If Only…Cinematic Pipe Dreams, Rumours & Near Misses

September 17, 2019
From Wolverine appearing in the first Spider-Man movie to Jack White scoring The Lone Ranger, some interesting things have nearly happened in Hollywood.

Many, many great things have happened – and continue to happen – in the heady world of cinema. But there are also a lot of potentially fascinating things that could and should have happened, but that unfortunately, just didn’t quite get there. Sometimes, all that movie fans can say is, “If only…”

IF ONLY…CLINT EASTWOOD, LEE VAN CLEEF & ELI WALLACH HAD BEEN SHOT AT THE BEGINNING OF ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST

One of the western genre’s greatest rumours – bolted to various points of possible verification – has it that master Italian filmmaker, Sergio Leone, had dreamed of kicking off his 1968 masterpiece, Once Upon A Time In The West, with one almighty stunt. According to long-whispered scuttlebutt, Leone had wanted the actors from his previous film, The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly – Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef and Eli Wallach – to get gunned down in the opening sequence of Once Upon A Time In The West as a bullet-blasted farewell to his pioneering “Dollars Trilogy.” Though Eli Wallach says that he was never offered a role, Eastwood’s biographer, Richard Schickel, relates a story about Leone pitching the actor on the film. In Clint Eastwood: A Biography, Schickel says that Eastwood turned Leone down when he grew bored of the director’s highly detailed, interminable description of the film’s opening sequence. One thundering train of thought has frequently stopped at a station that has Eastwood getting confused by Leone’s halting English, and mistakenly believing that the director was offering him the lead role, when he was actually just selling him on a cameo. It would certainly explain why the director talked in such detail about that particular scene. Furthermore, in a 1987 interview, Leone asserted that Charles Bronson was always his first choice for the lead role. “I insisted on getting Bronson,” he said. “They thought that I’d lost my mind. But I was stubborn.” Did Clint Eastwood confusedly turn down what could have been a truly mighty movie cameo? Is that why Eli Wallach never got a call? Because the deal was already over? Aaaah…play that possible opening scene out in your head, pardners…

IF ONLY…QUENTIN TARANTINO HAD GOTTEN MORE ANIMATED ABOUT KILL BILL

If there’s one thing that writer/director, Quentin Tarantino, can do, it’s talk…especially about himself, and his own movies. He also likes to talk about what he’s got planned cinematically, but unfortunately, many of those plans (like his touted Reservoir Dogs/Pulp Fiction crossover movie starring Michael Madsen and John Travolta as The Vega Brothers) fail to fire. One thing that Tarantino has talked a lot about over the years is a big, exhaustive DVD/Blu-ray release for his crackling Kill Bill movies. Though publicly stating that he would stitch the two films together (as they had played when he debuted the film at The Cannes Film Festival), Quentin Tarantino has said that Kill Bill will essentially remain the same, except for one very exciting addition. “I’m not going to monkey around with the movie itself,” he told Screen Rant while in the middle of post-production on his 2009 WW2 epic, Inglourious Basterds, “but we’ve actually done a whole new section for the anime sequence. I wrote a much longer script for the anime section during O-Ren’s revenge chapter. Remember the guy with the long hair that kills her father? It’s like, what happened to that dude? Well, I wrote it, and it was the biggest, most elaborate thing that I wrote: her taking him down.” Set to be called Kill Bill: The Whole Bloody Affair, the much discussed DVD release is still yet to surface, though word of its possible existence still rumbles away hopefully on the internet. That’s not, however, the only chattering that Tarantino has done about Kill Bill, with the director also talking up two anime “origin” flicks (neither has been made), as well as a sequel. “The Bride will fight again,” he said hopefully on Italian TV…way back in 2009. With QT now loudly proclaiming that he will retire from directing when he completes his tenth film (namely, his next), the possibility of a Kill Bill continuation seems unlikely…at least on the big screen. Tarantino tinkered with 2015’s The Hateful Eight and turned it into a mini-series for Netflix, and is rumoured to be considering going the same route with his current hit Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, so maybe that’s where The Bride will fight again…in some form or another.

