Fear and Desire (1953) Poster

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Strong potential
Kubris31 March 2012
I'm seeing every Stanley Kubrick feature film in order, and began with his most disliked 'Fear and Desire'. I've heard some awful things about it, but considering the very limited resources to make it, a viewer can easily notice the unlimited potential of the man behind the camera. Fear and Desire has genius that can't be tapped with the restraints had.

It's a war film- with no names. Just soldiers behind enemy lines, wanting to get back and the problems they encounter. There's a certain Shakespearean quality about it- the characters give short monologues about their feelings and morals that aren't grounded in reality. There are some good lines, and some absolutely terrible ones, and some that seem too philosophical for their own good. These lines are delivered by actors pushing melodrama: Sidney goes nuts, but unreasonably. Then there's the technical faults: it's a mess, with some sloppy editing. Again though, there were budget constraints that any full-fledged director could work around.

Kubrick made a thinking film, but it has some poorly communicated ideas. Is this idea that war pushes men past their extremes? There isn't anything horrifying about what the men go through. It seems that while he could later create some of the best war films ever, they are very difficult to make as a first picture/ They just need more money to make. Seeing this reminds me of a much later debut, Reservoir Dogs. Both share similarities of a few characters in isolation, and auteurs behind the camera.

A strong aspect of Fear and Desire is its music, which helps some of the more tense scenes. The plot is good and doesn't linger- the film is around an hour long. It's not as bad as I heard, and lays the groundwork for later Kubrickisms: war and thematic material. Filled with potential. 6.5/10
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Even Genius Falters in Youth...
JonB-23 July 1999
Let me preface this review with one simple statement: Stanley Kubrick is god. I'm a rabid fan, the man could do no wrong, and his death was the greatest loss that film has ever known -- every other director moved up a notch when Stanley went, because Mr. Kubrick was, is and always will be number one...

That said -- it was actually heartening to see "Fear and Desire" and to realize that the film pretty much sucks. In other words, even genius has to be born somewhere, and in his first feature, Mr. Kubrick just didn't have it yet. Pretty much a still "Life" photog at the time, "Fear and Desire" comes across as a pretentious student film, albeit a well shot one. However, this is in the days before Kubrick developed his own style, and so anything eye-catching in this movie is by way of Sergei Eisenstein. At times, the influence is painfully obvious, as in a sequence in which our lead soldiers make a raid on a house held by the enemies -- it might as well be a re-take of "Potemkin," sans the steppes and the lady with the busted glasses. But, the jump cuts, the creation of scene through editing, the visual ellipses is entirely Eisenstein and none at all Kubrick, and the effect is jarring.

Not that there aren't points to recommend in the film. Oddly enough, a very young Paul Mazursky turns in a wonderful performance as a soldier who cracks under the stress of it all, and Kubrick stages what's basically a rape scene under the constraints of 50s censorship, while infusing it with so much eroticism that it's rather uncomfortable. (Side note to Adam Sandler: if you ever chose to go into drama, study Mazursky's role in this film -- it's everything you could be if you give up the "dumb but pure" roles of "Wedding Singer" and "The Water Boy.")

Pluses in the film are that it deals with the subject of war without ever identifying sides -- there's a vague Prussian-ness about the villains, but if you look closely, none of the soldiers are identified by country. Kubrick also pulls off some interesting double casting in which the leads play the "villains," but are not obviously the same people. On the down side, the film opens and closes with possibly the most pretentious voice over narration ever committed to celluloid. There's a BIG IDEA working here, but given that Kubrick was only 24 when he made the film, it's understandable that the Ooh-Aah idea wasn't really as big as he thought it was. (Then, again, making an anti-war movie during the Korean war was probably about as egregious as one could get. I wouldn't know, I wasn't alive in 1953.)

All of this said -- for film students and Kubrick fans, this film is a must-see if you can track it down -- and good luck trying, since Mr. Kubrick wisely killed all availability of the movie. In a lot of ways, it's actually a very encouraging experience to see a genius like Mr. Kubrick churn out absolute crap -- brilliant moments that add up to nothing. Given his career since this film, it just shows that everyone has to start somewhere, and even the (arguably) greatest director in the history of cinema was once just a young schmuck with a camera, film and some actors.
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Kubrick's Hidden, Yet Not Quite Forgotten Film
Alienator15 November 2006
'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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The Bad, the Terrible, and the Hilarious.
kubrick11416 December 2000
Quite a few people claim to have seen this film, but anybody who tell you that it is not as bad as Kubrick would lead you to believe is flat-out lying about having seen the film. Kubrick is the greatest artist of the last couple centuries, but this film is BAD. Not Kubrick bad, but Ed Wood bad. There are lines like, "I felt fear. Fear I hadn't felt since I kissed my dying grandmother." And the whole thing looks like it was made in somebody's backyard.

