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Film on Film: 5 Classics That Deserve a Film of Their Own

[Editor's Note: Here's abstew with 5 Hollywood on Hollywood pitches. Co-sign!]

It's no secret that one of Film's favorite subject matters is, well, itself. The past two Best Picture winners (The Artist and Argo) have had Hollywood and the art of film-making at their core. And this weekend another film-on-film, Saving Mr. Banks, about Walt Disney's decades long struggle to bring Mary Poppins to the big screen expands across the country in its quest to join those previous films in Oscar glory. The story seems ready-made for the movies - beloved source material, larger-than-life characters/personalities, and, just because it can, a hard-knock-life childhood back-story thrown into the mix. (If the old Hollywood angle doesn't win them over why not add the Academy's other irresistible allure: the biopic. It's two films for the price of one!)

I'm sure many people were unaware what went into trying to convince author P.L.Travers to sign over the rights to Disney and I'm sure even fewer people knew about Travers' back-story. But so many classic films have equally fascinating behind-the-scenes stories that would make just as compelling films. In honor of Saving Mr. Banks, here are 5 other classic films that deserve their own film treatment. So, quiet on the set...Action! 

The Wizard of Oz 

If a film about the making of Mary Poppins can have alcoholic fathers and attempted suicides, then I say bring on the R-rated version of the making of this other childhood staple. Because this production was hardly G-rated. Starting with poor Judy Garland being turned into a drug addict at the age of 16 by the studio. They gave her uppers during the day and downers at night for the few hours of sleep she was able to squeeze in during the 6 month shoot that consisted of 16 hour days at least 6 days a week. Then there's the Munchkins. Most of them were circus performers and during their off hours turned the Culver Hotel into drunken orgies. But you would too if you were being paid less than Toto the dog. And let's not forget the near deaths that happened on set. Original Tin Man, Buddy Ebsen, had to drop out of the film after an allergic reaction caused him to be hospitalized. And Wicked Witch, Margaret Hamilton, suffered second degree burns on her face and hands when the green grease-paint caught fire during the filming of her departure from Munchkin land. And perhaps the legend of the man who hangs himself in the Tin Man's forest can be put to rest. A film about the troubled making of this classic would certainly cause you to look at your favorite childhood film in a different light.

Gone With the Wind

While not nearly as salacious as Oz, this other classic from 1939 has a history as epic as the completed film. When producer David O. Selznick set out to make a film version of Margaret Mitchell's wildly popular (and Pulitzer Prize winning) novel, the two year, pre-production process was widely reported by the major newspapers and every casting choice was closely scrutinized - and all before the age of  internet and twitter! While a television movie was already made in 1980 (with Tony Curtis as Selznick) about the process of casting Scarlett, perhaps they could focus on another aspect of the production. (Although, I would still love to see a big-screen version of when Vivien Leigh appears against a backdrop of the Burning of Atlanta, after the movie had already started filming without a Scarlett cast. Appearing like a firery answer to Selznick's prayers.) They could follow in Saving Mr. Banks' footsteps and flashback to Margaret Mitchell's writing of the novel (did you know Scarlett was originally supposed to be named Pansy?!) and her childhood in Atlanta - showing the real-life inspiration for the fictional story. Or perhaps Oscar winner Mo'Nique could finally do that Hattie McDaniel biopic she's been wanting to make and have the film from her point of view. Of course, the climax of the film would be when she gets up from her place at a segregated table to accept the Best Supporting Actress Oscar.

A Streetcar Named Desire

Okay, so maybe all I really want is a Vivien Leigh biopic. But instead of a cradle to tomb structure, they should focus solely on the actress during the filming of this iconic film. Leigh did the stage version of the play in the West End in London and at the time was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder. She would receive electroshock therapy during the day and then go on stage to play Blanche at night. When the time came to make the film version, Leigh was the only one not reprising their role from the Original Broadway production. (With a virtual cast of unknowns, Broadway's Blanche, Jessica Tandy, was recast with the Hollywood star of the most successful film of all-time.) Feeling like an outsider and dealing with her illness, director Elia Kazan exploited her vulnerability to the fullest getting a performance out of her that she later said tipped her over into madness. Add in a young sex-on-a stick Marlon Brando (who apparently had the pockets taken out of his pants so that Stanley could play with himself in scenes. You know, for the "character".) and you have a film that might just combust with the crazy/sexy/cool-ness of it all. 

The Misfits

I was almost tempted to include the filming of Cleopatra on here, but I think we've had enough television movies made about Elizabeth Taylor to last us a Lifetime. After a faux-Broadway musical and an Oscar-nominated biopic about a week with her, it seems like it's time to let Marilyn Monroe rest as well. So, why make a film about the making of her last completed film? For the men: Arthur Miller, Clark Gable, and Montgomery Clift. Have the film focus on the three of them with Marilyn as the through line. Miller was the screenwriter on the film and in between rewrites on the troubled film had to deal with his marriage to Marilyn falling apart as she became more and more dependant on alcohol and prescription drugs. In 1960, Gable, who had been Monroe's favorite movie star growing up, was a long way from being the number 1 box-office draw that he had been in the 30's. The film also proved to be his last as well, suffering a heart attack two days after filming. And, of course, Monty. The actor, years after his disfiguring car accident, was well into his battle with alcoholism. Monroe once remarked that he was the only person more messed up than she was. Matt Bomer has said that his dream-role would be to play Montgomery Clift. Perhaps a film about the making of The Misfits could be that vehicle.

