The film was financed by an Italian production company, Produzioni Europee Associates, and shot in Rome. However, it is entirely in English, and all of its principal actors except for Sophia Loren are either British or American. (Gino Conforti, who plays the Barber, is an American of Italian descent.) The film was released by United Artists. It is known in Italy as L'Uomo della Mancha.
The film was produced and directed by Arthur Hiller, and stars Peter O'Toole as both Miguel de Cervantes and Don Quixote, James Coco as both Cervantes' manservant and Don Quixote's "squire" Sancho Panza, and Sophia Loren as scullery maid and prostitute Aldonza, whom the delusional Don Quixote idolizes as Dulcinea. Gillian Lynne, who later choreographed Cats, staged the choreography for the film (including the fight scenes).
Gino Conforti, as the barber, is the only member of the original Broadway musical cast to repeat his role for the film.
Cervantes and his manservant have been imprisoned by the Spanish Inquisition, and a manuscript by Cervantes is seized by his fellow inmates, who subject him to a mock trial in order to determine whether the manuscript should be returned. Cervantes' defense is in the form of a play, in which Cervantes takes the role of Alonso Quijana, an old gentleman who has lost his mind and now believes that he should go forth as a knight-errant. Quijano renames himself Don Quixote de La Mancha, and sets out to find adventures with his "squire", Sancho Panza.Peter O'Toole (Simon Gilbert, singing) as Don Quixote de la Mancha / Miguel de Cervantes / Alonso Quijana
Sophia Loren as Dulcinea / Aldonza
James Coco as Sancho Panza / Cervantes' manservant
Harry Andrews as The Innkeeper / The Governor
John Castle as Sanson Carrasco / The Duke
Ian Richardson as The Padre
Brian Blessed as Pedro
Julie Gregg as Antonia Quijana
Rosalie Crutchley as The Housekeeper
Gino Conforti as The Barber
Marne Maitland as Captain of the Guard
Dorothy Sinclair as The Innkeeper's wife
Miriam Acevedo as Fermina
According to both associate producer Saul Chaplin (in his memoir The Golden Age of Movie Musicals and Me) and Dale Wasserman (in his memoir The Impossible Musical), the film had a troubled production history. Originally, Wasserman, composer Mitch Leigh – serving as associate producer – and Albert Marre, who had directed the original show but had never before directed a film, were hired to make the motion picture, and original cast stars Richard Kiley and Joan Diener were screen tested in anticipation of the two actors repeating their stage roles. Because of Marre's inexperience with moviemaking, however, he (according to Wasserman) used up part of the film's budget on screen tests, which angered the UA executives. Marre was fired, and as a result Wasserman, Leigh, Kiley and Diener, who was married to Marre, also left the project. British director Peter Glenville was then brought in (it was he who cast Peter O'Toole as Cervantes and Quixote), but was in turn also fired when it was learned that he planned to eliminate most of the songs. It was then that Arthur Hiller and Saul Chaplin joined the project. Hiller re-hired Wasserman to adapt his own stage libretto, although, according to Wasserman, the film's new opening sequence, showing the actual arrest of Cervantes before he enters the prison, was not by him. Writer John Hopkins, who most likely wrote the scene Wasserman refers to, had been brought in by Glenville, and had left when Glenville was fired. However, it has never been made clear whether it was Glenville or Hiller who cast non-singing actors Sophia Loren, Harry Andrews, and Rosalie Crutchley in the film, it might have been Glenville, since he had tried to eliminate the songs and envisioned the film as a non-musical. Glenville had also previously worked with arranger/conductor Laurence Rosenthal.
According to the Turner Classic Movies website, O'Toole had been eager to work with Glenville, a friend of his, on the film and make it as a "straight" non-musical drama, but was highly displeased when Glenville was fired and replaced by Arthur Hiller, referring to him constantly as "little Arthur". However, according to Saul Chaplin's autobiography, O'Toole, who could not sing, generously assisted in the search for a voice double for his songs when he realized that the film was going to be made as a musical after all.
Wasserman and Hiller then restored nearly all of the songs to the screenplay that Glenville had ordered cut.
Although most of the roles in the film were played by British Shakespearean actors who were not noted for singing ability, Ian Richardson did go on to be nominated for a Tony for his performance as Henry Higgins in the 20th anniversary production of My Fair Lady, and the picture did feature several actors, among them Julie Gregg, Gino Conforti, and the muleteer chorus, who did have singing voices. Gino Conforti had been a member of the original cast of the stage production, and Julie Gregg had also appeared on Broadway in a musical.
Saul Chaplin also explains in his book that the sets and costumes, designed by Luciano Damiani, had already been made by the time that he and Hiller were brought in to work on the film, which meant that Hiller could not have them altered. Damiani was one of Italy's most noted stage designers, having worked on plays and operas in Italy, and on a made-for-television film of Cavalleria Rusticana, but this was the only theatrical motion picture for which he designed the sets and costumes.
Two changes are made to the storyline of the stage musical: one of them is the reason for Cervantes' imprisonment. The play begins with Cervantes and his manservant entering the dungeon, after which we learn that Cervantes incurred the wrath of the Inquisition by issuing a lien on a monastery that would not pay its taxes. But in the film's opening scene, we see a colorful festival in the town square, during which Cervantes stages a play that openly lampoons the Inquisition, thereby leading to his arrest on the spot. He and his manservant are then taken to the prison. (In real life, Cervantes was arrested for unpaid financial debts and was sentenced to debtors' prison. He served several jail terms, though he was never guilty of a crime. He was later excommunicated by the Catholic Church for "excessive zeal" in securing provisions for the Spanish Armada: he gathered corn from the Church's storehouses.)
Another change in the film occurs when the priest and Dr. Carrasco are sent to bring Quixote back home. In the stage version, they arrive at the inn and simply try to reason with him, but he pays no attention. In the film, in a scene directly inspired by Cervantes's original novel Don Quixote, an elaborate ruse is set up by Don Quixote's family. A man is brought in on a bier, apparently "turned to stone" through some enchantment. Quixote is told by the man's "relatives" that only he can break the spell, by fighting the dreaded Enchanter, Quixote's mortal enemy. This prepares us for the Enchanter's later appearance as the Knight of the Mirrors. The "stone man"'s so-called relatives are revealed to be Don Quixote's niece Antonia, his housekeeper, the priest, and Dr. Carrasco. (This means that the roles of both Antonia and the housekeeper are slightly enlarged in the film.)
The film currently holds a 50% favorable rating from critics and a 81% favorable rating from audiences at the website Rotten Tomatoes.
The fact that the film had gone through several directors and screenwriters, and that Peter O'Toole and Sophia Loren, who were not singers, had replaced Richard Kiley and Joan Diener in the leading roles, may have influenced the critics' reactions to the film at the time. Previously, it has been proven by the success of films like Gone With the Wind, The Wizard of Oz and Laura that a change in directors or actors need not affect the response to a film negatively. Upon release, and for several years afterward, the film of Man of La Mancha received overwhelmingly negative reviews, notably from Time Magazine, which not only did not consider the film worthy of a full-length review, but even threw in some criticism of the original stage production into the bargain. They referred to the film as being "epically vulgar", and called the song The Impossible Dream "surely the most mercilessly lachrymose hymn to empty-headed optimism since Carousel's "You'll Never Walk Alone." Newsweek, in its review, opined that "the whole production is basted in the cheapest sentiment. Everyone gets a chance to cry over poor Don Quixote". Leonard Maltin still gives the film a BOMB rating in his annual Movie and Video Guide, stating "Beautiful source material has been raped, murdered and buried".
Roger Ebert, who gave the film two stars, stated: "Now it's almost obligatory to cast a musical with people who can't sing or dance – and make no pretensions to. At least when we were getting Natalie Wood, we were getting Marnie [sic] Nixon's voice. If there's anything worse than dubbing in the voice of a non-singer, its not dubbing the voice of a non-singer." Mistakenly assuming that Peter O'Toole sang his own songs in the film, Ebert went on: "What favor were they doing us when they let us hear Peter O'Toole sing? Richard Harris is better, and he's no good. He can't sing, that is, but at least he can read lyrics. O'Toole masticates them."
On the other hand, Vincent Canby of The New York Times stated that the film was "beautifully acted", and both Peter O'Toole and James Coco received Golden Globe nominations for their performances. The film, according to Dale Wasserman in his autobiography The Impossible Musical, fared well financially in its first week, but ultimately did poorly at the box office. And although Wasserman praised O'Toole and Loren's acting, he nevertheless strongly disliked the film, calling it "exaggerated" and "phony" in an online video interview made shortly before his death. Over the last few years, however, the film's reputation has somewhat improved, as evidenced by favorable online reviews from writers such as Phil Hall, and modern viewers as well as critics are more responsive to it.
Having been released in the middle of the Christmas season of 1972, the film continued its theatrical run well into 1973 and earned an estimated $3.8 million in North American rentals.
