The Blue Bird (1976)

G | 99 mins | Fantasy | 1976

Full page view
HISTORY

Executive producer Edward Lewis optioned the film rights to Maurice Maeterlinck’s 1908 play, L'Oiseau bleu, in 1968, according to a 23 Jul 1975 DV article. At that time, the U.S.S.R. had enacted a cultural exchange program with Great Britain that permitted co-productions and Lewis worked with industrialist Cyrus Eaton’s company, Tower International, to secure a deal with Russian filmmakers. Nearly eight years later, on 14 Jan 1974, Box reported that Viktor Blinov of Lenfilm Studio and Otar Teneishvili of Sovinfilm had contracted with Lewis in Dec 1973 to co-finance a musical film adaptation of The Blue Bird. In a 27 Jan 1974 NYT news item, Lewis announced that the picture marked “the first Soviet-American co-production” and principal photography was scheduled to begin summer 1974 for an unspecified 1975 release date, although the cast and director had yet to be determined. Screenwriter Alfred Hayes and writer Alexei Kapler had reportedly completed their work and Alex North and Andrei Petrov were composing the score; however, North is not credited in the film.
       Lewis lured Soviet filmmakers to the project with the promise of actor Marlon Brando, who was never hired, and other Western stars, as well as American film stock and equipment, according to a 27 Sep 1981 LAT article by Oleg Danilov, the film’s Russian production manager. The Soviets wanted to provide their own actors for supporting roles and to use Russian crews and locations. While Lewis selected Arthur Penn to direct, the Russians deemed him “too liberal” and hired George Cukor instead because he was “nonpolitical.” Noting that ... More Less

