Heart of a Lion

Lionheart was going to be the first part of a film trilogy about the children’s crusade. It began filming in the late summer of 1985 and finished in early 1986, but was shelved because the film didn’t have a bankable leading man. It would only receive a limited theatrical release in the late summer of 1987. Even if it got a wider release, the trilogy would never have been completed on time because the director died in 1989. However, Franklin J. Schaffner wasn’t even the first choice of director. Originally, Francis Ford Coppola was going to direct until the star that they chose was fired from Back to the Future. As for Franklin, he was not exactly a skimpy consolation prize seeing as how he directed the likes of Planet of the Apes, Patton and Papillon. This P trilogy reminds me of Christina Ricci’s best starring roles being in Prozac Nation, Pumpkin and Penelope.

F.F.C. had history with Franklin, and had co-written the script for Patton (1970). The film won Academy Awards for Best Director, Best Film and Best Screenplay. I find it interesting that 1987 was when Lionheart got released because that was the year when Franklin became the President of the Directors Guild of America. It’s strange that it took so long given the pedigree behind the camera. The main producer was Talia Shire. Besides the brother/sister dynamic that she shares with F.F.C. in nepotistic fashion, she was the wife of the film’s main executive producer i.e. Jack Schwartzman. Their company, TaliaFilm II Productions, had produced Sean Connery’s comeback as James Bond – Never Say Never Again (1983).

That movie, Sean’s swansong as 007, was also produced by Producers Sales Organization a.k.a PSO, who were attached to produce Lionheart in late 1984 (as featured on a trade print ad) but they pulled out in early 1985 for a reason that I gave in the first paragraph. Who knows how Franklin managed to put the squeeze on the distributor, Orion Pictures, albeit it wasn’t much of a squeeze given that the limited cinema run was held in Canada as a testing ground. A bad idea that would prove to be a big mistake in the long run seeing as how they should have released it in England first, given the number of English actors like Patrick Durkin as seen below with Helena Tóth (whose Facebook profile is where these colour photos originate). She was the production manager.

Maybe Lionheart was released because Orion Pictures saw a little bit of Mark Hamill in the lead, who can be seen in the below photo with Nadim Sawalha (an actor) and Jenny Schaffner (Franklin’s daughter was a wardrobe assistant). The film’s poster does lend itself to the interpretation of a medieval Star Wars, albeit the space opera did have a medieval vibe to it with the Jedi knight theme. Nanà Cecchi, who also worked as a costume designer on Ladyhawke, was quoted in the press kit as saying: “Knights at that time wore clothing that makes our own today look amazingly simple. You can imagine what’s involved with hundreds of men and women, all to be fitted out, dressed, modifications made, and the schedule demanding that all deadlines be met!”

The below photo was taken in Portugal, but the film wasn’t just shot there. It was also filmed in Hungary. Production designer Gil Parrando had previously worked for Franklin on Patton before Nicholas and Alexandra. He was tasked with finding a suitable castle on the Portugese Coast. All that was found was an old foundation where the castle had been blown down after being weakened by gale storms over the centuries. 30 meters long, 20 meters wide and about 4 meter high of nothing but rubble. The Portugese government gave permission to erect a 13th century fortress, which the crew constructed to a height of 27 meters by copying the ancient stonework but still making it look new. Gil said: “The government was so impressed with the construction when we finished, they requested it for a tourist attraction. Unfortunately, it was built basically of styrofoam and facade. Although it was strong enough to climb on, we knew that one of those storms would destroy it, so we tore it down at the end of filming.”

The below photo was also taken in Portugal. If you assemble the soundtrack in the order of how they are heard in the film then the below list is what you would get. The tracks that are presented in bold were removed from the 1994 re-release: The Ceremony, The Castle, Bring Him BackFailed Knight, The Circus, Robert & Blanche, Children in BondageGates of ParisParis Underground, The Road from Paris, The Banner, The Dress, Mathilda, The Plague, Forest Hunt, The Lake, The Wrong Flag, Final Fight, King Richard and The Future (this was absent from the Japanese version despite Japan having a track record for having exclusive tracks). The soundtrack lasts for 82 minutes whereas the film is 104 minutes long. The music cues are longer than what’s in the film, which indicates trimming of scenes. If you try to match the soundtrack to the film’s score, there is at least one cue which is absent from the film altogether. This suggests that the scene was removed wholesale.

