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FEAR AND DESIRE (director: Stanley Kubrick; screenwriter: Howard Sackler; cinematographer: Stanley Kubrick; editor: Stanley Kubrick; music: Gerald Fried; cast: Frank Silvera (Sgt. Mac), Paul Mazursky (Pvt. Sidney), Kenneth Harp (Lt. Corby/enemy general), Steve Coit (Pvt. Fletcher/enemy captain aide-de-camp), Virginia Leith (Young Girl), David Allan (Narrator); Runtime: 63; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Stanley Kubrick; Cult Media; 1953)
“Its sole distinction is that it’s a Kubrick film.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This is legendary director Stanley Kubrick’s (“Killer’s Kiss”/”The Killing”/”Full Metal Jacket”) modest first feature film, made at the tender age of 24 on a budget of an estimated $40,000. Kubrick directed, produced, photographed and edited this indie that was shot in the San Gabriel Mts and at a river at Bakersfield on the Coast. It’s an allegory about the insanity of war and the effect of fear on a man’s soul. It is written by the 23-year-old poet Howard O. Sackler, whose screenplay offers pretentious dialogue and some half-baked philosophical musings.

Four soldiers, the cultured and introspective Lt. Corby (Kenneth Harp), the hardboiled macho Sgt. Mac (Frank Silvera), the young innocent Pvt. Sidney (Paul Mazursky, future director), and the stable family man Steve Coit (Pvt. Fletcher), are trapped six miles behind enemy lines on an unnamed island after their plane was shot and crash-lands. Unharmed, the soldiers desperately try to make their way through the woods to return to their home base. In the process they must kill some enemy soldiers and kidnap a peasant woman (Virginia Leith). When three of the soldiers go to the river to build a raft, they leave the fearful Pvt. Sidney behind to guard their captive as she remains bound to a tree. The young soldier cracks up and fatally shoots her, after untying her so he can seduce her.

The soldiers spot an enemy general (also played by Harp) and his aide (also played by Coit) at a command post manned by troops, and also a plane nearby that seats two. As they make their escape by raft and plane, they also try to assassinate the general through the heroic efforts of Sgt. Mac to keep the troops occupied while Fletcher and Colby get a crack at the unguarded general.

Its sole distinction is that it’s a Kubrick film, and even though a primitive first feature film it shows promise for the future great director. Evidently Kubrick hated the film and bought out all the prints so it remained not shown to the public; though it’s no masterpiece, it’s also not something to be ashamed about as he mockingly referred to it as an “amateur exercise.”

Besides photographing the action in an arty way that imitated the way the early great Russian war epics did so Kubrick, in his uneven talky experimental film, creatively shows that both sides of the conflict could arguably be viewed as interchangeable, as he had the same actors play each side.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”