Have you ever thought about movie roles that Basil tried out for, but didn’t get, or roles that he was offered, but declined? And then there were films Basil was contracted to do, and for some reason the film wasn’t made, or it was made and Rathbone wasn’t in it. In this post we will take a look at Rathbone’s close encounters with the following films:
- The Hurricane
- The Gamblers
- The Knight and the Lady
- Victoria Docks at Eight
- The Hunchback of Notre Dame
- It Can’t Happen Here
- Lady of the Tropics
- Dark Victory
- The Boudoir Diplomat
- Reunion in Vienna
- Blood Beast Terror
One of those films was The Hurricane. (See http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0029030/) In 1936 producer Sam Goldwyn was eager to give Rathbone a role in the film, but he wanted Rathbone to sign a four-year contract with his company. Rathbone didn’t want to sign the contract, so that role went to someone else. See “Was Basil Rathbone a Diva?”
In April 1937 The Film Daily announced the following: “Feodor Dostoievsky’s celebrated novel ‘The Gamblers,’ will be directed for Warners by Max Reinhardt with a stellar cast including Edward G. Robinson, Bette Davis, Errol Flynn and Basil Rathbone.” The plan was to produce the film in the Fall of 1937.
Milton Krims completed the screenplay Sept. 21, 1937.
I don’t know what happened, but the plans fell through. By July 1938 Warners announced they would not produce The Gamblers. (Variety, July 13, 1938, p. 2)
Warners again made plans to do The Gamblers in 1940 but not with Basil Rathbone. Eventually MGM bought the film rights to the novel, and made it in 1949 with the title The Great Sinner (see http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0041430/), starring Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner.
1939 was a busy year for Basil Rathbone. These are the films he actually made that year: Son of Frankenstein, Rio, The Sun Never Sets, The Hound of the Baskervilles,The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Tower of London.
These are the films he almost made, but didn’t:
The Knight and the Lady, starring Bette Davis, Errol Flynn, and Basil Rathbone. The title of the film was later changed to The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex. It did indeed star Bette Davis and Errol Flynn, but no Basil. I wonder which role he was supposed to have. This blurb from Independent Exhibitor’s Film Bulletin (May 6, 1939, p. 16) lists the cast as including Rathbone, Donald Crisp, Vincent Price, and Henry Stephenson. When I look at the cast of the film (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0031826/), two names jump out at me: Alan Hale and Henry Daniell. Could it be that Rathbone’s role was taken by one of them?
Victoria Docks at Eight, to be produced by Universal. The promotional ad reads, “With red fury coiled like a snake in his mind, he sought the peace of destruction in the throes of blind dementia!” Ooh, that sounds interesting! Unfortunately, the film was not produced. In 1946 Universal produced a film called White Tie and Tails, which supposedly is based on the story The Victoria Docks at Eight. (See http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0039103/) But White Tie and Tails is a comedy about a butler and a lady, who meet under false pretenses and fall madly in love. It sounds like a different movie.
The July 10, 1939 edition of Film Daily reported that Basil Rathbone was cast in “an important role” in The Hunchback of Notre Dame. The role was that of Jean Frollo. However, Rathbone was already dividing his time over at Universal Studios between Rio and Tower of London. Universal refused to release Rathbone to RKO to make The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Cedric Hardwicke replaced Rathbone as Frollo.
I found this wonderful image created by artist “DarkSaxeBleu” imagining Rathbone as Frollo:
The February 4, 1936 edition of Film Daily announced the following: “J Walter Ruben has been named by M-G-M to direct the film adaptation of Sinclair Lewis’s new novel, It Can’t Happen Here. The cast is headed by Lionel Barrymore, Walter Connelly, Virginia Bruce and Basil Rathbone, with Lucien Hubbard as producer.” Later in 1936, the film was taken off MGM’s production schedule. Lewis charged that foreign pressure was responsible. MGM’s official explanation was the high production cost. But in 1939 MGM tried again (and failed) to produce the film. A stage version was produced and premiered in 17 U.S. states in October 1936. A film version was never made.
