Johansson to star in lost Kubrick whodunnit

Lunatic at Large, found by the director's son-in-law, is to be filmed later this year

After the legendary film-maker Stanley Kubrick died in 1999, the vast piles of unfinished manuscripts, screenplays and ideas he left behind generated almost as much excitement among fans as his movies did during his life. Now a treatment the director believed had been lost looks set to make it to the big screen, with Scarlett Johansson and Sam Rockwell to star.

The film, Lunatic at Large, is reportedly based on a story written by Kubrick and the pulp crime fiction writer Jim Thompson, with whom he also collaborated on The Killing and Paths of Glory. Kubrick had scheduled to begin shooting the film in the early 1960s but shelved the project after an approach from Kirk Douglas to direct the Roman epic Spartacus, in which Douglas starred.

Lunatic is set in mid 1950s New York, and features two main characters, described in the treatment as Johnnie Shepherd, "an ex-carnival worker with serious anger-management issues", and Joyce, "a nervous barfly he picks up in a Hopperesque tavern scene".

The movie's rather dark central premise is that the audience must figure out, from a range of plausible candidates, which of the movie's characters is an axe-murderer escaped from an asylum.

Kubrick's son-in-law, Philip Hobbs, said he unearthed the misplaced treatment in 1999 when searching through the copious notes and files left by the late film-maker. "I knew what it was right away," he told The New York Times. "Because I remember Stanley talking about Lunatic. He was always saying he wished he knew where it was, because it was such a great idea."

Production Weekly magazine reported that the director for the film has not yet been confirmed, and the movie will be shot later this year.

Stanley Kubrick made 13 feature films in his 46-year career, including Dr Strangelove, 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Shining, but he devoted years of his life to projects that never made it to screen. Lunatic at Large will not be the first time one of Kubrick's works has been completed since his death. In 2001 Steven Spielberg directed Artificial Intelligence: AI, a science-fiction tale starring Jude Law and Haley Joel Osment based on Kubrick's collaboration with the writer Brian Aldiss.

According to The New York Times, Kubrick and Thompson's treatment features scenes including a romantic interlude in a mountain lodge and a carnival sequence, during which the audience encounters a number of sideshow "freaks" including the "Alligator Man, the Mule-Faced Woman, the Midget Monkey Girl and the Human Blockhead, a man with a head full of nails".

Among Kubrick's other notable works that for the moment exist solely in written form are a biopic of Napoleon Bonaparte and the Aryan Papers, an attempt to compress the story of the Holocaust and tell it through the story of an individual person.

When J R R Tolkien sold the film rights of The Lord of the Rings to United Artists in 1969, The Beatles considered approaching Kubrick about the possibility of his directing them in a film of it. Kubrick is reported as having told John Lennon the novel was unfilmable due to its immensity.

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