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Lost & Abandoned: 10 Movies That Were Shot, But Eventually Scrapped

by Oliver Lyttelton
January 30, 2014 3:42 PM
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"Uncle Tom's Fairy Tales"
Who Made It? The film was a collaboration between legendary comic Richard Pryor, in what would have been his first major film role, and then film-student Penelope Spheeris, who'd go on to direct legendary documenatries "The Decline Of Western Civilization (Parts I, II and III)" and, most famously, the original "Wayne's World."
What Was It About? It's still somewhat unclear. David and Joe Henry's recent biography of Pryor, "Furious Cool," says that the film was about a group of Black Panthers who abduct a wealthy white man and put him on trial for all racial crimes in the history of America.
How Far Did It Get? Shot in 1968 or early 1969, the film appears to have been completed, and Spheeris edited the film at the end of '69, except for a short break in order to give birth to her daughter. 
What Happened? According to "Furious Cool," Spheeris had apparently assembled about 45/50 minutes of the movie — they were working towards a cut that they would show Bill Cosby, who it was hoped would attach his name to the project, presumably as a producer. She screened it to Pryor in the basement of his house, with the film then collecting in a bin under the Moviola, when Pryor's second wife Shelley Bonis stormed in, furious with her husband. According to Spheeris, Pryor and Shelley fought until the comic, screaming "You think I love this film more than you? Watch this?," picked up the negative and tore it into pieces. Spheeris spliced the fragments back together as best she could, and they screened the results to Cosby, who may or may not have bought the negative (Pryor's memoirs says that Cosby agreed to pay for a final edit, then commented "Hey, this shit is weird," convincing Pryor to shelve the film, only for the negative to be stolen from his house, while Spheeris speculates that Cosby buried the movie to hurt Pryor, his main competition). A brief clip of the film, from dailies Spheeris says she found years later, was screened at a tribute to the comedian shortly before his death in 2005, which caused Pryor's wife Jennifer Lee to sue both the director and Shelley's daughter Rain, claiming that they must have been behind the theft of the print in the 1980s. The suit is apparently still pending.

Who Made It? Henri-Georges Clouzot, the suspense mastermind behind "Les Diaboliques" and "The Wages Of Fear," among others.
What Was It About? An expressionist psychological thriller about a hotelier driven mad by the sexual jealousy caused by his younger wife. Italian born actor/singer Serge Reggiani, and Austrian actress Romy Schneider ("What's New Pussycat?") had the lead roles.
How Far Did It Get? About three weeks of filming took place before the plug was pulled.
What Happened? Clouzot had been stung by criticism from the New Wave filmmakers, who attacked him repeatedly in Cahiers du cinema, and so the filmmaker set out, with an essentially unlimited budget from Columbia Pictures (there were three separate crews, with as many as 150 people working simultaneously), to make something more avant-garde with his 1964 film, "L'Enfer." Surviving footage looks rather remarkable, although Bernard Stora, then an intern on the project, would later comment, "It seemed clear from the beginning they didn't know what they were doing." Once filming began, a Gilliam-esque series of nightmares took place. The summer shoot took place in record-breaking temperatures. It emerged that the lake by which the film was being shot, a crucial part of the movie, was set to be drained in a few weeks, leaving Clouzot 20 days to wrap the movie. And that looked to be impossible when the often-difficult Clouzot fell out with Reggiani, principally because he was forcing the actor to run up to ten miles a day in the sweltering heat—the actor claimed to be suffering from Maltese fever, and quit after ten days. Clouzot attempted to replace him with "And God Created Woman" and "Amour" star Jean-Louis Trintignant, but the actor smelt something fishy and declined after a visit to the set. Instead, Clouzot decided he'd try and rewrite the film around the absence of his male lead. But a few days later, while shooting a lesbian love scene on the lake, he suffered a heart attack, and insurance agents finally stepped in. Still, it survives better than most—Claude Chabrol made a film based on Clouzot's script in 1994 starring Emmanuelle Beart, while the surviving footage was unveiled in the excellent 2009 documentary "Henri-Georges Clouzot's Inferno."