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?

Bette Davis and Joan Crawford were the biggest movie stars of the 30's and 40's and both Best Actress Oscar winners. But by the 60's, their stars had started to fade and the women found it harder and harder to find parts. It was also common knowledge that the two loathed each other. So, when the two actresses appeared in their one and only film together, stories about the on-set rivalry almost seemed more juicy than the actual film produced. (Which is really saying something because Bette Davis in her baby-doll, kabuki make-up is bat-shit crazy perfection in the film.) During filming, Davis would take pictures of herself and the crew drinking Coca-Cola and send them to Crawford, whom had been married to the president of Pepsi. And even bashed Crawford's head with a shoe during filming, causing her to get stitches. And it all led up to Oscar night where Davis had been nominated for her 11th Best Actress Oscar. The un-nominated Crawford, had written all the other nominees and asked if she could accept in their behalf is they happened to win and not be able to attend. When Anne Bancroft's name was announced, up walked Crawford to accept with a scowling Davis looking on. I would love to cast two other rivals - Courtney Love as Davis and Madonna as Crawford in the roles. Neither really looks all that much like the real-life actresses, but it would be too campy to resist.

Now your turn - what Classic Film do you think should have a film made about it? Sound off in the comments!

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Reader Comments (30)

Regarding those munchkin orgies, there is the forgotten Chevy Chase/ Carrie Fisher flick Under the Rainbow.

December 21, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCorey

take some meetings, pitch these ideas!

December 21, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterpar3182

We have documentaries about the making of Fitzcarraldo and Apocalypse Now. But they would also work as features.

December 21, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRalph

I think they should read The Divine Feud about Joan and Bette and go from there,i bet Meryl would be first in line for Bette maybe Weaver as Crawford she does entitlement well.

December 21, 2013 | Unregistered Commentermark

I like the idea of doing a behind the scenes GWTW from Hattie McDaniel's viewpoint

December 21, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoe (uk)

Behind the scenes of "Titanic" sure would be juicy!

December 21, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTyler

A film about the making of Funny Girl would be entertaining!

The GWTW film could include George Cukor's firing and a cameo by F. Scott Fitzgerald as script doctor.

December 21, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

Great post!
In addition to everything that was written here on Streetcar, there is the rumour that Leigh caught Brando making out with Olivier on the set and just walked away without being angry or anything.

Also, I know no one will agree, and I'm not crazy about the idea myself, but the story of how Harry Potter made its way to the big screen (with Spielberg being interested and then not doing it and Luhrmann being approached and saying no etc) might make a good movie.

December 21, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJames T

Triumph of the Will. Not joking in the slightest.

December 21, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMichael

ujnfortunately, unless the fate of SAVING MR BANKS changes at ht ebox office i'm not sure we'll see more of these :(

December 21, 2013 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

I love the idea of a movie about The Misfits. I think a movie(s) about one or more of the Orson Welles classics could also be fascinating. And hey, why not something top-quality about Star Wars?

December 21, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterScottC

Get Streep and Close to play Joan and Bette- it could be a very funny black comedy.

December 21, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJaragon

par3182 - i'm game! anyone know any producers in need of some ideas?

tyler - i thought of including Titanic, but think we need a couple more decades' distance before the REALLY juicy stuff reveals itself

suzanne - and barbra could play herself! (she wouldn't allow it any other way...)

December 21, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterabstew

ScottC -- star wars is probably the only one that would make any money!

i love all of these ideas but Corey is right that there was already a munchkin centric wizard of oz film: Under the Rainbow

December 21, 2013 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

James T: Rowling herself, even, was stumping for TERRY GILLIAM. Yeah, imagine how different the series would have been if he did them.

December 21, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

Dune (1984)

From what I gather the mob subplot in Mulhulland Dr is taken right out of Lynch's own experience making Dune.

Showgirls (1995)

All of Paul Verhoeven's American features deserve their own movie. But Showgirls is special in that there's so much misinformation about what really went down. And the competency of those involve from star and director.

December 21, 2013 | Unregistered Commenter3rtful

GWTW & Oz would probably be the most cinematic since they are both still so popular -- replaying on TV constantly during the holiday season.

The battle of young actresses wanting to be Vivien Leigh playing Scarlett O'Hara would be fierce to watch play out.

December 21, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBia

As long as we're talking about the tragic, masculine, alcoholics of The Misfits, let's not forget that it was directed by John Huston.

December 21, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRobert A.

SAVING MR BANKS will probably do better in the DVD/streaming market. Not necessarily a film most people will rush out to see on the big screen. But...probably won't have the international market that seems to be driving much of Hollywood these days.

