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Terry O. Morse
Eddie Foy Jr.
Walt Disney arranged for Buena Vista Distribution (a company formed to release Disney films instead of RKO) to release the film as he wanted a long biblical epic to compete with the other major studios. In particular, he wanted to cash in on their successes, particularly that of BEN-HUR. One reviewer even commented that this production borrowed the MGM Camera 65 cameras used to film BEN-HUR.
THE BIG FISHERMAN was nominated for several Oscars, a testament to the quality of the film and its technical professionals. Of course, it lost to BEN-HUR (almost everybody lost to BEN-HUR).
In the mid-1970's, I worked at the Disney Studios in 16mm film distribution (mostly to schools and airlines as this was prior to the rise of home video). I located some 16mm anamorphic (scope) prints of THE BIG FISHERMAN.
Using a dialog continuity script as a guide, I managed to reconstruct a decent, complete print and turned it over to my management, thinking it would be a great 16mm rental title. It wasn't accepted for that medium, but a few years later, SFM MEDIA CORPORATION distributed it to TV (in a pan-and-scan version only).
The film is based on Lloyd C. Douglas' novel, a sequel to his massive bestselling book THE ROBE. The performances are consistently excellent. Howard Keel creates a moving and heart-felt portrait of Simon/Peter. There are several other standout performances. For example, Jonathan Harris as the chief steward in the palace of Herod Antipas. This was before his memorable turn as Dr. Zachary Smith in LOST IN SPACE. The best way to describe his characterization is to borrow a line from MY FAIR LADY: "Oozing charm from every pour, he oiled his way around the floor." Herbet Lom and Martha Hyer (as Antipas and Herodias) are particular standouts.
Also, Ray Stricklyn as Deran, the evil son of the Arabian king, who has an unhealthy lust for Princess Fara (Susan Kohner), whose heart belongs to Prince Voldi (John Saxon). Kohner and Saxon create a very believable chemistry of two star-crossed lovers.
When Deran dies suddenly of a heart attack while addressing his chiefs, who surround him on horseback, his passing is remarked on by two lines of dialog: "I think he is dead," says one chief. Another chief, looking at the body on the ground before him, replies, "Let us let him lay there until we are certain."
It is a pity that this title is not available on video, preferably on DVD, where it's widescreen image can be preserved. I'm surprised that TCM hasn't gotten hold of this, unless it's a case of who owns the legal rights; possibly Buena Vista, the original distributor (which, of course, involves the Walt Disney Studios, who have their own strong home video distribution system). Perhaps these copyright owners feel that no decent elements exist for a DVD transfer. Perhaps they feel that the title just wouldn't find a large enough market to justify the cost of transferring such a long movie. That is a misguided belief. Anyway, it's still a pity. It deserves to be seen again.
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