In 1936, Madariaga is an 80-year-old patriarch of a large Argentinian cattle ranch. He has two grandsons - Julio, son of the French son-in-law Marcelo, and Heinrich, son of the German Karl. Heinrich returns home from studying in Germany to reveal he has become a Nazi. Madariaga slaps Heinrich and predicts that the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (Conquest, War, Pestilence, and Death) will soon devastate the earth; he runs outside into a storm with visions of the four horsemen and then dies in Julio's arms.
In 1938 Julio goes to Paris with his family and befriends Marcelo's anti-Nazi friend Etienne Laurier. Julio falls in love with Laurier's wife, Marguerite, and becomes her lover after war breaks out and Laurier is sent to a prisoner-of-war camp. He takes advantage of his status as a neutral to live a pleasant life with Marguerite in German-occupied Paris where his cousin Heinrich is an important official in the SS.
When Marguerite becomes the object of German General von Kleig's lust, Julio defies him and incurs von Kleig's personal enmity. Julio's younger sister Chi Chi becomes active in the French resistance, troubling Julio about his own lack of character. Laurier is released from prison an apparently broken man and Marguerite leaves Julio to care for him. When Julio discovers that Laurier is an important figure in the resistance, he joins it as well.
Eventually both Chi Chi and Laurier are tortured and murdered by the Gestapo, and Laurier reveals to von Kleig that Julio is working for the resistance and on an important mission: guiding Allied bombers to destroy a Nazi headquarters in Normandy. Heinrich captures him when he realizes Julio is probably a French agent, but too late: just as the bombs are falling on them, killing both.
The final and most important scene is unfortunately missing from several versions shown. In it, the grandchildrens' parents are listening helplessly on the telephone as the deaths happen. The final words are from one set of parents to another, underlying the futility of war: 'our children have killed each other'Glenn Ford: Julio Desnoyers
Ingrid Thulin: Marguerite Laurier
Charles Boyer: Marcelo Desnoyers
Yvette Mimieux: Chi-Chi
Lee J. Cobb: Madariaga
Paul Henreid: Etienne Laurier
Karl Boehm: Heinrich von Hartrott
Paul Lukas: Karl von Hartrott
Nestor Paiva: Miguel
Harriet MacGibbon: Doña Luisa Desnoyers
Kathryn Givney: Elena von Hartrott
Marcel Hillaire: Armand Dibie
George Dolenz: General von Kleig
Stephen Bekassy: Colonel Kleinsdorf
Nestor Paiva: Miguel
Albert Rémy: François
Richard Franchot: Franz von Hartrott
Brian Avery: Gustav von Hartrott
The silent film rights to the original story had been purchased by Metro in 1918 for $190,000. There had been discussions by MGM about remaking the film before the American copyright expired in 1946.
The following year MGM producer Sam Marx announced the studio may remake the film as a vehicle for Ricardo Montalban and if they did the story would be updated to World War II.
Early in 1958 MGM set about clarifying the copyright situation. They had recently authorized a remake of Ben-Hur, which looked like it was going to be a phenomenal success, and were looking for other old MGM properties to remake. They obtained the necessary rights and announced they would make the movie in June 1958. Julian Blaustein was assigned as producer.
Blaustein announced the story would be updated from World War I to World War II:
The driving force of the book, is of love among men instead of hatred. I don't think it can be said often enough that such love is indispensable for all of us if we are to have any future. If a motion picture can dramatize such a theme entertainingly then the motion picture may make a small contribution to peace in the world. It certainly impresses me as being worth the try... The Paris of the occupation, the births of the resistance movements have never been thoroughly explored on the screen to my mind. I'm not interested in trying to recreate the shooting war. That's almost too difficult to realistically do on the screen today. What I want to put on screen is the atmosphere, so that when you sit in the theatre you will feel the hope and frustration of people struggling against invasion and may realize no man is an island.
Robert Ardrey wrote the initial script. The movie was, along with a remake of Cimarron, going to be one of MGM's big films for 1960.
MGM allocated a budget of $4 million and Vincente Minnelli to direct. Minnelli says he had doubts about relocating the time period and wanted it set back in World War I, but the studio were insistent. Filming was pushed back due to the actors strike in 1960.
Minnelli later claimed he was "drafted" into making the movie, and was rushed into production before he was ready because MGM had a start date. However he did manage to get head of production Sol Siegel to arrange for the script to be rewritten in order to reflect the German Occupation of Paris. Because Robert Ardrey was busy, MGM hired John Gay to do rewrites working off an outline prepared by Minnelli which outlined the weaknesses as he saw them.
"Gay proved to be an enormous help," wrote Minnelli later. "The script - with the dreadful World War II setting - took shape. But I never justified the updating in my mind."
