CLOSE

Stalemate At Suvla Bay

The First World War was an unprecedented catastrophe that shaped our modern world. Erik Sass is covering the events of the war exactly 100 years after they happened. This is the 196th installment in the series.  

August 6, 1915: Stalemate At Suvla Bay 

The repeated failure of Allied attacks against Turkish defensive positions at Cape Helles on the tip of the Gallipoli peninsula in June and July 1915 convinced the Allied commander at Gallipoli, Sir Ian Hamilton, that a fresh approach was required to shake up the strategic situation. The result was the second amphibious assault of the campaign, with four new British divisions wading ashore at Suvla Bay, about 12 miles north of the original landing sites, in an attempt to outflank the enemy and roll up Turkish defenses from behind (below, looking north towards Suvla Bay from ANZAC). This offensive came tantalizingly close to achieving its objective, but in the end “a miss was as good as a mile,” and the Turks were able to rush forward reinforcements, ending in yet another stalemate.

By the beginning of August 1915, the opposing forces on the Gallipoli Peninsula were roughly evenly matched. The Ottoman Fifth Army, repeatedly reinforced since April, now consisted of sixteen divisions numbering 250,000 men, but about a third of these were deployed across the straits, guarding the Asiatic side, or further north at the peninsula’s narrowest point on the eastern end of the Gulf of Saros. At the main battlefields of Cape Helles and ANZAC, eleven Turkish divisions (many under strength following hard fighting) occupied the trenches or were held in reserve nearby, facing the nine Allied divisions of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force with around 150,000 troops. 

However by late summer fresh British troops were finally becoming available with the mobilization of the first divisions from “Kitchener’s New Army,” formed from hundreds of thousands of volunteers who responded to Secretary of State for War Lord Kitchener’s patriotic call to duty beginning in late 1914. Kitchener agreed to send two of the new divisions, the 10th (Irish) and 11th (Northern), to Gallipoli to carry out the amphibious landing, as well as the 53rd (Welsh) and 54th (East Anglian Divisions) to reinforce them once on shore. Another New Army division, the 13th (Western), was already ashore at the ANZAC position. The other Allied forces on the peninsula would stage diversionary attacks to distract the Turks and tie down their forces during the landings. 

“Mechanical Death Run Amok”

The landings took the Turks by surprise: although the Ottoman and German commanders guessed a new amphibious assault was coming, they disagreed as to where it would fall, thanks in part to elaborate ruses by British intelligence agents. As a result Essat Pasha, commanding the Turkish III Corps in the center of the peninsula, believed it would hit further south near the promontory called Kabatepe, while Liman von Sanders, the German general commanding the Fifth Army, was convinced they would strike further north, near the town of Bulair on the Gulf of Saros.

Only one Turkish officer, 19th Division commander Mustafa Kemal (later Kemal Atatürk) correctly predicted that the Allies would land at Suvla Bay – but his colleagues dismissed the idea, arguing the Allies would never attack in an area with such strong natural defenses, with rugged hills looming over a wide, exposed coastal plain whose only feature was a shallow salt lake that was dry for most of the year. Consequently there were virtually no troops actually holding these wonderful defensive positions, with a thin covering force of just 1,500 Turks facing around 25,000 attackers in the first wave. 

Click to enlarge

The operation began at 2:20 pm on August 6, 1915 with a diversionary attack by the British 29th Division on the Turkish 10th Division at Cape Helles; for reasons that aren't clear, this "feint" snowballed into another actual attempt to capture Krithia on the hill range called Achi Baba. The British suffered thousands of casualties but continued the assault the following day with a fresh attack by the neighboring 42nd Division and the two French divisions against the Turkish 13th and 14th Divisions, again resulting in major casualties.

Meanwhile the ANZAC forces also staged diversionary attacks, beginning with an attack by the First Australian Division on the Turkish position called Lone Pine, near the southern tail of the Sari Bahr hill range, on the evening of August 6. Approaching via a tunnel secretly extended to within yards of the Turkish frontline, the Australians advanced about a thousand feet, but the attack ground to a halt after Essat Pasha sent the Turkish 5th Division to reinforce the 16th Division, then mount a counterattack. Over the next few days Lone Pine was the scene of incredibly fierce fighting, as described by William Tope, a soldier in the Australian First Division who sheltered behind the dead bodies of the first wave of attackers: 

It was about that spot where I got caught with a hail of bombs… and it was the pile of bodies there that sheltered me, otherwise I wouldn’t be here today… I thought the best thing would be for me to be down in this trench that had no men in it at all, where these bodies were, because I felt that the counterattack could come at any time. I’d hardly got into position before a positive avalanche of bombs fell, puncturing these bodies, and up on top you’d hear the air coming out of the ones up there. I think they were aiming for the bodies that they could see. I was sheltering behind them, and I was there for all that day and the next night… 

At the same time the British 13th Division and the combined New Zealand and Australian Division attacked first north and then east, up the slopes of the Sari Bahr hills, with the goal of reaching Hill 971 (above, New Zealand troops resting during the advance on Sari Bahr). These attacks served to tie down Turkish forces while the British 10th and 11th Divisions landed at Suvla Bay almost unopposed, from the evening of August 6 through the morning of the following day.