"One A.M."
Who Made It? Nouveau Vague legend Jean Luc-Godard, who shot the film in 1968 with the help of famous documentarians D.A. Pennebacker and Richard Leacock.
What Was It About? An attempt to capture the spirit of revolution in the American underground at the time, mixing documentary footage with dramatic reconstructions, shot almost entirely in unbroken rolls of film.
How Far Did It Get? The film (the title of which stands for "One American Movie") was shot almost entirely. But it wasn't the production that was the problem...
What Happened? By 1968, the increasingly politicized Godard was frustrated with the film industry in France, and the way that the revolution seemed to be running into the ground. But he was soon approached by documentarians Pennebaker and Leacock, who had convinced PBS-forerunners the Public Broadcasting Laboratory, to finance a film that they'd work on with Godard. Filming began in October '68, and involved a mix of documentary footage, interviews and staged scenes (including one where Rip Torn, wearing first a Civil War army uniform , then present-day khakis, lectured an Ocean Hill elementary school classroom). Jefferson Airplane and Black Panther Eldridge Cleaver were among the other subjects. But, according to Richard Brody's book "Everything Is Cinema," Godard disappeared to Canada in November, beginning to put together projects there, having seemingly lost confidence in "One A.M." His absence meant that Leacock and Pennebaker were financially liable to PBL, and their company was forced into bankruptcy as a result. Godard returned to finally look at the rushes in the spring of 1970, but announced his disinterest in the project, and walked away again. In the event, Pennebaker cut together his own version (including footage he'd filmed of Godard on set), and entitled it "One P.M," which stands for, depending on who you're talking to, for either "One Parallel Movie" or "One Pennebaker Movie." It premiered in June 1971, and now pops up on the rep circuit from time to time. Or you can just watch it below.

Thoughts? If you could choose one, which one of these projects would you most like to see if that was possible? And there's plenty of other unfinished, abandoned and scrapped films out there in the history of cinema. Any others you'd like to see for a future installment?

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  • Charles Ellis | April 18, 2014 11:12 AMReply

    Guys- what about the most legendary unfinished film of the 'studio era'- "Something's Got To Give" starring Marilyn Monroe, Dean Martin, and Cyd Charisse as directed by George Cukor? Also, what about the nearly-finished first version of "Solomon and Sheba" with Tyrone Power and Gina Lollobrigida? Mr. Power's fatal coronary on the set following an onscreen duel with George Sanders forced United Artists to reshoot with Yul Brynner as Power's replacement. Also the 1930 MGM musical "Great Day!" starring Joan Crawford- it was scrapped after a few weeks as Crawford didn't like the material (scuttlebut has it that L.B. Mayer also hated it and had the movie scrapped to teach Irving Thalberg a lesson). Another scrapped MGM project- the original version of "Annie Get Your Gun" with Judy Garland. She filmed several musical numbers and recorded all the song for the soundtrack, but she despised director Bubsy Berkeley and her additcions got the best of her, lending to her being replaced by Betty Hutton.

  • Mike White | February 26, 2014 6:51 PMReply

    I would love to see the original version of Smokey & The Bandit III - Smokey IS The Bandit.

  • Jerry Fan | February 26, 2014 6:50 PMReply

    The guys at The Projection Booth podcast claim to have seen the finished The Day the Clown Cried

  • darwin | February 16, 2014 2:57 AMReply

    Run, Ronnie, Run written/starring comics David Cross and Bob Odenkirk (of legendary Mr.Show fame) was fully finished in early 2000's yet not theatrically released by the studio...

  • Steve | February 9, 2014 1:17 PMReply

    I remember being told once that, unbeknownst to most, Kevin McClory's infamous rival James Bond film "Warhead" actually began filming - and that the footage circulates among a VERY small number of fans.

    I somewhat doubt this, though.

