Billed in ads as “a motion picture for all times,” this thinking person’s epic was a film nobody wanted to make. Although Columbia gave the film a small budget (around $2 million), most of the actors gladly worked for a reduced rate so they could bring to life the characters in Robert Bolt’s adaptation of his hit play. Studio disinterest meant no studio interference, so director Fred Zinnemann fought successfully to cast the stage production’s star, Paul Scofield, over box-office names like Laurence Olivier and Charlton Heston. With location shooting in England, Zinnemann had access to houses from the reign of Henry VIII. They provided the perfect setting for the tale of Sir Thomas More, the English Lord Chancellor whose deep faith would not allow him to support the king’s break with the Catholic Church. Scofield’s stage-honed performance held first the crew and later film audiences rapt, but he was matched by a supporting cast that included Robert Shaw as the king, Orson Welles as Cardinal Wolsey, Wendy Hiller as More’s wife, Susannah York as his daughter, John Hurt as a traitorous friend and Vanessa Redgrave in a luminous cameo as Anne Boleyn. The film Columbia didn’t want to make turned out to be a big moneymaker and captured six Oscars, including Best Picture, Director, Actor and Screenplay.
(d. Fred Zinneman, 120m, 35mm)