Executive producer Edward Lewis optioned the film rights to Maurice Maeterlinck’s 1908 play, L'Oiseau bleu, in 1968, according to a 23 Jul 1975 DV article. At that time, the U.S.S.R. had enacted a cultural exchange program with Great Britain that permitted co-productions and Lewis worked with industrialist Cyrus Eaton’s company, Tower International, to secure a deal with Russian filmmakers. Nearly eight years later, on 14 Jan 1974, Box reported that Viktor Blinov of Lenfilm Studio and Otar Teneishvili of Sovinfilm had contracted with Lewis in Dec 1973 to co-finance a musical film adaptation of The Blue Bird. In a 27 Jan 1974 NYT news item, Lewis announced that the picture marked “the first Soviet-American co-production” and principal photography was scheduled to begin summer 1974 for an unspecified 1975 release date, although the cast and director had yet to be determined. Screenwriter Alfred Hayes and writer Alexei Kapler had reportedly completed their work and Alex North and Andrei Petrov were composing the score; however, North is not credited in the film.
       Lewis lured Soviet filmmakers to the project with the promise of actor Marlon Brando, who was never hired, and other Western stars, as well as American film stock and equipment, according to a 27 Sep 1981 LAT article by Oleg Danilov, the film’s Russian production manager. The Soviets wanted to provide their own actors for supporting roles and to use Russian crews and locations. While Lewis selected Arthur Penn to direct, the Russians deemed him “too liberal” and hired George Cukor instead because he was “nonpolitical.” Noting that Hayes and Kapler wrote two different scripts that each had its own, incongruous production unit, budget and shooting schedule, Danilov stated that the project was decentralized from the start and Cukor was unable to instill cohesion.
       On 13 Nov 1974, DV announced that shooting for the five-month production was pushed to a start date of 26 Dec 1974 at Lenfilm Studios in former Leningrad, Russia, with Elizabeth Taylor and Jane Fonda in starring roles. Hugh Whitmore and Alfred Hayes were listed as sole screenwriters, suggesting that Kapler’s script had been abandoned at that time. While the news item stated that Hayes collaborated with composer Randy Edelman on the lyrics, Hayes is not credited in this role onscreen and Edelman did not remain with the project. Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp. was announced as the film’s distributor domestically as well as “in most of the world.” Although a 29 Aug 1974 DV news item reported that Shirley MacLaine was cast as “Cat,” the role went to Cicely Tyson.
       The 23 Jan 1975 HR announced that principal photography began one day earlier, 22 Jan 1975, nearly a month behind schedule. According to production notes in AMPAS library files, Leningrad (St. Petersburg) locations included Pavlovsk Park, a palace in Pushkin, and five sound stages at Lenfilm. Additionally, the production filmed on several locations in the Latvian capital city of Riga, including a “125-year-old peasant fisherman’s cottage” near Lake Jugla.
       As described in Danilov’s 1981 LAT article, the production was “fraught with difficulties.” While Cicely Tyson was forced to work as her own stand-in because Leningrad was devoid of people who approximated her skin color, Elizabeth Taylor arrived in Russia with a “low grade fever” that caused her to appear “flush” on film, a problem exacerbated by director of photography Jonas Gricius’ inexperience with color. After viewing dailies for one week, Taylor fled to London, England, for treatment and demanded that Gricius be replaced. On 28 Apr 1975, People reported that all of Taylor’s scenes were scheduled for reshoots and on 5 May 1975, HR announced that while the production was postponed for Taylor’s return, actor James Coco flew to New York City for hospitalization. While a 25 Aug 1975 Time brief stated that Taylor was back in Leningrad after recovering from amoebic dysentery, a Box news item published the same day reported that Coco was unable to resume his role due to a gall bladder operation and Fonda was forced to return to Leningrad on 19 Aug 1975 to reshoot her scenes with Coco’s replacement, George Cole.
       On 23 May 1975, DV announced that production was one month behind schedule and Twentieth Century-Fox hired Paul Maslansky to replace Edward Lewis as producer. A 25 Jun 1975 Var news item added that Lewis would be credited as executive producer and Aleksandr Arrshansky had taken over as Russian producer, although he is credited onscreen as “general director of production.” According to the 23 Jul 1975 DV article, the production was close to ruin when Twentieth Century-Fox executives appointed Maslansky, who spoke Russian and had experience working in Leningrad during the filming of the 1969 Italian-Soviet picture, The Red Tent. At the 18 May 1975 meeting with Maslansky, Twentieth Century-Fox decided to expand its role in the film, investing as a producer as well as a distributor, and Tower