In mid 1963, as Stephen Boyd was wrapping up his role as the Roman General Livius in the epic production of “The Fall of the Roman Empire,” director Anthony Mann started to consider Boyd as the lead in his next project as well – “The Unknown Battle.” This movie was going to portray the true story of the top secret Allied mission to knock out the nuclear weapons plant run by the Nazi’s in Norway during the mid stages of WWII. Norwegians saboteurs, in a serious of heroic operations, destroyed a ‘heavy water’ plant in Telemark, Norway before if could be used to help develop a nuclear weapon which could have changed the outlook of the war in the most terrible way. Winston Churchill called it one of the most important single acts of World War II because it prevented the Nazis from developing the atomic bomb.
The Vemork Hydroelectric Plant – the setting for Anthony Mann’s WWII adventure film, “The Unknown Battle”
Originally Mann was seeking to cast Charlton Heston (who had worked with Mann on “El Cid” in 1961) and Stephen Boyd (currently working with Mann) as the two leads in the project. Yes, a reunion of the iconic “Ben-Hur” antagonists was initially the main objective!
Boyd was set up for a decidedly busy schedule for the next few months and even lamented to one reporter, ” When will I get in a round of golf?” (Honolulu Star Bulletin, June 6, 1963).
By February of 1964 stunner Elke Sommer (Boyd’ future co-star in “The Oscar”) was signed to be the female lead on the film (whose title had now changed to “High Adventure.”) Boyd told Hedda Hopper that Sommer was as “sexy looking as any actress around”, and asked for her to be his leading lady. (Los Angeles Times, Feb 5, 1964)
Meant for each other – Sommer and Boyd would reunite explosively in “The Oscar”, 1965
Heston had not been signed, and then Mann considered Boyd’s counterpart in “The Fall of the Roman Empire”, Christopher Plummer for the role. Then the merry-go-round of casting continued to some very curious participants!
For a key role opposite Boyd, Mann wanted Steve McQueen and offered him $500,000 plus a percentage of the gross.
Mann explained what unfolded next.
“McQueen told my representative : ‘I resent your calling me at home.’ So I forgot about him.
“Then I went after Marlon Brando, whose price is a million. I didn’t mind the price but he wanted to change the script.
“There were some actors in the cast he didn’t like. He insisted that they must play Nazis. I dropped him, too.” (The Progress Index, Feb 24, 1964)
Incredibly Anthony Perkins of “Psycho” fame, for a cheaper price than Brando of course, won the role.
So the main cast of “The Unknown Battle/High Adventure” was set – Stephen Boyd, Elke Sommer and Tony Perkins.
Boyd’s carousel of potential “Unknown Battle” co-star’s – from McQueen to Brando to Perkins!
In March Boyd was home in Hollywood to discuss the premise of the movie with the press. He seemed very excited about the story.
Smoking rising from Vemork hydroelectric plant after Allied air raid, Telemark, Norway, 16 Nov 1943 ww2dbase
The story if based on a little-known incident of 1943. It was in the spring just 23 years ago that Hitler announced he has discovered the basic elements to destroy the Free World with atomic bombs of his own. A group of seven men, Norwegians and British, were selected by Allied Intelligence Service to be smuggled into occupied territory to blow up the secret Heavy-Water experimental station in the mountains 100 miles north of Oslo. How these men helped to save the cause of democracy is a story, Boyd feels, must be told. Elke Sommer, herself a product of Germany, portrays a Norwegian girl who helps her countryman in the dangerous mission. The account of the venture has been fictionalized by Ben Barzman… (St Louis Jewish Light, March 18, 1964).
Stephen had packed his bags once more and headed to London and the cold ice fields of beautiful Oslo, Norway to start filming on location. Boyd has been waiting – and waiting – for the production to actually begin. Terrifying flashbacks to the “Cleopatra” debacle of a few years prior were most likely clouding his thoughts! Frighteningly, Anthony Mann was producing and directing the project. It didn’t take long for the money to run short.
In late March journalist Sheilah Graham broke the story that Stephen, after arriving in London, discovered that the production has been indefinitely postponed. He hurriedly called his agent to join him there to find out what was going on! By April Stephen had filed a $500,000 breach of contract suit against Mann for time wasted and other opportunities lost (Mann didn’t seem to mind to much- he was at the Cannes Film Festival when the suit was filed!).
Boyd has missed some other excellent film offers, including Sophia Loren’s project “Lady L.” Carlos Ponti, Loren’s husband/producer, had told Boyd that “your love scenes with my wife were the greatest (From “The Fall of the Roman Empire”). I’d like you to costar with her in Lady L.” (Los Angeles Times, Feb 5, 1964) Boyd wanted the role, and Loren was insistent that Boyd star as her lover, but as Boyd was tied up with “The Unknown Battle”. Loren had to settle for a lackluster and totally miscast Paul Newman! In addition, Boyd chose not to fly all the way back to Hollywood to attend the premiere of Paramount’s “The Fall of the Roman Empire.”