IF ONLY…STANLEY KUBRICK HAD DIRECTED HEATHERS    

“I was always a worshipper of Stanley Kubrick,” says screenwriter, Daniel Waters, in the DVD documentary, Swatch Dogs And Diet Coke Heads. “He worked in very specific genres, and he had a very high and mighty attitude. He was like, ‘I will do the last word in every genre.’” So naturally, when this young scripter locked off his high school black comedy, Heathers, he had his sights firmly set on the man behind masterpieces like A Clockwork Orange and 2001: A Space Odyssey to direct. “This would be the high school film,” Waters chuckles in the doco. “It had to be the final word in high school films.” With its vicious take on high school cliques, bullying, the teen class system, and the media’s bizarre handling of the issue of teenage suicide, Heathers was indeed a big, bold, daring and extremely weighty proposition, with Waters’ script clocking in at a whopping 265 pages. “The original script was much longer, but I thought that Stanley Kubrick was going to be directing it, and he can get away with a three-hours-and-twenty-minute movie,” Waters says self-deprecatingly. Though it’s not definitively known if Stanley Kubrick ever considered the project, this grand master’s take on the acidic teen satire of Heathers (the original script of which includes an epic final sequence that Waters describes literally as “a prom in Heaven”) would have truly been something to behold. That said, the end product – courtesy of debut director, Michael Lehmann – is still pretty damn fine itself. “I said to Daniel, ‘Look, if you can’t get Stanley Kubrick to direct this movie, then you should really look at getting me attached to direct it,’” Lehmann laughs in Swatch Dogs And Diet Coke Heads.

IF ONLY…THERE HAD BEEN A SEQUEL TO SIXTEEN CANDLES

One of the most important and defining times of anyone’s life is their adolescence, and late producer/director, John Hughes, remains one of that life-cycle period’s most astute observers. Though he enjoyed a long and fruitful career, Hughes will always and justifiably be best known for his run of teen films in the eighties, which included the classics, The Breakfast Club, Pretty In Pink, Weird Science, and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. While sequels were floated for some of these classics, the closest that a Hughes movie got to a follow up was his uproarious 1984 gut-buster, Sixteen Candles, which told of the trials and tribulations of much-put-upon teen, Samantha (Molly Ringwald), who has a milestone birthday that she’d rather forget in the much loved film. Ringwald herself was planning to produce a sequel to the film, but the actress came up against a rather considerable brick wall. “It was something that I definitely wanted to do, but John Hughes wasn’t interested,” Ringwald said in 2008. “I didn’t feel comfortable doing it without his involvement. If we can get John to agree, I think that it would be great. I think that there are definitely a lot of people who would love to see it, and I would love to do it. To me, the movie is eighties perfection, and let’s be honest for a sec…you know that you’d love to see what Long Duk Dong, the foreign exchange student, is up to nowadays!’” Always sequel-shy (“John didn’t want to have sequels to any of the movies that I was in,” Ringwald told The Tampa Bay Times), Hughes’ sad passing in 2009 most likely put an end to any follow ups to his films.

IF ONLY…MICKEY ROURKE AND STUART ROSENBERG HAD MADE MORE MOVIES TOGETHER

Directed with no-nonsense economy by the highly underrated Stuart Rosenberg (Cool Hand Luke, The Laughing Policeman, Brubaker), and filled with rich, vividly drawn characters, 1984’s The Pope Of Greenwich Village sings with a rare kind of streetwise poetry, and boasts bold-as-brass, career-best work from Mickey Rourke and Eric Roberts, as Charlie and Paulie, two Italian kinda-sorta cousins so macho and swaggering that they’re comfortable walking down the street arm in arm. Tough, funny and wonderfully off-the-wall, this cock-eyed near-masterpiece of the mid-eighties almost delectably served as the launching pad for an actor/director relationship that could have strutted the same hallowed turf as those of Martin Scorsese/Robert De Niro, John Carpenter/Kurt Russell and Tim Burton/Johnny Depp. Though notoriously difficult and headstrong, Mickey Rourke and director, Stuart Rosenberg, made beautiful cinematic music together on The Pope Of Greenwich Village, and both were keen to work together again. “Stuart Rosenberg is a genius,” Rourke said during production on the film. “I want to do ten movies with him. I knew that it would be hard to work on another film, because I’ve never liked anything as much as The Pope Of Greenwich Village.” Rosenberg, meanwhile, compared Rourke to the great John Garfield. But when he saw the final film, and clocked its poor box office returns, Rourke appeared to have gone cold on what could have been an incredible actor/director relationship. “The movie has problems,” Rourke says in Bart Mills’ 1988 biography, Mickey Rourke. “There are things about the movie that I like, and things that I have a lot of problems with. It was as good as possible under the circumstances.” Sadly, the potentially dynamic duo of Mickey Rourke and Stuart Rosenberg never worked together again.

