Kubrick Screenplay Rediscovered

On Film / The Daily — Jul 16, 2018

Almost twenty years after Stanley Kubrick’s death, buried treasure is still being unearthed from the enigmatic director’s archives. After he completed The Killing (1956), but before he turned to Paths of Glory (1957), Kubrick cowrote a screenplay with novelist Calder Willingham, an adaptation of Stefan Zweig’s 1913 novella Burning Secret. For six decades, that screenplay was considered lost, but as Dalya Alberge reports for the Guardian, Nathan Abrams, a professor at Bangor University, has found it. “Kubrick aficionados know he wanted to do it, [but] no one ever thought it was completed,” Abrams tells Alberge. It was not only completed but also stamped by the MGM script department with the date: October 24, 1956.

Abrams spent a decade researching and writing Stanley Kubrick: New York Jewish Intellectual, a book released in March and reviewed last month by Jordan Hoffman for the Village Voice. “Everything the Bronx-born photographer-turned-auteur made (or even considered making) has, according to Abrams, rich seams of Jewish signifiers if you just know where to drill,” writes Hoffman. In the case of Burning Secret, you don’t have to drill too deep. Zweig, a wildly popular writer in the 1920s and 1930s whose work inspired Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, was born into a wealthy Jewish family in Vienna. His stories have served as the basis for over eighty films, including Max Ophuls’s Letter to an Unknown Woman (1948), and Burning Secret has been adapted three times—most recently in 1988 by Andrew Birkin, who worked as an assistant to Kubrick in the late 1960s.

Burning Secret is set at an Austrian resort where a serial seducer has his eye on a woman who won’t give him the time of day. So “the Baron,” as he’s always referred to in the novella, befriends her twelve-year-old son in order to get him to serve as a go-between. “One wonders what they were putting into the water in Vienna a century or so ago to produce people with such a capacity to enter into the human soul, and then render it into art or analysis,” wrote Nicholas Lezard in a review of the novella for the Guardian in 2008. “Around the time Zweig published this, Freud was writing On Narcissism, and there are moments here when you marvel at the psychological accuracy and plausibility of Zweig’s characters.”

Kubrick and Willingham shifted the setting to the States and, according to Abrams, the screenplay is so fully fleshed out, it could be picked up and shot today. So why wasn’t it made in 1956? According to Alberge, there are two possibilities. MGM may have considered Kubrick’s work with Kirk Douglas and United Artists on Paths of Glory a breach of contract. Or, as Abrams suggests, MGM may have simply found the story to be “too risqué.” Somehow, though, Kubrick had a way of finding projects that were at least adjacent to the ones that got thwarted. He spent years preparing a film about Napoleon, and when it fell apart, he picked up a copy of William Makepeace Thackeray’s 1844 novel The Luck of Barry Lyndon. And forty years after abandoning Burning Secret, he turned to Dream Story, a 1926 novella, to make his final film, Eyes Wide Shut (1999). The author of that notably risqué novella? Arthur Schnitzler, a Jewish writer from Vienna.

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