Lady of the Tropics. In April 1939 Basil Rathbone almost landed a supporting role in Lady of the Tropics, starring Robert Taylor and Hedy Lamarr. I think the part he was offered was that of Pierre Delaroch. I don’t know what happened, but the negotiations fell through. The part of Delaroch went to Joseph Schildkraut.
Dark Victory is another film that was released in 1939, but Basil’s part of the story occurred in August 1938. Bette Davis was quickly cast as the glamour girl who falls in love with a New England doctor. Casting the doctor was more difficult. Casey Robinson (the screenwriter) and David Lewis (associate producer) both felt that Spencer Tracy was born to play the part. But Tracy was busy doing Stanley and Livingstone (1939), so he wasn’t available. Hal Wallis (producer) asked Lewis to get together with the director Edmund Goulding and arrange for Basil Rathbone to make a screen test for the part of Dr. Steele. The screen test with Basil Rathbone was made on August 27, 1938.
On that day, Bette Davis was out of town, so contract player Gale Page played the role of the girl opposite Rathbone. Apparently, the screen test was awful. Basil Rathbone was so upset about it that he went to Jack Warner’s office to talk to him. Jack wasn’t there, so Basil wrote a long letter to him complaining about how the screen test was handled. The letter is much too long for me to quote in its entirety, but I’ll quote the best bits and tell all about it. (The entire letter is published in Rudy Behlmer’s book Inside Warner Bros. (1935-1951), Viking Penguin Inc., New York, NY, 1985.) On August 31, 1938, Rathbone wrote:
Jack, I would like to ask you a favor. Would you either let me have, or destroy yourself, the test I made last Saturday night for Dark Victory. The whole thing has made me very unhappy. In the final analysis, I have no one to blame but myself, as I should never have made the test. In the first place, the scene that Mr. Lewis insisted that I make was not a good one for me, but Mr. Lewis seemed to have such very definite and complicated ideas as to the playing of the part that I felt there must be some good reason for his choosing that particular scene. There was, indeed, a good reason, and it was a very simple one, too. Mr. Lewis does not and never has wanted me to play Dr. Steele in Dark Victory, for he told me quite frankly before I made the test that he could not see me in the part, but since it was decided by him and others whose authority was necessary, that such a test should be made, I do feel that to an actor in my position in our business, more consideration should have been shown. The test, as you probably know by now, was unbelievably bad.
Rathbone wrote that he and Gale Page had learned the script for the scene, and then they were given a heavily altered script which they had to relearn on the set. He also complained that he was told he had to make the test no later than Saturday so that Hal Wallis, the producer, could see it on Monday. And then Rathbone learned that Hal Wallis was in Mexico City! So what was the rush? He’d been on the set of The Dawn Patrol all day (and the weather was hot), and then came over in the evening to do the Dark Victory screen test even though he was tired. Hal Wallis wasn’t going to be back by Monday to see the test. I don’t blame him for being annoyed.
But it seems that Rathbone was most annoyed by the way the scene was shot. David Lewis told the cameraman that no close up shots were necessary. Rathbone felt that they definitely were necessary. He wrote:
My work is well known to all those in authority at your studio and unless there was a very reasonable chance of my meeting with the approval of those in authority, I should never have been put through that dreadful evening. Again, I say I blame no one but myself and it has been a severe lesson to me for I now realize that a test is not a test of one’s ability, and not necessarily a fair example of one, photogenically. I don’t know who was to blame for making me look so horrible, but one would only have to look through the camera to realize that in a long scene taken, one presumes for the object of watching my reaction, my eyes were hardly ever seen. It was an abominable piece of mis-management since not only could no one tell what I felt or thought, but nothing could be seen of Miss Gale Page but the back of her head. This might have been permissible if you could have seen me, but you couldn’t. . . .