By July of 1964 Boyd had cooled a bit and explained to Sheilah Graham what had happened with the production.
“But I sat on my rear end in London, waiting for it to start. A major studio was supposed to provide 50 perfect if the finance. Two weeks before production, they backed out. Tony Mann, the director, has promised me we will make the picture later this year, when the snows come again in Norway.” (Asbury Park Press, July 2, 1964)
Two weeks after this interview, Kirk Douglas replaced Boyd in his role. Boyd had signed on to be the villain in “Genghis Khan” and he was off to make this film instead.
Mann did eventually get his project off the ground with Douglas, Michael Redgrave and Ulla Jacobssen. Richard Harris, who had been Mann’s original choice to play Commodus in “The Fall of the Roman Empire”, eventually became the second lead. Harris had just finished up his role as Cain in John Huston’s epic “The Bible”, which also featured Boyd as Nimrod.
Mann’s film was renamed “The Heroes of Telemark” and it was released in 1966. It’s a taut adventure movie with some truly heartracing action scenes and spectacular Norwegian scenery. But I still wish it had been made with the original cast!
“Boyd Should Have Purchased Suitcase” by Vernon Scott, September 14, 1961
AMSTERDAM — Actor Steve Boyd recently bought a new home in Hollywood, but he should have invested in a new suitcase.
The handsome young Irishman has made six movies since he established himself in Hollywood– and four of them have been made in foreign countries.
Currently starring in 20th Century Fox-s “The Inspector” here, he also lived in Rome for “Ben-Hur,” Mexico for “The Bravados,” Paris for “The Big Gamble” and Canada for “Woman Obsessed.”
Additionally, he has worked in Africa, Spain, England and Scotland.
As far as Boyd is concerned, locations are for the ‘boids.”
“It’s a hardship for actors to work in foreign countries,” Steve complained. “You lose the professional atmosphere of Hollywood.
“Hollywood is the only picture center where circumstances are normal and professional. Studio crews and technicians are completely efficient in every respect.”
Steve downed a martini in a colorful Dutch restaurant alongside one of the city’s many canals. It was a picture postcard setting, but Steve was unimpressed.
“I don’t like living in hotels and other problems on location,” he said.
“There is always the language barrier with the crews. And foreign directors and crewman are interested in making a picture that will make their country look good. In Hollywood all pictures are made with the world market in mind.
DON’T LOOK UP
“Another thing, when a plane flies overhead in Hollywood you don’t bother to look up. Over here it’s liable to be a Russian bomber loaded for business.
“There are the distractions. Most countries have interesting customs, landmarks and characters who take your mind off your work.
“Take the canals here in Amsterdam. In the middle of a scene you begin watching a boat of a windmill and the next thing you know you’ve forgotten your lines. Sometimes it is impossible to concentrate on what you’re doing.”
Boyd, a bachelor, also finds foreign beauties distracting. But he has the same problems back home.
“Most American films can and should be made in Hollywood,” he continued. “Southern California has ocean, mountains, deserts and a big city that can absorb most American backgrounds.
“But I guess it is impossible to capture the feeling of Holland or England out there, so it’s a matter of living out of a suitcase in different parts of the world. BE ACTOR–SEE WORLD.”
On Location! Below, Stephen Boyd and Dolores Hart among the charming canals of Amsterdam during the filming of “The Inspector”
“The Manipulator” (Or “The African Story”), is a quirky Italian action film which was released in October of 1971.
Stephen Boyd plays a wealthy music producer Arnold Tiller (played with Howard Hughes-like flair by Boyd) who gets involved in a wild scheme to fake the kidnapping of his star singer Rex Maynard (Michael Kirner) who has eloped to South Africa with Tiller’s daughter. Tiller’s scheming partner (the stunning Sylva Koscina, who had just starred with Boyd in “The Great Swindle”, also in 1971) tries to seduce the hapless Maynard, who uses some amazing stunt man skills to escape his kidnappers, and eventually joins forces with Tiller himself to bring down the bad guys, who are all played by familiar, rugged faces from Italian films at the time.
It is a haphazard, super fast production directed by Italian Marino Girolami and written by the Ralph Anders (“Control Factor”). The scenes move quickly from one to the next, with random car chases and inter-spliced moments where literally Boyd’s mustache changes in the same scene from his true debonair one to an obviously fake gray mustache. Like I said – this is a quick production! Boyd seems to understand this – it’s what I would call a fairly unengaged performance from him. Nonetheless, the film seems to have a bit of a cult following just because it is a fun, ridiculous Italian action movie.
