TCM will be airing The Night Heaven Fell in August for Brigitte Bardot day. The filming of The Night Heaven Fell started in late 1957. It was Vadim and Bardot’s first venture following the iconic movie And God Created Woman.’ Erotic content was still the name of the game in Les Bijoutiers du Clair de Lune.
“Brigitte runs off with Boyd, who has murdered her uncle in a vendetta, and holes up with him for a week of violent sado-masochistic sex in the Spanish mountains.” (Bardot by Glenys Roberts) Being both a Bardot fan and a Boyd fan, I think this is actually one of Bardot’s best roles. I like this movie much more than And God Created Woman as I think Bardot seems to be more herself in this role. I also think Boyd is fantastic in this film, even though he is over-dubbed in French. His physical presence is potent. Along with Bardot’s own physicality, the two make for a stunning duo on screen. As far as the movie goes, Vadim does a marvelous job highlighting the visceral physical chemistry between Boyd and the sex-kitten. Bardot’s derriere is highlighted, as well as Stephen’s muscular, lean body. They are like two wild cats going after each other. It’s probably more of a lust story than a love story. Stephen also has great chemistry with the older but still beautiful Alida Valli. “As the simmering aunt who carries a load of hate, Alida Valli is sharp and vital and Mr. Stephen Boyd plays the homme fatale with a trenchant primitiveness.” (Pittsburgh Post Gazette July 24 1958).
The filming took place in Madrid first for several weeks of studio shot scenes, then the cast boarded a train to the Costa Del Sol in October to film in Southern Spain. Brigitte Bardot specifically mentions the fact that Sputnik had just been launched (October 4, 1957). (Initials BB by Brigitte Bardot, page 148). The crew settled into a hotel/bungalow in Torremolinos. Much of the film work took place in a beautiful little white-washed town called Mijas. This is where the bull ring is located. There was severe flooding in this part of Spain during the filming, and many of the crew, including Boyd, Bardot and Vadim, got sick. It was not an easy shoot. At the time Boyd said that Brigitte was terrific, but also difficult to work with and unpredictable. “She had me so frustrated that they had to call off shooting for five days to allow me to calm down.” (Daily Record, 4/7/1958) “I’ve been here two months and still haven’t seen a script. None of the phones work. Half the town’s been washed away by floods. We’re filming in three languages -two if which I don’t speak. I’ve been terribly ill..this picture is a nightmare.” (Sunday Express) Even though Boyd would mention in the article below that he would be wary of working with Bardot again, it was a statement he would later retract and the two of them would actually work together again about 10 years later on Shalako. (see https://stephenboydblog.wordpress.com/2016/06/03/stephen-boyd-and-brigitte-bardot-in-1968-initials-bb/).
When released, the movie received poor reviews. The posters were more than titillating with images of Bardot’s bare bloodied back or scenes of Boyd grabbing Bardot by the hair. Some of the reviews are pretty funny to read now: “The cinematic high priestess of Eros, Brigitte Bardot, battles Stephen Boyd for the life of a pig while facing starvation. During the battle, Boyd, hungry for pork, begins to hunger for Bardot instead. The swine!” (Lincoln Evening Journey, 11/9/1958) ; “The peasant hero (Boyd) arrives, stabs Uncle, and rushes off to the mountains with a donkey, a piglet and an infatuated B.B. in tow. They swim through lakes, dry out in caves, frolic and fight, claw and clinch, until the police arrive and shoot the wrong one. ” (The Age, 11/2/1959) ; From The Films of Bardot by Tony Crawley , “Shocker. Stephen Boyd was a heavy hero. An Irishman as a Spaniard in a French film. And sadistic with it. Enough so for one critic to call the film pornographic!” After surviving the filming of this movie and losing, according to Boyd, 20 pounds while filming it, Boyd would go on to praise Bardot personally in all subsequent interviews. From an interview in Cosmopolitan magazine in 1958: “I thought of the message which Boyd had given me for her. (I had met him a week before in Rome, where he was acting Messala in the film Ben Hur). The message consisted of one code word which he had spelled out of me – beddibize. “Just tell her, she’ll get it,” he told me. “I’ve just finished making The Night Heaven Fell with her. We got to be great friends. ‘Beddibize‘ is just a house joke between us. She’s a very wonderful, complicated girl, impulsive, extraordinarily beautiful, and a little off her rocker. Since she discovered sex he’s been overboard. She used to chase me all over the set.” In another interview; “She gives adults that same feeling of sneaking cookies out of the cupboard that they had at the age of six. They giggle and try to explain their interest as pure amusement, but actually it’s their animal adolescence showing….it’s the sort of thing that the man in the street can’t resist. It’s a symbol of things that are not openly discussed…How can a mere hunk of a man compete with a bundle of curves like Bardot?” (Corsicana Daily Sun 3/3/1958)
So be sure to tune into TCM on August 23rd to catch The Night Heaven Fell!
From Ottawa Citizen, 2/15/1958