Mary Rose: The Hitchcock Film That Never Was

Alfred Hitchcock Movie ArticlesGuest blogger Rick29 provides a look at one of Alfred Hitchcock’s dream project that never came to be:

Alfred Hitchcock saw the original London stage production of Mary Rose in 1920–and would be infatuated with it for years.

Written by J.M. Barrie (best known for penning Peter Pan), Mary Rose opens with a soldier arriving at a desolate, decaying house where he encounters an elderly housekeeper. The housekeeper is alarmed initially, but the soldier explains that his family once lived in the house. As a flashback unfolds, he tells the story of a young girl, Mary Rose, who disappeared for four days during an island vacation with her family. When she reappears, she has no memory of those four days. Years later, she, her husband, and her young son visit the same island and, again, she vanishes. When she reappears–decades later–she has not aged a day and her grown son is now older than her. The shock is more than she can bear and Mary Rose dies from a heart attack. At the conclusion of the flashback, Mary Rose, still a young woman, returns to the house yet again…only to disappear into a white light.

Hitchcock discussed the possibility of adapting Barrie’s play on numerous occasions. The closest he came to realizing the project was in the mid-1960s after Marnie. In an interview with François Truffaut, Hitchcock explained: “A few years back it might have seemed like the subject was too irrational for the public. But since then the public has been exposed to these twilight-zone stories, especially on television.” Rod Serling influencing Hitchcock’s decision to make a movie–who would have thought?

While developing Marnie, Hitchcock had worked closely with playwright Jay Presson Allen (Hitch and Evan Hunter, the original screenwriter, parted over creative differences). Hitch turned to Allen again and the two completed a screenplay for Mary Rose. Steven DeRosa, author of  the book Writing With Hitchcock, includes a link to the complete Mary Rose screenplay at his web site.(DeRosa’s book contains in-depth descriptions of several of Hitchcock unproduced films, to include Mary Rose and Kaleidoscope.)

There are several theories as to why Hitchcock never made Mary Rose, including the failure of Marnie at the boxoffice and the falling out between Tippi Hedren and Hitch. The famed director often told people that Universal would let him make any movie under $3 million–except for Mary Rose (that was apparently a joke). Hitchcock probably provided the real reason when he confided to Truffaut: “You should make the picture. You would do it better. It’s not really Hitchcock material.”

Hitchcock’s follow-up to Marnie would turn out to be Torn Curtain, a modest effort that makes this blogger yearn for the Hitch flick that might have been.

Prolific guest blogger Rick29 is a film reference book author and a regular contributor at the Classic Film & TV Café , on Facebook and Twitter. He’s a big fan of MovieFanFare, too, of course!

  • Wayne P.

    Yes, I agree with you totally, Rick29…the plot sounds like a winner and audiences wouldve loved it then or now!  The Master of Suspense (Hitch) never really dabbled in the supernatural ala Rod Serling on the small screen, even on the Alfred Hitchcock Presents series.   Its also interesting to note that when RS wrote for the big screen as in Patterns and Requiem for a Heavyweight, he stayed away from the Mary Rose type of stories too.

  • Tito Pannaggi

    I just read about J.M. Barrie’s ‘Mary Rose’ the other day in Christian Braad Thomsen’s brilliant book about Hitchcock
    ‘Hitchcock: Hans liv og film’ (Hitchcock: His Life and His Films). I ordered the book and will like to read soon.

  • Maggie Sulc

    Didn’t Hitch also want to shoot an adaptation of Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad?

  • classicsfan

    sounds a little like Disney’s 1980 movie The Watcher in the Woods

  • Striff

    Sounds great. Someone should produce it all over again. I think it would be a hit today.

  • Vds1955


    • KenR

      ….This is sadly true Vds1955 ~ for me, not much beyond the 40’s had those special elements vital for a truly great movie. I enjoyed “The Wrong Man” because it avoided the obvious Hitchcokien cliches and traded them for a fact based story. “North by Northwest” was highly enjoyable but the decline was even beginning to surface here ~ such poor special effects (seems maybe a good screenplay may have saved that project) 

      So many ‘Great’ Directors continue working long after the magic has gone, only to end up making duds IE: Carol Reed (after Oliver) William Wyler, (after ‘Ben Hur’) John Ford, etc. Guess they just enjoyed working too much. But, they sure left us with some ‘SPECIAL’ earlier works.

    • Gemini09

      I disagree Marnie was not a stinker – although I was disappointed with Torn Curtain due to the lack of chemistry between Paul Newman and Julie Andrews. 

  • Bryan Ruffin

    I would love to have seen what Alfred could have done with that! Even with no more than what I read here, I would gladly watch it.

  • mike

    never heard of Mary Rose, but my wife read the book, and says someone did make a movie. not to fight with her, so I will waite to see if she can come up with a copy or proof of it.