There is one thing funnier than this film: the trailer! It was shown with the film at the George Eastman House, and trust me, if you ever get the chance to see it, the trailer alone is one of the most hilarious pieces of film you will ever see. It's a gem!

"Fear & Desire" should be seen, if only to show how an awful, pretentious young filmmaker can flourish to such heights as "Dr. Strangelove," "2001," and "Barry Lyndon." Interestingly enough, the Eastman House print (one of the two still in existence, I believe) was short the film's official running time by a couple of minutes, and there are a few unlikely jump-cuts in the film, which leads one to believe that Kubrick himself cut this film a bit, as he did with "The Shining." However, the other remaining print is the original camera negative, which is stored somewhere out of the country. I would kill to get my hands on that print.

If you get a chance to see this film, do so, and see Kubrick's genesis, and how far he came.
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Kubrick's Genesis
Rambler8 March 1999
This film, Stanley Kubrick's first feature, has been maligned by its creator and hidden away for many, many years, which is a shame, for in spite of its shortcomings, it is most definitely a Kubrick film. Many of the themes that populate his later work can be found here, as well some of his photographic specialities. Possibly, with his recent passing, the archives that have had to stifle showings of this film, often by request of Mr. K, might now be able to show his many admirers that he knew where he was going right from the start.
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Kubrick's Flawed First Film
ZildjianDFW31 March 2008
I've been dying to see this film for some time now - ever since I first fell in love with Kubrick's movies - but I was also a little hesitant, due to repeated reports that this film was seriously, even fatally flawed. Now that I've finally seen it, I can confirm it: it is quite flawed.

The dialogue, including its attempts at humor, is consistently corny. The music is like a bad imitation of Bernard Herrmann score. The acting is often sub-par. The budget is obviously very low. The editing is often awkward. And so on.

Yet, despite all of this, I found myself getting absorbed in it, and, by the end, I caught myself nodding in overall approval. Despite the films warts and moles, Kubrick manages to create a decent little film. Elements of his later, oft-famed style can be found throughout, especially in the cinematography. Taken for what it is, I think it's an enjoyable movie.

As for the films many flaws, just keep in mind that even the tallest man was born small. I'd recommend this film to any serious Kubrick fan. Watching it, one knows that big things lay ahead.
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Who wants gumbo?
tieman6414 September 2007
Warning: Spoilers
"Fear and Desire" begins and ends with similar shots. Director Stanley Kubrick's camera pans along an ominous mountain scape, as clouds of mist and smoke waft heavy in the air. A corny narrator then informs us that the "story" we're about to watch is not real. It's an allegory, featuring faceless men in a nameless war in an nameless land...all of which exists only in the mind!

The narrator then shuts up and things pleasingly get less pretentious. Already, Kubrick is shooting his films like the old Russian masters. The camera angles and cinematography are, at times, beautifully expressionistic. Kubrick's low angle shots heighten the strange madness of his characters and the fog shrouded forests and rivers lend a dream-like, frightening feel to the film. This land is not real, the narrator reminds us, it is all in the "country of the mind".

"Countries" and "islands" will be one of the many motifs featured in the film. John Donne's quote, "no man is an island" is touched upon in reverse by one of Kubrick's soldiers. "All men are islands," he says, "when the icecaps melt".

The notion of melting ice metaphorically takes the form of the ever-present river in the picture. This body of water separates a band of soldiers from their enemies, while also being their only means of escaping the "forest". Significantly, the "enemies" in the film are merely the same four good guys dressed in enemy uniforms. Kubrick's point seems to be that we're all linked. But when the ice-caps melt (war/rivalry), we're driven apart by this body of water (river) and made to fight one another, even though we're all the same. Corny? Yes, but Pulitzer writer Howard Sackler was decades away from mastering his art when he wrote this.

Throughout the film, the men will try to become islands themselves. They stand waist deep in water, bury themselves in mud, float on rafts etc. They want to detach themselves from the forest, want to become men unto themselves.

So the film is deeply metaphorical and more interested in metaphysics. Even here, in his very first feature, Kubrick is going against the grain, pushing aside the grit and realism now emerging in 1950's cinema. Set in a forest, the entire film feels ethereal. Like a fable, or strange dream.

