Fear and Desire: The Movie Stanley Kubrick Didn’t Want You to See

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The motionless red-eyed lens of an evil computer; gallons of blood spilling out of an Art Deco elevator; a group of sinister, top hat-wearing teenagers strolling down a dreary riverbank in slow motion; an older man watching a young girl sunbathing while wearing heart-shaped sunglasses; an Army Major riding a nuclear warhead like a bull at a Texas rodeo: All of these images from the career of filmmaker Stanley Kubrick have been seared into the collective conscious of cinema history. But there’s one Kubrick film that even the most serious film geeks would be hard-pressed to remember. Kubrick’s debut feature, Fear and Desire, was virtually unknown for decades for one reason: Kubrick hated it, and the legendary perfectionist didn’t want anybody to see it.

The future filmmaking genius was anything but when he was a 24-year-old kid who quit his full-time job as a photographer for Look magazine in the early 1940s. Kubrick was hired by the magazine right out of the Bronx's Taft High School, when he caught the publication's eye after snapping a photo of a newspaperman grieving over the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1945. He was quickly sent out on assignment, and eventually took photo portraits of a Bronx-born middleweight boxer named Walter Cartier for a January 1949 feature spread called “Prizefighter.”

The rough and tumble world of boxing inspired Kubrick to eventually pitch the idea of a short film to RKO Pathé, a production company that commissioned documentary shorts for a continuing series called The March of Time. The “Prizefighter” spread gave Kubrick the credentials to convince RKO to hire him to direct 1951's Day of the Fight, a 12-minute film about Cartier’s pre-fight routine. The photographer had become a film director.

But making a feature film wasn’t easy. Kubrick sold one more short documentary to RKO called Flying Padre—about a catholic priest in New Mexico who flies around his 4000-square-mile parish to offer his followers spiritual guidance—before venturing out on his own.

Inspired by the Korean War, which broke out in 1950, Kubrick decided to make a war movie, and enlisted his high school buddy Howard Sackler to write the script (Sackler would later go on to win the Pulitzer Prize for his 1969 play, The Great White Hope, and is perhaps best known by movie fans for writing Quint’s USS Indianapolis speech in Steven Spielberg’s Jaws). To foot most of the bill, Kubrick asked his uncle—a wealthy California drugstore chain owner named Martin Perveler—to finance the film’s budget. The movie idea that Kubrick and Sackler called The Trap, then later The Shape of Fear, reportedly cost somewhere between $20,000 and $40,000 to make.

To cast the film, which was about four soldiers who take a woman hostage after they become trapped in a forest behind enemy lines, Kubrick looked in unorthodox places all around New York City for unknown actors. He eventually found a college student and actor named Paul Mazursky, who was acting in an Off-Broadway play called He Who Gets Slapped, to play the film’s sadistic Private Sidney. (Mazursky, of course, would go on to become a filmmaker in his own right, helming films like Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice and An Unmarried Woman.)

“He was very intense, dark hair, round eyes, and I was not nervous so much as impressed by a fellow pretty much my own age with his own apartment and a wife, my gosh,” Mazursky said of Kubrick in a 1994 interview with NPR. “He said, ‘Okay, you got the part. We leave Monday, unscheduled flight from Newark Airport. We pay $100 a week, room and board.’”

The skeleton crew shipped out to shoot the film in California's San Gabriel Mountains, which were chosen over a closer New York locale because of concerns about east coast weather. To those who worked on the film—which was basically the cast and three Mexican laborers hired to carry the film equipment—the assured rookie director took on an outsized role in every facet. In his memoirs, Show Me The Magic - My Adventures in Life and Hollywood, Mazursky expounded upon his impressions of the budding perfectionist’s methods.

“There was no dolly track, just a baby carriage to move the camera,” Mazursky wrote. “Stanley did all the shooting. No matter what the problem, Kubrick always seemed to have an answer. To me there was never a question that Stanley was already master of his universe.”

But when Kubrick returned to New York in the winter of 1952 with a completed film, he needed a way to get people to see the movie. He approached a veteran film distributor named Joseph Burstyn, who had only released films from foreign directors like Vittorio De Sica and Roberto Rossellini. But the foreign-minded distributor agreed to buy the movie and sell it as a kind of American art film. The sensationalized poster tagline of the young filmmaker’s first film screamed “Trapped ... 4 Desperate Men and a Strange Half-Animal Girl!”

