Equus (1977)

R | 137 mins | Drama | 16 October 1977

Director:

Sidney Lumet

Writer:

Peter Shaffer

Cinematographer:

Oswald Morris

Production Designer:

Tony Walton

Production Companies:

Winkast Company , Persky-Bright (C) Ltd.
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HISTORY

       The psychiatrist character “Martin Dysart,” played by Richard Burton, directly address the camera from behind the desk in his office during several monologues.
       A 19 Jan 1976 New York news item reported that Burton agreed to appear in a ten-week run (later extended to twelve) of the play on Broadway in New York City only if he could star in the movie version as well. Anthony Perkins vacated the stage role of Martin Dysart for a substantial payment. Jack Nicholson was considered a leading contender for the film role. According to 3 Feb 1976 Var article, other actors considered for the part of Dysart in the film were Marlon Brando, and Anthony Hopkins, who originated the role in the London, England, stage production. A 30 Apr 1976 HR news item announced that Frances Sternhagen would reprise her Broadway role as “Dora Strang”; however, Joan Plowright, Lawrence Olivier’s wife, played the part in the film.
       A 25 Jun 1975 DV story reported that producer Elliott Kastner purchased film rights to the play after seven months of negotiations and heated bidding. Principal photography was scheduled to begin Jun 1976 in Ireland and producer Lester Persky estimated the budget at $4 million. However, nearly one year later, a 3 Mar 1976 DV article announced that principal photography would begin 15 Sep 1976 in England.
       According to director Sidney Lumet in a 4 Sep 1976 Cue article, the filmmakers were set to film in Ireland, but “were bombed out by the violence there.” Although a 1 Oct 1976 DV news item reported that shooting in Ontario, Canada, had ... More Less

       The psychiatrist character “Martin Dysart,” played by Richard Burton, directly address the camera from behind the desk in his office during several monologues.
       A 19 Jan 1976 New York news item reported that Burton agreed to appear in a ten-week run (later extended to twelve) of the play on Broadway in New York City only if he could star in the movie version as well. Anthony Perkins vacated the stage role of Martin Dysart for a substantial payment. Jack Nicholson was considered a leading contender for the film role. According to 3 Feb 1976 Var article, other actors considered for the part of Dysart in the film were Marlon Brando, and Anthony Hopkins, who originated the role in the London, England, stage production. A 30 Apr 1976 HR news item announced that Frances Sternhagen would reprise her Broadway role as “Dora Strang”; however, Joan Plowright, Lawrence Olivier’s wife, played the part in the film.
       A 25 Jun 1975 DV story reported that producer Elliott Kastner purchased film rights to the play after seven months of negotiations and heated bidding. Principal photography was scheduled to begin Jun 1976 in Ireland and producer Lester Persky estimated the budget at $4 million. However, nearly one year later, a 3 Mar 1976 DV article announced that principal photography would begin 15 Sep 1976 in England.
       According to director Sidney Lumet in a 4 Sep 1976 Cue article, the filmmakers were set to film in Ireland, but “were bombed out by the violence there.” Although a 1 Oct 1976 DV news item reported that shooting in Ontario, Canada, had been delayed two more weeks, an 11 Oct 1976 Box stated that principal photography began in Toronto, Canada, on 4 Oct 1976. A 10 Dec 1976 Women’s Wear Daily article noted that principal photography was completed 8 Dec 1976, ahead of schedule and under budget, in spite of star Richard Burton’s late arrival from the troubled production of Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977, see entry).
       Equus was nominated for three Academy Awards in the categories best actor, best supporting actor, and best adapted screenplay. Various reviews including the 24 Oct 1976 Newsweek review, pointed out that the film version exposed weaknesses in the play, stating that "Equus still projects a certain feverish power – but also a distressing amount of hot air.”
      End credits include the following acknowledgments: “Originally produced on the stage in London by the National Theatre of Great Britain. Directed by John Dexter. Produced in New York by Kermit Bloomgarden and Doris Cole Abrahams, in association with Frank Milton”; “Sequence from ‘Sweet Bird of Aquarius’ furnished by courtesy of Earl Wainwright, Harry Kerwin and Marden Film Distributors”; and “Made at Kleinberg Studios, Ontario, Canada.” Kleinburg is misspelled onscreen.
More Less

GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
11 Oct 1976.
---
Box Office
17 Oct 1977.
---
Cleveland Plain Dealer
undated.
---
Cue
4 Sep 1976.
---
Cue
29 Oct 1977
p. 29, 37.
Daily Variety
25 Jun 1975.
---
Daily Variety
3 Mar 1976.
---
Daily Variety
1 Oct 1976.
---
Films and Filming
Oct 1977
pp. 28-29.
Hollywood Reporter
30 Apr 1976.
---
Hollywood Reporter
17 Oct 1977
p. 3, 9.
Los Angeles Times
13 Nov 1977
p. 58.
McCall's
Jan 1978.
Motion Picture Production Digest
19 Oct 1977.
---
New Republic
5 Nov 1977.
---
New York
19 Jan 1976.
---
New York
7 Nov 1977
p. 91.
New York Times
17 Oct 1977.
---
New Yorker
7 Nov 1977.
---
Newsweek
24 Oct 1977.
---
UCLA Daily Bruin
22 Nov 1977.
---
Variety
3 Feb 1976
p. 1, 6.
Variety
19 Oct 1977
p. 25.
Westways
Dec 1977
p. 76.
Women's Wear Daily
10 Dec 1976.
---
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
Elliott Kastner and Lester Persky Present
A Dorset Feature
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
PRODUCERS
Pres/Prod
Pres/Prod
Assoc prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam op
Cam focus
Elec supv
Elec gaffer
Key grip
Cam grip
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Art dir
Asst art dir
Asst art dir
Des asst
FILM EDITORS
Asst ed
SET DECORATORS
Scenic artist
Set dresser
Const controller
Prop supv
COSTUMES
Ward supv
Ward mistress
SOUND
Sd mixer
Re-rec mixer
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
MAKEUP
Makeup
Makeup
Hairdresser
PRODUCTION MISC
Prod supv
Casting
Tech adv
Wrangler
Wrangler
Prod accountant
Public relations representation
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the play Equus by Peter Shaffer (London, 24 Oct 1973).
AUTHOR
DETAILS
Release Date:
16 October 1977
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 16 October 1977
Los Angeles opening: 16 November 1977
Production Date:
4 October––8 December 1976 in Toronto, Canada
Copyright Claimant:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, Inc.
Copyright Date:
14 October 1977
Copyright Number:
LP51743
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Lenses
Lenses and Panaflex camera by Panavision®
Duration(in mins):
137
MPAA Rating:
R
Countries:
United Kingdom, United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
24890
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

Psychiatrist Martin Dysart is visited by his friend, Hesther Saloman, a magistrate, who reports that a young man blinded six horses with a metal spike. Hesther urges Martin to personally take the case. Soon after, Alan Strang, age seventeen, arrives at the hospital. As Martin attempts to interview him, Alan responds by singing commercial jingles and staring at him. Martin informs the boy that the hospital is neither a mental institution nor a prison, and if he behaves himself, it can be a rather pleasant place. Several days later, Martin recounts a dream where he was a chief priest in ancient Greece wearing an Agamemnon-like mask conducting sacrifices on a line of 500 children. He began to feel ill and feared discovery by the other priests, who would see that he was not up to the job. As nausea overtook him, the mask began to slip and he woke up. Later, Martin visits Alan’s mother, Dora Strang. As Dora shows Martin to Alan’s room, she makes a point of telling him that in the New World, pagans thought horse and rider were one being and were gods. The room is full of horse imagery and Dora tells Martin that “Equus” is the Latin word for horse. When Alan’s father, Frank Strang, arrives home, Martin learns that the Strangs disagree about religion; while Dora is a true believer, Frank is a skeptic who objects to her reading the Bible to Alan every night. Dora becomes upset when Martin inquires about Alan’s knowledge of sex. At the hospital, Martin observes Alan dreaming and asks him about it the next day, but Alan resorts to singing jingles. He eventually recalls the first ... +


Psychiatrist Martin Dysart is visited by his friend, Hesther Saloman, a magistrate, who reports that a young man blinded six horses with a metal spike. Hesther urges Martin to personally take the case. Soon after, Alan Strang, age seventeen, arrives at the hospital. As Martin attempts to interview him, Alan responds by singing commercial jingles and staring at him. Martin informs the boy that the hospital is neither a mental institution nor a prison, and if he behaves himself, it can be a rather pleasant place. Several days later, Martin recounts a dream where he was a chief priest in ancient Greece wearing an Agamemnon-like mask conducting sacrifices on a line of 500 children. He began to feel ill and feared discovery by the other priests, who would see that he was not up to the job. As nausea overtook him, the mask began to slip and he woke up. Later, Martin visits Alan’s mother, Dora Strang. As Dora shows Martin to Alan’s room, she makes a point of telling him that in the New World, pagans thought horse and rider were one being and were gods. The room is full of horse imagery and Dora tells Martin that “Equus” is the Latin word for horse. When Alan’s father, Frank Strang, arrives home, Martin learns that the Strangs disagree about religion; while Dora is a true believer, Frank is a skeptic who objects to her reading the Bible to Alan every night. Dora becomes upset when Martin inquires about Alan’s knowledge of sex. At the hospital, Martin observes Alan dreaming and asks him about it the next day, but Alan resorts to singing jingles. He eventually recalls the first time he saw a horse, on a beach, when he was six. He was building a sand castle and a horseman gave him a ride along the shore. Alan found it thrilling, but his father became enraged and pulled Alan from the horse, injuring him slightly. Alan says he has not ridden a horse since. Martin gives Alan a tape recorder, telling him that sometimes patients find it easier to use the machine than directly talking about embarrassing memories. At the Strang home, Dora asks Frank to go with her to visit Alan, but he is reluctant, however, there is something important he thinks Dora should tell the doctor. In his room at the hospital, Alan speaks into the tape recording and admits he found the long-ago horse ride to be “sexy.” Martin visits the Strang house again and Dora shows him a graphic picture of Jesus that Alan had once bought and placed above his bed. Frank disapproved of the image, so he brought Alan a picture of a horse and the boy eagerly put it up in place of Jesus. Martin visits the stables where Alan worked and meets the proprietor, Harry Dalton, who is reluctant to help because he believes Alan should be in prison or dead. Dalton mentions that a local girl, Jill Mason, originally brought Alan to the stables. Alan was an excellent worker, but Dalton suspected him of secretly riding the horses at night. Later, Alan recounts to Martin his devotion to the horses. People do not understand horses, he says. Only cowboys understand. Martin visits Frank at his print shop and questions Mr. Strang’s assertion that religion caused the attack. Frank says that eighteen months earlier, he witnessed Alan ritualistically chanting about horses in his bedroom. Alan placed a rope bit in his mouth like a horse and began beating himself with a wooden hangar. Frank also says that Alan was with Jill the night he injured the horses. The following day, when Martin asks Alan who introduced him to the stables, the boy recalls Jill asking if he wanted a job. She took him to see Mr. Dalton and trained Alan to care for the horses. Once he was alone with the animals, he became fascinated by their movements and imitated them. When Martin asks whether Alan dated Jill, the boy becomes angry and asks inappropriate questions about Martin’s marriage and sex life, provoking Martin to end the session. Later, Martin tells Hesther about the coldness of his marriage, then questions what he is trying to do for Alan. Hesther suggests returning a sense of normality to the boy’s life. Later, alone, Martin muses that sacrifices to Zeus can take seconds, but “sacrifices to the normal” can take as many as sixty months. The next day, Martin apologizes to Alan about their earlier argument. Under hypnosis, Alan recalls speaking to the horse on the beach when he was six. His name was “Equus.” Alan refers to “Equus” being in chains and uses the term “chinkle-chankle” – the same words Frank heard his son chanting – to describe the metal bit in the horse’s mouth. When Martin suggests that the horses in the stables collectively became “Equus” to Alan, the boy confesses to taking the horses out for night rides where he stripped himself naked, and placed “a man-bit,” or wooden stick, in his own mouth. Alan rode each horse, wanting to become one with it, until he reached a breathless state of ecstasy, and embraced the horse. Later, Martin questions why certain images stay with children. Dora visits Alan at the hospital and brings him chocolate, which he throws at her. As Alan stares at his mother, she shouts at him, and Martin asks her to leave and not come back. She berates the doctor and becomes ill. She expresses the belief that the devil took Alan. Later, Alan tells Martin that his story about the night rides was a lie, and he is afraid that Martin is going to give him a “truth drug.” Later, Martin has dinner at Hesther’s house and ponders offering Alan an aspirin, but telling him it is a “truth drug,” to relieve Alan’s anxiety. He reports that Alan worships his horse god once every three weeks for an hour, and admits envying the passion Alan has experienced, but Hesther scoffs at the idea. Martin believes he has lived a provincial, pallid life, with no gallop, and he sees Alan’s stare as an accusation; however, Hesther says it is a demand for help. In his office, Martin finds a note from Alan admitting the story of the night rides was true. Martin thanks Alan for the note and offers him the “truth drug.” When Alan takes the aspirin, he compliments Martin’s office, but Martin admits that he would like to leave and never return. Martin tells the boy about his annual Aegean vacation and retreats into ancient Greece, then asks about Jill, but Alan claims he does not remember the girl well. When Martin presses, Alan says that Jill asked about sex and they watched a pornographic film. Frank entered the theater and demanded Alan and Jill leave with him, claiming he was there on business. Alan refused to go home with Frank, insisting he needed to see Jill home, and realized his father had secrets like anyone else. As Alan and Jill returned to the stables, Jill initiated a kiss and they began to have sex. However, Alan pulled away from Jill and he admits to Martin that he could not feel Jill, only “Equus.” Naked and ashamed, he asked Jill to leave. Alan begged “Equus” for forgiveness, and repeatedly struck himself, then attacked the horses. When Dalton saw the carnage, he hit Alan, knocking him out. As Alan finishes his story, Martin comforts the frenzied boy and asks that he be trusted to make him well. He administers a sedative so Alan can sleep. Later, Martin explains that a doctor can destroy passion, but cannot create it. The removal of Alan’s pain will mean he will never gallop again, never experience the passion. Martin, however, will forever be haunted by the voice of “Equus,” with a sharp chain in his mouth that never comes out. +

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

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