The Greatest and Most Lamented Unreleased Films

There are plenty of unmade films that people have lusted over. It could be a film based on a favorite book, or a project that someone found on Ain’t It Cool News and wanted so desperately to see. These cancellations and stalled projects are nothing new in Hollywood.  What is far more rare is when a film HAS been at least partially shot and then abandoned. It takes a lot of money to mount any production. But in the end, these films just did not want to be made. These are the films that I wish to highlight today. The making of each film is a journey. These films are ones that were so close to the end of that journey before they fell off the path spectacularly.  It would be an interesting technical exercise to see all of this footage released. Hopefully, this brief look will suffice.

The Other Side of the Wind

Orson Welles was a man unable to stop making films. He has just as many unreleased projects as released projects in his filmography, but only two are worth mentioning.  This film, about an aging film director who is previewing his new work, could have revived Welles’ career. It utilized a lot of New Hollywood techniques (such as non linear story telling and stunt casting) that would have likely been a hit amongst critics and audiences. Johnathan Rosenbaum praised the film, as did cast member Joseph McBride. Sadly, the work was never completed, and Welles’ last film was the brilliant but largely ignored F for Fake. Some scenes have been screened to the public but the entire film remains unreleased. There are rumors that cable station Showtime is attempting to edit the film and bring it to the public, but it still appears to be locked up by Welles’ long time partner Oja Kodar.

The Day the Clown Cried

This is the most famous unreleased film of all time. Depending on who you ask, The Day the Clown Cried is either a forgotten masterpiece or the best camp classic of all time. The film, about a circus clown who is hired to lead children into the showers at Auschwitz, was meant to be director and lead actor Jerry Lewis’ attempt at drama. For those few who have seen it, that focus on drama was the film’s undoing. The result is so serious that it becomes an unintentional comedy. The script leaves much to be desired, with several moments of pure melodrama (including a moment where the clown’s wife asks him to “tell [her] what is troubling your soul”). But good taste alone could not derail the film. The option for the original script expired in the middle of shooting and the producers could not raise the money to repurchase the rights. Indeed, Lewis had to spend his own money to complete principal photography. Reportedly, he did show the original screenwriters a rough cut, but they hated it and refused to allow the film to be shown (although Lewis did announce a premiere at Cannes). That is where we remain today – the rough cut is in Lewis’ office, and the negative was lost. Still, people (including media mogul Howard Stern) have been trying to release this film or at least find a copy. But it has been kept under wrap – no scenes from the film have leaked. The widely available shooting scripts is not  an adequate substitute for the real thing – an overwrought drama of Lewis trying to tell a story and examine themes that are far outside of his skill.  It is doubtful that the general audience will see it until after Lewis has died. Maybe that’s for the best. If the film were released, it could not possibly live up to the hype that forty years has afforded it.

The Thief and the Cobbler

Yes, this film technically was released as an Aladdin knock off that did not at all represent what animator Richard Williams intended. In development since 1964, The Thief and the Cobbler was released in 1995 with numerous changes made (without Williams’ consent) and poor critical reviews. What is missing is the original cut of the film, the labor of love that was intended by the animator. It was meant to be a mostly silent film with focus on the design and animation as a story telling device rather than as a gimmick. There is a “recobbled” cut that is widely available online, but its quality is quite poor – there are several times that the editors are forced to use the story boards and low quality clips from the original workprint. Even that cut, despite its best intentions, required a lot of guess-work. The original 1992 work print is probably the closest to what Williams intended, but cannot really be viewed properly. Plus, the lengths of the cuts vary (the version of the workprint I have is 87 minutes, while my “recobbled” version is ten minutes longer).   It cries out to be released properly with Williams’ involvement – even if just as a “we’re sorry” by the studio for ruining Williams’ career.


Phantasmagoria: The Visions of Lewis Carroll

Marilyn Manson has apparently shot part of a movie about Alice in Wonderland scribe Lewis Carrol. We know that it exists, because a rather long trailer has been released. We also know that it has not been released because investors went running from the trailer because they thought it was too terrifying. The film, meant to be about a psychologically damaged Lewis Carroll who is inspired to write by a lover, would have been a return to form for psychological horror. Manson cited Bergman and Hitchcock as his influences in making the film. He was certainly ambitious, and the end result would have been a unique experiment. It is really unclear how far along the film is, or really anything at all. Information has been scarce, and the film has been shooting for years. One would think that his name and fan base would be enough to get it released, but that is not the case. Still, it is ironic that a horror film would go unreleased for being too scary. In the meantime, the trailer is widely available online.

The Pied Piper of Cleveland

This is probably that most obscure film on here, but may be one of the most important cultural artifacts ever made. The Pied Piper of Cleveland is a 1955 documentary following Cleveland disc jockey Bill Randle. So what, you may ask? Well, Randle helped to document the first wave of rock and roll. This was Elvis Presley’s first film appearance, and Bill Haley’s second. So,  it becomes clear why the film would be of interest to any one who is trying to track the evolution of popular music. There have been accusations over the years that the film is a hoax, but it was referenced in contemporary media and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame have placed at least one plaque in Cleveland commemorating the film. It is unlikely that anyone will ever see this film, or if it even still exists. But then, considering the cult of Presley still remains strong, who knows what will happen?

Orson Welles’ Don Quixote

This was Orson Welles’ dream project, the one he wanted to bring to screen the most. It is also the film that he worked on the longest, and the biggest cop-out of an unreleased film ever. There was a version of the film that was released in 1992 and is available on DVD. But this version contains degraded footage and a very poorly dubbed soundtrack. Oja Kodar hates this edit and has subsequently refused to cooperate with other reconstruction attempts (including the aforementioned The Other Side of the Wind). Welles’ version of Don Quixote would have been an attempt to modernize the story, by having Don Quixote act like a knight in the 20th century. At least, that was the idea. The end result is not to clear, and several key sequences are missing (or were never filmed). It is unlikely that Quixote will ever be seen in the way that Welles intended. Maybe the reconstructed version is the best we will ever see. It’s a shame. Already, this was a film that would have been difficult for any director (just ask Terry Gilliam). But Welles as a filmmaker suffered more than any other at the hands of merciless studio editors and scared backers. Don Quixote may have turned into his most personal project, the one he could have been proud to have made.

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