The press at the time mostly sang the film’s praises. The New York Times wrote that, “If Fear and Desire is uneven and sometimes reveals an experimental rather than a polished exterior, its over-all effect is entirely worthy of the sincere effort put into it,” yet also called Kubrick’s direction “far from inspired.”

The movie was not a financial success, and so a dejected Kubrick was forced to take for-hire jobs, like directing a drab promotional short called The Seafarers for the Seafarers International Union. He soon attempted to move on by raising money for his next feature film, Killer’s Kiss, but the filmmaker’s disdain for his own debut feature began to take on a near-mythic status as his own cinematic stature grew throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Legend has it that Kubrick destroyed the film’s original negative and sought to do the same to any leftover prints after the failed film fell out of circulation following Burstyn’s death.

The notoriously guarded Kubrick trashed his first movie as often as he could. He referred to the film as “a serious effort, ineptly done,” and in a 1964 interview with The New York Review of Books, he called his debut “a presumptuous failure.” In Joseph Gelmis’s book, The Film Director as Superstar, Kubrick reminisced about Fear and Desire, saying, “It’s not a film I remember with any pride, except for the fact it was finished.”

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The film’s copyright eventually lapsed, and Fear and Desire fell into the public domain, which allowed it to be legally shown by anyone who managed to find a print of it. Eventually, New York’s famed Film Forum attempted to show a version of the film in 1994 that was found and restored by The George Eastman House. It was the first time Fear and Desire had been publicly screened since its release 41 years prior. Kubrick himself personally sought to put a stop to the screening, tapping Warner Bros. to issue a press release stating that Fear and Desire was “written by a failed poet, crewed by a few friends, and a completely inept oddity, boring and pretentious,” and that it was a “bumbling amateur film exercise.”

In a 1994 NPR interview, Film Forum’s director of repertory programming, Bruce Goldstein, said Kubrick’s hatred of the film only added to the mythos behind it for the screening. “It really is a must-see, because now it’s the picture Kubrick wants to suppress,” Goldstein said. “So that makes it even sexier as a box office attraction. So I think he’s increased our attendance four-fold.”

Kubrick undoubtedly made better films, but the seeds of his cinematic trademarks are there in Fear and Desire, right down to its theme of best laid plans gone awry. The Eastman print was the only available version of the film, except for excerpts seen in the 2001 Kubrick retrospective documentary Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures. A new restoration was made at the Library of Congress in 2012, and released on home video by Kino that same year. You can also watch the film in its entirety below.

Now anybody is free to judge whether Fear and Desire really is an amateur film, or a simple prelude to the masterpieces that would follow it. But just remember: Kubrick wouldn’t approve.

11 Surprising Facts About Sylvester Stallone

Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

As streetwise boxer Rocky Balboa (in eight films) and haunted Vietnam veteran John Rambo (in five films), the man born Michael Sylvester Gardenzio Stallone has made his brand of muscular melodrama a staple of the action film genre across five decades.

The latest Rambo chapter, Rambo: Last Blood, opens September 20. In the meantime, check out some of the more intriguing facts about the actor, from his modest beginnings as an accidental porn star to his peculiar rivalry with Richard Gere to his waylaid plans to run a pudding empire.

1. An errant pair of forceps gave Sylvester Stallone his distinctive look.

Many comedians have paid their bills over the decades by adopting Sylvester Stallone’s distinctive lip droop and guttural baritone voice. The facial feature was the result of some slight mishandling at birth. When Stallone was born on July 6, 1946 in Manhattan, the physician used a pair of forceps to deliver him. The malpractice left his lip, chin, and part of his tongue partially paralyzed due to a severed nerve. Stallone later said his face and awkward demeanor earned him the nickname “Sylvia” and authority figures telling him his brain was “dormant.” Burdened with low self-esteem, Stallone turned to bodybuilding and later performing as a way of breaking through what seemed to be a consensus of low expectations.

2. sylvester Stallone attended college in Switzerland.

A publicity still of Sylvester Stallone from the 1981 film 'Victory' is pictured
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Despite a tumultuous adolescence in which he was kicked out of several schools for misbehavior, Stallone eventually graduated high school while living with his mother in Philadelphia. He went on to attend American College, a university in Leysin, Switzerland, where he also worked as a gym teacher and dorm bouncer in addition to selling hamburgers on campus. It was there he became interested in theater—both acting and writing.

