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HISTORY

MPPDA notes on the production in this film's file at the AMPAS Library state, "Except for the fictitious character of 'Toni' played by Annabella, and the scenes centering around her, the film story of Suez is quite faithful to historical fact." A pre-production NYT news item stated that the studio made efforts to conform to fact. According to the article, the Twentieth Century-Fox research department sent memos to executives stating that a scene in the script, in which Ferdinand de Lesseps arises in the Chamber of Deputies to pledge that Louis Napoleon would make no attempt to seize the State, never occurred. The script was then revised to have de Lesseps make his pledge privately in a coffee house, which, though not authenticated, could, the studio presumed, have happened. Also the article noted that the prop department was building dredges duplicate in appearance to those used on the canal. The article added that certain elements of the story that would have added confusion to the plot had been dropped, such as the loss of control of the canal by France because of an English coup and the great furor caused by charges that forced labor was used on the canal. A later NYT article noted that originally Tyrone Power was to declare that the waters would make the desert "bloom like a rose," but technical advisors informed the director that the Suez was a saltwater canal.
       Contemporary reviewers and modern sources, however, comment on the film's divergence from historical fact. NYT called the film "ponderously implausible," while Var stated, "The fictional liberties taken...comes under acceptable Hollywood ... More Less

MPPDA notes on the production in this film's file at the AMPAS Library state, "Except for the fictitious character of 'Toni' played by Annabella, and the scenes centering around her, the film story of Suez is quite faithful to historical fact." A pre-production NYT news item stated that the studio made efforts to conform to fact. According to the article, the Twentieth Century-Fox research department sent memos to executives stating that a scene in the script, in which Ferdinand de Lesseps arises in the Chamber of Deputies to pledge that Louis Napoleon would make no attempt to seize the State, never occurred. The script was then revised to have de Lesseps make his pledge privately in a coffee house, which, though not authenticated, could, the studio presumed, have happened. Also the article noted that the prop department was building dredges duplicate in appearance to those used on the canal. The article added that certain elements of the story that would have added confusion to the plot had been dropped, such as the loss of control of the canal by France because of an English coup and the great furor caused by charges that forced labor was used on the canal. A later NYT article noted that originally Tyrone Power was to declare that the waters would make the desert "bloom like a rose," but technical advisors informed the director that the Suez was a saltwater canal.
       Contemporary reviewers and modern sources, however, comment on the film's divergence from historical fact. NYT called the film "ponderously implausible," while Var stated, "The fictional liberties taken...comes under acceptable Hollywood license." Var hypothesized, "Some of the dialog seems to have deep-rooted significance as regard 1938's history in the making--'peace without honor'; England's lifeline through the Suez Canal to its far-flung Empire; Prussia vs. France, and the need of Britain's friendship to swing the tide, etc." The addition of these themes may account for some of the divergence. The need for a starring vehicle for Tyrone Power (nowhere near the age of de Lesseps, who was born in 1805), Loretta Young and rising star Annabella may also have been a factor in diverting the script from historical fact. Despite the attacks on the film's accuracy, director Allan Dwan, in a biography, is quoted as saying, "as an example of what can be done to put history on the screen...I thought it was great."
