Cast & Crew
In 1840, New England farmer Ephraim Cabot constantly harangues his three sons, Peter, Simeon and their younger half-brother Eben, to work harder and be more religious. The three sons all despise their father, who worked their mothers to death, especially Eben, whose mother once showed him where Ephraim hides his gold and made him promise to claim the farm one day, as most of it had been hers when she married Ephraim. One day, Ephraim declares that he needs to ride out to learn God's message for him and urges the younger men to keep working while he is gone. As six weeks pass, the brothers hope that Ephraim, who is seventy-six years old, has died, and Peter and Simeon contemplate their plan to search for gold in California. One night, Eben gets drunk in town and then visits Min, an older widow who often entertains young male visitors. Min welcomes Eben, but he tells her that he is through with "leftovers" and rushes home, where he digs up $600 of Ephraim's buried money. Eben then wakes up Peter and Simeon to tell them the latest gossip, that Ephraim has married a twenty-five-year-old Italian immigrant. The men are infuriated, as they believe that she will now inherit the farm instead of them. Eben offers his brothers the money if they sign over their shares in the farm to him and, believing that he will never inherit it anyway, Simeon and Peter do so. The next day, Ephraim brings Anna, his new wife, to the farm, and she is thrilled to have a home and land of her own. Peter and Simeon rudely laugh at their father and his new bride before leaving, while Eben reacts hostilely to Anna's offer of friendship. Anna responds that she has worked hard all her life for a place to call her own, and that she will do anything to hang onto it now that she has found it. Later, as Anna cleans the filthy house, Ephraim yells at her for airing out the parlor in which Eben's mother used to sit and orders her never to go there, for it was where Eben and his mother used to hide from him. As time passes, Anna flaunts her earthy sensuality at Eben, who responds by avoiding her. One Sunday, Eben is preparing to visit Min, and Anna laughs at him. They become involved in a violent quarrel, declaring that they hate each other, and Eben insinuates that Anna is a whore for marrying Ephraim in order to get the farm. After Eben storms off, Ephraim questions Anna about the argument, and she states that Eben was propositioning her. Ephraim immediately wants to kill Eben, but Anna, who is attracted to Eben, as he is to her, stops him, telling him that they need Eben to work the farm. Quieting down, Ephraim admits that Eben is the only one remaining to whom he can leave the farm, and Anna demands that he leave it to her instead. Ephraim cruelly dismisses her, stating that she is a woman, and that only blood counts. When Anna states that the two of them could have a son of their own, Ephraim, who is besotted with her, promises to give her anything she wants if she will bear him another heir. Soon after, Eben lies awake in his attic room, tortured by the sound of Ephraim and Anna talking. When Ephraim leaves to tend the livestock, Anna goes to Eben's room, and the couple cannot help engaging in a passionate kiss. Eben pushes her away, again proclaiming that he hates her, but Anna taunts him with the knowledge that he desires her. Having entranced him, Anna easily seduces Eben, although as they spend time together, she discovers that she genuinely loves him. One morning, as they relax in the hayloft, Anna tells Eben about her difficult life, and how she has always had to work in the homes of others. Eben's happiness grows when Anna becomes pregnant, but when the baby, a boy, is born, he is heartbroken upon realizing that they must pretend that Ephraim is the infant's father. On the day of the baby's christening, Simeon and Peter, now rich from their gold prospecting, return to the farm to introduce Ephraim to their wives, Florence and Lucinda. Ephraim, overjoyed by his new son, dismisses his daughters-in-law as "flashy," but invites them to join the party anyway. The neighbors and villagers enjoy Ephraim's food and drink but gossip behind his back about Eben being the baby's father. Angry and confused, Ephraim demonstrates his virility by engaging in a wild dance, then orders Simeon and Peter to leave when they also laugh at him. Eben is in the barn avoiding the party when Ephraim finds him and taunts him that he is going to leave the farm to his new son. Ephraim also tells him that Anna had urged him to keep Eben on as a laborer and had promised him a child. Believing that Anna merely used him to father her son, thereby gaining the farm, Eben is enraged. When Anna finds him soon after, Eben lashes out at her, but she swears that she has fallen in love with him and would do anything for him. Eben declares that everything between them was ruined by the baby's arrival, and that he is going to leave for California in the morning. Torn between her love for Eben and her son, Anna extracts a promise from Eben that he will love her again if she can make their life as it once was. Early the next morning, Eben is leaving when Anna tearfully informs him that she has proven her love for him by smothering their son. Horrified, Eben denounces her and runs off to get the sheriff. Anna then returns to the house, where she is sitting forlornly when Ephraim awakens. Anna tells him that she has killed the baby, and also the truth about his parentage. Although he bitterly declares that he is glad the infant is dead, Ephraim is saddened that Anna never loved him. After Ephraim wanders from the house, Eben rushes in and finds Anna in the parlor. There, he tells her that he realizes that he still loves her, and that he is just as responsible for their child's death as she is. Assuring her that there is still time, Eben urges her to run away with him, but Anna insists that she must pay for her crime. Buoyed by Eben's love, Anna faces the sheriff with grace, and Eben declares that he must be arrested also. As Anna and Eben slowly ride off with the sheriff, Ephraim watches from the hilltop of his farm, which is his alone at last.
