Welcome to Six Damn Fine Degrees. These instalments will be inspired by the idea of six degrees of separation in the loosest sense. The only rule: it connects – in some way – to the previous instalment. So come join us on our weekly foray into interconnectedness!
I must admit I have not (yet) become as much of a connoisseur of the Coen Brothers’ oeuvre as Matt has revealed himself to be in last week’s insightful post on a number of standout scenes from their lesser-liked films. However, I immediately thought of directors I know somewhat better, particularly how Hitchcock’s over fifty feature films would lend themselves to a ranking of standout scenes of even his less-appreciated films. Beyond obvious scenes in showers, on top of towers and gazing out rear windows, one could probably run a blog or a series of podcasts just on the one standout scene from every one of his movies. After all, Hitchcock was particularly masterful at making scenes, even single objects stand out and in creating masterful compositions, but also making them so memorable as unique scenes that work outside of the film itself.
Something that has always vexed me is reading about some scenes that were written but went unfilmed and even some that were filmed but were dropped on the cutting room floor. One that would have made for a wonderful standout scene, I’m sure, and might have even improved and otherwise rather lacklustre Hitchcock entry was this: in Torn Curtain (1966), after Paul Newman’s character kills off an East German agent (Wolfgang Kieling) who could have blown his cover (the gruesomly prolonged murder being the true standout moment of the film), there was supposed to be a later scene in which Newman would have been introduced to Gromek’s brother at a factory, adding to the discomfort and guilt of the protagonist. One detail included in the scene, which was filmed but later dropped, would have been the cutting of a sausage by a knife very similar to the one used in the previous killing. Production photographs exist, but there are various accounts of why the scene was dropped, some claiming that it would have made the film too long, others that Newman himself demanded the scene be omitted.
Things become even more fascinating when one dives into entire projects that Hitchcock considered or that were suggested to him but that for various reasons never got to the production stage. Two lovely recent French releases (the biographical graphic novel by Noël Simsolo and Dominique Hé and the momumental Hitchcock La Totale by Bernard Beonoliel et al.) give more insight into over twenty-five additional Hitchcock films that could have seen the light of day had not all kinds of reconsiderations, delays and refusals come between. According to the Hitchcock Wiki, which lists over fifty such projects, there were at least as many unfilmed Hitchcocks as were eventually released!
For example, in the late 1920s, Hitchcock apprently worked on a massive 24-hour endeavour to capture life in London (inspired by Ruttman’s Berlin, Symphonie einer Grossstadt). During his British years, he also had plans to produce a sequel of his early smash hit The 39 Steps (1935) entitled Greenmantle, which was abandoned due to legal problems with author John Buchan’s estate. A later attempt even foresaw Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman as the leading characters in a story that Hitchcock found far superior to Buchan’s other novels. Later, he made one final attempt at adapting one of them, The Three Hostages, but apparently found no convincing way to depict hypnosis on screen (John Frankenheimer’s Manchurian Candidate might have given him a hint!).
Earlier, when Hitchcock had just moved to Hollywood from Britain, producer David O. Selznick was unsure which project he wanted Hitchock to start off with and in 1938, the director was announced at the helm of a massive undertaking: Titanic! There were announcements of Paulette Godard playing the leading role and efforts to sign J.B. Priestley to write the script but eventually, Selznick settled for Rebecca (1940), a success Hitchcock never quite considered fully his own due to the overt involvement of its producer. What Hitchcock’s effort at a disaster movie would have looked like, we shall never know, but if we go by the incredible plane crash from Foreign Correspondent (1940) or the dramatic suspense of Lifeboat (1945), we might get an idea.
More fascinatingly, during the Second World War, Hitchock not only worked on several anti-Nazi propaganda films (Bon Voyage, Aventure Malgache) but was also covertly involved in a grand-scale undertaking to reveal the mass killing of Jews in Memory of the Camps just after the end of the war. The material that was filmed at several liberated concentration camps left an indelible impression on Hitchcock for the rest of his life, but it was only used partly at the Nuremberg trials and released eventually in 2014 as Night Will Fall. I can only imagine the power Hitchcock’s filmmaking would have had on people just after these horrors had been documented.
Some high-profile ideas are almost to good to be true, among them certainly casting Cary Grant in a modern-day version of Hamlet (according to Grant, instead of soliloquizing “To be or not to be” rather complaining “What the hell do I do now?” on his psychoanalyst’s couch!). The independent project was unfortunately buried after the lack of success of one of Hitchcock’s only historical dramas, Under Capricorn in 1949. We can only wonder what Hitchcock might have added to the countless numbers of Shakespeare adaptations!
The director certainly tried hardest making J.M. Barrie’s play Mary Rose his next project. In fact throughout his career, he repeatedly attempted to get the adaptation off the ground: having been deeply impressed by a stage production in the 1920s, he continuously talked to screenwriters and producers about filming this haunting tale of a woman disappearing and reappearing as a ghost, but was just as often refused or asked to do other films first. He came closest in 1964, when screenwriter Jay Preston Allan (Marnie) and matte painter Albert Whitlock were already working on early drafts and sketches and Hitchock was dreaming of making his latest star, Tippi Hedren, his Mary Rose, but it’s the fallout between her and the director over apparent mistreatment and abuse that finally put an end to his most passionately pursued but never realised dream project.
Probably among his most controversial films would have been the project he almost realised in 1967, Kaleidoscope. Deeply impressed by the radical new style of the New Wave (his legendary interview partner François Truffaut among the most famous directors thereof), Hitchcock even had still photographs and test footage produced of this horrendous tale of a New York mass murderer whose killings we witness from his own perspective. This approach would have allowed the director to show graphic scenes of nudity and gore, an approach that his Universal studios understandably shied away from immediatley upon seeing the footage. The material was eventually reworked into 1972’s only slighltly less disturbing Frenzy, a movie that not only brought Hitchcock back to his childhood origins in London’s Covent Garden but also allowed him to show some of the graphic sex and violence that had since become more accepted in 1970s cinema. It was the closest Hitchcock had come to being unlimited in his dream projects.
His last film Family Plot (1976) is often seen as the less brillant but more conciliatory finale to Hitchcock’s stunning career, but the director certainly did not think of leaving it at that. After the success of North By Northwest in 1959, he had repeatedly tried to work again with screenwriter Ernest Lehman. Their 1961 project The Blind Man (about a pianist who gains back his sight thanks to a murderer’s retina) included a murder scene at Disneyland, a mistaken-for-song scream by Maria Callas at Covent Garden opera and a final chase onboard the Queen Mary. The screenplay was left unfinished but the two men did work together again by the late ‘70s on The Short Night, a screenplay based on the life story of Cambridge spy George Blake. Besides a draft script, first storyboards by Whitlock and costume designs by legendary Edith Head exist, but by May 1979, Hitchcock’s health had so gravely deteriorated that he called producer Milton A. Green to his office and told him bluntly: “I’m never going to make a movie again. I want you to call Mr. Wasserman and let him know. I can’t face him.” Green and Wasserman, his other Universal producer, were devastated at the news, of course.
Hitchcock passed away on 29 April 1980, with countless classic films in his name under his belt, some of which will continue to be seen as the greatest in cinema history and as masterful examples of dark humour, fascinating production values and riveting suspense. The story of his unfilmed projects, I would argue, is just as suspenseful!
For more on unfilmed Hitchcock, go to the Hitchcock Wiki.