Fear and Desire (1953): Kubrick’s First Feature

After raising $1000 showing his short films to friends and family, Stanley Kubrick, then 24, found the finances to begin making his first feature, Fear and Desire, originally titled “The Trap,” written by his friend Howard Sackler.

Kubrick’s uncle, Martin Perveler, a Los Angeles pharmacy owner, invested $9000 on condition that he be credited as the film’s executive producer.  Kubrick assembled several actors and a small crew of 14 people (five actors, five crewmen, and four others to help transport the equipment) and flew to the San Gabriel Mountains in California for a five-week, low-budget shoot.

Later renamed “The Shape of Fear” before finally being named Fear and Desire, it is a fictional allegory about a team of soldiers who survive a plane crash and are caught behind enemy lines in a war.

During the course of the tale, one soldier becomes infatuated with an attractive girl in the woods and binds her to a tree. This scene is noted for its close-ups on the face of the actress.

Kubrick had intended for Fear and Desire to be a silent picture in order to ensure low production costs.  The added sounds, effects, and music brought production costs to around $53,000, exceeding the budget.

During the production of the film, Kubrick almost killed his cast with poisonous gasses by mistake.

He was bailed out by producer Richard de Rochemont on the condition that he help in de Rochemont’s production of a five-part TV series about Abraham Lincoln on location in Hodgenville, Kentucky.

Fear and Desire was a commercial failure, but garnered some positive reviews upon release.

The New York Times believed that Kubrick’s professionalism as a photographer shone through in the picture, and that he “artistically caught glimpses of the grotesque attitudes of death, the wolfishness of hungry men, as well as their bestiality, and in one scene, the wracking effect of lust on a pitifully juvenile soldier and the pinioned girl he is guarding”.

Scholar Mark Van Doren was impressed by the scenes with the girl bound to the tree, remarking that it would live on as a “beautiful, terrifying and weird” sequence which illustrated Kubrick’s immense talent.

Kubrick himself later expressed embarrassment with Fear and Desire, and attempted to keep prints of the film out of circulation.