(As our editor Matt Holmes turns 25 today, he’s out of office and we are going to re-publish some old favourites.)
With the frustrating news breaking last week that Guillermo Del Toro’s adaptation of At the Mountains of Madness (based on an H.P. Lovecraft story) is ‘dead’, I began thinking about some of the other potentially great projects that audiences were tragically destined to never see. From further research it’s clear that the major directors that have worked within the industry have abandoned vast numbers of productions that would have easily been big money makers and both critical and financial successes. Indeed, filmmakers like Alfred Hitchcock, David Lynch and Orson Welles have abandoned dozens of projects, even after beginning production on some of them!
Read on to discover the ten unrealised features that we’d love to have seen completed…
10. GEORGE SLUIZER’S DARK BLOOD
George Sluizer’s Dark Blood starred River Phoenix as Boy, a widower who lives as a hermit on a nuclear testing site. In this tale of a dystopian future, Boy waits for the end of the world while making dolls he believes have magical powers. Boy ends up helping a couple (Jonathan Pryce and Judy Davis) when their car breaks down whilst travelling through the desert.
Only 11 days short of completion, the production was shut down by the tragic death of Phoenix outside the Viper Room in LA from a drug overdose. Angry at the loss of expenses through the abandonment of the production, Phoenix’s grieving mother was sued by the films producers for $6 million to compensate for this, claiming that the actor had not declared his drug use! Needless to say, the case eventually collapsed.
What finished portions of the film remain in existence are still entirely owned by director George Sluizer. Whilst he will never complete the film for general release now that Phoenix is gone, he has suggested that he intends to use it as footage in a documentary about the actor’s life. Some really raw footage on YouTube remains the only scenes released to the public to this day…
09. JERRY LEWIS’ THE DAY THE CLOWN CRIED
Jerry Lewis, known predominantly for his comedy films and cabaret acts with partner Dean Martin, was also fond of directing. Behind the camera of some of his most successful work (including The Bellboy  and The Nutty Professor ) his unique gift for comedy proved an excellent skill when it came to directing. However, how he thought he could turn a film about a clown hired to entertain children as they are sent into a darkly humorous comment on society is beyond me.
Whilst it was intended to be a piece of comic pathos on one of humanity’s darkest hours, it simply screamed of bad taste. Lewis began production believing that he was creating something worthwhile on the horrors of the Holocaust, however it soon became apparent that his changes to the script (in an attempt to make the clown character he played more sympathetic) meant the film left a bitter taste in any viewer’s mouth. As well as narrative set backs, production was hindered by a lack of money supplied by producer Nathan Waschberger (who eventually ran out of money before production completed), the damage and late delivery of equipment and the major problem that Waschberger’s option for the screenplay had expired before shooting began (he apparently paid an initial $5000 fee to authors Joan O’Brien and Charles Denton, but failed to send a further $50000 that was due before production began).
Filming was all but complete when production was shut down due to the lack of financing and it is reported that Lewis owns the only videotaped copy of the film in existence (the whereabouts of the original negative is unknown). In his autobiography Jerry Lewis in Person, the director claims that he will release a version of the film for public viewing if he can return to Sweden for some final pick-up shots. However, the likelihood of this happening is very slight and Lewis refuses to comment on the film in any interviews. Whether or not this is a bad thing remains debatable! If, however, you have a pressing urge to view the film it seems the only way of doing so is by getting yourself invited to one of the exclusive screenings put on by long time Hollywood insiders. However, if it’s highly unlikely that you’ll find yourself invited to such an event I’m afraid you’ll have to class this as one of those films that you simply weren’t meant to see…
08. ALFRED HITCHCOCK’S THE SHORT NIGHT
After a rather insipid citical and viewer response to Family Plot (1976), Alfred Hitchcock intended to return to his comfort zone for what he intended to be his last film. This project was based on the novel The Short Night, a spy thriller by Ronald Kirkbride.
A British double agent manages to escape from prison and flees to Moscow, where his wife and children are await him. An American agent plots to intercept him but falls in love with the double agent’s wife in the process. The Short Night was to be the director’s third attempt to produce a more realistic James Bond film. His previous two attempts, Torn Curtain (1966) and Topaz (1969) had had a limited critical and box office success and The Short Night was envisioned as Hitch’s return to form.
Clint Eastwood, Walter Matthau and Sean Connery were all courted as possible male leads, the latter said to be the favourite. Liv Ullman was asked to play the double agent’s wife.
