The Big Fisherman (1959) Poster

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Overshadowed by Ben-Hur
al-eaton21 August 2004
Walt Disney arranged for Buena Vista Distribution (a company formed to release Disney films instead of RKO) to release the film as he wanted a long biblical epic to compete with the other major studios. In particular, he wanted to cash in on their successes, particularly that of BEN-HUR. One reviewer even commented that this production borrowed the MGM Camera 65 cameras used to film BEN-HUR.

THE BIG FISHERMAN was nominated for several Oscars, a testament to the quality of the film and its technical professionals. Of course, it lost to BEN-HUR (almost everybody lost to BEN-HUR).

In the mid-1970's, I worked at the Disney Studios in 16mm film distribution (mostly to schools and airlines as this was prior to the rise of home video). I located some 16mm anamorphic (scope) prints of THE BIG FISHERMAN.

Using a dialog continuity script as a guide, I managed to reconstruct a decent, complete print and turned it over to my management, thinking it would be a great 16mm rental title. It wasn't accepted for that medium, but a few years later, SFM MEDIA CORPORATION distributed it to TV (in a pan-and-scan version only).

The film is based on Lloyd C. Douglas' novel, a sequel to his massive bestselling book THE ROBE. The performances are consistently excellent. Howard Keel creates a moving and heart-felt portrait of Simon/Peter. There are several other standout performances. For example, Jonathan Harris as the chief steward in the palace of Herod Antipas. This was before his memorable turn as Dr. Zachary Smith in LOST IN SPACE. The best way to describe his characterization is to borrow a line from MY FAIR LADY: "Oozing charm from every pour, he oiled his way around the floor." Herbet Lom and Martha Hyer (as Antipas and Herodias) are particular standouts.

Also, Ray Stricklyn as Deran, the evil son of the Arabian king, who has an unhealthy lust for Princess Fara (Susan Kohner), whose heart belongs to Prince Voldi (John Saxon). Kohner and Saxon create a very believable chemistry of two star-crossed lovers.

When Deran dies suddenly of a heart attack while addressing his chiefs, who surround him on horseback, his passing is remarked on by two lines of dialog: "I think he is dead," says one chief. Another chief, looking at the body on the ground before him, replies, "Let us let him lay there until we are certain."

It is a pity that this title is not available on video, preferably on DVD, where it's widescreen image can be preserved. I'm surprised that TCM hasn't gotten hold of this, unless it's a case of who owns the legal rights; possibly Buena Vista, the original distributor (which, of course, involves the Walt Disney Studios, who have their own strong home video distribution system). Perhaps these copyright owners feel that no decent elements exist for a DVD transfer. Perhaps they feel that the title just wouldn't find a large enough market to justify the cost of transferring such a long movie. That is a misguided belief. Anyway, it's still a pity. It deserves to be seen again.
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6/10
Long overdue for DVD release- the only 70mm Biblical epic still unavailable in any format.
jh3d6 March 2008
The Big Fisherman was certainly not the biggest - or the best - of the fifties/sixties cycle of 70mm epics. Arriving between Ben-Hur (1959) and Spartacus (1960), it is not surprising that this rather small-scale epic became lost in the shuffle. It has no battles, no huge crowd scenes - in fact the crowds can be numbered in dozens rather than thousands - and an archaic script that harks back to Bible epics that were made ten years earlier.

That said, Lee Garmes' cinematography is splendid and Albert Hay Mallotte's score is superb; plus Howard Keel, Herbert Lom, John Saxon and Martha Hyer deliver exemplary performances, in spite of the leaden script.

Contrary to previous comments, The Big Fisherman was NOT shot in MGM Camera 65 - only Raintree County and Ben-Hur were. After the process changed its name to Ultra Panavision, it was used on Mutiny on the Bounty, It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, Khartoum and The Fall of the Roman Empire. The Big Fisherman used Super Panavision - a non anamorphic 70mm widescreen process.

Inferior the film may be to its contemporaries, it still deserves a DVD release - preferably a Special Edition version, as it is most certainly a worthy part of the canon of 70mm epics.

