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Thursday, August 16, 2018

Horror Histories Vol. 15 - War Eagles!

For the next few weeks, I want to focus on what never was.  Sounds confusing, I know, but it’s actually a fascinating subject when it comes to movies that were almost made but didn’t quite make it to production.  It’s especially fascinating when they’re connected to big name franchises or tried and true directors/producers.

To kick things off, let’s talk about War Eagles, one of the greatest movies never made.  A few weeks back, I posted about the true story that inspired Merrian C. Cooper’s King Kong.  The gigantic success of that picture seemed to have set up Cooper to be a major player in Hollywood for years to come.  

His next picture was an action/romance film called Flying Devils that featured daring aviation stunts and a love triangle resulting in an attempted murder.  Next up was his Kong sequel, Son of Kong, which isn’t nearly as good as the original but which I love dearly anyway.  

For his next film, Cooper had a hell of an idea and he began turning the wheels to make it happen.  

The plot involved an American pilot who crashes on a mysterious island.  He soon finds that it’s overrun with dinosaurs and while that sounds familiar, this next part takes a hard left into unexplored territory.  

You see, the island is also home to a race of Vikings who have been there for generations.  They’ve learned to tame some of the local fauna, in particular giant golden eagles who they ride into battle against the dinosaurs when attacked.

What happens next is pure 1930’s Hollywood gold!  Nazi’s also land on the island only this group is using it as a staging area to launch an attack on New York.  They have a secret weapon and if it’s deployed, it will cripple America and bring Nazi rule to the States.  

The American pilot convinces the Norsemen to help him stop the invaders and a battle between Nazi fighter planes and Vikings on giant eagles ensues in the skies above New York.

Tell me you don’t want to see that.  Seriously, it would have been one hell of a movie.

How close was it to being finished? 

The script had been polished and completed. Cooper had hired on Willis O’Brien (of King Kong fame) to do the effects work and his test footage designs and sketches had all been approved. 

Articulated models had been created and yes, the image above is one that still exists.  Sets were being constructed.  It was so close that you can almost taste it, but this time around the Nazi’s won.  

World War II escalated to a point where Cooper felt compelled to reenlist.  Once that happened, the bottom fell out and after the war ended, Cooper moved on to other things.

Still, the idea has floated around in the minds of film buffs for years and it actually reached some form of completion in 2008 as a novel.  

Carl Macek (Robotech) wrote a fully realized version that you can pick up at Amazon if you’re so inclined.  

However, if you want to read the original script as well as the definitive document on the whole project, you can.  War Eagles: The Unmaking of an Epic by David Conover is a love letter to this lost film.  It collects production notes, stills, test designs and more importantly, the finished script by none other than Cyril Hume (the man behind the script for Forbidden Planet). 

I encourage you to seek it out as it’s a fascinating read that will set your mind wandering over all the things that could have been if Hitler hadn’t pulled the rug out from under Merrian C. Cooper.

See you next week!

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