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The Lost & Unmade Projects Of Stanley Kubrick

by Kevin Jagernauth
March 4, 2013 11:59 AM
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”The German Lieutenant”
After delivering one of the most vital war movies of all time in 1957 with “Paths Of Glory,” only a year later Kubrick was tinkering with the idea of doing another one. Shifting focus to World War II, Kubrick wanted to tell a story from the German point of view, and he teamed with former paratrooper Richard Adams to pen “The German Lieutenant.” According to the book “The Wolf at the Door: Stanley Kubrick, History, & the Holocaust,” studios weren’t too interested in the project that was being developed under the Harris-Kubrick banner, but it’s nonetheless a fascinating story.

Set in 1945 in the dying days of the war, the plot centers on Lieutenant Oskar Kraus and Lieutenant Paul Dietrich, friends and officers who are ordered to be dropped behind enemy lines to blow up a railway bridge. It’s widely viewed by the soldiers as a suicide mission, and Kraus even flirts with deserting, but decides to stay with Dietrich who is enthusiastically embracing the job. But from the start the mission goes awry, with the soldiers dropped in broad daylight instead of under cover of night, resulting in many dying in the process. But Dietrich plows ahead with the goal of destroying the bridge, even as Kraus argues its futility as the German army’s defeat is inevitable. The Germans are eventually taken prisoner, and kept waiting in the middle of the bridge by American forces, who believe (rightly) that it has been wired to explode, but are still uncertain. Dietrich inspires his men to keep this plan secret, and when they are eventually ordered off the bridge by American troops, the bridge does indeed blow up. But is the mission a success? Was the cost of German lives worth it as the war is ultimately soon lost? And with a coda that includes seeing Dietrich in a tedious postal service job after the war, the implication is that his last heroic stand was meaningless.

As per usual with Kubrick’s films, “The German Lieutenant” exists in a moral gray area, with two leads who defy easy categorization. An intriguing element included a movie-within-the-movie entitled “Romance At The Blue Danube” and perhaps ironically, the name Paul Dietrich is the same as the lead in the anti-war film “All Quiet On The Western Front.”

While Kubrick would apparently later tell Jan Harlan he had no idea why he pursued this project, in an interview in 1959 with Film Quarterly’s Colin Young (collected in the book “Stanley Kubrick: Interviews”) the filmmaker shared his interest in the subject matter.

“To begin with, one of the attractions of a war or crime story is that it provides an almost unique opportunity to contrast an individual of our contemporary society with a solid framework of accepted value, which the audience becomes fully aware of, and which can be used as a counterpoint to a human, individual, emotional situation,” he said. “Further, war acts as a kind of hothouse for forced, quick breeding of attitudes and feelings. Attitudes crystallize and come into the open. Conflict is natural, when it would in a less critical situation have to be introduced almost as a contrivance, and would thus appear forced, or -- even worse -- false. Eisenstein, in his theoretical writings about dramatic structure, was often guilty of oversimplification. The black and white contrasts of ‘Alexander Nevsky’ do not fit all drama. But war does permit this kind of contrast -- and spectacle. And within these contrasts you can begin to apply some of the possibilities of film - of the sort explored by Eisenstein.”

While Kubrick would move on to other projects, you can see what he might have intended with “The German Lieutenant” by reading the script right here.

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  • KUBRICK | December 24, 2013 8:04 AMReply

    “I Stole 16 Million Dollars” AKA ”God Fearing Man”- both the projects are different. I stole 16 million dollars is based on 1930s bank robber Willie Sutton and God fearing man on Herbert Emerson Wilson.

  • David Kelly | March 28, 2013 12:13 AMReply

    You guys call Brando "Marlon Brandon"??? Come on, man...

  • sliptrod | March 19, 2013 5:47 PMReply

    I love it when directors rush to wear the "I'm not Kubrick" sign. So attractive.

  • Jeff | March 5, 2013 9:09 AMReply

    There's a reason why this is my favorite movie blog. Thanks, Playlist.

  • DeLarge | March 5, 2013 1:37 AMReply

    Unless you get someone extremely talented, like Paul Thomas Anderson attached to a Kubrick unfinished project, they will all turn out average in a best case scenario. It´s too bad Napoleon is getting the Spielberg treatment.

  • sliptrod | March 19, 2013 5:48 PM

    See my comment above.

  • Alphabet | March 4, 2013 6:11 PMReply

    Pg 4 mentions the seemingly nonexistent book "Stanley Kubrick: An Autobiography" (Kubrick didn't write an autobiography).

    Pg 5 gets the full title of "Dr. Strangelove" wrong.

    C'mon guys.

  • James | March 4, 2013 6:23 PM

    Page 2 calls Christiane Kubrick his daughter - she's actually his widow.

  • DG | March 4, 2013 3:47 PMReply

    I read there was a draft of AI at one point in which Jiggolo Joe was the main character, not sure where though. I hope they get someone good to direct Napolean, at least for the Egypt sections. Apparently there was some pretty cool phantasmagoric/creepy shit that went on with Napoleans men and the pyramids

  • kyle | June 27, 2014 6:33 PM

    whaat? thats awesome

  • Fitzcarraldont | March 4, 2013 2:48 PMReply

    Good article. There's a valid reason each of these projects was scuttled — Napoleon being the exception. As it stands Kubrick's oeuvre is perfect. He wisely jettisoned the weaklings.

  • PcChongor | March 4, 2013 2:07 PMReply

    Wish I could remember the name of the title, but in "The Kubrick Archives," Jan Harlan makes note of a particular Viking epic that Kubrick considered to be one of the greatest adventure stories ever told. He toyed with the idea of adapting it himself, but figured the budget of such a film would always preclude him from making it.

    Also of note, the version of "All The King's Men" Kubrick was interested in making wasn't the Robert Warren Penn version of 1949 fame, but rather, it was Robert Marshall's nonfiction account of MI6's attempted sabotage of the SOE's efforts during WW2, which ended in the deaths of a number of undercover operatives.

    "The more you know!"

  • Chris | March 4, 2013 2:02 PMReply

    Could you guys do a "Lost and Unmade Projects" series? I think it would be interesting with directors like Dennis Hopper or John Cassavetes?

  • Bob Roberts | March 4, 2013 4:39 PM

    I second that. Would love to hear about Scorsese/Max Ophuls/Coens/Linklater/PT Anderson/Howard Hawks and many more unmade projects. Although it might be too depressing it makes for nice dreams.

  • Leonardo | March 4, 2013 4:23 PM

    I have loved both articles, but i really want the "Lost Projects" to become a more regular feature on the site, that would be awesome.

  • BOBY | March 4, 2013 2:53 PM

    I agree ! And can I suggest Paul Verhoeven as the next candidate ? Between "Crusade", "Dinosaurs" and "Mistress of the Seas", I think he is the director with the most amazing and exciting unmade projects of the last four decades.

  • Rodrigo | March 4, 2013 2:29 PM

    Yeah, we've considered it. We did one on Terrence Malick.

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