For further information, go to www.widescreenmovies.org and click on 'Highlights of Previous Issues' then 'The Epic that Disappeared: The Big Fisherman'.
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The California desert subs for overseas locations.
gregcouture29 April 2003
I saw this one during its initial release at a theater in Palm Springs, California (now used only for stage shows and live presentations...one has to go a few miles out of the downtown area to find a multiplex, at least during my last visit there a year or so ago.) The 70mm cinematography (using the same units, borrowed presumably from M-G-M, that had been shipped to Rome to lens "Ben-Hur" - in "M-G-M Camera 65" - a "Window of the World" as the studio had touted it for the first production in that process, 1957's "Raintree County" starring Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift) is stunning, making great use of the Salton Sea area, a few miles from Palm Springs itself. I don't remember this film all that well, but I do recall that Herbert Lom and Martha Hyer, as Herod Antipas and his evil consort, Herodias, achieved chillingly corrupt portrayals, under the steady hand of old Hollywood veteran, Frank Borzage.

One wonders who now holds the rights to this film, for it would certainly be a title that might do well given a good transfer to DVD.
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6/10
Would You Believe They Wanted John Wayne????
bkoganbing4 November 2005
Howard Keel says in his posthumously published memoirs that he grabbed the part of Simon Peter in The Big Fisherman to prove his versatility as an actor. Musicals were pretty much done by that time and he was free of his MGM contract.

He got the role after John Wayne turned the part down. That one was an eye opener I have to say. My conception of St. Peter has always been that of a big hale and hearty man used to working in the outdoors. We see an older Peter in Quo Vadis with Finlay Currie and now we have a younger one in Keel.

Still I can't believe that Frank Borzage wanted John Wayne. After coming off that disaster in The Barbarian and the Geisha, the Duke wisely turned this one down.

Keel does give a good performance as Peter. Other than Keel the player best remembered for this film is Ray Stricklyn as the evil young Arab prince.

It's good to remember that this is a fictional story about a biblical figure though some scenes of events described in the Bible are in the film. Nevertheless there are some plot flaws. Peter goes among the Arabs here and this was six centuries before Mohammed came on the scene. If you were to follow the logic of the film, the Arab people would have been converted to Christianity. Now maybe it would have saved us all a lot of bloodshed over the centuries had they, still even in a work of fiction that's a bit much to swallow.

Keel liked making the film and had high hopes for it. Unfortunately it ran up against Ben-Hur another filmed biblically based novel this time with the protagonist being a fictional character. Additionally The Big Fisherman got lost somewhere in the corporate doings of Buena Vista Films and the Walt Disney studio. Back in the Fifties, Buena Vista did distribute films not necessarily with the Walt Disney brand on them. It's been seen on television a few times, I saw it again about 12 years ago. It should be seen in theaters though. Like Ben-Hur something is lost even with a letter box version.

But can you imagine John Wayne as St. Peter? Turn that one over in your minds.
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6/10
Long overdue for DVD release- the only 70mm Biblical epic still unavailable in any format.
jh3d6 March 2008
The Big Fisherman was certainly not the biggest - or the best - of the fifties/sixties cycle of 70mm epics. Arriving between Ben-Hur (1959) and Spartacus (1960), it is not surprising that this rather small-scale epic became lost in the shuffle. It has no battles, no huge crowd scenes - in fact the crowds can be numbered in dozens rather than thousands - and an archaic script that harks back to Bible epics that were made ten years earlier.

That said, Lee Garmes' cinematography is splendid and Albert Hay Mallotte's score is superb; plus Howard Keel, Herbert Lom, John Saxon and Martha Hyer deliver exemplary performances, in spite of the leaden script.

Contrary to previous comments, The Big Fisherman was NOT shot in MGM Camera 65 - only Raintree County and Ben-Hur were. After the process changed its name to Ultra Panavision, it was used on Mutiny on the Bounty, It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, Khartoum and The Fall of the Roman Empire. The Big Fisherman used Super Panavision - a non anamorphic 70mm widescreen process.

Inferior the film may be to its contemporaries, it still deserves a DVD release - preferably a Special Edition version, as it is most certainly a worthy part of the canon of 70mm epics.

