Haunted by Never-Weres

There are some movies I know I will never see. I have to resign myself to the fact that Hats Off is gone. I’ll never see Harry Langdon’s final silent feature Heart Trouble. The Marx Brothers’ screen debut in Humor Risk is another permanent casualty.

But there are some movies that aren’t just lost… they never were.

For example, my kids have recently started getting into Seinfeld reruns and have started raiding my DVD box sets to catch up. That show was full of references to made-up movies, some of which were meant to sound insufferable, but gosh gee I’d enjoy seeing Death Blow.

And I am especially haunted by Mark Z. Danielewski’s terrifying meta-novel House of Leaves, and not just because the book itself is a haunting art-novel masterpiece. The book is presented in a recursive tripartite structure in which the innermost level is a documentary about a haunted house. One layer up from that is the film criticism of that movie, dense with footnotes and editorial allusions. That book’s incomplete manuscript is found by a lost and lonely soul who attempts to complete and collate the book, while also introducing asides about his own troubled past.

I’ve long held that someone needs to license this novel for the purpose of making the fake documentary described in it. If such a House of Leaves movie ever did get made, it should be in the same vein as Paranormal Activity (and for that matter, why are the Paranormal Activity guys allowing themselves to get so far out on that limb with increasingly threadbare material when there’s this fabulous fake-documentary horror idea just lying around waiting to be filmed?) I’d buy tickets right now.

Perhaps even more tempting are the films in Paul Auster’s The Book of Illusions. It tells the story of a Harry Langdon-y silent comedian named Hector Mann who drops out of Hollywood, fakes his death, and becomes a reclusive experimental filmmaker (with echoes of Edgar Ulmer and Ed Wood tossed in to boot). Auster is one of the best writers today, but this book speaks to me for reasons other than just being a good novel. My odd tastes in slapstick comedy, 1940s low-budget exploitation filmmaking, and arthouse experimentation represent a tiny sliver of the film-geek Venn Diagram where I reside, but where I find few fellow travelers. Sure I meet lots of people who share one passion of mine, and others who share a different one–but rare is the person who is equally enthralled by Charley Chase, Edgar Ulmer, Ganja & Hess, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, and Doctor Who.

Auster’s book somehow captures my own dreams and puts them on paper. And he does it so richly that I forget the fictional nature of the things he describes, and was sorely tempted to commit the resources of All Day to tracking down the lost comedies of Hector Mann.

One last never-was that I ought to mention, since it provided the frame grab that adorns this blog post above. In the late 1960s, Alfred Hitchcock set out to make a film called Frenzy that was to have boldly gone in a new stylistic direction for him. He shot a fair bit of test footage exploring this new style–basically, a sort of cinematic concept art. In planning Star Wars, George Lucas had Ralph McQuarrie paint concept designs to make the ideas in his head accessible to others. Hitch shot actual footage with real people to achieve something of the same goal.

He never made the movie, and eventually shot a different film with that title. To avoid confusion with that Frenzy, his never-fully abandoned plans for this particular never-was took the alternate title Kaleidoscope.

I was sent some of this test footage by some parties trying to find a home video outlet for it, and it’s been haunting me ever since.

The thing of it is, when you tell people, “Hey, there’s about an hour of material from a Hitchcock movie you’ve never seen,” that creates what we can charitably call an unreasonable expectation.

You start to fantasize about being able to conjure up out of the ether something that can stand alongside North by Northwest and Rear Window. I’ll freely admit that I still log onto Amazon.com to browse for “Alfred Hitchcock.” It makes no sense–I have all of his movies. I have them in VHS, laserdisc, DVD, and now some in Blu-Ray. I even have one as 16mm print. Do I really expect to find something I haven’t already got? And then along comes Kaleidoscope, and whispers, “Yes, here’s something new. Something you haven’t seen…”

Nothing can survive that kind of expectation. Kaleidoscope isn’t a movie–it’s concept art for a movie you can’t see. It’s like reading about Auster’s Hector Mann comedies. Maybe a touch better than that, because there is actually film to sit and watch and enjoy, but it can never be a fully satisfying meal. All that exists is the appetizer…

Ironically, the story treatments and existing footage of the unmade Frenzy/Kaleidoscope are not all that far off from the actual real-world Frenzy–I say ironically, because Frenzy #1 was supposed to mark a new experimental path for Hitchcock, whereas Frenzy #2 is generally seen as a return to his roots. That they are so similar shows the extent to which he did veer off for unchartered territories around that time.