Speaking of removed, Lionheart was originally developed at Zoetrope (the company of F.F.C.) in San Francisco before it was purchased by Jack Schwartzman and Talia Shire for their company. Franklin J. Schaffner dying on July 2 in 1989 is rather timely in the supernatural sense given that one of the actors died on July 23. I’m referring to Michael Sundin, who is incorrectly credited as Michel Sundin. He was primarily famous for being a presenter on a BBC children’s TV show called Blue Peter from 1984 to 1985. He died of AIDS. Chris Pitt, who played Odo the slingshot warrior, had to make his character’s limp authentic by placing a little stone under the ball of his foot. Below is Deborah Moore (Roger Moore’s daughter was credited as Deborah Barrymore in the press kit) with the aforementioned Jenny Schaffner. The following is what she had to say when being interviewed for the film’s press kit: “I was thrilled with the part of Mathilda because I liked her strength and independence. I don’t see why women should stay at home being domestic while men go out to work and have all the fun.”

While Portugal’s rugged coastline (Cascais Coast) and jungle-like mountainous landscape added to the medieval look achieved by Hungary’s castles, Portugal contributed one special castle – the Obidos. This was a walled city circling the top of a verdant hill near the Portugese Coast. The director utilized the castle and its ramparts for a jousting tournament where the protagonist first spots Mathilda, who has surprising fighting prowess. Coppola chose Franklin to direct because he was referred to in the past as the modern Cecil B. DeMille and the American David Lean. Despite having the illustrious Stanley O’Toole to offer a British producing perspective, a British luminary like Ridley Scott wasn’t even sought out. It would’ve been fitting given that the timing had him coming off of Legend. As for American directors, William Friedkin could’ve been great since Jack Schwartzman was instrumental in F.F.C. forming The Directors Company with Friedkin and Peter Bogdanovich (who directed the star of Lionheart in a Cher vanity project titled Mask).

Once again in Portugal. The man is the still photographer. He is credited in English as Egon Endrényi, but is credited in Hungarian as Endrényi Egon. The latter is how Helena Toth (as Ágnes Tóth) had credited him on Facebook. As for the below photo which was taken during the Hungary shoot, the person wearing the white hat is a wardrober who was tagged on Facebook as Balázs Piri Mari. She is named Mari Balázs-Piri on IMDB, but went uncredited for her contributions. The moustached man holding the cigarette on the right was the unit manager, Gábor Szabó. The man holding the megaphone was one of the assistant directors. His name is Gábor Váradi. The cast and crew spent three months filming in Hungary before shooting in Portugal, whose weather was described by the director as raining for 11 out of 13 days when they were filming at the Cascais Coast. Worse still was that one of the supply trucks in Hungary got stuck in the mire. Sand didn’t help nor did a dozen or so of heaving shoulders. The truck was eventually pulled from the mud by a Russian tank retriever, which happened to be passing by on its way to practice maneuvers.

What’s fascinating about Lionheart is that the struggle to get the film from production to distribution is akin to the struggle that Richard Donner had in moving Ladyhawke from pitching to filming. It took him years whereas F.F.C. began advertising Lionheart in trade print form during the fall of 1984. Besides featuring the involvement of PSO, the advertisment is notable for how Menno Meyjes (may-yes) is credited as the sole writer. I find his involvement to be fascinating given that he previously worked with Steven Spielberg, the man who fired the star of Lionheart from Back to the Future. Menno adapted The Color Purple for Stephen, who directed it from June to August of 1985. When Lionheart began filming in August, you have to wonder why F.F.C. even bothered. Ladyhawke flopped by the beginning of June despite the triple threat of Rutger Hauer, Matthew Broderick and Michelle Pfeiffer.