Early on, Kubrick introduces us to his primary cast: 4 soldiers trapped behind enemy lines. Each of these soldiers is the typical Kubrick caricature. One's a handsome, womanising leader. The other is a burly, masculinized trooper. Another is a well mannered family man, and the last is an innocent young boy (Sydney), reminiscent of "Full Metal Jacket's" Pvt Pyle.

The film's first memorable sequence is a brief action sequence in which the men break into an enemy outpost and kill 3 soldiers. Kubrick shoots the violence like Kurosawa. We see closeups of nasty looking food, closeups of hands smashing into bowls of soup, fists squeezing potatoes and clutching at spoons. Bits of syrupy liquid flop around like blood. The whole scene has a violent "squishly" feel, and yet, absolutely no violence is shown. After the carnage, Kubrick then gives us truncated shots of the dead bodies. We see feet and legs and overturned chairs...But no faces. Never any faces.

Later on, Kubrick will once again link food with acts of violence. Look closely and the film has a constant tug of war between survival/food and death/violence, reminiscent of the visual and aural sex/food puns in Kubrick's "Lolita".

Eventually the troopers come across a group of women fishing in the river. Importantly, we don't see their water covered bodies from the waist down. They're islands, separated from the world of man and shot to resemble the mythical Greek Sirens. They're seductive, luring the men away from their duty. But the men retaliate and manage to capture one of the women and tie her to a tree. Symbolically she's reattached to the forest, her island sanctuary destroyed.

The men task Sydney with the job of guarding the woman. As he did with Pyle in "Full Metal Jacket", Kubrick portrays Sydney as having "malfunctioned." Young and innocent, he isn't cut out for these circumstances. Thus, when Sydney is left alone with the girl, we know something horrible will take place.

In one long scene, Sydney goes through a kind of mini evolution. At first he's childish and fearful around the captured girl. Then he playfully impersonates his commander by pretending to eat food. This "performance" scares the girl. He's then faced with various desires, as he toys with the idea of raping her. At first he's scared of doing this, afraid of her rejection. But eventually he musters up the courage. But before he can "rape" her, though, he must first untie her. He does so. Now disconnected from the forest, she immediately runs for the river. But before she gets there, Sydney shoots her dead. When Syndey's fellow troopers return, he goes crazy and disappears into the river himself.

Kubrick and Sackler's point seems to be that man's fears and desire are intertwined. Our fear of being harmed goes hand in hand with our desire not to be hurt or killed. Similarly, as in Sydney's case, if you are afraid of rejection (by woman or group), you then desire acceptance. So fear is like desire, based on a rejection. And fear of death is ultimately fear of life, or a desire for it.

Another action scene follows soon after. The men fight their doubles and escape to their raft (island) on the river. Before the film closes with a repeat of the first shot, there's a haunting scene in which Sydney reappears, wading through the river like one of the Sirens. He's found his island, but he's alone there, driven insane by his experiences in the world of man.

5/10 - Needs less dialogue and a bigger budget.
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Not a complete artistic failure, but disappointing in one way I didn't expect
Quinoa198425 July 2005
Stanley Kubrick, a director who I hold in the highest of esteems for his masterpieces (Clockwork Orange, 2001, The Killing, the Shining, Dr. Strangelove, etc) took the film out of circulation, leaving it to be found by only the hardcore fans and completists. After seeing the film for myself, I could see why. At the age of 24, Kubrick had already honed his craft of still photography for LOOK magazine, and had done a few short documentaries. Like many first-time filmmakers that came in the decades after him, his ambition for Fear and Desire was, in short, to just go and make a film, cheaply, more than likely to see if he could do it. On that level, he was successful. However, the film itself definitely is not.

I can't really say that the film is a failure because there was something I did like about it throughout. Even as the film's story went on the wayside, and the actors (whom Kubrick didn't have any idea how to direct, not being a man of the theater), his knack for producing and capturing some great images gets its seeds in this film. At times, there are some shots of close-ups and quick-shots in suspense/action scenes that are eye-catching. Unfortunately, this is all the good I can really say of the film. Although there are a couple of 'name' actors in the film (Frank Slivera, who also appeared in Killer's Kiss, and Paul Mazursky, a director in his own right), the performances overall are dull and very routine.