Problems began early in the pre-production stage, when James Costigan, the first writer employed to pen the adaptation, had a number of disagreements with the director. Hitchcock eventually asked for Costigan to be ‘paid off’ and removed from the project! Previous collaborator Ernest Lehman then agreed to tackle the script, but his feeling that the story would be better focusing on the American spy did not tally with Hitch’s own ideas.
The final blow to the Lehman-Hitchcock relationship came when the writer decided to remove the double agent’s escape from prison out of the adaptation. After an argument with the director Lehman left the project and Norman Lloyd (an old friend of Hitch’s) took on the job. In a hurry to get the ball rolling, Hitchcock suggested that Lloyd start work on the screenplay straight away, but the writer refused, stating that they were unprepared. Hitchcock, angry at Lloyd’s objections, fired the writer and decided to work on the screenplay himself.
Throughout the epic pre-production saga both Universal and the various writers involved were worried by Hitch’s failing health. Eventually, the director was forced to abandon the project, as his health continued to decline. What was intended, as a grand farewell to his followers, never came into fruition and the world was unfortunately left with the rather uncharacteristic Family Plot as the final work of one of the cinema’s greatest directors.
07. DAVID LYNCH’S RONNIE ROCKET
Based on a script director David Lynch had penned over a whole decade, Ronnie Rocket was a project close to its creator’s heart. Intending to combine many typical Lynchian thematic obsessions – including an idealised image of 1950s culture, an industrial design aesthetic, midgets and physical deformity – Ronnie Rocket was the film he originally intended to make after Eraserhead (1976). After viewing Eraserhead, executive producer Stuart Cornfield approached Lynch with an offer to help with his next project.
Lynch suggested Ronnie Rocket, but soon realised that nobody would option it and thus shelved the idea. Instead, the director asked Cornfield to find a script he could direct and the beautifully touching The Elephant Man (1980) was the resulting production. Later, Lynch returned to Ronnie Rocket in the early 90s, when he pitched the idea to French Production Company CIBY-2000 as one feature in a three-picture deal. The company passed on the project and Lynch went on to film a feature based on his television series Twin Peaks entitled Fire Walk With Me and another movie, Lost Highway. Ronnie Rocket has since returned to the shelf, but Lynch never refers to it as dead, simply in hibernation.
Ann Kroeber, the late wife of Lynch’s sound designer Alan Splet has suggested that Ronnie Rocket has failed to be made not due to any production company’s lack of interest in the project, but because Lynch is unwilling. Either way, it seems that Ronnie Rocket is not likely to launch any time soon… But, for those desperate to know more, a variety of scripts for the film float around the internet and are available for a leisurely peruse or to download.
06. TERRY GILLIAM’S THE MAN WHO KILLED DON QUIXOTE
In the first of two adaptations of the Miguel de Cervantes novel that failed to materialise, surrealist director Terry Gilliam had designs to bring his adaptation to the screen in the early 2000s. Casting Jean Rochefort in the lead role, a number of problems quickly arose to throw production off kilter: Rochefort was discovered to have a back problem that meant he winced in pain every time he rode a horse (which was a lot!) and a flash flood destroyed sets, locations (including the colour of the landscape) and equipment in Spain, which rendered the previous footage redundant. The relatively small budget was quickly exasperated and very little useable footage was available to show for the time and money spent on shooting. Subsequently the production was shut down.
Along the road to getting the film back into production a number of names have been attached to appear in various roles, including Johnny Depp in a supporting role, Vanessa Paradis as the love interest, as well as Gerard Depardieu and Michael Palin as replacements for Rochefort.
Finally, pre-production reportedly restarted in 2008 – after a lengthy legal rights battle between the projects French producers and German insurers was finally resolved – with Robert Duvall and Ewan McGregor attached to star.
However, yet again funding fell through and by September 2010 the project was shelved yet again. Unfortunately, it seems that the man who killed Don Quixote may just have killed him for the last time. However, Gilliam forever lives in hope that he will be able to complete the film, but until that time we have the excellent documentary Lost in La Mancha (2002) to enjoy, which chronicles the director’s original doomed attempt to bring this epic tale to the screen.
05. FRANCIS FORD COPPOLA’S MEGALOPOLIS
Megalopolis – a science fiction tale of epic proportions – has been described by director Francis Ford Coppola as a highly personal film. He has claimed that his major studio productions from the 90s – Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992), Jack (1996) and The Rainmaker (1997) – were made to generate enough finance to get his pet obsession off the ground. So why, I hear you ask, with three financial hits did Megalopolis never come to fruition?
