The Lost Projects Of Stanley Kubrick: Part 1
During Stanley Kubrick's 48-year career as a filmmaker, he only made 13 films. It's widely known that he would devote a monumental amount of time to the every aspect of his projects from research and pre-production to the shooting and editing; however, it's somewhat staggering to find just how much of his career was dedicated to projects that never came to fruition.
For part one of this two-part series, we’ll take a look at a few of Kubrick’s lesser known unfinished projects. Each was nearly a reality, but feel off the grid for one reason or another.
The Burning Secret//Natural Child
When Kubrick and his producer partner James B. Harris pitched Paths of Glory to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (M.G.M) in 1956, the studio turned it down, but also invited Kubrick to take a look at their other properties. Kubrick and Harris then discovered Stefan Zweig’s novel The Burning Secret about a young baron that attempts to seduce a young Jewish woman by first befriending her twelve-year-old son, who eventually realizes the actual motives of the baron.
According to Stanley Kubrick: Visual Poet 1928-1999, Kubrick was enthusiastic about adapting the book because Stefan Zweig penned the story that inspired Letter From an Unknown Woman directed by Max Ophuls, a director Kubrick very much admired. Kubrick hired novelist Calder Willingham to write the screenplay, but the Hays Code foiled the manifestation of the project from turning reality. Willingham’s script was long rumored to be lost; however, in 2018, it was discovered. While the project is nearly completed to be developed by filmmakers, no news on a potential production was ever discussed.
Kubrick, who would go on to work with Willingham on a few projects (namely Paths of Glory), also apparently had eyes to adapt Willingham’s 1952 book Natural Child. The novel followed two young men and women living the bohemian lifestyle of the time. However, due to its sexual nature, it too was deemed unlikely to pass the Production Code, and in turn, prevented any further development.
Lunatic At Large
Kubrick had been a longtime fan of pulp crime author Jim Thompson, and went so far as to call Thompson’s pulpy noir The Killer Inside Me: “probably the most chilling and believable first-person story of a criminally warped mind I have ever encountered.” Kubrick commissioned Thompson to adapt Lionel White’s crime novel Clean Break — what would become The Killing — and to help craft Paths of Glory, prior to Willingham’s involvement. Despite receiving very little credit for his contribution to Paths of Glory, Thompson would decide to work with Kubrick again on a from-scratch project titled Lunatic At Large.
The film was reported to take place in New York during the mid 50s and tells the story of an ex-carnival worker with severe anger-management issues, and the anxious, attractive barfly he picks up in a tavern.
According to IndieWire, the screenplay included a race-against-the-clock car chase over a railroad crossing against a speeding train, and a interlude of the romantic variety that takes place in a spooky, deserted mountain lodge. They also reported that "one of the film’s biggest set pieces was a nighttime carnival sequence in which the lead female, lost and afraid, wanders among the tents and encounters a sideshow’s worth of familiar carnie types: the Alligator Man, the Mule-Faced Woman, the Midget Monkey Girl, the Human Blockhead," which sounds like something straight out of David Lynch's The Elephant Man.
While Kubrick was reportedly pleased with the finished screenplay, he became sidetracked by his involvement in Spartacus and never returned to the project. Thompson’s completed screenplay, like Willingham’s Burning Child, was lost and wasn’t rediscovered until after Kubrick’s passing.
Kubrick’s son-in-law Philip Hobbs told the New York Times: “I remember Stanley talking about Lunatic. He was always saying he wished he knew where it was, because it was such a great idea.”
Around 2010-2011, filmmaker Stephen R. Clarke decided to take a stab at the project, which was to star Scarlett Johansson and Sam Rockwell, but for reasons yet to be disclosed, it never made any traction after this announcement.
The German Lieutenant
Following the heels of Paths of Glory, Kubrick was fixated with yet another anti-war concept. This time around, Kubrick wanted to take a look at World War II, and interestingly enough, he wanted tell a story from the German perspective. For this, Kubrick teamed with novelist and former paratrooper Richard Adams (famous for writing Watership Down) to draft a screenplay for what would become The German Lieutenant.
The film was set in 1945 in the flickering light of the war, and centered around 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, something that is widely viewed by the soldiers as a suicide mission.
While Kraus toys around with the idea of deserting, he ultimately decides to stay with Dietrich, who is ecstatically embraces the mission. However, right from the start, the mission goes awry. The soldiers are dropped during the daytime, instead of under the guise of darkness, which leads to many perishing in the process.
Despite their unfortunate circumstances, Dietrich is determined to destroy the bridge, even though Kraus questions the mission’s futility since German defeat seems inescapable.
By and by, the German soldiers are eventually taken prisoner and held in the center of the bridge by American forces, who are operating under the notion that the bridge has been wired to explode; although, there’s still enough doubt to leave them unsure. Dietrich persuades his men to keep their plan secret, and when the soldiers are eventually ordered off the bridge by their American captors, the bridge blows up.
Shifting into the denouement Kubrick shows us Dietrich in a monotonous postal service job following the war, implying that his last heroic stand was meaningless.
The story and its narrative angle are interesting, and Adams’ screenplay was completed (which you can read here), but Kubrick would end up abandoning the project due to lack of studio interest, allegedly going on to tell German producer Jan Harlan that he had no idea why he pursued this project.
However, in a 1959 interview with Film Quarterly’s Colin Young, Kubrick offered up 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.”
What do you think? Which of these unfinished Kubrick projects would you like to see made? We want to know. Share your thoughts and feelings in the comments section below, and as always, remember to viddy well!