My Favourite Film of 1937.

Film Contrary to the opinions of some, and by some I mean probably you, there are limits to the amount of films I've seen. Granted three or four hundred a year is a grand total, but it's smaller than most film critics and the breadth of types of film isn't that great. As this project reaches backwards into the earlier parts of the last century, I'm bumping up against years in which its possible to count the number of films I can categorically say I've seen, let alone enjoyed can be counted on less than two hands if now one.

Some of those films sound extraordinary and there's one in particular which had me salivating when my eyes glanced across it on the IMDb, a Josef von Sternberg adaptation of Rupert Graves's I Claudius starring Charles Laughton in the title role with Merle Oberon as Messalina. The notion of seeing Laughton's expressive face essaying that role sounds remarkable not to mention the challenge of compacting a book, which on television filled twelve episodes with a duration of fifty minutes each, into a couple of hours.

Except, some quick Googling reveals, it wasn't completed. Sternberg wasn't having an amazing time of it on set, clashing with Laughton and so when Oberon was injured in a car crash during filming, the director used it as an excuse to walk away. The footage still exists however and appeared in a documentary by Sir Alexander Korda, The Epic Which Never Was, broadcast numerously on the BBC during the 70s and 80s and apparently also available on the I, Clavdivs boxed set.

As a proud cineaste the notion of seeing these vestiges of a lost film should fascinate me in a similar way to seeing the restored cut of Frank Capra's Lost Horizon (which would have filled this slot if not for the "directors rule" and I hadn't already reviewed It's a Wonderful Life upstream) with its stills filling in the visual blanks after a complete original audio was found in the vaults.  Or the many iterations of Doctor Who's Shada (and don't think I'm not holding out hope for Big Finish to have Tom and Lalla do it again).

But the version I have in my head with its shots of Laughton growing in strength and power working in the shadows as numerous emperors come and go in an extras filled Rome framed by the academy ratio can't be as good as the reality.  Plus with the constant comparison with the BBC series, the scenes I'd be fascinated to see aren't likely to have have been filmed.  The whole business of it not being complete is likely to leave me empty and disappointed.  But doesn't most film?

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