The Elephant Man (1980) Poster


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The Elephant Man make-up took seven to eight hours to apply each day, and two hours to remove. Sir John Hurt would arrive on set at 5:00 a.m., and shoot from noon until 10:00 p.m. Because of the strain on the actor, he worked alternate days.
This film was Executively Produced by Mel Brooks, who was responsible for hiring Director David Lynch, and obtaining permission to film in black and white. He deliberately left his name off the credits, as he knew that people would get the wrong idea about the movie, if they saw his name on the film, given his fame as a satirist.
When Paramount studio executives were shown a cut of the film, they wanted the film's opening and closing surrealist sequences to be cut. Executive Producer Mel Brooks, according to Producer Stuart Cornfeld, said to them: "We are involved in a business venture. We screened the film for you, to bring you up to date as to the status of that venture. Do not misconstrue this as our soliciting the input of raging primitives."
David Lynch was working as a roofer at the time he was offered the chance to direct.
Merrick's condition was undiagnosed at the time of his death. Later studies of his skeleton, and the casts made of his body, led researchers to suggest he suffered from neurofibromatosis (NF) type I, a genetic condition, from which one in four thousand people suffer. The NF Foundation used the movie as a fund-raising tool, and credited it with making the disease more widely known. Later examination, including CT scans of the skeleton, lead researchers to believe he suffered from Proteus syndrome, a much rarer condition than NF. A scientist, in 2001, speculated that Merrick may have suffered from a combination of neurofibromatosis type I and Proteus syndrome. In 2003, researchers used surviving DNA samples from Merrick in an attempt to determine his unique condition. However, these tests were inconclusive, and the cause of Joseph "John" Merrick's medical condition remains unknown.
Following the death of the real Joseph "John" Merrick, parts of his body were preserved for medical science to study. Some internal organs were kept in jars, and plaster casts were taken of his head, an arm, and a foot. Although the organs were destroyed by German air raids during World War II, the casts survived,, and are kept at the London Hospital. The make-up for Sir John Hurt, who played Merrick in this film, was designed directly from those casts.
When the nominees for the 53rd Annual Academy Awards were announced in February 1981, many in the industry were appalled that this movie was not going to be honored for its make-up effects. At the time, there was not a regular make-up category, and winners for make-up were cited with a special award. Feeling that the make-up technicians deserved to be rewarded for this film, a letter of protest was sent to the Academy's Board of Governors to ask them to change their minds and give the film a special award. The Academy refused, but in response to the outcry, they decided a year later to reward make-up artists with their own annual category, and thus the best make-up award was born. Because of earlier restrictions, some other notable films did not receive Oscars for their make-up, notably Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931), The Wizard of Oz (1939), and The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939).
After the first day of shooting, when Sir John Hurt was exposed for the first time to the inconveniences of having his make-up applied, and walking around in it, he called his wife, saying, "I think they finally managed to make me hate acting."
Sir Anthony Hopkins' portrayal of Dr. Frederick Treves in this film, is reportedly what inspired Jonathan Demme to cast him as the evil Dr. Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs (1991). (Hopkins later said that he felt the sharing-and-caring role of Dr. Frederick Treves a rather dull one.)
Joseph "John" Merrick was a very intelligent and well-read gentleman. He loved to read and acted out scenes from pantomimes that he was taken to see. He often ended his correspondence to well wishers by quoting an Isaac Watts verse: "'Tis true my form is something odd, But blaming me is blaming God. Could I create myself anew, I would not fail in pleasing you. If I could reach from pole to pole, Or grasp the ocean with a span. I would be measured by the soul, The mind's the standard of the man." ~ Isaac Watts 1674-1748
The writers based this film on the memoirs of Dr. Frederick Treves, as well as other true accounts, but avoided the play by Bernard Pomerance. The true name of the Elephant Man was not John Merrick as most believe, but Joseph Carey Merrick. Merrick was born in Leicester, England on August 5, 1862, and died in the Royal London Hospital on April 11, 1890, at the age of twenty-seven. When Dr. Treves wrote his memoir, he referred to him as John. His handwritten manuscript reveals that Treves knew that Merrick's name was Joseph, and deliberately crossed out Joseph and replaced it with John. Merrick's surviving correspondence shows he signed his name as Joseph, and contemporary newspaper articles about his case refer to him by his correct name. Why Treves changed his name to John is unknown, but this movie is partly responsible for that continuing misconception.
When Frederick Treves sees Merrick for the first time, he sheds a single tear. Sir Anthony Hopkins thought of his sick father at that moment, to help him to cry.
The industrial scenes were all archive footage, as those factories were all gone by the time the film was made.
