7 Unproduced Screenplays by Famous Intellectuals

300px-GeorgesBataille Elif Batuman in Salon:

Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer

In Los Angeles in the 1940s, Frankfurt School philosophers Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer spent nearly six years working on a screenplay about prejudice. The final draft, titled “Below the Surface,” features a violent commotion on a subway car, during which a woman carrying a vacuum cleaner either falls or is pushed onto the tracks. A one-legged peddler tries to rally the passengers against a Jewish man, who had previously jostled him. At the end of the film, the audience is to be polled regarding the guilt or innocence of the Jew; other audiences might be shown a similar film in which the Jew would be substituted by a “Negro” or a “Gentile white-collar worker.” “Below the Surface” was batted around Hollywood for years, subjected to numerous scriptwriting consultations, and pitched to the likes of Jack Warner and Elia Kazan. It was never produced.

Georges Bataille

In 1944, the French writer and philosopher Georges Bataille, the so-called “metaphysician of evil,” decided to write a “commercial” film starring Fernandel, a singer-comedian particularly famous for his horselike teeth. In a departure from earlier roles, Fernandel was to play a bourgeois Marseilles soap manufacturer who, during his children’s holidays, assumes the costume and character of the Marquis de Sade. With the participation of some local prostitutes, he reenacts the practices described in “120 Days of Sodom,” Sade’s novel about four scientific-minded libertines who lock themselves for months in a medieval castle, subjecting forty-six innocent young people to escalating sexual torture, culminating with murder. When the soapmaker’s experiments likewise result in the death of a prostitute, he commits suicide, effecting “the triumph of morality.” After approaching one producer, who was not encouraging, Bataille abandoned the script, which has been lost to posterity.

Aldous Huxley

In 1945, Walt Disney signed Aldous Huxley to write a screenplay for “Alice and the Mysterious Mr. Carroll”: a combination live-action and animated incorporation of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” with the biography of Lewis Carroll (Charles Dodgson). Dodgson, a beleaguered Oxford lecturer known as the Dodo, has already written “Alice in Wonderland” under the name Lewis Carroll. He and Alice take refuge in Wonderland from Alice’s cruel governess and Dodgson’s Tory vice-chancellor. These villains, who disapprove of “nonsense books,” must never learn that Dodgson and Carroll are the same person, lest Dodgson be barred from a coveted university librarianship. A series of fantastic adventures culminates with the resolution of the Carroll-Dodgson identity through a deus-ex-machina appearance by Queen Victoria. “It was so literary I could understand only every third word,” Disney said of Huxley’s script, which he didn’t end up using for his adaptation of “Alice in Wonderland” (1951).

[H/t: Amitava Kumar]