognize Fara and bring her to Deran, who is in the process of whipping Voldi to death for failing to rescue the princess. Fara stops the beating and convinces Deran to trade Voldi’s freedom for Peter’s healing powers. Deran vows to transform his brutal ways in exchange for the use of his legs, but despite Peter’s warning that a worse fate awaits him, he soon retracts his promise and orders his guards to pursue Fara, Peter and Voldi, who have fled the city. The guards refuse, however, and Deran, in a rage, falls to his death. As the trio reaches Peter’s boat, the guards inform Voldi that the counsel has named him the new king. Fara, realizing that marriage to her will jeopardize his rule, sails away from her beloved, promising to live her life spreading the word of peace. As they reach the open sea, Peter and Fara hear Christ’s message: to love God with all their souls and love their neighbors as themselves. +

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

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