       According to a FD news item dated 16 Jun 1937, Simone Simon was originally cast for the film, presumably in the role that later went to Annabella. According to LAEx , production head Darryl Zanuck wanted George Arliss to play "Benjamin Disraeli," a role he created on stage and screen. LAEx also stated that the film cost $2,000,000 to produce. A "Film Guide" published in 1938, in the AMPAS production file on the film, gives the following production information: the All-American canal, under construction at the time to divert water from the Colorado River, near Yuma, AZ, was used in many long shots; a company of 1,000 extras, 300 horses, 200 burros and 20 camels spent 36 days near Yuma shooting long shots and background material; Otto Brower, who directed 2d unit shooting, enacted battle scenes at Lake Elsinore, CA and in old clay pits near Corona, CA, where a small mountain was dynamited for a landslide scene; two "prop deserts" were built at the studio, a small one for close-ups, on an interior sound stage, which was filled with 200 truckloads of sand and a dozen tents, and a large one, for scenes of a controlled storm, built over a twenty-acre former golf course using 3,000 truckloads of sand (a wind, however, blew most of the sand away two days after it was laid, and the studio lost $30,000); the simoon scenes, which cost $250,000, were staged with twenty-four wind machines by Lou Witte and Fred Sersen, who the previous year created the fire scenes in the studio's In Old Chicago ; seven historic landmarks were recreated at the studio at a cost of $250,000, including an Alexandria, Egypt courtyard, which cost $50,000. Dwan, in his biography, is quoted as saying that ground cereal was blown by airplane propeller fans, because sand, which was tried originally, cut into the skin. He explained that in the scene where Annabella was blown away by the wind, she was attached to a wire and flown through the air.
       According to information in the Twentieth Century-Fox Records of the Legal Department at the UCLA Theater Arts Library, a "Countess de Lesseps" claimed to have unpublished records and facts relative to Ferdinand de Lesseps, and the studio employed her for a week, but it soon became apparent that she had no new information. In Sep 1938, M. Paul de Lesseps, the son of Ferdinand and the Director of the Suez Canal, informed the U.S. Department of Commerce that in the event that the film was harmful to his father's reputation, he intended to take up the matter with his attorney. According to the legal records, Paul de Lesseps also contacted the European manager of Les Productions Fox Europa and said that he was going to bring legal action against the company because he had been working on a scenario about his father, which was not completed, and the film made by Twentieth Century-Fox destroyed any chance a film based on his work had of being produced. The manager in Europe reported that de Lesseps wanted "a fabulous sum" to settle the matter. A lawyer for de Lesseps subsequently tried to get a court to issue an injunction to stop the film's exhibition. Zanuck wrote to Sidney Kent, the studio's president, that de Lesseps' action was an "attempted hold-up" and stated, "We certainly glorified Ferdinand and if we had wanted to we could have told the part of his life about his failure to build the Panama Canal and the lawsuit which followed, in which he was accused of bribery and everything else." [According to modern sources, de Lesseps was the president of a company that worked on the construction of the Panama Canal. After he gave up the project because of financial and political difficulties, he was sentenced to imprisonment by the French government for misappropriation of funds, but the decision was reversed.] Empress Eugénie's grand-nephew, Marquis de Casa Fuerte, also instituted a court case to stop the film's exhibition, but a judge in Jan 1939 ruled that there was no reason to seize the film and joined the two writs to have the case tried on its merits. No further information regarding the disputation of the suits has been located. Information in the legal records states that the charge d'affaires for Egypt wrote to the studio in Nov 1938 to complain that the portrayal of the young Prince Said was inaccurate and liable to offend Egyptian feelings. The charge d'affaires specifically objected to the scenes of the prince at an official festivity, in which the manners and etiquette depicted "could not accord with the dignity of his high position" and the boxing training scenes between the prince and de Lesseps, of which the charge d'affaires wrote, "As this is a matter which pertains to his private life, it would have been better not to show it to the public." The charge d'affaires requested that the studio examine the possibility of deleting those scenes. The studio's legal counsel then recommended that "objectionable material" should be removed from the Egyptian release if the removal would not destroy the story value. According to a NYT article, scenes in the film showing a donkey named "Hassan" were deemed objectionable and deleted from showings in India because Hassan, the revered grandson of the prophet Mohammed, was a martyr still mourned in India for ten days every year.
