What your view of sports and life would be if you had too many concussions

Classic Movies My Wife Hates – Episode 5: “Doctor Zhivago”

  • Today’s Movie: Doctor Zhivago
  • Year of Release: 1965
  • Stars: Omar Sharif, Julie Christie, Geraldine Chaplin
  • Director: David Lean

This movie is not on my list of essential films.

NOTE: This installment of Classic Movies My Wife Hates is being done as part of The 8th Annual Rule, Britannia Blog-A-Thon being hosted by A Shroud of All Thoughts. Hopefully, if he’s a big fan of this film, he won’t take this personally 🙂

You can see all of the contributors to this blog-a-thon here:

DISCLAIMER: The opinions expressed in this piece are those of Mrs. J-Dub and do not necessarily reflect those of J-Dub, Dubsism, or anybody else to whom you might want to send hate mail. Also be advised that this may contain some mild spoilers.

Reason #1) “Why does Tsarist Russia look like a Sergio Leone “Spaghetti Western?”

Why She Says That: For reasons Mrs. J-Dub will never understand, this was a popular film in the West. But the leaders of the Soviet Union weren’t particularly fond of it since is shows the Communists in a less than favorable light. That’s why the 1957 Boris Pasternak book on which the film is based was banned in the land of Lenin. Doctor Zhivago is set in pre-Soviet Russia in the years running up to the First World War and the Russian Civil War which led to the rise of the communist Soviet Union. Suffice it to say that Pasternak was not a fan of the Bolsheviks…and the feeling was mutual.

As a result, this film could not be filmed in the Soviet Union. So, director David Lean and the production company secured a deal to film in Spain with it’s fascist dictator Generalissimo Francisco Franco. A factor in the decision to film parts of the movie in Spain came from Lean’s experience filming Lawrence of Arabia there a few years back.

That answers Mrs. J-Dub’s question because Sergio Leone loved filming his westerns in Spain. To the untrained eye, several spots on the Iberian peninsula resemble the rugged landscaped of the American west. But it also presented some big problems, which they mostly did not successfully solve…as will be discussed next.

Reason #2) “The critics agreed with me.”

Why She Says That: A common theme amongst those who panned this film pointed to “pallid photography” and “hack-job sets.” Those were all a result of the aforementioned problem inherent in trying to make Mediterranean Spain resemble sub-Arctic Russia.

First of all, Lean was depending on some regions of Spain to produce their usual winter snow. Unfortunately, Spain enjoyed it warmest winter in over a half-century, resulting in a distinct lack of snow. A popular approach to resolve this problem twas to film scenes on interior sets using “snow” made from dust from a marble quarry.

Second, since they were in Spain, the entire “Moscow” set had to built, which was done on a lot on the outskirts of Madrid. It doesn’t exactly take a discerning eye to see this was done to less than exacting standards.

Scenes requiring a serious winter feel which could not be achieved with fake snow were shot in Soria, a provincial capital in the foothills of the Pyrenees Mountains. Being over 3,000 feet above sea level, it still had the needed snow, but because of its geography it featured distinctly non-Russian Romanesque architecture such as medieval walls, and “Renaissance”-era palaces and churches. In fact, the “ice-palace” supposedly at Varykino was actually a house in Soria disguised with frozen bees’ wax.

Napoleon and Hitler made the same mistake: Never invade non-Mediterranean Russia.

Finally, the filming of several scenes such as most of the “landscape” vistas, Zhivago’s escape from the partisans, and the rail travel scenes had to be done in “real” winter locales such as Canada and Finland.

It’s hilarious to think they missed this badly when you consider the time and expense undertaken for this film. On property owned by C.E.A. Studios near Madrid’s main airport, production designer John Box and a massive crew took six months building a ten-acre replica of Moscow circa 1915. The broad strokes of this effort were impressive; it included a spot-on recreation of the Kremlin, a paved street nearly two football fields long lined with nearly 50 storefronts. The street had a functioning trolley line, and there was a viaduct complete with railroad locomotives. With importance of trains in the film, several miles of track were constructed in the mountains north of Madrid. Part of that effort included diverting the course of a river.

