Simon Braund's The Greatest Movies You'll Never See is a mesmerizing book of what-ifs--what if David Lean made Nostromo; what if Hitchcock made a movie with Hepburn; what if Orson Welles's Don Quixote ever got off the ground? It's stuffed with fascinating trivia and features mock movie posters you'll want to frame (some of which are included below), and belongs in any movie fan's library. Braund picks 10 of his favorites from the book.
Man makes plans and God laughs. If there’s any truth to old adage, the Almighty must split his sides whenever he casts an eye over the movie business. Cinema history is littered with the remnants of projects that started out wreathed in optimism only to meet an untimely demise, victim of the multitudinous calamities that can befall a film between conception and red carpet roll-out. In fact, so many things can go wrong during the filmmaking process -- prohibitive cost, unworkable schedules, natural disaster, fatally clashing egos, fatally clashing motor vehicles etc. -- it’s a wonder that any make it to the screen at all.
Picking a top ten from the vast array of those that didn’t is a hard task; you could probably fill the list with Orson Welles projects that fell by the wayside alone (from socialist musical The Cradle Will Rock to his doomed Don Quixote adaptation). You could also mention Sergio Leone’s epic Stalingrad, David Lynch’s perpetually on-the-brink Ronnie Rocket, Charlie Chaplin’s cherished Napoleon biopic or any of a profusion of others.
This then, is a compact sampler exhumed from the crowded soil of the movie graveyard, the tip, to recklessly mix metaphors, of an endlessly tantalizing What-Ifs iceberg.
1. Dune - In 1974, Chilean writer-director Alejandro Jodorowsky, an eccentric genius best known for deranged psychedelic western El Topo, embarked on a wildly ambitious plan to adapt Frank Herbert’s sci-fi classic Dune.
Having devoured the book, then rejected everything in it, his vision was, he claimed, inspired by divine intervention and guided by advice from an alchemist. It encompassed “Womb-ships, antechambers for re-birth… driven by the semen of our passionate ejaculations”; music by Pink Floyd; production design by HR Geiger; and a proposed cast that included Salvador Dali, Mick Jagger, Gloria Swanson and Orson Welles.
Dali, Jodorowsky’s choice to play the Padishah emperor Shaddam IV, demanded an outrageous fee and insisted on designing interiors for his own imperial palace. The centerpiece was to be an enormous throne comprising two entwined dolphins, their open mouths forming the business end of an elaborate twin-bowled toilet.
Sadly, neither Dali’s throne nor the film itself ever saw the light of day.
2. Giraffes On Horseback Saddles - Apart from being a peerless screen comedian, Harpo Marx was also a tireless socialite. A member of the legendary Algonquin Round Table, he counted Dorothy Parker, Alexander Woolcott and George Bernard Shaw among his many close acquaintances. Salvador Dali adored him, and considered the Marx Brothers to be true surrealists. To that end, in 1937 he penned a screenplay for them. It featured Harpo harvesting dwarfs in a giant butterfly net, Chico playing piano in a diving suit, a multi-armed Groucho as the ’Shiva of the Business World’, and gasmask-wearing giraffes on fire. “It wouldn’t play,” was Groucho’s terse verdict.
3. Napoleon - Stanley Kubrick was never a man to do things by halves. He tinkered with his epic Bonaparte biopic for years, amassing a colossal archive of research material. He wrote a doorstep-sized screenplay, scouted locations in France and England and engaged the services of the Rumanian army for the battle scenes. It was set to be by far his biggest and most ambitious project to date.
Ironically, the project met its Waterloo in 1970 when the dismal box-office performance of Sergei Bondarchuk’s Waterloo persuaded Kubrick to abandon it.
4. Crusade - At the time of the first Gulf War a film that proposed Muslims as the good guys, the Catholic Church as a sinkhole of corruption and Christian crusaders as raping, pillaging war criminals, might have seemed an unviable proposition on all counts. Still, star Arnold Schwarzenegger and director Paul Verhoeven were adamant that their hyper violent sword-and-sandal epic would come to fruition. Unfortunately, despite a script by Wild Bunch scribe Walon Green (allegedly one of the finest never to reach the screen) backers Carolco had other ideas, They fought shy of the $125 million-plus budget and Crusade bit the dust.
5. Something's Got to Give - Intended by 20th Century Fox as a safe, relatively cheap star vehicle for Marilyn Monroe, a response to the bottomless money pit of Cleopatra, George Cukor’s romantic comedy was a nightmare from the outset. Marilyn Monroe almost died from a barbiturates overdose shortly before shooting began. Thereafter, plagued by physical and mental ill health, she was rarely in a fit condition to work and production was constantly halted before being shut down entirely.
One scene Cukor did get in the can was Monroe’s notorious skinny-dip, which she performed -- on her birthday -- entirely naked, much to the delight of visiting press photographers.
6. Warhead - Although Sean Connery was on board as both star and co-writer, this proposed 007 adventure, produced by Cubby Broccoli’s arch nemesis Kevin McClory, failed to launch, falling foul of the interminable legal wranglings between Broccoli and McClory that had rumbled on since 1965’s Thunderball. Since it boasted robotic sharks mounting a nuclear attack on New York from a SPECTRE stronghold in the Statue of Liberty, that must be counted as a crying shame. Connery returned as Bond in 1983’s Never Say Never Again, a loose remake of Thunderball that was drearily devoid of sharks, robotic or otherwise.
7. Gladiator 2 - In his bonkers-genius script for the mooted Gladiator follow-up, punk troubadour Nick Cave overcomes the inconvenient fact of Maximus’s death by simply playing the supernatural card and having him reincarnated. With that rubicon crossed, he then goes heroically off the dial, charting Maximus’s fortunes as an eternal warrior, transported through time from the Crusades to the Western Front to the killing fields of Chechnya to the operations room of The Pentagon. Scott and Crowe were keen; a timid Warner Bros. gave it the thumbs down.
8. Night Skies - Partway through pre-production on his dark, alien invasion flick – “Straw Dogs with aliens” according to some – Steven Spielberg had a change of heart. He wanted, he decided, to get back to the warmth and spirituality of Close Encounters Of The Third Kind. With that in mind, he jettisoned the horror elements of Night Skies and redeveloped one its key story strands, that of a kindly alien who befriends a young boy. The rest, as they say…
9. The Day the Clown Cried - Footage of Jerry Lewis’s infamous monument to bad taste, in which he plays a circus clown forced by the Nazis to lure kiddies into the gas chamber, recently surfaced on the net (footage here). But unless you are on personal terms with Lewis himself, there’s slim to no chance of your ever seeing the complete film. He owns the only copy and has made elaborate arrangements to keep it under wraps, even after his death.
10. Who Killed Bambi? - We can only imagine what fresh madness a collaboration between King of Boobsploitation Russ Meyer and premium UK punks The Sex Pistols might have yielded. In fact, since Roger (yes, that Roger Ebert) Ebert’s screenplay is available online we can imagine it very well. Sadly, we’ll never actually see guitarist Steve Jones simultaneously relishing a cheeseburger and oral sex or Sid Vicious shooting heroin while in bed with his mother, played by Marianne Faithful.