Under the Volcano (1984)

R | 112 mins | Drama | 13 June 1984

Director:

John Huston

Writer:

Guy Gallo

Cinematographer:

Gabriel Figueroa

Editor:

Roberto Silvi

Production Designer:

Gunther Gerzso

Production Company:

Ithaca Enterprises
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HISTORY

The following acknowledgments appear at the end of the film: “Ithaca Productions owes a special debt of gratitude to The Mexican Film Institute; Prof. Lauro Ortega, Governor of the State of Morelos; Prof. Moisé Ortíz, Mayor of Yautepec, Morelos; the Hotel Hacienda Cocoyoc for the use of its facilities in the filming of the Red Cross Ball; the people of Yautepec, Emetepec, and Cuernavaca, Morelos. Under the Volcano was shot entirely in the state of Morelos, Mexico.”
       A 23 Aug 1983 NYT article reported that author Malcolm Lowry was employed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, writing a screenplay of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night, (1962, see entry) when he tried to interest executives in filming his novel Under the Volcano from his own screenplay. However, the studio passed. Instead, actor Zachary Scott optioned the novel in 1962, but when Scott died, Scott's widow sold the film rights to brothers Robert and Raymond Hakim. The Hakims spent $400,000 and began hiring talent when Marjorie Lowry determined that she had been excluded from creative consulting as stipulated in her contract, and filed a lawsuit, withdrawing the brothers’ film rights, according to a 20 Apr 1973 DV article. The 23 Aug 1983 NYT article stated that Hakims’ lost the case in 1973.
       As mentioned in the 20 Apr 1973 DV article, when the Hakims owned the film rights, they chose Alan Bridgers to direct, Richard Burton for the role of “Geoffrey Firmin”, and Richard Chamberlain to play half-brother “Hugh”. According to a 23 Mar 1973 DV news item, their version of the ... More Less