Edward F. O'neill
Robert Thad Taylor
Robert B. Williams
Robert D. Cass
Julie Anne Weitz
Daniel L. Fapp
John P. Fulton
Joseph Macmillan Johnson
Bernard Mceveety Jr.
G. A. Pedersen
Desire Under the Elms
It was unlikely casting for a starlet known for her bountiful physical attributes rather than for her dramatic abilities. Eugene O'Neill's 1924 drama was based on the classical Oedipus tragedy, transposed to New England. Patriarch Ephraim Cabot brings his new bride Abbie to the family farm to the dismay of his three adult sons. She falls in love with one of the sons, Eben, has an affair with him, and bears his child, passing the baby off as Ephraim's in order to inherit the farm. It ends with a tragedy so shocking that the first stage productions caused a flurry of censorship, with the entire cast of a 1926 Los Angeles production being arrested and charged with obscenity.
But Loren's casting was not as offbeat as it seemed. O'Neill himself had written a treatment for a screen version for Paramount in 1933, in which he changed the character of Abbie to a Hungarian immigrant who would be Ephraim's housekeeper, not his wife, and who would be in love with Eben, but would not have an affair nor a child. Apparently, the film version was intended for Marlene Dietrich, and this was an effort to get the film past the censors. In spite of attempts by various studios over the years, however, the film had never been made. Desire Under the Elms finally went into production in May of 1957 with most of the sensational plot elements in place, and with Sophia Loren top-billed, her character changed to an immigrant named Anna.
There were reports that producer Don Hartman wanted Spencer Tracy and Marlon Brando to play the father and son opposite Loren. Clifton Webb was also considered for Ephraim. Finally, Burl Ives and Anthony Perkins were cast as Ephraim and Eben. Ives was a folk singer who had become a fine dramatic actor, and Perkins had been nominated for an Academy Award as best supporting actor for his performance in Friendly Persuasion (1956), his second film. Chosen to direct was Delbert Mann, a former television director who had won an Academy Award as best director for Marty (1955), the feature film version of a television drama he had also directed.
Unfortunately, there was little chemistry among the stars of Desire Under the Elms. Loren and Perkins were particularly ill matched, the intense and neurotic Perkins overwhelmed by Loren's strong presence. "I felt like Charlton Heston trying to play opposite the Burning Bush in The Ten Commandments ," Perkins told a reporter. "When there's a Burning Bush on the screen, no one's going to look at me." He also felt that Loren upstaged him. She, in turn, teased Perkins about his nervousness in her presence. Because the story of Desire Under the Elms takes place in 1850s New England over the course of a year, it would have been too expensive to shoot on location, so the decision was made to shoot it almost entirely on soundstages, to the film's detriment. According to director Mann, "It was a superb job of film design, incredibly researched and detailed. But it simply didn't have the hard reality a Vermont location would have provided. It ultimately seemed beautiful rather than harsh, theatrical rather than real." The film was nominated for an Academy Award for best black and white cinematography.
Critics agreed about the lack of chemistry, although reviews for Desire Under the Elms were mixed. "Mr. Perkins seems rather fragile and petulant to be the cuckolder of his sire," according to the New Yorker. William K. Zinsser of the New York Herald Tribune found Perkins "insipid to the point of being neuter, and this pivotal role has no vigor." Bosley Crowther of the New York Times called Loren's performance "strong....she is plausibly in the spirit of the tempestuous drama that unfolds." Kenneth MacGowan of Theater Arts magazine found the film "faithful and uncompromising.... one of the best film versions -- perhaps the best -- of the O'Neill plays." The Variety critic thought that "Despite all the plus factors, Desire Under the Elms is not satisfactory entertainment... impact has been hurt by the change from O'Neill's Greek simplicity to Hollywood gilding." The film also ran into some trouble with the censors in Chicago, where it was restricted to adults only. As Variety noted, "The commercial truth of the matter is that Desire will probably make its best return as a sexploitation item."