IF ONLY…JACK WHITE HAD SCORED THE LONE RANGER

Though there’s actually a lot to like in the 2013 big budget western, The Lone Ranger (an inventive turn from Johnny Depp as Tonto, a pithy strain of revisionism, William Fichtner’s amusingly reprehensible villain, a slew of thrilling set pieces), the much maligned box office disaster is now cited as a creative misfire. But it could have been slightly more interesting if the production’s original score composer had remained in the proverbial saddle. Perhaps lured in by the chance to work on a project with the famously uber-cool Johnny Depp, singer/songwriter/guitarist, Jack White – the musical visionary behind indie rock heroes, The White Stripes, The Dead Weather, and The Raconteurs, as well as his own solo career – was originally slated to compose the score for The Lone Ranger. “We’re going to have a little rock’n’roll score, and I can’t wait to hear Jack’s rendition of ‘The William Tell Overture,’” producer, Jerry Bruckheimer, told Entertainment Weekly. Unfortunately, Jack White’s first complete film score (he’d previously written and performed songs for the film, Cold Mountain, as well as teaming with Alicia Keyes for the theme tune for Quantum Of Solace) never eventuated. “Jack White, who had originally been contemplated to score and has contributed several pieces of music to the production, was logistically unavailable due to scheduling conflicts that arose when the film’s release moved to July of 2013,” read an official statement from The Lone Ranger’s backer, Disney. In a decidedly safer move, White was eventually replaced by veteran film composer, Hans Zimmer, the maestro behind Disney’s and Jerry Bruckheimer’s hugely successful Pirates Of The Caribbean movies. We would have fought a seven nation army to hear Jack White’s score…

IF ONLY…DIVINE RAPTURE HAD BEEN FINISHED

With an actor as extraordinary and eccentrically gifted as Marlon Brando, every minute of screen time is to be savoured…even if they come in misfires like Free Money or The Island Of Dr. Moreau. This makes a collapsed film featuring the acting great even more disappointing. And when that collapsed film also starred Johnny Depp and Debra Winger, the disappointment stings twice as hard. In 1995, the cameras rolled on Divine Rapture, which was to tell the story of Mary (Winger), a machinist in a remote Irish village, who dies only to rise from her coffin during the funeral. The woman is heralded as a saint, although it turns out that she actually has a rare disorder that slows the heart-rate, and merely creates the appearance of death. Brando was signed to play a priest, with Depp on board as an investigating journalist. Though directed by the less-than-thrilling Thom Eberhardt (Captain Ron, Without A Clue), the film’s heavy-hitting cast and potentially fascinating subject matter make its ultimate dissolution a truly sad case of poor judgement and movie-making malfeasance. With the small Irish town of Ballycotton chosen as the production’s base, the trucks and cameras rolled in, and the hamlet’s denizens saw an economic windfall in the making. But two weeks into production, the film’s producer, Barry Navidi, realised that his major financier had basically done a runner, literally disappearing into thin air. “It meant that I couldn’t rescue the picture,” Navidi told The Guardian. “Movies run out of money all the time, it’s nothing new – but when something like that happens, everybody gets scared, and they realise that there must be a skeleton in the closet. We had no choice but to abandon production.”