But like the devil, the downfall was in the details. All of those feats were rendered “fake” when they were covered with fake snow.

Reason #3) “Speaking of the train, did they actually kill that poor woman?”

Why She Says That: While some of this story may be in the realm of “urban legend,” the fact remains that a Hungarian actress named Lili Muráti fell while filming one of the “train” scenes. In reality, she avoided death or getting her legs severed, but she was injured. The legend is David Lean used the actual footage of her falling under the train.

Reason #4) “To quote my husband, ‘popular does not mean good.’”

Why She Says That: To support this film upon it’s release, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer launched a huge marketing campaign. This helped push box-office sales, which helped drive “word-of-mouth” from viewers…who often don’t agree with critics. All tolled, all these factors led Doctor Zhivago to be the second highest-grossing movie of 1965, only finishing behind a movie I can’t stomach…The Sound of Music.

Reason #5) “Yuri and Lara are both whores.”

Yuri and Lara in a post-coital embrace…secure in the knowledge neither of their spouses are around.

Why She Says That: Specifically, she’s referring the main characters Yuri Zhivago (played by Omar Sharif) and Lara Antipova (played by Julie Christie). As the main characters, it’s part of the typical formula they should be each other’s love interests. Not only has that formula been beaten to death, it makes both characters completely unsympathetic when they are both adulterers.

Reason #6) “What do movie Russians look like?”

Why She Says That: Despite the fact it was made decades before the whole-cloth nonsense of the “cultural appropriation”crowd, the casting of this movie is so asinine it almost makes those slack-jaws look like they have a point. Anyway you slice it, good actors get paid to play things they aren’t, but there also a balancing act with the “believe-ability” of appearance

The problem here again is with the leads. I’m willing to cede the qualification of “good actor” to Omar Sharif, even if I’m not his biggest fan. But there’s no debating the man has strong Middle Eastern/Egyptian features. The make-up people resorted to taping his eyes back daily, not to mention shaving his hairline back and waxing him at least twice a week.

As for Julie Christie, let’s be honest. She’s never going to be mistaken for a good actor, but she doesn’t need to be. In her prime, she could increase the stiffening of a man deep into rigor mortis. Let’s be even more honest…despite the fact Russia occasionally produces a smoking-hot tennis player, the average Russian woman doesn’t have overly-Scandinavian features. In fact, the average Russian woman looks like somebody made a bust of Nikita Khrushchev from Silly Putty, then used it as a basketball.

Reason #7) “This is what Fascists do for art.”

Pablo Picasso’s Guernica

WARNING: If you are a member of the art-loving intelligència, be sure to make note of the earlier exhortation as to where to send your hate mail. It would be a shame to waste the work of your perfectly-sharpened crayons for the want of a proper address.

Why She Says That: (Francisco Franco + Adolf Hitler) x Pablo Picasso = Guernica

On the upside, if it weren’t for this painting, the true nature of the Spanish Civil War of the late 1930’s would have never garnered much attention; it being overshadowed by much larger world events of the time. Arguably the most famous work of Pablo Picasso, Guernica was created in response to the bombing of the Basque village of the same name in 1937.

That’s a “German Bombing” painting!

Then as now, the Basque region has been home to a movement interested in separation from the rest of Spain. That was a problem for Fascist leader Francisco Franco who was trying to unite the country under his totalitarian rule. To give himself the upper hand, Franco reached out to a fellow Fascist who had come to power in Germany a few years earlier. Adolf Hitler had a brand new air force which had yet to be battle tested, and Franco had a lot of people he wanted out of the way. Like when Reese’s first married chocolate with peanut butter, Franco let Hilter’s Luftwaffe use Guernica like a a pre-season game for World War II.

Now, the popular opinion is that Guernica is Picasso’s most important political painting and even I’ve said that it brought the Spanish Civil War out from under the larger clouds of war which were on the world’s horizon at the time.

