Director Paul Verhoeven and director of photography Jan de Bont had just seen The French Connection (1971), and agreed that its realistic look with natural light, hand-held photography and staccato editing would be perfect for Turks Fruit. However, when filming started, Verhoeven got cold feet, and wanted to revert to fixed cameras and artificial lighting, just as he had shot his previous movie, Diary of a Hooker (1971). De Bont bluntly refused to comply and shot the first scenes the way he intended. This caused a major falling-out between them, and Verhoeven nearly had de Bont fired after three days of shooting. However, after seeing the first rushes, Verhoeven admitted that he was wrong, and that de Bont had made the right decision.
According to Paul Verhoeven, the film was submitted to the prestigious Cannes Film Festival in France, only to be angrily rejected as 'pornographic' by its board of directors. However, Verhoeven noted that the Japanese film In the Realm of the Senses (1976), a French co-production which was even more explicit in its depiction of sexual activities and violence, was accepted into the festival without problems three years later.
One of the negatives from the film had been badly scratched, necessitating a re-shoot. This happened to be the scene where Erik makes a drawing of his genitals, and it was re-shot on the day that one of the film's funders visited the set. Although the crew was a bit worried by the funder's startled look from witnessing the filming of this scene, he later assured the crew that he knew the book the movie was based on.
The scene at the beach was different in the original script. Olga (Monique van de Ven) was to have used a German SS knife from home to make the sandwiches, revealing that her mother had gotten it during a relationship with an SS officer during the war. However, when it was time to film the scene, they had forgotten to bring the knife. In his desperation to come up with a solution, Paul Verhoeven remembered an anecdote from writer Jan Wolkers (on whose book the movie was based) about how he once covered his wife from neck to toe under the sand. Verhoeven used this idea in the movie as well, and he liked the result far better than the original scene.
The name of the main character in the book is never mentioned. Screenwriter Gerard Soeteman decided to call him 'Erik', which was meant to sound like 'Eer ik' ('Honor to me' in Dutch) as an in-joke to his self-absorbed nature.
Author Jan Wolkers called the movie a '75% masterpiece'. He thoroughly approved of Rutger Hauer and Monique van de Ven as the doomed couple and mostly loved how they had adapted his novel. The one thing he disliked was how the main character often subjects his girlfriends to petty torments, saying that he "failed to see the poetry in it".
Another reason why director Paul Verhoeven chose Monique van de Ven over Willeke van Ammelrooy was because he considered van Ammelrooij too sensual for the part of the innocent and somewhat childish Olga. Verhoeven even had a picture of van de Ven on his desk while writing the screenplay, so he could better imagine the character.
Willeke van Ammelrooy was the first choice for the role of Olga. Jan Wolkers, who wrote the novel this film is based on, thought she'd be perfect for the part. However, director Paul Verhoeven demanded she'd shave her head for the hospital scene. This would mean van Ammelrooy had to decline other job offers. Besides that, producer Rob Houwer didn't want to pay the 50,000 guilders van Ammelrooy asked. He was only willing to pay 19,000 guilders.
The Car Olga and Eric have an accident in at the beginning of the movie (A 1972 Rover 3.5 litre coupe) actually survived, up until this present day. The registration of the car (56-00-US) is still on record with the Dutch Vehicle Licensing Office.
This was actually Paul Verhoeven's third attempt to adapt a work from Jan Wolkers. The first time, in 1967, he asked permission to make 'Serpentina's Petticoat', but Wolkers thought that Verhoeven's story treatment had strayed too far from the source material. The second time, in 1970, Verhoeven wanted to adapt 'Turks Fruit', and asked Wolkers to write the screenplay himself. Because the intended producer Gijs Versluys had already requested a budget, they had to produce a screenplay within three days. However, after a 24-hour attempt at writing, Wolkers was not satisfied with his screenplay, and tore it up, with Verhoeven and Versluijs desperately trying to save the shreds. It wasn't until 1971, after producer Rob Houwer got involved and Wolkers had approved of screenwriter Gerard Soeteman, that he agreed to sell the rights to the book.
In Rutger Hauer's autobiography All Those Moments, he noted how Paul Verhoeven explained to him that they could only do a few takes but had confidence in everyone since he knew talent when he saw it. Although sometimes he would explain what kind of emotion he wanted based on the context of the script and let the actors run with it.
The trivia item below may give away important plot points.
The book by Jan Wolkers on which the film is based is largely autobiographic. The character of Olga is based on Wolkers' second wife, Annemarie Nauta, who had left him after four years of marriage. Contrary to the book, she did not die; Olga's fate was modeled on the death of a friend of Wolkers who died of a brain tumor. When director Paul Verhoeven and screenwriter Gerard Soeteman learned from Nauta that Wolkers had been something of a bully during her marriage, they decided to make their main character a bit less likable as well. Interestingly enough, while being very impressed by the movie, Wolkers objected most against the main character's frequent bullying.