• James Kunovski

Planning Hitchcock’s Unrealised Projects

Hitchcock directed a number of films in his time, but for the amount that would become timeless classics, a fair share of projects never made it to the screen. Despite the majority of them being abandoned quite early into pre-production, there are enough threads to weave together a model of what could have become. Now, obviously I am not Alfred Hitchcock and any potential fruition of these unplanned films would have likely resulted in a path dissimilar to my own, but for the sake of creativity and passing time, I figured it would be interesting enough to create a fictional “universe” where these films could have possibly been made. Though not all of Hitchcock’s unmade films appear on this list, and the man still remains a controversial figure, the period starts around the early 1930s when Hitchcock was still indebted to the British film industry, and prior to his first few successes with The 39 Steps and The Lady Vanishes.



Forbidden Territory (early 1930s)

Hitchcock intended to adapt a novel by Dennis Wheatley, popular writer of mystery and espionage, considering he was a frequent guest on the set of Hitchcock’s earlier films. The story, which is set across the vast plains of the Soviet Union follows The Duke and his company as they set out to free their detained friend. Due to clashes with the studio, he made the first The Man Who Knew Too Much instead. If we look at that film for evidence, we can see how Hitchcock plays with an international setting — lots of scenery, animated locals and an element of “lost in translation.” Due to the geopolitical aspect, the imprisoned character would be an early example of the unknowing man who finds himself in trouble, rather than someone who gets their due. Essentially, a move that would highlight the Soviets as an enemy. Filming in the real Soviet Union would be unlikely — Southern German forests, especially in the winter, could double for Siberia. The Duke is naturally a heroic character in this story, (get a load of that name), and would have best suited a charismatic leading man. Considering we’re still in Britain at the time, Robert Donat would suit the role well — if he were not shooting The 39 Steps, that is.


Donat in The 39 Steps.

 

Greenmantle (late 1930s)

Given the enormous success and positive reception to The 39 Steps, which Orson Welles labelled a “masterpiece,” a follow-up was planned. “Greenmantle” would have been another adaptation of John Buchan’s Richard Hannay series. This time we’re set during the First World War, in which Hannay learns of an uprising in the “Muslim world” and travels to Constantinople to thwart the German’s plans to use religion to help win the war. Okay, so I’m not entirely sure what to make of this one. It seems an odd and dated setting, especially considering that the world was once again at war. It’s a possibility that the war element be removed to avoid these analogies, but a British studio would be more than willing to fabricate something that paints the British over the Germans. Hitchcock proposed Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman for leads, but honestly they don’t seem suited for what reads as a less mature showcase, especially when compared to the later Notorious. Nevertheless, had they been cast it would have proved their first collaboration with Hitchcock and something that could have potentially tainted that relationship.


 

Hamlet (late 1940s)

Shakespeare’s classic play about revenge, madness and melancholy is an interesting choice for Hitchcock. The similarity between Shakespeare and Hitchcock’s endings is pointed out by Wendy Lesser in "The Threepenny Review of Autumn, 1982." She states, “Hitchcock pretends to give us mere catharsis but he never really lets us off the hook: he resolves only the most superficial elements of his plots, leaving all the dark undercurrents intact and unanswered.” Shakespeare’s plays have become the talking point of interpretation for centuries, and although Hitchcock managed that in a more superficial sense with films such as Vertigo, he often itched at more disturbing and harder to solve issues. He could achieve this with a modernised version of “Hamlet,” which could have played into the play’s overarching themes — namely, morality and the presence of a ghost or phantasmic component.


Set in contemporary England (Hitchcock regularly changed the locations of his adaptations), the reinvention was posed as a “psychological melodrama.” Had it been made, it would have come out awfully close to Laurence Olivier’s Best Picture-winning interpretation, possibly affecting the reception of that film and souring its Oscar chances. Hitchcock suggested Cary Grant for the lead role. Olivier (Rebecca) would have been dream-casting, especially given he could amp up the theatricality of the idea, even if the script was modern (see: Sleuth), or perhaps Michael Redgrave (The Lady Vanishes), who brought a commanding yet diffident presence would have also been capable. Though the studio scrapped the project because of a potential lawsuit, this version of “Hamlet” would have come around the time Hitchcock was feeling most experimental. Lifeboat, which toyed with a single setting had recently opened, and Rope, the famous “one-take” test was about to premiere. In the same way that Shakespeare’s play deals with the confines of a Royal Palace, Hitchcock could have confined the story to an apartment building and its residents, or a workplace and his colleagues. The film could have also sped-track the now-commonplace trend of modernising Shakespeare’s work.