Amid some confusion (some brigades ended up landing on the wrong beaches) the British troops began advancing on both sides of the dry salt lake, with some crossing over the dried lakebed itself (below), but soon ran into stiffening resistance from the massively outnumbered but well-entrenched defenders in the hills above the plain. John Hargrave, a member of the British ambulance service, witnessed the advance from a ship just offshore: 

Puffs of smoke hung on the hills, and the shore was all wreathed in the smoke of rifle and machine-gun fire. A deadly conflict this—for one Turk on the hills was worth ten British down below on the Salt Lake. There was no glory. Here was Death, sure enough—Mechanical Death run amok—but where was the glory? Here was organised murder—but it was steel-cold! There was no hand-to-hand glory… The crack and crash was deafening, and it literally shook the air... it quivered like a jelly after each shot. 

Despite this the British had every chance of overwhelming the thinly-held Turkish positions here, clearing the way for an advance to the first day’s objective – the strategic hilltops of Kavak Tepe and Tekke Tepe, located just a few miles inland. From here they would be able to join forces with the ANZAC troops breaking out to advance up the Sari Bahr hills, capture the central heights of Hill 971, and proceed to the final objective of Mal Tepe on the other side of the peninsula. This would force the Turkish Fifth Army to withdraw before it was trapped, finally giving the Allies control of the Dardanelles and setting the stage for the conquest of Constantinople. 

Illustrated London News, via Illustrated First World War

But now disaster – or rather disastrous incompetence – struck. The British officer in charge of the Suvla Bay landings, Lieutenant-General Sir Frederick Stopford, had never commanded troops in combat before; he soon turned out to be one of the worst commanders of the war. After getting his two divisions ashore (he remained aboard his command yacht), instead of immediately pressing on to Kavak Tepe and Tekke Tepe, Stopford let the troops rest while supply teams finished unloading all their food, tents, mules, and other not-particularly-crucial items on shore.

As the men bathed in the sea and sunned themselves on the beach, precious hours passed, giving von Sanders a chance to rush two divisions (the 7th and 12th) south from Bulair to bolster the meager defensive force. On August 8 the British divisions gradually moved forward and captured one of the first defensive positions, called Chocolate Hill (below, British troops on Chocolate Hill), and on August 9-10 they were reinforced by the 53rd and 54th Divisions. One new arrival, John Gallishaw, later recalled the journey up to the front lines: “Under cover of darkness we moved away silently, until we came to the border of the Salt Lake. Here we extended, and crossed it in open order, then through three miles of knee high, prickly underbrush, to where our division was entrenched... From the beach to the firing line is not over four miles, but it is a ghastly four miles of graveyard.”

But it was already too late: 72 hours had passed and two more Turkish divisions, the 4th and 8th, had arrived from the southern part of the peninsula. In short, Stopford had frittered away the element of surprise for no good reason at all. His incompetence would cost thousands of lives. 

“Like Corn Before a Scythe” 

With the Suvla Bay landings inexplicably stalled, after its initial success on August 6 the ANZAC breakout ran into serious trouble in the days that followed, as the Turkish 5th, 9th, 16th, and 19th Divisions arrived and strengthened their defensive positions in the rough, broken terrain of the Sari Bahr hills. Nonetheless at dawn on August 7 the Australians continued to press the attack with an all-out assault on “The Nek,” a narrow ridge connecting two hilltops. The result was one of the bloodiest engagements of the Gallipoli campaign, as recalled by Lieutenant William Cameron, who saw the dismounted Australian 3rd Light Horse Brigade charging the Turkish positions on foot: 

We saw them climb out and move forward about ten yards and lie flat. The second line did likewise ... As they rose to charge, the Turkish Machine Guns just poured out lead and our fellows went down like corn before a scythe. The distance to the enemy trench was less than 50 yards yet not one of those two lines got anywhere near it.

Things weren’t going much better elsewhere. Gerald Hurst, an officer with a battalion of Manchesters, described a futile assault on the Turkish positions at Cape Helles on August 7: “It was at once obvious that our guns had been unable to affect the strength and resisting power of the enemy's front line. Each advancing wave of the Manchesters was swept away by machine-gun fire. A few of them gallantly reached the Turkish trenches and fell there.” 

In fact the battle was only just beginning. By the morning of August 8 the Turks had created a very strong defensive position on top of the second tallest ridge in the Sari Bahr range, called Chunuk Bahr, which the ANZAC forces and British troops of the 13th Division had to capture for the rest of the plan to work. The New Zealand Brigade of the New Zealand and Australian Division carried out the main assault uphill against the Turkish positions and suffered severe casualties, but finally managed to dig in near the hilltops as reinforcements from the 13th Division began to arrive. One British officer, Aubrey Herbert, witnessed part of the battle from a distance: 

We saw our men in the growing light attack the Turks. It was a cruel and beautiful sight, for it was like a fight in fairyland; they went forward in parties through the beautiful light, with clouds crimsoning over them. Sometimes a tiny, gallant figure would be in front, then a puff would come and they would be lying still… Meanwhile, men were streaming up, through awful heat.