Due to the constrictive deformity of his mouth, Merrick never spoke as clearly in real-life, as he does in the film. Dr. Frederick Treves often had to act as Merrick's interpretor for visitors. Those who knew him well, such as hospital staff and friends, grew used to his impeded speech, but it remained indistinct, and worsened as Merrick's condition deteriorated.
As well as writing and directing the film, David Lynch also provided the musical direction and sound design.
In the film, Anne Bancroft plays actress Madge Kendall, and Sir John Gielgud plays Mr. Carr-Gomm, the hospital Governor. As a young man, Gielgud once performed on-stage with the real Madge Kendall.
David Lynch narrowed his choices for the film's Cinematographer down to two names; Christopher Challis, who was considered a safe pair of hands, or Freddie Francis, who Lynch considered to be a much more talented Cinematographer, but hadn't worked in that role since 1964. Lynch decided to go with his gut instinct and hire Francis after Producer Stuart Cornfeld told him that, "No one ever made it big by being a pussy."
David Lynch's first studio film and first commercial movie.
David Lynch originally wanted Sir John Hurt to wear a whole body suit to play Merrick, but the costume was too unwieldy, and unworkable to wear.
David Lynch originally tried to do the make-up for the Elephant Man, but wasn't able to.
DIRECTOR_CAMEO(David Lynch): When Merrick returns to London, he is chased by an angry mob, and flees underground. The shot of the crowd descending the stairs in pursuit features Lynch in full costume.
The real Merrick's London showman, Tom Norman, was not a brutal drunk, like the fictional "Bytes". Norman was a well-respected showman and founder of a temperance society. He and Joseph "John" Merrick were friends and business partners. Norman paid all of Merrick's expenses and split their earnings fifty-fifty. In a few weeks, Joseph saved up fifty pounds, as much as a typical working family made in a whole year. Ever since Treves wrote his memoirs with the character of the cruel showman, the Norman family has been appalled and embarked on a campaign to clear Tom Norman's good name. His granddaughter, Valerie, is eighty-two, and hopes to see his reputation restored before she passes away.
The last lines, spoken by Merrick's mother, are quoted from Alfred Lord Tennyson's poem, "Nothing Will Die."
A lifelong smoker, Sir John Hurt still managed to smoke his cigarettes through the heavy facial prosthetic make-up, whenever the urge came on, during the lengthy hours on-set.
One of two black-and-white films to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1981, the other was Raging Bull (1980). Both films lost to Ordinary People (1980).
The opening scene of Merrick's mother being attacked by an elephant is not factual. His deformities were the result of disease, and he was called "The Elephant Man" because of his lumpy skin. However, the idea of an elephant attack comes from the melodramatic speech originally delivered by Tom Norman to those who paid to see Merrick exhibited.
This film was based on two published works, "The Elephant Man and Other Reminiscences" (1923) by Sir Frederick Treves (who was played by Sir Anthony Hopkins) and "The Elephant Man: A Study in Human Dignity" (1973) by Ashley Montagu, published fifty years after Treves' book. This movie was released fifty-seven years after the former, seven years after the latter, and ninety years after the death of Joseph "John" Merrick (the Elephant Man), who died in 1890.
The film was nominated for eight Academy Awards including Best Picture. It is widely believed, had the Best Make-up category existed at the time, it would have won the Oscar for this.
Sir John Hurt kept the prosthetic cast of Joseph "John" Merrick's head after the shoot. He stored it in a cupboard in his house. Several years later, his house was burgled while was out, a friend phoned him and said, "There has been a burglary at your house." John asked what was taken, and the reply was, "Nothing! The robber must have opened the cupboard and the mask fell out! The burglar must have fled the scene in fright!"
Mel Brooks hired David Lynch to direct the film, because he admired Lynch's work in Eraserhead (1977).
Originally offered to Terrence Malick, but he passed.
It's around thirteen minutes into the film before John Merrick is seen, and around forty minutes in before he is heard speaking.
In the film, Merrick constructs his cardboard cathedral from scraps he finds in the rubbish. He bases his design on a view of St. Philips Church from his window. Actually, Merrick's rooms in Bedstead Square were around the corner from the church. Also, the real Merrick assembled his church from a prefab kit of Mainz Cathedral, Germany. However, it's a very difficult model with a lot of tiny pieces. Joseph's work is still a miracle, as he could only use his left hand and primitive tools. (It took a modern kit builder seventeen solid hours to assemble one, using both hands and modern tools.) Joseph Merrick's beautiful cathedral can still be seen at the Royal London Museum Archives, ironically in the basement of St. Philips.
Although critically acclaimed, there are some film critics (including Roger Ebert) who accuse the film of excessive sentiment. They tend to attribute it to David Lynch relying heavily on Frederick Treves' memoirs for source material.
Second consecutive black-and-white film for David Lynch, whose previous film was Eraserhead (1977).
