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!