Orson Welles (screenwriter, director) THE DEEP [working title: DEAD RECKONING] (ca. 1967) Film script


Beverly Hills: [ca. 1967]. Vintage original film screenplay (under working title DEAD RECKONING), 11 x 8 1/2″ (28 x 22 cm.), die cut wrappers, brad bound, mimeograph, 167 pp. Minor stains to front wrapper and title page, overall near fine or better.

One of Orson Welles’ legendary uncompleted projects, The Deep was filmed at sea off the coast of Yugoslavia between 1967 and 1969, starring Welles, Jeanne Moreau, Laurence Harvey, Michael Bryant and Oja Kodar. It would have been director Welles’ second color film, following The Immortal Story (1968) which also starred Welles and Jeanne Moreau, and was shot by the same cinematographer, Willy Kurant.

Welles’ undated screenplay for The Deep was based on the novel Dead Calm by Charles Williams, a crime thriller later filmed as Dead Calm (1989) by Australian director Phillip Noyce, starring Sam Neill, Nicole Kidman and Billy Zane (two of the novel’s principal characters — the ones played by Welles and Jeanne Moreau — do not appear in the Noyce version).

Welles’ screenplay is written (mostly) in the two-column European style, the left column describing what is to occur visually on screen and the right column setting forth the accompanying dialogue.

The story is ideal for an independent filmmaker with limited financial resources. Everything takes place on a pair of yachts adrift on a calm sea, and there are only five characters:

– John Ingram (Michael Bryant), a young man on his honeymoon, an experienced seaman.

– Rae Ingram (Oja Kodar), John’s attractive newlywed wife.

– Hughie (Laurence Harvey), whom the Ingrams first see rowing a dinghy from his own sinking yacht to the Ingrams’ vessel. When they rescue him, he claims to be the only survivor of a food poisoning incident, but turns out to be a lying psychopath.

– Russ Brewer (Orson Welles), middle-aged and obstinate. One of two people that Hughie abandoned aboard his sinking yacht. In some ways the story’s most interesting character, perceived by John (according to the script) as “Clown? Hard case? Idiot? Drunk, most likely, but what the hell does it matter?”

– Ruth (Jeanne Moreau), whom John at first assumes to be Brewer’s bickering spouse, but turns out to be the abandoned wife of the psychotic Hughie.

When John leaves his own yacht to fetch something from the other boat, Hughie speeds off in John’s yacht, forcibly abducting John’s wife. The script cuts back and forth between John’s boat, where Rae is trying everything she can to escape the deranged Hughie, and Hughie’s larger yacht, where John, Brewer, and Ruth are doing everything they can to keep the waterlogged vessel from sinking and to somehow rescue John’s wife.

There is a sixth character whom we never see: Brewer’s wife Stella, whom Hughie sincerely claims was killed by a shark. However, Brewer is convinced that Hughie murdered her. Everything builds to a shockingly violent climax.

Welles’ incomplete workprint of The Deep belongs to the Munich Film Museum. Years ago it was screened in Los Angeles at the American Cinematheque, and those at the screening praised the performances of Laurence Harvey, Jeanne Moreau and Orson Welles. Harvey is slyly charming, later touchingly infantile, in the part of the psychotic Hughie, whom he plays with a Southern accent like the ones he used in Walk on the Wild Side and Summer and Smoke. Moreau adds depth to her character. Welles plays Russ Brewer with a combination of humor, irony and subtle menace.

Welles conceived The Deep as a kind of comeback film, a commercial suspense thriller like The Stranger (1946), his most commercially successful movie, or The Lady From Shanghai (1947). Welles had long been intrigued by sea stories. The first film he intended to make at RKO, prior to Citizen Kane, was an adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, most of which takes place on a boat sailing up the Amazon River. A substantial portion of The Lady From Shanghai takes place aboard the Everett Sloane character’s yacht (Welles plays a sailor). A key sequence of Welles’ 1955 film Mr. Arkadin occurs aboard the title character’s yacht.

Unlike Welles’ The Stranger or Touch of Evil, The Deep has no political subtext to speak of. Nor is it a parable like The Immortal Story. The Deep is the closest thing to a pure action thriller that Welles ever wrote or directed, and had he been able to complete the movie it probably would have worked as such. Surely, it would have been a significant neo-noir film.

This script comes with a letter of provenance stating that it came from a friend of Peter Noble, author of the 1956 The Fabulous Orson Welles, who in turn was a friend of Welles.

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