Sylvia (1965 film)

Sylvia is a 1965 American drama film directed by Gordon Douglas, written by Sydney Boehm, and starring George Maharis, Carroll Baker, and Peter Lawford.

Theatrical release poster
Directed byGordon Douglas
Produced byMartin Poll
Written bySydney Boehm
Based onnovel by E. V. Cuningham
StarringCarroll Baker
George Maharis
Peter Lawford
Music byDavid Raksin
CinematographyJoseph Ruttenberg
Edited byFrank Bracht
Distributed byParamount Pictures
Release date
February 10, 1965 (US)
Running time
115 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$1,500,000[1]

Released by Paramount Pictures, it was filmed in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.


Sylvia West seems just about perfect in the eyes of middle aged California millionaire Frederic Summers, who proposes marriage to her. She is beautiful, brilliant, financially independent, writes poetry, and seems to personify exactly what he wants in a woman.

But as a precaution, Summers brings in a private investigator, the young Alan Macklin, to do a background check. Macklin travels to Sylvia's hometown of Pittsburgh, where to his surprise he learns that Sylvia has a history of selling sexual favors to middle aged men. Librarian Irma tells Macklin that Sylvia always liked to read and helped her select literature from the library. She reads books in between clients to numb out her feelings. Raped by her stepfather, Jonas, she is an incest survivor who has a hard time setting boundaries. After her rape she turns to a fanatic priest who takes her to Mexico who is later killed. She pays Oscar Stewart through sexual services to get her back to the US on a road trip.

Back in the US, Sylvia becomes friends with Jane, a sex worker, and helps her out after a life threatening accident. To pay for her medical bills Sylvia sells sexual services through a transvestite madam. Sylvia is raped and assaulted by one the clients, Bruce Stamford III, who buys her off to keep quiet about it. Sylvia invests the payoff, using advice from Jane's husband. The investments helps Sylvia become financially independent and she publishes her poetry.

Macklin meets Sylvia, and says he is interested in her poetry. The two of them fall in love. He confesses that he has been investigating her for her husband, and she is upset. He refuses to give his report to Summers, and Sylvia eventually forgives Macklin, and they get together.



The film was based on a novel by E. V. Cunningham, a pen name for Howard Fast. The novel was published by Doubleday in 1960, and was popular enough for Fast to write other suspense-mystery novels under the pseudonym of E. V. Cunningham, with titles that were women's names. (Others included Penelope.)[2]

Film rights were bought by producer Martin Poll in April 1961. Poll called the film "a suspense love story".[3] He originally set the film up at Paramount as a coproduction with Paul Newman and Martin Ritt's company - Newman was going to star and Ritt direct.[4] Fast was hired to write a script and filming was scheduled to start December 1961.[5] This did not happen. The project was reactivated in 1964 with Sydney Boehm writing the script and Robert Reed as a possible star.[6] Carrol Baker, who had just made The Carpetbaggers and Mister Moses, was hired to play the lead.[7] David Miller was signed to direct.[8] The male lead role eventually went to George Maharis, who recently had left the cast of the hit CBS dramatic series Route 66 after recovering from a bout with hepatitis that he had contracted while performing stunt work in a body of water during filming of that series. During filming of Sylvia, Miller was replaced as director by Gordon Douglas.


Bosley Crowther of the New York Times called it a "travesty of a film... it is hard to tell whether Carroll Baker... is worse than the script. Both are incredibly awful. Miss Baker is as lifeless as a stick, and the script... is a collection of all the clich├ęs of bordello literature" and said that Gordon Douglas and Martin Poll "should both have their mouths washed out, their wrists slapped and their credentials as filmmakers taken away."[9]

See also


  1. Anticipated rentals accruing distributors in North America. See "Top Grossers of 1965", Variety, 5 January 1966 p 36.
  3. PICTURES AND PEOPLE By A.H. WEILER. New York Times (1923-Current file); New York, N.Y. [New York, N.Y]30 Apr 1961: X9.
  4. Impact Films Plans 3 More This Year Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File); Los Angeles, Calif. [Los Angeles, Calif]17 June 1961: A6.
  5. Of Local Origin New York Times (1923-Current file); New York, N.Y. [New York, N.Y]27 June 1961: 23.
  6. Son of 'Defenders' With Carroll Baker: London in Industry Crisis as Backlog Still Piles Up Scheuer, Philip K. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File); Los Angeles, Calif. [Los Angeles, Calif]27 Jan 1964: C11.
  7. Servant' Director Fast Winning Cult: Losey Acclaimed in Europe; Carroll Baker 'Sylvia' Star Scheuer, Philip K. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File); Los Angeles, Calif. [Los Angeles, Calif]08 May 1964: C15.
  8. David Miller Signs to Direct 'Sylvia': He'll Spread Love Around; A Female 'Tom Jones' Next SHEUER, PHILIP K. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File); Los Angeles, Calif. [Los Angeles, Calif]29 May 1964: D7.
  9. Review of film at New York Times

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