For every movie that gets made, a hundred others never happen. Some of them are just stillborn, while others morph into totally different films, unrecognizable from their initial inception. Here are a few unmade films that have piqued my interest; to read about more films that never were, click here for the first part in this vaguely continuing series.
A Day at the United Nations. Imagine a Marx Brother movie written and directed by Billy Wilder. We almost got it; in 1960 Wilder and the Marx Brothers teamed up to begin working on A Day at the United Nations. The plot was simple and Marxist: Groucho would be the leader of a gang who takes advantage of a big UN meeting – which has taken many city cops off their beat – to rob Tiffanys. As he, Chico and Harpo are making their get-away at the city docks, they stumble into a protest. The police somehow mistake them for Latvian ambassadors and whisk them off to the United Nations. Here’s what Wilder said at the time, courtesy of Marxology:
“We want to make a satire on the conditions of the world today, a satire on the deterioration of diplomatic behavior, on brinksmanship, wild jokes about the H-bomb, that type of stuff. It’s all so dramatic that a few jokes put over by the Marx Bros. should alleviate the tension. We might have the Marx Bros. mixing up all the flags with, say, Nasser coming in under the Star of David. Mad fun like that. We will keep the same Marx Bros. technique of playing against a very serious background. We’ll try to keep it all – the dignity of the locale, the procedure, the enormity of the problem – with Groucho, Harpo, and Chico in the middle of it. It’s fun and it involves the world as a whole. It will be understood universally, therefore it’s worth a film. Making a film is like gambling with the chips getting more expensive every day. That way you can’t afford too big a gamble. So we’ve got the UN and we’ve got the Marx Bros. Put them together, and – boom!”
Unfortunately the whole thing fell apart. Harpo had a heart attack, and was rendered uninsurable. Not long after, Chico died. While the movie never happened Wilder and his writing partner IAL Diamond put together a 40 page outline; if anybody out there has a copy of that outline, I’d love to read it.
Jaws 3, People 0. This unmade Jaws sequel certainly has one of the greatest titles in movie history. Sadly, the unproduced script – written by John Hughes (and Tod Carroll) – doesn’t quite live up to the promise of that title. But who knows how this might have turned out if Universal had secured Joe Dante to direct, as they were hoping to do.
The idea of following Jaws 2 with a spoof was probably one of the ballsiest in Hollywood history. Inspired by the success of Airplane!, David Brown and Richard Zanuck reached out to Matty Simmons, head of National Lampoon and producer of Animal House. He came on as producer of Jaws 3, People 0 and gave Hughes and Carroll the basic plot outline – a film crew that is trying to make a sequel to Jaws (in which it turns out the shark is an alien) finds themselves hunted down by a hungry great white shark.
The script is filled with a lot of (modestly dated, but sometimes surprisingly fresh) inside Hollywood jokes and a series of homages to the original film (including a possible cameo by Spielberg, or a Spielberg impersonator). There’s plenty of slapstick – the movie opens with Jaws author Peter Benchley being eaten by a shark while diving into his backyard swimming pool – but there’s actually a half-serious action sequence at sea near the climax that might have made Jaws 3, People 0 cost more money than your average spoof.
In the end it all fell apart; whether it was because the film would be poking so much fun at executives, it would have cost too much or making a spoof movie in a series that still promised franchise possibilities woule be ‘fouling your own nest’ as David Brown says on the Jaws 2 DVD, I don’t know. But instead of a strange, silly National Lampoon movie we ended up with a strange, silly 3D movie.
King Kong vs Frankenstein. Almost thirty years after the release of the original, the daddy of King Kong, Willis O’Brien, wanted to revisit his creation in a second sequel (for those complaining about sequels today: Son of Kong was released in the same year as King Kong), and the idea that he had was bizarre, to say the least. He wanted Kong to battle a giant-sized version of Frankenstein’s Monster in San Francisco.
O’Brien, who was excited to debut Kong in color, ran into trouble right away. First, it was believed that Universal owned the rights to the name Frankenstein (it didn’t: it only owns the rights to the famous Karloff Frankenstein make-up), so the movie’s title was changed first to King Kong vs. The Ginko and then to King Kong vs. Prometheus (a nod, of course, to Mary Shelley’s original novel title, Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus). But even with the new titles, O’Brien couldn’t get the funding to bring his stop motion dream to life; he wanted to animate both King Kong and Frankenstein.
Eventually O’Brien brought his screenplay outline and some concept art to a producer named John Beck; Beck went behind O’Brien’s back and sold everything to Toho Studios. The Japanese Studio essentially dismantled the project, taking the basic concept and making it into King Kong vs. Godzilla, the third Godzilla film, and using Frankenstein in Frankenstein Conquers the World, aka Frankenstein vs. Baragon. O’Brien only found out that Toho had taken his concepts when King Kong vs. Godzilla was released; O’Brien died shortly thereafter. Beck, meanwhile, massively changed King Kong vs. Godzilla for the America release, taking out much of the comedy Toho had inserted in the film.
I’m not one hundred percent sure which aspects of King Kong vs. Frankenstein ended up in the Toho movies. I suspect that just the idea of giant monsters clashing found its way to King Kong vs. Godzilla (which, by the way, saw Kong growing exponentially to fit in with the established much bigger Godzilla), while the WWII discovery of Frankenstein’s heart in Frankenstein Conquers The World feels like it might have come from O’Brien’s original idea. While I’ve never seen O’Brien’s outline, some of his concept art still exists. His Frankenstein’s Monster would have been about as tall as Kong – 18 to 25 feet – and was wildly different in appearance than any Frankenstein’s Monster we had ever seen. In a lot of ways he looks like a Golem to me.
Out of the three films in this edition, King Kong vs. Frankenstein seems like the biggest missed opportunity. The Marx Brothers were very, very old in 1960, and I wonder if they could have mustered their usual manic energy. Jaws 3, People 0 is an interesting anamoly, but I don’t think the script would have made for a great movie – it’s a little too thickly plotted for a spoof movie, for one thing. But Willis O’Brien having his last hurrah in a strange meet up of two of the most famous movie monsters of all time? It certainly had to have been better than what Toho came up with.