x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Posthumous film releases

With Orson Welles's unfinished masterpiece The Other Side of the Wind finally set to be shown, we take a look at some other posthumous releases, from King Kong to The Dark Knight.

Few things are capable of getting film fans more excited than the unearthing of "lost" cinematic treasures, particularly when the artists involved are no longer with us. Following recent reports that the actor and filmmaker Orson Welles's unfinished "masterpiece" The Other Side of the Wind could finally be set for release, many hope the movie will shine a new light on one of Hollywood's most revered figures.

For nearly 40 years, the unedited film has been gathering dust in a vault because of an ownership dispute that followed Welles's death in 1985. But a Los Angeles lawyer told Britain's Observer newspaper last month that it will finally be shown.

Mirroring his best-known film, Citizen Kane, The Other Side of the Wind shows the final hours of an ageing film director. The part was played by John Huston – another Hollywood legend who was as comfortable in front of the camera as he was behind, directing The Maltese Falcon and starring in Chinatown. Welles is reported to have told Huston the character is "full of himself, [he] catches people and creates and destroys them. It's about us, John".

Although rare, posthumous releases are nothing new in the world of film – indeed many actors, writers and directors haven't lived long enough to see their best-known works in cinemas.

King Kong (1933)

When the Hollywood heavyweight Merian C Cooper dreamt up the idea of a "gorilla picture", his first job was to enlist the prolific British author Edgar Wallace (who had penned more than 175 novels) to write a draft of the screenplay. Feeding the Londoner ideas over the telephone from New York, Cooper was surprised when one day, someone else answered his call. Wallace, who had only recently been told he had diabetes by doctors who were astonished the 57-year-old had lived for so long undiagnosed, had slipped into a coma and died. The story, with its epic climax against Manhattan's skyline, was redrafted, but still carried a writing credit for Wallace.

Rebel Without a Cause (1956)

The movie that gave 20th-century cinema it's most iconic bad boy was released less than a month after the Hollywood star James Dean died in a car crash. Appearing in just seven films throughout his career (three without any lines of dialogue), the 24-year old was virtually unknown during his lifetime. But while Dean is now best-remembered as the unruly youth in Rebel, his other performances from beyond the grave (in 1955's East of Eden and 1956's Giant), earned him two posthumous Academy Award nominations.

Enter the Dragon (1973)

Bruce Lee's masterpiece, and the first Hollywood-produced Chinese martial arts movie, received its Hong Kong release just six days after its star died. Lee, who wrote and directed parts of the movie as well as playing its unstoppable lead, suffered seizures and headaches while in the studio dubbing the film. Two months later, the same symptoms led to the 32-year-old's death, caused by a cerebral oedema, more commonly known as water on the brain. Tragically, his son Brandon Lee also died before the release of his best-known movie, The Crow, after an on-set mix-up led to his being shot while filming a scene.

The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

Argued by many fans to be the finest outing in the multi-billion-dollar sci-fi saga, the first draft of Empire's screenplay was written by one of Hollywood's most successful female writers, Leigh Brackett (The Big Sleep, Rio Bravo). She died of cancer in 1978 after completing work on the script, aged 62, and received a co-writer credit on the film, but a debate still rages over how much of her work made it to the screen. After her death, George Lucas commissioned another draft from Raiders of the Lost Ark's Lawrence Kasdan, but many believe the film contains recognisable traces of Brackett's writing, particularly in its dialogue.

Trail of the Pink Panther (1982)

In one of the most cynically opportunistic moves in cinema history, the seventh Pink Panther movie (released two years after its star Peter Sellers's death) was made-up of deleted scenes and reused material from the previous films. Critics hated the idea and panned the movie, while audiences also stayed away. Its director Blake Edwards dedicated the film to Sellers, who died aged 54 after a long history of heart problems, and described him as "the one and only Inspector Clouseau". Despite this, Sellers's widow filed a lawsuit against the movie's producers, claiming that it diminished his reputation.

Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

After completing work on the emotionally charged thriller, the legendary director Stanley Kubrick screened it to his family, studio executives and its stars, the then-married Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. Four days later, the 70-year-old auteur died of a heart attack in his sleep. Running at 2 hours and 39 minutes and costing US$65 million (Dh239m), the film had been in production for a staggering two and a half years. With Kubrick no longer around, many expected the film to be heavily cut before release, but Cruise objected, saying: "If anyone tries to do it, they've got me to go through. It's our movie, Stanley's movie, and no one's going to cut it." It was released four months later... uncut.

The Dark Knight (2008)

Months before its release, expectations were already running high that Heath Ledger's take on the iconic villain the Joker would prove a show-stopper in the Batman sequel. But when news broke that the 28-year old had died of an overdose of sleeping pills, the sadness gradually gave way to even greater anticipation of the performance. When The Dark Knight arrived six months later, no one was disappointed with his terrifying take on the character. He won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar the following year, becoming only the second actor to win an academy award posthumously.