50 Greatest Films Never Made By Mike White.
Every few months Entertainment Weekly covers films that have been touted and talked about but remain on hiatus for various reasons...
Every few months Entertainment Weekly covers films that have been touted and talked about but remain on hiatus for various reasons. For years I’ve heard talk of a Chris Columbus-produced Fantastic Four flick (which is said to be the reason why the other, shoddy Fantastic Four movie remains unreleased, unless you do your shopping at comic book conventions where it’s widely available). There have also been boundless rumours of a Dean Martin bio-pic helmed by Martin Scorcese, a sequel to Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, and scads of languishing Arnold Schwarzenegger pictures including Return of the Apes, Crusade, With Wings as Eagles, SWAT, and I Am Legend.
I’ve long been a fan of Entertainment Weekly ’s prognosis for projects who have gotten the "red light" and are treading water in hopes of being saved before irrevocably slipping into the murky depths of "development hell". I find great joy in sitting down with screenplays that are destined to be rewritten and waiting to see how they compare to the final product (see "Jonesing for Indy 4" in CdC #9) or the drastically differing tactics employed by writers in conveying similar ideas.
It’s also fun to track down scripts whose future is dim and picturing what they would look like on screen. If the writers haven’t cast them (in Rosenberg’s Gone in Sixty Seconds he basically instructs the screenplay’s reader to get Christopher Walken on the phone for the role of "The Sphinx"), I fill the scripts roles with the faces of suitable actors and let them run their course in my mind. Afterwards, I judge whether or not they should remain unmade or if they’re neglected state is a tragedy.
Author Chris Gore has collected two score and ten such works in his book The 50 Greatest Movies Never Made (ISBN: 031220082X). A quick read, the book feels like it was written in an afternoon. "Off-the-cuff" is the term I thought of most as I waded through the all-too-brief adumbrations of abandoned scripts and unfertilized ideas. Often the unmade films are overshadowed by the histories surrounding them, short-changing the "greatness" of the films themselves. This gives way to doubt in the reader’s mind about whether the film itself was so fantastic or if Gore simply enjoys having a platform to discuss the process by which films are made or, moreover, not made.
The book is rife with glib gibes at the film industry ("Unlike today, competent story construction was usually employed rather than ignored") and that’s to be expected. These are usually contained in parenthetical asides which tend to make the book sluggish in its prose. Too often Gore’s derision reaches Fever pitch and brings any sort of quasi-meaningful discussion of these "lost gems" to an abrupt halt.
Parentheses are abused in this book. Not only do they lead to bogged down sentences but they help contribute to the unclear writing (and trust me, this horribly proofread book doesn’t need any help being made muddier). And when Gore does need parentheses, he doesn’t use them. When he speaks of bio-pics such as one with Donald O’Connor as Buster Keaton or the another where Doris Day portrayed Ruth Etting a qualifying mention of their titles would certainly lend an air of credibility to this book (The Buster Keaton Story and Love Me or Leave Me, by the way).
However, I think I’m assuming too much when I would think this book was well-researched. Take for example the write-up of Martin Scorcese’s proposed Dean Martin film (Dino) wherein it’s said that the director is set to work on a "film about a New York Emergency Service driver". Later Gore decries Scorcese’s soon-to-be-released Bringing Out the Dead, presenting them as if they were two separate movies. Perhaps a decent editor might have caught this slip up.
An editor might have also caught some overt redundancy (in describing Howard Stern’s writing, Gore uses the terms "coarse" and "unvarnished" twice each within three paragraphs), disconcerting date changes (at one point Gore has Bing Crosby alive and well in 1997 when he died in 1977), and cheesy prose (back to the Stern story, Gore says that "his humor is coarse, of course (of course)"—very annoying). A good editor might have insisted on Gore putting in film titles as I mentioned above or at least making sure all pictures had captions so readers knew what they were looking at—is that a still from an unmade movie or what? Also, there might have been mention made of the book’s alphabetical listing of titles being disrupted by A Trip to Mars being listed after An American Tragedy and The Bettie Page Story. Come on, gang, I picked this stuff up just breezing over this book on a train ride to Toronto—what about the people who get paid to edit books!?
While Gore teases readers with other unmade films he could write about if we "barrage St. Martin’s Press with requests" he gives very short shrift to those he attempts to cover in his current book. Often his discourse turns towards writers or filmmakers, ignoring the projects that were never made as he did in writing about Ray Harryhausen’s Evolution, Jerry Lewis’ That's Life, or Peter Briggs’ Alien Vs Predator. Supposedly, the majority of these projects will never see the light of day and they are, we assume, inherently fascinating material that has been overlooked. If that’s that case, why not give the readers some concise story explanation when available instead of dismissing a hilarious scene in The Dreyfus Affair about a man shooting his dog with "I know it sounds horrible, but trust me; it works—just don’t try it at home." I don’t trust Gore and I would think that a writer worth his salt would go into some details, giving readers some reason to realize on their own that this incident in The Dreyfus Affair is indeed hilarious and that it does work.
In his introduction Gore admits he had a problem with his book’s title. So do I. Instead of giving a nice write-up of the "lost films" of Alfred Hitchcock, we’re subjected to a half-hearted write-up of The Blind Man in which Gore only gives it two paragraphs of description and then criticizes it as being yet another "wrong guy" movie. I thought these were supposed to be the greatest films never made. Likewise, the title’s enumeration forces Gore to break up descriptions of films that would compliment each other such as Orson Welles’s The Cradle Will Rock and Heart of Darkness or Michael O’Donahue’s Biker Heaven and Saturday Matinee. In fact, in writing about Biker Heaven, an unexpected passing reference to Saturday Matinee threw me into a tizzy as Gore spoke about it with great familiarity while it wasn’t mentioned in detail for another one hundred thirty-four pages.
I’m not saying that Gore’s book should have been dumbed down for the masses, but I will say that I often felt uncomfortable with the frequent nonchalant references to things not every cinephile might be familiar. When discussing the unexpected return of protagonists Billy and Captain America in Biker Heaven, a proposed sequel to Easy Rider, Gore casually justifies their cinematic resurrection with "Yes, I know the death of Spock and all that." I’m a geek, so I got that immediately, but not everyone will. Likewise, suddenly talking about "Clyde" with no explanation as to who the hell he is might throw someone reading Gore’s piece on Sergei Eisenstein’s proposed adaptation of Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy (Clyde is one of the main characters, by the way).
Certainly, there are some good points to Gore’s book. It’s good to see him working again after ripping off his former Film Threat subscribers. Actually, one has to admire that he has the balls to show his face after perpetuating such a hoax after "lifetime subscribers" found themselves empty-handed and out a hundred dollars (see Terry Gilmer’s article). I was also delighted with his on-target evaluation of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? as over-hyped pablum. Yet, Gore’s book is exceedingly mired in anti-Hollywood rants (proving his indie cred?), parenthetical mutterings, and unsubstantiated references or claims (in talking about Casablanca 2, Gore writes that "many serious subjects have been turned into musicals with exciting and dramatic results"—which ones? And in discussing Francis Ford Coppola’s Pinnochio, he states that "Everyone knows that Francis Ford Coppola is a great film artist." Oh yeah? I’ve seen Godfather III and Bram Stoker's Dracula and Jack and... so I know that’s a lie).
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