In fact, that is the film's main demise for me; whenever I watch any Kubrick film, even his early film noirs Killer's Kiss and the Killing, I can tell who made it, as his style by then became distinct, which would continue as he evolved as an artist. It wasn't 'artsy' like I might have pictured (which is usually the case with first-time directors like Scorsese and Spielberg), but watching this film not only did it feel like it wasn't Kubrick, it felt like a lot of the time I was watching some B (or even C) grade movie by a director that time forgot- not quite 'Ed Wood' bad, but close. The music is as standard as can be, the fades are pedestrian, and the plot seems to not really hold that much attention.

In short, as others have said and which I can agree, this is a "doodle pad" of a future ground-breaker, who shows some shots and a few edits that grab some attention (the best scene overall being when the soldiers take the dumb girl hostage), but not enough to really recommend except to those, like myself, who end up seeing everything by Kubrick (or, perhaps, have to see every ultra-low budget war film ever made), if only out of curiosity.
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Not Bad
Michael_Elliott10 March 2008
Fear and Desire (1953)

** (out of 4)

Stanley Kubrick's first feature film isn't nearly as bad as some reviews have said and I'm really not sure why he doesn't want the public to see this one. Four soldiers are shot down behind enemy lines and must face their fears in order to survive. The film has an extremely low budget, which hurts matters but it's interesting enough to see Kubrick working on his technique. The camera-work by Kubrick is certainly the highlight and there's some nice editing along the way.

As of today the Kubrick estate hasn't released any of his shorts but you can find the online at various places.
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Odd, interesting tale of madness.
goodellaa13 December 2007
An extra point for style. Kubrick style, without a budget, without experience; don't re-make a hit/classic if you can re-make something like this. The story is interesting but makes no more sense than the madness of war, which is what is depicted. Could be a bit shocking, dealing as it does with moral issues that are so basic many people would rather not admit that they exist. Attempting to depict such weirdness is part of Kubrick's (now) well known genius. Really interesting and sometimes downright good use of camera and sound. Always do your best, dear reader, for even you first movie could be your last.
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Kubrick's "lost" feature
troilus2 August 1999
Fear and Desire is of interest mainly to Kubrick obsessives, who can plumb this pretentious clap trap for signs of his still-to-come greatness. Kubrick was right in seeking to ensure that the film was not screened or available on legitimate video. He considered it embarrassing and amateurish, and he was correct in his evaluation. This is a weak and tedious film--at 68 minutes it still seems longer than "Barry Lyndon"!--it nevertheless is of historical interest, and has its genuine absorbing moments. It's a difficult film to find (only "unofficial" copies are in circulation), though perhaps this may change if Kubrick's estate relents and has it released on video. Recommended only for Kubrick enthusiasts.
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All things considered, a remarkable debut
gridoon201928 May 2017
Warning: Spoilers
Stanley Kubrick's first film was shot for a few thousand dollars in a California forest with a no-name cast when he was 24 years old!! Under the circumstances, I think it is a remarkable film. A little crude at times, and perhaps with a tendency towards purple prose, but a stark, powerful anti-war indictment, with some otherworldly images and characters who are not easy to pigeonhole (the civilized leader of the group is the first to make suggestive remarks about the female captive, the "gentle" young man is the first to go completely bonkers, etc.). You can tell, even by this first feature, that Kubrick is something special; most directors, even the established ones, would never even attempt an abstract film like this in 1953. **1/2 out of 4.
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Wasn't that bad, but always learn from your mistakes
paulijcalderon10 February 2017
Kubrick's first feature length movie can be seen as a reminder that everyone doesn't start out as a master at making movies. It takes practice, trial and error. You can see that Kubrick learned from his mistakes and improved later on. I honestly didn't think it was that bad. There was a lot of effort put in to this, the movie is just a little off sometimes and there are strange and dull moments. The characters are difficult to get invested in to as well.

There is some mystery to the story which I liked. The first half has some dozes of suspense and a psychological element. The way the opening narrator introduces the premise reminded me of the "Twilight Zone". The idea has potential. Soldiers who have been at war for so long they have forgotten their countries and now they have ended up in an unknown land just trying to get home. It feels like it could be a mysterious dream or that it takes place in an alternative universe. The second half gets more muddled and the dialogue didn't work for me. But, the first part was OK.

The cinematography is still nice, which you can come to expect from dear old' Stanley. The black and white looks great, the lighting, the framing is all well done and there is a good use of close ups. So, that's probably what's best. I have no complaints on the look of the picture. The music was entertaining. I like how how classically 50's it sounded.

The movie has some moments here and there. If you like Kubrick then this can be interesting to take a look at. And if you are studying or learning how to make movies, then I would say you would get something from it. Because it does show that we all start somewhere and you should never give up if you are not happy with your first works. Take the elements that didn't work and keep improving them. Seeing what could go wrong is important so that you don't repeat them. That way you will learn and get better. Well, I think many of you do know this. But, that's always important to never forget.

I think the film was just OK. And it was handled pretty well for being someone's first feature length work.
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Laughably bad...
Parca31 March 1999
Kubrick may have been the greatest director of all times. He may have made more classics than anyone else. He may have been a perfectionist. But man, was his first attempt ever bad!

Kubrick had good reason to try to make this film dissappear from the map: it looks like an Ed Wood film. It has strange narration, cheap shots, bad dialogue, ominous music reminiscent of your 50s sci-fi/horror flick, and what looks like relatives of the cast of "Reefer Madness" going insane for no reason.

Sure, you can see an undeveloped Kubrick in there. It is a psychological/horror study of war. The characters became dehumanized and insane. There are people playing more than one role. There are constant shots of the faces and particular facial expressions of different people. And there are a few interesting shots around there. But really, this is a mess.

Of course, I am not discouraging you from watching it. If you get a hold of it, you are joining a select group of myself and a few thousand people world wide who have had access to it.
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Stanley Kubrick's Unwanted and Abandoned First Born Feature
LeonLouisRicci13 July 2017
Dualistic and Binary this Debut, a Low-Low-Lowest of Low Budget Feature Films, of Iconic Director Stanley Kubrick, is Viewed Today (despite the director actively disowning and destroying prints aggressively) as a Treat and a Tiresome, Embarrassing affair with Touches of a Maverick Artist on Display.

The Movie has Moments of Brilliance and Flourishes Unlike any 1953 Films of any Budget or Pedigree. The Violence is Shocking, Expressionistic, and Brutal with Spurts of Nightmarish Images Presented in Unorthodox Displays and Staccato Editing.

It has a "Twilight Zone" Feel (many years away from the groundbreaking series) and in a Korean War Time-Space Places the Soldiers in Mismatched Uniforms from the Military of the Sub-Conscious. At the time Only Sam Fuller Dared Showcase this sort of Anti-Establishment Message.

But with every WOW aspect there are Cringe Inducing, Dated, Amateurish Aspects like Post Production Dialog Dubbing (the film was shot silent), Awful Acting, Sub-Professional, Low-Brow Writing that Tries Unsuccessfully to be Philosophically Profound, and other Irritants Linked to No Budget, Rookie Filmmakers Straining to make it all Work.

Overall, it's the Stand-Out, Unconventional Style of the Director that Surfaces Throughout the Film that makes it a Must See for Film Students, Kubrick Devotees, and Anyone Interested in Primitive Art. However it is one of those that Must be Viewed in Context to Appreciate.
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Despite what many say, "Fear and Desire" is a hidden gem
darioilg12 January 2017
Stanley Kubrick's first feature film was thought lost for many years, but fortunately a copy has been restored and now anyone can watch the first work by maybe the greatest director of all time. Sure, "Fear and Desire" is no masterpiece as Kubrick's late works, not even close, but it still manages to somehow show the brilliance that surrounds the director's works. Set in a metaphoric place as the narrator urges us to know (and yes, that's the main problem of the film: it's too explanatory, something Kubrick will grow extremely away from), representing any war and not one in particular, showing how the event of falling into the enemy lines affects four soldiers, leading one to madness, another to the search for glory and so on. Although very heavily expository, the writing is not as bad as many (including the director himself!) say: the concepts are smart, but surely too stuffed into an hour's film. What I really think should be praised is the powerful idea of using the same actors to perform both sides of the conflict, building up an unsettling sequence close to the end of the movie, which also stands to mean that both sides of a war fight for the same values turned upside down.

