The Adventure of filming The Big Gamble

‘The Big Gamble’ was a great adventure movie, but the adventure in making the movie almost certainly tops the movie itself. The film was made in various locations – Ireland,  Southern France, and the Ivory Coast during the spring and early summer of 1960. During the film process, Darryl Zanuck (who was dating Juliette Greco at the time), accompanied the crew to some of these locales. While in Africa, the film crew had numerous hair-raising stories to tell. Stephen Boyd recalled dining at an African Hotel and was sure he’d been served human flesh! The owner of the hotel wouldn’t deny it. In another story, when the crew stayed in their tents, they were guarded by men who had been previously arrested for cannibalism!  Here’s an article from 1961 about the filming of the ‘Big Gamble.’

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HAZARDS GANG UP ON ZANUCK ABROADFeb 18, 1961, The Spokesman Review

HOLLYWOOD – Against innumerable odds, Darryl F. Zanuck has wound up a 150,000 mile trek with cast and crew to film ‘The Big Gamble.’ Covering great hunks of land and water, he and stars Juliette Greco, Stephen Boyd, David Wayne, Dame Sybil Thorndike and Gregory Ratoff have just finished the picture, which required filming in Ireland, France and Africa.

 While filming in Dublin, the weather changed so frequently during the course of a day that arrangements were made with the city to have two fireman and a firehose with the unit at all times when filming street scenes to provide man-made weather as needed. Often when a sequence was about to begin a sudden shower would send everyone under cover. Within a few minutes the weather would clear, but rather than wait for the sidewalks and pavement to dry, the scene would start at once and as the action progressed, the special fireman would keep the street within camera range hosed down to maintain its glistening wet appearance until the sequence was completed.

 BOYD NEARLY DROWNS

 More urgent action was necessary when the company was in the southern part of France. Stephen Boyd narrowly escaped death in the Ardeche river and was saved only by the quick reaction of fellow-star  David Wayne. The scene being filmed concerned the attempts of Boyd and Wayne to free their 10-ton truck mired in the middle of a raging mountain stream before it is swept away in the flood swollen current. During the taking of the scene, Boyd lost his footing and banged his head against a metal projection of the truck. Unconscious, he was swept by the swift current into a deep pool just below the fording place. Wayne, an excellent swimmer, managed to reach him and hold his head above water until members of the production crew could pull the two men to safety.

In Africa the company was very much on its guard, because the Ivory coast was celebrating its newly acquired independence. The bridge which connects Awidjan ,the new republic’s capital city, and the native quarters at the port across the river where the company was working, was closed at 6am each morning and kept closed for the day.

 MAROONED BY SNAKES

 A more imminent threat occurred when the film unit was marooned for 11 hours on a small island off the Ivory Coast near Sasandra. The company had been taken to the island in naïve pirogues – the only available transportation in the primitive area – but were unable to return that evening when a sudden storm and riptide made it impossible for the small pirogues to reach the mainland. The stars and the company spent the night looking out for deadly brown vipers.

 Juliette Greco, as Marie Brennan, the bride of Stephen Boyd, slim, sultry and smoky-voiced, is a ‘new’ Greco. This former favorite singer and personality of the existentialists in Paris reveals a delightful and totally unsuspected talent for comedy. Stephen Boyd, as the Irish ex-seaman Vic Brennan, who is determined to build a trucking business in Africa, is properly handsome and rugged, and in this role is provided with an opportunity to enhance the popularity he holds since his portrayal of Messala in ‘Ben Hur.’ David Wayne, currently starring on Broadway in ‘Send Me No Flowers,’ has no trouble at all in perfecting an Irish dialect for his role of Samuel Brennan, the meek bank clerk cousin of Stephen Boyd. His is a hilarious and touching characterization.

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