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  • California Doubling: David Lean wanted many of the beach scenes to take place in sunny weather, evidently not realising until he had settled on the Dingle Peninsula in County Kerry as the base for location shooting that south-west Ireland is more noted for mist and gale force winds than sunshine. The sunny scenes were instead shot in Noordhoek in South Africa, chosen because of its superficial similarity to Dingle Bay (the scenes shot there can be easily picked out, as the sea and sky are much deeper shades of blue, and the sand is much whiter and finer).
  • Creator Breakdown:
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    • Robert Mitchum was undergoing a personal crisis at the time and told David Lean that he was seriously contemplating suicide when he was cast. When Robert Bolt heard of this, he told Mitchum that as long as he finished "working on this wretched little film" first, he would pay for his burial.
    • Trevor Howard was undergoing marital difficutlies. When his wife Helen paid a visit to Ireland but stormed out of a party after an argument with him, she was nearly killed in a car accident on the treacherous narrow, winding roads.
    • Christopher Jones was dealing with the death of his friend Sharon Tate.
  • Creator Killer: David Lean was so hurt by the criticism of the film that he didn't direct another film for 14 years.
  • Fake Irish: Six of the seven top-billed cast members play Irish characters, but none of them are Irish themselves; Trevor Howard (Fr. Collins), John Mills (Michael), Sarah Miles (Rosy), and Barry Foster (Tim O'Leary) are English, Robert Mitchum (Charles) is American, and Leo McKern (Tom Ryan) is Australian.
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  • Fatal Method Acting: Averted. Leo McKern nearly drowned and nearly lost his glass eye to the rough seas during the storm scene.
  • Hostility on the Set: Sarah Miles and Christopher Jones grew to dislike one another, leading to trouble when filming the love scenes. Christopher was engaged to Olivia Hussey, and he was not attracted to Miles. He even refused to do the forest love scene with her, which prompted Miles to conspire with Mitchum. It was Mitchum who settled on the idea of drugging Jones by sprinkling an unspecified substance on his cereal. Mitchum overdosed Jones, however, and the actor was nearly catatonic during the love scene. He was never told by the producers about the drugging and believed he was having a nervous breakdown.
  • Playing Against Type: Robert Mitchum playing Charles, the mild-mannered school teacher. Mitchum considered it one of his favorite roles, claiming Charles was closer to his own personality.
  • Star-Derailing Role:
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    • Christopher Jones abandoned acting after his much maligned performance, retiring to art.
    • Leo McKern had such a negative experience making the film that he gave up acting for some years.
  • Troubled Production: Lean's original plan was for a film on the scale of Brief Encounter, with a similarly modest production. It didn't turn out that way...
    • The weather was so uncooperative that many of the beach scenes in the film were shot near Cape Town in South Africa rather than near the specially constructed village on Ireland's Dingle Peninsula. Ironically, Lean had to wait for a year for a suitably dramatic storm to strike the Irish coast for a pivotal scene in which the villagers wade into the sea to retrieve a shipment of weapons intended for the IRA. Leo McKern, who played the title character's father, nearly drowned and nearly lost his glass eye to the rough seas, and was so frustrated by the slow pace of filming that he swore he would never act again (his "retirement" ultimately only lasted a few years). Nor did Ryan's long gestation endear Lean to MGM, who soon regretted giving the director carte blanche after Zhivago. At one point, MGM President James Aubrey arrived in Ireland to demand that Lean pick up the pace. Lean responded by shutting down production until Aubrey left the country.
    • Lean cast American actor Christopher Jones on the strength of his performance in The Looking Glass War without bothering to meet him first... only learning after production began that the film had been shot to hide Jones' diminutive stature and that his high-pitched voice had been dubbed. Jones and Lean clashed frequently, with Lean finding Jones' voice and performance so unsuited to the square-jawed soldier he had envisioned that he had Doryan re-written as traumatised into near silence by his trench experiences, with his aide-de-camp, Captain Smith (Gerald Sim), given the extra lines. Jones' voice was ultimately dubbed by Julian Holloway, but his performance was one of the most harshly criticised aspects of the film.
    • Jones and Sarah Miles also grew to dislike each other, making filming of their love scenes awkward for all involved. Not only was Jones in mourning for his close friend (and possibly ex-girlfriend) Sharon Tate, who was murdered by the Manson family during production, but he was also engaged to Olivia Hussey, and was simply not attracted to Miles. At one point, Miles conspired with Robert Mitchum to drug Jones' breakfast to make him get over his disgust at filming the scene where Rosy and Doryan have a tryst in the forest, but Mitchum overdid the dosage, rendering Jones near catatonic for filming of the scene and leading him to believe he was having a nervous breakdown. A combination of grief over Tate's death and his negative experience working on the film prompted Jones to retire from acting; he only made one other film.
    • A series of accidents befell the production. Jones totaled his sports car on a winding road, Trevor Howard was hospitalized after falling off a horse, frogmen saved Howard and John Mills from drowning when a fishing-boat scene went wrong, and two vehicles sank in a peat bog.
    • Then came its release. MGM was expecting the film to repeat the huge success of Doctor Zhivago, and unveiled it with a suitably lavish publicity campaign and roadshow release. Unfortunately, the movie was roundly savaged by critics, who typically complained it was too big a scale for its modest love story. Lean took this criticism extremely personally; at a meeting of New York film critics he was confronted by Pauline Kael, Richard Schickel and others who seemingly took delight in insulting Ryan. This time, critical scorn matched audience indifference, and Ryan's box office take proved mediocre. It earned several Oscar nominations and eventually turned a profit, but fell short of MGM's hopes for a massive blockbuster. Lean wouldn't make another film for 14 years.
  • What Could Have Been:
    • Robert Bolt originally wrote the script as a straight adaptation of Madame Bovary, but David Lean insisted that he change the setting to either Ireland or India.
    • Another early idea was to center the movie on Michael's point-of-view; an early draft of the script was even titled Michael's Day.
    • Lean wanted Alec Guinness to play Father Collins. Guinness, a devout Roman Catholic, not only refused the role, but sent Lean a long list of objections he had with the character and the portrayal. Lean thanked him for his honesty. Furthermore, the two had clashed while filming Doctor Zhivago.
    • Lean originally wanted Paul Scofield for Charles Shaughnessy, but he had a theatrical commitment. George C. Scott, Anthony Hopkins and Patrick McGoohan were considered but not approached, and Gregory Peck lobbied for the role but gave up after Robert Mitchum was approached.
    • Lean originally wanted Marlon Brando for Doryan. He accepted, but problems with the production of Burn! forced him to drop out. Richard Burton, Richard Harris and Peter O'Toole were also considered.
    • Peter O'Toole also turned down the role of Michael.
  • Working Title: Michael's Day, Circle of Gulls, The Storm, Wind of the Sea, Rising Tide, Coming of Age. MGM rejected all of these titles because none of them provided viewers any idea of what the story was about.
  • Writing by the Seat of Your Pants: According to producer Anthony Havelock-Allan, the availability dates of Sarah Miles and Robert Mitchum made preproduction something of a rush, preventing David Lean from assembling a proper shooting script.
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