Mitch Leigh's Tony Award winning score, which onstage used no stringed instruments aside from guitar and string bass, is augmented in the film adaptation with discreet string orchestration by Herbert W. Spencer. The heaviest string orchestration is used in the deathbed scene. As in the stage version, a solo Spanish guitar provides accompaniment in the scene in which Don Quixote keeps vigil over his armor.
Two songs from the musical, "What Does He Want of Me?" and "To Each His Dulcinea", were completely omitted from the film, as were two verses of "Aldonza" and the second verse of the deathbed reprise of "Dulcinea". The lyric of "It's All The Same" was partially rewritten by Joe Darion. The last few lines of "I Really Like Him" were also rewritten. O'Toole's singing voice was deemed to be inadequate, and was dubbed by Simon Gilbert. All the other actors did their own singing.
The film made a far more literal use of scenery than did the original show, in which nearly all scenery had to be imagined by the audience in the theatre. The dungeon, rather than merely being "suggested" by the use of a drawbridge, an overhead grille to allow light inside, and a trap door, as it was onstage, was vividly shown in the film, complete with a water wheel which, when set into motion, allowed the drawbridge to be lowered. The windmill that Don Quixote mistakes for a ferocious giant was likewise also shown, as was Quixote's fight with it (in the play, he simply looks offstage, announces that he sees a four-armed giant, and runs off, and shortly afterwards pieces of his armor come flying back across the stage).
The plains of La Mancha (with the Italian landscape standing in for them), as well as the kitchen, the stable, and the courtyard of the inn were similarly shown, as was a view of the dilapidated-looking exterior of the inn from a distance. The exterior of the prison to which Cervantes and his manservant are taken was also briefly shown, as was the courtyard of the prison. Don Quixote's bedroom and the exterior of his house were also shown towards the end of the film.
The locations of several songs were changed:"It's All the Same" and Don Quixote's rendition of "Dulcinea" were originally sung in what author Wasserman called the "great room" of the inn. In the film we never see the great room, and both songs are performed in the inn courtyard.
The song "I Really Like Him" was originally sung onstage by Sancho to Aldonza in the kitchen of the inn after he gives her Don Quixote's missive. In the film, after Aldonza and Sancho discuss the missive in the kitchen, she carries a large basket to the yard adjoining, where Sancho sings the song.
Aldonza sings the bitter song "Aldonza" not in the inn's courtyard, as on stage, but by the side of the road, where she has been dumped by the muleteers after they have raped her.
The film's first song, "Man of La Mancha (I, Don Quixote)," begins exactly as it does in the stage version, with Don Quixote and Sancho standing and singing. They mount two wooden frameworks pulled by dancers wearing prop horse and donkey heads, just as they do onstage, and ride around the floor of the dungeon, but then, as they pass a corner, we suddenly see them on the "real" plains of La Mancha, still singing, and riding, respectively, a real horse and a real donkey.
The only scenery from the play which was rendered on film exactly as on stage was the confessional, at which Antonia, the Housekeeper, and the Padre sing "I'm Only Thinking of Him." The confessional was merely suggested by the use of boards to separate the three singers. Part of the reason that this scene was so literally transcribed from the play was so that the "chessboard" effect, which would have been problematic had a real church had been used, could be retained in the film.
The film presents a more faithful depiction of Don Quixote's armor, as described by Cervantes in the original novel, than did the original production of the play. Cervantes describes Quixote's armor as having a brownish quality because of rust, which is the way it appears in the film (in the original production of the play, it was silver, like most armor). In the film, before he begins using a shaving basin for a helmet, Quixote obviously wears a morion with a cardboard visor attached, as Cervantes tells us he did. As designed for the original stage production, his first helmet is simply a regular medieval one.
The film was criticized by some for having shabby-looking scenery in the Don Quixote scenes, but the design of both the windmills and the inn is remarkably faithful to that of the actual windmills and inns of that time in La Mancha. (There is a roadside inn still in existence that is, according to legend, one of the two inns that Cervantes describes in the novel.)Nominated
Academy Award for Original Song Score and Adaptation – Laurence Rosenthal
Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy – Peter O'Toole
Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture – James Coco
National Board of Review of Motion Pictures Award for Best Actor - Peter O'Toole (also for The Ruling Class). The board selected Man of La Mancha as one of the Ten Best Films of 1972.
Man of La Mancha was released by MGM Home Video on May 11, 2004 as a Region 1 widescreen DVD. It is now out of print.