An Interview with Ted Kotcheff about
The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz
Cinema Canada Magazine: So much of this film’s strength depends on Duddy alone, and Dreyfuss did a marvellous job of portraying the two very conflicting sides of that character …
Ted Kotcheff: It was something Rick (Richard Dreyfuss) and I discussed a great deal; about where we were going to make him sympathetic and where we were really going to make him coarse, since the whole thing was based on this counterpoising of two elements. It takes a lot of courage for an actor to do that. Even when most actors say, “Yeah, yeah, he is really nasty here”, at the last second they always sweeten that moment to engage the sympathy of the audience. We had a lot of integrity about attacking that. I would say to Rick, “Look, this scene has really got to be nasty. You’ve got to see him for what he is.”
Remember that scene right after the bar-mitzvah film when Duddy, Yvette (Micheline Lanctôt) and Peter John Friar (Denholm Elliott) have a celebration? Duddy’s drinking champagne and he kisses Yvette, and it’s really a nasty, licking, wet kiss and he’s all over her. Rick did it with an uncompromising quality which I liked. It was a delicate balance to maintain all the time. We didn’t want it to fall one way or another.
But so much of the film is also the moral wrestling that goes on between Duddy and Yvette. In the book, you can ignore Yvette. But in the film she is there. I thought Yvette’s character was much more interesting in the picture. Yvette is sketchily conceived and drawn in the book. Her whole development from a simple backwoods French-Canadian farm girl into a complicated, sophisticated person is one of the strands in the development of the film.
CC: Was it your intention to film the entire novel?
Ted Kotcheff: A good part of it. Actually, I don’t think there’s much missing in many ways. Of things that I shot and subsequently cut, there are one or two things I’m ambivalent about. There’s one very very funny scene at the beginning where Duddy’s writing his final exams at Fletcher’s Field High School and he`s cheating. What he’s done is – he’s got all the answers written on his arm. All the studious people are writing and Duddy Kravitz is sitting there bored. Finally, the teacher turns away and Duddy undoes his shirt and copies it all down. He’s copying at a furious rate and some other teacher sees him and charges towards him. As the teacher charges towards him, Duddy starts licking his whole forearm. By the time the teacher arrives, Duddy’s licked off all the writing! The teacher grabs Duddy’s arm and looks and sees absolutely nothing then: except this blue smear. And then you have the famous line when the teacher looks down and says, “You’ll go far Kravitz, you’ll go far.” Rick was so funny in that scene! He did it marvellously! That’s the only scene I’m a bit ambivalent ahout having excised. Otherwise, I wanted the picture to have a kind of staccato, jerky energy about it. You know, a kind of mirror of the febrile pace of Duddy Kravitz’s life.
CC: Richler must he very happy seeing his novel brought to screen so beautifully even wilh those cuts.
Ted Kotcheff: He is. Yes. Mordecai shared my ambivalence about the schoolroom scene. He was sorry to see that go. And the only other scene he regretted being cut was the scene where Duddy reads Uncle Benjy’s letter by the lake. It happens after he’s had his nervous breakdown and Yvette has taken him back and he`s living up at her place in Ste. Agathe, slowly reconstituting himself. That was one of the first scenes I cut and the reason I cut it was because in the letter there`s an overt statement of the theme. In the leller, Uncle Benjy says,”There are two sides to you Duddy. There’s the behemoth – the nasty, opportunistic Duddy Kravitz that I saw – and there’s the gentle intelligent boy that your grandfather saw, bless him. But you’re becoming a man now, and you have to choose which one you’re going to be.” And I hate those kind of things in a picture, where you state the theme. To me, the whole theme is implicit in the structure of the film: the way cheek to jowl there’s always a counterpoising of the coarse, vulgar Duddy with the other side of Duddy’s makeup. The structure of the film always keeps a perilous balance between those two elements. Somehow, ten minutes to the end, to come right out and say. “There are two sides …” – that’s what I’d been trying to do through the whole picture! So I thought the scene was unnecessary.
This article was created from excerpts of a 1974 interview by Cinema Canada publisher and editor George Koller and his wife and co-editor, Agi Ibranyi-Kiss. Cinema Canada published its last issue (#169) in December 1989. It was the trade journal of record for the Canadian Film and television industry for 18 years.