Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Universal presents an Alfred Hitchcock picture – Starring Clint Eastwood

Clint and Hitch lunch over Elmore Leonard 's: Unknown Man Number 89  

Sounds rather nice doesn't it... I wanted to put this little piece together, which has been drawn from sources such as books and the internet. It was a project that seemed to hang in the balance around 1977-78. Whilst it ultimately became a project that failed to materialise – it does conjure up some tantalising and rather thought provoking possibilities…   

Alfred Hitchcock, I'm told, was so taken with Lee (the female lead and the character from whom the plot develops) that he got Universal Studios to buy the screen rights of the book for him.  No one knows what Hitchcock has in mind; he died while preparing the film he planned to do before Unknown Man #89.  After his death, a number of the 100-plus producers who had rejected the possibility of the book as a movie now showed considerable interest – what with Alfred Hitchcock’s prints being on the book.  Unfortunately, no one could find out what Hitchcock had planned to do with it, if in fact he planned to do anything at all. I did write an Unknown Man #89 screenplay for Universal, which the studio gave to a talent agency for casting. Elmore Leonard, April 1993.

Unknown Man #89 - a crime novel written by Elmore Leonard was published in 1977. It was also one of the last projects considered by director Alfred Hitchcock.  The gritty Elmore Leonard novel was about a flawed hero up to his neck in criminals and getting caught up with a sad blonde in distress – a tagline that could of been applied to The Gauntlet (1977). 

The novel follows the exploits of Detroit process server Jack Ryan, who has a reputation for finding men who don't want to be found. A string of seemingly unrelated crimes leads Ryan to the search for a missing stockholder known only as "unknown man #89," but his missing man isn't "unknown" to everyone: a pretty blonde hates his guts, and a very nasty dude named Virgil Royal wants him dead in the worst way. This is very unfortunate for Jack, who is suddenly caught in the crossfire of a lethal triple-cross and becomes as much a target as his nameless prey. Along the way, Ryan butts heads with local police, including six-shooter-carrying Dick Speed. The book is perhaps best remembered for a sequence taken straight from The Godfather, where thug Virgil plants a shotgun in the meeting place of his victim, in this case, the fire escape of Bobby Lear's hotel room.

Late in his career, director Alfred Hitchcock flirted with the idea of casting Eastwood as the book’s hero Jack Ryan. Eastwood has touched on the subject in previous interviews. ''Hitchcock wanted me to be in one of his films [which, it turned out, would never be made]. I wasn't nuts about the script. I had lunch with him in his office. When I walked in, he was sitting there very erect and he didn't even move. Only his eyes did. They followed you across the room. He had the same thing for lunch every day — a steak and some sliced tomatoes.'' According to the revised edition of “Hitchcock” by François Truffaut, Alfred Hitchcock was seriously considering adapting Leonard's novel Unknown Man: No. 89, to which he had acquired the rights, as his follow-up film to Family Plot (1976) his 53rd film. 
But of course, there never was a 54th film and Hitchcock passed away on April 29th 1980.

Since this original piece was posted there is also the possibility that Hitchcock was looking at casting Clint for his long proposed project The Short Night, Following the completion of Family Plot (1976) Hitchcock's interest in the project returned and Universal announced it as his 54th film in February 1977. With hindsight, it looks more likely that The Short Night was the basis of this lunch meeting between the two men. 

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