Hollywood Films made in Sri Lanka

Courtesy of Dawn Gunasekera 

Elephant Walk –Bridge on the River Kwai — Tarzan the Ape Man  et cetera

Wiliam Holden & Chandani Rutnam while shooting Bridge on the River Kwaib…..

… BUT the real star was Alex Guinness


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4 responses to “Hollywood Films made in Sri Lanka

  1. Hello Michael,

    Thanks for this video clip of 5 Hollywood movies filmed in Sri Lanka. As you had commented that the ‘real star’ of the ‘The Bridge of the River Kwai’ was Alex Guinness, it may not be inappropriate if I bring to your notice his memoir, ‘A Positively Final Appearance – A journal 1996-1998’ (Penguin Books, 2000)., which I enjoyed reading. Specifically, I quote one paragraph about his observation in Sri Lanka.

    “In Sri Lanka, during the filming of ‘The Bridge on the river Kwai’, I watched an elephant lead a Buddhist procession. He had a bare electric light-bulb flickering on his forehead, spangles and flower paintings all over him and carried on his back his mahout and a cumbersome battery. Immediately behind him marched a boy of about twelve, with eyes fixed on the elephant’s tail. There followed a bey of Singhalese dancing girls and a chanting crowd. I asked someone what the boy was doing and was told that if the elephant defecated it was the boy’s job to jump immediately on the ball of dung, to make all smooth for the dancers. At the very moment this was explained to me the elephant obliged by releasing a cannonball which thudded to the ground. The boy leapt on it with both feet and the dancers progressed, fancy-free, ankles jingling, wrists and fingers at work, casting wild oeillades from side to side as they passed, dry-footed, over a potential Turner Prize palette.” (pp, 151-152)

    Again, on p. 191, Guinness makes another passing reference to the filming of ‘The Bridge on the River Kwai’. To quote,

    “O Christmas Eve, during the filming of ‘The Bridge on the River Kwai’ in Sri Lanka, we went to midnight mass at a convent chapel near Colombo, where we were greeted by a young nun – Australian I think – who was even more beautiful than Audrey Hepburn, whom she resembled.”

    Now, for my curiosity, I ask you – whether you or any of your acquaintances have any photos of these ‘Poop-catching boys’ of Kandy perahera, in action referred by Alex Guinness? I haven’t seen one so far. In another plane, what a delightful metaphor for political poop catchers of Sri Lankan bigwigs!

    Best regards.

    • SACHI has now discovered that Alec Guinness is an “Alec” …. and not an “ALEX”. QUITE SMART THAT …. on Alec’s part as well as Sachi’s!

  2. Dear Michael,

    Shall I write again, to provide the background of why Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh dropped out of the ‘Elephant Walk’ movie? One major contributing factor was the extramarital affair Vivien Leigh had with Peter Finch, her co-star in the movie. The details are provided by Olivier, in his autobiographical memoir ‘Confessions of an Actor’ (1982, pp. 196-199) – almost three decades, after the event. Quotes are lengthy, but it makes interesting reading, because it comes from Olivier himself.

    “For a while I had had a small but growing sense of worry. Vivien, who had always chosen her work carefully and wisely, had recently become enthusiastic about an idea for a job which I felt to be a most unwise choice – an undistinguished melodrama to be located in Ceylon, and shot at the end of January 1953.

    The producers had suggested that I might consider taking the male lead opposite her in the film; Vivien asked, was I sure I wouldn’t like to? It was a safe enough question, I realised, knowing as she did that not only was I against the project, but also that I had ahead of me the sixteen weeks needed by any producer for editing, post-synching, scoring, dubbing, final colour-matching, titling and negative cutting of ‘The Beggar’s Opera’. When, almost without pause, she said that in that case none other than Peter Finch would be her leading man, the penny dropped, and it dropped with the knell of a high-pitched chapel bell.

    I was allowed on to the tarmac at the airport, and as the plane began to move gently forward they both looked back at me through the window, Peter making a gallant effort to look the assuringly protective friend, and she, with a little smile of infinite sweetness, blowing me a sad little kiss.”

    …..[Three paragraphs deleted here, as they don’t describe Sri Lankan scene.]…

    Olivier continues further.

    “Irving Asher, a friend of long standing and the producer in Ceylon, called Cecil Tennant in a state of great panic; Vivien’s conduct was making the work on the film quite impossible. She showed no vestige of her habitual discipline and was impossible to reason with – could Larry for Chrissakes come over and do something? I was anxious to see the state of the union for myself, and so, knowing the hopelessness of my quest, I got limply on to a Comet and flew from Paris as directly as you then could: Rome, Beirut, Bahrain and into Colombo.

    Vivien met me at the airport, which dismayed me a bit because I was sure that she should have been in front of the cameras. She was all for stopping off at a ‘rest house’, a name so delightfully vague that its sense of accomodation would seem to be limitless; she was insistent upon needing a little drink and a relax, but I said that we should really get her back to work as soon as we could, since we surely didn’t wat to worry them unnecessarily. This was met with a blaze of rage that surprised even me; in the unhappy colloquy that followed I thought ruefully of the wretched waste of time, effort and money that I had been a party to. It was a long drive, but at last we got to the hotel in Kandy.

    I found there that Peter Finch was very much in charge, being the only person at this time who had any kind of influence upon Vivien; to do him justice he used that influence as best he could in the film’s interests, but the governing factor of the situation was that the two of them were helplessly lost in the floodtide of the all-consuming passion to which, for the first time, they were giving enthusiastic licence. Sweet little Ethel, Vivien’s maid, upset and distracted with terror, told me that so far they had not been to bed but had lain together all night in the open on the hillsides.

    I could find no blame in my heart for Peter – was he not simply doing what I had done to her first husband seventeen years ago? I found it pretty old-fashioned to work up any extra feelings of outrage on account of my being his boss from whom he had been able to glean a very nice career, thank you; besides, I had always liked him, and in the strangest of ways, just then, the utter confusion of the mess in which we found ourselves seemed to dispel hostility.

    The humiliation of hanging around in Ceylon would have been quite enough to send me packing without any special application of common sense. My ‘mission’ had been as futile as any fool would have known that it would be. I’d arrived on Tuesday, the 17th, and having expressed my regrets to Asher and wished him all the luck that he needed – which was a super-abundance of it – I got myself on to a plane early on the Friday morning and was in Paris on the Saturday afternoon.”

    Well, you may wonder, how I picked up these morsels? For the past 40 years, I have been collecting autobiographies/biographies of popular movie stars of my teenage years in Colombo. As of now, I had accumulated more than 30 works in this category. In those days, movies can only be watched in movie theaters, and my mother (God bless her, she’s still living in New Zealand at 85!) prohibited me watching Hollywood movies because they flaunt too much skin, and had kissing scenes.

    • SACHI, …. YOU should compose some articles on the movie stars –set within your own lifeways and familiail oversight in Colombo [Mundane Colombo? or were there arenas where your dear Mum could not watch over you?}…Michael R

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