IF ONLY…BLUE VELVET WAS FOUR HOURS LONG

Many films feel overlong, most feel just about right, and very, very few feel like they’re too short. Though a near masterpiece, David Lynch’s 1986 smalltown noir classic, Blue Velvet, is one such film. Strange, hypnotic, and shockingly lurid, this bizarre thriller – about a college student (Kyle McLachlan) whose discovery of a severed ear sends him spiraling into a criminal conspiracy of kidnap, murder, madness, perversion and sexual abuse – has always had an air of mystery about it, as if there were many more stories unfolding behind the ones that we see on screen. David Lynch confirmed this cinematic sense of unease when he revealed that his original cut of the film had actually clocked in at close to four hours. But per his contract, the director (still reeling from the failure of his previous film, Dune) was obliged to hand in a two-hour cut of the film, and he made his way back to the editing suite. The two hours of footage that Lynch excised (which included McLachlan’s Jeffrey Beaumont stopping a potential date rape at college party; many more scenes inside the Beaumont household with Jeffrey’s mother and aunt; and a final kicker in which a hooker lights her nipples on fire!) were assumed lost until 2011, when MGM archivist, Darren Gross, finally found them. With just fifty minutes of the deleted footage included as a separate extra on the Blue Velvet Blu-ray, an actual complete “director’s cut” is out of the question. “He thinks of it like sculpture,” Gross told The Guardian of Lynch’s approach to his work. “You chisel away at it, and it’s heartbreaking to see the little pieces go. But the final form is ultimately what he wants to express.”

IF ONLY…MARCELLUS WALLACE HAD BEEN RAPED TO “MY SHARONA” IN PULP FICTION

As well as being a noted film obsessive, writer/director, Quentin Tarantino, is also renowned for his love of music (particularly curios and oddities from the sixties and seventies), and his ability to use it effectively within his own films. Whether it’s Michael Madsen’s Mr. Blonde orchestrating the torture of a cop to Stealers Wheel’s “Stuck In The Middle With You” in Reservoir Dogs, or Melanie Laurent’s Shosanna torching The Third Reich to the strains of David Bowie’s “Cat People (Putting Out Fire)” in Inglourious Basterds, Tarantino truly knows how to marry music and image. Another unforgettable QT moment comes in 1994’s Pulp Fiction, when Ving Rhames’ LA crime kingpin, Marcellus Wallace, is brutally sodomised by Pete Greene’s redneck, Zed, in the basement of a pawn shop as The Revels’ “Comanche” churns away on the soundtrack. Tarantino, however, had originally wanted to score the shocking scene to the classic 1979 one-hit-wonder, “My Sharona”, performed by The Knack. According to the director, the hyper-catchy, rhythmically propelled tune had “a really great sodomy beat”, but Tarantino was put over a barrel when it came to securing the rights to the song. “We’d already agreed to do Reality Bites, so we couldn’t have done Pulp Fiction,” The Knack’s lead singer, Doug Feiger, told The Philadelphia City Paper in 1998. With the song already set to be used in Ben Stiller’s Gen-X comedy, Tarantino had to return to his record collection. When Doug Feiger was asked if he regretted choosing Reality Bites over Pulp Fiction, the singer was unrepentant. “Put it this way,” he replied. “I’d much rather see Winona Ryder dancing in a 7-11 than see Ving Rhames being sodomised in the back of a curio shop.” Ah, missed opportunities…

IF ONLY…VINCENT GALLO WOULD RELEASE PROMISES WRITTEN IN WATER

“I’m not a person who’s influenced by another filmmaker and then makes a film,” Vincent Gallo told FilmInk in 2003. “I’m a person who’s influenced by aesthetics that don’t relate to film.” In short, the famously outspoken actor/writer/director/musician isn’t to everybody’s taste. Though his 1998 feature directorial debut, Buffalo 66, was warmly received and instantly established him as a cult filmmaker, Gallo followed it up five years later with the far more obscure and challenging The Brown Bunny, which alienated many viewers. Fans of the filmmaker, however, are still in a funk over his latest effort as an actor and director. After screening the black-and-white drama, Promises Written In Water (in which he plays an assassin charged with looking after the body of a young girl after her death), at the Venice and Toronto Film Festivals back in 2010, Gallo made the strange call to permanently suppress the film. While the reviews were typically mixed, they weren’t exactly scathing, and the reasons behind Gallo’s decision are cryptic at best. “I do not want my new works to be generated in a market or audience of any kind,” Gallo told The Danish Film Institute, who ran a retrospective of his films in 2011, adding that the Venice and Toronto screenings for Promises Written In Water were part of an agreement that he had made with the film’s female star, Delfine Bafort. “The film should be allowed to rest in peace, and stored without being exposed to the dark energies of the public.” And if only Vincent Gallo would also release some of his own dark energy, namely the apparently “libelous” audio commentary that he recorded for Buffalo 66, which is now allegedly stashed in a film production company vault.