Obviously, the true highlight of the film is the man behind the camera, with beautiful shots and careful cinematography. The kiddo was already off to a great start.
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War Changes Men
sol-18 December 2016
Trapped behind enemy lines, the stress of the situation has varying impacts on four soldiers in this existential war movie from Stanley Kubrick. The film marked the great director's feature debut, and poorly received at the time, Kubrick subsequently tried to suppress it, citing the film as the work of an amateur. This controversy has lead to the film acquiring a mixed reputation over the years, but it is a far more accomplished motion picture than one might expect. While not as stylistic and innovatively shot as 'Killer's Kiss', it actually spins a more engaging narrative, focusing on war from a psychological standpoint with memorable lines such as "enemies do not exist ... unless we call them into being". In an effective touch, Kubrick also lets the characters' narrated thoughts aloud overlap at certain points, and with the way the characters discuss and debate war, Samuel Fuller's superb 1950s war movies frequently come to mind. The film's biggest weakness is the acting. Virginia Leith is superb in a brief turn in which her close-up facial expressions convey more than words possibly could, but everyone else is uneven at best with dialogue delivery sometimes stilted. A renowned perfectionist, it is no surprise that Kubrick was dissatisfied with certain elements of the film, but had he not disowned it, it is unlikely that it would be as poorly received at it often is these days. The choice to not specify the actual war or any nationalities provides the story with a welcome universal quality that resonates strongly considering all the other wars that have occurred since 1953.
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Kubricks' First Feature Film that he tried to disown
t-dooley-69-38691622 November 2015
Made in 1954 this was Stanley Kubrick's first film and shortly afterwards he tried to disown it and not deciding not to re-release the print. However, it was processed by Kodak and they had a policy of making a spare copy for their archives and this is the version we see today. It is set during a fictitious war with fictitious armies and no explanation as to why they are at war.

Four soldiers are lost behind enemy lines and have to get back to their side. On the way they encounter the locals, the enemies air base and have to face up to a few demons of their own – not always successfully.

Now some have panned this film, whilst fans still rave about its authenticity etc. The main characters wear German WW II helmets with camouflage on them and are American – the enemy also speak English and are white American looking. The acting is very one dimensional with no one writing an Oscar acceptance speech. The concepts of fear and desire are examined but in a way that is far from in depth, but it still is watchable but is not a film I will be recommending to friends unless they are a massive Kubrick fan.
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Kubrick's flawed debut; still better than many 'art films'
GTeixeira5 August 2013
An apparently simple plot drives the directional debut of Stanley Kubrick. 'Fear and Desire' is a war drama about four soldiers trapped behind enemy lines.

Often maligned, both by critics and by Kubrick himself, 'Fear and Desire' is actually not a bad debut when all things are considered. Of course, for someone as perfectionist and detail-obsessed as Kubrick, this is probably something to be ashamed of. An 'amateurish work', as he said, and then went as far as to try to stop any and all public knowledge of this picture.

Why all that, though? The idea behind the film is actually worthwhile. The many themes that permeate Kubrick's body of work, like his dark study of the human nature, madness, and war itself; it is all in here.

On the other hand, Kubrick's visual and narrative style was still in construction; as it stands, this movie's cinematography and narrative actually felt more like it was trying to copy the likes of Eisenstein and Welles (and failing at that too). The acting, likewise, is very amateurish and over-the-top for the most part; in special, Paul Mazurksy in most of his scenes (it surprises me he was the one who eventually had the best career out of this film's actors). It doesn't help that the dialogue is bad to the point of being unintentionally funny.

Had it been done later in his career, when he had more experience and resources, it could actually have been a masterpiece.

Yet, this film still holds up to many art films.

Yes, the likes of Jean-Luc Godard, Michelangelo Antonioni, Wim Wenders... all these 'artists', with their slow and boring films but so full of philosophical meaning that 'intellectuals' love...

'Fear and Desire' could pass up as one of theirs anytime. In truth, if instead this very same film had been labeled as theirs, at some point in the middle or the prime of their careers, it could potentially be a classic now. The slow moving, dialogue heavy, 'larger-than-life' dramatic angle Kubrick tried is much more similar to an European artsy director's.

Kubrick's main mistake was trying something so big right at his first try. He had no experience in actual film making and very few resources to go with. A less pretentious approach, like he did in his second feature, 'Killer's Kiss', would have been a much better choice.

As it stands, 'Fear and Desire' is quite bad but still rather enjoyable and, of course, a must-see for Kubrick fans.

I'm sure that if Kubrick hadn't been so hateful of his own picture, it would be seen today on a better light.

The proof of that? The ending. Many dismiss it (and some even laugh at it) as Kubrick lacking resources for more actors, when it could as easily be seen as a powerful metaphor.
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Kubrick's Humble Beginnings
gavin694215 March 2013
Four soldiers trapped behind enemy lines must confront their fears and desires.

This was the beginning for one of the greatest directors in film history -- a beginning so humble, the project was financed by his father and uncle (making it a truly independent film in the best sense of the word).

Apparently Kubrick disowned the film after it was made and wanted all copies destroyed. Honestly, I did not find it to be as bad as all that. Sure, it is probably the simplest of his creations, but there is nothing so bad about it that it should have been scrapped.

For a while, the film was thought lost, then prints emerged, and for a while you could even watch a cruddy copy on YouTube. Finally, a decent copy has been released -- looking as bright and vibrant as could ever be hoped.
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Kubrick Discovering His Style
iquine24 December 2018
Warning: Spoilers
(Flash Review)

An assorted group of American Army troops are wandering around a live war zone looking for a way back to their countrymen. While they are fastening a raft to head downstream, they come across an enemy camp, three women washing clothes in the river, a small plane flying overhead that effects their objective all while worrying about being spotted. While they trudge on, the group has many introspective conversations about their lives, assorted musings, ramblings, worries, hopes and dreams. The film is sort of a take on the effect war has on soldiers' psyche. It often has eerie and striking music as well as a strange and deranged character or two and many nice cinematic moments with memorable editing and shot framing. The dialog is interesting as well and paints a colorful picture of the characters. This certainly shows Kubrick's potential as a director and the things that will come. Certainly worth a viewing for film geeks.
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A unique and poetic war movie, strongly underestimated by Kubrick himself
titobacciarini8 November 2018
Warning: Spoilers
The first film of one of the greatest masters in the history of cinema: "Fear And Desire" (1953) by Stanley Kubrick.


In a period of war with unstated antagonistic factions, four stateless soldiers crash over enemy lines and have to return to the base camp: Lieutenant Corby, an authoritarian man of valor and sound principles, the grumpy Sergeant Mac and the two privates Fletcher and Sidney. The group decides to build a raft and sail along the river, trying to evade enemy's defences, then stumble across a delta where they notice an outpost, in where there is an aircraft. During the patrol to secure the area in which they are located, the group first kills an enemy platoon with a surprise effect, stealing the food, then runs into a civilian girl in the bushes. So they decide to spare her life but at the same time they agree that letting her go is too risky and they divide: Sidney, the youngest of the group, will guard the girl, while the others go to the raft. The private, increasingly incapable of managing the heavy stress to which he is subjected, falls progressively into the madness that feeds his paranoid delirium. In the culmination of his raving, Sidney unties the helpless girl, misunderstanding her intentions and he's forced to shoot her when she tries to flee. Soon after comes the sergeant, who witnessed the hallucinatory and almost catatonic state of Sidney and, after obtaining a weird explanation of the events that had just happened, he observe the comrade fleeing into the bush, laughing hysterically. On the way back, Mac reveals what is accorded to the recruit, victim of the traumas arising from the actions committed and suffered. Driven by a patriotic thought and willing to assert himself in the field, he convinces Corby and Fletcher to act as bait on a suicidal mission to allow them to flee with the aircraft. After a poetic reflection of the sergeant, in which he convinces himself of his intention and prepares to embrace the almost certain death, he shoots and attracts enemy's fire to himself, while his two comrades flee by plane. In addition, Mac miraculously manages to save himself, escapes on the raft and rescues Sidney, accidentally crossed as he was wandering into the water. Corby and Fletcher then return to the rescue of Mac and, after agreeing that men are not made for the war, they hear the voice of Sidney and the survivors are found, still ranting and raving, next to the corpse of Mac.


The first work of a known maniacal perfectionist, does not surprise its concealment by Kubrick himself, embarrassed by a too young self-judged work, without the thorough precision of the subsequent works, despite having turned a very good debut movie and immediately obtaining the consensus of the critics. It is also the director's first approach to war and a prototype of the following "Paths Of Glory" but above all of "Full Metal Jacket" (a strong analogy in the psychology between the characters of Corby and Joker and respectively between Sidney and private Gomer Pyle), although it differs from both in the use of deeper and perhaps forced dialogues. Kubrick focuses on psychology of the soldiers through the use of a poetic narrative, brutal when necessary and culminating in the most authentic delirium, as if he wanted to show soldier's condition then metaphorically analyse it. The dialogues and thoughts expressed by the characters are therefore separated aphorisms and seek to decipher the oppression and fear that leads the privates to psychological torment and loss of their health and moral identity, putting issues on a social-philosophical dimension. The desire, in contrast, is probably interpreted as hope, that is what preserves the individual to fall victim to fear and prevents him from losing his reason. An overwhelming hallucinated and unaccountably interpretation, but inexplicably invisible, of Paul Mazursky, that allows the spectator to linger as much as possible on the delirium that distorts the personality and infests the mental health of the character of Sidney, supported by a photograph style characterised by a marked use of illumination on his face and equally strong contrasts during the darkest and suspence phases, such as the aggression against the enemy soldiers in the farmhouse (facts that strongly remind us of german Expressionism interpretations and illumination techniques). Turned skillfully, at a very low budget and with ingenious means of fortune, it consists in an extremely solid starting step both in its poetic philosophy and in its didactic intention as well as in its technical young, fresh and attractive components. The reflexive dialogues are made to achieve a bold goal, that is to explain the deepest and most primordial links between man and violence through the thoughts and psychological consequences arising from their relationship. Despite the lack of a sort of morality tending to an idea of catholic-american justice, it is one of the very few war movies where it is totally absent a component of propaganda, even minimal. This is supported by the lack of countries involved and therefore of precise factions that bind the soldiers to a certain political and philosophical thought, which makes the film extremely complete and gives it an objective and always current approach (even if, as somebody has marked, the enemy's uniforms could remind of nazis's ones).
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Not nearly as bad as Kubrick himself claimed
statesofunrest3 January 2018
Warning: Spoilers
I enjoyed this movie but I can see why Stanley Kubrick did his best to try to destroy every copy after it was released. It only exists today because at the time Kodak made a copy of the film before Kubrick could destroy every other copy in existence. It's good too because I think it is important to know Kubrick's origins as a movie-maker (outside of a few short documentaries) and definitely his first script that made it to the silver screen.

