Stephen Boyd ‘gets his Irish up’ about stripping down for “Imperial Venus”

FOREIGN PICTURES PRODUCERS A ‘BUNCH OF AMATEURS’

Los Angeles Times, October 28, 1962

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On the set of Imperial Venus in Rome

So you think movies have gone about as far as they can go. Rape, incest, young girls with old men, abortion, dope, sadism. After low-cut necklines, came no necklines. What’s left? Reluctantly, Stephen Boyd supplies the answer – nude males.

Boyd, whose first halting stab at this was with Brigitte Bardot in “The Night Heaven Fell,” goes all the way—as they say—in “Imperial Venus” with Gina Lollobrigida. In between, he’s managed to sandwich in more wholesome roles – the memorable Messala in “Ben-Hur” and the upcoming MGM release, “Billy Rose’ Jumbo.” Also, he starts work in December in Samuel Bronston’s “Fall of the Roman Empire.”

As for being nude, Boyd does not approve. In fact he considers that he’s made the same mistake twice, the second mistake being the worst, the Italian-made “Imperial Venus.” Said Boyd:

It Was Simple

“I think it’s crude. But we were in the middle of production and I don’t think it’s professional to hold up production right in the middle of it. I knew the scene existed but from the point of view of shooting it was so simple. I’m lying in bed and I had a sheet over me. I figure when you look nude you look nude, but you don’t have to be nude. But it didn’t turn out that way.

“I haven’t seen the picture. In fact, I haven’t seen the scene. I don’t look at rushes, but those who have tell me it’s really something. Anyhow, the scene will not be shown in America. And in my opinion that makes it worse. I mean I do not believe it is necessary for me to be nude in any version, no matter where it is shown. I don’t believe this is entertainment.”

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Why, then, over Boyd’s objections, was the scene filmed?

‘Bunch of Amateurs’

“Because,” said Boyd, “they are Italians, let’s say, and they don’t know any better. The producers are the worst bunch of amateurs I’ve ever had the misfortune to work under. The producer is amateurish rather than an amateur. He’s unreasonable.

“He thinks, I believe, that this will help sell tickets. But I wonder where he will sell them. If my memory serves me right, he can’t show it in France. I did a scene with Bardot where she was nude and I was pretty much so and they wouldn’t pass that. What Frenchman wants to look at an Irish body?

“Apart from the physical contempt for the type of operation I was subjected to, I hope I never again find it necessary to make a picture for any foreign organization that is not supported by Americans. I exclude from this the English, for the English too are professionals.

“Being a professional, one forgets there are amateurs in the field. For all I know they could be perversionists. You get involved in the picture and you get to the scene and they say, ‘All right, take your clothes off.’

Foreigners Copyists

“There’s all this talk about how great the foreign pictures are. But they’re all copyists. I believe all of the great talent is in Hollywood and New York. I don’t believe there’s anybody in the world that can touch them.”

From his words, it’s easy to see that Stephen Boyd had his Irish up. He is, in fact, and Irishman, the youngest of nine children. He was born in Belfast and while he had no trace of accent, he has the Irish gift for language.

And while Boyd deplored his part in “Imperial Venus,” he was quick to praise “Jumbo.” An opposite kind of entertainment. Said Boyd at the Hollywood Brown Derby.

“In my opinion ‘Jumbo’ is the type of entertainment that has been successful since the beginning of entertainment. It is family entertainment. I believe there are more close-knit families in this world than there are individualists.

Our Worst ‘Better’

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“I honestly believe – it depends on how you view this business – that motion pictures are a form of entertainment developed for the masses. I don’t believe there is one single picture made here that doesn’t do better than pictures made in Europe – than anyplace else, for that matter. Forget the cost or anything else, the worst picture here makes at least as much as the best picture made in Europe.

“I hate like hell leaving this town. I really hate to. But at the moment pictures are being made abroad. If it looks like it’s be good entertainment, you just have to go.”

Add a personal footnote to aspiring young actors. Learn from Stephen Boyd’s experiences. Go slow, take your time and keep your pants on.

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Another scene which was snipped from even the European version of Lollobrigida and Boyd in bed together.

Rare Behind the Scenes Photos of Stephen Boyd and Brigitte Bardot from “The Night Heaven Fell” (1957)

A press writer wrote this once about Stephen:

I have always felt that Stephen Boyd deserved to do well. For did he not essay his first star part opposite Brigitte Bardot- and if that isn’t learning to swim at the deep end, I don’t know what is.