The great score by Francesco de Masi is perhaps the salvation of this project. And the fact that Sylva Koscina is super slinky and gorgeous and Stephen looks handsomely debonair (unless he is battling the fake mustache of course!). Unfortunately Koscina and Boyd have limited time on screen together. They have wonderful chemistry in “The Great Swindle”, and it’s a shame they didn’t exploit that more in this film. However, since the cast literally seem to be filming scenes miles apart from each other, it doesn’t surprise me. Nonetheless, if you haven’t seen “The Manipulator”, it is worth finding!
This is a hard magazine to find! I have been searching for this for years and I finally snagged a copy of it. This is a fantastic photo by Angelo Frontoni of Austrian actress Marisa Mell embracing her co-star Stephen Boyd from behind during the filming of “Marta”. The photo was part of a layout for the French magazine “CINE Revue” concerning the sexual ‘explosion’ in films during the early 1970’s.
Mell and Boyd became lovers soon after during the filming of their second film together, “The Great Swindle”, filmed only a few months after “Marta”. For more on Boyd’s brief but poignant relationship with Mell please see this blog, “Love and Magik in 1971“. Or just enjoy this sexy picture of two attractive stars during the start their romantic interlude!
One of the most famous and haunting tales of the late Roman Empire was the winter of 406 A.D. During this period, the barbarian incursions across the border into the Empire had begun to take their toll. In 376 A.D. the Goth tribes had crossed over the Danube, initially with Rome’s permission, to escape a new threat from the the roving hordes of Huns which had pressured the Goths out of their settlement. After crossing the Danube, this refugee civilization had been cruelly exploited by the Romans, and in turn they took their revenge. In the Battle of Adrianople, August 9, 378 A.D., the hollow shell of the once great Roman military power was encircled by Gothic cavalry and surprised in a terrible defeat. The Emperor of the East, Valens, was killed in the struggle. The next Emperor, the virulently Christian Theodosius, allowed the Goth tribes to settle within the Empire itself. They actually served as a barrier and as troops for the Empire. However, a Visigoth king named Alaric wanted more power, and he took his tribe on a rampage throughout Greece and eventually into Italy. Theodosius’ sons, Arcadius in the East and Honorius in the West, were left to deal with the situation after their father’s death. The Master of Both Services (Foot and Cavalry), Stilicho, a German-born Roman officer who wielded inordinate control of the West and Honorius himself, pursued and battled Alaric throughout the Balkans and Italy. Without a decisive battle, however, some even questioned Stilicho’s own loyalty to the Empire. Because of these battles, the critical troop detachments along the Rhine frontier were mostly withdrawn to protect Italy. This left Gaul critically exposed.
Amidst this backdrop came the brutal winter of 406 A.D. A restless hordes of Germanic Tribes (Franks, Burgundians, Macromanni, Vandals, Alemanni) and non-Germanic Alans were poised across the Rhine River from Confluentes (Koblenz) to Rufiniana (Heidelberg), ready to move into more fertile, warmer lands to the south. Their intention was to invade and settle into Gaul, Spain and eventually Africa. When the cold winter froze the river, on December 31, 406 A.D., they crossed and changed the map and history of Europe forever. This was the Fall of the West and the Dark Ages were upon it. Britain was cut off from the Empire, and eventually the entire western Roman Empire came under the dominion of Germanic Tribes. All that Marcus Aurelius and countless other Roman Emperors had fought against in those dark, Germanic forests had been for naught!
“This memorable passage of the Suevi, the Vandals, the Alani, and the Burgundians, who never afterwards retreated, may be considered the fall of the Roman Empire in the countries beyond the Alps; and the barriers, which had so long separated the savage and civilized nations of the earth, were from that fatal moment levelled with the ground.” (Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Chap. XXX)
As if to mirror the drama it was meant to portray, “The Fall of the Roman Empire” began filming in Spain during the harsh winter of 1962-1963. Ironically enough, the Rhine froze over this year as well! This was one of the coldest winters in modern Europe. Stephen Boyd lamented about Sunny Spain at the time: “The snow is up to my waist–the temperature is around zero. I could take it if I could wear long underwear buy you can’t wear longies under a Roman toga!” (January 27,1963, Santa Cruz Sentinal) See below for some snowy pictures during this abnormally brutal winter season.
I highly recommend this novel, “Eagle in the Snow”, by Wallace Breem for a great read about the later Roman Empire and the Crossing of the Rhine. The tale follows a no-nonsense follower of Mithras, General Maximus, as moves from Hadrian’s wall to help fortify the town of Moguntiacum (Mainz) and the Roman territory west of the Rhine against the forthcoming Germanic onslaught. It’s a fascinating tale of the new Christian era, the loss of Paganism, and the changing world of the late Romans.