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Best movie never made


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I have read, in various places, that back in the 1930's or 40's the producers Powell and Pressburger were making the movie version of 'I Claudius' with Charles Laughton. The production was underway and they even had some film in the can. Then production was stopped and the project abandoned. What the hell happened ? I believe there was a documentary made about this. I wish TCM would show it and put me out of my misery. What a classic that would have been. Maybe it got to big.

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Unfortunately, the only way to get this 71-minute documentary is by buying the high-priced 13-part DVD called "I, Claudius (1977)" from digitaleyes.com (best price) for about $60.00. This 740-minute DVD includes that documentary "The Epic That Never Was." I would also keep checking with TCM scheduling to see if it might be shown in the future. Or, if you're very enterprising, you can check with your local rental stores for a copy, but it could be hard to find I'm sure...

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I have read, in various places, that back in the 1930's or 40's the producers Powell and Pressburger were making the movie version of 'I Claudius' with Charles Laughton. The production was underway and they even had some film in the can. Then production was stopped and the project abandoned. What the hell happened ? I believe there was a documentary made about this. I wish TCM would show it and put me out of my misery. What a classic that would have been. Maybe it got to big.

 

Actually, it was being directed by American director Josef von Sternberg, and produced by British-based Hungarian producer Alexander Korda, for his London Films at the now-long-gone Denham Studios. Co-starring Merle Oberon (Korda's wife) as Messalina, and actor-playwright Emlyn Williams as emperor-in-waiting Caligula, it was star-crossed from the beginning.

 

As the documentary explains, Laughton was having great difficulty "finding" the heart and soul of the character, Emperor Claudius I, and filming was proceeding at the proverbial snail's pace. Ironically, at the moment Laughton claimed to have finally connected with Claudius's interior motivations (supposedly from listening to a recording of King Edward VIII's abdication speech from the year before; Korda was unconvinced), Oberon was involved in a serious car crash that required a long hospitalization, and Korda pulled the plug on production.

 

Yes, it would've been fascinating, but Robert Graves's novel I, Claudius (from Suetonius) was too massive, intricate and ambitious to be easily tamed for the cinema, anyway. The BBC production got it right.

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Thank you both for the information and for taking the time to reply.

For some reason I had it in my head that it was Powell and Pressburger who were making the movie. I don't know why I made that association. Anyway.......

 

It's a shame that none of the Hollywood studios never picked up on it. And whittling down Robert Graves' 2 books into a 2 or 3 (or 4) hour movie would have been very difficult.

 

Now if this movie had been made in Hollywood, who do you think would have been cast in the various roles from the available talent pool of the time ? Ignoring the fact that most of these actors would have been contracted to different studios.....

 

Augustus - Cary Grant

Tiberius - Basil Rathbone

Caligula - James Cagney

Livia - Kathryn Hepburn

Claudius - Edward G. Robinson

Germanicus - Errol Flynn

Messalina - Bette Davis

Nero - Orson Welles

 

Maybe.

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And speaking contracts, Is the studio contract system still in operation, or are all actors these days freelance. Is this a good thing or a bad thing. I guess each system has its upside and downside. There are lots of stories from the golden age of Hollywood days of actors hacking out lousy movies they did'nt want to make just to fullfill contractual obligations. On the other hand it offered some job security to the actors who were declining in popularity (I'll bet Lena Lamont was'nt the only one to wave her contract under the producers nose). I imagine big box office stars like Tom Hanks etc. can afford to be freelance. But would the legions of lesser actors whose future is uncertain prefer a contract ? Hell !, it's a regular job and a paycheck.

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I'm from both British and Italian descent, and it always amazes me that the roles of ancient Romans usually always go to British actors. This is the equivalent of white actors portraying blacks in black face. I know, it's the Shakespeare thing, but that's fine and dandy as long as it's a Shakespeare play. Not only do the British dominate the Roman movies, but also the Greek mythologies. Even HBO's newest show Rome has an all British cast.

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There's a reason for that, and it goes beyond the obvious that plummy British voices generally sound better speaking the pseudo-archaic dialogue that such films usually employ.

 

The British were succesors to the Romans in their imperial ambitions and outposts, and it informed their politics, language, architecture, use of their military, and outlook on life. Even today, the average Briton is still inculcated with those things, and it really does translate to how their actors portray Romans on the screen.

 

And whether Britons actually look like southern Italians is as irrelevant as whether FDR's dog was a Scottish Terrier or a Rottweiler.

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I don't know about that. I doubt Americans think to cast Brits because of their high school history teacher telling them about the British empire's resemblance to the Roman empire. Hitler modeled the Reich after the Roman empire, and I've never seen a German Julius. Outside Shakespeare, Brits playing Romans on film and TV is strictly a 20th century thing, obviously, so I don't think it's a historical reason. It's probably because Italians are reserved to play mafia roles and they don't want to confuse folks by casting them as Romans too. I wonder how long it will be till the Brits take over those roles too. Having said that, I can't wait to see The Sopranos tonight.

