Missing Movies: On The Shelf

Last week’s twin announcements that Kenneth Lonergan’s film Margaret would see release after some six years of post-production hassles and law suits and the discovery of some of Alfred Hitchcock’s earliest film work brought to mind the number of films that are missing or just plain unavailable for viewing today. Over the next several weeks and perhaps even months, we’re going to take a look at a number of these films and why they are unavailable today. Today, we’ll take a look at three films that have been shot, but never released to be seen by the general public. Instead they remain sitting, waiting on a shelf somewhere for whatever issues that have prevented their release to be finally resolved. We have previous discussed perhaps the most famous of these shelved films, Jerry Lewis’s clown in a concentration camp story The Day The Clown Cried, at length here. But here are three other films that have never officially been released.

A Woman Of The Sea (Directed by Josef Von Sternberg) – Chaplin produced this film as a starring vehicle for his former leading lady Edna Purviance, hiring the recently emigrated German director Von Sternberg after being impressed Von Sternberg’s 1924 experimental film The Salvation Hunters. The film shot for three months, including 12 days of location work in Montery and Carmel California. Due to problems encountered with the production of his own starring vehicle, The Circus, also in production at the same time, Chaplin was unable to give too much attention to what Von Sternberg was doing. When he saw the final cut of the film, Chaplin deemed it unreleasable. The few of Chaplin’s associates who had the opportunity to screen the film have reportedly concurred with his assessment. The film sat on a shelf until 1933 when it was reportedly destroyed as part of a deal with the US Internal Revenue Service. There was some indication that a copy may have survived in Chaplin’s archives for a few years afterwards, though there is no print in the archives currently.

The film’s story has a decades-later postscript. In 2006, a cache of over 50 previously unseen stills were discovered being held by Purviance’s relatives. (The actress had died in 1958. A Woman Of The Sea was her last film.) The photos were combined with some also discovered production material and published in 2008 under the title of the film’s production title The Sea Gull. The book is available through a website dedicated to actress run by her family.

The Other Side Of The Wind (Directed by Orson Welles) – Although Orson Welles is responsible for one of the greatest American films, the director often encountered problems realizing film projects later in life and The Other Side Of The Wind is perhaps the most notorious due to how close to completion it is rumored to be.

In some ways the film is similar to Citizen Kane in that it opens with the lead character’s death, in this case filmmaker Jake Hannaford (John Huston) and tells the man’s story through a series of flashbacks. But where Kane was based on newspaper mogul William Randolph Hurst, his protagonist here was actually based on Ernest Hemingway. And here, the flashbacks take the form of video and film footage shoot by journalists visiting the set of his most recent film and by guests at his 70th birthday party. The film also stars Susan Strasberg and had appearances by Dennis Hopper, Paul Mazursky, Henry Jaglom and Claude Chabrol.

As was the case with many of Welles later productions, filming was done in fits and starts between 1969 and 1976 as financing became available. The monetary woes on this film were further complicated by a European investor in the film who embezzled some $250,000 from an Iranian investment group headed by Mehdi Bouscheri, the brother-in-law of the Shah who had put up much of the money for the production. This lead to a deterioration of the relationship between Welles and the Iranians who refused to pay Welles to edit the film and tried to reduce Welles’ share of any potential profits. Welles tried to drum up other sources of financing but was mostly unsuccessful. He did some editing on his own in-between the acting jobs he needed to take to pay the bills and by 1979 he had approximately 40 minutes edited.

Welles passed away in 1985 with the film not much further towards completion than it was in 1979. Although his will gave ownership and artistic control to all of his unfinished projects, including The Other Side Of The Wind, to his longtime mistress and collaborator Oja Kodar, Welles’s daughter Beatrice, from his marriage to Paola Mori, has made numerous, unsuccessful legal attempts to claim the film as her own. More recently, Welles’ friend and biographer director Peter Bogdanovich has stated that much of the legal quagmire that the film had been stuck in has been cleared up and that he hopes to finish the editing of the film based on extensive notes left behind by the director. While we’re waiting for that to actually happen, we do have a couple of scenes that Welles had roughly assembled and which he screened in February 1975 when he received an AFI Lifetime Achievement Award. A couple of additional edited scenes have been released as part of documentaries on Welles. They offer a fascinating glimpse at a movie we may never see. (The second clip below, which is a scene from the finm-within-the-film directed by Huston’s character may be NSFW as it features Kodar and Bob Random having sex in a station wagon driven by actor Robert Aiken.)

Fantastic Four (Directed by Oley Sassone) – No one sets out to make a film hoping that it will never be seen. No one, that is, except producer Bernd Eichinger, the man behind the 1992 comic book adaptation, The Fantastic Four.

Eichinger bought the film rights to the Marvel Comics characters in 1986, and one of the stipulations of the contract stated that a film must be in production by December 31, 1992 or else the right would revert back to Marvel. As the years passed and that deadline suddenly loomed, Eichinger hit upon a strategy that would enable him to keep the rights, which had become more valuable thanks to the recent success of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Tim Burton Batman films. Approaching famed exploitation producer Roger Corman to make the film through his Concorde Pictures, Eichinger was planning on meeting his contractual obligation as cheaply as possible. If the film was any good, he could release it. If not, he could shelve it and continue to try and get a major studio interested in bankrolling a biger-budgeted version.

With only a $1.5 million budget (down from a promised $3 million) and only four weeks to shoot, director Oley Sassone (Bloodfist III: Forced To Fight) and his cast and crew managed to put together a film that might not have been on the quality level of Batman, but certainly displayed a willingness to make do with the best of what little they had to work with. But despite their best efforts, including the cast enthusiastically promoting the project in the fan press and at conventions, Eichinger bought the film’s negative back from Concorde for $1 million and shelved it. That decision might have been motivated by the fact that a short time later in August 1994 it was announced that Chris Columbus would be directing a Fantastic Four film for 20th Century Fox with Eichinger as a producer. The project would take another 11 years to reach the screen (Fox ponied up to renew the film rights option in 1999) and would cycle through directors Peter Segal and Raja Gosnell before arriving in mutiplexes under the aegis of director Payton Reed in 2005. It was followed by the sequel Rise Of The Silver Surfer two years later. Neither were all that good.

And while Fox is currently working on developing a new cinematic version of the comic the original version isn’t as hidden from view as Eichinger would perhaps like as bootleg copies have floated around fandom almost immediately after it was shelved.

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About Rich Drees 7078 Articles
A film fan since he first saw that Rebel Blockade Runner fleeing the massive Imperial Star Destroyer at the tender age of 8 and a veteran freelance journalist with twenty-five years experience writing about film and pop culture. He is a member of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle.
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