A lot of films were lost to audiences forever until the rise of the VCR made them a commodity once again. But even now, some films can’t come out to play. There are many reasons why in the naked city. Here are a few. 

Some films sit on a studio shelf for years before finding a place in the release schedule, and not necessarily because they’re no good. House of 1000 Corpses languished for about 3 years before the studio deemed it commercial enough to release. Sometimes it’s because they’re a difficult sell, or contain controversial material. Sometimes they’re banned by authoritarian regimes or religious groups, like Luis Bunuel’s Viridiana, which was made, and then banned, in Franco’s Spain. Sometimes such attempts to silence a film are made by business means, like Disney’s refusal to distribute 2004’s Fahrenheit 9/11

Miramax made a career of buying exuberant and commercial foreign films (like Shaolin Soccer; Iron Monkey; and Farewell, My Concubine) and then sitting on them long before they ever released them, often re-edited, with western-style soundtracks and dubbing. They paid $20 million for the rights to the international Jet Li hit Hero in 2001, but didn’t release it for 2 years, until after an best foreign picture Oscar nomination and Quentin Tarantino lent his name to it.  But don’t blame Miramax chieftain Harvey Weinstein. You see, Harvey tricked the Disney execs into an amazingly sweet deal, where Disney agreed to give him and his brother 30-35% of the profits of films released each fiscal year, and tied Miramax’s film production and acquisition budget to their annual performance. Thus, the more money they made, the more they had to invest in films. Harvey was able to maneuver potential money losers into the next year’s fiscal budget, so they wouldn’t affect the Miramax budget or the brothers’ bonuses. So, in some situations the bros could actually make more money for themselves by shelving the film, rather than distributing it. Too bad that arrangement only benefited two humans.

Some films are pulled from release because the copyright holder has decided for one reason or another to remove it from the market. The Manchurian Candidate (1963) was a Cold War suspense thriller about a brainwashed soldier killing the president of the United States, released a year before the Kennedy assassination. Frank Sinatra was a friend of JFK and helped get him elected, and owned the rights to Candidate. After, JFK’s assassination, Sinatra stuck it on a shelf where it sat unseen for 30 years (that and Suddenly, another film about assassinating the president he had starred in and owned the rights to.)

A lot of films have been tied up in legal limbo for years until released. Often, old grudges will be held and the public may not see the project until all parties holding the rights settle. The Sex Pistols film, The Great Rock ‘n Roll Swindle, was a piece of garbage that Manager Malcolm McLaren finished when Johnny Rotten left the band. In the film, McLaren represented himself as the band’s Svengali, portraying them as the punk version of The Monkees. The whole band (and Sid’s mum) sued McLaren for back royalties, and the film was legally unavailable until years after the Pistols won their suit in 1986. I remember attending a bootleg screening of the film in San Francisco in 1980 or early 81. The fact that it was illegal gave it a cachet of danger and made it really important to see (and be seen seeing it). But aside from some important historical footage, it’s wretched incoherent slapped-together McLaren ego-fluff. As Rotten said, “Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?”

It goes without saying that many films would have been better served by their staying on the studio’s shelves longer. (Pluto Nash, anyone?) But the titles on the following list are films you might actually want to see, that for one reason or another will likely never have a lawful theatrical showing in these here United States, or anywhere else in most cases. Some of the following films are available on DVD, a few even legally. I’m talking unreleased or unreleasable films; ones that were pulled from release or never made it there, or were just plain neglected. Whatever the case, these are films The Man doesn’t want you to see! 

The Holy Mountain (1973)
Is an obvious choice. Alejandro Jodorowsky’s violent catholic Zen hippie surrealist masterpiece has thrilled and perplexed audiences since it was released in 1973. I won’t even begin to describe the film, it would take too long and be too confusing, and you STILL wouldn’t get it. All the principals lived together in a house where Jodorowsky would only allow them 4 hours sleep a night, would do spiritual exercises (and acid and shrooms) together. For some reason it never got a full release, mostly playing at a few midnight movie houses. The owner of a movie theater I worked at a million years ago used to have his own print of the film, and would show it occasionally (unbilled) on the big screen. You should be so lucky. Jodorowsky’s film El Topo was the first midnight movie; John Lennon was a big fan and convinced the Beatles manager Allen Klein to finance his next film. Jodorowsky and Klein had a famous falling-out and Klein has sat on it ever since, disastrously depriving Jodorowsky of revenue for future films. They had reportedly kissed and made up several years ago, but I still don’t see the DVD reissued. What’s up with that?

