Vísir 7th October 1978

‘Out into the unknown’: International criminal action in Iceland

Evil spy Slade ran as fast as he could along the lakeside. His expression suggested horror and fear, if he could not escape, his fate with higher powers would await.

Alan Stuart threw himself down and pointed the weapon. He looked through the scope of the rifle, where the cross marked the centre of the back of the fleeing man. He fires the shot, and the viewer sees the wound open in Slide’s back. He falls, and rolls into the water, – dying. Triumphantly Stuart puts the weapon away.

The director calls “cut” and the dying man gets up, drenched and bloody, the wind blowing his coat he asks for a blanket. Before putting on the blanket he releases a steel plate, which was tied to his back, on which had been fixed ‘blood bombs’, as a ‘victim’ these had been released by pushing a button, which had been hidden in his hand.

On the silver screen, this would look very realistic, which is expected of the filmmakers, they are ready to achieve mastery in the faking of various acts so that they appear as real as possible for the audience.

The above event was carried out by British filmmakers from the BBC in Scotland making the film ‘Out into the unknown’ from a novel by Desmond Bagley. The author had been working with the filmmakers since the end of May and had watched all the filming of the movie for the time they had been in this country. It was completed by 18th July.

Working on such films is extremely complex, and as a novice in the film industry, many of the items caused amazement. Not least, were the varied special effects that were used to approach reality, so that potential viewers could not distinguish between them.

My job was hidden in a kind of ‘man of all trades’, ranging from the purchase of castor oil for the director to driving the exciting speed pursuits in place of the actors, some of which didn’t even have a driver’s license.

It is quite difficult to explain briefly the events that were most memorable, but nonetheless I’m going to attempt to do so.

Headhunted Intelligence Man

The plot film is very broadly that a British intelligence operative comes to this country, and whilst here is hounded by both his own colleagues, and of course the enemy from the East. It seems that everyone wants him dead, but despite numerous attempts to bring him before his main enemy it always ends in such a way that the latter is killed or injured significantly. The hero finds himself unpunished from the integral human trials, and finally he gets love in return.

The Director had to ensure that despite all the conflict that the script offered it would not exceed mild to spicy, and reasonable moderation would be served. Here was a film that would be shown on television and therefore it could not be made too violent or rude.

The first principle action scene that was filmed in this country was between the main actor Stewart Wilson and Steindór Hjörleifsson who plays a Russian spy. This scene took just over eight hours to film, though it was only a two-minute section of the film itself. Steindór narrowly failed to reach Reykjavík before the show began.

Another amazing scene was filmed in the summer house at Þingvellir. The actor Stuart had been captured and it seemed that his days were numbered. Then Stuart manages to slip a full canister of lighter fuel into the fireplace. There is an explosion and the hero manages to escape outside into the cold – intact despite the explosion. The summerhouse is ‘damaged’ significantly from the explosion and fire.

Summer house Explosion

In order to reproduce ‘reality’ on the big screen accurate reproductions of two exteriors of this excellent cottage were produced. They were placed approximately one meter from the residence itself, and then special bombs were used to create explosions and they then added a smoking door and craters.

Immediately following this action the fire was extinguished and the result looked very realistic, looking as if the entire cottage had burned and was in ruins. Then, work began again with the next scenes that were to follow with both Stuart, whose hand was shot by the enemy having previously shot the hand of the enemy himself, and Elin (played by Ragnheiður Steindórsdóttir). Elin had managed to smuggle a gun in her clothes, shooting began between the two on the one hand and the Russians on the other, and she had killed the enemy ringleader.

Between filming the scenes, the make up artist prepared the various bullet wounds following orders from the Director. First the wound was shaped from wax, which when set was filled with a sizeable amount of red liquid – film blood.

At the end, I met the two slain Icelandic actors. Jon Sigurbjörnsson and Flosi Ólafsson but in addition there was a British actor Vladek Sheybal, who is probably the most famous actor playing in the film.

Some time before, these men had been in a great dramatic chase in the main group of ships in Reykjavík Harbour. Originally this was meant to happen at Geysir, but the film crew found the setting of Geysir rather poor – the script was changed to the port as soon as possible.

The protagonist escapes and boards a trawler that was tied to the dock and elevated, there is great shooting. Only blanks were fired, but in order to make for realism small bombs were placed across the ship ‘kúlnahríðina’. They were literally kneaded out of the various components and then painted over. Then they were dynamited by the orders of the director to look like holes in the metal. Two from among the enemy managed to get aboard the ship and after some fighting the hero managed to throw one of them into the water and disable the other.

When we came to dispose of lucky man in the sea the filming stopped briefly.

