Sunday, September 23, 2012

Mary Rose--the Hitchcock Movie That Never Was

Alfred Hitchcock saw the original London stage production of Mary Rose in 1920--and would be infatuated with it for years.

Written by J.M. Barrie (best known for penning Peter Pan), Mary Rose opens with a soldier arriving at a desolate, decaying house where he encounters an elderly housekeeper. The housekeeper is alarmed initially, but the soldier explains that his family once lived in the house. As a flashback unfolds, he tells the story of a young girl, Mary Rose, who disappeared for four days during an island vacation with her family. When she reappears, she has no memory of those four days. Years later, she, her husband, and her young son visit the same island and, again, she vanishes. When she reappears--decades later--she has not aged a day and her grown son is now older than her. The shock is more than she can bear and Mary Rose dies from a heart attack. At the conclusion of the flashback, Mary Rose, still a young woman, returns to the house yet again...only to disappear into a white light.

Alfred Hitchcock discussed the possibility of adapting Barrie's play on numerous occasions. The closest he came to realizing the project was in the mid-1960s after Marnie. In an interview with Francois Truffaut, Hitchcock explained: "A few years back it might have seemed like the subject was too irrational for the public. But since then the public has been exposed to these twilight-zone stories, especially on television." Rod Serling influencing Hitchcock's decision to make a movie--who would have thought?

Playwright-screenwriter Jay Presson Allen.
While developing Marnie, Hitchcock had worked closely with playwright Jay Presson Allen (Hitch and Evan Hunter, the original screenwriter, parted over creative differences). Hitch turned to Allen again and the two completed a screenplay for Mary Rose. Steven DeRosa, who wrote the book Writing With Hitchcock, includes a link to the complete Mary Rose screenplay at his web site; click here to peruse it. (DeRosa's book contains in-depth descriptions of several of Hitchcock unproduced films, to include Mary Rose and Kaleidoscope.)

Keir Dullea was in a 2007 Off-
Broadway production of Mary Rose.
There are several theories as to why Hitchcock never made Mary Rose, to include the failure of Marnie at the boxoffice and the falling out between Tippi Hedren and Hitch. The famed director often told people that Universal would let him make any movie under $3 million--except for Mary Rose (that was apparently a joke). Hitchcock probably provided the real reason when he confided to Truffaut: "You should make the picture. You would do it better. It's not really Hitchcock material."

Hitchcock's follow-up to Marnie would turn out to be Torn Curtain, a modest effort that makes this blogger yearn for the Hitch flick that might have been.


  1. I don't know how well Hitch could have done a film like this. He was a pretty one-genre type of director (but excellent at that), so he might have struggled with this.

  2. Kim, I'm not sure it would have turned out well either (I'm not a fan of his bold attempt at comedy, MR. AND MRS. SMITH). But based on the lackluster films that followed (e.g., TORN CURTAIN, TOPAZ), MARY WHITE could have been an interesting change-of-pace.

  3. What a fascinating post! I am certain there are a number of interesting stories of directors and writers and "the one that got away." When I read this post, I wondered if "Mary Rose" might have fared better as an episode on "Alfred Hitchcock Presents." Things we will never have a chance to know. Very thought-provoking, Rick!

    1. Toto, I also thought it might be have made a good episode of AHP or THE ALFRED HITCHCOCK HOUR.

  4. Rick, thank you for the fascinating background on Hitchcock and his decades-long fascination with this story (which he pursued much like the phantom of the title character). I read "Mary Rose" while writing my my contribution to Lady Eve's "Month of Vertigo, a tribute to Bernard Herrmann and his music. Hitchcock similarly chased the music score that was part of the original play; he was especially struck by 'the Call' connected with the heroine's disappearances and he later remembered the sensation as "celestial voices, like Debussy's Sirenes nocturne." Hitchcock twice failed to uncover the music, which he had intended to use first as part of the "Rebecca" and second as part of the "Vertigo" film score. I'm glad he deferred to Herrmann in the case of the later.

  5. WG, thanks for mentioning the music. I recall reading about Hitch's infatuation with it. (Like you, thank goodness, BH did the score for VERTIGO).

  6. I'm wondering too how Hitchcock would have handled the Mary Rose material. Maybe he was smart enough not to attempt it. If he had he probably would have 'upped' the creepy quotient of the story.

    I wonder what any of today's directors would do with it.

    I admit I'd never heard of this story by Barrie or of the interest Hitchcock took in it. Live and learn.

  7. Hi Rick -

    Great write-up and very creepy concept/story for a film. I find it hard to believe, even with Marnie disappointment, that Hitch wouldn't have been able to make the film if he really wanted to. Also love how he always referred to his audience as being prepared or not for the material. They were always so easily manipulated by him thru his work. Well, at least I am.