The Seasonal Hand of Providence
Despite the care and craft lavished on it, director Fred Zinnemann’s 1964 historical epic Behold a Pale Horse was not a critical or box-office success. But he still had the backing of the studio for which he made From Here to Eternity (1953) years before, and he would write in his autobiography Fred Zinnemann: A Life in Pictures about his next project: “Owing to the extraordinary calibre of the crew and the actors and the way they worked together, this was in every way the easiest film I have ever made.” Premiering 49 years ago tomorrow, A Man for All Seasons (1966), from Robert Bolt’s bracing and expertly staged and acted London/Broadway stage hit about Thomas More's conflict of conscience with his friend Henry VIII, is also one of the director’s most beloved films, the winner of six Academy Awards® including Best Picture and a work that still reverberates with its political power plays and debates on personal beliefs vs. public duty. Rising to the challenge of a limited budget and a tight schedule, Zinnemann and his creative team made every moment and dollar count, and that enabled the production to shoot and complete the film for its premiere in just seven months. Zinnemann readily credits another collaborator, noting “In an eerie manner, providence also seemed to take a hand.” In April, the crew was preparing for a snowy landscape riding scene by deploying two truckloads of Styrofoam snow to set the scene. “Hardly had we arrived there late in the evening, when, lo and behold, snow started to fall. It snowed all night and at dawn the hills looked sparkling white; the Styrofoam trucks stayed where they were. Stranger still, just after we finished shooting and I had said ‘Cut’ for the last time, the sun came out and all the snow melted in less than half an hour, as if on cue.” He recounted another intervention that took place when shooting Henry and More’s conversation in More’s garden and the monarch’s anger starts to boil over: “As he spoke a certain line, a sudden violent gust of wind shook the trees, as if on cue. The sudden wind sprang up each time that particular line was spoken – in long shots, reverse shots, close-ups – and we always had a perfect match in the editing.” Starring Paul Scofield, Wendy Hiller, Robert Shaw, Orson Welles, Leo McKern, Susannah York and John Hurt as well as a providential hand guiding the weather, A Man for All Seasons remains a powerful and provocative screen experience, with providence also guiding the wizards at Sony Pictures who delivered the gloriously pristine and lovely 4K restoration transfer proudly presented on Twilight Time hi-def Blu-ray.