Ceiling Hero

One bit of film-making in THE SUN ALSO RISES got me excited about the Henry King retrospective at this year’s Il Cinema Ritrovato festival in Bologna (mere weeks away!)

Ty Power stares gloomily at the ceiling of his Paris flat.

His POV:

Yes, that’s a Parisian ceiling alright.

Ty continues staring.

King wants to be really sure we’ve grasped this, because he’s about to do something unusual. So here’s a second view of the ceiling:

Slightly closer, also decentring the light because that’s not what Tyrone is interested in. If we’ve all grasped the concept that Ty is staring at the ceiling, perhaps we can move on –

Ty is REALLY staring at that damn ceiling, OK? You with me on this?


…King cuts to a DIFFERENT ceiling. Clearly different — no light, different lighting. Clearly, a 1957 audience is going to be confused. Even a 2019 audience isn’t going to know what’s going on yet.

And King cuts to Ty, under very different circumstances, staring at this new ceiling. We’ve gone into flashback BY DIRECT CUTTING. Albeit with a lot of careful set-up. But a year before LE BEAU SERGE and two years before LES QUATRE CENTS COUPS. Solidly pre-nouvelle vague.

The screenwriter is Peter Viertel, son of Berthold, a man steeped in cinema, and the idea may have come from him. But King went with it. The editor is William Mace, who also did some fairly turgid stuff at Fox but cut THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK which must have been an adventure. And Darryl F. Zanuck is the producer. Credit belongs with all of them because any of them could have messed it up or stopped it happening.

“It’s terrific!” as the CITIZEN KANE poster says.

5 Responses to “Ceiling Hero”

  1. David Wingrove Says:

    You have made me curious to try watching THE SUN ALSO RISES again. I have only ever seen bits of the movie, which I remember disliking almost – but not quite – as much as I dislike the novel.

    Hemingway said his preferred full title was THE SUN ALSO RISES – AND YOUR COCK, IF YOU HAVE ONE.

  2. Howard Curtis Says:

    In his autobiography “Dangerous Friends” (well worth reading, if you can find it), Peter Viertel is pretty scathing about Henry King and just about everybody involved in “The Sun Also Rises”, except for Ava Gardner.

  3. revelator60 Says:

    Viertel might have been mad about King interfering with his script. According to a somewhat self-serving interview in “Henry King, Director: From Silents to ‘Scope,” King found Viertel’s script too methodical, with too much backstory. Then another writer took a crack at the script. “He wrote the best first act I’ve ever seen in my life but then from there you didn’t know who was the bull and who was the bullfighter.” The screenplay was given to Ava Gardner, who happened to lived near Hemingway in Spain. Hemingway wired Darryl Zanuck “If you do this picture and call it The Sun Also Rises, with my name on it, I’ll sue you.”

    King told Zanuck, who hadn’t read the book, that the scripts were too far from the source. “I know the book and all these people. Hemingway is one of those writers who says something in the first chapter and something in the eighteenth and something in the twentieth that goes back to the first. Unless you play out that structure, you’ve lost Hemingway entirely.” He took detailed notes on the book and wrote a treatment before sitting down with Viertel to rework the script. Hemingway read the new draft and “thought ‘Now somebody understands Hemingway. He was tickled to death with it. Nobody took any bows.”

  4. Howard Curtis Says:

    As far as I recall, Viertel (who was a friend of Hemingway’s) thought King had no real conception of these characters, who were very far from his view of the world. He (Viertel) also thought that Tyrone Power and Errol Flynn were too old for their roles (the casting was Zanuck’s), that Robert Evans was totally inadequate as the bullfighter, and that the authenticity of the production suffered from being shot in Mexico standing in for Spain. And he certainly doesn’t mention anything in his book about sitting down with King to rework the script.

  5. Great! But nobody thought to record who came up with the flashback idea.

    It all seems very typical of the Hollywood approach, and my inclination would be to trust Viertel.

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