L to R: Olivier in Rebecca & Redgrave in Dead By Night (ignore the creepy doll)

 

The Bramble Bush (early 1950s)

Hitchcock continued his tradition of adapting novels for the screen with David Duncan’s story of a Communist agitator who, on the run from the police, is forced to adopt the identity of a murder suspect. The film would have premiered around the tense era of McCarthyism, and soon after the case of the Hollywood Ten. I’m not sure how one goes about avoiding their own scrutinisation with a highly political work such as this, and while the Hays Code would have undoubtedly sanitised the final result, I can’t see actors, or even crew for that matter, scrambling to join this film. The role would be suited to a leading star — I gravitate toward James Stewart. Nevertheless, the concept of the protagonist adopting a new identity, especially in a dangerous setting, would form into one of Hitchcock’s most common themes, and something that culminated to perfection later that decade in North by Northwest.


 

No Bail for the Judge (late 1950s)


Oh, this one is perfect for Hitchcock and what a shame it was never made. The events revolve around a London High Court judge who has been accused of murdering a prostitute, despite having no recollection of the events. He must rely on his barrister daughter and a gentleman thief to solve the mystery and clear his name. Up until now, courtroom scenes usually permeated the third act of murderous or criminal films but courtroom dramas were becoming more popular. Audrey Hepburn was cast as the barrister, Laurence Harvey as the thief and John Williams (not the composer) as the High Court judge. It would have been one of the earliest instances of Hepburn, (who is evidently not the icy blonde Hitchcock fetishised), favouring grittier pictures — for later examples, see The Children’s Hour and Wait Until Dark. Harvey is a commendable choice as the thief and someone who can realistically surpass the charm and unorthodoxy of mounting such a task. I’m not sure about the casting of Williams, who had a longstanding career with Hitchcock. Alec Guinness, David Niven or potentially even Fredric March could have replaced Williams in the role. They would have brought a persuading theatricality to the work.


The film was scrapped due to legal changes regarding prostitution that delegitimised the story, in addition to Hepburn’s exit. Paramount bore the $200,000 the project had cost so far. Around the same time, Hitchcock abandoned a project revolving around Hammond Innes’ “The Wreck of the Mary Deare”. In 1959, it was made into a film starring Gary Cooper and Charlton Heston. After several weeks, Hitchcock and screenwriter Ernest Lehman accepted that it would have ultimately turned into a “boring” courtroom drama. “No Bail for the Judge” was ostensibly a courtroom drama. Besides, who says they have to be boring — looking at you, Hitchcockian Witness for the Prosecution.


L to R: Guinness, March & Niven

 

The Blind Man (early 1960s)

When a blind pianist regains his sight through a dead man’s eyes he begins to have visions of the former owner’s murder. With the image of the perpetrator imprinted on his retina, it’s up to the pianist to find the culprit. A part of the story takes place in Disneyland, but given Walt Disney was not the keenest of fans for Psycho, Hitchcock was reportedly banned from shooting there. In a move that is safe and makes the most sense, Jimmy Stewart was touted to play the lead. They don’t share too many characteristics but I feel that the charm, intelligence, (and paranoia, see: Mirage) of Gregory Peck could have worked in this position. The script was scrapped, Stewart left and that was that with one of the more unique Hitchcock projects and something that would have undoubtedly stood on its own in his calibre of work.


