David Lean directing the filming for Doctor Zhivago

Doctor Zhivago: Mary’s Movie Night Review

A Doctor Zhivago review must first include a comment about its extraordinary success at the box office. Upon its release, Doctor Zhivago was so popular with its audiences that it remains as MGM’s second most profitable film. Guess which film is first? Gone with the Wind!

Both Gone with the Wind, released in 1939, and Doctor Zhivago in 1965  are epic movies adapted from books and set in times of immense turmoil that war brings and both include irresistible love stories. The similarities end there. Gone with the Wind, based on the novel by Margaret Mitchell, glorifies the Old Confederate South. Published in 1936, Margaret Mitchell was free to write and create her own world in any way she wanted.

In 1956, when Boris Pasternak’s novel, Doctor Zhivago, was written, he was at the mercy of the Communist Russian government. To be published, the manuscript was smuggled out of Russia. The Soviet Union only allowed its own citizens access to It in  1988.

Doctor Zhivago in Atlanta

Fox Theater
Fox Theater, Atlanta
Photo: Robert Elzey

Movie-goers in Atlanta were first introduced to Doctor Zhivago in 1965 at the Fox Theater on Peachtree Street. The movie and its score captivated its audiences, one of which included Lucy and Jack Cota. Jack was most impressed with the soundtrack and its composer, Maurice Jarre, and he was not alone in his admiration. According to the IMDb, the soundtrack sold more than 600,000 copies during the film’s initial release.

Movies make for great family bonding time, and when a rare ice storm swept across Atlanta in the early 1980’s, Lucy, Jack, and daughter Mary, cuddled in the den, and watched the epic Doctor Zhivago, which happened to be showing on TV that day. The scenes that Mary remembers most are those filmed in the Ice House, which was appropriate because of the Atlanta ice storm at the time. Like the famous maze of snow-covered hedges in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, the memorable ice house scene is permanently seared in audiences’ memories.

Doctor Zhivago Notes of Interest

It is surprising to learn that most scenes in Doctor Zhivago were filmed in Spain in the dead heat of summer. Director David Lean bought an entire marble quarry and had it ground into powder for disbursement as snow. Surrounding trees were sprayed with plastic snow to complete the set. While watching the movie, you would never guess that the actors were withstanding 100 plus degree weather and sweating profusely while makeup artists hovered around wiping away the sweat. Movie extras were ordered not to shed a single layer of clothing, which was a hard challenge for them in the insufferable heat.

Lean chose handsome Omar Sharif to play the role of Doctor Zhivago. The director and the actor had worked together before in Lawrence of Arabia. During filming, Sharif had to endure daily rituals of having his eyes taped back and his hair straightened to make him seem more Russian than Middle Eastern. Every three days, he also had his hairline shaved back, and his skin waxed. However, undergoing an ethnic transformation for movie roles was a common occurrence in Sharif’s career. According to Variety, he was also cast as a Spaniard in Behold a Pale Horse, a Mongol in Genghis Khan, a New Yorker in Funny Girl, and a German in The Night of the Generals (Chang, 2015, Jul 11).

One would not guess that the actor was a fat and ugly child in the eyes of his mother. She thought in desperation, “What can I do? Where is the worst food?” That would be English cuisine, so she sent her son Omar to an English boarding school. This turned out to be life-changing for Sharif. In one year he lost weight and learned to speak fluent English. A theater was next door to the school, which exposed him to an activity that soon became his life’s calling. Omar Sharif died in Cairo, Egypt this past July 2015. He suffered from Alzheimer’s Disease in his later years.

Lucy would be interested to know that Omar Sharif was a world-class bridge player.


Chang, J. (2015, Jul 11). Omar Sharif remembered: from Egypt to Hollywood, a chameleon of the screen. In Variety magazine. Retrieved from https://variety.com/2015/film/columns/omar-sharif-remembered-1201538243/

Doctor Zhivago (film). (2017, Oct 26). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Doctor_Zhivago_(film)&oldid=807121063

Lean, D. (Director). (1965). Doctor Zhivago [Motion Picture]. USA: MGM.

Omar Sharif. (2017, Oct 30). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Omar_Sharif&oldid=807943259

Pasternak, B. (1957). Doctor Zhivago.  New York: Pantheon Books.


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One thought on “Doctor Zhivago: Mary’s Movie Night Review”

  1. I love all the background information about the filming in the heat of Spain, and Omar Sharif. What a heartthrob!

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