Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Utopias (No.2)

Atoll K (1951) is a French/Italian film—also known as Robinson Crusoeland in the UK and Utopia in the US—starring the comedy team of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy in their final screen appearance.

The production of Atoll K was riddled with many problems that caused the production to be extended abnormally. Ida Laurel, Stan Laurel’s widow, told biographer John McCabe, "I’m hardly likely to forget the date we left for France and the date we returned – April 1, 1950, and April 1, 1951. But there was no April Fooling about that terrible year. That bloody picture was supposed to take twelve weeks to make, and it took twelve months."

From the beginning, there were disagreements on the film’s screenplay. Laurel was unhappy with the storyline envisioned by French director Léo Joannon and insisted on bringing Alfred Goulding and Monty Collins to aid in the screenplay’s creation (neither man received on-screen credit). There were also considerable problems in communications, since neither Laurel nor Hardy spoke French and Joannon spoke very little English.

During the production, the two comedy stars encountered serious problems. Laurel’s pre-existing diabetes was aggravated and he developed colitis, dysentery and a prostate ulcer while on the French locations for the film. He eventually required hospitalization, and his widow would later fault the quality of the French medical care, claiming that at one point, she had to substitute for an absent nurse by changing her husband’s bandages. Laurel’s weight dropped to 114 pounds, and for most of the production he could only work in 20 or 30-minute spurts.

Hardy, however, saw his already hefty frame expand to 330 pounds while in France, and he required medical care for cardiac fibrillation and the flu. Adding to the medical problems was Italian actor Adriano Rimoldi, who played the stowaway, when he fell from a docked yacht and required a month's recuperation away from the production.

When they were able to work, Laurel and Hardy saw their relationship with Joannon fray dramatically. Ida Laurel would later claim Joannon was an incompetent who spent three days filming a lake because, as she said, "it was the most photogenic lake he’d ever seen." In the middle of the production, US film director John Berry was quietly brought in to work with the comedy team. Berry’s US career was ruined by the Hollywood blacklist and he sought to start over in France. However, his participation was kept secret out of the fear that the film would not get a US theatrical release if it became known that a blacklisted director was at its helm. Berry’s contribution was not publicly acknowledged until 1967, when film historian William K. Everson cited the uncredited director’s input in his book The Films of Laurel and Hardy. While Berry never publicly acknowledged his work on Atoll K, the film's leading lady Suzy Delair confirmed his role during an interview with historian Norbert Aping.

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