Stallone continued his education at the University of Miami before moving to New York with the hopes of breaking into the entertainment industry. While auditioning for parts, Stallone worked as a movie theater usher and cleaned lion cages at the zoo. He was fired from the theater for trying to scalp tickets to a customer. Unknown to Stallone, the customer was the theater owner.

3. Sylvester Stallone’s mother was an expert in “rumpology.”

Stallone’s parents separated while he was still a child. His father, a beauty salon owner named Francesco Stallone, was apparently prone to corporal punishment, and would cuff his young son for misbehavior. (Stallone was once caught swatting flies with a lead pipe on the hood of his father’s brand-new car.) His mother, Jackie Stallone—whom he once described as “half-French, half-Martian"—later grew interested in the study of rumpology, or the study of the buttocks to reveal personality traits and future events.

4. Sylvester Stallone had a small part in a porno.

Actor Sylvester Stallone is pictured during a promotional tour for the film 'Rambo' in Madrid, Spain in January 2008
Carlos Alvarez, Getty Images

While struggling to make it as an actor, Stallone was talked into making an appearance in Party at Kitty and Stud’s, a 1970 softcore adult film that was not as explicit as other sex features of the era but still required Stallone to appear in the nude. While he was initially hesitant to take the role, Stallone was sleeping in a bus shelter at the time. He took the $200 for two days of work. Following the success of Rocky in 1976, the film’s producers capitalized on their now-valuable footage and re-released it under the title The Italian Stallion. In 2010, a 35mm negative of the film and all worldwide rights to it were auctioned off on eBay for $412,100.

5. Sylvester Stallone wrote a novel.

In addition to his acting ambitions, Stallone decided to pursue a career in writing. After numerous screenplays, he wrote Paradise Alley, a novel about siblings who get caught up in the circus world of professional wrestling in Hell’s Kitchen. Stallone finished the novel before deciding to turn it into a screenplay. Paradise Alley was eventually produced in 1978. The book, which was perceived as a novelization, was published that same year.

6. Sylvester Stallone was not a fan of the Rambo cartoon series.

After the success of 1982’s First Blood and 1985’s Rambo: First Blood Part II, Stallone was confronted with a litany of Rambo merchandising. Speaking with the Chicago Tribune in 1986, he said he disliked that the psychologically-tortured war veteran was being used to peddle toys. “I couldn’t control it,” he said. “I tried to stop it, but I don’t own the licensing rights.”

On the subject of Rambo: The Force of Freedom, a 1986 animated series featuring a considerably softened-up version of the character, Stallone was resigned. “They’re going to make this Saturday morning TV cartoon show for kids with what they tell me is a softened version of Rambo doing good deeds. First of all, that isn’t Rambo, but more important, they tell me I can’t stop them because it’s not me they’re using. It’s a likeness of a character I played and don’t own.” The show lasted just one season.

7. Sylvester Stallone never planned on the Rocky series enduring as long as it has.

Through the years, Stallone has made some definitive declarations about the Rocky series, which has been extended to eight films including its two spin-off installments, 2015’s Creed and 2018’s Creed II. Speaking with movie critic Roger Ebert in 1979 shortly before the release of Rocky II, Stallone indicated Rocky III that would conclude the series. “There’ll never be a Rocky IV,” he said. "You gotta call it a halt.” In 1985, while filming Rocky IV, Stallone told Interview magazine that he was finished. “Oh, this is it for Rocky,” he said. “Because I don’t know where you go after you battle Russia.” In 1990, following the release of Rocky V, Stallone declared that “There is no Rocky VI. He’s done.” Upon the release of Rocky Balboa in 2006, Stallone once more declared he was finished. "I couldn't top this," he told People. "I would have to wait another 10 years to build up a head of steam, and by that point, come on."

Creed was released nine years later. Following Creed II, he posted a message on Instagram that served as a “final farewell” to the character. Several months later, in July 2019, Stallone told Variety that, “There’s a good chance Rocky may ride again” and explained an idea involving Rocky befriending an immigrant street fighter. It would be the ninth film in the series.