And you know what “experimental” means in this context? Boobies. That’s what the frame grabs here show–a Hitchcock who could finally depict nudity and casual sex, without the dodges and feints required by the censors of old. OK, I can see why that would appeal to him–but as a significant addition to the toolkit with which he already made such enduring masterpieces, it’s a bit “meh.”

And to be honest, that tempers my hunger a bit. If this lost, unmade phantom Hitchcock relic was going to be another Rear Window, then we’d be talking. Then it would be time to pour all our R&D money into developing a way to travel into alternate universes, where we could see that movie. So, instead of pining for Hitchcock movies that don’t exist, I’m going to spend the next several weeks exploring real movies that just aren’t by Hitchcock, but which stray into his orbit in various ways. And I’ll start by looking for another Rear Window (and I plan on finding 3 or 4).

0 Response Haunted by Never-Weres
Posted By Jeffrey Ford : October 13, 2012 10:13 am

Nice piece, but I think you mean Harry Langdon’s HEART TROUBLE and not Harold Lloyd’s. Am I wrong?

Posted By Jeffrey Ford : October 13, 2012 10:13 am

Nice piece, but I think you mean Harry Langdon’s HEART TROUBLE and not Harold Lloyd’s. Am I wrong?

Posted By Doug : October 13, 2012 10:31 am

Just a general call out-can anyone think of a ‘movie within a movie’ which was more interesting than the ‘outer’ movie?
One that made you think, “I wish THIS was the real film!”
Only as an example: “See You Next Wednesday” the porn romp playing
in the movie theater of “An American Werewolf in London”.
Of course, American Werewolf is far superior to any porn. Just an example.
David-I enjoy the “Paranormal Activity” franchise-to me, the follow up movies build on the original just fine. They don’t feel threadbare or unnecessary like some Matrix sequels I could mention (but I won’t).

Posted By Doug : October 13, 2012 10:31 am

Just a general call out-can anyone think of a ‘movie within a movie’ which was more interesting than the ‘outer’ movie?
One that made you think, “I wish THIS was the real film!”
Only as an example: “See You Next Wednesday” the porn romp playing
in the movie theater of “An American Werewolf in London”.
Of course, American Werewolf is far superior to any porn. Just an example.
David-I enjoy the “Paranormal Activity” franchise-to me, the follow up movies build on the original just fine. They don’t feel threadbare or unnecessary like some Matrix sequels I could mention (but I won’t).

Posted By Cary Watson : October 13, 2012 10:59 am

This is weird; I reviewed a French film called L’appartement just over a year ago and my first comment was that it was like discovering a lost Hitchcock film. It was remade (disastrously) as Wicker Park with Josh Hartnett. The original is fantastic and stars Vincent Cassel and Monica Bellucci. My original review’s here:

http://www.jettisoncocoon.com/2011/08/film-review-lappartement-1996.html

Posted By Cary Watson : October 13, 2012 10:59 am

This is weird; I reviewed a French film called L’appartement just over a year ago and my first comment was that it was like discovering a lost Hitchcock film. It was remade (disastrously) as Wicker Park with Josh Hartnett. The original is fantastic and stars Vincent Cassel and Monica Bellucci. My original review’s here:

http://www.jettisoncocoon.com/2011/08/film-review-lappartement-1996.html

Posted By Davidkalat : October 13, 2012 11:04 am

Jeffrey–

Good catch, thanks. I’ve fixed it in the post now.

Posted By Davidkalat : October 13, 2012 11:04 am

Jeffrey–

Good catch, thanks. I’ve fixed it in the post now.

Posted By Tom S : October 13, 2012 1:16 pm

The most painful films that should have been, for me, are von Sternberg’s I, Claudius, Richard Williams’ The Thief and the Cobbler (which was at least sort of finished and has a semi-watchable release), and basically everything else Charles Laughton should have made.

Laughton is especially painful- he’s like the common idea about Welles, that he made a one and done masterpiece, only in Laughton’s case it’s actually true.

Posted By Tom S : October 13, 2012 1:16 pm

The most painful films that should have been, for me, are von Sternberg’s I, Claudius, Richard Williams’ The Thief and the Cobbler (which was at least sort of finished and has a semi-watchable release), and basically everything else Charles Laughton should have made.

Laughton is especially painful- he’s like the common idea about Welles, that he made a one and done masterpiece, only in Laughton’s case it’s actually true.

Posted By Davidkalat : October 13, 2012 1:53 pm

Tom–

Preston Sturges spent most of his latter years not making a number of promising and intriguing projects, like The Gentleman From Chicago, which was to have been produced by Jacques Tati’s company. I mean, c’mon!

