Few actors hold the same cinematic weight as Burt Lancaster, an iconic figure of Golden Age Hollywood who stood amongst the likes of Humphrey Bogart, Carrie Grant and Audrey Hepburn. Enjoying a flourishing career that came as a result of the actor’s versatility and charm, Lancaster starred in the likes of From Here to Eternity, The Swimmer, The Crimson Pirate and Field of Dreams.
Winning an Oscar for his performance as the titular Elmer Gantry in the classic 1968 film, Lancaster enjoyed many decorated on-screen performances, starting from his very first performance in the Academy Award-nominated The Killers. As a self-taught actor, Lancaster enjoyed 30 years in the industry both in front of and behind the camera as a producer before his death in October 1994.
Of all his decorated cinematic achievements, few remember the 1949 film Rope of Sand, directed by William Dieterle, a project known as ‘the poor man’s Casablanca’. With a script from screenwriter Walter Doniger, the writer hoped that the film would reunite Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman back together in a story that largely reflected the Casablanca plot. Instead, Burt Lancaster ended up in the film alongside Paul Henreid, Claude Rains and Peter Lorre.
The result is a strange mix of melodrama, worlds away from the Michael Curtiz classic starring Bogart and Bergman that also featured Henreid, Rains and Lorre. The story itself follows another tale of an expatriate American in Africa, seeing Burt Lancaster’s Mike Davis survive a torturous existence as a miner who decides to turn his back on his corrupt business and steal from them instead.
Whilst he was certainly a magnificent actor of the 20th century, Burt Lancaster was also well known for his temper, often arguing with filmmakers over creative differences. Frequently butting heads with screenwriter Walter Doniger, Lancaster strongly disliked working on Rope of Sand and even recalled in an interview in 1984, “When I think of my least favourite, I think of Rope of Sand. I did that thing under great duress. I hated it”.
Despite Lancaster’s dislike of the film itself, Rope of Sand would prove to be one of his most popular films of the 1940s, with Walter Doniger nominated for a Golden Globe for his script work.
Burt Lancaster enjoyed an eclectic career both in front of and behind the camera, becoming one of the very first Hollywood film stars to start his own production company up until his final film alongside Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams. Through this, the actor was able to straddle a career in the studio system, lining his pockets with some of the era’s most significant releases, whilst working on independent projects that would further his creativity.