In the afternoon of August 8 a naval bombardment forced the Turks off the hilltops, which New Zealand, British, and Indian Gurkha troops now occupied. From here they could see the glinting surface of the Dardanelles and "The Narrows" on the other side of the peninsula; their goal was in sight. But they wouldn’t hold their hard-won prize for long: the Turks, fully aware of Chunuk Bahr’s strategic importance, were determined to get it back whatever the cost.

Click to enlarge

On August 10, Mustafa Kemal (now in charge of several divisions) launched a furious counterattack by the Turkish 8th and 9th Divisions, supported by artillery on the nearby Hill 971. The attack culminated in a dramatic charge by the Turkish infantry, while British naval bombardment rained shells on the blood-soaked hilltop. Kemal later recalled:

Chonkbayir [Chunuk Bair] was turned into a kind of hell. From the sky came a downpour of shrapnel and iron. The heavy naval shells sank deep into the ground, then burst, opening huge cavities all around us. The whole of Chonkbayir was enveloped in thick smoke and fire. Everyone waited for what Fate would bring. I asked one commander where his troops were. He replied, “Here are my troops – those who lie dead around us.” 

The British and ANZAC units holding the hilltop were simply wiped out of existence by the Turkish artillery and repeated infantry charges. Herbert noted the incredible cost of the battle: “The N.Z. Infantry Brigade must have ceased to exist. Meanwhile the condition of the wounded is indescribable. They lie in the sand in rows upon rows, their faces caked with sand and blood… there is hardly any possibility of transporting them… Some unwounded men almost mad from thirst, cursing.”

Click to enlarge

Sir Compton Mackenzie, an official observer with the British forces at Gallipoli, recorded similar impressions after the battle for Chunuk Bahr: “I went back outside the hospital, where there were many wounded lying. I stumbled upon poor A.C. (a schoolfellow), who had been wounded about 3 a.m. the day before, and had lain in the sun on the sand all the previous day… It was awful having to pass them. A lot of the men called out: “We are being murdered.” 

After achieving initial surprise, the British landings at Suvla Bay and the coordinated attack from ANZAC had once again resulted in stalemate, at a cost of 25,000 British casualties versus 20,000 for the Turks in just the period August 6-10 alone. Attacks and counterattacks would continue into late August, as both sides received reinforcements at Suvla Bay and ANZAC, (above, part of British 2nd Mounted Division forms up at Suvla on August 18; below, a New Zealand machine gunner at Sari Bahr in late August) – but there would be no significant changes in the frontline from now until the end of the Gallipoli campaign. 

The failure of the landings at Suvla Bay spelled not only doom for the Gallipoli campaign, but also the demise of any hope for a quick victory over the Central Powers. It was clear now that the Allied generals and politicians were out of ideas, and that the war would go on for years, spelling the end of the old way of life. Mackenzie recalled:

There was no vestige of hope left in my mind that the Suvla Landing could now succeed. I felt as if I had watched a system crash to pieces before my eyes, as if I had stood by the deathbed of an old order… The war would last now until we had all turned ourselves into Germans to win it. An absurd phrase went singing through my head. We have lost our amateur status to-night.

See the previous installment or all entries.

Original image
Warner Bros.
arrow
entertainment
15 Things You Might Not Know About One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
Original image
Warner Bros.

Milos Forman's One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, which premiered on this day in 1975, won critical acclaim, box office success, and a shelf full of Oscars. But even if you love the complex exploration of life inside a 1960s psychiatric hospital, there are a few things you may not know about its behind-the-scenes story. 

1. CUSTOMS NEARLY DOOMED THE PROJECT. 

Despite the middling success of the 1963 stage adaptation of Ken Kesey’s novel starring Kirk Douglas, Hollywood legend Douglas was dead set on adapting the story for the screen. Douglas contacted Czech director Miloš Forman about the project, promising to send Forman a copy of the book for his perusal. 

Douglas mailed Forman the novel, but the package was confiscated by Czechoslovakian customs and never reached the director. Unaware of the parcel’s fate, the filmmaker resented Douglas’ broken promise, and Douglas thought Forman rude for never bothering to confirm receipt of the novel. It took a decade to sort the mess out, and things only cleared up when Kirk’s son Michael Douglas took another crack at production and contacted Forman once more. 

2. ONE STUDIO WANTED TO CHANGE THE ENDING.

When producers were shopping the picture to studios, 20th Century Fox was interested, but with a catch. Fox would distribute the film, but only if the filmmakers would agree to rewrite the ending; the studio wanted McMurphy to live. Producers Saul Zaentz and Michael Douglas wisely considered this a deal breaker, and United Artists eventually distributed the film.

3. JACK NICHOLSON AND LOUISE FLETCHER WERE NOT THE FIRST CHOICES FOR THEIR CHARACTERS. 


Warner Bros.