  • Michael H. | February 6, 2014 11:24 AMReply

    Great article, some real curios in here. I've always wanted to see the Welles movie, wish that was available. David Carradine shot some version of Mata Hari where he cast his daughter and shot the film over a period of years to age her naturally. I've never seen even a clip from it, but that would be cool to see.

  • Dean Treadway | February 5, 2014 4:27 PMReply

    Excellent article!

  • Tombeet | February 2, 2014 9:04 AMReply

    How about the Napoleon project by Stanley Kubrick and the project by Fellini when he planned to get made after 8 1/2 but never got around to do?

  • Dwigt | February 18, 2014 6:32 PM

    Napoleon was never shot. Kubrick lost his backing from MGM and moved to Warner, where he shot A Clockwork Orange as a warm-up to Napoleon. Then he did Barry Lyndon instead.

    There's a piece here about the Fellini project here but I can't post the link (due to the anti-spamming filter).

    I have also made a lot of research about this one, so here's some additional info.

    Fellini started Il Viaggio di G. Mastorna after 8 1/2 and Juliet of the Spirits. It starred Mastroianni (Mastorna actually stands for Mastroianni Ritorna or something like that) and Sofia Loren, and was based on a script by Fellini, his usual collaborators, and Dino Buzzati. It was to be produced by De Laurentiis.
    At the time, Fellini was having some kind of a fall out with Flaiano, Rondi and Pinelli, who had worked with since I Vitelloni or even before. He was more and more worried about sustaining his inspiration, as shown in Juliet of the Spirits, which is quite the misfire. He was having responsibilities at his production company with Rizzoli, Federiz, that were giving him anxiety. And he was very much into omens, and felt that the project was somewhat cursed.
    Sets were built for Il viaggio, like a fake airplane and a replica of the Koln cathedral. And the movie was shot for a few weeks. Fellini had a heart attack, or at least that was the explanation given to the insurance company and the project was canceled.
    Some footage of the set later emerged in the mock documentary (think of a shorter Intervista made two decades before) named A Director's Notebook shot for NBC as part of their Experiment in Television series. At that point, Fellini had switched to Bernardino Zapponi as his main collaborator for scripts, decided to embrace gaps in his narrative and was starting to put together Satiricon.

    I don't know if Fellini's heart attack was genuine or if it was just a pretext, like Bob Dylan's motorcycle "accident" in 1966 which allowed him to back out of a stadium summer tour which would have likely killed him, given the pressures around him and his speed intake at the time. I just know that Fellini smoked several packs a day in the early sixties but gave up totally a few years later, up to the point he had a smoke-free policy for people who worked with him.

  • Mehrine | February 2, 2014 9:26 AM

    "10 Movies That WERE SHOT, But Eventually Scrapped".

  • Sarah | January 31, 2014 1:05 PMReply

    Regarding "Inferno" it should read "L'Enfer" , not "L'Infer".

  • Tally | February 4, 2014 1:08 PM

    Cancel everything

  • Sanker From India | January 31, 2014 11:47 AMReply

    To be honest I didn't enjoy "The Fighter" or "Silver Linings Playbook" as much as I enjoyed "Three Kings". I feel David has gone a tad too mainstream. Reviews of "American Hustle" too give me that mellow-mainstream-disappointing-Russell feel that I didn't like about Fighter or SLP although I should reserve judgement for when I watch it. I remember the first viewing of "Three Kings" giving me a wicked crazy awesome jolt! I really want to catch up with "Spanking The Monkey" and "Flirting with Disaster". My point is I wish "Nailed" came out and Russell didn't mellow down so much :(

  • richard arndt | January 31, 2014 10:59 AMReply

    You should have mentioned the 1934 I, Claudius too as the surviving footage is absolutely fascinating. I'd love to see the Welles, the Clouzot or the Eisenstein before anything else although the Gilliam Don Quixote is interesting as well.

  • Sam | January 30, 2014 7:57 PMReply

    umm, "Nouvelle vague" was the film movement's name..

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