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. You can read about other unmade films in the previous parts of this occasional series.
#1: Star Trek IV with Eddie Murphy; Sandman; Oliver Stone’s Planet of the Apes
#2: The Marx Bros in A Day At the United Nations; Jaws 3, People 0; King Kong vs Frankenstein
#3: Phantasm’s End; The Revenant; Night Skies
John Boorman’s Lord of the Rings. There are people who think that Peter Jackson took too many liberties with JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings with his filmic trilogy. These people would have shit themselves brown if John Boorman had gotten his one film, two and a half hour version off the ground. How different was Boorman’s vision?
Frodo fucks Galadriel.
I want to repeat that for those of you still processing:
Frodo fucks Galadriel.
Tolkien had been briefly involved with another film version of his book in the 50s (I may save that for a future column, but it’s enough to say that the venerable Forrest J. Ackerman was involved), but had pulled his support. He was eventually convinced to sell the rights to The Lord of the Rings to United Artists in 1969 for a hefty fee; the company turned to young filmmaker John Boorman for their adaptation. Boorman, best known at that point for Point Blank, worked with collaborator Rospo Pallenberg to put his own spin on the book.
And boy did he. The aforementioned Frodo/Galadriel fuckscene comes just before the Lady of Lotholorien looks into her mirror. Other notable changes include Arwen being 13, and only removing the Nazgul blade from Frodo’s shoulder at the violent insistence of Gimli; Elrond’s Council telling the story of the One Ring in a mixture of kabuki and rock theater; Gimli recovering the word to enter Moria via repressed ancestral memories, which he only can access after Gandalf oversees a ‘rebirthing’ ceremony in which the dwarf buries himself in the ground and is beaten viciously by the wizard. And then there’s the matter of Aragorn marrying Eowyn…
More sexual, more weird and more offbeat than anything Tolkien could have imagined, Boorman’s version got killed when there was a regime change at United Artists. The incoming execs didn’t know The Lord of the Rings (or maybe they did know it and didn’t understand what Boorman’s version had to do with it) and the film was scrapped. Boorman and Pallenberg resurrected some of the ideas and much of the research and concept art for the movie in Excalibur, so everybody won.
By the way, at the end of Boorman’s movie as the last ship sails from the Gray Havens, Legolas notes that the rainbow now only has seven colors, indicating that Middle Earth is failing. Indeed.
A Confederacy of Dunces.
It’s possible that this movie could get made one day. The book A Confederacy of Dunces
overcame incredible obstacles just to be published; John Kennedy Toole killed himself not long after finishing the story of Ignatius J. Reilly – fat man, philosophiser, mama’s boy and child of New Orleans – and it was only his mother’s incredible perseverance that saw the book in print 11 years after he died. Another coincidence landed the pre-publication galleys of the novel in the lap of producer Scott Kramer. A year later the book would win a Pulitzer and be known as a comedic classic; thirty years later Kramer would still be unable to get the movie off the ground.
The latest version died just a few years ago. David Gordon Green was to have directed Will Ferrell in a fat suit as Ignatius. There was a script from Steven Soderbergh, and there was even a live reading of it at the 2003 Nantucket Film Festival. But just before production began the movie fell apart, victim to legalities and petty Hollywood bullshit. This was the closest Kramer had gotten A Confederacy of Dunces to the screen, but it wasn’t the first time he had tried. But every time he failed, and there’s a belief – held even by Soderbergh – that the book is cursed.
The first time Kramer tried to get the movie made he cast John Belushi in the lead role. Belushi was all set to meet with studio execs who were going to greenlight the film when he died of a drug overdose. According to Slate other folks who were attached – like John Candy and Chris Farley – died before their versions could be made. Of course when you’re trying to cast a big fat guy early death is always an issue, but it really seems to happen a bunch with A Confederacy of Dunces.
It seems bizarre that the book can’t get made. The story isn’t so huge and sprawling that a film version would be too expensive, even if it was kept as a period piece (Harold Ramis, who was once attached to direct, wanted to make it a modern day story). And the book itself is beloved enough – and read enough in colleges and high schools – that even the dopiest execs in Hollywood are basically aware of it. And yet it remains one of the great unfilmed books of all time.
Bartholomew vs Neff. With the death of John Hughes and the big tribute to him at the Oscars, there’s been a new round of attention paid to his unproduced screenplays. I’ve written about one of them here before – National Lampoon’s take on a Jaws sequel, Jaws 3, People 0 - and there’s been some rumors about The Grisbeys getting resurrected and purchased (although Paramount has denied these). But one of the more intriguing unshot Hughes films – and one of the scripts about which I can find almost no information – is Bartholomew vs Neff.
It’s a feuding neighbors movie, and it was written in 1992 for the delightful people at Carolco. The movie was intended as a potentially great mismatched co-stars vehicle – Sylvester Stallone vs John Candy. The details are unavailable to me, but I was able to find out that the film would have an ex-baseball player (one assumes Stallone, but maybe Candy as a Babe Ruth type) moving in next to a banker. The two begin as friends but their friendship disintegrates and eventually turns to war.
Without reading the script it’s hard to say what the movie would have been like, but a look at Hughes’ 1992-ish filmography reveals where his head was. Long past the relative subtlety of his teen movies, Hughes was making kid films and slapstick movies, and it stands to reason that Bartholomew vs Neff would have included the same sorts of broad physical gags that Hughes included in Home Alone.
While Carolco was going strong in 1992, the careers of Stallone and Candy were both in the crapper, so it’s possible that the film fell apart when nobody wanted to hang a feature on these two. Candy died in 1994, and Carolco went off the rails in 1996.
If there’s a copy of Bartholomew vs Neff out there, I’d be very happy to take a look at it. In the meantime I’m just going to have to assume this movie died as a result of Hollywood business as usual.