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Three Into Two Won't Go: Problems


Three Into Two Won't Go: Shooting on location
Walter Lassally Film-maker
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The last film of that period was Three Into Two Won't Go, directed by Peter Hall, whose first movie it was, although he's a famous theatre director. But up to that point he'd directed... I think he'd directed one other film before. There's a film called Eh?, E, H... I think it was called something else as a movie, I'm not sure. But as a play it was called that. I think that precedes the Three Into Two. Anyway, he was a relatively inexperienced film director. And, the cast was very distinguished, high quality cast. Rod Steiger and Claire Bloom, who at that time were married to each other. And Judy Geeson who was a newcomer. It's basically a triangle between those three characters. But they had certain fixed ideas, Peter Hall, but not only Peter Hall. Somehow they wanted absolutely to make that film on location and not to make it in a studio. Strangely enough, normally, under normal circumstances, I would've said... yes, well I agree with that decision, because I much prefer to work on location. But in that particular instance it turned out to be totally counterproductive, because we ended up having all the disadvantages of being outside a studio, and none of the advantages. Because they'd picked the location which was a housing estate which had not yet been occupied.

It was a housing estate in Camberley outside London, which had been built for Quantas Airlines, and for some reason they never moved in. They decided... they abandoned. So it was sort of abandoned. All newly built but abandoned. And... and the production manager was terribly proud of himself that he'd found this location, which was not on... under one of the flight paths to Heathrow Airport, because it's very close to Heathrow Airport. And... so he was very proud of himself and we went there in the week before shooting was to begin, to make some tests. And suddenly, half way through the test we heard machine gun fire, quite close by. We said, 'What's that?' And it turned out we were opposite a tank testing ground. But they made an arrangement with the army not to test any tanks while we were shooting, so that worked out.

In the end it worked out all right. But it was counterproductive because Rod Steiger would only work nine to five. So we couldn't shoot any real night scenes. So we ended up in a ludicrous situation of turning this little, like a council house, into a set. The entire house... for the night scenes the entire house was covered with scaffolding and tarpaulin so we could shoot night scenes in the daytime. It was... and for the windows, which were relatively small, they made full-size, coloured transparencies, which were placed in light boxes outside the windows, on which there was one street lamp, or something. Nothing much, but there had to be something out there. You couldn't just have black velvet. It was all immensely expensive and totally counterproductive, because Peter Hall said... at the beginning he said, you know, if you're in a real place, a real council estate, there's people passing with prams and a little bit of run... by situations, which arise naturally. And, of course, none of that happened, because the place was deserted. So we didn't have that, and we couldn't work at night, so it was entirely counterproductive. And also it was very small and to shoot sound in that... those rooms which had relatively low ceilings was quite difficult, because the sound man wanted a false plastic ceiling put up so it would absorb some of the ambient sound. And also, I required the... in order to put any lights below the ceiling, which had to be kept out of frame, obviously, I had a great problem because however near the ceiling you put them, they were still reflected in the windows. So we ended up having to take all the windows and window frames out, and refitting them in their frames at an angle of... in new frames, at an angle of 15º so the lights wouldn't be reflected into the camera. It was quite a business.

It must have been extremely expensive. And... Rod Steiger was always... I worked three times with Rod Steiger and the last time was on The Ballad of the Sad Café where he'd mellowed a bit, but in those days he was pretty stroppy. And there was a love scene with Judy Geeson, which is absolutely ludicrous, which takes place in a small hotel bedroom. And and they decided that this love scene couldn't be played on the bed, because, at that time not only at that time, but there seems to be this idea around that love scenes are much sexier if they're played on the floor. So we had them lying on the floor and whichever way round you did it, it just looked ludicrous. If Judy Geeson was on top and Rod Steiger was underneath, it looked like a fly on an elephant, and if Rod Steiger was on top and Judy Geeson was underneath, she was in danger of being crushed to death. A completely impossible, ludicrous, situation. And if we'd been on a set, I would've asked for a pit to be dug so at least we could shoot up and have a bit of Rod Steiger in frame, not showing the full bulk of him, because he's a large man. And I said: to make this less than ridiculous it's going to be very difficult. But we managed it in the end.

And there's another scene in the same bedroom where she hides in a closet and it's night. When you open the door of the closet, it opens across the only window of the room, so it cuts out whatever light is coming in the window. So, you're... again, you're in this black cat in the coal cellar situation, how do you light a scene like that? So I put a tiny little light directly above Judy which hits her face almost directly from above. We got over it that way, but it's not easy when you get into that kind of situation. And of course, there are times like that where it's useful to be in a studio because you just take the lid off the cupboard, or whatever, and you light from above. But if you're in a real room you can't do that. So, there's pluses and minuses in... in all those situations. But overall, I still... I really would still prefer to shoot on location, than shooting entirely in the... in the studio.

Born in Germany, cinematographer Walter Lassally (1926-2017) was best known for his Oscar-winning work on 'Zorba the Greek'. He was greatly respected in the film industry for his ability to take the best of his work in one area and apply it to another, from mainstream to international art films to documentary. He was associated with the Free Cinema movement in the 1950s, and the British New Wave in the early 1960s. In 1987 he published his autobiography called 'Itinerant Cameraman'.

Listeners: Peter Bowen

Peter Bowen is a Canadian who came to Europe to study and never got round to heading back home. He did his undergraduate work at Carleton University (in Biology) in Ottawa, and then did graduate work at the University of Western Ontario (in Zoology). After completing his doctorate at Oxford (in the Department of Zoology), followed with a year of postdoc at the University of London, he moved to the University's newly-established Audio-Visual Centre (under the direction of Michael Clarke) where he spent four years in production (of primarily science programs) and began to teach film. In 1974 Bowden became Director of the new Audio-Visual Centre at the University of Warwick, which was then in the process of introducing film studies into the curriculum and where his interest in the academic study of film was promoted and encouraged by scholars such as Victor Perkins, Robin Wood, and Richard Dyer. In 1983, his partner and he moved to Greece, and the following year he began to teach for the University of Maryland (European Division), for which he has taught (and continues to teach) biology and film courses in Crete, Bosnia, and the Middle East.

Tags: Three Into Two Won't Go, Eh?, The Ballad of the Sad Café, Rod Steiger, Claire Bloom, Judy Geeson, Peter Hall

Duration: 6 minutes, 29 seconds

Date story recorded: June 2004

Date story went live: 24 January 2008