Cary–nice shout out for L’Appartement, that indeed is an underrated find.

Posted By Davidkalat : October 13, 2012 1:53 pm

Tom–

Preston Sturges spent most of his latter years not making a number of promising and intriguing projects, like The Gentleman From Chicago, which was to have been produced by Jacques Tati’s company. I mean, c’mon!

Cary–nice shout out for L’Appartement, that indeed is an underrated find.

Posted By Tom S : October 13, 2012 8:28 pm

Speaking of Tati, part of me continually expects Criterion to put out a special edition of Confusion, only to be reminded that it never actually happened. It seems like the movie industry is especially cruel to ambitious comedic directors- though fortunately, in an age of the Coens and Wes Anderson, that seems to have gotten less true.

Posted By Tom S : October 13, 2012 8:28 pm

Speaking of Tati, part of me continually expects Criterion to put out a special edition of Confusion, only to be reminded that it never actually happened. It seems like the movie industry is especially cruel to ambitious comedic directors- though fortunately, in an age of the Coens and Wes Anderson, that seems to have gotten less true.

Posted By mbm : October 14, 2012 3:15 pm

-Orson Welles’s ‘Heart of Darkness’ (’39)
-Douglas Fairbanks in ‘If I Were King’ (’36)
-Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney in ‘Good News’ (’40)
-Greta Garbo in ‘The Girl from the Kremlin’ (’42)
-River Phoenix in ‘Dark Blood’ (’93)
-Davis and Crawford in ‘Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte’ (’64)
-Marlene Dietrich and Charles Boyer in ‘Hotel Imperial’ (’36)
-The Marx Brothers directed by Billy Wilder in ‘A Night in the United Nations’ (’59) (later made as ‘One, Two Three’)
-the Samuel Goldwyn produced ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ (ca. ’52)
-Bob Clampett’s ‘John Carter from Mars’ (’35)
-Dorothy Dandridge in ‘Lady Sings the Blues’ (’65)
-Bruce Lee in ‘The Game of Death (’73)
-the original version of ‘Dune’ by Alejandro Jodorwsky

Posted By mbm : October 14, 2012 3:15 pm

-Orson Welles’s ‘Heart of Darkness’ (’39)
-Douglas Fairbanks in ‘If I Were King’ (’36)
-Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney in ‘Good News’ (’40)
-Greta Garbo in ‘The Girl from the Kremlin’ (’42)
-River Phoenix in ‘Dark Blood’ (’93)
-Davis and Crawford in ‘Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte’ (’64)
-Marlene Dietrich and Charles Boyer in ‘Hotel Imperial’ (’36)
-The Marx Brothers directed by Billy Wilder in ‘A Night in the United Nations’ (’59) (later made as ‘One, Two Three’)
-the Samuel Goldwyn produced ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ (ca. ’52)
-Bob Clampett’s ‘John Carter from Mars’ (’35)
-Dorothy Dandridge in ‘Lady Sings the Blues’ (’65)
-Bruce Lee in ‘The Game of Death (’73)
-the original version of ‘Dune’ by Alejandro Jodorwsky

Posted By mbm : October 14, 2012 3:17 pm

also forgot Marilyn Monroe in The Stripper. Travilla had already designed her costumes
http://www.flickr.com/photos/likeabalalaika/6672581669/

Posted By mbm : October 14, 2012 3:17 pm

also forgot Marilyn Monroe in The Stripper. Travilla had already designed her costumes
http://www.flickr.com/photos/likeabalalaika/6672581669/

Posted By Will P : October 15, 2012 11:18 am

Ever read the novel “Flicker”? I’d love to see any of the movies of the long-forgotten, legendary director Max Castle…

Posted By Will P : October 15, 2012 11:18 am

Ever read the novel “Flicker”? I’d love to see any of the movies of the long-forgotten, legendary director Max Castle…

Posted By DBenson : October 15, 2012 2:08 pm

– Ransom of Red Chief (“O. Henry’s Full House”) with Laurel and Hardy. Even in their Fox days they could have pulled off the material better than wildly miscast Fred Allen and Oscar Levant, men more known for acidic wit than being outflanked by kids.
– Disney’s “Babes in Toyland” as directed by Ward Kimball (he reportedly started the film, and it still has a few great cartoony gags).
– Disney’s “Chanticleer”
– Buster Keaton’s “Grand Mills Hotel”. Probably would have been a one-note parody mess, but what a cast!
– MGM’s musical “Prisoner of Zenda” — Don’t know if this was anything more than a rumor, but would have made more sense than the slavish remake of the 30′s version.
– Cary Grant in Hammer’s “Phantom of the Opera”
– “Shinbone Alley,” with a bit more money and different character designs.
– “Frankenstein Meets Wolfman”, the blind-and-talking monster version.
– “Mack and Mabel” with Dick Van Dyke. So far as I know nobody even mentioned this possibility, but it seemed insanely obvious.
– Jules Verne’s “From the Earth to the Moon,” with a non-botched script & production.
– “Sunshine Boys” with Jack Benny and Red Skelton.
– “The Black Hole” with a real script.

Posted By DBenson : October 15, 2012 2:08 pm

– Ransom of Red Chief (“O. Henry’s Full House”) with Laurel and Hardy. Even in their Fox days they could have pulled off the material better than wildly miscast Fred Allen and Oscar Levant, men more known for acidic wit than being outflanked by kids.
– Disney’s “Babes in Toyland” as directed by Ward Kimball (he reportedly started the film, and it still has a few great cartoony gags).
– Disney’s “Chanticleer”
– Buster Keaton’s “Grand Mills Hotel”. Probably would have been a one-note parody mess, but what a cast!
– MGM’s musical “Prisoner of Zenda” — Don’t know if this was anything more than a rumor, but would have made more sense than the slavish remake of the 30′s version.
– Cary Grant in Hammer’s “Phantom of the Opera”
– “Shinbone Alley,” with a bit more money and different character designs.
– “Frankenstein Meets Wolfman”, the blind-and-talking monster version.
– “Mack and Mabel” with Dick Van Dyke. So far as I know nobody even mentioned this possibility, but it seemed insanely obvious.
– Jules Verne’s “From the Earth to the Moon,” with a non-botched script & production.
– “Sunshine Boys” with Jack Benny and Red Skelton.
– “The Black Hole” with a real script.

Posted By Kingrat : October 15, 2012 7:16 pm

I’d love to have seen a 1940s version of REDS starring John Garfield and Ida Lupino, directed by, say, Jules Dassin. I don’t think anyone would miss Warren Beatty and Diane Keaton.

Would also love to see some follow-up comedies to ME AND MY GAL starring Joan Bennett and Spencer Tracy.

Posted By Kingrat : October 15, 2012 7:16 pm

I’d love to have seen a 1940s version of REDS starring John Garfield and Ida Lupino, directed by, say, Jules Dassin. I don’t think anyone would miss Warren Beatty and Diane Keaton.

Would also love to see some follow-up comedies to ME AND MY GAL starring Joan Bennett and Spencer Tracy.

Posted By davidkalat : October 15, 2012 8:11 pm

Uh oh–no hating on The Black Hole, please. I made my mom let me stay to watch that through a second time in a row (back when theaters let you do that sort of thing) because I loved it so much. I was 11, but still. I may have to come defend it in public here, now.

Posted By davidkalat : October 15, 2012 8:11 pm

Uh oh–no hating on The Black Hole, please. I made my mom let me stay to watch that through a second time in a row (back when theaters let you do that sort of thing) because I loved it so much. I was 11, but still. I may have to come defend it in public here, now.

Posted By Doug : October 16, 2012 12:51 am

With all of this cast-wishing, we seem to be heading into “Jeffty Is Five” territory.

Posted By Doug : October 16, 2012 12:51 am

With all of this cast-wishing, we seem to be heading into “Jeffty Is Five” territory.

Posted By Anonymous : October 16, 2012 4:33 am

Mr. Kalat: “The Black Hole” is great-looking film with amazing moments. But when the plot hinges on the robots being soulless and unemotional, and you’ve got two chatty comic robots with outsized personalities (and ESP, for pity’s sake) . . .

It’s easy to laugh off big fad-chasing bombs, but “The Black Hole” came heartbreakingly close to greatness. It’s as if they added a wisecracking parrot to “The Birds”, telling snappy stories and chatting with the humans while said humans reacted in terror to other birds showing much less sentience.

Posted By Anonymous : October 16, 2012 4:33 am

Mr. Kalat: “The Black Hole” is great-looking film with amazing moments. But when the plot hinges on the robots being soulless and unemotional, and you’ve got two chatty comic robots with outsized personalities (and ESP, for pity’s sake) . . .

It’s easy to laugh off big fad-chasing bombs, but “The Black Hole” came heartbreakingly close to greatness. It’s as if they added a wisecracking parrot to “The Birds”, telling snappy stories and chatting with the humans while said humans reacted in terror to other birds showing much less sentience.