When Kirk Douglas spearheaded the first attempt to bring One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest to life on the big screen in the 1960s, he had intended to play the Randle Patrick McMurphy role himself, just as he had on stage. When production began in earnest 10 years later, Douglas was too old for the part, leaving director Forman to consider and contact the likes of Gene Hackman, Marlon Brando, and (his personal favorite) Burt Reynolds before finally settling on Jack Nicholson.

A number of different actresses were considered for the role of Nurse Ratched, the film’s central antagonist, as well: Anne Bancroft, Colleen Dewhurst, Geraldine Page, and Angela Lansbury were all in the running, before Louise Fletcher ultimately got the part. 

4. LOUISE FLETCHER CHANGED FORMAN’S VIEW ON THE CHARACTER. 

Forman’s original view of Nurse Ratched was as “the personification of evil,” a characterization that made Louise Fletcher a bad fit for the part in the filmmaker’s mind. As Fletcher pressed for the role, Forman’s perspective of Ratched evolved: “I slowly started to realize that it would be much more powerful if it’s not this visible evil,” he said. “That she’s only an instrument of evil. She doesn’t know that she’s evil. She, as a matter of fact, believes that she’s helping people.” This new take on the character paved the way for the official casting of Fletcher. 

5. SEVERAL OF THE FILM’S STARS WERE NOT ACTORS. 

Following the production team’s decision to use Oregon State Hospital as its shooting location, the producers hit on the idea of casting facility superintendent Dr. Dean Brooks as Dr. John Spivey, the doctor charged with assessing R. P. McMurphy’s psychological health. Brooks agreed to play what turned out to be a sizable role, though it would be the only acting job he would ever take. He also helped secure employment for many of his hospital’s patients as extras and crew members during production. 

Mel Lambert, another non-actor, was wrangled to play the harbormaster who protested McMurphy’s ad hoc fishing trip. What’s more, Lambert—a respected area businessman who had a strong relationship with the local Native American community—introduced the production team to Will Sampson, the 6-foot-5-inch-tall Muscogee painter who would make his acting debut as the major character Chief Bromden. 

6. THE STARS LIVED ON THE WARD DURING PRODUCTION. 


Warner Bros.

All of the actors who played patients actually lived on the Oregon State Hospital psychiatric ward throughout production. The men personalized their sleeping quarters, spent their days on campus “get[ting] a sense of what it was to be hospitalized” (as actor Vincent Schiavelli put it), and interacting with real psychiatric patients. 

7. MANY SCENES WERE SHOT WITHOUT THE ACTORS’ KNOWLEDGE. 

To complete this realistic immersion, Forman led his performers in unscripted group therapy sessions in which he directed the actors to develop their characters’ psychological maladies organically. He would often capture footage of the actors, both in and out of character, without explicitly mentioning that the cameras were rolling. The film’s final cut includes a shot of a visibly irritated Fletcher reacting to a piece of direction fed to her by Forman. 

8. FORMAN AND NICHOLSON HAD A TREMENDOUS SPAT OVER THE FILM’S PLOT. 

While the intensity of the turmoil varies from rumor to rumor, reports from the set were consistent on one fact: The star refused to speak with Forman for a large chunk of the production process. Nicholson took issue with Forman’s suggestion that the hospital inmates would be an unruly bunch upon the initial arrival of McMurphy. Instead, the actor insisted that such disavowal of the medical staff’s authority should only begin after the introduction of McMurphy into their lives and routines. 

Although the version of the story that we see in the film today is more closely associated with Nicholson’s alleged reading, suggesting that Forman ultimately took his advice, Nicholson refused to interact with his director from that point forward. When the star and Forman needed to communicate with one another, they used cinematographer Bill Butler as a middleman. 

9. DANNY DEVITO CREATED AN IMAGINARY FRIEND DURING PRODUCTION. 


Warner Bros.

Emotionally strained by a demanding shooting schedule that kept him 3000 miles from his future wife, Rhea Perlman, DeVito developed the coping mechanism of an imaginary friend with whom he would have nightly chats. Concerned that his own sanity might be slipping away, DeVito sought the advice of Dr. Brooks, who assured him that there was no reason to worry as long as DeVito could still identify the character as fictional. 

10. THE CREW WAS WORRIED ABOUT THE SANITY OF ONE CAST MEMBER.

While Dr. Brooks had no concerns about DeVito, he echoed the rest of the cast and crew’s apprehensions about the psychological state of Sydney Lassick, who played Charlie Cheswick. Lassick exhibited increasingly unpredictable and emotionally erratic behavior during his time in character, a pattern that culminated in a tearful outburst during his observation of the final scene between Nicholson and Sampson. Lassick became so overwhelmed during the scene that he had to be removed from set. 

11. FLETCHER TOOK OFF HER CLOTHES IN ORDER TO GET FRIENDLIER WITH HER CO-STARS.

Envious of the camaraderie her male costars had forged, and hoping to dispel any associations with her tyrannical character, Fletcher surprised the cast one evening by ripping off her dress on the crowded ward. Years later, the actress laughed about the display, saying, “‘I’ll show them I’m a real woman under here, you know.’ I think that must have been what I was thinking.” 