I am told on the best authority that other tests are to be made for Dr. Steele and that the scene chosen for the tests is one in the earlier part of the script giving Dr. Steele a far better opportunity to show himself. I would have chosen a scene from the earlier part of the script but Mr. Lewis insisted on the one I did which is the woman’s scene, in which I could only react to her and these reactions are valueless unless you could see my eyes, which you could not. If it appears to you that I am making a mountain out of a molehill, I can only ask your appreciation that one’s pride has been very deeply hurt. . . . If I have not by now proven my ability, no purpose can be served by making any further efforts and I would never make a test again for anyone, under any circumstances. I am very unhappy that all this should have occurred just when your studio and I were getting together on a matter which I had hoped and believed would be beneficial to both our interests.
Rathbone ends the letter by telling Jack Warner that his complaints are not personal. I have no idea what Rathbone is referring to with this statement, “getting together on a matter which I had hoped and believed would be beneficial to both our interests.” On September 12, Hal Wallis wrote to Basil Rathbone to reassure him. He wrote:
Please don’t let it concern you as you have made a lot of pictures here in the past, and will, I hope, make a lot more in the future. If a test for a particular part is not just right, certainly we know your capabilities and a test is not going to influence us aversely.
In spite of Hal Wallis’s encouragement, Rathbone made no films with Warner Bros. after he finished Dawn Patrol. George Brent was cast in the part of Dr. Steele.
Let’s not forget The Boudoir Diplomat, the 1930 film version of the Broadway hit The Command to Love, which starred Basil Rathbone. Motion Picture News announced that Basil Rathbone had been signed to play the lead in The Boudoir Diplomat. A month later, he was out.
Rumors and conflicting reports concerning this event circulated:
- “Basil Rathbone, who played the lead on the stage, was in, but the studio re-decided after tests.” (Variety, August 6, 1930, p. 2)
- “Rathbone recently walked out of the lead in ‘Boudoir Diplomat’ at Universal because of story differences.” (Variety, August 20, 1930, p. 61)
- Rathbone’s “chief objection to the screen version of the part he played in legit was that the thing had become a bedroom drama set in a parlor.” (Variety, August 13, 1930, p. 24)
- “Ouida [Rathbone], who formerly ran a theatrical agency in New York, is said to gave given so much ‘advice’ concerning the career of her husband, Basil Rathbone, that this excellent actor did not land the job of leading man in the talker version of ‘The Command to Love,’ in which he appeared on the stage.” (Variety, September 10, 1930, p. 53)
On Reunion in Vienna, Basil says the following talking about the British film industry in the British film weekly Picturegoer (Jan.28, 1933): “I have great faith in our ability to pull it off, otherwise I should not have deliberately walked out on Reunion in Vienna, which I was to have played in California with Ina Claire, and come back here.” The film, made in 1933, starred John Barrymore and Diana Wynyard. Was Rathbone offered the male lead or a lesser part? He doesn’t say. And why did he walk out on the film? We can only speculate. In the aforementioned interview in Picturegoer, Rathbone also said, “Actors, actresses, and scenario writers are powerless without initiative and foresight from the producer, who, after all, has the whole say in how things shall be done.” Although he was speaking about producers in general, just three sentences later, he made the comment about walking out on Reunion in Vienna. Could he have been suggesting that he had some disagreement with the producer?
The final film that Basil almost appeared in is The Blood Beast Terror (1968).
Rathbone was signed to play the part of Dr. Mallinger (a mad scientist), but he died before filming began. The role of the doctor went to Robert Flemyng.
The reviewer on Satanic Pandemonium writes this about the film:
Probably the biggest disappointment of all is that Dr. Mallinger was supposed to be played by the late, great Basil Rathbone, but after his death, the role went to Robert Flemyng. Thanks to the latter’s performance in one of my favorite films, Freda’s The Horrible Dr. Hichcock, I will never say anything bad about him, but… Rathbone.
Peter Cushing played Inspector Quennell in The Blood Beast Terror. If Basil Rathbone had lived to make that film, it would have been the only time those two great actors worked together. The Blood Beast Terror was filmed on location in London. I can imagine that Rathbone was looking forward to being in England again, to going home. And on July 21, 1967, he did go home.