Falling into the Oily Atlantic

The victim dressed himself in a frogman costume and then put on his outer garments over the costume. He then greased his face and hands, changed his shoes and drank a pint of Icelandic milk. When he was ready he went into the oily North Atlantic. Luckily for him, the scene took only one take and therefore did not have to be repeated.

We went to the north of the country and filmed in Ásbyrgi. One of the scenes had to show a dust cloud coming from a car indicating that it was an enemy. There was not enough dust on our highways, and they had to resort to a plan to hang snow chains traveling behind the car for the helicopter to dust-up. The car stops slightly in front of the hill and a man with a rifle in his hand, gets out of it, but the driver waited inside. Next the man sneaks up and he spots Stuart and Elín, holding his rifle at close range – he is about to fire a shot but Stuart throws a knife into his abdomen so he misses except that it hits Elín’s shoulder.

Knife Injury

To fake the knife injury the following special effect was used, firstly they filmed the enemy as he was holding the knife in such a way that it was in his abdomen. Then there was a dummy that was dressed as the actor, the knife was driven into it, filming started and the knife was pulled out very quickly by some thin line that was attached. When this is shown backwards is looks like the knife is flying out of Stuart’s hand into the abdomen of the intruder.

Body In Waterfall

In order to get rid of the ‘corpse’ Stuart drags it into the Land Rover and drives to Dettifoss. He carries the corpse to the edge of the waterfall and throws it in.

Shortly before Stuart threw the ‘corpse’ he stopped and replaced it with the rubber dummy that has previously been mentioned. A cameraman was lowered down by rope a little where he filmed the scene of the dummy hanging over churning water. The police had been alerted to the potential possibility of a ‘body’ washing up on the beaches of the north in the coming days.

Throughout the highlands were filmed so-called ‘Driving shots’, which on the one hand, were cars driving at top speed through the barren landscape and on the other hand conversations between Stuart and Elín (Heiða) inside the vehicle. A Camera mount was then attached to the frame on the outside of the door viewing the two in the front seat. In the rear of the vehicle sat the Director, the cameraman, the soundman and scriptwriter, all hidden outside the perspective image of the eye. Filming was carried out remotely and the image was viewed on a small TV screen mounted on the bonnet, which admittedly, soon broke. In order that the engine sound of the Land Rover did not interfere with the audio recording of the conversations they were recorded in another SUV with a sound reducer in order that Stuart and Heiða could manage easier.

Stuck in ice-cold rivers

In the highlands (Landmannalaugar) dozens of scenes were filmed, including a scene where a helicopter had been hiding in Ljótapolli flying over the edge of the crater and chasing the vehicle along the crater edge. The second time is when a twin-engined aircraft flies over the vehicle a number of times. The ‘Russian’ in the plane was in fact Ómar Ragnarson.

As much effort as possible was made to film the colourful scenery when the vehicle was driving in the highlands showing the steam vents and rivers in the highlands. There were a few minor problems in one river near Landmannalaugar. The vehicle was driven into the river quite beyond the ford. As we got further out into the deep river the flow was such that the water was up to our knees. The current began to raise the vehicle slightly out of alignment, it floated and started to lean and then stopped … We expected that it would tip on its side and then we managed to get out of the vehicle. Heidi, Stuart and I held on the roof until the courageous bus driver managed to drive through the river. After a while the Land Rover was dragged to the bank. I managed to capture this on my camera.

Forget Dying

Towards the end of filming nearing home there was worry, significantly impacting the producers, the cost of filming having far exceeded projections. One last item that was filmed in the highlands was the shooting by the cable car ferry over the Tungná. Nervousness started, illustrated by the actors forgetting to die at the right places and filming various aspects without repetition, even if major mistakes were sometimes made. But thank goodness all was well and we started to prepare for the next shot.

The bulk of the group went off very soon after we came to town, – memories filled full of bumpy journeys, picnic kits and rainy nights in tents on the glaring desert. Such things, however, are soon forgotten and the memory remains of a bright summer in a spectacular landscape, where they filmed and had fun with the glittering glass.

Image Titles

Hard fighting aboard the trawler

The helicopter comes out of the crater and starts chasing.

…. Stuart bending over “corpse” Heiða looks on, worried.

Stuart and Heiða escape on foot from the cottage they had been held in at Þingvellir.

Jeep stuck in the river. Heiða and Stuart waiting for help.

Cinematographer descends into the gorge in front of Dettifoss.

Filming the cars chases was sometimes carried out like this.

Stuart stopped here for a fight.

Two similar. The one on the right was allowed to fall into the waterfall.

Libbie writer.

Stuart ‘corpse’ (Dallas Adams) and Heiða by Dettifoss.

… And he falls into the oily North Atlantic.

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1. Vísir (1978). ‘Út í óvissuna’ (7th October 1978 p. 1,5,6,7) © DV ehf.