London After Midnight (1927)
Lon Chaney and Freaks director Tod Browning’s famous lost collaboration saw Chaney creating some of his finest and creepiest make-up.  In 1967, the only known print of this vampire melodrama burned up in a fire on the MGM lot. Rumors of private collector prints persist, but MGM kept a tight rein on their prints, and no one has come forward as of 2006, so it’s unlikely a print will surface after 80 years (but not impossible). In 2003, Turner Classics pieced together a reconstruction using the script and existing stills. Heavily hyped by Forry Ackerman in the pages of Famous Monsters, it’s probably not all that great, given the lukewarm reviews it received at the time, and the script, which displays stilted stage play elements and “comic relief” common in films of the time. For evidence that the top-hatted image of Chaney’s vampire has resonated with modern times, check the Goths, who have embraced the fashion cues given by his character in this film, even if they’ve only seen a picture.

The Fantastic Four (1994)
This 1994 film is well known is fanboy circles, and usually is looked down upon as having outdated SFX. But hey, they’re not really that bad. And it doesn’t fuck with the characters like the crappy recent film did. It does appear to have been made on a budget of next to nothing, however, and the dialogue is atrocious, which makes it a fun watch for those with low expectations. Not hard to find a copy. Some say it was never intended for release, but made so they could hold onto the rights and make truckloads of money off the franchise in the future. In any case, producer Roger Corman was paid a million bucks to take the film off his hands.

The Seven Minutes (1971)
Named after the time it takes the average woman to achieve orgasm, The Seven Minutes was Russ Meyer’s second major studio film, made after Beyond The Valley of The Dolls for 20th Century Fox. Starring John Carradine and Yvonne De Carlo, it’s an atypical Meyer flick without the usual bouncing bosoms, a dizzying courtroom drama over obscenity issues. He definitely had his own run-ins with censorship, so it sounds right up Meyer’s alley, but is an over-the-top misstep. I saw it once on TV. It has his usual inventive camera angles and a vivid color palette, but the pacing was really weird and jittery. I remember extreme close-ups of the mouth moving, and Meyer’s camera couldn’t seem to let a character finish a sentence before cutting to the next shot, and cut yet again before that last sentence even finished! At least that’s my recollection of it. Its unevenness and need to cram constant plot twists into the story makes it really hard to develop any serious coherent commentary on the issues. A big fat flop, he never made another studio film again, and it sits in the Fox warehouses, occasionally showing up on TV. It did play at a 1999 American Cinematheque Meyer retrospective, so there’s probably a print still in existence; maybe Fox will see fit to release it some day. Write ‘em a letter. 

Greed (1924)
No one alive has seen this film. That’s right. A technically innovative and grimly realistic view of the human condition, Greed was way ahead of its’ time. Master director Erich Von Stroheim’s antidote to Hollywood’s “insipid Polyanna stories”, Greed was his famous 9 hour-long adaptation of novel McTeague! No one had all day to go to a movie, even back then, so the studio had him cut it. He made a 4-hour version, but couldn’t bring himself to shorten it any further. He showed the original 9-hour version to friends (who were stunned with its realism, rich detail and technical innovation) and left the country. While he was gone, the studio took his faithful-to-a-fault film and butchered it down to 2 hours, and worst of all, destroyed the remaining footage. “I consider that I have made only one real picture in my life and nobody ever saw that,” said Von Stroheim, “The poor mangled, mutilated remains were shown as Greed.”  A four-hour version has been reconstructed from existing footage and stills.

