Perhaps the most famous of all uncompleted film projects is the Orson Welles version of Don Quixote (starring Francisco Reiguera, Akim Tamiroff, and Patty McCormack, above). Like so many of Welles’s projects – from his first short film, The Hearts of Age (1934), to his final films, The Immortal Story, Chimes at Midnight, The Other Side of the Wind, and the unrealized King Lear – Welles’s Quixote project reflected the director’s obsession with aging and solipsistic delusion. But Welles was neither the first nor last auteur with a yen to film Cervantes’ masterpiece. Terry Gilliam also started – and notoriously failed to complete – a film version of Don Q. Even Howard Hawks wanted to do a version of the story – starring Cary Grant!
I might be in the minority on this, but I think casting an aging Cary Grant as Don Quixote was an excellent idea. I once saw an episode of the ’60s television series I Spy (“Mainly on the Plains”) in which Boris Karloff – of all people – played the aging Don. And he did a damned fine job of it, too. To be exact, Karloff was playing a 20th Century Spanish scholar who only thought he was Don Quixote. But that’s not so far from Cervantes’ original, which is also about an old man who only thinks he is “Don Quixote.”
Such is the power of a great archetype. Anyone can inhabit it, or be inhabited by it. So that any aging man is potentially a Quixote
or a Lear …