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MattHelm/CineSage

 

This is very interesting. I think you both basically agree with each other, but are splitting hairs over minor details. Italians as mafia is definately 20th century Hollywood stereotyping (I use the term Hollywod to include the media in general).

I know many Americans of Italian descent, and only a few of them think they are in the Mafia.

 

Anyone with any knowledge of pre-20th century art and literature will know with what high reverence Italy was looked upon. No writer, poet or artist would consider their education complete without a pilgrimage to italy. For 2000 years Italy was the artistic, literary, religeous, scientific and cultural center of the universe. And of course the Pope lived there to. Britain was part of the Roman empire for over 400 years.

 

Then along comes mass media in the 20th century, and now the name Al Capone is more familiar to most Americans than Dante, or Marconi, or even Da Vinci.

 

As for continually casting British actors in the parts of classical Romans, I don't have an answer, maybe it is the traditional Shakespear thing. I would think that any decent actors be they British, Italian, American or Chinese could handle these roles.

 

You also have to remember that Movie executives and producers don't think like us regular people. You may think that they are in the business of making movies, you would be mistaken in thinking that. They are in the business of making money.

Movie making is not an art (with rare exceptions), it's a business. As any Mafia boss will tell you.

 

Regards

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I don't think it's really a big deal, but it's funny how people accept it as almost a norm to see Brits play Romans most of the time. I've never heard it questioned or reflected upon, even academically. It's odd that most every other ethnicity gets the politically correct treatment these days, but even commercials play up to the Italian stereotypes.

 

As for the I, Claudius topic, in many ways, The Sopranos is I, Claudius.

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Yes

 

Whether it be the Roman empire, the British empire, the Third Reich, the Mafia, or the bully on the school bus. They are all based on one simple principal -

 

'Give us what we want, or we'll kick your ****'.

 

It all makes for good movies though. Brotherly love is boring and has no value in the commercial marketplace. I have'nt seen many video games about Mahatma Gandhi (There was a good movie though).

 

Regards

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MattHelm,

Quote:

"I'm from both British and Italian descent, and it always amazes me..."

 

British? Italian? How does your Algonquian great-grandmother fit into that lineage?

 

BTW: If you think I am remembering your previous messages in way too much detail...spooky, isn't it?

 

Angora

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She was on my father's side and no one really knows much about her husband other than his name was Miner. I don't know if he died or just flew the coop, but no one ever talked about him. My grandmother married an Eye-talian, fresh off the boat. The Brits were on my mother's side, fresh off THE boat in 1620.

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well i hate that back during the contrct days, stars couldn't worked together. i would've love to see kate hepburn work with bette davis or joan crawford and kate hepburn. i wish that norma shearer had done old acquaintance like jack warner wanted because bette davis and her would've been awesome. it would've been nice to see bette davis in the arms of clark gable and i wonder how marilyn monroe would've been in the role of holly gollighty rather than audrey hepburn. did you know that kate hepburn wanted to work with garbo in mourning becomes electra. GARBO and BETTE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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Hepburn and Crawford were both under contract to MGM at the same time in the early 1940s. If the studio hahd had a project teaming them that they thought was viable, they'd have made it, but the executives obviously didn't see the need.

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You may be correct, but I think it was for the "other" more important reason. Why put two of your best leading ladies in the same film - they could each be working on separate films and you would have two box office successes ready at the same time.

 

Do you honestly think that the studio system really thought of the public? I think it was much more a matter of making money than making films with two top office draws.

 

xuxu3

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I remember in 1976 there was talk they were going to make a film about the late and great Judy Holliday and that the multitalented Madeline Kahn was set to play her. Unfortunately that project never happend. She did do a broadway revival of Born Yesterday, too bad she didn;t do the remak e of the film. Like Holliday the great Kahn dies of cancer. Maybe they will do a film of her life someday.

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You may be correct, but I think it was for the "other" more important reason. Why put two of your best leading ladies in the same film - they could each be working on separate films and you would have two box office successes ready at the same time.

 

Not only that, but some big actresses had contracts that specified that they got top billing and it was always a financial and legal headache when two starlets clashed over who'd give in and accept second billing. Also, two actresses of equal stature usually wouldn't want to star opposite each other. Look at the rivalries between Crawford/Shearer and Crawford/Davis and how the latter two only made a movie together when they were no longer big draws.

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...some big actresses had contracts that specified that they got top billing and it was always a financial and legal headache when two starlets clashed over who'd give in and accept second billing.

 

Some did, but mainly those who worked independently (say, a Carole Lombard, or Marlene Dietrich). Those under long-term contract rarely had that perk, though their studios did try to keep them happy. In the end, their objections were usually soothed by generous infusions of cash.

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