I guess I was most impressed that it was a movie from 1952. To put that into context, it's the same year that "Singing in the Rain" came out, and the ideas and film-making techniques presented here were way ahead of their time. I think that Stanley was maybe trying to put too many ideas into what is essentially a short film. It makes it feel much longer as your watching it than it actually is, and not always for the better.

Some of the problems I had, and these are more problems with being what is more or less a student film than anything else, some of the acting was poor, a few times it was a bit too obvious that the dubbing was done over the original sound (if there was sound originally, I'm not sure). I wish the girl had a bigger part. I wish Kubrick knew how to properly encode things here and didn't just spell everything out for the audience, then Kubrick wouldn't have felt so ashamed and this could have a Room 237 all its own. Okay, it probably wouldn't actually, I mean Dr. Strangelove is also heavily encoded but there's no "CRM 114" movie or something like that explaining how it's all a metaphor for Kubrick staging the Kennedy assassination or something equally as crazy.

I digress, I did enjoy the film, I liked that it focused mostly on a small group of men caught in a bad situation, but focused on them each as individuals as the movie went on. We saw how with one of them the pressure gets to be too much and what happens with them after. I liked the captain a lot who also ended playing the General, the enemy in the movie. I liked that it wasn't clear who was on which side for the entirety of the movie as the whole thing is meant as a metaphor for war itself rather than any war specifically. It's just that these things don't come off in the right way, I think. I know what he's going for, he's showing the horrors of war and the war itself doesn't matter, you'll notice they attack people who can't defend themselves, the General himself says "I surrender" before they kill him. In the context of their enemy, the men we follow are savages. I think it's not even clear whether they can even understand what the enemy soldiers say. I mean, after all, the woman they capture can't speak their language and her single-word only line in the movie, "boat," she says like she's just sounding out the words they are saying. It has some interesting scenes and I don't think Kubrick needed to be so hard on himself for making it.

I would recommend this to both fans of Kubrick and fans of movies from the 50s. For its time, it's really unique.
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Solid debut for Kubrick
charlieehrlich24 August 2017
Warning: Spoilers
Legendary director Stanley Kubrick made his feature debut with this allegorical drama about war. Four soldiers whose plane has crashed discover they're behind enemy lines in an unnamed country. Desperate to escape, they decide to build a raft and travel up the nearby river into allied country. However, their presence is discovered by a local woman who stumbles across them in the woods, and they learn that an enemy general is nearby, determined to flush them out. Stanley Kubrick served as producer, director, screenwriter, editor, and cinematographer on Fear and Desire, which he made on a budget of only $40,000. One of the soldiers was played by Paul Mazursky, who later went on to a distinguished directorial career of his own. Kubrick displayed little enthusiasm for his debut feature later in his career, and is said to have attempted to prevent it from being screened on several occasions
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OK for a beginner
patoclsdnn10 September 2015
I watched this film without high expectations, but it left me somewhat disappointed nonetheless (considering the massive character of Mr. Kubrik), the things I liked where the scenery and photography, which were beautifully shot and well represented.

The acting was pretty average, at some points even comical, lessening the impact of the intended serious, dark tones this war-piece wanted to create. The story wasn't too strong to begin with as well, the tale of a team lost amidst the war is not something completely revolutionary, perhaps it was back in the 50's, however after seeings many pieces set in war-time, this one falls short. It's an OK start for an iconic career.
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