But other than being told, how did anybody know? That the problem with this modernist, surrealist slop; it’s completely open to interpretation. You can tell me all day long it’s about Germans bombing innocent civilians, but lacking the presence of a single German bomb, I could make an equally convincing case it’s all about Rage Against The Machine’s Bulls On Parade.

Reason #8 ) “What? Did Francisco Franco forget how to kill innocent people?”

Why She Says That: Franco almost gave the set of Doctor Zhivago the “Guernica” treatment.

Here’s the fun part. While we may never know the truth, I’ve always wondered why the staunch anti-communist Franco allowed this movie to be made in his country. Granted, I’m sure there was a nice “donation” to the Spanish treasury. Maybe it was the aforementioned reason why this movie couldn’t be made in the Soviet Union.

But if Franco was digging the “commies are dopes” theme of Doctor Zhivago, then why did he have his secret police Brigada de Investigación Social (BSI) bird-dogging the entire production? Again, I understand the obvious concept regarding the paranoid nature of despots, but if he saw them as a threat, why did he let them into Spain in the first place?

Probably not on Francisco Franco’s MP3 player

In any event, Franco’s organizational paranoia came to a head at 3:00 a.m. one morning during the filming of a scene in which a crowd was chanting pro-communist themes and singing The Internationale (the de facto Marxist anthem). This alerted the local Polícia de Barney Fìfe, who upon arrival couldn’t tell a movie set from the seed-corn of a revolution. They in turn dropped a dime to the BSI, who came screaming down the gravel road in their BMWs and WWII-era Mauser sub-machine guns (GeeI wonder where they got those?)

When the BSI arrived, locals reinforced the conclusion of the Polícia de Barney Fìfe; the large chanting and singing crowd had convince them an overthrow of the Franco regime was imminent…if it hadn’t already happened. While the rank and file of the BSI were locking, loading, and generally preparing to mow down what they thought was a revolution in it’s infancy, the BSI commander on scene noticed the lights, cameras, and all the other various and sundry equipment which marked the scene as a movie set, not a Marxist coup d’état.

While Franco’s secret police didn’t machine-gun the set, they did insist on hanging around to “monitor” the goings-on. Reportedly, the BSI’s presence during the filming unnerved so many of the extras that during a scene in which a large crowd was singing The Internationale, many on set pretended they didn’t know the words for fear of arousing the suspicion of Franco’s goons.

Reason #9) The Type-Casting of Sir Alec Guiness

Why She Says That: A recurring feature in the “Movies Everybody Loves That I Hate” and “Classic Movies My Wife Hates” series is a phenomenon I call “reverse typecasting.” This happens when when you see an actor who played a role in something which became part of this country’s cultural fabric, and even when you see them in something made before their face became associated with an iconic character, that’s all you can see.

Like it or not, both Mrs. J-Dub and I are of the age where our initial exposure to Sir Alec was in the form of the original Star Wars Jedi knight Obi-Wan Kenobi. If you can’t handle that, you certainly aren’t ready for the fact that once upon a time I was baby-sitting a six-year old who also only knew Sir Alec from Star Wars.

Being the old movie nerd that I am, that day I happened to be watching the “Bridge on the River Kwai” when the aforementioned kid’s mother dropped him off. Said six-year old takes one look at the 1957 David Lean classic and immediately dismisses it in one sentence.

“That’s stupid. Obi-Wan could just use ‘The Force’ to build a bridge.”

~The six-year old

Reason #10) This movie had more casting problems than an orthopaedic clinic

Why She Says That: Actually, I’m the one who said that. Granted, they may not have been able to fix all the fractures this movies has, but they couldn’t hurt.

Putting the original choice of Michael Caine in the role of Yuri Zhivago could have solved a few problems. For some reason, nobody wanted the the role of Viktor Komarovsky, probably because it called for a “leading man” type, but was clearly a supporting role. It was turned down by James Mason and Marlon Brando (amongst others) before Rod Steiger finally accepted it.