Producer: Don Hartman
Director: Delbert Mann
Screenplay: Irwin Shaw; Eugene O'Neill (play)
Cinematography: Daniel L. Fapp
Art Direction: Joseph MacMillan Johnson, Hal Pereira
Music: Elmer Bernstein
Film Editing: George Boemler
Cast: Sophia Loren (Anna Cabot), Anthony Perkins (Eben Cabot), Burl Ives (Ephraim Cabot), Frank Overton (Simeon Cabot), Pernell Roberts (Peter Cabot), Rebecca Wells (Lucinda Cabot), Jean Willes (Florence Cabot), Anne Seymour (Eben's mother).
by Margarita Landazuri
Desire Under the Elms
Elmer Bernstein (1922-2004)
Elmer Bernstein, who was not related to Leonard Bernstein, was born on August 4, 1922, in New York City. He displayed a talent in music at a very young age, and was given a scholarship to study piano at Juilliard when he was only 12. He entered New York University in 1939, where he majored in music education. After graduating in 1942, he joined the Army Air Corps, where he remained throughout World War II, mostly working on scores for propaganda films. It was around this time he became interested in film scoring when he went to see William Dieterle's The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941), a film whose score was composed by Bernard Herrmann, a man Bernstein idolized as the ideal film composer.
Bernstein, who originally intended to be a concert pianist and gave several performances in New York after being discharged from military service, decided to relocate to Hollywood in 1950. He did his first score for the football film Saturday's Hero (1950), and then proved his worth with his trenchant, moody music for the Joan Crawford vehicle Sudden Fear (1952). Rumors of his "communist" leanings came to surface at this time, and, feeling the effects of the blacklist, he found himself scoring such cheesy fare as Robot Monster; Cat Women of the Moon (both 1953); and Miss Robin Caruso (1954).
Despite his politics, Otto Preminger hired him to do the music for The Man With the Golden Arm, (1955) in which Frank Sinatra played a heroin-addicted jazz musician. Fittingly, Bernstein used some memorable jazz motifs for the film and his fine scoring put him back on the map. It prompted the attention of Cecil B. De Mille, who had Bernstein replace the ailing Victor Young on The Ten Commandments (1956). His thundering, heavily orchestrated score perfectly suite the bombastic epic, and he promptly earned his first Oscar® nod for music.
After The Ten Commandments (1956), Bernstein continued to distinguish himself in a row of fine films: The Rainmaker (1956), Sweet Smell of Success (1957), Some Came Running (1958), The Magnificent Seven (a most memorable galloping march, 1960); To Kill a Mockingbird (unique in its use of single piano notes and haunting use of a flute, 1962); Hud (1963); earned a deserved Academy Award for the delightful, "flapper" music for the Julie Andrews period comedy Thoroughly Modern Mille (1967), and True Grit (1969).
His career faltered by the '80s though, as he did some routine Bill Murray comedies: Meatballs (1980) and Stripes (1981). But then director John Landis had Bernstein write the sumptuous score for his comedy Trading Places (1983), and Bernstein soon found himself back in the game. He then graced the silver screen for a few more years composing some terrific pieces for such popular commercial hits as My Left Foot (1989), A River Runs Through It (1992) and The Age of Innocence (1993). Far From Heaven, his final feature film score, received an Oscar® nomination for Best Score in 2002. He is survived by his wife, Eve; sons Peter and Gregory; daughters Emilie and Elizabeth; and five grandchildren.
by Michael T. Toole
Elmer Bernstein (1922-2004)
The film's opening title cards read: "A Paramount Release in VistaVision Motion Picture High-Fidelity Sophia Loren Anthony Perkins Burl Ives in The Don Hartman Production of Eugene O'Neill's Desire Under the Elms." The surname of actress Rebecca Welles, who had recently changed her name from Reba Tassell, was spelled "Wells" in the onscreen credits, although most reviews spelled it "Welles." According to information in the Paramount Collection and the Paramount Scripts Collection, both located at the AMPAS Library, O'Neill himself submitted a screen treatment of his controversial play to Paramount in 1933. [Some sources state that O'Neill prepared his treatment in 1927 or 1928, but the copy in the Paramount Collection is dated 1933.] In his treatment, O'Neill changed the character of "Abbie," a New England woman in her middle thirties who marries "Ephraim Cabot" and has an affair with his son "Eben," to that of a young Hungarian immigrant, to be played by Marlene Dietrich.
O'Neill also changed the content of the story, so that the immigrant would be a housekeeper rather than Ephraim's wife, and that while she and Eben would be romantically interested in each other, they would not have an affair, nor an illegitimate baby, thus eliminating the infanticide. The project was abandoned, however, as the studio decided that it would be non-commercial if it were filmed in a "watered-down" version, and that it could not be filmed at all if it were not censored. According to an April 1958 article in Theatre Arts, in 1933 former film producer Kenneth Macgowan, who participated in the original play production, attempted but failed to interest RKO-Pathé in O'Neill's treatment.