Posted By Will P : October 16, 2012 10:35 am

I’d kind of like to see that version of “The Birds.” Done right, it could be even more unnerving.

Posted By Will P : October 16, 2012 10:35 am

I’d kind of like to see that version of “The Birds.” Done right, it could be even more unnerving.

Posted By swac44 : October 17, 2012 10:46 am

As a parrot owner, I’m always happy to see more roles for our talking feathered friends, and wouldn’t mind if there was an alternate reality version of The Birds with a prominent part for a macaw or an African grey (the film noir parrot). At least Twin Peaks had Waldo. (I’ve seen a lot of parrots in silent films lately though, I’m wondering if they were a more popular pet in those days than they are now. They’re certainly fascinating and entertaining creatures to have around the house.)

I’d be curious to see the fictional silent epic Civilization from Canadian author Paul Quarrington’s novel Civilization and Its Part in My Downfall, a fun, fictional look at the early days of Hollywood filmmaking. I just wish the film (and subsequently, the novel I suppose) had been called something else, given the fact that there’s already a real silent epic of that title, directed by Thomas Ince. Too bad I’ve yet been able to see a copy of that particular Civilization.

Also David, I’m with you on Charley Chase, Edgar Ulmer, Ganja & Hess, and Doctor Who. I’ve only seen one film by Kiyoshi Kurosawa (Pulse), but I enjoyed it, and should track down more of his work.

Posted By swac44 : October 17, 2012 10:46 am

As a parrot owner, I’m always happy to see more roles for our talking feathered friends, and wouldn’t mind if there was an alternate reality version of The Birds with a prominent part for a macaw or an African grey (the film noir parrot). At least Twin Peaks had Waldo. (I’ve seen a lot of parrots in silent films lately though, I’m wondering if they were a more popular pet in those days than they are now. They’re certainly fascinating and entertaining creatures to have around the house.)

I’d be curious to see the fictional silent epic Civilization from Canadian author Paul Quarrington’s novel Civilization and Its Part in My Downfall, a fun, fictional look at the early days of Hollywood filmmaking. I just wish the film (and subsequently, the novel I suppose) had been called something else, given the fact that there’s already a real silent epic of that title, directed by Thomas Ince. Too bad I’ve yet been able to see a copy of that particular Civilization.

Also David, I’m with you on Charley Chase, Edgar Ulmer, Ganja & Hess, and Doctor Who. I’ve only seen one film by Kiyoshi Kurosawa (Pulse), but I enjoyed it, and should track down more of his work.

Posted By Volker Stieber : October 18, 2012 3:52 pm

To WillP: Yes! FLICKER made me feel like I had actually seen his films but just forgotten the details.

To David Kalat: Some day, someone will take take THE BLACK HOLE and its “sequel” EVENT HORIZON and cobble them together into one coherent film. In an alternate universe.

Posted By Volker Stieber : October 18, 2012 3:52 pm

To WillP: Yes! FLICKER made me feel like I had actually seen his films but just forgotten the details.

To David Kalat: Some day, someone will take take THE BLACK HOLE and its “sequel” EVENT HORIZON and cobble them together into one coherent film. In an alternate universe.

Posted By MovieMorlocks.com – Hammer does Hitchcock : November 3, 2012 6:01 am

[...] Hitchcockian suspense thrillers, thanks to the twisted mind of Jimmy Sangster—and as we saw in this space a few weeks ago, Hitch was flirting with making something that for all the world looks like a Hammer film.  Was [...]

Posted By MovieMorlocks.com – Hammer does Hitchcock : November 3, 2012 6:01 am

[...] Hitchcockian suspense thrillers, thanks to the twisted mind of Jimmy Sangster—and as we saw in this space a few weeks ago, Hitch was flirting with making something that for all the world looks like a Hammer film.  Was [...]

Posted By MovieMorlocks.com – Warren Beatty Is (Not) James Bond! : November 10, 2012 6:01 am

[...] with Cary Grant in the lead—and the very thought of it makes me wish I’d brought it up in my earlier post about unmade treasures.  And of course there’s the 1967 trainwreck in which a number of otherwise capable directors and [...]

Posted By MovieMorlocks.com – Warren Beatty Is (Not) James Bond! : November 10, 2012 6:01 am

[...] with Cary Grant in the lead—and the very thought of it makes me wish I’d brought it up in my earlier post about unmade treasures.  And of course there’s the 1967 trainwreck in which a number of otherwise capable directors and [...]

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