12. THE FISHING TRIP SCENE BARELY MADE IT INTO THE FILM. 

Initially, Forman was vocally opposed to including a scene that took place beyond the grounds of the hospital out of concerns that a temporary liberation would undercut the dramatic force of the film’s ending. In the end, Zaentz convinced Forman to shoot the fishing trip sequence. It was the final scene filmed and the only piece shot out of chronological order. 

One thing to look for in the fishing scene: A very subtle Anjelica Huston cameo. Huston, who was dating Nicholson during production, has a nonspeaking role as one of the spectators on the dock as McMurphy and his fellow patients steer the stolen boat back to shore. 


Warner Bros.

13. ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST WAS THE FIRST FILM TO WIN ALL “BIG FIVE” ACADEMY AWARDS IN 41 YEARS.

Not since 1934's It Happened One Night swept the Oscars had a film walked away with awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Screenplay. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest took home the lot, with Nicholson and Fletcher winning the top acting awards. The feat would not be matched again for another 16 years, with Silence of the Lambs becoming the next (and last to date) movie to earn the distinction. 

14. THE FILM ENJOYED ONE OF THE LONGEST THEATRICAL RUNS IN MOVIE HISTORY. 

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was revered worldwide, but Swedish viewers developed an especially soft spot for the film. Cuckoo’s Nest remained a regular option for Swedish moviegoers through 1987—11 years after its initial release. 

15. KESEY REFUSED TO SEE THE FILM (BUT MAY HAVE BY ACCIDENT). 

The poster child for the “the book was better” movement, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest author Kesey disapproved of a big screen adaptation of his novel as soon as he found out that the filmmakers had abandoned the use of Chief Bromden as the story’s narrator. Kesey never intended to see the movie, but one story says he inadvertently caught a few moments during a bout of channel surfing one evening. Once Kesey realized what he was watching, he promptly changed stations.

According to fellow novelist Chuck Palahniuk (who has famously praised director David Fincher’s adaptation of his novel Fight Club, plot changes and all), Kesey once stated privately that he did not care for the material.

Original image
Tim P. Whitby/Getty Images
arrow
entertainment
30 Facts About Your Favorite Martin Scorsese Movies
Original image
Tim P. Whitby/Getty Images

In the pantheon of iconic American film giants, Martin Scorsese gets to sit at the head of the table and carve the turkey. In a career spanning 50 years, he has created some of the most visually spectacular and quote-worthy material ever put on celluloid. To celebrate the auteur’s 75th birthday, here are 30 facts about some of your favorite Scorsese movies. Ready? Great… now go home and get your #@$%ing shinebox!

1. MUCH OF THE MEAN STREETS BUDGET WENT TO ITS SOUNDTRACK.

Clearing songs for 1973's Mean Streets ate up almost half of the film's $500,000 budget. Staying true to his well-documented love of rock, Scorsese used tunes by The Ronettes, Eric Clapton, and The Rolling Stones for the soundtrack. “For me, the whole movie was 'Jumping Jack Flash' and 'Be My Baby,'" the director said in Scorsese on Scorsese.

2. LAURA DERN HAD A TINY ROLE IN ALICE DOESN’T LIVE HERE ANYMORE.

Future Oscar nominee Laura Dern made one of her earliest, albeit uncredited, appearances toward the end of Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. Working alongside her mother, Diane Ladd, Dern—who was seven years old at the time—played a little girl eating a banana-flavored ice cream cone at Mel’s Diner. It took 19 takes to get the shot, which required Dern to consume 19 ice cream cones. Impressed by the budding actress, Scorsese told Ladd that “if she doesn’t throw up after [19 takes’ worth of cones], this girl is ready to be an actress.”

3. THE “YOU TALKIN’ TO ME?” SCENE FROM TAXI DRIVER CAME FROM BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN.

Robert De Niro improvised that whole paranoid monologue, including what would become the movie’s most famous line. (The film's screenwriter, Paul Schrader, later said, “It’s the best thing in the movie, and I didn’t write it.”) De Niro got the line from Bruce Springsteen, whom he’d seen perform in Greenwich Village just days earlier, at one in a series of concerts leading up to the release of Born to Run. When the audience called out his name, The Boss did a bit where he feigned humility and said, “You talkin’ to me?” Apparently it stuck in De Niro’s mind.

4. MUCH OF NEW YORK, NEW YORK WAS IMPROVISED (WHICH MAY HAVE BEEN ITS DOWNFALL).

In 1977, Scorsese released New York, New York. What was meant to be an epic musical turned out to be one of the director’s biggest bombs, due partly to the fact that the normally very regimented director decided to take a more improvisational approach to the film. “I tried to have no idea at all what I was going to do, as much as possible, on the day of shooting—as opposed to having a fairly strong idea of what I was going to do,” he said. “I was really testing the limits … I had a very chaotic style, on purpose, on New York, New York. And I found it didn't work for me."

