Rob Hardy on books

 

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Lost Movies, Lost Opportunities

 

 

Rob Hardy

 

Whittier told us, "For of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these: 'It might have been!'" But it is only half true. What if one of the things that might have been was a movie with Jerry Lewis as a clown in a Nazi concentration camp? What if there had been a movie sequel to Casablanca? These are "might have beens" about which we can be anything but sad. These two examples are anomalies, though, included in The Greatest Movies You'll Never See: Unseen Masterpieces by the World's Greatest Directors (Cassell Illustrated), edited by Simon Braund. All of these movies were proposed, planned, and may even have been in production, but they are movies that we can only dream about seeing. Some of them had the potential to have been masterworks, and so there is a Whittier-tinged regret over most of the chapters, but the stories of what was proposed and what went wrong are often amusing and surprising. 

 

 

 

Let's clear up that Jerry Lewis movie first. Unlike the other films described here, The Day the Clown Cried isn't imaginary. It exists. It was made in 1972, and a few people have been shown the rough cut. Versions of the script are available online. The movie has to do with a clown who displeases the Gestapo and is sent to a concentration camp where he can amuse children, and does so right into the gas chamber. When Lewis got hold of the script, according to one of its authors, he changed the main character, who had been arrogant and self centered, into one inspiring sentimentality. The changes were one of the reasons the movie has been tied up in litigation. When he was asked in 2001 when it would be released, Lewis snapped, "None of your goddamn business!" Harry Shearer has seen it, and reports, "This movie is so drastically wrong, its pathos and its comedy are so wildly misplaced, that you could not, in your fantasy of what it might be like, improve on what it really is. Oh My God! - that's all you can say." 

 

 

 

The sequel to Casablanca almost came about because of the ending to the original movie. "When Bogart and Claude Rains saunter off contemplating 'the beginning of a beautiful friendship,' a small part of you wants to know what happens next. You almost got a chance to find out." Captain Renault says to Rick in that final scene that he could be induced to get them passage to a free French garrison in Brazzaville, and thus the idea for the sequel Brazzaville came about. The Epstein twins who had authored the original were offered the opportunity to write the sequel, but wisely "thought we put all we had to offer in the original." The eventual script turns Casablanca on its head; Rick, it turns out, was just putting on an act as the drunken, broken-hearted saloon owner to fool the Nazis, but was really an undercover agent. And Ilsa, who goes off with freedom-fighting Victor at the end of Casablanca, is able to follow Rick, because Victor died; and since Ingrid Bergman was not available, Geraldine Fitzgerald was going to take Ilsa's role. It is scary that such a project got as far as the casting; we are all lucky to be left imagining how Rick and Renault made out. 

 

 

 

Among the strangest almost-movies here is one called Giraffes on Horseback Salads, proposed by Salvador Dali as a vehicle for the Marx Brothers, especially his pal Harpo. Dali was in Hollywood in 1937, and had admiration for the Marxes, whose anarchic comedy was the sort of screen surrealism he valued. He had teamed with Luis Bunuel for the classic surrealist films Un Chien Andalou and L'Age D'Or, but Dali wanted to go Hollywood. The proposed production sounds as strange as any of the scenes in Duck Soup, with flaming giraffes wearing gas masks, Harpo catching dwarves in his huge butterfly net, and an enormous leveled desert with a flaming fence around it within which perimeter is a slowest bicyclist contest with each competitor balancing a stone on his head and growing a beard during the competition. The results would have been Un Chien Andalou meets Busby Berkeley." Dali's screenplay was assessed by Groucho, "It wouldn't play," and surely he was right. But he also saw the comic potential, saying, "It would have been a great combination. Dali didn't speak much English and neither did Harpo." 

 

 

 

But let's get serious. What movie fan wouldn't want to see the thriller No Bail for the Judge starring Audrey Hepburn and Laurence Harvey, directed by Alfred Hitchcock? It had a dark, humorous script, and was set in Britain, to which the director wanted to return when the film was being contemplated in 1958. Both Hepburn and Hitchcock longed to work together, and it isn't clear why it didn't come to pass (stories clash), but perhaps Hitchcock's tiring of big-budget Technicolor movies was part of it. What he did go on to make was the low-budget, black-and-white Psycho, so perhaps we should be happy that Judge never happened. There are many such contingencies here. Charlie Chaplin thought himself up to playing Napoleon in the 1920s, and even had Alistair Cooke to co-write a script. It morphed over years into a fiction project about Napoleon and his doppelganger. It never happened, but the seeds of the plot, a world leader and his double, bore fruit when Chaplin wanted to attack Hitler and anti-semitism in The Great Dictator of 1940. What if Louis Malle had been a little faster in 1982 with Moon Over Miami, a comedy starring Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi, fresh off success in The Blues Brothers? It was a comedy based on the Abscam scandal, and had a lot going for it, except Belushi died of a cocaine and heroin overdose. Malle was to speculate that if the script had been ready, it would have saved Belushi's life. It might have been, indeed. 

 

 

 

Orson Welles is here, over and over; he must be the patron saint of lost films. There is Kubrick's film of Napoleon, the most heavily researched of films, and with planned thousands of soldiers fighting on the actual battlefields of history. Nailed was a hot project in 2008, directed by David O. Russell, and starring Jessica Biel and Jake Gyllenhaal. It is a 95% finished film, lacking only a crucial scene that money complications kept from being shot. It surely says something that in this chronologically-arranged book many of the later entries are remakes or sequels, and who really cares if we don't see Superman Lives, even if it is Nicolas Cage directed by Tim Burton, or Darren Aronofsky's Batman Year One, or Ridley Scott's Gladiator 2? But, golly, how I would have paid gladly to have seen Steven Spielberg's The Trial of the Chicago Seven with Sacha Baron Cohen, Heath Ledger, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Will Smith, and Kevin Spacey. Rats. 

 

 

 

There are patterns of problems: illnesses, deaths, endless cycles of rewrites, and of course the crises of getting money. The stories are often funny, full of the foibles of players who are rich, obsessive, or egotistical. Braund has written some of the chapters here, but he has sixteen contributors and their work is surprisingly uniform and droll throughout. Each movie gets around four pages, including a tantalizing poster; these are expertly done by a crew of designers, each poster evoking the style of the time the movie would have come out. Each movie has a rating of the likelihood that it might in some form come to a theater near you some day. It's fun to think that might happen, but for most of these films, they are irrevocably lost dreams. 

 

 

 

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