Megaphonist

One of the pleasures of research is that you come across the unexpected. In a file of Richard Blaker’s correspondence there is a page from the Los Angeles Daily News for Nov 11th, 1938. It contains this article:

Having journeyed from London to Hollywood to make his debut as a motion picture writer, Richard Blaker, English novelist, took over at Selznick International Studios to begin writing an original story for the film production Titanic.

Director of this production will be Alfred Hitchcock, England’s outstanding film megaphonist. Although Hitchcock has directed some of the best foreign pictures, including The Man Who Knew Too Much, Strauss’s Great Waltz, and The 39 Steps, he never before has directed a film on this side of the Atlantic Ocean.

According to Donald Spoto’s biography of Hitchcock, Selznick asked Hitchcock to name appropriate scriptwriters, so Blaker may have been his choice. (Blaker had acquired a literary reputation since the success of Medal Without Bar, and whenever he could Hitchcock liked to use writers who had successfully written novels or plays.) Some references say that the screenplay was original, but Spoto suggests that it was a free adaptation of a not-very-good novel about a mob leader redeemed by the love of a good woman he meets on the ocean liner.

I imagine that Blaker would have been interested in depicting the professionalism (or lack of it) of the officers and crew. It’s not hard to see how the themes of his war fiction could transfer to this project.

The film came to nothing for a variety of reasons. This extract from a Titanic-themed website explains:

January 1938. Producer David “O” Selznick was looking for a project to lure Alfred Hitchcock from his home, in England to America. Selznick realized that a Hollywood-ized telling of Titanic could mean big box office with international appeal.
Selznick’s office contacted the United States Line about buying the derilict S.S. Leviathan, which was rusting away at a pier in New Jersey. The proposed $2,000,000 dollars wouldnt cover the towing to California, let alone the price of the ship.
During the negotiations in the East, Selznick was trying to get the rights to a screenplay from Howard Hughes.
Alfred Hitchcock heard of Selznicks interest in him helming a “Titanic” project, and wired him that he was also thinking of a movie based on Titanic.

By July, Hitchcock had crossed over on the Queen Mary and signed a contract with Selznick. In one meeting about “Titanic”, Hitchcock suggested an opening scene that starts on a rivet and under the credits pulls back 50,000 feet to reveal the Titanic in all her splendor. He also mused about what might happen if , after filming the Leviathan sinking, they realized they didnt have any film in the camera, and who would inform Selznick.
Soon after, a German film company reported that they were starting a film on Titanic, and several firms representing shipping lines rallied against the Selznick studios to block the film. Even a meeting between the boards and Hitchcock proved futile. With mounting threats of lawsuits, script and film ownership and other numerous headaches, Selznick seemed to move on and paid $50,000 for the rights to Daphne de Mauriers “Rebecca” and announced “Titanic” as Hitchcock’s second feature after “Rebecca”. As “Gone With The Wind” took over the MGM lot,”Titanic” slipped further and further away, and was finally dropped from the roster of films in production. “Rebecca” went on to win best picture of 1939.

 

Spoto, who rarely takes a generous view of Hitchcock’s actions, suggests that Hitchcock  privately thought the Titanic project hopeless from the start, and was only using it as a way of making a beginning in Hollywood.

For Blaker, the shelving of the project was just one of a string of cinematic failures. While still in England, he had worked on films for Denham Studios, and in Hollywood worked on projects such as a fictionalised life of the Duke of Windsor, which came to nothing. The exhaustive International Movie Database has no record of any of his contributions finishing on celluloid.

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