Saturday, March 13, 2010


by Alec Guinness

When, in the winter of 1962-63, I embarked on an epic called THE FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE, Tony Quayle, who was also in the film, rented a lovely sixteenth-century farmhouse a mile or two outside the town [Segovia, in central Spain] and invited me to share it with him... Almost every day during my few weeks in Segovia I visited one or other of these churches to rid myself of the despondency or near-feuds of the film world... I never saw more than twenty minutes of the finished film.
While flying out to Spain I sat gazing forlornly at the script and jotting down a few notes. A tall American came to sit beside me and asked if I was studying my lines. 'Well, re-writing them, where possible,' I said. 'What do you think of the script?' he asked. 'Not much,' I replied. 'For instance, I can't possibly say, as Marcus Aurelius, "Look after my Meditations when I'm dead." It would bring the house down.' (In the film the 'Mediations' looked like rolls of unwanted wallpaper stuck in a basket.) It was tactless of me; I didn't realise until I met him later that my companion was the scriptwriter. The saving grace - apart from Anthony Mann, who was a friendly director and well-disposed towards actors - was Sophia Loren, whose company I enjoyed enormously. An hour or two after we first me she said, 'I have just telephoned Ponti. He wanted to know what you are like. I told him, "He's a Neapolitan."' Which I must say surprised me a good deal and I have spent a lot of time trying to puzzle it out.

[Quite possibly the American screenwriter that Alec refers to is Ben Barzman, another blacklisted Hollywood writer who is now credited as being a writer on EL CID and 55 DAYS AT PEKING for Philip Yordan/Samuel Bronston. He would go on to write THE VISIT, THE HEROES OF TELEMARK, THE BLUE MAX and L'ATTENTAT, aka THE FRENCH CONSPIRACY.]

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