Dog's Dinner

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Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Career Opportunities

If you read a lot of showbiz biographies and are a movie maniac and in general live a fabulous, glamorous life of international intrigue as I do, you learn that a lot of things in history could very nearly have turned out quite differently. And sometimes it's quite tantalizing to think about.

Can you imagine, for example, Marilyn Monroe as Cleopatra instead of Elizabeth Taylor? and directed by Alfred Hitchcock instead of Joseph L. Mankiewicz? Maybe then the film wouldn't have been such a disaster-- not that Mankiewicz and Taylor aren't great, but it would definitely have been a little weirder, and that's something. Still weirder, of course, if Peter Sellers had played Julius Caesar instead of Rex Harrison.

How about Richard Burton as Jesus in King of Kings? instead of Jeffrey Hunter (now famous chiefly for being the first actor to play Captain James T. Kirk on Star Trek before the much more talented-- indeed, greatly underrated, sadly even by himself-- William Shatner took over). Can you imagine the vitriol and bile that would have spilled from Burton's lips in the driving the moneychangers from the temple scene? It would have made Burton's acidly self-pitying Hamlet, foaming at the mouth with anti-Semitism (i.e. historically accurate) Wagner, furiously excommunicating Thomas a Becket and hysterically ventilating psychiatrist in Equus seem like the mildest bunch of milquetoasts you ever saw.

Speaking of Hamlet, and Hitchcock: what about Cary Grant as Hamlet in a modern-dress Hamlet helmed by the Master? Of course North by Northwest takes its title and some of its structure and themes from the play, and Terence Rafferty has pointed out that Shakespeare's Laertes was named "Leonard" (just like Martin Landau's character, James Mason's henchman) in some alternate drafts, i.e., in "the Bad Quarto" or something. But as wonderful as NxNW is, it's tantalizing to imagine Grant doing Hamlet as Hamlet... he might just have pulled it off. (He wouldn't have been as good as Mason in A Star is Born, though... most alternate casting realities, e.g. Dennis Hopper as Travis Bickle, confirm a Hegelian view of our universe as rational and elegant.)

And, much as I love him, Laurence Olivier-- Hitchcock's first choice for Mark Rutland (Sean Connery) in Marnie and the British lawyer Keane, eventually played by Gregory Peck, in The Paradine Case-- probably wouldn't have been as bizarrely engaging, or engagingly bizarre, as Connery or Peck, even though Hitchcock later regretted both choices and Peck publicly regretted his participation in Paradine (possibly the best work of his entire career). Olivier would have been ill-suited to the part of Mark (Truffaut rightly saw a feral energy in Connery, as noted in an earlier post, that keeps the film interesting), and perhaps slightly too well-suited to the part of the square, upright barrister fallen prey to an illicit inchoate passion. (He [Olivier, not Keane] writes in his biography, after describing yet another infidelity: "I swear to you, selfishness has been like a gift with me.") Olivier as Humbert Humbert in Lolita would have been fascinating-- I've just learned that he at first accepted the part with glee, and was only later persuaded against it by his agent, i.e. no moral scruples were involved. Same story with David Niven, who I think would have been totally unsuitable. (I love Niven, but when he's doing evil and sleaze, I think Bonjour Tristesse, which shows him at the top of his craft, shows how he should do it.)

Small Man is generally very skeptical about the ornery griping and sniping at, and he has some good arguments on his side, but anyway, it's somewhat comforting, in a minor kind of way, to know that one famous casting decision that wasn't may never have even been seriously considered.

But Allen Ginsberg as Emperor of ISHKCON (International Society for Hare Krishna Consciousness), on the other hand! (He was called upon by Swami Prabhupada to be his successor once when the latter was very ill and expected soon to be dead, but, regrettably, declined.) The mind reels. By comparison Nietzsche's delirious fantasies of "Cesare Borgia as Pope!" look tame.


At 7:41 AM, Blogger The Blunderer said...

Note to self: add Dante's Inferno (Ken Russell, 1968) to The List.


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