For further information, go to www.widescreenmovies.org and click on 'Highlights of Previous Issues' then 'The Epic that Disappeared: The Big Fisherman'.
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10/10
Can't wait for the DVD!
benoit-325 February 2003
I saw The Big Fisherman at 9 years of age when it first came out. I was very impressed with this, the only other film in history to use the Camera 65 process used for Ben-Hur the year before. I remember the general feeling being that despite its grandeur this film was a minor achievement compared to other biblical blockbusters of the era (Spartacus, King of Kings, The Robe, Ben Hur, The Greatest Story Ever Told, The fall of the Roman Empire, etc.). Just the same, the majesty of the proceedings, the music, the colour cinematography, the dazzling sets of Old Jerusalem but, most of all, the wickedness and darkness of the subplot involving the evil Herod family and culminating in Salome's dance left an indelible impression which I can't wait to renew if and when this film (unavailable in any medium)comes out on DVD.
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10/10
Love this film
ldemay2 March 2005
I saw this film as a child with my Mom. What I can remember of it was just so beautiful. Howard Keel had such a wonderful and powerful voice. I could listen to him sing anything. The seen of him singing by his boat is the one that sticks out in my mind the most. The colors were so beautiful and bright as I remember them. I thought this film was a musical, but I see it listed as a drama. Can anyone tell me why? I wish I could get a copy of this fine film for my Mom who is now in her mid seventies. So we could watch it again. I think it would be so great to see this movie with my daughter, who loves all kinds of movies, and some of my granddaughters. This is a real family film for the whole family.
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Request this movie on DVD
lonestar_92c10 December 2004
OK, I admit it. I am a long time friend of the heir to the estate of the composer, Albert Hay Malotte, who wrote the score for this movie.

Even if that were not true, I would still like to see this movie brought back and distributed on DVD.

We may start by hounding the Disney Music Company. Maybe they can give us more information on the movie rights.

WALT Disney MUSIC COMPANY

C/O Disney MUSIC PUBLISHING

ATTN: JULIE ENZER

500 SO BUENA VISTA, MC 6173

BURBANK , CA, 91521

Tel. (818) 569-3241
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This is one of my favorite movies John Saxon made.
camibear71 May 2002
I like the film the technicolor is bold, the scenery is so great. And the acting superb. I have it on tape and I watch it maybe twice a year. I saw it in the theater when it first came out. It made John Saxon one of my favorites. His smoldering good looks and the romance of his love for Fara make the story even more exciting. I liked the story line no one today wants to make an epic movie about the effects of Jesus on their lives. At the time this movie was made people enjoyed those types of movies and were not afraid to make them. I would recommend this movie to anyone. It has wonderful cast, and the story is quite believable. I have never gotten tired of watching it.
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7/10
No plans for re-release in any format
jslasher1 April 2012
I am a film producer and director. I have always had a soft spot for this underrated Biblical epic, which I saw in 70mm at the time of its release.

This was the first film shot in Super Panavision 70, the spherical (non-anamorphic) 70mm format. In the film's titles it is called Panavision 70.

There are many production values which deserve mention. The acting is uniformly good, but the particular stand-outs include the cinematography and Albert Hay Malotte's fine music score.

My contacts in the motion picture industry inform me that Disney has no plans whatsoever to re-release the film in any commercial format. The studio does not consider the film to have sufficient marketing potential.
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10/10
A great film that ought to be put on DVD
d-braine28 September 2005
This was a great film, and it ought to be put on DVD. I remember seeing it and thinking that it was far better than 'Quo Vadis' and many other of the religiously connected biopics, and much better than things like 'Jesus of Nazareth' which I have seen more recently. It is terrible that things like this should become unavailable for people to see, and I for one would very much like to see it again. There is less sloppiness and sentimentality than in some of the early biopics, and lots of good actors acting well. I do really think that this one should be pushed hard and someone persuaded to put it on DVD. I think it was influenced by the novel by Sholem Asch, who was a great novelist about various Jewish and Christian religious figures.
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6/10
Connections
codin-simonca30 April 2012
Despite what is written in "Did you know?" section, this movie is not connected to "The Robe" or "Demetrius and the Gladiators". It just has one character (the leading role, "the big fisherman", i.e. Saint Peter, the Apostle) in common, nothing else. At most, it could be considered a prequel of "The Robe", since the action precedes the events told in "The Robe". More, "the Big Fisherman" is a different kind of movie than "The Robe" and "Demetrius..."; it is built differently, it is shot differently, and so on. Yet, if you have enjoyed "The Robe" and "Demetrius...", you should enjoy this one, too. It has not the grandeur of the other two, but it is more alert.
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3/10
Big? Small Shoes for this Biblical Film-Big Fisherman **
edwagreen31 May 2013
Warning: Spoilers
Please, when you want to make a biblical movie, kindly consult Cecil B. DeMille or William Wyler. This picture, though not very good, had the misfortune to come out the same year as "Ben-Hur" did.

All the biblical names are merely cast about haphazardly-Judean, Arab, etc.

Howard Keel shed his beautiful singing voice to take the star role in this inferior production.

Susan Kohner must have thought she was Sarah Jane, the great part she had the same year in "Imitation of Life," where she was rewarded with an Oscar nomination.