It didn’t help that even Tom Cruise’s Legend had flopped by the end of May in 1986. Out of all the baby boomers who starred in `80s medieval movies, it was Val Kilmer who would actually achieve the most success when he starred in Ron Howard’s Willow (1988). Then again, George Lucas is a visionary. In November of 1985, Menno Meyjes had his name credited as the teleplaywright of an Amazing Stories episode titled The Mission. This featured two actors from BTTF – J.J. Cohen and Casey Siemaszko. The significance is that the episode was directed by Spielberg. Menno would go on to help write the story for Spielberg’s Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Even when Menno earned an Oscar nomination for his adaptation of The Color Purple, 1986 was not a year for Lionheart to be in cinemas.

As for how Menno came up with the story (which he thought would be readily identifiable to `80s youth), it all began when he was in a San Francisco new wave nightclub circa the late `70s. The Mabuhay, a breakout club for such rock groups as The Sex Pistols, was a popular club not only for music but for new wave fashion as well. Menno thought that the teens looked medieval because of the leather, chains and army insignias. Menno was a student of medieval art and history, so it makes sense that he originally conceived Lionheart as a stage musical. It’s hard to imagine the play doing justice to the underground city that was built inside Budapest’s giant Husarak stage where crews had set to work on constructing a maze of warrens, waterways, caverns and tunnels. This underground is where the children would hide from gangs and slave traders.

The first sequel was to be titled Saladin, named after the famous Arabian general and ruler, whereas the final sequel was to be titled The King of Jerusalem. This was to chronicle later events in the Holy Lands involving King Richard. The above photo sees Jenny Schaffner pictured alongside Sammi Davis, who played Baptista. A scene was scheduled to have doves fly out of a huge pie on cue at a great banquet. This was a pivotal example of how some animals just can’t be trained. Despite attempting a variety of suggestions, nothing seemed to work. It wasn’t until the owner of a cat had come up with an obvious solution that the feat was finally achieved. As the crust was carved on the pie, the feline was placed under the table where the uncaged doves were waiting.

A typical daily call sheet for the production’s activities in both Hungary and Portugal called out for 58 orphans, 19 horses, 2 falcons, 20 geese, 3 cows, 8 goats, 1 donkey, 30 chickens, 3 dogs, 1 ox, 40 sheep, cast principals and 257 extras – who were mostly children. Even though there is an old maxim that problems occur with children and animals, Franklin J. Schaffner found that it was only the doves that caused a problem. Besides the irony that Lionheart is such an obscure film that it was eventually eclipsed by the Jean-Claude Van Damme movie of the same name, it’s ironic that the soundtrack has received more attention than the film itself. Since Dexter Fletcher is in it, it might get more press. This film is usually discussed by fans of Jerry Goldsmith than those of the star. Speaking of whom, it’s particularly ironic that Eric Stoltz looks younger in Lionheart than he did a year earlier in BTTF.

Then again, you can work wonders with make-up, hair and lighting. It’s worth mentioning that Eric was cast in Lionheart by two of the three casting directors for BTTF – Jane Feinberg and Mike Fenton. I would like to say that I could not have written this article without the help of a press kit that I purchased found on eBay (where I also found the black-and-white photos). Hollywood Dreams, a season 4 episode of Frontline that aired on May 13 in 1986, depicted Mike Fenton having a phone call with one of the Lionheart producers. David T. Friendly (who cast Eric in a 2005 film titled The Honeymooners) had quoted Mike in his TV review: “Look, some of his magic is internal, but I promise you he is Robert. The other thing is he is more than willing to change his hair color; he’ll do whatever has to be done.”

While many people may regard Eric Stoltz as being too serious of a method actor to make friends, he clearly didn’t have a difficult time befriending Dexter Fletcher on the making of Lionheart. It’s a sign of how much Eric likes Dexter that he once had a dog named after him. They got along so well that Eric made a cameo appearance in Dexter’s star project, The Rachel Papers (1989). This film co-starred Ione Skye, who previously worked with Eric on Say Anything (also 1989). The film also co-starred one of Eric’s closest friends, James Spader. Coincidentally, Eric socialized with James on the set of Pretty in Pink (1986). Ironically, Eric didn’t realize that he would eventually star in a remake of that film i.e. Some Kind of Wonderful (written and produced by John Hughes).


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