5. A LOT OF FAMOUS CINEMATOGRAPHERS WERE INVOLVED IN THE MAKING OF THE LAST WALTZ.

The seven 35mm camera operators who shot The Last Waltz, Scorsese's 1978 concert documentary, included Michael Chapman (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull), Vilmos Zsigmond (Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Deer Hunter), and László Kovács (Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces). Scorsese and Robbie Robertson (who also served as a producer) came up with a 300-page shooting script of diagrams and text that assigned the camera positions with the music lyrics and cues. According to the film's production notes, it was the first music documentary made on 35mm.

6. JOE PESCI WAS RUNNING AN ITALIAN RESTAURANT WHEN SCORSESE AND ROBERT DE NIRO APPROACHED HIM ABOUT RAGING BULL.

Joe Pesci had been a professional actor and musician (he sang and played guitar) off and on since childhood, but he called it quits in the 1970s. His 1975 Broadway show with comedy partner Frank Vincent (whom he would later recruit to play Salvy in Raging Bull) had closed after a week, and his first movie, 1976’s The Death Collector (also featuring Vincent), was a flop. But Robert De Niro happened to see that film in 1978, and was so impressed by Pesci’s performance that he pitched him to Scorsese. The two tracked Pesci down and called him at his restaurant to coax him out of showbiz retirement to co-star in Raging Bull.

7. SCORSESE INITIALLY DIDN’T SEE HOW THE SCRIPT FOR THE KING OF COMEDY WOULD WORK AS A MOVIE.

Robert De Niro passed Paul D. Zimmerman’s script for The King of Comedy on to Scorsese, hoping that he could interest him in directing it. "I didn't get it," Scorsese later admitted. "The script is hilarious. But the movie was just a one-line gag: You won't let me go on the show, so I'll kidnap you and you'll put me on the show.” Eventually, he came to see how it could be turned into a feature.

8. GRIFFIN DUNNE HAD TO GIVE UP, WELL, PRETTY MUCH EVERYTHING TO STAR IN AFTER HOURS.

In order to capture the desperation and paranoia to play word processor Paul Hackett in After Hours (1985), Scorsese gave star Griffin Dunne some very specific instructions. “I was at a symposium with Marty Scorsese and he said, ‘I really had to be hard on Griffin for this part. I said, no sex, no going out, none of it,’” Cher told People at the movie’s after-party. “It must have worked,” she added. “He’s so good at being frustrated.”

9. IT WAS PAUL NEWMAN WHO APPROACHED SCORSESE ABOUT THE COLOR OF MONEY.

Walter Tevis had written the book The Hustler and its sequel, The Color of Money, yet Paul Newman didn’t care for the adapted screenplay to the latter. So Newman went to Scorsese, as he was a fan of his work, particularly Raging Bull, which he felt had a similar tone to what The Color of Money should be.

10. SCORSESE GOT THE IDEA FOR GOODFELLAS WHILE SHOOTING THE COLOR OF MONEY.

In a rare moment of downtime on The Color of Money set, "I read a review of [Nicholas Pileggi's] Wiseguy ... and it said something about this character Henry Hill having access to many different levels of organized crime because he was somewhat of an outsider," Scorsese told Rolling Stone. "He looked a little nicer. He was able to be a better frontman and speak a little better. I thought that was interesting, because you could get a cross section of the layers of organized crime—from his point of view, of course. So I got the book, started reading it and was fascinated by the narrative ability of it."

11. THE FAMOUS “FUNNY HOW?” SCENE IN GOODFELLAS WASN’T IN THE SCRIPT.

The most famous (and certainly the most quoted) scene in Goodfellas comes at the beginning, when Pesci's Tommy DeVito jokingly-yet-uncomfortably accosts Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) for calling him "funny." In addition to being the driving force behind the scene on screen, Pesci is also responsible for coming up with the premise.  

While working in a restaurant, a young Pesci apparently told a mobster that he was funny—a compliment that was met with a less-than-enthusiastic response. Pesci relayed the anecdote to Scorsese, who decided to include it in the film. Scorsese didn't include the scene in the shooting script so that Pesci and Liotta’s interactions would elicit genuinely surprised reactions from the supporting cast.

12. STEVEN SPIELBERG TRADED CAPE FEAR TO MARTIN SCORSESE FOR THE RIGHTS TO SCHINDLER'S LIST.

Scorsese was set to direct Schindler's List, but was apprehensive about making it after the controversy surrounding his previous two films, Goodfellas and The Last Temptation of Christ. At the same time, Steven Spielberg was set to make Cape Fear, but decided that he "wasn't in the mood" to make a movie about a "maniac." So they traded projects. Spielberg had Bill Murray in mind to play Max Cady. Scorsese had other ideas.

13. THE CASINO OPENING TITLES WERE DESIGNED BY THE LEGENDARY SAUL BASS.

Saul Bass is certainly the most famous (and possibly the only) well-known designer of opening credit sequences, with more than 50 to his name. If there was a movie in the '50s or '60s with distinctive opening titles, odds are good that it was Bass's work, often in conjunction with his wife, Elaine. (Among them: Vertigo, Psycho, North by Northwest, West Side Story, Spartacus, and It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.) Bass did the titles for Scorsese's Goodfellas, Cape Fear, The Age of Innocence, and Casino, which turned out to be the final film of his career. He died five months after the film opened, at the age of 75. 

