Evil Ash checking in again.
This is the first in a series of articles that will focus on films that never were. Projects by revered filmmakers that got off the ground, but never got off the runway and took flight. It’s basically a series of “what if” articles, that I hope you’ll enjoy and comment on. These never completed film projects all had firm commitments, and in most cases, working scripts. Financing was in place for the majority of these undertakings, and actors and directors were lined up. Yet, for various reasons that you are soon to read, these projects never saw their full realization. First up in this multi-part series is a proposed work by the Master of Suspense himself, Alfred Hitchcock, and his never filmed 1960 project The Blind Man.
1960 was a very good year for legendary auteur Alfred Hitchcock. He was coming off of back-to-back smash hits with North By Northwest (1959) and Psycho (1960). North By Northwest, widely considered one of Hitchcock’s masterworks, grossed almost $10,000,000 on a $4,000,000 budget. Psycho, on a shoestring budget of $800,000, made over $32,000,000 worldwide and was universally acclaimed; sending Hitchcock’s career into the stratosphere.
At this point, Hitchcock could write his own ticket and do anything he wanted. What did he want to do next? Re-team with North By Northwest screenwriter Ernest Lehman and make a thriller set in California’s Disneyland! The premise of the script was that blind jazz pianist “Jimmy Shearing” – in a role that was supposed to be played by Jimmy Stewart – regains his sight after surgically receiving the eyes of a dead man. While watching the Wild West show at Disneyland with his family, Shearing begins to have visions of being shot. He soon realizes that the dead man – whose eyes he has – was actually murdered, and the image of the murderer is still imprinted on the retina of his new baby blues!
Lehman and Hitchcock were both excited by the prospect of tying in a Hitchcock movie to the relatively new (opened in 1955), and insanely popular Disneyland. Jimmy Stewart’s character would be loosely based on blind jazz pianist George Shearing, and Stewart had already verbally committed to the project. the director and his writer would speak on the phone several times while Hitchcock and his wife Alma were taking a post-Psycho vacation in Copenhagen.
They were both anxious to move forward, and Lehman officially signed on to the project in December 1960. Part of the proposed action would be a cat and mouse chase between the musician and the killer that takes place throughout Disneyland’s Fantasyland. Shearing, soon realizes the killer is a man that he had previously met at Disneyland, and in the film’s climax, the two would fight to the death aboard the RMS Queen Mary. All of this would have been quintessential Alfred Hitchcock! Of course, there would be problems, and the first of these problems would be a man named Walt Disney.
Let’s just say that Walt Disney was no fan of Alfred Hitchcock. When the man who started the House of Mouse read in the daily trades that Hitchcock was planning to make a film that took place in his beloved Disneyland, he was none too pleased. Disney said publicly that Psycho was “disgusting” and that he would never let his kids watch a movie like that (I really don’t think Psycho was meant for kids). Further, he stated that he would NEVER let Hitchcock shoot a movie in Disneyland. I believe it was at this point that Hitchcock and Lehman switched the central setting from Disneyland to an around-the-world cruise liner.
On top of the issues with Walt Disney, Jimmy Stewart had over-committed himself; and when he realized that there was production trouble with Hitchcock’s latest project, he was forced to drop out of the film (he was not yet contractually obligated). Inevitably, Lehman and Hitchcock were unable to resolve the plot differences, and Lehman broke his contract and dropped out of the picture.
The ending of The Blind Man had Shearing defeating the killer, yet – in a fit of brutal irony – having acid thrown in his face; rendering our hero blind again. Just the way he was when the movie started. A Hitchcock ending if ever there was one. Hitchcock vowed never to speak to his collaborator Ernest Lehman again; and they didn’t for 16 years until they got together again on 1976’s Family Plot, Hitchcock’s final film. It’s staggering to think what Hitchcock’s most ambitious film to date would have looked like. One can only imagine that Bernard Hermann, who had scored the iconic soundtracks to North By Northwest, Vertigo & Psycho, would have been back as well.
Alfred Hitchcock’s next film wouldn’t be for another 3 years when The Birds would come out in 1963. During his hiatus, he would sit down for a historical 50-hour interview with fellow director Francois Truffaut, which would eventually be transcribed and published as the “Hitchbook” in 1967. His anthology series Alfred Hitchcock Presents was also in full swing on the CBS Network. After The Birds, you can make the case that Hitchcock’s remaining films were never up to the level of his masterpieces. As much as I love Marnie, I tend to agree.
Alfred Hitchcock would pass away from liver failure in Bel Air in 1980 at the age of 80. His career is unmatched, and it’s a shame we never got to see his fully-realized vision of The Blind Man.
With that said, all is not lost! Ernest Lehman’s unfinished screenplay of The Blind Man was finally completed in 2015 by British writer/director/actor Mark Gatiss (Professor Lazarus from a GREAT 2007 episode of Doctor Who) and adapted for the radio by producer Laurence Bowen. Bowen had discovered Lehman’s unfinished script at a research institute in Texas, along with handwritten correspondence and notes that had been exchanged between Hitchcock and Lehman. In this version of the story, famous blind jazz pianist, Larry Keating, agrees to a radical new eye transplant surgery.
The operation is successful, but he now has the eyes of a murdered man, with the image of his murderer burned onto his retina. Larry and his nurse “Jenny” begin a quest to track down the murderer before he kills again. The always fantastic Hugh Laurie plays Larry Keating, and the cast includes Rebecca Front and Peter Serafinowicz, who narrates the story as Alfred Hitchcock (perfect). You can listen to the entire BBC production below.
The BBC Radio production of The Blind Man was part of their “Unmade Movies” series, which was a season of radio adaptions that consisted of unfinished screenplays by the major authors and directors of the 20th century. They included works by Harold Pinter, Arthur Miller, Orson Welles, and – of course – Alfred Hitchcock and Ernest Lehman. The finished script doesn’t sound or “feel” like a typical Hitchcock film, but it’s still worth a listen, if only for historical reasons. We’ll be revisiting the Unmade Movies series again in the future.
Next week we head for Corsica, and what could have been…
Sound off Outposters and let me know what you think!
Hugh “Evil Ash” Feinberg