I saw a lot of him at that time in Southern Spain. He was in despair and Bardot was in what is euphemistically referred to as the altogether. The altogether what? (“She is delighted with CinemaScope,” Boyd said at the time. “It means she can start off fully clothed at one side of the screen and be nude by the time she gets to the other.”)

I told him then that things could only get better.(Roderick Mann, London Express Service, El Paso, Herald Post, Saturday Jan 26, 1967)

The film of which he describes is the Roger Vadim flick called “The Night Heaven Fell.” Stephen Boyd was chosen specifically by Brigitte Bardot to play her rugged on-screen lover. For a young actor from Belfast, this movie had to be extremely challenging. This was only Stephen’s second starring role, the first being “The Beast of Marseilles” filmed in early 1957. And here he was – an Irishman playing a Spaniard in a French movie filmed in two different languages starring a temperamental and very famous French sex symbol. Oftentimes male stars would turn down the chance to star with Bardot because she was the show and they didn’t want to be upstaged. Stephen Boyd had no such qualms and used the opportunity to make a name for himself in conjunction with the famous star. The production in Spain (near Mijas) was also plagued by bad weather and illness amongst the cast. In my opinion it was all worthwhile as Bardot and Boyd make a very sexy and riveting on-screen pairing!

Below, Stephen Boyd, Brigitte Bardot, Alida Valli and Roger Vadim during the Summer and Fall of 1957 in France and Spain while filming “The Night Heaven Fell” (Les Bijoutiers du Claire de Lune)

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Above, Boyd and Bardot prepare to do battle, with Roger Vadim directing.

Bedroom practice!
Kissing Miss Bardot is hard work! Note the leg rest Stephen is using on the bed.
Stephen Boyd discusses the flowers-in-the-hair scene with Brigitte Bardot.

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Stephen and screen legend Alida Valli

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Filming the English version of “The Night Heaven Fell”, 1957

This is a fascinating article about the filming of “The Night Heaven Fell” in August of 1957. Despite what this article implies, this movie was released in the U.S.A. in 1958, but it was considered X rated (for adults only).  I would love to get my hands on the English Language version of this film, not only to hear Stephen Boyd’s actual voice but to also see any differences from the French version. If anyone has a clue where a copy might be, let me know!!

Hollywood in Madrid

“Columbia Movie Not for U.S.”

By Joe Hyams

Orlando Sentinal, August 30, 1957

MADRID – The other day we visited the set of The Moonlight Jewelers, a film being made in French and English for release by Columbia pictures.

The film stars Brigitte Bardot, Alida Valli and Stephen Boyd and, while it is being filmed in English, it is unlikely that American audiences will see it, because there are too many censorable elements.

In a two-minute scene we watched being filmed, Miss Bardot appears nude from the back. When she drapes a mantilla over her, she displays her thigh. Boyd kisses her on the bare shoulder while they are sitting on a bed. All this is frowned upon by Hollywood censors which we called to the attention of Raoul Levy, the producer.

“So?” asked Levy. So why make the film in English at all if it won’t be seen in America? we asked.

“The fact is the English version is for the Far East, Australia and South America –but not for North America,” said Levy.  “Also, we are making an English version because Peter Viertel, who worked on the screen play in French, said it would be east to adapt to English. And Alida Valli speaks better English than French, and Stephen Boyd, who’s Irish, doesn’t speak French at all and had to learn it as he went along.”

Vadim, the director and about-to-be ex-husband of Miss Bardot, told us that directing a film in two languages was a novel experience for him. “I found that every scene about charm and love is played better in French,” he said, “In scenes where you need strength and humor, English is better.”

Despite its censorable aspects The Moonlight Jewelers is being financed by Columbia, an American film company, and therefore is technically an American film. The original budget was $750,000, but with the recent devaluation of the French franc it is now budgeted at $600,000.

The film is typical of many being made in Europe today by American film companies because it has a truly international cast and crew. The producer, Mr. Levy, is Belgian, Miss Bardot is French, Miss Valli is Italian, Mr. Boyd is Irish, and Vadim, the director, is Russian. An American wrote the screen play based on a French novel, and the film crew is a polyglot of many nationalities including American, French and Spanish.

For the English version, the director shouts “Action!” For the French he shouts “Moteur!” To stop the action in English, he says “Cut” and in French he says “Coupe.” Instructions to the actors are given in their own language. The crew is given instructions in either French or Spanish, and it is safe to say that half the time the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing.

Photos below by Peter Basch