Last evening, I invited two friends over, with social distancing, to view legendary director David Lean’s epic romance, Ryan’s Daughter which I had not seen since its 1970 release. The 3- hour film is still a memorable classic with stunning performances by Robert Mitchum, Sarah Miles, Christopher Jones, Trevor Howard, and John Mills. And written by Miles’ husband, Robert Bolt (A Man for All Seasons, Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago).
After the screening as I ejected the DVD and returned the film to my library, I remarked that I had never seen Christopher Jones, the romantic lead, in any other film, and one of my friends who works in the Hollywood film industry began to share with us the backstory and troubled war behind the production of the film shot in County Kerry, Ireland.
David Lean, a perfectionist director who had garnered Oscars for Bridge Over the River Kwai, Doctor Zhivago, and Lawrence of Arabia, went way over MGM’s budget, battled insane weather, and created rifts between him and three of his stars: Sarah Miles, Christopher Jones, and Robert Mitchum. The film shoot lasted for one year and the overtime for the stars caused the huge over- budget. But this was minor compared to what happened in their personal lives.
Christopher Jones was engaged to Sharon Tate who had decided to leave her husband, director Roman Polanski. While shooting his scenes, he learned that Sharon Tate had been murdered by Charles Manson back in California. Jones, a new talent from Tennessee was already a near wreck as he could not handle the British accent and later was dubbed, now he emotionally collapsed when news reached about the horrific death of the woman he loved.
Robert Mitchum’s daughter happened to be at the same party at Sharon Tate’s home that terrible evening and it was three days before Mitchum knew if his daughter was alive or dead. Happily, she lived.
However, the show must go on and despite terrible weather and the emotional state of two of his stars, Lean pressed on. Christopher Jones refused to comply with the then scandalous love scene with Sarah Miles. Miles and Robert Mitchum sneaked a sedative into Jones’ drink before they shot the scene. For 1970, this was a memorable sex scene for its time. By the end of the shoot, Christopher Jones was carried away in a straight jacket and was never again seen in films.
Ryan’s Daughter was nominated for 4 Oscars including Sarah Miles for Best Actress. The two Oscar winners were John Mills for playing an unforgettable village idiot and Freddie Young for his spectacular cinematography.
Film Critic Pauline Kael gave the film an undeserved scathing review which caused director David Lean to take a 14-year hiatus which ended only with 14 Oscar nominations for Passage to India (1984). Dame Peggy Ashcroft won for Best Supporting Actress and Maurice Jarre for his original musical soundtrack. Jarre also brilliantly had scored Ryan’s Daughter.
Creatives more often than not pay a steep price for their paintings, books, performances and sometimes endure critical disdain or indifference for their work. And yet, what is deemed our culture is built upon the backs of these same creatives. And none can know the backstory of their art.
Catherine Ann Jones
This week my two memoirs True Fables and Buddha and the Dancing Girl are now available on amazon.com
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