THE ENDLESS SUMMER (1965)
It rarely happens that a documentary actually results in changes in the world, but the Bruce Brown surfing film, The Endless Summer, released in 1965, is one such film. At the time of its release it was estimated there were probably no more than about five hundred surfers in the entire world, most of them situated in four countries – the USA, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. Surfing back then was nothing more than a ‘lifestyle’. Today (2020), thanks in part to the enormous popularity of this documentary, it has progressed to a sport, then to a profession and, inevitably, to an industry. Furthermore, there are now surfers in every nation on Earth that possesses a coastline.
Surfing the perfect wave at Cape St. Francis, South Africa
The picture was the creation of surfer/ film maker Bruce Brown (1937-2017). He had been making minor, shorter surfing films for several years, each one returning just enough to help finance the next one. By the time he was ready to find a distributor for his most ambitious project to date, The Endless Summer, he was in the hole for $50,000 (mostly sunk into promotion), and unsure if his picture would succeed or not. It seemed to be popular with the surfing community in California, but the executives at Warner Bros and other studios were convinced it would not sell away from the beaches. So his promoter took it to Wichita, Kansas, in central USA, in order to find out if that was indeed the case. He was appalled to arrive there at the height of the biggest snow storm seen in Kansas for decades. His heart sank as he gazed out of his hotel window on a bleak, white landscape.
Director Bruce Brown
The following morning, however, he was astonished to see lines of people stretched around two city blocks, standing in the deep snow, waiting to purchase tickets to see the picture. It sold out every night for the week it had been booked, so he extended its run for a second week with identical results. Then he returned to New York City armed with the news that this surfing movie had indeed sold ‘away from the beaches’. Executives were still unimpressed, describing its success as ‘a fluke’, before offering him a paltry $3,000 for the rights. Brown knew his movie could make that much in one theatre in one night so he quickly rejected the offer and looked elsewhere for a distributor. He soon found one. Eventually, The Endless Summer went on to earn in excess of $30 million!
The premise of the film is simplicity itself. Two Californian surfers decide to go around the world, following the sun in search of good surf wherever it still happens to be summertime. They leave the Californian winter behind them and travel to Senegal in Africa; then to Ghana; then to Lagos, Nigeria, and eventually to the Union of South Africa, encountering fine surfing conditions in some unexpected locations along the way. From Africa they head to Australia, then on to New Zealand before heading for home via Tahiti and Hawaii. Throughout this light-hearted jaunt we are treated to some exciting footage shot at all the most famous surfing spots around the globe, spots whose popularity has escalated with the success of The Endless Summer. A second film titled The Endless Summer 2 was released in 1994 with similar success.
THE BIG COUNTRY (1958)
This is a much under-rated western. It has really interesting characters, a fine cast and screenplay, quality performances from all the principles and a story that is superior to most motion pictures about the old west. Gregory Peck plays a retired sea captain, named James McKay, who arrives at the Terrill ranch to marry his fiancée Pat Terrill, played by Carroll Baker. McKay is a taciturn individual who feels he has no need to prove his masculinity or courage to anyone but himself, an attitude that mystifies his fiancée, her father Major Terrill (Charles Bickford) and his foreman, Steve Leech, played by Charlton Heston. Captain McKay becomes embroiled in a vicious feud between ‘the Major’ and a neighbouring rancher named Rufus Hannassey (Burl Ives). Pat’s best friend is the local schoolteacher, Julie Maragon, portrayed by Jean Simmons.
(L to R) Gregory Peck, Charlton Heston & Charles Bickford in The Big Country
Peck and director William Wyler had become friends back in 1953 when they made Roman Holiday together, but they fell out badly while making The Big Country, so much so that Wyler vowed never to work with him again. And he stuck to his vow. There was no love lost between the director and Bickford either. Wyler was notorious for demanding numerous takes, something Bickford could not abide. They clashed repeatedly because Bickford defiantly refused to play a scene or read a line differently, regardless of how many takes Wyler insisted they do. Ironically, it was Peck’s insistence on more and more takes (he was a perfectionist) that brought about his rift with Wyler. Willie liked to be in total control and Greg was used to getting his own way. Even Jean Simmons was unhappy on the set, because scripts were being constantly rewritten (sometimes three times in one day), and she felt she was forever re-learning her lines.
Jean Simmons & Greg Peck
Carroll Baker had her problems with the director also. Heston had to fight with her in one scene and Wyler gave him secret instructions to grab her wrists and not let go of them, regardless of how hard she struggled. Then he told Carroll to, ‘Break loose, so you can hit him.’ For ten takes she ferociously writhed and wriggled, trying to break free of his grip, without success. Heston described the situation. ‘She’s got sensitive skin and she’s getting welts. Between takes they were putting ice and chamois cloths on her wrists. She was weeping with frustration and anger and all kinds of things. Christ, I outweighed her by nearly 100 pounds!’ Wyler knew precisely what he wanted – and he eventually got it.
Burl Ives in his Oscar-winning role as Rufus Hannassey
There exists a short video available on YouTube, narrated by Jean Simmons; that contains footage of behind-the-scenes activities indulged in by the cast. She and Wyler can be seen playing cards, Heston sketched, Peck and Ives played chess, and Baker and Heston even hosted turtle races! This movie saw Ives receive his only ever Oscar nomination in his career – and it was successful. He is very good in the role of Hannassey and thoroughly deserved his win. President Dwight D. Eisenhower watched The Big Country four times consecutively at the White House and called it, ‘simply the best film ever made. My number one favourite film.’