In 1956, when he was still a relatively unknown director, Stanley Kubrick wrote a screenplay based on the novella Burning Secret by Austrian writer Stefan Zweig. The screenplay was never made into a movie, and at some point, it was lost; for many years, Kubrick scholars did not know if the director had even finished the script. But according to Yohana Desta of Vanity Fair, a film professor in Wales has discovered the missing screenplay—and coming in at more than 100 pages, it is nearly complete.
Nathan Abrams, a professor at Bangor University, was alerted to the existence of the script after his book, Stanley Kubrick: New York Jewish Intellectual, was published earlier this year. The son of one of Kubrick’s “collaborators,” who would like to remain anonymous, contacted Abrams and invited him to view a copy of Burning Secret that he had in his possession.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Abrams tells Dalya Alberge of the Guardian. “It’s so exciting. It was believed to have been lost.”
Kubrick, who died in 1999, wrote Burning Secret with novelist and screenwriter Calder Willingham. The next year, the duo would collaborate on the breakthrough anti-war Paths of Glory. Later projects, like 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange and The Shining would cement Kubrick’s reputation as one of the greatest filmmakers in cinematic history.
Burning Secret was adapted from Zweig’s work of the same name, an unsettling novella that follows a baron who befriends a 12-year-old boy in the hopes of seducing his married mother. Zweig’s story is set in an Austrian resort, and the mother and her son are Jewish. Kubrick’s adaptation transports the characters to the American South and elides references to their ethnicity—an intriguing decision, according to Abrams.
“[Kubrick] had experienced anti-Semitism [in the South] while on assignment for Look magazine,” he tells Vanity Fair’s Desta, referencing Kubrick’s early career as a photographer. “It’s interesting that he returned there.”
The script is marked with a stamp from the script department at MGM studios. It’s not clear why Kubrick’s Burning Secret never made it to the big screen, but the BBC reports that the project may have been canceled because the director’s simultaneous work on Paths of Glory put him in breach of contract. It is also possible that the film, with its explorations of adultery, was simply too racy for studio executives in the 1950s.
Whatever the case, Abrams is confident that the decision to axe the project came from the studio, not Kubrick.
As for the quality of the script itself? Abrams says the filmmaker must have believed in its merits. "Was it any good? I mean Stanley thought so, he worked on it,” he tells the BBC. "It would be fantastic to see this published, maybe with some commentary, and then eventually someone maybe wants to make it."