The following acknowledgments appear at the end of the film: “Ithaca Productions owes a special debt of gratitude to The Mexican Film Institute; Prof. Lauro Ortega, Governor of the State of Morelos; Prof. Moisé Ortíz, Mayor of Yautepec, Morelos; the Hotel Hacienda Cocoyoc for the use of its facilities in the filming of the Red Cross Ball; the people of Yautepec, Emetepec, and Cuernavaca, Morelos. Under the Volcano was shot entirely in the state of Morelos, Mexico.”
       A 23 Aug 1983 NYT article reported that author Malcolm Lowry was employed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, writing a screenplay of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night, (1962, see entry) when he tried to interest executives in filming his novel Under the Volcano from his own screenplay. However, the studio passed. Instead, actor Zachary Scott optioned the novel in 1962, but when Scott died, Scott's widow sold the film rights to brothers Robert and Raymond Hakim. The Hakims spent $400,000 and began hiring talent when Marjorie Lowry determined that she had been excluded from creative consulting as stipulated in her contract, and filed a lawsuit, withdrawing the brothers’ film rights, according to a 20 Apr 1973 DV article. The 23 Aug 1983 NYT article stated that Hakims’ lost the case in 1973.
       As mentioned in the 20 Apr 1973 DV article, when the Hakims owned the film rights, they chose Alan Bridgers to direct, Richard Burton for the role of “Geoffrey Firmin”, and Richard Chamberlain to play half-brother “Hugh”. According to a 23 Mar 1973 DV news item, their version of the movie would be filmed in Spain. Then, producer Luis Barranco bought the rights and commissioned a treatment from Gabriel Garcia Marquez, but a movie was never filmed, according to the 23 Aug 1983 NYT article.
       The 11 Dec 1983 NYT Magazine article reported that directors such as Jules Dassin, Ken Russell, Luis Buñuel, Joseph Losey, and Jerzy Skolimowski had expressed interest in making the film, but went on to other projects. According to a news brief in the 19 Feb 1964 Var, Buñuel had bought the film rights and had planned to make the movie in Mexico with actress Jeanne Moreau.
       Producer Wieland Schulz-Keil, a longtime admirer of Lowry’s novel, bought the film rights in early 1982 and approached director John Huston on the set of Annie (1982, see entry). The novel had long been considered impossible to film because its characters express themselves through considerable “internal dialogues.” According to production notes in AMPAS library files, Huston had been interested in adapting the novel for more than thirty years and had rejected more than twenty potential screenplays. A 10 Jun 1984 NYT article reported that Huston was aware of sixty treatments of the novel and had been sent twenty-five of them.
       As noted in the 11 Dec 1983 NYT Magazine article, screenwriter Guy Gallo had penned two papers on Malcolm Lowry as a Yale University graduate student, and was inspired to write a speculative screenplay. He received additional encouragement from Paul Bluhdorn, a friend from his undergraduate days at Harvard University, who was now a production executive at Paramount Pictures, and the son of Charles Bluhdorn, former head of Gulf & Western, then parent company of Paramount. As events unfolded, it was the producing team of Schulz-Keil and Moritz Borman who delivered Gallo’s script to Huston. Encouraged by the economy of Gallo’s writing, in Jul 1982 Huston teamed with the younger writer in CA for two weeks, during which the men revised the screenplay scene by scene. Later, they moved to Huston’s home in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, for extensive line-by-line revisions. According to Gallo in the 23 Aug 1983 NYT article, the men spent five months working on the script. The intention of the collaborators was to look for ways to simplify the characters, retain sympathy for the protagonist, replace internal monologues with action, and compress the story into a twenty-four hour timeframe.
       Apart from an arduous process of crafting the right script, the producers Schulz-Keil and Borman met with resistance from “four major studios” that passed on financing the film, according to NYT Magazine . The budget was estimated to be $4.5 million, although the Aug 1983 NYT, Oct 1984 AmCin, and 7 Sep 1984 BAM articles quoted productions costs of “$3 million,” “under $4 million,” and “about $4.7 million,” respectively. A 23 May 1984 Var news item stated that the budget was “around $5 million.”
       According to production notes, principal photography began 8 Aug 1983 in the village of Yautepec de Zaraguza, Mexico, a short car ride from Cuernavaca. The NYT Magazine reported that Huston filmed most of the scenes in sequence, due to the destructive descent of the character, Geoffrey Firmin. Production notes stated that the film was shot in eight locations. Huston chose Yautepec to double for Cuernavaca because its 18th--century architecture had the right feel and could be filmed without additional construction. The town’s central square was used to film the Day of the Dead festivities, and a local hotel was given murals, new doors, and lamps to create the Bella Vista Hotel. A residence known as “the Netzahualcoyotl House” in the older section of Cuernavaca that was once part of an old convent was used as Geoffrey Firmin’s home, while the Red Cross ball was filmed at Cocoyoc, a resort area with a storied history, having once been Spanish explorer Fernando Cortez’s private estate, a Dominican monastery, and a 16th century sugar mill that was destroyed by Emiliano Zapata in 1916 during the Mexican Revolution. Later, the property was converted into a resort. The dining room at Cocoyoc was used to film interiors of the Bella Vista Hotel.
       The Hacienda de San Jose Vista Hermosa, Cortez’s summer palace on the shores of Lake Tequesquitengo, was where the production built a bullring and filmed bullfight sequences. The production chose a site located just outside the village of Metepec to construct El Farolito, a brothel. An actual El Farolito existed in the “red light district of old Cuernavaca,” but it was rejected because of its dilapidated state and the physical surroundings did not match its description in the book.
       The shooting schedule, running from late summer to early fall 1983, prevented production designer Gunther Gerzso from acquiring African marigolds used during the Day of the Dead because the flowers do not bloom naturally until late Oct or early Nov. Instead, Gerzso used 30,000 paper marigolds combined with hothouse-grown marigolds and mubes, a white flower, for the holiday sequences.
       Reviews were mixed. In the 23 Aug 1984 LAT, Charles Champlin praised the film for being “vigorous” and “confident." Richard Schickel’s review in the 25 Jun 1984 Time stated that Huston’s “unselfconscious and objective” style of moviemaking brought clarity to Lowry’s story, and praised Albert Finney’s acting for drawing viewers into a difficult plot. Merrill Shindler agreed that Finney turned in a strong, nuanced performance, but lavished his greatest praise for Huston’s storytelling and his ability to capture “the dreamworld of Mexican life” in an Aug 1984 Los Angeles magazine review. A negative review from David Denby in a 25 Jun 1984 New York article labeled the film “a failure” because Huston had not been able to translate the thoughts of tragic hero, Geoffrey Firmin, into a satisfying cinematic story. Denby found Finney’s performance technically brilliant, but the script only captured a fraction of the symbolism and interior thoughts of Lowry’s novel. In a 10 Aug 1984 Commonweal review, Foster Hirsch described Lowry’s book as “a Mount Everest that filmmakers have wanted to scale.”
       The film received two Academy Award nominations: Albert Finney was nominated for Actor in a Leading Role, while Alex North was nominated for Music (Original Score). The film also received two Golden Globe nominations: Albert Finney for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama, and Jacqueline Bisset for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture.
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BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
American Cinematographer
Oct 1984
p. 58-59.
BAM
7 Sep 1984
p. 20.
Commonweal
10 Aug 1984
p. 438.
Daily Variety
23 Mar 1973.
---
Daily Variety
20 Apr 1973.
---
Hollywood Reporter
18 Jun 1984
p. 4, 9.
LAHExam
3 Jul 1984
Section B, p.1, 7.
Los Angeles
Aug 1984.
---
Los Angeles Times
6 Jul 1984
p. 1, 13.
Los Angeles Times
23 Aug 1984
Section VI, p. 1, 8.
New York
25 Jun 1984
p. 63.
New York Times
23 Aug 1983
Section C, p. 11.
New York Times
11 Dec 1983
Section 6, p. 60.
New York Times
10 Jun 1984
Section 2, p. 19.
New York Times
13 Jul 1984
p. 21.
Newsweek
31 Oct 1983
p. 79.
Time
25 Jun 1984.
---
Variety
19 Feb 1964.
---
Variety
23 May 1984
p. 12.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
Michael & Kathy Fitzgerald Present
A John Huston Film
An Ithaca-Conacine Production
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
Prod mgr, Conacine prod staff
Main title seq dir
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
Exec prod
WRITER
Scr
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Panaglide op
Cam asst
Cam asst
Chief elec
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
FILM EDITORS
Asst ed
SET DECORATORS
Set des
Set dec
Const coord
COSTUMES
Ward asst
Ward asst
Ward asst
Cost rentals
MUSIC
Mus orch
Mus orch
SOUND
Supv sd ed
Dial ed
Sd mixer
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Asst sd ed
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
Opticals and titles by
MAKEUP
Make-up & hair for Miss Jacqueline Bisset
Hair and make-up
Hair and make-up
PRODUCTION MISC
Prod supv
Prod coord
Mexican prod coord
Scr supv
Unit pub
Extras casting
Head of prod, Conacine prod staff
Prod asst, Conacine prod staff
Prod asst, Conacine prod staff
Actors Union delegate, Conacine prod staff
Prod asst, Conacine prod staff
Prod asst, Conacine prod staff
Prod asst, Conacine prod staff
Prod supv, Conacine prod staff
Prod asst
Secy to John Huston
A. F. I. intern
Negative developed at
STAND INS
Stunt woman
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry (New York, 1947).
AUTHOR
DETAILS
Release Date:
13 June 1984
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 13 June 1984
Los Angeles opening: 6 July 1984
Production Date:
began 8 August 1983 in Yautepec de Zaragoza, Mexico
Copyright Claimant:
Ithaca Enterprises, Inc.
Copyright Date:
16 November 1984
Copyright Number:
PA235444
Physical Properties:
Sound
Glen Glenn
Color
Lenses
Lenses and Panaflex® camera by Panavision®
Prints
Technicolor®
Duration(in mins):
112
MPAA Rating:
R
Countries:
Mexico, United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
27404
SYNOPSIS