Well, it came very close, with test shots produced in New York and meetings with potential actors progressing well. However, the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Centre happened soon after progress started to be made and this threw a spanner in Coppola’s works. For a film that heavily featured an aspiration for a utopian NYC, it suddenly became impossible for the director to create such an impression. Coppola toiled with what direction to take the film in but ultimately found he couldn’t achieve anything without finding himself forced to acknowledge the implications of one of America’s greatest tragedies.
Coppola spoke of the film a few years back;
“The setting is modern New York. It deals… with the idea that the future world we’re going to live in is being negotiated today… It’s kind of a shape-of-things-to-come film in which the characters are concerned with artists, businessmen, proletariat all having a stake in the future but very few of them having a hand in what it’s going to be like. It’s a little bit like an Ayn Rand novel.”
A few concept images were leaked too;
Megalopolis was subsequently shelved in 2007, with Coppola claiming to not have entirely turned his back on it. Whilst he hasn’t ruled out returning to the idea he has yet to do so, instead making and releasing Youth Without Youth (2007) – a romance story wrapped up in a medical fantasy/mystery – Tetro (2009) – a drama revolving around the relationship of two brothers – and the upcoming Twixt Now and Sunrise (2011) – a gothic film created out of an alcohol induced dream the director had in Turkey! The possibility of Megalopolis remains, but it seems that viewers will have to suffice with Coppola’s other ‘personal’ projects, rather than his grand science fiction feature.
04. GEORGE CUKOR’S SOMETHING’S GOT TO GIVE
Possibly one of the most famous unfinished pieces of cinema in Hollywood’s history, Something’s Got To Give re-teamed Marilyn Monroe with director George Cukor in an attempt to recreate the success of their previous collaboration, Let’s Make Love (1960). Starring opposite Dean Martin and Cyd Charisse, Monroe played Ellen Arden – a wife and mother of two who is legally declared dead after being lost at sea! – in what was a remake of the earlier Cary Grant and Irene Dunne screwball comedy My Favourite Wife (1940).
From the beginning of the shoot the production was plagued with problems. Monroe had recently undergone gallbladder surgery and called in sick with a severe sinus infection on the first day. The studio doctor suggested that production be halted for a month for the actress to fully recover. However, impatient, Cukor insisted on shooting scenes around Monroe and the following month continued as such, with the leading lady occasionally showing up for a few hours work. Shooting soon fell behind schedule and the production quickly went over budget. The unreliable nature of Monroe’s health eventually forced 20th Century Fox to dismiss her from the project, in what was more likely an attempt to offset the escalating budget of the Taylor-Burton epic Cleopatra (1963), which was also in production at the time and wildly over budget.
Actress Lee Remick was hired to replace Monroe, but Martin (who had leading lady approval) rejected the casting. In order to not make the whole escapade an entire waste of time, Fox finally relented and re-hired Monroe. Agreeing to give her more than her original $100000 fee (on the condition that she made a further 2 films for them), Fox agreed to replace Cukor with Jean Negulesco at the star’s behest. Production was due to start again in October 1962, but before it could begin, Monroe’s death that month finally halted production once and for all. What remains is approximately 40 minutes of footage that was assembled for the television documentary Marilyn: The Final Days (2001), which reveals how wonderful the film really would have been if completed.
03. ALFRED HITCHCOCK’S KALEIDOSCOPE (A.K.A FRENZY)
The post-Psycho 60s for Alfred Hitchcock were rather grim, with his films making very few waves or receiving little critical success. By the mid-60s, with both Marnie (1964) and Torn Curtain (1966) proving rather unpopular with critics and audiences alike, Hitch turned his attentions to a film as dark as Psycho in its narrative, but far more experimental in its technical aspects. Kaleidoscope (which the director also considered calling Frenzy – not to be confused with his 1972 film of the same name though!) was to bring the story of a serial rapist and killer to the screen.
Envisioned as an almost prelude to Hitch’s earlier film Shadow of a Doubt (1946, which was also his favourite project) this would have been an extremely dark film that was shot entirely from the killer’s perspective. Conceiving the murderer as a vulnerable but attractive young man (who was also a closeted homosexual) the director believed that the ‘everyman’ image of his antagonist might prove a prospect too frightening for audiences!
