Alfred Hitchcock nearly made a Titanic movie

Arne Mjåland

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Oct 21, 2001
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Here is a bit from the obituary about Alfred Hitchcock (1899 - 1980):
"Selznik had hired Hitchcock in the wake of the success with "Gone With The Wind", the film whetting public appetite for costume dramas and Gothic romances. While Hitchcock had agreed to work with Selznik on a film about the Titanic distaster, after arriving in Holywood, he found himself assigned to the film adaption of "Rebecca".
I read in the book "The films of Alfred Hitchcock" written by Patrick Humphries 1986 this:
"Hitchcock had been receiving overtures from the film mogul David O. Selznick (he had been friendly with his brother Myron Selznick in London in the1920s), and was now committed to go to Holywood to undertake a film about the sinking of the Titanic, which sadly was never made. One can only speculate how Hitchcocks version of the sinking of the most famous liner the world has ever known would have been fared. Roy Bakers film about the Titanic. A Night to Remember (1958) was a workmanlike effort, with the actual sinking spectacularly handled, but one longed for some Hitchcockian vignettes to elevate the subject. It is known that Hitchcock planned to open his film with a shot of one reveal the massive bulk of the ship."
In my opinion the Hitchcock Titanic movie would have been one of the most remarkable movies in last century. The horror of the sinking could easily have been made 10 times worse by Hitchcock.Millions of people watching the film would have been frightened to death. Do anybody know if there is kept a manus/plan for this movie somewhere?
Also Spielberg, who made "Schindlers List" could also probably made a remarkable Titanic movie. I do not know if Spielberg still makes movies.
 
Apr 11, 2001
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There was a reference to the nearly- made film recently on AMC Backstory- he ended up making the Oscar-winning REBECCA that year instead. It is something I should like to know more about, being a great fan of his films. Shall we investigate? The ET Braintrust must be ready for a new quest!
 
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Arne- have been scouting around for more info on this almost-made film. Too bad we did not know about University of Southampton's 3 day conference in JULY 2000 called NIGHTS TO REMEMBER- Memory, Modernity and Myths about the Titanic. A man named Charles Barr from the U. of East Anglia gave a 14 page paper on this Hitchcock project. Also learned that Selznick had trouble "finding a ship to sink-" and that coupled with impending war and HEAVY protest from the shipping lines squashed the project Here is an article about it in the Bombay Press- hope these links will work. One is about the conference, the other is the newspaper article.
http://www.expressin dia.com/ie/daily/199 80411/10150994.html

http://www.soten.ac. uk/~film/titanic.htm
 

Arne Mjåland

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Oct 21, 2001
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Thank you Shelley that you made the efforts to find this. Please try to find out more.
I could just imagine Alfred Hitchcock playing Isidor Straus sitting in a deckchair waiting for the end during his usual one minute entry he made in every of his movies. But that was perhaps impossible, as the master himself was probably never among them who lost their lives later in the movie?
 
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Have located Charles Barr and hope to have the text of his Hitchcock Titanic film seminar paper today. Also found a man in Florida who specializes in Hitchcock items-especially scripts-named Chafin, who is trying to get us a copy of the unmade script. Stay tuned. What I want to see is the CASTING list for the characters!The game's afoot Watson!
 
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In Donald Spoto's "The Dark Side of Genius: The Life of Alfred Hitchcock", Spoto quotes from a private letter which Hitch wrote to him (ie Spoto) in August 1977, some 40 years after the event:

"I remember thinking that the only way to make it cinematic would be to start the opening credits on a tight close-up of a huge rivet on the side of the ship. The camera would then dolly back as the credits roll - slowly, very slowly - and two hours later the audience would at last see the whole ship in a long shot and I would flash the words THE END. Nothing really struck me as very interesting."

(Plexus Publishing Limited, 1994, page 180)

If this is right, perhaps Hitchcock was less interested in this project than was earlier thought.


bob
 
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The good Professor from East Anglia sent his opus on the subject and it is an eyeful. Apparently this unmade film has enchanted many writers. Am digesting the entirety of this 12 page seminar paper and will post later. Spoto IS used as reference several times. In a footnote given here by Mills (The Titanic in Pictures, Chesham, England, Wordsmith 1995) Hitch refers to the pressure of making the film in FILM WEEKLY interview:"The shipping companies are trying to prevent me making the picture. They seem to think that if I recapture all the horror and violence of the situation it will stop people from going on cruises." Bill MacQuitty quotes the same situation in regards to making ANTR. Arthur Houghton, an American diplomat, reports a tense meeting that he attended in Sept 1938 along with Hitch and representatives of the ship owners.
 
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Swimsuit excitement no doubt will take many past this thread but perhaps we old duckies remember Hitch with a flutter of appreciation. The professor from East Anglia actually put together a 10 minute mini-Titanic flick made up of clips from Hitch's other movies for the seminar in Southampton. Called "Ten Minute Titanic" it began with waves and rocks (The Manxman) then a couple entering a cabin (Champagne) another fail to get a cabin (Foreign Correspondent) another embarks on a ship (Rich and Strange) a deck scene (The Pleasure Garden and Hitch home movies) a man looks out to sea from a porthole ( Downhill) a ship is in a collision with water running under the door , escape from a porthole (Rich and Strange)stormy night on deck (Foreign Correspondent)man rescuing woman from the water (Number Seventeen) ship sinks, funnels go beneath the waves (Lifeboat) Rescue ship steams over the horizon (Foreign Correspondent). So Hitch would seem to have had quite a fixation on boats and ships. Remember Tippi Heddren's attack in the open boat as she is crossing the bay in The Birds? Well more later on what Prof. Barr feels is the reason the project was an attractive prospect.
 