       According to a HR news item, Robert "Believe It or Not" Ripley was filmed in his study at his home in Long Island for the film's trailer, in which he told the story of the canal and introduced the cast. According to modern sources, Power and Annabella fell in love during the production, and he proposed to her in Jul 1938. They were subsequently married in Apr 1939. Of Young, who, modern sources state, felt she was being used in this film to help advance Power's career, Dwan commented, "Loretta was always above everything.... And she used that quality as Eugénie, of having complete control over her situation and being vastly superior to everybody. It came naturally for her to make you feel that everyone she came in contact with was far beneath her." He noted that she collaborated with the costume designer to fashion "the largest hoopskirts ever" and let her fingernails grow long to attract attention to herself. Dwan, who credited Zanuck with the idea for the film, thought it was overwritten by two reels, yet considered it one of his better films. Writer Philip Dunne in his autobiography, however, called the film "pretty bad." Suez was nominated for Academy Awards in three categories: Cinematography (Peverell Marley); Sound Recording (Edmund Hansen); and Original Score (Louis Silvers). The film's end credits contain the statement, "This is one of the movie quiz $250,000 contest pictures." No information has been located concerning this contest. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
22 Oct 1938.
---
Daily Variety
15 Oct 38
p. 3.
Film Daily
16 Jun 37
p. 7.
Film Daily
17 Oct 38
p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter
2 May 38
p. 48, 49
Hollywood Reporter
11 Jul 38
p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter
5 Oct 38
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
15 Oct 38
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
28 Oct 38
p. 10.
Los Angeles Examiner
12 Mar 1938.
---
Motion Picture Daily
17 Oct 38
p. 2.
Motion Picture Herald
10 Sep 38
p. 72.
Motion Picture Herald
22 Oct 38
p. 27.
New York Times
17 Apr 1938.
---
New York Times
2 Oct 1938.
---
New York Times
15 Oct 38
p. 21.
New York Times
10 Sep 1939.
---
New York Times
4 Aug 1940.
---
Variety
19 Oct 38
p. 12.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
Darryl F. Zanuck in charge of production
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Dial dir
Asst dir
Asst dir
Asst dir
Asst dir
Special eff scenes stage by
Battle seq dir
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
Assoc prod
PHOTOGRAPHY
Cam op
Asst cam
Asst cam
Gaffer
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
FILM EDITORS
Film ed
Asst cutter
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Painter--AM
Painter--PM
COSTUMES
Cost
Ward man
Ward man
Ward woman
Cost supplied by
MUSIC
Mus dir
SOUND
Sd mixer
Asst sd man
Boom man
Boom man
Cable man
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
Spec eff
MAKEUP
Hair
Makeup
Makeup
PRODUCTION MISC
Prod mgr
Prod mgr
Unit mgr
Scr clerk
Grip
Diction coach for Annabella
Boats supplied by
Asst props
Asst props
Best boy
Follow-up man
Casting dir
Casting dir
Doorman
Horses
Still photog
STAND INS
Stunts
Double for Tyrone Power
Double for Sig Rumann
DETAILS
Release Date:
28 October 1938
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 14 October 1938
Production Date:
2 May--mid July 1938
Copyright Claimant:
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Copyright Date:
28 October 1938
Copyright Number:
LP8600
Physical Properties:
Sound
Western Electric Mirrophonic Recording
Black and White
sepia
Duration(in mins):
104
Length(in feet):
9,389
Length(in reels):
12
Country:
United States
PCA No:
4281
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In Paris in 1850, at a reception given by Louis Napoleon, the nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte and president of the French Republic, a swami fortune-teller predicts that Countess Eugenie De Montijo of Madrid, to whom Louis has taken a fancy, will lead a troubled but great life and will wear a crown. The swami next predicts that Eugenie's escort, Ferdinand de Lesseps, the son of the consul-general to Egypt and one of the Foreign Offices' most promising young diplomats, will dig ditches. After Louis sees Ferdinand making fun of his desire for the throne, Louis orders him sent to Egypt's consulate. Eugenie, pleased that Louis has shown an interest in her, declines Ferdinand's marriage proposal, but cries after he leaves. In Egypt, which is a province of the Turkish Empire, Toni Pellerin, the precocious granddaughter of the