Desire Under the Elms, released in 1958, starring Sophia Loren, Anthony Perkins and Burl Ives, is an English tragedy also featuring Frank Overton.
The story of forbidden love takes place on a family farm set in rural New England in 1850, and explores the large and difficult themes of greed, vengeance, desire and troubled, incestuous family dynamics. The father (Burl Ives) brings home his headstrong new wife from Italy (Loren, his third). In order to prevent two of Ives’ three sons from taking over the farm upon their father’s demise, Loren and Ives’ son Eben (Perkins) team up and enter into an incestuous affair. Desperation and secret passions lead to tragedy.
Based on playwright Eugene O’Neill’s attempt to adapt the plot elements and themes of Greek Tragedy from his 1924 play of the same name, the screenplay was written by Irwin Shaw and directed by Delbert Mann. The original play was so highly controversial that it was banned for several years in a multitude of American states, and for more than 15 years in Britain. Despite the film being largely panned by critics, Perkins performance was deemed great, and, as is often the case in films in which she appears, whether panned or celebrated, Loren’s performance is praised for its expression of a wide variety of emotion and her infusion into scenes of tenderness, special value. The film received an Oscar nomination for Best Cinematography/Black & White.