Pat Cook

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Apr 27, 2000
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Dearest Lovely Shelly,

Ah, some of us are still stopping here first.

I, too, had heard that 'Hitch' was very interested in making a movie about the Titanic. In fact, I was wondering if his interest may have begun way back when he shot "Saboteur" (I believe that was the name of it). It opens with a ship sinking and the villian of the piece driving off, smiling (if I remember correctly). The story behind this, from what I've heard, was that Alfred heard about this foundering ship near a harbor and rushed his crew down to film it. Then, later, he used this footage for his movie.

Fondly yours, despite pool pix,
Cook
 
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Ah, my faith in mankind is redeemed! Yes, the story of Hitch and the harbor scene is true-he never was one to let dramatic footage go unexploited- the shot of Normandie after the fire lying on her side like a beached whale in New York was also worked into Saboteur. There was some concern on Hitch's part that the element of suspense-which was his signature- would be hard to pull off as the Titanic's outcome was known to all and the end of the film was a foregone conclusion. Professor Barr points out that this proposed film was attractive as the public eye was fascinated with the recent spectacular events of the Hindenberg, the broadcast of Orson Welles' The War of the Worlds which resulted in national alarm unprecedented, and the Welles film made in England in 1936 THINGS TO COME, about aerial bombardment. The interest in these disaster venues parallel the fears and political tension brewing in Europe at the time. Dr. Barr also sites the number of popular films at the time which display the class system prevalent in Britain- Goodbye Mr. Chips acually mentions the sinking of Titanic. All the eccentricities of the aristocracy are displayed-and their behavior in The Lady Vanishes which Barr says is like Titanic set on a train where the characters, faced with disaster, behave like either heroes or cowards.Now the exciting bit- in an interview in Rolling Stone in 1976 Hitch says about the unmade film: " I wanted to go to a card table where 4 men were playing poker, go close to the whiskey and soda...the level is changing in the glass you see...We might go down in the kitchen and I'd see a chef is puting the final touches to a beautiful cake with a pastry bag. And the audience would say,"Don't bother-it's never going to be eaten! The ship is going down!" So it is the kind of helpless suspense where the audience wants to leap into the screen and change events. Hitch used that ploy often in many films-I recall Rear Window was one where I wanted to DO something! ANTR used some of those VERY scenes Hitch described in the kitchen and card table! Well- more later... fascinating stuff.
 
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A screenplay exists apparently but no movie script. Wilson Mitzner and Carl Harbraugh did a screeplay for RKO and Howard Hughes. The Selznick papers are housed at the University of Texas at Austin (a quest for you Cookie darlin') and there is an article about all this in the University's Library Chronicler. English novelist Richard Blaker, in collaboration with Val Lewton and imput from Selznick were engaged to put together the script. On November 18, 1938 Blaker handed in a 22-page treatment which Selznick liked.It opens with the building of the ship and ends with the launch of a sister-ship-and the middle-well, it centers on personal stories including "a young couple in love"- Sound familiar? More later- including the involvement of Joseph Kennedy.Thanks Professor Barr and Jack Eaton- who just published an article on this very subject in VOYAGE 38.
 
Jan 29, 2001
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Jeremy: To my knowledge the only reference to TITANIC, from the Hitchcock era, was an episode in which a look-out on-board LUSITANIA, spotted a drifting lifeboat with a sole survivor. The lifeboat was labeled TITANIC. -Moving forward- The LUSITANIA is sunk, the sole survivor rescued from the TITANIC lifeboat is saved, once again by a passing vessel...the ANDREA DORIA.
I viewed it in the 60's, but do not recall if it were Hitchcock, Twilight Zone, or perhaps Night Gallery. My best guess is that it was...."Welcome to the Night Gallery" (Rod Serling).

Michael Cundiff
NV, USA
 
Hi Michael -

I was referring to the planned 1940 film that Hitchock and Selznick were planning. The one that didn't get made with Rebecca being the replacement.

I think that Hitch/Selz looked at a ship to use as the set.

Am wondering if any notes or treatment or a full screenplay exist.

Jeremy
 

Bob Godfrey

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Nov 22, 2002
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Selznik considered buying the Leviathan from the breaker's yard, towing the ship out to sea and sinking it for the cameras, rather like the fate of the Ile de France in The Last Voyage. But he thought better of it when a scrap value of nearly a million dollars was quoted, especially when Hitchcock helpfully pointed out that they'd have only one chance of a take and it was not unknown for cameras or lights to fail at the vital moment! I don't think much thought had been given to the treatment, but it's rumoured that Hitch planned to open with a spectacular tracking shot starting with a giant close-up of a rivet and pulling back to reveal the whole ship.

[Moderator's Note: This post and the three above it, originally posted as a separate thread, have been moved to the pre-existing one discussing the same subject. JDT]