The Day The Clown Cried (1972)
Simply the most infamous unreleased film ever, this misguided vanity production was directed by and starring Jerry Lewis as a clown in a Nazi in a concentration camp who leads children to the gas chamber, not to be confused with that Life Is Beautiful movie that had Roberto Benigni climbing the chairs at the Oscars. Jerry desperately wished to be taken seriously, and this movie was to be his dramatic Oscar bait project, but to all reports, it was a poor performance in an awkward concept. There were problems from the very beginning. Unlike Benigno’s character, Jerry’s didn’t do any redemptive acts, and was hardly sympathetic; he snitched on his friends and was full of his own importance. (Sound familiar?)  Lewis took on re-writing half the bloated 164-page script as well as his directing and starring duties, hardly sleeping and becoming even more difficult than his usual legendary self-important contrariness. Jerry had lost 35 pounds previous to shooting on a grapefruit diet to achieve that concentration camp look. His health wasn’t good, he was stressed out, and he was strung out on Percodan. The producer took off to the South of France and future funding didn’t materialize. The crew wasn’t being paid, and Lewis soon started spending his own money. Lewis told the press about his woes, and producer Wachsberger sued Jerry for breach of contract. Worse, Wachsberger’s option on the screenplay had expired, and Lewis kept shooting anyway, undoubtedly in his hubris that his project was far too important not to continue. The shoot disintegrated, never to finish. The Swedish studio holds onto the negatives, although Lewis had dupes and some additional footage. Perhaps injudiciously, Jerry showed the screenwriters a rough cut, and hating it, they have since refused to allow the film to be set free.  Screenwriter Denton claimed you could tell Jerry’s shoes were new and shiny in one scene after having been there for 4 or 5 years. The film has sat in Lewis safe ever since. Only a select (fortunate?) few have ever seen it. Actor Harry Shearer (of Simpsons and Spinal Tap) is one. He has said, “The closest I can come to describing the effect is if you flew down to Tijuana and suddenly saw a painting on black velvet of Auschwitz.” Several remakes have been announced over the years, but none have so far come to fruition. I hate to paraphrase the Medveds, but until its release, satisfy your urge for concentration camp pathos with Hogan’s Heroes. 

Turkish Star Wars (1982)
It could actually be any number of Turkish films, like the Turkish Exorcist or the Turkish E.T. or the Turkish Spiderman. The concept of copyright must have a very loose interpretation over there. Among other cinematic rip-offs, Dunyayi Kurtaran Adam (nicknamed Turkish Star Wars for obvious reasons) uses the easily recognizable Indiana Jones theme every five minutes. Not quite content to merely lift the storyline of Star Wars, the lazy (or resourceful, depending on your bias) filmmakers actually lift whole entire segments of the film, edited in a dizzying loop with the same material repeated over and over, the same shots of the space battle and same explosions, mixed with some weird original footage of characters poorly edited into the action and commenting in Turkish. It really is quite mind numbing and eventually even psychedelic, and I highly recommend not viewing more than 15 minutes at one sitting. Rumors that it was shown outside Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega’s holdout and the Waco compound could not be verified at press time.

Something’s Got To Give (1962)
The film Marilyn got fired from before she died. Stories circulated that she infuriated the cast and crew by hardly showing up, forcing them to shoot around her scenes.  She missed a week of shooting when she went to sing her famously breathy rendition of “Happy Birthday” to JFK. Director George Cukor detested her and fed gossip columnist Hedda Hopper poison info about Marilyn’s behavior, calling her unstable and drugged. Many considered her career pretty much over at the time, but she was negotiating for a return to the film and other pictures at the time of her death.  She was 36 and still beautiful, a bit thin, but a more mature actress, and a final fluffy frolic would have delightful light fare. A 37-minute version was contained in the documentary Marilyn Monroe: The Final Days, but rumor has it weaker takes were used. She does appear a little bit out of it, but she still shines. Perhaps one day we’ll have a longer version edited together from the hours of footage, with help from a stand-in (ala Plan 9 From Outer Space) or even a computer-generated Marilyn.

Abby (1974)
Coming out shortly after The Exorcist, Abby was pulled from theatres after one profitable month, when Warner Brothers sued over “similarities” in the storyline. But Abby is more than simply a black Exorcist rip-off. Horror wunderkind William Girdler, director of Grizzly and Day of The Animals, has created an irresistible period trashterpiece, one that places the action in a black family and replaces Catholic references with an African fertility deity, freed by Blacula’s William Marshall. His polite daughter-in-law (played by the talented Carol Speed) becomes possessed and soon shows a fondness for profanity and picking up local men, in between puking and drooling over chicken blood. She even kicks her husband in the nuts and insults his manhood, before she goes out on the prowl at the local disco! Poor Girdler apparently got fucked out of the profits of his own film. The agreement, reached two weeks before Girdler’s death, released the month’s frozen profits to the distributor, as long as Abby was never shown or televised without Warner’s permission.  For more Girdler info than any sane person would ever need to know, turn to the excellent website www.williamgirdler.com.  