The picture is one big mess with all the characters being thrown at you at once, with the exception of the usual diabolical Herbert Lom and Martha Hyer, his second wife, and the embodiment of evil. In her carriage scene, Hyer romps around with her nose in the air, while casting an evil-type look that reminded me of Agnes Moorehead.

This is supposedly a film of belief, redemption, punishment and anything else we can think of. It's a failure on all accounts.
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8/10
Classic
vidalmarketing16 May 2013
This is a very enjoyable movie. I think a movie should be judged by itself, as a viewing experience, and not just on the basis of comparisons to other movies, which can be unfair.

For example, this movie is compared to Ben-Hur, but they are not really comparable. This is a nice bio-epic about St. Peter, one of history's most important figures. Remember the Vatican Cathedral is named St. Peter's.

Yet how many people know that much about Peter, who Jesus called "the Rock" and said he would build his Church on him. He was so big and strong and wonderfully played by Howard Keel. Even when he is not singing, Keel has a wonderful voice when speaking.

The sets are also great, and the acting is fine throughout.

I strongly recommend this as a relaxing and interesting 3 hour viewing experience.
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7/10
I liked discovering The Big Fisherman on YouTube
tavm8 August 2012
Just watched this long epic movie on YouTube. It stars Howard Keel in the title role as Simon who becomes Peter when converted to Jesus' teachings. Jesus is heard and not seen though we do see his hands whenever possible. There's also Susan Kohner as Princess Fara, John Saxon as her lover Prince Voldi, Herbert Lom as the ruler Herod Antipas, and Martha Hyer as his bitchy lover/eventual wife Herodias. Oh, and in once again citing a player from my favorite movie-It's a Wonderful Life-in another film, Beulah Bondi as Hannah, Simon's mother-in-law. They're all pretty good especially Keel with his familiar baritone voice and Lom with his theatrical readings. And the music score by Albert Hay Malotte was really stirring which complements Frank Borzage's direction to a T. Since the running time is listed as 180 min. on this site, it's possible that the version I saw on YT might have been abridged since that one ran 2 hrs., 20 min. No matter since I was moved just the same. Really, all I'll say is if you stumble into this either there or elsewhere, I highly recommend The Big Fisherman.
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The big director
dbdumonteil5 April 2010
Warning: Spoilers
With this epic,this is FRank Borzage ,one of the most important director America has ever had ,saying goodbye to directing;he was to live only three more years and had little time to enjoy his retirement.But ,what a filmography! Circa 1959,it was epic time ("the ten commandments" ,"Ben Hur","Cleopatra" "kings of kings" ) and it was only natural for Borzage ,whose best works are in essence Christian :his heroes and heroines are prepared to sacrifice everything for the others (often the one they love: "the river" " lucky star" )or what they think is their duty : " no greater glory" or simply humanity (the scientists in "green light" and" doctor's wives" ,the social worker in "stranded").

Actually ,"The Big fisherman" is closer to the spirit of Finnish writer Mika Waltari (Curtiz's "the Egyptian" 1954)and even "Ben Hur" : fictitious characters bump into historical or biblical figures such as Herod Antipas,Herodias or Simon Peter (check the title:Christ's famous sentence "you'll be fisher of men" is included)and John The Baptist.Christ also briefly appears ,but like in "Ben Hur" ,we can't see his face.

The central character is Fara (played by Susan Kohner who is best remembered for Sarah Jane ,the girl who refused to be black in "imitation of life" ,the same year) whose mother was repudiated by Herod Antipas and who decides to kill him (her father).Borzage generally avoids the usual Hollywood traps :for instance,the dance of the seven veils and the death of the Baptist are filmed shadow show style ;and by the way ,where is Salome?

SPOILER: The ending of the movie (and of Borzage's career) is faithful to the director's spirit;the young princess sacrifices (or seems to sacrifice ) her love for Voldi (John Saxon) because she has found a greater love which involves the whole humanity ;perhaps she will become one of the holy women who followed Jesus...
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3/10
I must not have watched the same movie
tsmith41716 May 2013
I have to go along with the other person who said this was one of the worst movies s/he ever saw and didn't understand why everyone else was raving about it.

The color photography is horrible, the acting is stilted, the constant melody-less background music drowns out the dialogue (which might not be a bad thing) and it comes across like a church pageant produced, directed, and starring middle schoolers rather than a Hollywod film featuring all these prestigious names.

It's so bad, as a matter of fact, that I was actually surprised everyone was speaking English and that it wasn't dubbed.

