Never-Before-Seen Test Footage for an Unrealized Cecil B. DeMille Film

Thursday, December 4, 2014 - 12:45

Recently rediscovered in the Cecil B. DeMille Collection at the Academy Film Archive was roughly 2,400 feet of 16mm Kodachrome footage featuring scouting and costume tests for DeMille’s unrealized feature film Rurales. The footage consists of roughly 90 minutes of silent material shot on location in Mexico. Judging from newspaper accounts of the development of the film, it's possible the footage was shot in 1944 by Arthur Rosson, slated to serve as associate director on the picture. In this exclusive clip from the costume tests, gorgeous color footage shows the unique costume ideas that were being considered.

Based on a story by Jeanie Macpherson, J. Robert Bren and Gladys Atwater, Rurales was optioned for DeMille by Paramount in 1939, and told the story of two Americans who join a branch of the Mexican police, known as the Mexican Rural Guard, or “rurales.” The rurales gained notoriety during Mexican president Porfirio Díaz’s three-decade rule for their merciless brand of law and their distinctive grey uniforms. While he was in production on North West Mounted Police in 1939, DeMille was said to have wanted to produce a different picture before embarking on Rurales, which also dealt with a national police force.

Slated to be shot in Technicolor, the project was in development from 1939 to 1944, with actors such as Paulette Goddard, Arturo de Córdova, Alan Ladd, Katina Paxinou and Carol Thurston attached to star at various times. The film would experience a number of title changes, including The Flame, The Borderman and The Wind that Swept MexicoSeventy years ago, on December 1, 1944, after scouting trips and multiple script revisions, the film was called off by DeMille and Paramount due to costs. According to Motion Picture Daily on December 5, 1944, the film was reported to have an expected cost of approximately $5 million at the time, roughly $67 million today if adjusted for inflation. Having already spent $187,000 on research and development costs (roughly $2.4 million today), the production was officially scrapped for financial reasons. 

Rurales was also a complicated project due to the important relationship between the United States and Mexico. Correspondence between Paramount executives, contained in the Paramount Pictures production records at the Margaret Herrick Library, indicates that they were worried about offending Mexican authorities, which could have resulted in the film being banned in Mexico or other Paramount films being censored there.

In 1960, according to papers in the Paramount Pictures production records, Rurales came under consideration for production once more with Leon Uris attached to write the script. The film, to be released as The Gringo, would never reach the screen. Uris would later write the novel Topaz, which served to inspire the 1969 Alfred Hitchcock film of the same name.

On December 6, the Academy will present a double feature of DeMille’s The Golden Bed (1925) and Male and Female (1919) as part of our ongoing series The Perfect Match: Hollywood Costume Collaborations. The December series will offer three double features spotlighting great partnerships from Hollywood’s Golden Age, including that of DeMille and early costume designer Clare West.

From the Cecil B. DeMille Collection at the Academy Film Archive. Special thanks to Cecilia DeMille Presley.