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Bangor University Professor Discovers "Lost" Kubrick Screenplay

Professor Nathan Abrams, a Kubrick expert at Bangor University, has discovered a 1956 screenplay by Stanley Kubrick which was believed to have been lost. Titled Burning Secret, it was an adaptation of Viennese novelist, Stefan Zweig's 1913 novella of the same name.

The novella is told from the perspective of a twelve-year old Jewish boy. He is befriended by a suave but predatory baron at an Austrian holiday spa resort as a means of seducing his married mother. The child acts as an unwitting go-between for his mother and her would-be lover making for a disturbing story with sexuality and child abuse churning beneath its surface.

Back in 1956, the young Stanley Kubrick was still relatively unknown, having just wrapped his crime heist film The Killing. Together with his producing partner, James B. Harris, he was looking for a new project to boost his fledgling reputation. MGM offered the pair first refusal of any property.

The one that really caught his eye was Burning Secret. Harris recalls, "Kubrick was insistent on it. I think he had a great appreciation for Stefan Zweig.” Kubrick commissioned Greenwich Village novelist, Calder Willingham, who would later go on to work on the screenplay for Paths of Glory in 1957, to write a script for the film. Kubrick worked on the adaptation with Willingham and, according to Harris, “it took quite some time to develop The Burning Secret script.”

"For a long time, the script was lost. It was not even known if it was completed," said Nathan Abrams, who has just published Stanley Kubrick: New York Jewish Intellectual with Rutgers University Press. "This literally just fell into my lap as I was researching for my next book, Eyes Wide Shut: Stanley Kubrick and the Making of His Final Film, to be published by Oxford University Press next year," he added.

"From what I have seen, the screenplay looks authentic. Dated October 24, 1956 it bears the stamp of the Script Department of MGM. It was to be produced by James B. Harris, directed by Kubrick and was written by Kubrick and Willingham."

The Burning Secret screenplay provides an early glimpse of how Kubrick translated a fin-de-siècle Austrian idiom into a contemporary American one. In re-casting the action in an American hotel, it foreshadows his later films, Lolita and The Shining. But really it provides the template for his final film Eyes Wide Shut, particularly in tis concerns with marriage, marital fidelity, adultery and sexuality. "The suave baron, who becomes an American insurance salesman, certainly provides an early model for Victor Ziegler and Sandor Szavost in Eyes Wide Shut."

The project never came to fruition when MGM, the studio Kubrick was working with at the time, cancelled the project. It would be made again by Kubrick assistant Andrew Birkin in 1988.

Publication date: 16 July 2018