This film is the reason why Bradley Cooper became an actor.
When Sir Anthony Hopkins shot the tearful reaction to encountering Merrick for the first time, Sir John Hurt wasn't on-set. Hopkins simply stared, unblinking, into a strong light, until a tear appeared.
Two actresses played Merrick's mother, Phoebe Nicholls and Lydia Lisle. Both received screen credit.
The idea that a fright to a mother can cause deformity in her child, can be found in medical textbooks from the 1950s.
This is the only film of David Lynch's not to feature any cast members from Twin Peaks (1990).
Kenny Baker, known mainly for playing R2-D2 from the Star Wars films, plays one of the dwarves from the carnival.
Karl Pilkington's favorite film.
The film was made and released around the time that another Elephant Man production was being performed, a stage play by Bernard Pomerance, which won the 1979 Tony Award for Best Play. This movie is not an adaptation of that play.
One documentary on the Elephant Man ended with a computer graphic extrapolation of what he might have looked like if he were not deformed: an image morphing from his actual face to a hypothetical one. This was done with a voiceover reading his famous poem, that ends with the line "The mind's the measure of the man".
One of two medical history movies made by Mel Brooks' Brooksfilms. The second was The Doctor and the Devils (1985). Brooks' wife Anne Bancroft appears in the film.
Joseph "John" Merrick (Sir John Hurt) is held prisoner by Mr. Bytes, played by Freddie Jones. In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (2010), Olivander (Hurt again) is held prisoner by the Malfoys, but rescued by Dobby, played by Toby Jones, Freddie's son.
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The film cast includes four Oscar winners: Sir Anthony Hopkins, Sir John Gielgud, Anne Bancroft, and Wendy Hiller; and one Oscar nominee: Sir John Hurt.
Sir John Hurt had previously played Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings (1978). His make-up in this film, inspired the look of Gothmog in The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003).
In the film, Anne Bancroft plays a theater actress. In real-life, Bancroft was a stage actress before starring in films.
This film united three British actors that were knighted by the Queen of England. They are Sir John Gielgud, Sir Anthony Hopkins, and Sir John Hurt.
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The original painting that was the basis of the artwork for the 1981 Van Halen album "Fair Warning" cover hangs in the hospital where this movie was filmed.
Helen Ryan, who played Princess Alex, also played the same person as Queen Alexandra in the miniseries Edward the King (1975).
Included among the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die", edited by Steven Schneider.
Trevor Howard was asked to play the Freddie Jones part.
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Sir Anthony Hopkins and Freddie Jones appeared in All Creatures Great and Small (1975).
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It is the only Best Picture Oscar nominee that year not to win any Academy Awards.
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In a 2008 interview with The Guardian about the making of the film, Mel Brooks recalled that David Lynch was unprepared for the bitter cold of the London winter and didn't have a suitable overcoat (which Brooks bought him), also that he couldn't adapt to not eating Bob's Big Boy burgers every day: "He's very obsessive-compulsive that way, but, you know, he did find a burger joint in London and he ate there every day, too". On the casting of Anne Bancroft, Brooks said, " She had already won the Oscar for The Miracle Worker (1962) and she was the producer's wife, so, no, she didn't have to audition. Are you crazy?"
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Sir John Hurt and Hannah Gordon had previously co-starred in the animated adaptation of Watership Down (1978).
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John Hurt also appears in Alien (1979) opposite Harry Dean Stanton, who has also worked extensively with David Lynch, having appeared in Wild at Heart (1990), Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992), Twin Peaks (2017), and The Straight Story (1999).
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The first of four times that Sir Anthony Hopkins played a doctor. He would do so again in The Silence of the Lambs (1991), Hannibal (2001), and Red Dragon (2002).
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Nula Conwell shared her memories of making "The Elephant Man" in a 2018 interview for "The Bill Podcast".
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Sir John Hurt and some of the cast later appeared in Doctor Who (1963) and Doctor Who (2005). Sir John Hurt played The War Doctor in the 50th anniversary special "The Day of the Doctor".
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Freddie Jones and Lesley Dunlop later starred in the British soap opera Emmerdale (1972) as Sandy Thomas and Brenda Walker.
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Frederick Treves: The great-nephew of Dr. Frederick Treves, appears in the opening scene as an Alderman trying to close down the freak show.


The trivia items below may give away important plot points.

Many of the events shown in the film never happened. Merrick was generally not ill-treated by his managers, and he certainly was never abducted from the hospital, as depicted in the film. The despicable night watchman (portrayed by the late Michael Elphick) never existed either. Merrick had a peaceful and generally uneventful, if short, life at the hospital.
The final scene with Joseph "John" Merrick going to sleep normally, features music from Adagio for Strings, used extensively in Platoon (1986).

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