However, David Lean did avoid one landmine my having his original choice for Lara balk at the role. Jane Fonda wanted nothing to do with Doctor Zhivago because she didn’t want to spend nine months in Spain. One one hand, she could have only made this movie worse…but on the other, at least she was likely an actual communist.


Somewhere my love, there’s a movie my wife doesn’t hate. But this isn’t it.

You can see all the movies Mrs. J-Dub hates here.

Got a question, comment, or just want to yell at us? Hit us up at  dubsism@yahoo.com, @Dubsism on Twitter, or on our Pinterest,  Tumblr, Instagram, Snapchat or Facebook pages, and be sure to bookmark Dubsism.com so you don’t miss anything from the most interesting independent sports blog on the web.

About J-Dub

What your view of sports would be if you had too many concussions

8 comments on “Classic Movies My Wife Hates – Episode 5: “Doctor Zhivago”

  1. Brian
    September 25, 2021

    Thank you for all the LOL moments in this entertaining list. As Orson Welles once said, “The enemy of art is the absence of limitations.” Although I’ve never seen Dr. Zhivago all the way through, it does seem to be an egregious case of too much money and resources chasing creeky old movie-making cliches. I’m always amazed at behind-the-scenes stories of filmmakers building literal cities in pursuit of their “vision,” and always think, what if that money had been used to build something real, something of actual use to real human beings?

    And that story of Franco’s goons giving the stink-eye to extras singing the Internationale is a hoot! Sounds like a comedy about the making of Dr. Zhivago would be far more interesting than the movie itself! Great work!


    • J-Dub
      September 26, 2021

      :…it does seem to be an egregious case of too much money and resources chasing creeky old movie-making cliches.”

      Where were you when I needed to make a tagline for this post?

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I enjoyed that read as my dislike of the film is narrowed down to Christie’s anachronistic hair-do. The fact that it puts me to sleep I consider a bonus.


    • J-Dub
      September 26, 2021

      I would have missed the hair thing as I’ve only ever had two styles in my life
      1) “Dr. J NBA” afro circa 1976
      2) Marine Corps regulation (which later morphed into bald)


  3. Jay@cinemaessentials.com
    September 25, 2021

    Dr Zhivago is quite divisive and I have friends who don’t like it at all. I have seen it relatively recently, so I can definitively report that it’s actually a good film. So there! (But no, it’s no Lawrence of Arabia …)

    Zhivago’s casting is a bit eclectic. Omar Sharif did get cast in all kinds of strange roles in the sixties, when he was most popular. A Russian is actually less weird than him playing Genghis Khan or a German. I’m surprised James Mason didn’t accept the Komarovsky part, he would have been perfect. Maybe he was unavailable, he was pretty busy in the sixties.

    I never thought particularly of Obi Wan Kenobi whenever I saw Alec Guinness on screen, even as a child. I’m obviously in the minority here, but I just don’t think he looks that much like him without the beard and the wig!


  4. mercurie80
    September 26, 2021

    I really enjoyed this post and I laughed quite a few times! While I cannot say that I hate Doctor Zhivago the way your wife does, I don’t like the film either. From the casting to those sets, there really isn’t a lot to recommend it. And then, on top of that, it is very dull! Anyway, thanks for contributing to the blogathon!


    • J-Dub
      September 28, 2021

      If Rutgers was part an ANY parlay, you got what you deserve.


  5. Silver Screenings
    September 27, 2021

    I love, LOVE how you wrote this. And I nearly spewed my tea at the 6 year-old’s withering observation re: Bridge on the River Kwai.

    Confession: I have never seen Dr. Zhivago, because it does not appeal to me In. The. Least. Some people rave about it, but I’m not sure I can be bothered to sit through it. However, I ought to give it a chance. If I do see it, I’ll be back to compare notes.

    Liked by 1 person

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This entry was posted on September 23, 2021 by in Sports and tagged , , .

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