Tuesday, 22 July 2008

The errors of academia - Part 1

Although H.G. Wells and most of his work have, of course, been subject to a great deal of scholarly interest over the decades, the same cannot be said of either Things to Come, or the other three films that formed part of his deal with Alexander Korda. Even when the works on which they were based are a primary subject, the films barely gets as much as a passing mention. Similarly, whilst numerous biographers have chronicled Wells's life, most devote little or nothing to either the films or - where applicable - their published scripts. Unfortunately, the time covered in Wells's own Experiment in Autobiography (1934) apparently pre-dates even the earliest stages of his dealings with Korda, although its "forbidden" third volume - published very much posthumously as H.G. Wells in Love in 1984 - does provide a few tantalising, though oblique, references.

It was with some hope, then, that I recently purchased the third and fourth volumes of the mammoth Correspondence of H.G. Wells, edited by David C Smith, both being necessary as they cover 1919-1934 and 1935-1946 respectively, spanning the 1934-1937 period during which work on the films took place. Anyone hoping for shattering and candid revelations, however, will be disappointed. While Wells was a prolific writer of letters, most were tightly focused on a particular matter, and rarely strayed into "chatty" details of whatever else he was up to at the time. Sadly, while this collection does include a number of letters between Wells and Arthur Bliss about the latter's music for Things to Come, these are generally the only ones directly dealing with the production of any of the films, although it is possible to tease out a number of interesting details elsewhere.

Volume 4 includes some sporadic communication with the delightfully named Leon M Lion. Smith identifies him as a producer of plays, although he also produced Alfred Hitchcock's film Number 17 (1932) - in which he also acted - and wrote and acted extensively for the theatre, films, and television up to the end of the 1930s. In the first letter quoted of 14 November 1936, Wells says:
"Yes, I'd like a talk but not just now for a week or so. I'm choked with engagements & can get no fragment of time to do my own thinking." (Letter 2207, page 110)
In a footnote, Smith states that this was in reply to a letter from Lion asking to meet Wells to discuss, "Films and the future and be forthwith stimulated." Lion wrote again 2 February 1937, asking if it was possible to meet, which they did on 27 February, and according to Smith:
"Lion told Wells he liked the idea of The New Faust and how it would lend itself to the camera, Lion suggested Laurence Olivier for the lead part. Lion had just seen him in Hamlet, and he invited Wells to see Sir Toby Belch in which Olivier was also appearing. They saw the play and on 6 March Lion wrote again to Wells, proposing casting The New Faust under the direction of Alexander Korda. The film, which was call The Miracle Maker for a time, was produced by Korda in 1936 with Roland Young, Ralph Richardson and Joan Gardner. Lion was apparently attempting a stage production. The film, and the screenplay, were ultimated titled The Man Who Could Work Miracles, (London: Cresset Press, 1936)."
Smith seems to be correct up to a point, in that this does suggest that Lion was looking to produce The New Faust, but it was almost certainly as a film rather than a play. Wells's original deal with Alexander Korda was for four film scripts: Things to Come, adaptations of his short story The Man Who Could Work Miracles - which did indeed have a working title of The Miracle Maker at one point - and his novel The Food of the Gods, and The New Faust, a reworking of his short story The Story of the Late Mr Elvesham. As with the first two - which were filmed - Wells published the script of The New Faust, but at the time only in Nash's Pall Mall magazine in December 1936, whereas the other two had appeared as books in the United Kingdom and United States first, before appearing in the same magazine (Things to Come was also published in an American magazine). On 10 March 1937 Wells wrote to Lion:
"Now we must wait until I can talk to Korda & then I will let you know if anything further can be done." (Letter 2258, page 141)
It is known that following the production problems and poor box office performance of both Things to Come and The Man Who Could Work Miracles, Korda was loathe to proceed with either of the other two films himself. This may represent an attempt by Wells to take some of the risk out of Korda's hands, while still allowing him to profit as director, although it may equally have been primarily Lion's own interest in filming the script. One can only assume that in the end Korda was not willing to either make The New Faust or relinquish the rights to let anyone else do so, and it is known that he eventually paid Wells off later in 1937 in relation to both it and The Food of the Gods.

It is notable that The New Faust seems to have been generally overlooked by most Wells scholars, and it rarely appears in bibliographies of his work. The script was belatedly published in book form by Athlone Press and Continuum International in 1984 as The Man With a Nose and Other Uncollected Short Stories (edited by J.R. Hammond). A curious postscript is that the television writer Jeffrey Caine lists "The Late Mr Elvesham/The New Faust" amongst three scripts written by himself for an "H.G. Wells Short Stories" series for Hallmark Entertainment. This was presumably an ultimately unmade follow-up to Hallmark's 2001 series The Infinite Worlds of H.G. Wells, which freely adapted six of his short stories as if they were events to which Wells himself was either a party or a witness.


Thursday, 17 July 2008


This was something I always vowed I would never do, but lately it has occurred to me that it's a fairly painless way of flagging up prospective "updates" to my various websites, even if I can't immediately get round to doing them. So whether you've come here from Things to Come, The Underground at War, The London Underground in Films & TV, or wherever, the links there (or at least the ones that will be there!) should be selecting the relevant posts here. If you're really curious, though, you can always click on the appropriate link and be subjected to the full blog! Of course, given my usual tardiness, I can't guarantee that this won't also fall by the wayside as well, but it's worth a try....

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