International created a subsidiary, Tower Film Corp., to guarantee the Russian’s stake in the picture and to administer future co-productions. While the American-Soviet 1973 contract stipulated that the two parties would finance the production equally, a 10 Jul 1975 LAT brief reported that Lewis and Twentieth Century-Fox invested $600,000 each, with the Russians financing the remaining cost and the actors agreeing to deferred payment through a percentage of the film’s grosses. However, other contemporary sources, including the 22 Sep 1975 Ladies Home Journal and the 26 Oct 1975 LAT, reported that the budget ultimately totaled between $8 and $15 million and an 18 Nov 1975 Var article published after filming was complete stated that the Soviets and Twentieth Century-Fox each invested $5 million.
       Principal photography continued until 28 Aug 1975 and ended at Lenfilm seven months after its start date, according to the 8 Sep 1975 Box. The final scene was shot on a set that represented the “Garden of Dreams.” While release was scheduled for Easter Sunday, 18 Apr 1976, and a world premiere was planned for 23 Mar 1976 in Washington, D.C., at the Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theater, according to an 8 Dec 1975 Box news item, the event was delayed until 5 May 1976. The Kennedy Center premiere was attended by Elizabeth Taylor and the children of American dignitaries, but was noticeably missing the wives of the Russian and U.S. Ambassadors who hosted the event, according to the 6 May 1976 NYT. An 8 Apr 1976 DV brief reported that the picture was scheduled to open at Radio City Music Hall in New York City on 13 May 1976, followed by 150 theaters nationwide by 26 May 1976.
       The film fared poorly with critics and received paltry box-office grosses. While a 23 Aug 1978 Var news item stated that Twentieth Century-Fox reimbursed Radio City Music Hall $50,000 for substandard receipts, the 27 Sep 1981 LAT reported that the film had grossed only $887,902 for its U.S. rentals and the U.S.S.R. had deemed the losses “classified information.”
More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
14 Jan 1974.
---
Box Office
25 Aug 1975.
---
Box Office
8 Sep 1975.
---
Box Office
8 Dec 1975.
---
Daily Variety
29 Aug 1974.
---
Daily Variety
13 Nov 1974.
---
Daily Variety
23 May 1975.
---
Daily Variety
23 Jul 1975
p. 1, 11.
Daily Variety
8 Apr 1976.
---
Hollywood Reporter
23 Jan 1975.
---
Hollywood Reporter
5 May 1975
p. 3, 9.
Ladies Home Journal
22 Sep 1975.
---
Los Angeles Times
10 Jul 1975.
---
Los Angeles Times
26 Oct 1975
Calendar, p. 29.
Los Angeles Times
19 May 1976
p. 1.
Los Angeles Times
27 Sep 1981.
---
New York Times
27 Jan 1974.
---
New York Times
6 May 1976.
---
New York Times
14 May 1976.
---
People
28 Apr 1975.
---
Time
25 Aug 1975
---
Variety
25 Jun 1975.
---
Variety
18 Nov 1975.
---
Variety
12 May 1976
p. 34.
Variety
23 Aug 1978.
---
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
An Edward Lewis Production
Produced in association with Lenfilm Studios
A George Cukor Film
In co-operation with Tower International
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Prod mgr
Asst dir
Asst dir
Asst dir
Asst dir
PRODUCERS
Co-prod
Co-prod
Assoc prod
Assoc prod
Exec prod
Prod in assoc with
Prod in assoc with
WRITERS
Russian version of screenplay
Story ed
Story ed
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Dir of photog
Cam asst
Cam asst
Chief elec
Stills
Stills
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des/Illustrations
Art dir
FILM EDITORS
Film ed
Supv film ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dresser
Set dresser
Set dresser
COSTUMES
Principal's cost des
MUSIC
Mus comp and cond
Songs and ballet mus comp by
Lyrics
Mus rec
Mus coord
SOUND
Prod sd
Prod sd
Prod sd
Re-rec mixer
Sd ed
Dial ed
Dial ed
VISUAL EFFECTS
Titles & graphics
Spec eff and opt
Pacific Title
Spec eff and opt
Spec eff and opt
Spec eff and opt
Spec eff and opt
Spec eff and opt
Spec eff and opt
Titles by
MAKEUP
Makeup
Makeup
Elizabeth Taylor's makeup
Hair for Elizabeth Taylor
Hair for Elizabeth Taylor
Hair des for Ava Gardner and Luxury seq
PRODUCTION MISC
Gen dir of prod
Prod secy
Prod secy
Continuity
Casting
Dial dir
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the play L'Oiseau bleu by Maurice Maeterlinck, which premiered on 30 September 1908 at Constantin Stanislavski's Moscow Art Theatre. The Blue Bird was first published in the U.S. by Dodd, Mead and Co. in 1909.
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
Sinyevá
Release Date:
1976
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 13 May 1976
Los Angeles opening: 19 May 1976
Production Date:
22 January--28 August 1975
Copyright Claimant:
Wenles Films, Ltd.
Copyright Date:
13 May 1976
Copyright Number:
LP46648
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Lenses/Prints
Photographed with Panavision® equipment; Prints by Deluxe®
Duration(in mins):
99
MPAA Rating:
G
Countries:
Russia, United States
Language:
English
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

