Aborted Richard Burton role provides film fans with an eight-minute premiere

Ian Herbert,North
Monday 11 March 2002 01:00

One of the year's most curious film premières will capture the late Richard Burton tonight in a role that became a legendary part of his life story without ever reaching the silver screen.

The Bradford Film Festival will show eight minutes of Burton's ill-fated role in Laughter In The Dark, a movie based on Vladimir Nabokov's novel of the same name, as part of a feature entitled Unfinished: Films That Never Were.

Burton, at the height of his powers and married to Elizabeth Taylor at the time, walked off the set several weeks into screening, though the reason remains unclear.

Tony Richardson, the director, later said he fired Burton because he was "hours late, unpleasant to the crew and other actors, sneering about the script" and "would disappear into his caravan" for hours with Taylor. An alternative version of the same legend has Burton storming off in contempt.

Either way, Richardson started again from scratch with Nicol Williamson in Burton's role as an art dealer and the initial rushes were junked.

The fragments, from a time in Burton's troubled career when he was still capable of brilliance, provide a glimpse of how different the film would have been to the version Richardson eventually made.

They also shed light on whether Laughter would have been another hit for Burton or the beginning of a slide into temporary decline. He appeared in a series of disastrous roles until artistic recovery in 1975.

The collection of film strands also includes fragments of Marilyn Monroe emerging, serene and naked, from a swimming pool in Something's Got To Give, a 1962 comedy that the producers reluctantly abandoned after weeks of exasperation at her time-keeping and struggle to remember lines. She died six weeks later and footage of her speaking intimately to a child on the set has also been seen retrospectively as evidence of her yearning to be a mother.

Test footage of Hitchcock's Kaleidoscope, considered too dark by film censors, to the life-long regret of the film maker, is also included in the feature. Hitchcock had reached a low point in his career and wanted to reinvigorate it with the screenplay, which was originally called Frenzy.

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Also included in the collection is Orson Welles's Don Quixote.

Tony Earnshaw, director of the film festival, said: "They are only tantalising glimpses, but each has entered cinema history for the stories they have left behind.Bringing them together allows an interpretation of how things really might have been."

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