14. GANGS OF NEW YORK WAS 32 YEARS IN THE MAKING.

Scorsese read Herbert Asbury’s 1928 nonfiction book The Gangs of New York: An Informal History of the Underworld in 1970 and immediately thought it would make a good movie. He didn’t have any money or clout yet though, so he had to wait. He bought the movie rights to the book in 1979, and even got a screenplay written around that time, then spent the next 20 years trying to get the project off the ground.

15. THE DEPARTED IS A REMAKE.

While Scorsese and screenwriter William Monahan claim they did not watch the 2002 Hong Kong action movie Infernal Affairs before making The Departed, the two films share more than a few similarities. Infernal Affairs director Andy Lau unsurprisingly prefers his own film, saying of The Departed, “Of course I think the version I made is better, but the Hollywood version is pretty good too.” 

16. “GIMME SHELTER” IS SCORSESE’S UNOFFICIAL GANGSTER THEME SONG.

Before The Departed, Scorsese had previously used the Rolling Stones song in Goodfellas and Casino. It seems Billy Costigan loves the Stones, too; the CD that he mails to Sullivan is housed in the case for the Rolling Stones album Exile on Main Street.

17. MEAN STREETS TOOK ITS TITLE FROM A RAYMOND CHANDLER ESSAY.

Originally titled Season of the Witch, the film’s name was changed to Mean Streets from a line from Raymond Chandler’s 1944 essay “The Simple Art of Murder.” Writing about the art of storytelling and plumbing the depths of humanity, Chandler wrote. “In everything that can be called art there is a quality of redemption. It may be pure tragedy, if it is high tragedy, and it may be pity and irony, and it may be the raucous laughter of the strong man. But down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid.”

18. DE NIRO WANTED TO MAKE RAGING BULL AS A PLAY, TOO.

This was in early 1978, before it was even written as a movie yet, when De Niro was collaborating with Mardik Martin to adapt LaMotta’s memoir, while simultaneously trying to convince a noncommittal and increasingly drug-addled Scorsese to take on the project. De Niro’s idea was to stage it as a Broadway play (to be directed by Scorsese), and then, during the run of the show, spend the daylight hours shooting the movie. De Niro liked the idea of the day’s filming influencing the way they performed the play that night. But Martin’s script wasn’t yet ready for either medium, and Scorsese was in no shape to do it then anyway. 

19. SCORSESE WAS WORKING ON NEW YORK, NEW YORK AT THE SAME TIME HE WAS MAKING THE LAST WALTZ.

Scorsese was supposed to be in New York editing the Liza Minnelli/Robert De Niro musical drama when he was in San Francisco preparing and shooting The Last Waltz. According to Scorsese, New York, New York producer Irwin Winkler was "very upset" when he learned this.

20. CHANDELIERS FROM GONE WITH THE WIND WERE USED ON THE LAST WALTZ.

The performance recorded for The Last Waltz was designed by Boris Leven, who has served as production designer on West Side Story (1961) and The Sound of Music (1965). Leven created a backdrop inspired by the films of Luchino Visconti (Death In Venice, The Leopard), borrowing props from the San Francisco Opera's production of La Traviata and chandeliers designed for Gone with the Wind. Robertson wasn't sold on the elaborate decor. He told Leven, "Chandeliers? I don't think that's going to go over with Neil or Bob or the rest of the musicians. These people don't do chandeliers, Boris."

21. THE FIRST SCENE SHOT FOR GOODFELLAS WASN’T DIRECTED BY SCORSESE. 

As you might know, the business of filming is rarely chronological—directors tend to jump scenes for cost, scheduling, and efficiency reasons. For Goodfellas, the scene that broke shooting ground was the intentionally low-budget Morrie’s Wigs commercial, which plays just before Henry and Jimmy hassle Morrie about a debt near the beginning of the film. To get the feel of the commercial right, Scorsese contacted Stephen R. Pacca, who had created his own ultra low-budget ads for his replacement window company, to write and direct the Morrie’s Wigs ad. 

22. REESE WITHERSPOON BLEW HER CAPE FEAR AUDITION. SO DID DREW BARRYMORE.

"It was my second audition ever," Witherspoon said in 1999. "My agent told me I'd be meeting Martin Scorsese. I said, 'Who is he?' Then he mentioned the name Robert De Niro. I said, 'Never heard of him.' When I walked in I did recognize De Niro, and I just lost it. My hand was shaking and I was a blubbering idiot.''

Drew Barrymore auditioned for the role, too, but believed she overacted for one of Scorsese's assistants. In 2000, she called the audition "the biggest disaster" of her life and said that Scorsese thinks she's "dog doo-doo" because of it.

