Whittier told us, “For of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these: ‘It might have been!’” But it is only half true. What if one of the things that might have been was a movie with Jerry Lewis as a clown in a Nazi concentration camp? What if there had been a movie sequel to _Casablanca_? These are “might have beens” about which we can be anything but sad. These two examples are anomalies, though, included in _The Greatest Movies You’ll Never See: Unseen Masterpieces by the World’s Greatest Directors_ (Cassell Illustrated), edited by Simon Braund. All of these movies were proposed, planned, and may even have been in production, but they are movies that we can only dream about seeing. Some of them had the potential to have been masterworks, and so there is a Whittier-tinged regret over most of the chapters, but the stories of what was proposed and what went wrong are often amusing and surprising.
Let’s clear up that Jerry Lewis movie first. Unlike the other films described here, _The Day the Clown Cried_ isn’t imaginary. It exists. It was made in 1972, and a few people have been shown the rough cut, but it is supposed to be worse than you can imagine. The sequel to _Casablanca_ was written and even casted, and it would have turned the original on its head, revealing that Rick had been a secret agent all along. But let’s get serious. What movie fan wouldn’t want to see the thriller _No Bail for the Judge_ starring Audrey Hepburn and Laurence Harvey, directed by Alfred Hitchcock? It had a dark, humorous script, and was set in Britain, to which the director wanted to return when the film was being contemplated in 1958. Both Hepburn and Hitchcock longed to work together, and it isn’t clear why it didn’t come to pass (stories clash), but perhaps Hitchcock’s tiring of big-budget Technicolor movies was part of it. What he did go on to make was the low-budget, black-and-white _Psycho_, so perhaps we should be happy that Judge never happened. There are many such contingencies here. Charlie Chaplin thought himself up to playing Napoleon in the 1920s, and even had Alistair Cooke to co-write a script. It morphed over years into a fiction project about Napoleon and his doppelganger. It never happened, but the seeds of the plot, a world leader and his double, bore fruit when Chaplin wanted to attack Hitler and anti-semitism in _The Great Dictator_ of 1940. What if Louis Malle had been a little faster in 1982 with _Moon Over Miami_, a comedy starring Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi, fresh off success in _The Blues Brothers_? It was a comedy based on the Abscam scandal, and had a lot going for it, except Belushi died of a cocaine and heroin overdose. Malle was to speculate that if the script had been ready, it would have saved Belushi’s life. It might have been, indeed. Orson Welles is here, over and over; he must be the patron saint of lost films. There is Kubrick’s film of Napoleon, the most heavily researched of films, and with planned thousands of soldiers fighting on the actual battlefields of history. And, golly, how I would have paid gladly to have seen Steven Spielberg’s _The Trial of the Chicago Seven_ with Sacha Baron Cohen, Heath Ledger, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Will Smith, and Kevin Spacey. Rats.
There are patterns of problems: illnesses, deaths, endless cycles of rewrites, and of course the crises of getting money. The stories are often funny, full of the foibles of players who are rich, obsessive, or egotistical. Braund has written some of the chapters here, but he has sixteen contributors and their work is surprisingly uniform and droll throughout. Each movie gets around four pages, including a tantalizing poster; these are expertly done by a crew of designers, each poster evoking the style of the time the movie would have come out. Each movie has a rating of the likelihood that it might in some form come to a theater near you some day. It’s fun to think that might happen, but for most of these films, they are irrevocably lost dreams.