Whilst Kaleidoscope appeared to be a thoroughly planned project, MCA Studios who were backing the production decided to pull out on the basis of the fact that the protagonist was too ugly! This proved a major gripe with Hitchcock for the rest of his life, however MCA’s decision was probably influenced more by the high risk nature of the project and the potentially financial loss that could come with the director’s new style (including the use of hand-held cameras and natural light, mimicking the European wave of cinema verite productions). All that remains of this fascinating production is an hour-long tape of silent, experimental footage that unfortunately pales in comparison to the thought of Kaleidoscope fully realised.
02. ORSON WELLES’ DON QUIXOTE
Similar to Alfred Hitchcock, when Orson Welles died a number of fantastic projects died with him. Leaving behind numerous unfinished films and production ideas from his 50 year career, Don Quixote remained the director’s most passionate obsession throughout his life. Production actually began on Don Quixote in 1955 and cameras continued to roll over the subsequent decades in a variety of locations, including Mexico, Spain and Italy.
Whenever Welles could generate the finance needed to shoot a little more, he would reassemble the cast and crew and capture another portion of the script. Due to the on/off nature of the production, both the script and style of the film was forced change countless times over the years. Over the decades, Welles undertook a number of projects he didn’t have much of a vested interest in, in order to raise the funding he needed to complete Don Quixote.
One such film that Welle’s did want to make however, was his noir masterpiece Touch of Evil (1958). Using the money he received from this production he rushed back to Mexico to film more of Don Quixote. However, during his absence from Hollywood, Universal took it upon themselves to re-edit and butcher his dark film, fundamentally changing everything Welles had worked so hard to capture. Dejected by his lack of directorial control and appearing unable or unwilling to finish Don Quixote, Welles continued to direct feature films into the 1970s, but his output (excluding The Trial ) failed to live up to his legend. Despite his disillusionment with the industry he had helped to shape, Don Quixote remained in Welles’ mind and he continued to muse about completing the film right up to a few months before his death in 1985.
At the end of his life, all that remained was 300000 feet of film footage that had been poorly organised and dispersed across the globe. In 1992, exploitation filmmaker Jess Franco gathered this together and produced an attrociously ‘restored’ version of the film, which was poorly received by audiences and critics alike. Offering only the odd glimpse of Welles’ directorial brilliance and Francisco Reiguera’s incredible performance as the eponymous hero, Franco’s Don Quixote was a travesty that must have had Welles turning in his grave…
01. STANLEY KUBRICK’S NAPOLEON
In 1968, Stanley Kubrick – the director who was legendarily a perfectionist! – began pre-production research on what would have been one of his most ambitious and personal projects of his carrer. Napoleon was to be an epic biopic of the legendary emperor, with Jack Nicholson playing the lead. Kubrick had a lifelong obsession with his Napoleon and the film was envisioned as a full and complete dramatisation of his life, including full-scale reconstructions of various battles that would employ in excess of 50000 extras!
Kubrick spent two years meticulously researching historical facts for the film and immersed himself and his team in a complete examinantion of the Napoleonic era. Kubrick built a scrupulous day-by-day description of court life, which included an index of approximately 15000 images of the period. Ever the perfectionist, the director sought after specialist lenses that would enable him to film exteriors in the evening and even discovered a cheap paper fabric to be used for the soldiers’ uniforms. In another attempt to keep costs down, Kubrick also obtained an agreement from the Romanian army to supply multiple thousands of soldiers for use in the epic battle scenes he planned to film.
However, by 1969 the sheer magnitude of Kubric’s grand production caused MGM to refuse to provide the exorbitant costs that the director had tried to keep at a minimum. Despite the enormous financial success of his previous film, 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), MGM simply refused to foot the bill for Kubrick’s particularly indulgent project. Therefore, the director approached Warner Brothers to provide the funding instead. However, he again failed to spark enough interest in a project of Napoleon’s size, but went on to make A Clockwork Orange (1971) instead.
Kubrick never gave up hope for finding funding for his hiostorical epic, but unfortunately it wasn’t meant to be. For those interested in finding out more about the production, a book that is of equal epic proportions is available (but will set you back about £45!) and is an equally meticulous chronicle of all of Kubrick’s research. A cheaper option would probably be to check out my fellow OWF contributor Oliver Pfeiffer’s fantastic 50 Reasons Why Stanley Kubrick is the Greatest Director of All Time!
Know of any other unrealised/unreleased projects that you wish had been completed or seen a release – let us know by leaving a comment below!
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