Posted by Kimberly Lindbergs on March 13, 2014
This month JODOROWSKY’S DUNE (2013) will finally be leaving the festival circuit and getting a wider release on March 21st. Frank Pavich’s new documentary chronicles the long strange and turbulent development of what many consider to be one of greatest unrealized films in cinema history and allows us to imagine what Jodorowsky’s unfinished film might have looked like if it had been completed. Jodorowsky’s unruly vision was based on Frank Herbert’s science fiction opus and featured production design by the Swiss surrealist H. R. Giger and French cartoonist Jean ‘Moebius’ Giraud, a soundtrack by the psychedelic rock band Pink Floyd and a cast that included Orson Welles, Gloria Swanson, Mick Jagger, David Carradine, Salvador Dali and Amanda Lear. Pre-production on this big-budget film started in 1974 and millions of dollars were spent before the project eventually fell apart. Unfortunately, Jodorowsky’s story isn’t uncommon and there are thousands of forgotten unmade movies that we’ll never get the opportunity to see although they may not have had the same ambition or scope as the long lost DUNE. With this in mind I decided to compile a list of some particularly intriguing film projects that never made it to the big screen. These are the forgotten dreams of frustrated directors and writers but from time to time I find them unspooling in my head and my imagination has transformed them all into minor and, in some cases, major masterpieces.
Ken Russell’s DRACULA
Plot: “As every victim knows, once bitten by a vampire you become one of the undead yourself and cursed with everlasting life which, after a century or two, must become deadly boring unless perhaps you are blessed with a boundless imagination and the skill to turn it into great art. So my Dracula would be a philanthropist with a taste for the blood of genius.” – Ken Russell from Altered States: The Autobiography of Ken Russell
What I Know: Russell wrote a script for his adaptation of Dracula based on Leonard Wolf’s annotated edition of Bram Stoker’s classic tale after making TOMMY (1975). The script knocked around Hollywood for a while but was finally abandoned when backers got wind of the fact that there were other DRACULA productions in the works including John Badham’s big-budget 1979 film starring Frank Langella. Russell eventually got the opportunity to tackle a Bram Stoker story when he made his modern day vampire fable LAIR OF THE WHITE WORM (1988) giving us some indication of what his version of DRACULA might have looked like. And it’s worth noting that Russell biographer Paul Sutton found many similarities between Ken Russell’s original DRACULA script and Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 film suggesting that if Russell’s film has gotten made it might have resembled Coppola’s own interpretation. But I suspect that Russell’s film would have had a lot more imagination and if he’d gotten his away, a much stronger cast.
Plot: According to The Hammer Vault the film centered on Charles Molsworth, “A long dead Victorian actor and lower grade demon, dispatched by the Devil to collect the souls of children.”
What I Know: Jimmy Sangster wrote the script in 1973 and thought it was the best thing he’d ever written. It would have been Hammer studio’s first horror film “designed for children” and it also would have been Vincent Price’s first and only film for Hammer. Unfortunately the studio couldn’t procure the financing needed to make Sangster’s movie. He eventually sold his idea to Disney and they produced a badly butchered version of his original script as THE DEVIL AND MAX DEVLIN (1981).
Samuel Fuller’s FLOWERS OF EVIL
Plot: In The Films of Samuel Fuller: If You Die, I’ll Kill You Lisa Dombrowski describes the film as a semi-science fiction version of the ancient Greek comedy Lysistrata that focused on “a secret society called the Flowers of Evil that enlists beautiful young women who use sex, violence and an enervating vapor to eradicate warfare around the globe.”
What I Know: Fuller tried to get the film made in Paris during the mid-sixties (roughly 1964-1966) and even mentions the production during his cameo in Jean-Luc Godard’s PIERROT LE FOU (pictured above). Fuller would have shot the film in France but financing fell through before filming started.
Stanley Kubrick’s FOUCAULT’S PENDULUM
Plot: Borrowed from the original book synopses: “Bored with their work, three Milanese editors cook up “the Plan,” a hoax that connects the medieval Knights Templar with other occult groups from ancient to modern times. This produces a map indicating the geographical point from which all the powers of the earth can be controlled—a point located in Paris, France, at Foucault’s Pendulum. But in a fateful turn the joke becomes all too real, and when occult groups, including Satanists, get wind of the Plan, they go so far as to kill one of the editors in their quest to gain control of the earth.”
What I Know: When Stanley Kubrick died he left behind numerous unfinished film projects but his interest in adapting Umberto Eco’s novel has always intrigued me the most. Eco’s novel is often referred to as “the thinking man’s DaVinci Code” and it happens to be one of my favorite books so I’m sure I would have appreciated Kubrick’s adaptation. Kubrick tried contacting Umberto Eco about making a film based on his book but was only able to reach Eco’s publisher who told him that the writer wasn’t interested in having Foucault’s Pendulum adapted for the screen and wouldn’t consider it unless he was able to script it himself. Unfortunately the two men never got the chance to discuss the project and after the director died, Eco expressed remorse for not allowing the film to move forward. It’s worth noting that Kubrick’s last film, EYES WIDE SHUT (1999), seems to have been somewhat influenced by Foucault’s Pendulum although it was based on Arthur Schnitzler’s novella Dream Story.
Plot: “It would be a more rethinking than a remake. For one thing I’d try to retain Shelley’s original concept of the creature being an intelligent, sensitive man. Not just a beast.” – David Cronenberg from Cronenberg on Cronenberg.
What I Know: After the success of SCANNERS (1981) producer Pierre David approached Cronenberg about making an adaptation of Mary Shelley’s novel and the director agreed. Cronenberg planned on updating the story to give it a more contemporary setting and an advertisement was even placed in Variety announcing the project as a “Major Cinematic Event.” Cronenberg went on to make VIDEODROME (1983) with Pierre David but FRANKENSTEIN never materialized.
Val Guest’s I AM LEGEND
Plot: Borrowed from the book description – “Robert Neville has witnessed the end of the world. The entire population has been obliterated by a vampire virus. Somehow, Neville survived. He must now struggle to make sense of everything that has happened and learn to protect himself against the vampires who hunt him constantly.”
What I Know: Producer Anthony Hinds recommended that Hammer films should try adapting Richard Matheson’s 1954 novel I Am Legend for the screen in 1956. Matheson was asked to write the script, which was retitled NIGHT CREATURES and Val Guest was brought on to direct. Right before filming was scheduled to begin the BBFC (British Board of Film Classification) rejected the entire project outright due to its explicit nature and told Hammer they wouldn’t be allowed to exhibit the film if it was made. Although never confirmed, it’s highly likely that Peter Cushing would have starred in the film after his recent success in THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957). Hammer tried to get Universal interested in the project but things continued to fall apart. Matheson’s novel was eventually the basis of a number of films including LAST MAN ON EARTH (1964), THE OMEGA MAN (1971) and most recently I AM LEGEND (2007) but a Hammer adaptation with Val Guest at the helm could have been truly spectacular.
Sergio Leone’s M
Plot: A remake of Fritz Lang’s M (1931) based on the life and crimes of the German serial killer Peter Kürten aka the “Vampire of Düsseldorf.”
What I Know: After completing A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS (1964) Leone became interested in remaking Fritz Lang’s M. He had been impressed by Kinski’s unhinged performances in a number of early ‘60s German thrillers or “Krimi” films and wanted him for the starring role. Kinski agreed and the two started making plans to go forward with the film but when funding came through to make a sequel to A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS, Leone abandoned his ideas for M. Kinski was offered a choice role in Leone’s next western (FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE) but the two never worked together again although Leone only had great things to say about the actor claiming Kinski “was an angel…polite and patient” and had “the obedience of a baby.”
Alain Resnais’ THE MONSTER MAKER
Plot: “A pop art parody about a frustrated movie producer who seeks creative and spiritual redemption by making a film about pollution.” – Stan Lee and the Rise and Fall of the American Comic Book
What I Know: The revered French filmmaker sought out Stan Lee in 1971 based on his deep affection for Marvel comic books. The two men became quick friends and Resnais reportedly told Lee, “I have dreamed that when I finally do a movie in English that you will write my first one.” Lee had no idea how to approach a film script but with Resnais’ help the two men collaborated on a number of film ideas together. The first and most intriguing script they finished was THE MONSTER MAKER. They sold it for $25,000 and hoped it would get made into a full-length feature film but that never happened. The project wasn’t a complete loss though. They managed to develop a deep and long-lasting friendship after working together and comic book guru Stan Lee once called the recently deceased director one of his closest and dearest friends.
Bryan Forbes’ NESSIE
Plot: A rampaging sea monster from the bowels of Loch Ness attacks London.
What I Know: Hammer film’s producer Michael Carreras came up with the idea for this big-budget monster movie in 1976 and presented his plan to an enthusiastic crowd at Cannes. With backing from Columbia, Hammer started working on monster designs with GODZILLA creators at Japan’s Toho studio but after millions were spent on pre-production, Columbia suddenly pulled the plug. Afterward the film’s financial backers began dropping like flies and NESSIE never saw the light of day leaving monster fans around the world to wonder what this intriguing Hammer/Toho co-production might have looked like if it was completed.
Roy Ward Baker’s THE SAVAGE JACKBOOT
Plot: A horrific tale of Nazi oppression in France and the French resistance that opposed them on the eve of the Normandy invasion in 1944.
What I Know: This is another unfilmed Hammer production originally proposed by producer Brian Lawrence in 1972. Peter Cushing would have starred in the film as a murderous Nazi war criminal whose vicious behavior eventually leads him to the Nuremberg Trials. In a letter to director Roy Ward Baker, Cushing enthused about the film saying, “I do hope THE SAVAGE JACKBOOT will be made soon. It’s a jolly good story, I think – and always such a pleasure to work with you.” Costumes were designed and advertising materials were created but the film was dependent on getting some big name Hollywood stars to participate and although Yul Brynner and Jack Palance were both asked to join the cast neither would commit to the project and the film was abandoned. Cushing would go on to play a Nazi-like commander named Grand Moff Tarkin in STAR WARS (1976).
Jacques Tourneur’s WHISPERING IN DISTANT CHAMBERS
Plot: “The story, told by a narrator to a group of little girls, concerns an American multimillionaire who brings advanced technology into a British haunted house in order to test for signs of life and death. The millionaire’s recording devices succeed in capturing the voices of the legion of the dead.” – Jacques Tourneur: The Cinema of Nightfall
What I Know: According to Tourneur’s biographer Chris Fujiwara, WHISPERING IN DISTANT CHAMBERS would have been the director’s “personal testament” and “the fullest exposition of his belief in parallel worlds.” Tourneur completed a rough treatment for the film in 1966 and approached AIP (American International Pictures) as well as Hammer hoping they’d be willing to in produce his film. Sadly, no one was interested and WHISPERING IN DISTANT CHAMBERS never got made.
. . .
Many other talented directors left us with well-documented unfinished film projects including Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock, John Ford, Federico Fellini, David Lean and Joseph Losey, just to name a few. But it would take more than one blog post to cover them all. In the mean time feel free to share some of your own dream tickets below.
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