This was nominated for Oscars? Amazing.
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10/10
The Big Fisherman
dom825625 June 2006
This was by far one of the most powerful and entertaining movies I have ever seen. I saw it on the Disney Channel many years ago and I was lucky enough to tape it on my VCR because it has never been released on DVD or VHS tape. It's like it was forgotten. It is not a musical but a very well acted drama about the life of the Apostle Peter. Fara a princess who is the daughter of Herod Antipas and an Arabian princess who he discarded to marry Herodias learns what her father did just minutes before her mom dies. She vows to go back and kill her father to avenge her mother. She ends up in the house of Simon Peter just before he is called and converted by Christ. Peter protects and cares for Fara. When she is about to kill Antipas he intervenes and stops her. At the end of the movie she gives up the great love of her love "VOLDI" who is named prince of Arabia because she is not a true Arabian. I wish this movie had been released on DVD or Tape because I would recommended to anyone. It's truly a beautiful and Spiritual story.
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1/10
Gives biblical movies a bad name
HotToastyRag8 February 2018
If you look the plot synopsis up online, you'll learn The Big Fisherman is a biopic of Peter the disciple, starring Howard Keel. If you watch the movie, you'll be very bored for the first forty-five minutes; it takes that long for Howard to show up on the screen! The entire movie is two and a half hours long, and the vast majority of it has nothing to do with Peter or Jesus or John.

Susan Kohner stars as Fara, who, since learning of her true parentage, is going through an identity crisis. She has men interested in her, both for honorable and dishonorable intentions, but until she seeks revenge on Herbert Lom and Martha Hyer, she doesn't feel complete. She dresses as a boy to sneak around undetected, but everyone she meets sees through her disguise instantly, including Howard Keel. At the time, he's just a fisherman, but soon he and Susan listen to the Sermon on the Mount and decide to follow the teachings of Jesus.

If someone ever decides to torture you and forces you to watch this movie-because there really isn't any other reason why you'd sit through it-you'll marvel at the differences between it and Ben-Hur, another biblical movie from 1959. It's almost impossible to believe they were made at the same time. The Big Fisherman is of such inferior quality, from the costumes to the set design, wigs, script, story, acting, directing, and music. The only similarity is the choice to never show Jesus's face; in The Big Fisherman, he does speak frequently, which was a poor choice. Thomas Browne Henry's voice sounds similar to Raymond Massey, not at all how anyone would imagine Jesus sounding.

You could feel sorry for Howard Keel that he had to lend his name to such a terrible movie, after headlining so many wonderful musicals earlier in the decade. Or, you could just do him a favor and forget he was ever in it, and then watch Seven Brides for Seven Brothers for the tenth time.
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10/10
A centurion finding faith in Christ and wanting to share it with others around him. It involves romance , action and true family interest.
jughead117 June 2006
They (The Disney Productions) really should put this awesome movie on DVD!! It may never happen unless we, the audience, does something! The movie has an all star cast, including Howard Keel from "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" and the famous character actor on movies and TV John Saxon. It is based on the book by Lloyd C. Douglass. Douglass is the same author who wrote the great inspiring book, "The Robe" which was the first movie done in Cinemascope. It starred Richard Burton, Jean Simmons and Victor Mature. Victor Mature starred in the sequel to "The Robe" which was entitled "Demetrius and the Gladiators" which was a screenplay based on the characters from "The Robe" and the movie, which was shown in theaters one year after its predecessor, did very well in its own right. So, hopefully all the spiritual works of Lloyd C. Douglass, especially "The Big Fisherman", that were made into theatrical performances will eventually go into DVD!!!
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2/10
We had Turkey for Christmas Eve
sherryminou0724 December 2014
Warning: Spoilers
Yikes, this was a bad movie! The color cinematography was hideous, the dialog laughable, music was overbearing, sets were cheesy. Oh, and every "B" list actor was in it, except for Howard Keel who only made musicals at the time.

I was certain that this was one of those movies shot in Italy cheaply, then re-dubbed in English. To my shock, it was not only made here in the U.S., but by the Walt Disney Company....with a larger budget than the far superior "Nun's Story." Did Disney really make this to actually compete with "Ben Hur?" Unbelievable.

The fact that it made it to the nomination stage is actually because no other good movies were set to compete against "Ben Hur" and "Nun's Story." They knew they would lose hands down.

When did Walt Disney pass away?

Anyway, we usually have Turkey for Christmas day. Turner Classic Movies served this up to our family on Christmas Eve. We had a good laugh.
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