23. GEORGE LUCAS HELPED WITH SCORSESE OUT WITH AN ELEPHANT PROBLEM FOR GANGS OF NEW YORK.


ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images

The Star Wars creator, then working on Attack of the Clones, had visited the massive set in Rome and told Scorsese that it was probably the last of its kind, that such large re-creations would be done on computers now to save money. Lucas’s know-how in such matters came in handy later, when Gangs needed an elephant and none of the animal wranglers in Italy were able to produce one in time. So Scorsese called his old friend Lucas and asked for help: “We’re effed," Scorsese told Lucas. "We don’t have [an] elephant! Tell us how to shoot it!” Lucas, an old pro at such things, guided them through the process of filming without the elephant and having it digitally created later. It’s the only thing in the movie that’s completely computer-generated. 

24. SCORSESE WAS INSPIRED TO CAST GWEN STEFANI IN THE AVIATOR AFTER SEEING HER PICTURE ON THE SIDE OF A BUS SHELTER.

The Marilyn Monroe-inspired pictures, taken by Herb Ritts for a Teen Vogue cover, caught Scorsese's eye. Stefani told MTV the story, as she heard it from DiCaprio. “Martin Scorsese’s driving in New York City and he sees my Teen Vogue cover on the side of a bus stop shelter. And he’s like, ’Who’s that girl? Let’s get her!’ I had Leonardo DiCaprio tell me the whole story in Martin Scorsese’s voice, so it was pretty bizarre.” Stefani portrayed Jean Harlow; it was her first film role. 

25. BERNARD HERRMANN DIED JUST A FEW HOURS AFTER RECORDING THE MUSIC FOR TAXI DRIVER.

Scorsese was lucky to get Bernard Herrmann, a Hollywood legend who had scored Citizen Kane, Psycho, Cape Fear, North by Northwest, and dozens of others. Herrmann wrote the Taxi Driver score and conducted the recording sessions himself, finishing in Los Angeles on the evening of December 23, 1975. He retired to his hotel and died sometime during the night, officially Christmas Eve morning, at the age of 64. He was posthumously nominated for an Oscar. 

26. DANIEL DAY-LEWIS WAS TRAINED BY REAL BUTCHERS FOR GANGS OF NEW YORK, BECAUSE OF COURSE HE WAS.


Miramax

Ever the Method actor, Day-Lewis first took lessons from two Argentine brothers with a butcher shop in Queens, then from a master butcher specially flown in from London.

27. SCORSESE THREATENED TO TAKE HIS NAME OFF OF RAGING BULL OVER ONE MINOR SOUND ISSUE. 

Very late in the post-production process, when the film was due to premiere soon and Scorsese was still tinkering with the final sound mix, producer Irwin Winkler gave him a drop deadline: All work would cease at midnight on a certain night, and that would be it. When the hour arrived, Scorsese was obsessing over one minor line of dialogue someone says to a bartender —“Cutty Sark, please”—which he didn’t think was audible. Winkler told him too bad, we’ve got to send this thing out. Scorsese declared that if Winkler released the film this way, he wanted his name taken off it as director, because it no longer reflected his vision. Winkler said, “So be it.” Like all good producers, he knew that sometimes you have to let an overtired director throw a tantrum and say things he doesn’t really mean. Sure enough, Scorsese recanted sometime later.

28. SCORSESE AVOIDED AN X RATING ON TAXI DRIVER BY MAKING THE BLOOD LOOK MORE BROWN THAN RED. 

Scorsese desaturated the color in the film’s gorier scenes, rendering the blood less realistic and more like a black-and-white tabloid newspaper (without actually being black-and-white). Not only did it fit the lurid tone he was going for, it soothed the nerves of the ratings board. 

29. CATE BLANCHETT DID HER HOMEWORK FOR THE AVIATOR.


Miramax

At Scorsese's request, Blanchett watched all of Hepburn's first 15 movies for The Aviator. Blanchett also screened Hepburn's 1973 interview with Dick Cavett, read a memoir about her, took golf and tennis lessons, and took cold baths just like Hepburn. On June 29, 2003—the same day that Blanchett arrived on set for the first time—Hepburn passed away. "I picked up the paper thinking, 'Isn't it odd that Katharine Hepburn's on the cover?'" Blanchett recalled. "She had such a remarkable life, and then with her death, she was even more present in everyone's mind."

30. WE MAY NEVER KNOW WHAT THE REAL SAM “ACE” ROTHSTEIN ACTUALLY THOUGHT OF CASINO.

Lefty Rosenthal—the inspiration for Sam Rothstein, who died in 2008—said he only ever saw Casino once. If that's true, it was the screening of a rough cut that was also attended by Nicholas Pileggi. Pileggi sat with Rosenthal—they were the only ones in the screening room—and said Rosenthal's reaction was positive. But near the end of his life, when an interviewer mentioned that, "You only saw Casino once—and you don't like the movie," Rosenthal replied that "It lacked the detail of what I did. There are scenes where the Rosenthal character repeated the same thing twice. I would only tell you to do something one time—that's all I needed. And there was that scene that still angers me when I think of it—I never juggled on The Frank Rosenthal Show. I resent that scene. It makes me look foolish. And I only did that TV show [at] the behest of the chairman of the board of the Stardust so that the public would realize I was a decent guy and not a mobster as portrayed by the media covering us at the time.” Did Rosenthal change his mind over time? Did Pileggi misinterpret his initial reaction? We'll never know.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios