1. Archive


By Abby McGanney Nolan


Cinematic history is rife with grand ideas that never managed to get off the ground. Herewith, a guide to some wildly ambitious - or just wildly misguided - movie projects that were doomed by financial difficulties, casting issues, their very premise or, commonly enough, all three.

'Life of Christ'

Orson Welles' cache of unmade or unfinished projects is famously tantalizing and the subject of a 2009 book, Orson Welles and the Unfinished RKO Projects. His Christ screenplay featured dialogue taken entirely from the Gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke. In the early 1940s, Welles tried to gather support from American religious leaders, and even scouted locations in Mexico and Baja California. The dissonant element here is Welles' plan to cast himself as Christ. As scholar Marguerite Rippy has noted, "The Wellesian larger-than-life character is both human and deeply flawed," and Christ was neither flawed nor completely human. Welles' booming voice also seems at odds with the soft-spoken Christ our culture has propounded. Studio support wasn't forthcoming, in any case, and Welles' efforts to film the Christ story in the 1950s in Egypt were also unsuccessful.

'Adam and Eve'

In 1947, after two profitable films about priests (Going My Way and The Bells of St. Mary's), Leo McCarey, a devout Roman Catholic, wanted to go back to the very beginning. He commissioned Sinclair Lewis to write a script about the Garden of Eden. The script was apparently less than perfect, but, years after the project was shelved, McCarey thought the problem lay in the casting. "The more you delve into it, the harder it is to find Adam," McCarey told Peter Bogdanovich. "Eve is much easier. . . . Why is that? I have brought the subject up at parties and the reaction varies completely." Jimmy Stewart and Ingrid Bergman were contenders at one point, but Stewart balked at wearing nothing but a fig leaf - because Bergman outweighed him. "The more I thought of it, however, he was right," McCarey said. "He's too thin."

'Lord of the Rings' - starring the Beatles

It's widely known that the road to filming Lord of the Rings - first published in 1954 - was nearly as long and torturous as Frodo's journey to Mount Doom. Early on, Tolkien stated a preference for the "vulgarization" of an animated version over the "sillification" of a dramatization. According to Roy Carr's Beatles at the Movies, talks were once in the works for a Beatle-zation - with John Lennon wanting to play Gollum, Paul McCartney as Frodo, George Harrison as Gandalf and Ringo Starr as Sam. Collaborating with director John Boorman, screenwriter Rospo Pallenberg thought the Beatles should play the four hobbits (and agreed with McCartney that he would be the ideal Frodo). It's difficult, but entertaining, to imagine the Fab Four subsuming their personas to Tolkien's storytelling, but United Artists decided not to move ahead on the project, with the Beatles or without them.

'Genesis 1948'

In 1970, Otto Preminger bought the screen rights to Dan Kurzman's 800-plus-page nonfiction chronicle of the First Arab-Israeli War, intending a followup to his 1960 epic, Exodus. He expressed the hope that the film "will offend neither Arabs nor Jews" without acknowledging that Exodus had certainly offended Arabs. Israeli parents, meanwhile, had reason to be wary of Preminger's planned location shoot. While filming Exodus, he labored over one scene in which a dozen very young Israelis were to cry on cue as Arabs attacked their homes. When they wouldn't cooperate with tears, Preminger instructed an assistant to lead the children's mothers over a hill and out of sight. ''You see, your mothers have been taken away,'' Preminger informed them. "You are never going to see them again - never!'' The children obediently burst into tears. But instead of Genesis 1948, he made a domestic-discord movie, Such Good Friends.

'I Shot Down the Red Baron, I Think'

At 86, Cliff Robertson has had a long and varied career, playing everyone from John F. Kennedy in PT 109 to Uncle Ben Parker in Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2. Less known is that after winning his Oscar for Charly, Robertson set out to write, direct and star in a film featuring World War I fighter planes after he was given access to a collection of convincing replicas. He came up with a spoof in which he would play a fighter pilot going against the Red Baron, to be portrayed as a flaming homosexual dressed in pink. This sort of spoofery wasn't hilarious then and hasn't aged well. Financing disappeared after aerial footage was shot in Ireland, and the film was never completed.