Sunday, May 29, 2011

The "Never Got Made" Files #64 & #65: Reaping the non-Harvest

Chances are if you saw a Bruce Lee or Jackie Chan film at some point in your life, you’ll recognize the film company logo to the left.  Opening many a film with the famous “bong, bong, bong, bong, do-dah-dah-dah,” the Golden Harvest logo is known the world over.  The company was formed in 1970 by Raymond Chow and Leonard Ho, two former employees of the famous Shaw Brothers studios who decided to try to succeed on their own.  And succeed they did as the duo managed to woo top box office draw Jimmy Wang Yu – among many other popular actors and directors – away from Shaw Bros.

Golden Harvest also scored a major coup by winning the bidding war with the Shaws to sign a relative unknown named Bruce Lee to a film contract.  Within just a few years, the company was the top film production house in Hong Kong and usurped their competition.  This was helped, no doubt, by the popular ENTER THE DRAGON (1973), which was made with help from US company Warner Bros.   Co-production was the name of the game and Golden Harvest had no qualms letting their big names get international exposure.  Wang Yu films like THE MAN FROM HONG KONG (1975) and A QUEEN’S RANSOM (1976) saw them working with Aussies and Brits, respectively.  They got even more clout by signing Robert Mitchum to THE AMSTERDAM KILL (1977), which reunited the company with ENTER director Robert Clouse.

In 1978, Golden Harvest had another successful international production with the Vietnam war flick THE BOYS IN COMPANY C (1978), which was directed by Sidney J. Furie and released by Columbia Pictures.  Looking to go to the co-production well one more time, Golden Harvest arranged for a series of films again with Warner Bros. Pictures and announced several pictures.  While many of them got made (THE CANNONBALL RUN, Jackie Chan’s THE BIG BRAWL, DEADLY EYES aka THE RATS), one big bandied about title did not – THE SHIPKILLER.  Based on a book by Justin Scott, THE SHIPKILLER revolved around a guy who begins an Ahab-esque quest to see vengeance on a huge oil tanker and its crew after it unwittingly crushes his smaller boat and kills his wife.

The first notices of the project came in these tiny blurbs in Box Office in August 1978 mentioning producer Chow had picked up the rights to the novel:

A few months later, in December 1978, it was announced that Sidney J. Furie had signed on to direct the project:

This impressive ad ran in Variety in May 1979 with the bold comparison to JAWS (1975).  Hey, no one would get it if they said, “It is like a seafaring DUEL (1971).”

Five months later, this ad appeared in Variety in October 1979.  We can only assume most of 1979 was spent on developing the script as the screenwriter went from Clarke Reynolds to Jonathan Hales.  A small GH profile mentioned a $20 million dollar budget.

Fast forward to May 1980 and the film has still not gone into production.  It is mentioned again in a write up for Harvest’s 1981 line up and is now looking about $4 million lighter in the budget department.

Alas, the film never got off the ground, er, set sail.  Furie would leave the project and go on to make THE ENTITY (1982), much to the delight of ghost sex fans everywhere.  It is a shame as it sounds like it could have been a cool project as 70s nautical films tended to rule and it would have been an awesome vehicle for someone like George C. Scott.

At the same time Golden Harvest announced THE SHIPKILLER, they also announced the production of HIGH ROAD TO CHINA.  “Wait a sec,” I can hear you saying, “that did get made fool!”  Yes, it did but after a prolonged pre-production process that saw some major players attached to the film.  Here are two items from Box Office in October 1978 announcing the project with ENTER THE DRAGON producer Paul Heller behind the project with a May 1979 start date.

Come May 1979, the producers are promising a July 1979 start date with a huge name attached to direct.  Yes, that is the one and only John Huston listed as director.  No doubt it was his fine acting work in TENTACLES (1977) and THE BERMUDA TRIANGLE (1978) that really convinced Golden Harvest he was the man for the job and not his storied directing career.

Despite the targeted summer 1979 filming date, they never got started.  In October 1979, the following ad ran for the film.  Huston was no longer attached with Brian Hutton (KELLY’S HEROES) taking his place.  But an even bigger name (in front of the camera) now took up the ad space: Mr. James Bond himself Roger Moore!  Pretty big casting as Moore was at the height of his popularity as Britain’s top secret service agent.

Sadly, we never got to see either incarnation of the project.  Golden Harvest developed it for a few more years before it finally went before cameras in 1982 with Tom Selleck in the lead role.  And, despite having a convoluted production history, the film turned out to be a pretty entertaining adventure.

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