If Jorge Luis Borges had equipped one of his realer-than-real alternate universes with a 16-screen megaplex cinema, the marquee would doubtless look something like the index of Chris Gore's The 50 Greatest Movies Never Made. To read Gore's litany of failed movie projects is to enter a Bizarro World of film history, in which Orson Welles is as prolific as Spielberg, and Disney and Dali are comrades in cartoons.
Ever since the Medved brothers compiled their Golden Turkey books in the 1980s, an entire subgenre has evolved on the subject of bad and bizarre movies that actually got made. Gore's book is the flipside: movie ideas that were shelved before or during production. Some are legendary, like the aborted Marilyn Monroe vehicle Something's Gotta Give. Others may have been canned for good reason for instance, Swirlee, about a mob boss with an ice-cream cone for a head. All are tantalizing glimpses of a movie heritage that never was.
Most tantalizing are the unrealized projects of cinema giants. On hand are such celluloid phantoms as Josef von Sternberg's unfinished Roman epic I, Claudius, in which Charles Laughton reputedly gave the performance of his career; and Sergei Eisenstein's adaptation of An American Tragedy. From these early follies Gore progresses to amazing what-ifs such as the Alfred Hitchcock-James Stewart thriller The Blind Man, an Ingmar Bergman Merry Widow, and a Stanley Kubrick Napoleon that would've starred you guessed it Jack Nicholson.
Not that all the projects the book cites are so lofty. If you've ever longed for a cinematic death match between the acid-blooded Alien and the armor-plated Predator, you can read Gore's book and dream. Comic-book yarns, movie parodies, a Roger Rabbit sequel set in wartime the author greets each with enthusiasm and a movie nut's righteous indignation that he'll never get to see them.
The founder of Film Threat magazine and a burr in Hollywood's side for the better part of a decade, Gore uses his premise as a platform for diatribes against tight-fisted moneymen, studio philistines, and a cookie-cutter production process that crushes creativity. In some cases say, a senior citizens' Animal House directed by Jerry Lewis it's hard not to side with the suits. And one project Gore describes, a movie about Orson Welles's famed pro-union stage production The Cradle Will Rock, has indeed been filmed by director Tim Robbins for release this year by a major studio, at that. If a similar fate were to befall every wildcat project listed in The 50 Greatest Movies Never Made, film history would be a lot more interesting.
Jim Ridley writes about movies for the Nashville Scene.