Geoffrey Firmin, former British Consul to Cuernavaca, Mexico, walks through a Mexican church cemetery where locals celebrate The Day of the Dead. At a bar, Dr. Vigil asks Geoffrey if his wife, Yvonne, plans to return to Mexico, but Geoffrey informs him that he is now divorced. Dr. Vigil and Geoffrey attend a Red Cross Ball where they help themselves to drinks, and Geoffrey reveals the pain of being abandoned by his wife. In a nearby church, Dr. Vigil suggests Geoffrey pray to the Virgin of Soledad for Yvonne’s return, but Geoffrey cannot bring himself to pray so Dr. Vigil prayers to the Virgin instead. After Dr. Vigil finishes, Geoffrey confesses that he is adrift without his wife by his side. Before long, Yvonne returns to Mexico and finds her husband drunk in a bar. He informs her that he never received her letter announcing her return to Mexico, and he has resigned from his diplomatic post out of frustration. During the year she was away, Yvonne performed in a play in New York City that closed the previous week. When Yvonne wants to know why he did not answer any of her letters, he responds that letter writing was too difficult. Back at their house, Yvonne hugs Edie, the family cat, and Geoffrey inquires whether she is visiting or if she has returned, but Yvonne evades the question. Geoffrey has a drink although it is morning and Yvonne takes a bath. When Geoffrey asks Concepta, the housekeeper, for tequila, she says there is no more in the house. Quincey, a neighbor, watches Geoffrey as he runs to the gardens and drinks from ... +