ranking sergeant of the consulate, falls in love with Ferdinand, who is given the assignment to cultivate the young Prince Said, the pampered son of Viceroy Mohammed Ali. During the viceroy's annual tour of inspection to the Isthmus of Suez, Toni rides after Ferdinand into the desert, where they take cover from a storm in some ruins. She confesses her love, but Ferdinand, still in love with Eugenie, gently rebuffs her. When they see a rainbow, Ferdinand imagines a canal connecting the Mediterranean and Red Seas, which would benefit the whole world, and realizes the meaning of the swami's prophesy. With Toni as his secretary, Ferdinand goes to Paris to organize a stock company to finance construction. Louis Napoleon, however, refuses to give his support. When rioting in the streets breaks out, members of ... +


In Paris in 1850, at a reception given by Louis Napoleon, the nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte and president of the French Republic, a swami fortune-teller predicts that Countess Eugenie De Montijo of Madrid, to whom Louis has taken a fancy, will lead a troubled but great life and will wear a crown. The swami next predicts that Eugenie's escort, Ferdinand de Lesseps, the son of the consul-general to Egypt and one of the Foreign Offices' most promising young diplomats, will dig ditches. After Louis sees Ferdinand making fun of his desire for the throne, Louis orders him sent to Egypt's consulate. Eugenie, pleased that Louis has shown an interest in her, declines Ferdinand's marriage proposal, but cries after he leaves. In Egypt, which is a province of the Turkish Empire, Toni Pellerin, the precocious granddaughter of the ranking sergeant of the consulate, falls in love with Ferdinand, who is given the assignment to cultivate the young Prince Said, the pampered son of Viceroy Mohammed Ali. During the viceroy's annual tour of inspection to the Isthmus of Suez, Toni rides after Ferdinand into the desert, where they take cover from a storm in some ruins. She confesses her love, but Ferdinand, still in love with Eugenie, gently rebuffs her. When they see a rainbow, Ferdinand imagines a canal connecting the Mediterranean and Red Seas, which would benefit the whole world, and realizes the meaning of the swami's prophesy. With Toni as his secretary, Ferdinand goes to Paris to organize a stock company to finance construction. Louis Napoleon, however, refuses to give his support. When rioting in the streets breaks out, members of the assembly, including Ferdinand's father, fear that Louis has provoked the riots so that once the assembly adjourns, he can declare himself emperor in the resulting chaos. Eugenie, now Louis' mistress, seeks a disheartened Ferdinand's help to convince his father to urge the assembly to disband. Ferdinand's trust of Eugenie and Louis' signed promise to reconvene the assembly, once the rioting is quelled, succeeds in convincing Ferdinand's father. However, once the assembly adjourns, its members, except for Ferdinand, are arrested, his father dies of a stroke, and Ferdinand is thought to have deceived his father and friends so that the canal, which Louis is now prepared to support, can be constructed. Ferdinand refuses to continue with the canal until Toni, encouraged by Eugenie, persuades him to proceed with his dream. Despite an incident of sabotage when Turkish soldiers dressed as Arabs dynamite the hills surrounding the canal, it nears completion until Louis, now an emperor with grandious ambitions, bends to pressure to halt construction from England, whose support he needs against Prussia. Ferdinand travels to London, where the prime minister, who thinks England should not concern itself so much with its colonies, rebuffs him. However, the leader of the opposition, Benjamin Disraeli, who wants to preserve England's role as a leading power, promises support if he wins the upcoming election. Said, now viceroy, provides funds to keep the work completed from being destroyed by shifting sands, but a simoon blows in and threatens the lives of the workers. When Ferdinand, trying to help, is knocked cold by a flying board, Toni secures him to a post before she is blown away and killed. At her burial, Ferdinand concedes defeat. However, when Disraeli is victorious, England joins with Ferdinand to complete the canal. After Eugenie, now the empress, presents Ferdinand with the Distinguished Service Award, he goes alone into the desert, where he overlooks the canal and remembers Toni's words that she would be there with him at the canal's completion. +

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.