CineSavant Column

Saturday April 6, 2019


I’ve received a review copy of Joseph McBride’s new book and have begun reading — so far it’s quite promising. McBride wrote a book back in the early 1990’s about the famous director Frank Capra. Called Frank Capra, The Catastrophe of Success, it aimed to correct the myths presented as fact in Capra’s career- embellishing 1971 autobiography The Name Above the Title, that we all took as gospel back in Film School.

This new book Frankly: Unmasking Frank Capra is McBride’s personal account of the legal struggle that was required for The Catastrophe of Success to be published — archives and Capra’s family fought for years to keep it suppressed. McBride promises that Frankly will be illuminate truths about Hollywood but also our society’s unwillingness to publish the truth about any famous or powerful person. With the kind of power wielded by corporate publishing concerns, McBride thinks that in practical terms our First Amendment rights may be a myth.

On another front, CineSavant advisor Gary Teetzel is reading a book about 2001: A Space Odyssey, and hit us with the following report a couple of days ago:

“I’m reading the book Space Odyssey by Michael Benson, and learned some interesting facts about early casting possibilities. Keir Dullea was set as Dave Bowman from the start. For Dr. Heywood Floyd, the names bandied about at this stage included Joseph Cotton, Henry Fonda, Robert Montgomery, Robert Ryan and George C. Scott. It’s not easy to picture the bombastic Scott playing a low-key part like Dr. Floyd.

I was surprised to learn that some big names were considered for the part of Moonwatcher, the primordial man-ape who figures out tool/weapon use. Among those considered: Gary Lockwood, Albert Finney, Jean-Paul Belmondo, and Kubrick’s favorite for the part, Robert Shaw. Kubrick actually wrote to Shaw about it:

“Without wanting to seem unappreciative of your rugged and handsome countenance, I must observe that there appears to be an incredible resemblance” (between Shaw and an illustration of a Neanderthal!)

Robert Shaw’s response is not known. Try to imagine Finney, Belmondo or Shaw as an apeman tossing a bone in the air triumphantly.

Kubrick had already been exposed to two actors that were eventually cast. At the start of the project Kubrick considered adapting a BBC Radio serial called Shadow on the Sun, about a strange meteor coming to Earth at the same time that the sun seems to be darkening. A virus is unleashed making humans able to stand the cold, and eliminating sexual inhibitions. One of the stars was William Sylvester. Clarke talked Kubrick out of his enthusiasm for this radio play. Sadly, I can’t find it online, if any tapes of it survive.

Also, Kubrick was impressed by the special effects of Universe, a Canadian film about space made for the World’s Fair. It was narrated by… Douglas Rain.

The biggest shock, though, is a section of the book where Kubrick’s production company sold the project to MGM. The contract lists potential directors, which, aside from Kubrick, also included Alfred Hitchcock, David Lean and Billy Wilder!   It’s pretty well impossible to imagine Billy Wilder’s 2001: A Space Odyssey!

Oh, is it?

Thanks to Charlie Largent for his graphic assist.

And thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson