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Fear and Desire (1953)

Not Rated | | Drama, Thriller, War | 1 April 1953 (USA)
Four soldiers trapped behind enemy lines must confront their fears and desires.


Stanley Kubrick


Howard Sackler

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Cast overview:
Frank Silvera ... Mac
Kenneth Harp Kenneth Harp ... Lt. Corby / The General
Paul Mazursky ... Sidney
Stephen Coit ... Fletcher / The Captain (as Steve Coit)
Virginia Leith ... The Girl
David Allen David Allen ... Narrator (voice)


A ficticious war in an unidentified country provides the setting for this drama. Four soldiers survive the crash-landing of their plane to find themselves in a forest six miles behind enemy lines. The group, led by Lt. Corby, has a plan: They'll make their way to a nearby river, build a raft, and then, under cover of night, float back to friendly territory. Their plans for getting back safely are sidetracked by a young woman who stumbles across them as they hide in the woods, and by the nearby presence of an enemy general who one member of the group is determined to kill. Written by Eugene Kim <genekim@concentric.net>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


Trapped... 4 Desperate Men and a Strange Half-Animal Girl!


Drama | Thriller | War


Not Rated | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »





English | Spanish

Release Date:

1 April 1953 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Shape of Fear See more »

Filming Locations:

California, USA See more »


Box Office


$33,000 (estimated)
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Kubrick Family See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Mono (RCA)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


Stanley Kubrick disowned the film soon after its release and wanted to make sure it was never seen again by not re-releasing the print. What he didn't know was that Kodak, when making a print for a film, had a policy of making an extra print for its archives. It is this one that survives and where the DVD-R and VHS bootleg prints come from. See more »


Our heroes steal a plane from an enemy military base. However the plane (a Luscombe 8) is clearly a civilian airplane with no military markings whatsoever. It is unlikely an obvious civilian aircraft like this would be on a military base. See more »


Private Sidney: It wasn't my fault! The magician did it. Honest! Prospero the Magician. First we're a bird, and then we're an island. Before I was a general, and now I'm a fish! Hoorah for the magician! (laughs insanely, then stops) The river... it's blood, Mac! Cold... cold... I'm going for a swim. Come on in, Mac! Listen to them... (starts to laugh) it's blood! (laughs insanely again, then runs off)
See more »

Alternate Versions

Blu-ray Disc releases in America also include The Seafarers, a short film from Kubrick, as a bonus feature. The European Masters of Cinema release also includes two additional shorts, Day of the Fight and Flying Padre. See more »

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User Reviews

Kubrick's Hidden, Yet Not Quite Forgotten Film
15 November 2006 | by AlienatorSee all my reviews

'Fear and Desire' (1953) is noted amongst film enthusiasts as being the first feature length film of legendary director and screenwriter Stanley Kubrick. Adding to this initial infamy is the fact that Kubrick frowned upon the film in his later years, calling it "amateurish" (which in his eyes and when compared to his other masterpieces, it most likely was) as well as refusing to re-release the film. Essentially, Kubrick did everything within his power to keep 'Fear and Desire' from public consumption. In a particular city (the name of which I cannot recall) the film was scheduled to be screened long after its initial release, but prior to the screening the theater management received a call from Kubrick and his associates asking the theater not to show the film. From such evidence one may draw the conclusion that the film is quite dismal and forgettable, but such is not the case. 'Fear and Desire' is a film far ahead of its time, by a director far ahead of his time – one which we all may never even catch up to. Even as early as 1951/53 can Stanley Kubrick's genius be seen emerging – and brightly at that.

'Fear and Desire' takes the viewer to the forests of a distant land, which is currently warring against (presumably) the United States in a fictitious conflict. In the dense forest the viewer finds four men stranded behind enemy lines as a result of a plane crash. These four military personnel are Sgt. Mac (Frank Silvera), Lt. Corby (Kenneth Harp), Pvt. Sidney (the debut of the wonderful Paul Mazursky), and Pvt. Fletcher (Stephen Coit). The men quickly decide that to return to their camp they must travel by night down a river which runs through enemy territory and down into their own territory. As the men begin to formulate their plans to return to safety, they become aware of enemy forces within the area and the stress, instability, and perhaps futility of war begin to set in around them physically, as well as within their minds.

Over the years, 'Fear and Desire' has strangely enjoyed harsh criticism by even those individuals lucky enough to view it. The picture essentially takes an above average stab at a subject matter which would resurface throughout Kubrick's history. Most notably, the subject matter is revisited more thoroughly in the excellent 'Full Metal Jacket' (1987). The film's main underlying message and social as well as political commentary focuses on the futility, horror, and dehumanizing effects of war and that which it embodies. In 1951 when 'Fear and Desire' was filmed the world was still recovering from WWII, the effects of the cold war were already being seen, and in U.S. affairs, the Korean War was underway. It was at this time many insightful thinkers such as George Orwell (author of 1984) and evidently Stanley Kubrick were recognizing and speaking out against the grim and ever-increasingly violent world in which we were becoming. Kubrick did this through the profound art of film-making. If this alone, during the conforming time period of 1951, does not earn this film and Kubrick a great deal of praise, then perhaps nothing does. Despite this, there are a few minor problems with this production, but none which hold much weight. In the beginning narration, the film is quite prophetic and at times quite philosophical. This works most of the time, but at times it says things blatantly that would perhaps better be left unsaid and left to the viewers' imagination. Essentially, it sometimes overstresses the somewhat obvious. All of the technic al aspects within the film are exquisite and Kubrick's skill is already shining brightly. The photography and the cinematography within the film are brilliant. The scene in which Sgt. Mac's silhouette is seen rafting down the river is breathtaking, as well as the vast shots of the great wilderness of nature's battlefield. Also, Kubrick's trademark facial shot of "insanity" is seen on the face of the soldiers (namely on Pvt. Sidney). Not only is the film daring for its time in the field of social commentary, but also it is quite vulgar by 1950s standards. Kubrick even directs a rape scene, as well as death sequences which are vividly depicted around the sensors of the era. With fitting performances by all of the actors (although Mazursky's over-the-top acting is at times regarded as ridiculous, I find it to be the acting highpoint of the whole film) and a shocking ending quite reminiscent of 'The Twilight Zone', the film proves itself to be an extremely dark, moody, intelligent, and insightful experience.

Why 'Fear and Desire' enjoys such harsh criticism could very well be Kubrick's actions in its destruction, the influence of other critics, or perhaps a subconscious comparison to Kubrick's other works. Regardless, upon my viewing I found it to be an extremely wonderful piece of cinema. One thing I am convinced of which does in fact bog down public opinion of 'Fear and Desire' is the various bootlegged releases of the film on DVD and VHS. Truly to experience the film as it was meant to be experienced one must watch the 35mm cut of the film, it really does add to experience. Although rare, there are a few prints left in existence and those presented with the opportunity to view one would be wise to accept. Given the circumstances and the status which Kubrick enjoys, it is sadly inevitable that this will be compared to Kubrick's other classics and, as many feel, will pale in comparison. Is it truly a poor film in any sense of the word? Most certainly not; the film is atmospheric, insightful, visually breathtaking, bizarre, and vastly ahead of its time. Had 'Fear and Desire' perhaps been directed by another director, well-distributed, and honored today it is quite possible that the film would live on as, if not a classic, a cult classic and highpoint of 1950s cinema.

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