8. Sylvester Stallone was offered the lead role in Beverly Hills Cop.

Actor Sylvester Stallone is pictured during production of the 1978 film 'Paradise Alley'
Central Press/Getty Images

In one of the more intriguing alternate casting decisions in Hollywood history, Stallone was originally offered the Axel Foley role in 1984’s Beverly Hills Cop. Not wishing to make a comedy, Stallone rewrote the script to focus more on the action, as Detroit cop Foley stampedes through Beverly Hills to find his friend’s killers. Stallone described his version as resembling “the opening scene from Saving Private Ryan on the beaches of Normandy” and said his climax involved a game of chicken between a Lamborghini and an oncoming train. Producers opted to go in another direction. It became one of Eddie Murphy’s biggest hits. Stallone would later use some of his ideas for a rogue cop in the 1986 film Cobra.

9. Sylester Stallone does not get along with Richard Gere.

While filming 1974’s The Lords of Flatbush, in which Stallone and then-unknown actor Richard Gere both played 1950s street toughs, the two actors apparently got off on the wrong foot. Stallone recalled that Gere drew his ire for being too physical during rehearsals—and worse, getting mustard on Stallone during a lunch break. Incensed, Stallone demanded the director choose one of them to stay and one of them to be fired. Gere was let go and replaced by Perry King.

10. Arnold Schwarzenegger once tricked sylvester stallone into starring in a box office bomb.

Actors Sylvester Stallone (L) and Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) are photographed during the premiere of 'The Expendables 2' in Hollywood, California in August 2012
Frazer Harrison, Getty Images

Stallone has often discussed his rivalry with Arnold Schwarzenegger, as the two action stars were believed to be the two biggest marquee attractions in the 1980s. Recalling his 1992 bomb Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot, Stallone told a journalist in 2014 that he believed Schwarzenegger was to blame. “I heard Arnold wanted to do that movie and after hearing that, I said I wanted to do it,” he said. “He tricked me. He’s always been clever.”

11. sylvester Stallone wanted to create a pudding empire.

In 2005, shortly before Rocky Balboa resurrected his film career, Stallone embarked on a line of fitness supplements. His company, Instone, produced a pudding snack that was low-carb and high in protein. Stallone even appeared on Larry King to hawk the product. A legal dispute with a food scientist over the rights to the concoction dragged on for years and Instone eventually folded.

Highclere Castle—the Real-Life Downton Abbey—Is Available to Rent on Airbnb

Highclere Castle, used as the setting for Downton Abbey
Highclere Castle, used as the setting for Downton Abbey
Emily_M_Wilson/iStock via Getty Images

Have you ever wanted to spend a night in a castle? And not just any castle—the Downton Abbey castle, Highclere Castle? On November 26, one lucky couple will get the opportunity to relive the TV show and movie, when castle owners Lady and Lord Carnarvon will cordially invite one person and their guest of choice to spend the night in the castle, which is located in Hampshire, England—about 45 miles west of London. On October 1 (Airbnb reservations go live at noon BST) anyone with a verified profile, positive reviews, and passion for Downton Abbey can vie for the opportunity. Even though the castle has 300 rooms, they are only making one bedroom available, for $159.

Upon arrival, the royals will host cocktails with the guests in the saloon. Visitors will hear stories from more than 300 years of Highclere Castle history (construction on the castle began in 1679, and has been in the Carnarvon family ever since).

“I am passionate about the stories and heritage of Highclere Castle and I am delighted to be able to share it with others who have a love of the building and its history,” Lady Carnarvon said in the Airbnb listing.

The Earl and Countess will host a dinner for the guests in the state dining room, and afterwards have coffee in the library. Before bed, the guests’ butler will escort them to their gallery bedroom. The next morning, guests will receive a complimentary breakfast, a private tour of the 100,000-square foot castle and 1000-acre grounds, and a special gift from the Carnarvons. (Airbnb will also make a donation to The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.)

It should be noted the castle doesn’t have Wi-Fi or central air, but it does have fireplaces and central heat. There are a few rules guests must follow, though: all newspapers must be ironed; one butler per person; cocktail dress is required at dinner; gossip is restricted to downstairs; the listing is midweek because, as the Dowanger once said, “What is a weekend?”

If you don’t win the opportunity to stay at Highclere, all is not lost: you can tour the castle year-round.

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