Geoffrey Firmin, former British Consul to Cuernavaca, Mexico, walks through a Mexican church cemetery where locals celebrate The Day of the Dead. At a bar, Dr. Vigil asks Geoffrey if his wife, Yvonne, plans to return to Mexico, but Geoffrey informs him that he is now divorced. Dr. Vigil and Geoffrey attend a Red Cross Ball where they help themselves to drinks, and Geoffrey reveals the pain of being abandoned by his wife. In a nearby church, Dr. Vigil suggests Geoffrey pray to the Virgin of Soledad for Yvonne’s return, but Geoffrey cannot bring himself to pray so Dr. Vigil prayers to the Virgin instead. After Dr. Vigil finishes, Geoffrey confesses that he is adrift without his wife by his side. Before long, Yvonne returns to Mexico and finds her husband drunk in a bar. He informs her that he never received her letter announcing her return to Mexico, and he has resigned from his diplomatic post out of frustration. During the year she was away, Yvonne performed in a play in New York City that closed the previous week. When Yvonne wants to know why he did not answer any of her letters, he responds that letter writing was too difficult. Back at their house, Yvonne hugs Edie, the family cat, and Geoffrey inquires whether she is visiting or if she has returned, but Yvonne evades the question. Geoffrey has a drink although it is morning and Yvonne takes a bath. When Geoffrey asks Concepta, the housekeeper, for tequila, she says there is no more in the house. Quincey, a neighbor, watches Geoffrey as he runs to the gardens and drinks from a liquor bottle hidden in the bushes. Quincey tells Geoffrey to do something about his howling cat, but Geoffrey tells him Edie will not howl now that Yvonne has returned. When Geoffrey lies down next to Yvonne in bed, she puts her arms around him and they kiss. He confesses that he has missed her and promises to stop drinking, but after looking into her eyes, he utters, “it isn’t any good,” and runs into the street, falling down drunk. Soon, Geoffrey’s half-brother and a war correspondent, Hugh, arrives and tells Yvonne that a minor injury during the Spanish War has brought him back to Mexico. When Yvonne asks about her husband’s drinking, Hugh says it is hard to tell when Geoffrey is drunk because he can hold his liquor. Yvonne thinks Geoffrey’s alcoholism has gotten worse and admits that she wants to reconcile with her husband. When Geoffrey returns, he suggests they go to the theater. Hugh asks if things wouldn’t be easier if he left but Geoffrey insists he stay. As they walk to the theater, Yvonne stops to admire the volcano on the edge of the village and Geoffrey suggests they climb it later. Dr. Vigil greets Geoffrey and believes that it is a miracle Yvonne is back, since they prayed to the Virgin for her return. Geoffrey insists that Yvonne and Hugh enjoy the carnival while he gets a drink and gazes across the plaza from the bar to see Hugh help Yvonne play a game. On the bus ride to the volcano, Yvonne, Geoffrey and Hugh stop for lunch at a mountain café overlooking a bullfighting ring, where Hugh reminisces about the fallen colleagues he left in Spain. Hugh makes his way to the ring and grabs the red cape from the matador, jousting with the bull. The crowd is jubilant and hoists Hugh in the air. Caught up in the swell of emotion, Yvonne suggests to her husband that they give their relationship a fresh start in a new city. Geoffrey agrees and describes an idyllic retirement, living with Eskimos. Geoffrey adds that when Hugh visits, he will practice the Eskimo custom of sharing his wife. Ignoring Yvonne’s pained look, Geoffrey lashes out about a past affair between Yvonne and Hugh and then stalks off. Hugh fears that Geoffrey will not let them forget about their affair even though it is over. Through her tears, Yvonne searches for her husband, but Geoffrey boards a bus before she can find him. Soon, Geoffrey walks into a brothel tucked in the side of a mountain, where a pimp pretends to recognize him and buys him drinks. Meanwhile, the owner of a bird that has just won a cockfight walks in and hands Geoffrey a stack of Yvonne’s letters. In a daze, Geoffrey reads Yvonne’s letters, which reveal that she is sorry for the affair and wants a second chance. Aloud, he confesses that he cannot forgive her. The pimp sends one of his girls to seduce Geoffrey and she takes him into a back room. Yvonne and Hugh arrive at the brothel, but the pimp tells them that Geoffrey is with a girl. Distraught, Yvonne leaves. Later, Geoffrey stumbles out of the brothel but the rain discourages him and he returns. Some men, claiming to be Federales, take his money and ask for his passport but when they take his letters, Geoffrey grabs a saber and a fight breaks out. A drunken Geoffrey is shot and killed when he accuses a Federale of sleeping with Yvonne, who runs back to the brothel at the sound of gunshots, but a skittish horse knocks her down. The Federales kick Geoffrey’s body down a ravine, while Hugh cradles Yvonne’s lifeless body in the rain.
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Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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