Second acting role in an Australian film for British actor David Hemmings. Hemmings' first was Thirst (1979) whilst Hemmings would soon after this movie direct The Survivor (1981), another Australian film which also starred this movie's lead actor, Robert Powell.
The basic core of the film reworks two events from history. The central idea - charismatic mystic Gregory Wolf miraculously cures politician Nick and Sandra Rast's ill son Alex - mirrors the events in St Petersburg during the early part of the 20th century: Charismatic mystic Grigori Rasputin miraculously cured Tsar (an anagram of which is Rast) Nicholas II and Alexandra's ill son Alexei. Wolf's demise also echoes Rasputin's in 1916. Meanwhile the subplot of deputy governor Steele being lost at sea after seemingly drowning reflected the December 1967 incident where Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt disappeared whilst swimming and was subsequently presumed dead.
This movie was filmed in Perth, Australia but both neither the city's nor the country's setting in the film is ever stated. Australia's 'Movie News' magazine stated in an edition published around the time of the film's Australian release that "...the inference is that the story occurs in America. It's said that this has been done intentionally to help boost international sales".
Australia's 'Movie News' magazine stated that this film accrued $900,000 (Australian) worth of sales when a twenty minute promo reel was taken to the MIFED market. As such, this film is one of few Australian movies to recoup its production cost prior to first release.
This film is a modern-day re-telling of the classic Rasputin story. The names of the main characters are named after Rasputin and the last family of the House of Romanov. The historic events of these real people in the early 1900s inspired the film's story. The monk Rasputin was assassinated when he had gained to much influence on the Royal Russian Romanov Court after having (it appeared) cured the Tsar's son of hemophilia. In this movie, Gregory Wolf (Robert Powell) cures Senator Nick Rast's son Alex (Mark Spain of leukemia. Politically, Senator Rast is being groomed as a future president of the country.
The Harlequin character of Gregory Wolfe, played by Robert Powell, is named after Grigory Rasputin. The name Gregory substitutes for Grigory. Rasputin, known also as the Mad Monk, was said to have psychic powers and faith-healing abilities. The Gregory Wolfe character in this movie is said to have the same.
The Rast family in this movie are named after the last Romanov family of the House of Romanov, the last imperial dynasty of Russia. The Rast surname is Tsar spelled backwards. Nick Rast (David Hemmings) is named after Czar Nicholas II (Nikolay II, Nikolay Alexandrovich Romanov). His wife, Sandra Rast (Carmen Duncan), is named after the spouse of Nicholas II, Alexandra Feodorovna Romanov (Alix of Hesse aka Victoria Alix Helena Louise Beatrice). Their son, Alex Rast (Mark Spain is named after their heir apparent, Alexei Nikolaevich, Tsarevich of Russia. Alas, the names Nick, Sandra and Alex substitute for Nicholas, Alexandra and Alexei respectively.
The Harlequin character comes from the Italian Commedia dell'arte and the Harlequinade, its derivative. Harlequin is the most renown and most popular of the comic servant (or 'zanni') characters. The Harlequin character is known in in French as Arlequin, in Italian as Arlecchino, and in Spanish as Arlequín.
Robert Powell's character, Gregory Wolfe, is actually an amalgam of two legendary characters: Rasputin, the Mad Monk and Harlequin. The latter forms the films title, the nickname of Powell's character and provides one of Wolfe's key costumes in the film whereas the former, Grigory Rasputin, forms the basis of Wolfe's first name, Gregory, and provides his character's alleged psychic and faith-healing traits. The supernatural abilities are an add-on character trait.
American actor Broderick Crawford once said of his role in this movie: "Doc Wheelan [his character] is a real bastard of a character and I love playing those". Crawford plays a political manipulator chieftain in this movie. Crawford played a similar character type in All the King's Men (1949) for which he won a 1959 Academy Award Oscar for Best Actor in a Leading Role.
The DVD Audio Commentary states that this film was the first major movie shot in Perth, Western Australia for twenty-five years. However, the Australian film Nickel Queen (1971) had been filmed there earlier in the 1970s decade.
The Rast mansion seen in this movie was actually the home of Western Australian millionaire entrepreneur Alan Bond. The house was mainly only used for exteriors. Most interiors of the home were filmed at a Perth studio though one room in the mansion was used for interiors due to its panoramic seascape lookout.
The sequence where Alex Rast (Mark Spain) is seen being dangled off the side of a cliff by Gregory Wolfe (Robert Powell) did not use trick photography or deceiving camera angles. Spain was hung over the side of a cliff-face but was wearing a safety-harness which was not visible to the audience as it was attached through the underneath of Powell's white cloak.