Early this year, approximately 30 minutes of footage from Jerry Lewis‘ The Day The Clown Cried leaked online. The film concerns a clown at a concentration camp who entertains Jewish children as they are led to the gas chamber. Lewis’ film has been a kind of Holy Grail for cinefiles, as the comedian is the only person who has a copy of the finished product. It was a passion project gone awry, and Lewis is ashamed of it (yet still retains a copy, for some reason).
There is no shortage of films that went into production and, for reasons of budget, death and personal mortification at the material, were never completed or released to the mass public. Toward the end of his life, Orson Welles had dozens of projects on a never-ending set of backburners, but the director – by then a miserable, embittered alcoholic – kept running out of financing.
When, or if, the films are completed, they are typically released with little fanfare, and most of the time they’re not the movies our imaginations have created in our minds. Steven Spielberg lovingly attempted to create friend Stanley Kubrick‘s vision for A.I. He was criticized for making it “too Spielbergian” – tacking on a happy, convoluted ending. However, that much-criticized ending was entirely Kubrick.
Here is just a small sample of films we’d love to see finished, though some are most likely impossible until someone gets around to figuring out time travel.
16. Uncle Tom’s Fairy Tales: The Movie for Homosexuals
In 1968, a young Penelope Spheeris directed a student film starring a young Richard Pryor. Originally it was believed that the only known negative of the film was shredded after Pryor got into a heated argument with Spheeris. In 2005, however, scenes from the film surfaced in a retrospective of the comedian’s career.
Pryor’s widow filed a lawsuit against his daughter Rain and Spheeris, alleging they conspired to take the film from Pryor’s home at some point in the mid 80s. The lawsuit is still pending. The only knowledge of the plot is an IMDB entry claiming it’s about a white man going on trial for raping a black woman. Spheeris went on to direct Wayne’s World, working with another hard-to-control talent: Mike Myers.
There is no modern day equivalent to Alfred Hitchcock. Though Brian De Palma still takes his cues from the master of suspense, it’s difficult to imagine him working on a project Hitchcock originally envisioned.
Hitch left numerous unproduced film ideas lingering around Hollywood after his death, but Kaleidoscope sounds the most intriguing. The plot involves a serial killer not dissimilar to Joseph Cotten’s Merry Widow Murderer in Shadow of a Doubt. In Kaleidoscope, the police would set a trap for the killer by sending in an undercover officer posing as a potential victim.
The idea has elements of some of Hitch’s best; Shadow of a Doubt, To Catch a Thief, with a dash of Frenzy. Nevertheless, the studio refused the project. Hitchcock never lived long enough to see the ratings board soften as much as he’d have liked, but Kaleidoscope was rumoured to be chock full of sex and violence. The closest we have to such a project would be De Palma’s excellent Dressed to Kill.
14. The Aryan Papers
Louis Begley’s semi-autobiographical novel Wartime Lies tells the story of an upper middle class Jewish family in Poland who avoid persecution and concentration camps by posing as Catholics. After years of trying to adapt it, Stanley Kubrick finally got the greenlight from Warner Bros. in 1993, with a new title. However, when the studio learned of friend Steven Spielberg’s wartime drama Schindler’s List, they pulled their support, fearing the competition. Several roles were already cast, including Jurassic Park star Joseph Mazello.
13. Dark Blood
Director George Sluzier made his international mark on cinema with his Dutch thriller The Vanishing. Hollywood asked Sluzier remake the film, albeit with a tacked on happy ending. The remake flopped, and Sluzier hasn’t worked in America since.
Except for Dark Blood, his never-completed thriller starring a young River Phoenix. Phoenix played a widower whose wife died of radiation poisoning due to nuclear bomb tests. In it’s pre-apocalyptic setting, Phoenix holds a husband and wife couple (Jonathan Pryce and Judy Davis) hostage, hoping to create a better world after it ends with Davis.
The film was nearly 2/3 complete when Phoenix died of an overdose on Halloween morning. What’s left will never be complete, though the film can be seen, with Sluzier bridging gaps simply by reading what is supposed to occur. At the very least, the unfinished product is a curio.
12. Divine Rapture
If you travel to Bollycotton in County Cork, Ireland, a headstone stands on main street. It reads: “‘Divine Rapture born 10th July 1995, died 23rd July 1995, RIP.” As in David Mamet‘s State and Main, Bollycotton agreed to participate in the filming of the movie, hoping it would generate tourist revenue.
The plot centres around a set of miracles occurring in a small Irish town in the 1950s. The cast included Marlon Brando, John Hurt, Debra Winger and Johnny Depp. Two weeks into filming, however, it was learned that the escrow account for the production company, Cinefin, did not exist. As a result, only approximately 24 minutes of film was shot.
11. Worst Case Scenario
Soccer riots. Other countries have them regularly, but the majority of North America seems largely indifferent to the sport (unless, of course, America wins. Then, for about two weeks, stylish patriots become obnoxious soccer savants). The chaos of a riot has already been exploited in the likes of David Cronenberg’s Eastern Promises to cover a murder. Richard Raaphorst’s horror film intended to create the same kind of madness, but with zombies.
After losing a FIFA match against the Netherlands, Germany releases a zombie virus as retaliation. Friends retreat to an island, where Nazi zombies await.
The concept of Nazi zombies is nothing new, first explored in 1966’s The Frozen Dead and more memorably in 1977’s Shock Waves. More recently, Norway’s Dead Snow appeared to think the novelty concept was original.
10. Monster Butler
Archibald Hall began his career as a criminal at the age of 15. Through the years, he worked as a butler to Britain’s elite. He would rob and murder his masters. He died of a stroke in prison in 2002. Director Douglas Rath set out to tell Hall’s story – portrayed by Malcolm McDowell – in 2011. The film ran out of funding. McDowell, who also served as a producer on the film, had to answer to rumours that crew members on Butler were not paid. The film would also star Gary Oldman and Dominic Monaghan – who was the first to announce the film’s cancellation on his twitter account.
9. 10 Things I Hate About Life
There’s a reason Shakespeare works so well in a high school setting; the same reason film noir transferred beautifully to the setting in Rian Johnson’s Brick. Both deal in heightened, overarching emotions – the near-irrational kind only puberty can evoke. 10 Things I Hate About You – a loose adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew – is arguably the best of the Shakespeare in high school 90s trend.
Director Gil Younger began developing a psuedo-sequel in 2012. It was to star Evan Rachel Wood, Hayley Atwell and Billy Campbell. Though some photos of Wood on set have been published, production appears to keep halting and re-starting. As of 2014, filming was underway. Two years later, nothing new has been reported.
During the Reagan/Thatcher era, there was plenty of vitriolic satire and outright anger at the hard right policies of both governments. Elvis Costello sang he wanted to Tramp the Dirt Down on Thatcher’s grave, calling England “The whore of the world;” Alan Moore took on what he believed to be the rise of fascism in V For Vendetta.
Gossip was an unfinished satire starring British comedian/thoroughly interesting man Stephen Fry. He said the film was meant to would “capture a new and horrible side to Thatcher’s Britain: the recently confident, arrogant, vulgar, Sloaney world in which night-club narcissists, trust-fund trash and philistine druggie aristos cavorted with recently cherished icons of finance, fashion and celebrity.”
The film would follow a gossip columnist who, after publishing a story, falls out of favour with the public. It was to have been Gary Oldman’s film debut, though none of his scenes were shot. All in all, about 25 percent of the script was actually filmed before running out of money.
7. Arrive Alive
Michael O’Donoghue may best be remembered for his most minor contribution to the original SNL line up: Mr. Bill, the clay figurine that constantly suffers physical injury. O’Donoghue was far more prolific, starting with his writing career for National Lampoon magazine. He was also an unstable character, spray painting the offices of 30 Rockefeller Centre, frequently throwing tantrums and screaming at cast members. He passed away of a brain tumour in 1994.
In the 1980s, he wrote Scrooged for producer Art Linson. Linson was a champion of O’Donoghue’s other script Arrive Alive, which follows a seedy private detective in Miami. He finally attracted the talents of Willem Dafoe and up-and-coming SNL castmate Joan Cusack. Details of the plot are thin, though apparently Sea World’s Lolita the Orca was also supposed to make an appearance.
Production fell apart when producers found the funniest lines from the script falling flat onscreen (Dafoe isn’t known for his comic timing, especially after coming down from The Last Temptation of Christ).
6. The Return of Billy Jack
Billy Jack is, tragically, not the movie you hope it is. Tom Laughlin‘s film is a surprisingly dull exercise as opposed to the revenge-thriller its marketed as. Billy Jack Goes To Washington, sadly, does also not involve the titular character shooting up congress. Laughlin set out to make issue films as opposed to awesome ones. The director/writer/star ran for the democratic nomination for president as a protest, telling the Milwaukee Sentinel, “I am the least qualified person I know to be President, except George Bush.”
The Return of Billy Jack, what would have been the fifth installment in the series, involved Billy Jack taking on child pornographers in a pre-Guiliani New York. Unfortunately, given the history of the franchise, Jack would most likely have taken them on with a harsh lecture as opposed to a .357.
5. The Property of a Lady
Before Daniel Craig, Timothy Dalton‘s take on James Bond was the closest representation of the blunt instrument about which Ian Fleming wrote. Though his two entires in the franchise aren’t the best Bond films, Dalton was still an excellent Bond. A third film with Dalton, set to be released in 1991, was planned.
The Property of a Lady, the film’s working title, would find Bond investigating a mysterious Hong Kong businessman intent on sparking World War III. Production was halted twice before Dalton bowed out, leading the franchise into the more family friendly Pierce Brosnan era.
4. A Glimpse of Tiger
Herman Raucher’s best selling novel about two Bohemian con artists in New York was optioned by Elliot Gould as part of a two picture deal with Warner Brothers. The film was abandoned after only four days of shooting, rumours abound that Gould was heavily intoxicated and using drugs on set.
Whether it was the drugs or just Gould’s inability to separate from the crazed character he was playing, he frightened people. Producer Paul Heller later said that Gould was “in no condition to make a film.” Other sources said he grew increasingly paranoid.
The film was developed without Gould, changing the sex of the character and starring his ex-wife Barbra Streisand. It eventually became What’s Up, Doc? Gould wouldn’t make a film for two years, turning in a terrific, laid back performance in Robert Altman’s underappreciated The Long Goodbye.
3. Guillermo Del Toro’s Unrealized Projects
Guillermo Del Toro is a dreamer. His vision is fairly limitless, inspired by comics, horror films and H.P. Lovecraft stories. As a result, many of his projects remain unfinished. His most well-known is his adaptation of Lovecraft’s At The Mountains of Madness, the script for which has been passed through and declined by several studios.
Star Ron Pearlman and Del Toro are also passionate about a third entry in the Hellboy series, with Pearlman taking to Twitter to drum up support until the studio politely asked him to stop. For gamers, the director’s long awaited take on the Halo franchise was abandoned so he could focus on The Hobbit, a project he also left.
2. Night Skies
When Steven Spielberg was developing E.T., he came across the legendary Kelly-Hopkinsville encounter. The incident occurred in Christian County, Kentucky in 1955 and involved owl-like alien creatures laying siege on a farmhouse. This, of course, could be easily discredited when you include the fact that it was night and Great Horned Owls are extremely territorial. Also, alcohol may well have been involved. Drunk-in-1950s-rural-Kentucky alcohol.
Still, the incident inspired Spielberg to commission playwright John Sayles to flesh out his basic evil alien attack idea. Rick Baker was hired as a special effects artists. Spielberg claims to have come “to his senses” when he abandoned the project, though many of the ideas for the script worked their way into both E.T. and the Spielberg-produced (and rumoured to secretly direct) Poltergeist.
1. The Man Who Killed Don Quixote
The documentary Lost in La Mancha chronicles Terry Gilliam‘s attempt to finally film his long-in-development film inspired by the Cervantes novel. In it, Johnny Depp would have played a man who is sucked into Quixote’s world and becomes his ad hoc Sancho Panza. The production was plagued with financing issues, severe inclement weather and the failing health of its star, French actor Jean Rochefort. Rochefort is still alive, and studios and financiers have continued to tease Gilliam with the possibility of actually finishing his dream project.
The film’s source material is almost too perfect an allegory, as Gilliam’s windmill chasing mirrors Quixote’s absurd, futile hero quest. Though, possibly, Quixote’s journey could serve as a metaphor for any filmmaker with a dream. A film’s pitfalls and risks and financial crises could rear their heads at any time. Until it’s in the can, every film is but a windmill.
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