Arnold Schwarzenegger first came to our attention as Conan the Barbarian, a film made in 1981 in various parts of Spain. Decades later Arnold returned to Spain to shoot scenes from the latest and hopefully last instalment of Terminator.
As they needed a dam for some scenes, it was ironic but perhaps appropriate that they should choose to use the Aldeadávila dam.
The famous dam appears at the beginning and end of Doctor Zhivago, representing a tribute to the proletarian achievements of communism (or it would have been if Franco hadn’t had it built!) It is at the dam that Alec Guinness interrogates Rita Tushingham about her mother. The Aldeadávila hydro-electric dam is in Salamanca province, on the border with Portugal on the River Duero, and as in the case of Conan, Doctor Zhivago used scenery from all over Spain.
Doctor Zhivago was released in 1965, except in Russia where it came out just a little bit later in 1994. As the book was banned in the Soviet Union, so the film was too, and of course that meant that the wide vastness of Siberia could be found mostly in the Spanish province of Soria, a land where snow is always guaranteed; except when you actually want to make a film about Russia there, which naturally meant that they had one of the mildest winters on record. In fact, much of the snow was in reality white marble dust and wax.
Two streets of Moscow and a tramway were rebuilt in great detail in Canillas on the outskirts of Madrid. The site has since been urbanised and is now occupied by Calle de Silvano, near the Canillas Cemetery.
Also in Madrid, the Palacio del Capricho (Whim Palace!) belonging to the Duke of Osuna was used, specifically for the scenes of Zhivago’s funeral, where his brother (Alec Guinness) and lover (Julie Christie) have their last meeting.
The entrance to the palace in the park was also used for a scene where the scheming but really not a completely lost cause Rod Steiger meets Julie Christie for one of their illicit trysts.
As he recreated Arabia in Franco’s Spain, so director David Lean recreated revolutionary Russia there, and had a good supply of Spanish soldiers to depict Cossacks massacring Spanish (Muscovite) extras singing ‘The Internationale.’ Good practice.
Other parts of Spain were also treated to a sprinkling of Yankee dollars; the funeral of Yuri’s mother, with 8 year old Yuri played by Omar Sharif’s own son Tarek, took place near La Calahorra, Granada, specifically in the area known as Marquesado de Zenete, probably in order to use the Sierra Nevada mountains as a backdrop, impersonating the Urals.
The battle on the frozen lake was shot near Candilichera (Soria) in June with temperatures of over 30 degrees, using marble powder and plaster to simulate the ice. The Bolshevik cavalry galloping through the forest was filmed at Abejar, between the present day camp site and the Cuedar del Pozo dam.
The villagers of the tiny village of Candilichera couldn’t believe their luck when the studio offered to pay them the equivalent of two years’ harvest in order to use their land for filming the scenes at Varykino.
Mind you, the money wasn’t spread evenly, and when we visited the village some inhabitants remembered that while some landowners were able to buy a flat in Soria with the money, others got nothing.
Visiting Candilichera today it is easy to understand why they chose this area to make Zhivago. The wide open spaces around the village still have an isolated feel and very little has changed apart from the occasional electricity line and an expansion of sunflower crops among the endless wheat fields. There’s even an abandoned railway line.
The scenes of Yuri’s time in a World War One hospital were filmed in the fields around Gómara and Ólvega in Soria, with the Moncayo mountain in the background. Here were also shot the scenes of Yuri and Lara’s separation.
Near Candilichera they filmed the scene where the two Russian armies going to and from the front meet and have a bit of a disagreement with their officers, as well as the wheat field machine gunning of young cadets.
The Ural Mountains were represented by the more modest El Moncayo Mountain, and the battle scenes were shot among the pine trees bordering the Cuerda del Pozo reservoir, which can also be seen when Yuri and his wife and father in law are riding towards Varykino the first time, and stop to contemplate Yuryatin covered in smoke.
The film is train spotters’ heaven; Yuri’s long train journey took him further away from Lara, and included stops at the stations of Tardelcuende, Matamala de Almazán (which represents Barikino where the family arrive en route to their summer residence), Villaseca de Arciel, Navaleno, Aldealpozo and Villar del Campo.
Another train station used was ‘Delicias’, now a railway museum to be found at Plaza Delicias, Madrid. This is where Sharif and Geraldine Chaplin are first seen together when she arrives by train all dressed up in pink. This station has been used repeatedly for many films such as Reds, Nicholas and Alexandra, The Wind and the Lion and March or Die.
The city of Soria had its heyday during the making of the film, with every hotel occupied. The producers even rented out the local teacher training college in the Paseo de El Espolón as an administration building (today it is a health centre). Even today there is a Lara Cinema in the city, recalling the character played by Julie Christie.
The Hotels Comercio (now the Caja Duero Savings Bank), Las Heras, now demolished, and Florida (now a police station) were all filled to the brim with actors and crew.
The people of Soria received their first ever children’s playground in the area known as La Dehesa, next to the Cafeteria Alameda, thanks to MGM. It was in this area that Omar Sharif would walk with his son, who played Zhivago as a boy in the funeral scene, in the evenings after shooting. The playground has since been replaced with a more modern one, but you can still drink from the same fountain as the Doctor on his evenings off.