The Other Side of the Wind
By no means the only lost or incomplete Orson Welles film, The Other Side of The Wind appears to be an unfinished masterpiece still unseen 25 years after his death. Made on a shoestring with a cast of adoring young film nerds like Peter Bogdanovich and Henry Jaglom on weekends and other stolen moments between 1970 and 1975, the autobiographical film-within-a-film starred his friend film director John Huston as a washed-up director making a comeback with a violent and sexually explicit exploitation film. Impressionist Rich Little was let go when Welles was unhappy with his performance. The film is cast with old-timers and newcomers, all in awe of Welles, with heavy improvisation encouraged. Shoots would wait for Welles to do commercials and movies to fund his projects. Said Welles, “I often make bad films in order to live.” Welles’ main funding came from an Iranian backer, whose assets dried up when the Shaw was overthrown in 1979. Welles screened portions at the American Film Institute before his death, but we’ve never seen the whole thing. A producer scammed the Iranian backer’s signature and took off with $250,000 of the $1 million or so they had put into the film, and they wanted 80% of the film as restitution. The court ordered them to work it out between themselves, and for ten years Welles flew back and forth to Paris and LA, but to no resolution. When Welles died in 1985, the film was largely finished filming but unedited and without music or credits. He had made Bogdanovich promise to finish the film, but Bogdanovich had his doubts as to whether it should be released edited or as is. Huston saw the footage but declined to edit it, on the grounds that however simpatico the two were, he would make a John Huston film out of an Orson Welles film. Even Oliver Stone thought it was too experimental. Talk was also made of releasing it in a documentary format. Negotiations between the three parties that have legal claims (Welles’ lover and co-writer, Oja Kodar; Welles’ estate; and the Iranian backer Mehdi Bouscheri) have so far not ended up with a release. But 40 minutes were shown at a Welles retrospective in Locarno, Switzerland in 2006, and Bogdanovich shortly thereafter announced a cable TV company is buying the rights from everyone involved, so let’s keep our fingers crossed. 

Series Noire (1979)
French director Alain Corneau’s neglected and currently unavailable (in U.S.) French film noir, based on Jim Thompson’s gritty hard-boiled classic A Hell Of A Woman. Said by many to be the finest adaptation of Thompson’s work, besting even The Grifters and Coup De Torchon for faithfulness to the writer’s bleak vision, it’s the story of a doomed loser door-to-door salesman who is manipulated into killing an old lady for her money by a dame, with one of Thompson’s typical downer endings. Boasting the lovely Marie Trintingant (beaten to death by her rock star boyfriend in 2003) and a risky performance by troubled maverick actor Patrick Dewier (committed suicide in 1982), it seems like a natural cult film that cries out for a Criterion DVD and a new release print. Yet this film remains unseen and unsung today. Why isn’t it enjoying a current legal U.S. release? We know it’s out there, because it showed at a 2002 Corneau festival in India, of all places!

Queen Kong (1976)
Of course, imitation has been the highest form of flattery in the profit-driven movie biz since The Great Train Robbery became a hit in 1902. Dino De Laurentiis’ Kong film was to come out a few months later, so he made damn sure that this korny Kong komedy was sued before it could even get to a movie screen (except, ironically enough, in De Laurentiis’ native Italy) and threaten the profits of his own film, thus ensuring Queen Kong’s eternal cult status. The crew of the ship (The Liberated Lady) is female, and the ineffectual male lead is named Ray Fay. Get it? This predictable gender reversal is used throughout the whole film, as if that alone would insure that hilarity would ensue. The film’s tagline is “She’s in one of her moods again.” With spoofs of recent films like Jaws, The Exorcist and the Airport movies. Did I mention the “wonderful” musical numbers?  With lyrics like “Burn your bra, burn your panties, call your mum, call your aunties.” Fred Olen Ray’s imprint Retromedia has put out an authorized DVD of this film.

This list is obviously subjective and incomplete. There are soooo many films we’ll never see. I can see the e-mails now. Why didn’t I write about Destino or Bad Ronald or Take It Out In Trade or MC5: A True Testimonial or Spermula or Theo Van Gogh’s Submission or Let My Puppets Come or Cocksucker Blues or The Dream of Hamish Mose or It’s All True or even Abel Gance’s Napoleon? Well, maybe I will someday. But you go ahead in the meantime. There are plenty of neglected films for everyone. Support your favorite public domain video service and dig in and enjoy. Or even better yet, break into Jerry Lewis’ safe and run right out and strike a print of The Day The Clown Laughed. Send it to me at eric@retrocrush.com.


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