In 1948 John Wayne and Montgomery Clift starred in RED RIVER, a film that is now considered to be one of the best westerns of the 1940s. Directed by Howard Hawks, it transposed the MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY relationship between first mate Fletcher Christian and Captain Bligh on to a cattle drive set within 1800s America. With Wayne taking on the role of the proto-fascist, hard task master and Clift as the sympathetic “first mate” it also represented the marrying of two very different acting styles. Wayne came from the old school studio contract bound system that propped him up as a star based on a specific persona. Clift was the precursor to the Actor Studio trained, method acting types ala Marlon Brando or Rod Steiger. Even Wayne started to take more chances as the 1950s rolled around culminating in what would be one of his best performances, the Ahab-like Ethan Edwards in John Ford’s masterpiece THE SEARCHERS. As to how much Clift’s performance approach influenced Wayne’s risk taking, one will never know. But the team up was successful. And therefore it was inevitable that another project involving the two would go into development.
On the other side of the town, suspense master Alfred Hitchcock had been mulling over an idea with Charles Bennett, one of the writers from his recently released remake THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH. The conceit involved a variation on the hunter becomes the hunted theme. Initially they had considered trying their hand at adapting Richard Connell’s classic The Most Dangerous Game (where a big game hunter tracks down another hunter, then the roles reverse near the end). Apparently (as legend would have it) Hitchcock then had a dream where he found himself confronting a younger version of himself. Staring at his youthful doppelganger, Hitch exclaimed “time is not on our side!” Hitchcock woke from his slumber, immediately contacted Bennett and announced “I have it! What if the hunter is hunting himself… a man who is himself but twenty years from now. And how the older version is attempting to correct some issue from his past… the very present his younger self is living in.” To which Bennett responded “Hitch, that’s crazy! What you’re talking about is a goddamned science fiction story! H. G. Wells would roll in his grave!” But Hitchcock persevered. There was no way around it: time travel would have to be involved. But if they could class up the project with the right cast (not to mention this would be an ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRODUCTION), then there would be nothing to lose. In Hitchcock’s mind, the sci fi element would be his Macguffin. The thrust would rest or fail on the dynamic between the younger and older versions of the same man.
That film, a film that was never completed, a film that could have been Hitchcock’s follow up to MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH but wound up making VERTIGO instead… Could have been the first and only Alfred Hitchcock flick that would err on the side of fantasy and possibly hard science fiction. Ostensibly it seemed like it could’ve been the perfect return team up of John Wayne and Montgomery Clift. And both were extremely game (Wayne had always wanted to work with Hitch and arranged to work on loan from MGM studios. Clift had already previously worked with Hitchcock on I CONFESS). It would’ve also contained Elizabeth Taylor’s only appearance in an Alfred Hitchcock flick as she was encouraged to co-star by her close friend Clift. And the script… a bounty hunter living in a near future where time travel exists but is controlled by both his present and future governments finds himself hunting a future version of himself. Ergo, Montgomery Clift would play the younger version of John Wayne. And, most interestingly, it was Wayne who was most willing to adapt his performance style to Clift’s. According to the existing press material, Hitchock’s vision of the future was not unlike late 1950s America. Apparently Hitch felt it was more realistic that way. The project would also afford Hitchcock the opportunity to push the envelope on action and violence as he wanted to showcase car chases and fight choreography in ways no one had seen before.
But what happened to this film? Two weeks worth of footage was shot and promotional art was prepared. Simply, two weeks into the project Montgomery Clift was involved in a severe car accident that would change his outlook (as well as his physical appearance) forever. His recovery – both mental and physical – put the project on hold indefinitely. And then it stalled altogether. Although Clift continued to work as an actor to great critical acclaim his life was cut short in 1966, having died from a fatal heart attack.
So I am pleased to present the poster for what could’ve been. The first (and only) Sci Fi thriller for either Hitchcock, John Wayne, Montgomery Clift or Elizabeth Taylor. Titled LOOPER (it referred to an amusement park ride that would serve as the main set piece for the film’s climax), it could have been yet another feather in the cap for all parties involved. And seeing as the 1950s was a golden period for Alfred Hitchcock, there is no reason to suspect that LOOPER could’ve turned out to be another JAMAICAN INN.