Pre-production commenced in Paris. Minnelli wrote he flew back to the US and tried to talk the studio into changing the time period once again but they refused. "I began to believe I was the victim of a studio set up," he wrote.
Early contenders for the male lead - the part originally played by Rudolph Valentino - were MGM contractee George Hamilton, and Maximilian Schell.
Vincente Minnelli says he wanted Alain Delon for the starring role, and met up with the young actor in Rome, but the producers did not feel he was sufficiently well known at the time. In June 1960 it was announced that Glenn Ford, who had a long relationship with MGM and had recently signed a new contract with the studio, would play the lead role.
Minnelli later reflected, "There I was, stuck with a story I didn't want to do, with a leading actor who lacked the brashness and impulsiveness I associated with his part. I wanted new challenges but I didn't think they'd be that challenging."
However he did say that the rest of the cast "was as brilliant as it was international." Yvette Mimieux was cast in the ingenue part with Charles Boyer and Claude Dauphin in support, and Ava Gardner in the female lead, the part played by Alice Terry in the 1921 film. Eventually Gardner dropped out and Ingrid Thulin, best known for Wild Strawberries, stepped in. The studio wanted Horst Buchholz to play the young German son but he was unable to do it due to his commitment to make Fanny (1961), so Karl Boehm was hired instead.
Ford was paired with an older actress, Ingrid Thulin, making both main roles much older than the book and 1921 film characters, giving more credibility to their relationship than a May–December romance would have. Although Thulin spoke English well, she was dubbed by Angela Lansbury.
Minnelli later wrote that as he was unhappy with the story he decided to make the film at least as "stunning visually as I could make it. The flaws in the story might be overlooked. Some of my previous pictures hadn't held much hope in the beginning, but they'd been saved because I'd had some leeway in the writing. But I didn't have this freedom on Four Horsemen. It would be interesting to see what could be accomplished
Minnelli decided to make the Four Horsemen an integral part of the story, which would be designed by Tony Duquette as a set of andirons riding the sky, parallel to the main action. He used red as "a dominating color, culminating in a red gel over the newsreels, which would be shown in a documentary way to point up the devastation of the war and the insensitivity of the principal actors in taking scant notice of it."
Filming started in Paris on 17 October.
It proved difficult, in part due to riots due to the situation in Algeria and because of local reluctance to recreate scenes from the Occupation. It was decided to film the bulk of the movie in Hollywood instead.
One of the most famous scenes of the 1921 movie involved Rudolph Valentino dancing the tango. However the scene was not in the novel and it was decided not to have a similar scene in the remake.
Ingrid Thulin later reflected on filming:
It was an interesting experience. I could not conform to their standards of beauty. I tried... After the first few rushes it was obvious that it [the film] would turn out badly. Yet they went right on. Perhaps they couldn't convince themselves that all that money would end in disaster. I really did want to be as beautiful as they wanted. It was terribly difficult. Then I worked very hard to dub the dialogue but they kept changing lines to things I couldn't pronounce. So they had to dub in another voice.
MGM were impressed by the performance of Boehm and signed him to a contract, putting him in such films as Come Fly with Me and The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm.
The movie spent a considerable amount of time in post production, causing its budget to increase further. This, combined with the massive cost over-runs of Lady L (which had been postponed) and the remake of Mutiny on the Bounty, as well as the massive failures of Cimarron, King of Kings, Mutiny on the Bounty, and this film, led to the resignation of MGM's head of production, Sol C. Siegel.
The film had its world premiere in February 1962.
MGM had become aware by April that the film was not going to be able to recoup its cost and started writing off the losses. Ultimately the movie earned $1,600,000 in the US and Canada and $2,500,000 overseas. Once costs of prints and advertising were added, the studio recorded a loss of $5,853,000.
It was compared very unfavorably to the famous 1921 version, which propelled Rudolph Valentino to superstardom. Ford, with many films behind him, was not the unknown that Valentino was when he appeared in the 1921 film. Ford, 46 years old, also had the disadvantage of trying to reprise a role that Valentino had played when he was 26. Critics also considered Ford severely miscast as a Latin love who, in their minds, should have been played by someone a lot younger.
The Los Angeles Times said the filmmakers "have pulled it off. The new "Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse" restores the pleasure there can be in seeing a good story well told on the screen."
Minnelli claimed the movie received better reviews in Europe and that it influenced the look of The Damned, The Conformist and The Garden of the Finzi Continis.
André Previn composed the soundtrack score, which Alan and Marilyn Bergman later adapted and wrote lyrics to. The resulting song, "More In Love With You," was recorded by Barbra Streisand for The Movie Album (2003).Dell Four Color #1250 (1961)