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Sunday, November 11, 2007

About Norman Mailer's "The Naked and the Dead"

Norman Mailer just passed away. I don't know how many of you know that, had "The Night of the Hunter" fared decently in the box office, Charles would have directed a second film, based on Mailer's "The Naked and the Dead".

In fact, Laughton was already working in the film's script with Mailer. As he had done with Davis Grubb, he considered that the writer's own contribution was vital to the final film (a certain sign of respect for literature). By the time his first directorial effort was on its way for release, Laughton was already working in his next film with Stanley Cortez and the Sanders brothers, who had collaborated with him in the making of "The Night of the Hunter". As a matter of fact, Cortez went to Hawaii to scout locations for that film.

This is covered in some extension in Preston Neal Jones' very commendable book . There's one priceless anecdote about Laughton and Mailer discussing the script which I don't want to reveal (read the book, punyeta!). It is also recorded there that names like James Stewart, Burt Lancaster, Richard Widmark and Robert Montgomery were being considered at this early stage to act in the film. Both Cortez and Terry Sanders recall very interesting visual narrative ideas that were being conceived to be in the film. As in "The Night of the Hunter", it seems that we would have had a film that was ahead of its time, with daring new cinematic devices that would still be influential today. Sanders also mentioned that the final script was "quite magnificent".

Charles Laughton in 1917, while undergoing early army training

I always wondered how Laughton would have approached the subject of war. Having himself experienced war first-hand as a foot soldier during First World War, and having never talked extensively about his time in the army, the film could have been revealing about his own insights about men and war. Unfortunately, the critical and box-office indifference to "The Night of the Hunter" meant that the prospects of a second film directed by Laughton got difficult. Laughton was himself disheartened an the failure of his first-born, and felt discouraged to keep on working in his second film. Alas.

The film was eventually produced by Paul Gregory, and directed by Hollywood veteran Raoul Walsh. Cortez later would say that, upon seeing the finished film, it was, as compared to what Laughton had envisaged "It was like day and night". Gregory himself, who split his association with Laughton after "The Night of the Hunter", admitted himself that Laughton would have made a better film, as he had the poetry that Walsh's approach lacked.

One wonders if the script is anywhere to be read. It wouldn't be like watching the actual film that Laughton had in mind, but one would at least get a smattering of what it could have been.

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