A Change in Plans

November 8, 2010 at 1:40 am (General blather)

Paramount made the film, but changed the title to Special Delivery (1927).

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In late 1923, filmmakers found themselves in a bidding war for the screen rights to the popular play Merton of the Movies.

Reportedly, Buster Keaton was among them, but he lost out to Famous Players-Lasky. Nevertheless, it was announced that Keaton would embark on a similar story, initially titled The Misfit.

The main character of The Misfit would be a small-town projectionist, who goes to Hollywood and ultimately becomes a wealthy film producer. Kathryn McGuire was to be the leading lady, replacing two previous candidates: Natalie Talmadge Keaton, who had retired from the screen, and Marion Harlan, a Sennett beauty who had to drop out because of illness.

The storyline of The Misfit underwent considerable changes before the finished film was released as Sherlock Jr.

(Motion Picture, March 1924, pages 70-72.)

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Sometimes a film never got out of the starting gate.

Erich von Stroheim was slated to direct and co-star in a Constance Talmadge project called East of the Setting Sun in the fall of 1925. He set about writing a screenplay for it, but the film was never made.

(Exhibitors Herald, 8/8/25, page 38.)

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In fact, Stroheim’s intentions would be foiled throughout his career, but sometimes that may have been just as well.

He was determined to get Norman Kerry to play the lead in The Merry Widow, but had to take John Gilbert instead. He wanted Mary Philbin for The Wedding March, but had to settle for Fay Wray.

(Screen Secrets, March 1930, page 61.)

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Paramount announced New Morals for the 1926-1927 screen season, but abandoned the project. In its place, director Mal St. Clair was assigned a Richard Dix boxing drama, Knockout Reilly.

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Movie studios weren’t immune to frustrated intentions, either. M-G-M had high hopes for a science fiction/adventure project, The Mysterious Island, based on a Jules Verne novel.

Originally announced for the 1925-1926 season, the ambitious production went forward in fits and starts. After three directors and a small fortune had been thrown into it, the film finally hit the screen in the fall of 1929, complete with talking and Technicolor sequences. It was not a success.

(Exhibitors Herald, 8/8/25, page 22.)

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M-G-M’s upcoming production of The Torrent (1926) was heavily hyped to exhibitors, with full-page ads in the trade magazines and in this preview book. Intended as a breakout vehicle for Aileen Pringle, the starring role was instead given to a promising newcomer by the name of Garbo.

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Sensing potential stardom in Garbo after The Torrent, the studio cast her in Flesh and the Devil, pulling Carmel Myers out of the project. Incidentally, neither Lew Cody nor Pauline Starke would make it into Paris. Those roles ended up going to Charles Ray and Joan Crawford!

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A major studio like M-G-M had so many stars under contract, and so many projects on the production slate, that substitutions were inevitable.

At times, it could turn into a game of musical chairs. For example, the studio announced in August 1925 that Aileen Pringle would star in its upcoming comedy Dance Madness. Claire Windsor got the part instead.

It was announced that Claire Windsor would play the female lead in Bardelys the Magnificent. But the role went to Eleanor Boardman.

Meanwhile, Eleanor Boardman and Renee Adoree were announced for leads in Sally, Irene and Mary. Those roles ended up going to Constance Bennett and Joan Crawford.

(Exhibitors Herald, 8/8/25, page 22.)

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Let’s wrap up with a couple examples of films that had multiple substitutions for the same role.

It wasn’t hard for the producers of John Barrymore’s film Tempest (1928) to find a leading lady. It was harder for them to hang onto one.

Their first pick, Greta Nissen, was dropped and replaced with Vera Veronina, who was then replaced by Dorothy Sebastian.

Sebastian worked on the film for four weeks before being replaced by Camilla Horn.

(Motion Picture, March 1930, page 94.)

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Camilla Horn, wearing the expression of an actress who expects to be replaced at any moment, is seen here with John Barrymore in Tempest (1928).

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United Artists’ Exhibitor Book for the 1928-1929 season announced a new Charlie Chaplin film to be entitled City Lights, with his co-star from The Circus, Merna Kennedy, as the female lead.

But Chaplin wasn’t satisfied , and replaced her with Virginia Cherrill. After many frustrations with the inexperienced Cherrill, he canned her and brought in Georgia Hale, the female lead from his 1925 hit The Gold Rush. Fearing Cherrill would sue him if she didn’t get the role, Chaplin brought her back and dismissed Hale.

Along the way, he cast his friends Harry Crocker and Henry Clive for roles in the film, but let both of them go as well. Even the film’s storyline, which originally involved the Little Tramp and a small black newsboy, underwent a complete transformation.

Not surprisingly, production dragged on far longer than expected, but when it was finally released in 1931, City Lights emerged as one of the finest films of the silent era… and practically the last.

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– – – Christopher Snowden




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