In 1936, Universal submitted O'Neill's treatment to the PCA office, according to information in the file on the film in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, but it was rejected. Joseph I. Breen advised Universal that while the treatment itself was acceptable, the play was on the "so-called banned list," and that the board of directors would not approve a film based on it or using its title. [As noted in a March 1958 New York Times article, the play was faced with "threats of closure and censorship" during its initial 1924 New York run, and when it ran in Los Angeles afterward, the cast was "arrested and charged with presenting an obscene play."] In the early and mid-1940s, Lee Marcus of RKO, independent producer Edward Small and Steve Sekely, who wanted to produced the picture for Republic with Walter Huston as Ephraim, also expressed interest in the play, and were informed by the PCA that it was unacceptable. According to a November 1943 Hollywood Reporter news item, William Rowland was attempting to produce a film version at RKO-Pathé, with Robert Edmond Jones, who worked on the 1924 Broadway production, to supervise and design the sets.
On May 17, 1954, Paramount sent the PCA a copy of the play for consideration and was told that it was unacceptable "by reason of an overemphasis on gross and adulterous lust." On November 26, 1954, Paramount official Luigi Luraschi and Sol Siegel, who was appointed to produce the picture at that time, met with PCA executives, and noted that Spencer Tracy and Jennifer Jones were being considered for the leading roles. Siegel agreed that some of the "more sordid elements of the play" would have to be eliminated, and stated that John Patrick would be working on the screenplay. In March 1956, Luraschi reported to the PCA that Hartman would be making the film as an independent production for Paramount release. Several pre-production sources commented on Hartman's intent to remain as true to the play as possible, which was also noted by reviews after the picture was released. According to information in the Scripts Collection, H. L. Davis and Alan J. Pakula wrote screen treatments of the play for Paramount in 1954, but it is unlikely that any of their work, or any done by Patrick, was included in the completed picture.
In late March 1956, Hollywood Reporter's "Rambling Reporter" column stated that Hartman was hoping to cast Tracy and Marlon Brando in the picture opposite Sophia Loren. According to modern sources, Clifton Webb was also considered for the role of Ephraim. By January 1957, Hollywood Reporter noted that the cast of Loren, Anthony Perkins and Burl Ives had been set, and that Melville Shavelson and Jack Rose were scheduled to "write, direct and produce" the picture for Hartman. According to information in the Paramount Collection, the film shot on location at Brent's Crags in California for one day, and the rest of the picture was shot at the studio in Hollywood. In reviewing the film, several critics complained about its "staginess," but studio records indicate that shooting on location in Vermont was decided against because of the variability of weather conditions.
February 1958 Hollywood Reporter news items announced that the Police Censor Board of Chicago had restricted the showing of the film to adults only, so that no one under twenty-one would be admitted. Hartman planned to appeal the decision personally, pointing out that the because the play was "approved reading matter in school libraries throughout the country, [the film] does not deserve an adult-only tag in theatres." On February 14, 1958, Hollywood Reporter reported that Chicago mayor Richard J. Daley notified Hartman that he was taking the matter under consideration. An March 11, 1959 memo in the PCA files indicated that Paramount was likely to give up its attempt to "advance its suit." Because the police commissioner reportedly was causing "difficulty" for the studio in its attempts to exhibit other films in the city, and city authorities had agreed to lower the admission age from twenty-one to seventeen, Paramount was inclined to drop its case. On April 8, 1958, however, Hollywood Reporter noted that Daley had refused to rescind the censor board ruling, and that Paramount had filed an injunction against the city to force the lifting of the adults-only rating. According to the news item, the studio had decided "not [to] open the film in Chicago until the issue [was] resolved." The final disposition of the suit has not been determined.
Although Loren had previously appeared in American films shot abroad, Desire Under the Elms was the first film she made in the United States. Both Loren and the film itself received mixed reviews. The Film Daily reviewer stated that Loren turned in "one of the finest performances in her career," while the New Yorker critic complained that she conducted "herself as if her only problem were to keep her eyes open under a most generous application of mascara." The picture was also the first independent production by Hartman, who had been head of production at Paramount from 1950 to 1956. According to several contemporary sources, Hartman first saw the play during its Broadway run and was so captivated by it that he saw it three times and vowed to turn it into a film one day. In an April 1957 Los Angeles Times article, Hartman was quoted as saying that he quit as Paramount's head of production in order to make Desire Under the Elms. Hartman made only one other picture, The Matchmaker (see below), before his death in March 1958. For his work on the film, cinematographer Daniel L. Fapp received an Academy Award nomination.
1958 Academy Award Nomination for Best Cinematography (b&w).
Released in United States March 1958
Released in United States May 30, 1991
Released in United States on Video May 30, 1991
Released in United States Spring March 1958
Hollywood debut for Sophia Loren.
Released in United States March 1958
Released in United States Spring March 1958
Released in United States May 30, 1991
Released in United States on Video May 30, 1991