IF ONLY…THEY’D SPENT MORE MONEY ON BATTLE FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES

When discussion turns to great movie series, the usual titles get bandied about: Star Wars, The Godfather, James Bond, and so on. For some reason, the original Planet Of The Apes films – undoubtedly amongst the most intelligent and imaginative in the cinematic sci-fi canon – are rarely placed amongst this rarefied company. Kicking off with Charlton Heston’s arrogant astronaut crash landing on a world where talking apes rule and simpleton humans cower, this extraordinary series got increasingly interesting, taking detours into trippy nihilism (Beneath The Planet Of The Apes), fish-out-of-water humour (Escape From The Planet Of The Apes), fierce political commentary (Conquest Of The Planet Of The Apes), and dramatic closure (Battle For The Planet Of The Apes). Unfortunately, 20th Century Fox – the backing studio – took a reductive approach to the films, dropping the budget with each successive entry, so by the time of the final film, the financial well was nearly dry. This hurt 1973’s Battle For The Planet Of The Apes, which should have closed the series on an epic note of powerful, screen-rattling finality. Instead, it was a bargain basement epic, and the cheapness shows. “It was very low budget,” says the film’s director, J. Lee Thompson, in the DVD doco, Behind The Planet Of The Apes. “So we had to reduce everything. I had to come in closer, and not use so many people, and rely more on quick cuts. When we put it together, it gave the feel of a much bigger battle, with greater numbers. It’s a pity that they downgraded the budget for every film, instead of trying to go bigger and better. But that was a decision taken by the money people, and we had to live with it.” Yes, fans did get to see the Apes franchise given the big budget treatment with the recent prequel trilogy (kicked off with 2011’s Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes), but it still would have been great to have seen the originals afforded the respect (and finances) that they deserved.

IF ONLY…WOLVERINE HAD APPEARED IN SPIDER-MAN & THE AVENGERS

“Any movie with Robert Downey Jr., I want to be in,” Hugh Jackman replied to MTV during production on 2012’s game-changing superhero blockbuster, The Avengers, when he was asked if he would appear in the film if he was asked. “I’m open to it. I love playing this guy.” This guy, of course, is Wolverine, the comic book anti-hero that the actor played over a series of fine films climaxing with 2017’s masterful Logan. “I’m definitely protective of it,” Jackman told FilmInk of his role as Wolverine in 2009. “It’s the backbone of my career, and it’s given me a lot of opportunities.” One of those opportunities could have been a cameo in Joss Whedon’s The Avengers, but in the litigious world of Hollywood, that possible appearance was probably swatted down at the suggestion stage. With the rights to The Avengers owned by Marvel and Disney, and Jackman’s Wolverine (along with his affiliates, The X-Men) then residing in the creative stables of 20th Century Fox, such a cameo may have been tricky, or more likely, seen as creatively impossible by director, Joss Whedon, who prefers not to engage in such gimmicks. Jackman has revealed, however, that such gimmicks have nearly happened before. “On the first Spider-Man, they tried to get me to do something, whether it was a gag or just to walk through the shot or something,” the actor told The Huffington Post. “The problem was, we couldn’t find the suit. We couldn’t get it together.” Wolverine, of course, could very well be mixing it up with The Avengers sometime in the future (though he will be played by a new actor, with Jackman retiring from the role) thanks to the merging of Disney and 20th Century Fox, with the characters now both under the Marvel Studios umbrella. But after the battle between Sony and Disney/Marvel over their “sharing” of Spider-Man, Wolverine clashing with the web-slinging Peter Parker is now a total non-starter. Ah, if only…

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