Tyltyl and his little sister, Mytyl, come home late, soaking wet. When their mother learns they have disobeyed her and were playing by the river, she sends the children to bed without supper. After her woodcutter husband comes home, she relents and gives the children porridge, but finds them sleeping. Later in the night, fireworks awaken the children. They sneak out of the cottage and go to a wealthy home to watch beautifully dressed people skate, dance and feast. Mytyl wants to join them, but Tyltyl stops her. Returning home, they hear a yell and turn and see humpback witch dressed in a red shawl. She demands they give her the bluebird. Tyltyl shows her that their pet bird is black but the witch demands they find her the bluebird so she can give it to a sick little girl. To help them, she gives Tyltyl a cap with a diamond on the front and explains that by turning the diamond to the right, it will allow the wearer to see truth and the souls of everything animate or inanimate. When Tyltyl puts the cap on, the witch turns into a beautiful woman dressed in a white gown. She explains that she is “Light” and will help the children in their search for the bluebird. She then animates the soul of “Flame” and a dancer in red leaps from the fireplace. “Water” leaps from a pitcher and becomes a woman in blue. Flame and Water dance about the room as Light gives human form to “Bread”, the “Maiden of Spilt Milk” and “Sugar”. Sugar ... +


Tyltyl and his little sister, Mytyl, come home late, soaking wet. When their mother learns they have disobeyed her and were playing by the river, she sends the children to bed without supper. After her woodcutter husband comes home, she relents and gives the children porridge, but finds them sleeping. Later in the night, fireworks awaken the children. They sneak out of the cottage and go to a wealthy home to watch beautifully dressed people skate, dance and feast. Mytyl wants to join them, but Tyltyl stops her. Returning home, they hear a yell and turn and see humpback witch dressed in a red shawl. She demands they give her the bluebird. Tyltyl shows her that their pet bird is black but the witch demands they find her the bluebird so she can give it to a sick little girl. To help them, she gives Tyltyl a cap with a diamond on the front and explains that by turning the diamond to the right, it will allow the wearer to see truth and the souls of everything animate or inanimate. When Tyltyl puts the cap on, the witch turns into a beautiful woman dressed in a white gown. She explains that she is “Light” and will help the children in their search for the bluebird. She then animates the soul of “Flame” and a dancer in red leaps from the fireplace. “Water” leaps from a pitcher and becomes a woman in blue. Flame and Water dance about the room as Light gives human form to “Bread”, the “Maiden of Spilt Milk” and “Sugar”. Sugar hands Tyltyl some candy that he feeds to their dog, Tylo, who turns into a hairy man. When Tylette, the cat, becomes a young woman, she warns the children that it is dangerous to seek the bluebird. Light waves her hands and the group is transported to a sunny wooden glen with three paths from which the children must choose. Tyltyl picks the one to his left and Light says that the path leads to the Land of Memory and only children can go there. Tyltyl and Mytyl walk through the mists of time and come to the cottage of their deceased grandparents who are sleeping on a bench. The grandparents wake and explain that they always sleep until someone remembers them. After a meal and a dance, the grandparents give the children their bluebird. Back at the wooden glen, Tylette tells Tylo and the elements that if humans find the bluebird, they will know everything and enslave all creatures. She explains that they must sabotage the children’s search, but Tylo refuses, proclaiming that he loves humans and will kill Tylette if she interferes with the children’s quest. When the children return to the glen, they find the bluebird has turned black. They let the bird go so it can return to their grandparents. Light now leads them to the Palace of “Night,” but she is unable to enter. Light explains Night cannot refuse them entrance and must reveal all her secrets, but they must look behind every door. However, Tylette has run ahead to warn Night about the danger of the children finding the bluebird, and Night decides to frighten Tytyl and Mytyl so they will not open all the doors. When the children arrive, Night takes them to the Hall of Secrets and warns there are ghosts behind the first door. Tyltyl opens the door and ghosts fly out, but with Tylo’s help, they force them back into their cell. Night begs the children not to open the second door as it contains war, but Tyltyl says he has no choice. As he peeks in, Tyltyl sees soldiers fighting and slams the door shut before war can break out. The third door is the Garden of Dreams, where the children find exotic plants which take human form and dance as a flock of bluebirds circle them. The birds land on the children and they leave the palace to find Light. When they find her, they realize all the birds are dead and Light explains they are only illusions. The children are broken-hearted, but press on. Tytyl leads the way and he sees a bejeweled woman on a white horse, then accepts her invitation to ride and leaves Mytyl behind. The woman tells Tytyl that he is “Luxury” and takes him to a circus tent full of music, acrobats, and food. Luxury points out his fellow Luxuries, including the “Luxury of Doing Nothing” and the “Luxury of Loving Oneself.” Tyltyl asks Luxury which luxury is she, and she tells him he will know when he grows up. Mytyl and Light arrive at the circus to see Flame and Water dance a ballet that ends in a steamy embrace. When the troupe dances maniacally, Light tells Tyltyl to turn the diamond, and a huge wind blows away all the luxuries. As the wind dies down, the children see their mother dressed in radiant clothes, standing in a meadow. At first they do not recognize her, but she explains this is her true self, noting that all mothers are rich when they have children to love. Their mother then points out a bluebird and tells them to follow it so they run into the woods. However, Tylette has gone ahead to warn the trees that the woodcutter’s children are coming and begs them to frighten the children off. When Tytyl arrives, Tylette tells him the trees are his friends and suggests he turn the diamond. When he does so, Tytyl sees the trees take human form and their king, the Oak, steps forward with a bluebird on his shoulder, but he refuses to give it to the children. He claims that it is the first time the trees can judge man for their crimes of fire and ax and orders the elm, pine and cedar to kill the children. As Tylo attacks the Oak, Tytyl turns the diamond and the trees return to their inanimate state. Tytyl and Mytyl journey to the Kingdom of the Future where thousands of children play and Light explains that they are children yet to be born. Tytyl learns that each child has a “gift”, including new medicines, interstellar empires and the secret to defeating death. Others will instill blindness, disease and crime. A boy runs to Tytyl and Mytyl and identifies himself as their new brother who will be soon born. They are interrupted by Father Time, who calls the children about to be born. Although one boy refuses to leave his lover in the fear they will be forever separated, Time explains they cannot change fate and tears the boy away. He then spies Tyltyl and Mytyl and banishes them by turning his hourglass. The children, Light, Tylo, Tylette and all the inanimate souls transport back to the cottage. There, Light announces the journey is over, but Tytyl says they cannot stop until they find the bluebird. Light tells them that the bluebird cannot be caged and must fly free. One by one, the elements return to their initial forms. Tylo begs to remain human so he can tell the children how much he loves them, but Light turns him back into a dog. Before Tylette transforms, Mytyl asks if she loves them, too, and Tylette replies that she loves them as much as they deserve. Light leads the children upstairs and tucks them into bed. When they beg Light not to leave, she explains they can always find her in the sunrise or in a lamp. As she vanishes, the children’s mother wakes them and they hug her and tell her about their adventures. Mytyl reports a baby brother is coming, but their mother tells them they were dreaming. Tylo barks at the birdcage and the children discover that their blackbird is now blue. They take the bird to the ill girl in the village, who is overjoyed, but as they remove the bird from its cage, it flies away. Tyltyl tells the girl not to cry because he will catch it. Tyltyl asks villagers to return the bluebird because he and Mytyl will need it for happiness in the future. +

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

TOP SEARCHES

CASABLANCA

During World War II, Casablanca, Morocco is a waiting point for throngs of desperate refugees fleeing Nazi-occupied Europe. Exit visas, which are necessary to leave the country, are at ... >>

CITIZEN KANE

Seventy-year-old newspaper tycoon Charles Foster Kane dies in his palatial Florida home, Xanadu, after uttering the single word “Rosebud.” While watching a newsreel summarizing the years during which Kane ... >>

REAR WINDOW

Laid up with a broken leg during the height of summer, renowned New York magazine photographer L. B. “Jeff” Jeffries enters his last week of home confinement, bored and ... >>

RAGING BULL

In 1941, at a boxing match in Cleveland, Ohio, pandemonium breaks out when Jake La Motta, an up-and-coming young boxer, loses a decision to Jimmy Reeves, suffering his first ... >>

CITY LIGHTS

At an outdoor dedication ceremony, a tramp is discovered sleeping in the arms of a statue as it is being unveiled before a crowd. He is chased into ... >>

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.