Stanley Kubrick's lost screenplay

In 1956, Stanley Kubrick, widely hailed as one of the greatest directors of all time, co-wrote a screenplay for a film called Burning Secret, an adaptation of a novella by Stefan Zweig. That script was thought to be lost forever. But now, more than 60 years later, it’s suddenly been located by a Kubrick expert and university professor in the United Kingdom, who says it’s detailed enough to be adapted by modern filmmakers today. Read more about Stanley Kubrick’s lost screenplay below.

Kubrick only made 13 films during his lifetime, but it sounds like he had plans to add at least one more to his filmography. The director co-wrote the screenplay for Burning Secret with author Calder Willingham (The Graduate), and though the project never came to pass, the pair would eventually work together on the script for Kubrick’s anti-war movie Paths of Glory.

The Burning Secret novella is set in Austria, but Kubrick and Willingham’s version moves the setting to America. The story is about a charming but predatory 30-year-old salesman who befriends a 10-year-old boy in order to get close to the boy’s mother, whom the salesman is trying to seduce. The Guardian reports that the script was found by Nathan Abrams, a film professor and “leading Kubrick expert” at Bangor University in Wales. “Kubrick aficionados know he wanted to do it, [but] no one ever thought it was completed,” Abrams said. “We now have a copy and this proves that he had done a full screenplay.”

Abrams calls the movie “the inverse of Lolita,” referring to the director’s 1962 adaptation of Nabokov’s hot-button story, and suggested that one of the reasons the project may have languished is because the production code at the time might have frowned upon the subject matter:

“In Burning Secret, the main character befriends the son to get to the mother. In Lolita, he marries the mother to get to the daughter. I think that with the 1956 production code, that would be a tricky one to get by. But he managed with Lolita in 1962 – only just.”

The script belongs to the son of one of Kubrick’s former collaborators, and was found by Abrams while he was researching a new book about Kubrick’s final film, 1999’s Eyes Wide Shut.

Burning Secret “bears the stamp of the script department of MGM,” and is dated October 24, 1956. That’s the same year Kubrick released one of his earliest features, a small crime thriller called The Killing. According to The Guardian, “MGM is thought to have cancelled the commissioned project after learning that Kubrick was also working on Paths of Glory, putting him in breach of contract. Another account suggests that MGM told Kubrick’s producing partner James B. Harris that it did not see the screenplay’s potential as a movie.”

Abrams says the script is over 100 typed pages, and that it’s “a full screenplay so could be completed by film-makers today.” That would be an exceptionally bold move, but it’s not unprecedented: Steven Spielberg famously adapted one of Kubrick’s unfinished screenplays, A.I. Artificial Intelligence, into a movie two years after Kubrick died. You can read a few more details about Burning Secret over at The Guardian. The novella was first adapted into a feature in 1933, and then remade in 1988; check out the trailer for the latter below:

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