A Hitchcock thriller that never was: The Short Night

Near the end of his life, Alfred Hitchcock had worked on the script for a projected spy thriller, The Short Night. The project was originally announced in the late 1960s at the time of Topaz and Hitchcock scouted locations in Finland. A romantic suspense thriller with espionage elements, the script was based on both a same-titled novel by Ronald Kirkbride, and the non-fiction book documenting the case of real-life double agent George Blake titled The Springing of George Blake by Sean Bourke. Hitchcock commissioned screenplays by James Costigan and frequent collaborator Ernest Lehman, both of whom wrote several drafts. The script draft by David Freeman, reproduced in Freeman’s book The Last Days of Alfred Hitchcock, takes place after the break out from London’s Wormwood Scrubs Prison of Gavin Brand (the screenplay’s version of Blake).

Despite some preliminary work, the story was never filmed. This was caused primarily by Hitchcock’s own failing health and his concerns over the health of his wife, Alma, who had suffered a stroke. “Although work on The Short Night had stopped, he continued coming into his office now and then; at the start of 1980, he was awarded a knighthood by Queen Elizabeth. Now eighty years old, Hitchcock at last decided that he could no longer carry on as though he might still make another movie. He told the head office at Universal that he was going to retire, and, unable to face his staff, left it to others, like producer Herbert Coleman, to give them the bad news. After a last run of publicity interviews following his knighthood, and with no office left on the Universal lot, Hitchcock stayed home and took to bed. He died on April 29, 1980, surrounded by his family. Alma Reville lived till July 6, 1982. Having grown out of touch with reality following her strokes, she seemed unaware of Hitch’s death, telling visitors that he was on a set somewhere, and that he would be home soon.” —A Short Knighthood: Alfred Hitchcock’s Final Years

Back in 2009, Mystery Man on Film wrote: “They were so close to making this film that they had a poster designed (seen at the top of the article) by illustrator Jussi S. Karjalainen. Oooooo… Sean Connery and Liv Ullmann? Really? I love it! Man, I’m SO there! Regrettably, due to Hitch’s failing health, they quietly canceled what would have been his final project in 1979. He died a year later. But if only Hitch and his screenwriter, David Freeman, had worked faster… If only Freeman found a way around Hitch’s leisurely pace and heavy drinking… Freeman recounted his experience working with Hitch in his book, The Last Days of Alfred Hitchcock, where you can also read the screenplay for The Short Night.” —Script Review: Hitch’s Short Night

Here’s a rare treat, a document of exceptional historical value: “No writer is listed on this draft, and as far as I know, this is the latest version of the script, and perhaps the film Hitchcock was intending to shoot before he abandoned it.” Thanks to Allansfirebird and the great folks at Write to Reel. As always, the screenplay [pdf] embedded below is for educational purposes only.

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