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The unwanted Lamborghini

PUBLISHED: 17:13 23 July 2008 | UPDATED: 09:57 23 August 2010

IN these times of financial restraint and fiscal fears it s always uplifting to hear about those who were relied upon to use zillion sized super-humongous budgets to create a serious mark on our history. If greatness is wanted then why worry about a sil

IN these times of financial restraint and fiscal fears it's always uplifting to hear about those who were relied upon to use zillion sized super-humongous budgets to create a serious mark on our history.

If greatness is wanted then why worry about a silly thing like money? An attitude few of us only dare to entertain. Mostly because it's not so great living in a cardboard box if all goes wrong, and thus proving chasing dreams is a costly affair in all sorts of ways. If only one could rely on the end result paying off in the desired manner. But often it can, and often it does. It's a gamble always and ours alone to take.

But back to a time of the big budget for dreams to shape our cultural heritage. So welcome then to the film business of the 1960s (and also now I guess when we remember Batman grossed a massive 77million on release this week).

Cash, if one happened to be late British director David Lean, flowed as fast as the Mississippi on a fine day in spring.

He was in a tiny village called Dingle in west Ireland making Ryan's Daughter. He had a six million pound budget (multiply that by any figure and that's the comparative budget in 2008) with which to implant his own impression on Gustave Flaubert's tale of Madame Bovary. And whilst Lean's epic was called Ryan's Daughter the general thrust of the story about the heroine's fall into adultery, debt and death, remained fairly true to Flaubert's original tale.

At the beginning of the picture there was talk of the filming taking just sixteen weeks to make. But canny actor, the late Sir John Mills, who played the village idiot, Michael, and the only character who really knows what's going on in this sinister tale of human bondage, decided to move to Dingle.

"I took a place there for a year knowing David would need that time and more to get what he wanted. I was right in my estimate too," recalled Sir John illuminating just how much a genius in the form of Lean was likely to spend in order to make a film that lived forever.

"With the Irish weather, with those soft days and pouring rain, I knew it would take time. Lean would not be hurried, and he wanted to put that country up there as it was on the screen. Some of the rest of the cast got, well, a little impatient with him."

Hollywood legend Robert Mitchum was cast as the limp schoolteacher. A peculiar choice when considering Mitchum's tough guy looks. Lean and the star didn't get on. Mitchum would not work in the afternoons so Lean was forced to spend, spend, spend to justify his choice of Mitchum. "I just didn't want a boring actor playing the role," he said. Why worry about the cost of hiring someone you didn't get on with? Friction, supposed Lean, paid dividends in the ultimate end product. Kent film historian Barry Littlechild remembers visiting the location and recalls meeting a man who just happened fix cars in his small backyard. "This man remembered the day Lean, his cast and crew moved in and, by 1969, the village was brought alive with great outpourings of motion picture cash."

The little Irishman with the spanner was contacted by Lean who wanted him to supply all the cars on and off set. Barry said the chap was happy to oblige and one day was asked to fish out a very expensive present for the actress Sarah Miles who played the character of Rosy Ryan.

Barry said: "It was her birthday and Lean was desperate to keep her happy. He asked this guy what was the most fashionable and expensive car of the time. Lean was told a Lamborghini so one day a yellow one arrived with a big bow wrapped around it."

The story goes that Ms Miles can't have wanted the car that much as it was just left in a garage at the new Dingle Garage with the bow still wrapped around it.

Barry said: "When Lean and the rest finished the film and moved away the guy at the garage contacted Lean's representatives and asked what he should do with the birthday car. There was a sigh at the end of the phone and he was told no one knew anything about it, or wanted it so he could keep it and do what he wanted with it."

How many directors buy their cast presents like that today? What other seriously expensive gifts got written off as the five minute gestures they were? But there are more tales of Lean's extravagance. Some true, some not so true. It's well known he berated the journalist who revealed how he spent four months filming a cloud for Ryan's Daughter. And then there were tales of butterflies he wanted for the bluebell wood scenes.

Barry said: "He'd change his mind and blow the expense. Once he ordered ten thousand butterflies in for a scene. They were to be let loose at a certain time. When he arrived on location that day he had decided he didn't want them after all.

"Then the props team would get a call saying he wanted some more for the next day and they'd have to scour the world finding butterflies that would die within hours if he didn't use them. What did this cost? Unimaginable..."

Ryan's Daughter opened at New York's Ziegfeld Theatre on November 9, 1970. "There wasn't a single good notice," said Lean at the time. "I was afraid to show my face in restaurants." Some critics claimed nobody wanted a love story in 1970 and Lean admitted he was in love at the time and saw the world through rose coloured glasses. Well, so what?

In 1990, a year before the six-times married Lean died, he politely scolded Hollywood's power elite for caring more about profits than the quality of modern movies. Love that man.

melody.foreman@archant.co.uk

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