 

Trap for a Solitary Man (early 1960s)


A melting pot of fascination, mystery and double lives concur when a man’s wife disappears during an Alps holiday. Following an arduous search, the police bring back a woman who claims her identity but the husband asserts they’ve never met. Landscape photography would most likely be incredible — an extended version of Charade’s opening Alps sequence, from the same year, comes to mind. Hitchcock even experimented with his own snow photography with the original, Switzerland-set The Man Who Knew Too Much. While I couldn’t think of someone to play “the original wife,” an unknown actress would be best suited to build up to the reveal of Marlene Dietrich (who was slowing down her film career) in the role of the “imposter.” She would have absolutely stole the show, and the material — check out her presence in 1964's Paris When It Sizzles. Richard Burton, who could combine wit with a simple man’s appearance could manage the role of the husband.


Dietrich in Paris When It Sizzles, 1964

 

R.R.R.R. (mid 1960s)


First off that name needs to be changed. Hitchcock approached Italian comedy-thriller writers Age & Scarpelli to turn an idea he held for decades into a tale of deceit, crime and humour. We follow an Italian immigrant who runs a New York City hotel. He is unaware that his family uses the business as a front for crimes. One of their biggest heists, the theft of a valuable coin from one of their guests is next on the list. While an Italian makes the most sense in the lead, would Hollywood really go that extra mile? Anyway, Giancarlo Giannini stands out, in what would have been his debut performance and something that would have substantially altered his career. Comedy-thrillers were a rare breed at that time, and though Charade ticks that box, The Girl Who Knew Too Much, which critics consider to be the first Giallo film could have shared some similarities with Hitchcock’s quadruple “R” romp. Unfortunately, for this stylistically wild film, the screenwriters relinquished, citing language difficulties and Universal swiftly dropped the picture.


Giannini in Black Belly of the Tarantula, 1971

 

Kaleidoscope (late 1960s)


In what would have succeeded Shadow of a Doubt, though more sadistic and voyeuristic, a version of Joseph Cotten’s ‘Merry Widow Murderer,’ young, handsome and a bodybuilder, would have lured young women to their deaths. Hitchcock stated that it would have revolved around three murderous crescendoes which mirrored Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom. Interestingly, he showed the screenplay to François Truffaut who commented on the work’s unrelenting attitude to sex and violence, especially in circumstances that could not comfortably find themselves behind the guise of morals. Considering he spoke to Truffaut, elements from French New-Wave and subsequently, New Hollywood could have been brought to the table. To pull off the lead, the actor chosen has to look outright despicable, slightly petulant and sort of punchable (for lack of a better phrase). A sort of modernised version of Peter Lorre in M. I choose Dustin Hoffman. To play the policewoman who sets to trap him, I turn my attention to the great supporting actresses of that era, Sally Kellerman, Karen Black and Jill Clayburgh.


L to R: Black, Clayburgh & Kellerman

 

The Short Night (mid to late 1970s)

Hitchcock’s final, unfinished project would have likely been the director’s last film. “The Short Night,” adapted from Ronald Kirkbride’s novel made it far along in its production of missteps, mishaps and quarrelling. Nevertheless, the film would have followed a British double agent who escapes from prison and flees to Moscow via Finland where his wife and children are waiting. So, that sounds like a great mix of international espionage and heist, but throw in the plot’s other side, and you get bliss. An American agent whose brother was one of the spy’s victims heads to Finland to intercept him, through his family, and ends up falling for the traitor’s wife. Sounds cheesy and all, but it also reminisces Bond, albeit through a more mature lens. Casting ideas included Clint Eastwood and Sean Connery as leads. Liv Ullman was touted to play the double agent’s wife; Walter Matthau the Brit. Okay, my casting choices are as follows. Michael Caine could play Gavin Brand, the double agent, with Bruce Dern (Family Plot) or Sam Waterston as the American, and Susannah York as the love interest. This goes against the grain, especially in his late career, of choosing lesser known actors. The script went through the hands of at least four writers and Hitchcock’s health was failing. On the note of my unusual casting… Caine carries an essence of debonair like Cary Grant before him. Dern and Waterston are the unconventionally handsome new faces of an era like Donat and Stewart. Ms. York would have been the final blonde, following the sophisticated and alluring suit of Kelly, Novak and Marie Saint. Because, at the end of the day, the actors drove each piece to their respective glory.


L to R: Caine & York