Almost as legendary as the films Stanley Kubrick did complete in his lifetime are the numerous projects that went unmade, but a few of those are getting a new lease on life. As you might recall, last spring, word surfaced that “Lunatic At Large” was headed toward the big screen with Scarlett Johansson and Sam Rockwell attached to star and Chris Palmer to direct. Not long after, “Downslope” and “God Fearing Man” joined ‘Lunatic’ on the production slate and then…nothing else was heard since.
Well, Thompson On Hollywood recently caught up with producer Steve Lanning who provided a brief update on “Lunatic At Large.” Firstly, if all goes according to plan, financing will be lined up in a matter of weeks with a production start being eyed in early 2012. Palmer is still attached to direct, however, Johansson and Rockwell at this point are “preferential” casting choices which more or less seems like code for “wishlist.” So if they don’t appear, don’t be shocked.
The film is based on a treatment by pulp author Jim Thompson (“The Grifters,” “The Killer Inside Me“) commissioned by Kubrick in the late 1950s, after working with the writer on “The Killing” and “Paths Of Glory.” Kubrick intended it to be his next project after “Spartacus” but at the time, the only copy of the manuscript was lost. After Kubrick’s death in 1999, his son-in-law and archivist Philip Hobbs found the manuscript among the director’s vast library (seriously, the guy never threw anything away).
Just one of many long lost Kubrick projects, the period set film is described as “a dark and surprising mystery” about which person among a group is “the true escapee from a nearby mental hospital.” Here’s are some details on the project from the NY Times from a 2006 article:
Set in New York in 1956, it tells the story of Johnnie Sheppard, an ex-carnival worker with serious anger-management issues, and Joyce, a nervous, attractive barfly he picks up in a Hopperesque tavern scene. There’s a newsboy who flashes a portentous headline, a car chase over a railroad crossing with a train bearing down, and a romantic interlude in a spooky, deserted mountain lodge.
The great set piece is a nighttime carnival sequence in which Joyce, 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, with the inevitable noggin full of nails.
As for the other two projects, they are still in the works. “Downslope” is being conceived as a massive $100m project set during the American Civil War following the activities of Mosby’s Rangers involving spies on both sides of the war. The anti-war film was written by Kubrick himself based on a short story by Civil War historian Shelby Foote. Though it was reported last year that A-list directors and talent were being sought for a European shoot this year, clearly, that hasn’t yet happened. Meanwhile, “God Fearing Man” also based on Kubrick script, is being fashioned into a TV series. The concept is based on the true story of a priest, Herbert Emerson Wilson, who became the biggest bank robber in America in the early 20th century. Again, like “Downslope,” reports last year suggested directors and cast were being sought for an imminent shoot, but that too hasn’t yet happened.
Brit screenwriter Stephen R. Clarke has been tapped to adapt all three screenplays and it remains unclear or closely (or not) they will follow Kubrick’s original treatments. While touting the words “unmade Kubrick” is a great way to attract attention to a project, as a commenter at Thompson On Hollywood rightly notes, an unmade Kubrick film by anybody else is still an unmade Kubrick film. These projects have all be in the works for years and while it’s tantalizing that they made get made giving us some idea of what Kubrick had in mind, we’re not exactly holding our breath that these will arrive anytime soon.