I'd like to see the backstory of the making of CHINATOWN. I guess fights between stars and director were epic.

December 21, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPam

I guess to stave off the inevitable remakes for as long as we can, the Hollywood backstory version is what we'll have to put up with instead. I'm not keen on the idea really, but My Week with Marilyn and Hitchcock weren't bad movies so...

Casablanca could be fun. The international cast is probably the best part and that seems to be the real key as to whether a filmed backstory would work. The stars that the new cast would be playing need to be interesting enough to watch on a personal level and this movie has them in spades (Samuel Spades). Also, the fact that the script was being written while the movie was being filmed adds some potential conflict and tension.

December 21, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSean Troutman

Great ideas. Especially the GWTW and Streetcar.

I would cast Close as Davis and McTeer as Crawford. The only way a bio of that film will work is if the actresses playing the parts get along off screen.

Rebel without a Cause, Citizen Kane, The Birds and the Garland-Mason Star is Born.

I also like the idea of Chinatown, but think its too soon.

December 21, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterHenry

could someone explain the burning of atlanta comment? I don't get it. Is the author trying to say vivian lee was not cast yet when they shot it?

December 21, 2013 | Unregistered Commentermalibujd44

Scarlett was not yet cast when they burnt the back lot which is the scene in the movie of the burning of Atlanta. Every actress in Hollywood, from Bette Davis to Lucille Ball had been tested for the role and Selznick was not happy with any of them. As the story goes, the night they "Burnt Atlanta," with stunt doubles in the carriage, it was arranged for Leigh ( a little known British actress attached to Lawrence Olivier) to meet Selznick at the set. She arrived wearing a very chic black suit and picture hat. The light from the flames caught her face and she was cast. Its one of the greatest "discovery" stories in Hollywood, better even than the Lana Turner "sweater at the soda counter" story.

Anyone want to fill in more details?

December 21, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterHenry

Oh yeah, Leigh wanted the role bad. She had read the book several times and the meeting was very calculated on her part, especially the hat which is in Mitchel's description of Scarlett in the opening of the book. She managed to show Selznick Scarlett at every point in the story in a few seconds without making it obvious. The only thing left was an "I'll think about it tomorrow."

December 21, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterHenry

If you're prepared to go outside Hollywood, the story behind Carné's Les enfants du paradis would be pretty spectacular: a 3-hour epic made in German-occupied France at the end of World War II, with the Jewish production designer and composer in hiding and the leading lady sleeping with a high-ranking German officer.

December 21, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterestienne64

The only thing I'd add to Henry's explanation of Vivien Leigh's meeting with Selznick is that she wasn't cast on the spot. It wasn't just the flames of the fire striking her face that made Selznick cast her. Leigh still had to do a screen test. Selznick liked what he saw, but there was still a (small) period when they were debating between four finalists: Paulette Goddard, Kate Hepburn, someone else, and Vivien Leigh. Leigh and Goddard were really the frontrunners, if I remember correctly, but Goddard had some potential scandal attached to her (involving Charlie Chaplin) and Leigh ultimately won the part.

Interesting side note: On February 2, 1938, Louella Parsons reported that Paulette Goddard would play Scarlett O'Hara. It was printed up in papers and everything, even though Selznick claimed they hadn't officially made their choice yet. I assume this was all before Selznick "met" Leigh, but I'm not positive about that.

December 21, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterThe Real Robert A.

One correction to myself: the four Scarlett finalists were Joan Bennett, Jean Arthur, Paulette Goddard, and Vivien Leigh. You can go to Youtube and watch some of their screen tests!

December 21, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterThe Real Robert A.

Goddard was indeed the first choice for Scarlett but her scandal prone personal life derailed her. She and Charlie Chaplin claimed to have married in China and lived together in Hollywood. Selznick was worried about her reputation with the public so didn't want to give her the part even though Cukor was grooming her for the role. Then Leigh arrived. Problem solved.

Selznick didn't need a star for the role. He already had Gable and Howard and the most popular book in the world. And no TV to compete for audience attention. Plus, Leigh was a great actress.

I've always wondered what the film would have been like if Lucille Ball had been cast. Boggles the mind.

December 21, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterHenry

Didn't Meryl already star in a film about two aging divas who loathed each other? The wonderfully black Death Becomes Her comes to mind?

And I can see Streep in the Crawford role actually. Only one actress has the 'Bette Davis Eyes' IMO and has already won an Oscar for playing a famous person - Marion Cotillard. Maybe it was my imagination - but while I suffered throughout the overrated Public Enemies I couldn't help seeing Bette's eyes on Marion's face.

BTW - why not a film about the making of 'All About Eve'? Or even Sunset Boulevard?

December 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBette Streep

there is all already a fantastic book about All About Ever called All about, All About Eve by Sam Staggs (St Martins press 2000) . It goes from preproduction to the premier and lots lots lots lots more. Absolutely fantastic book for anyone who loved the movie and its stars.

December 22, 2013 | Unregistered Commentermalibujd44

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