Jack Nicholson once came this close to directing Lee Marvin in a film Nicholson considered a dream project for years. The iconic film legend just turned 82 years old, supplying the perfect reason to blog about the project that almost was. I discovered this near-miss while researching Lee Marvin Point Blank, one of several frustratingly close projects the actor almost made that I put in a separate appendix in the back of the book.

Lee Marvin on location in Malta for SHOUT AT THE DEVIL, around the time Jack Nicholson wanted him for MOONTRAP.

Jack Nicholson, circa 1977, at the time, the hottest property in Hollywood.

The project was entitled Moontrap, based on a novel by Don Berry. It was part of the author’s “Oregon Trilogy,” and, according to Amazon:
“The year is 1850, a transitional period in the new Oregon Territory, with settlers and lawmakers working to subdue the untamed region. Johnson Monday, a former mountain man, has been living on a bend of the Willamette River near Oregon City for seven years with his Shoshone Indian wife, struggling to make a place in settled society. One day, Webster T. Webster, a raucous, unrepentant trapper, arrives for an unexpected visit. With his earthy humor and stubborn adherence to the simple life, “Webb” leads Monday through adventures that flirt dangerously close to lawlessness, while helping him to rediscover his moral center. Through defiance, triumph, and tragedy, Moontrap follows Johnson Monday as he realizes that relinquishing the stark honesty of mountain life for the compromises of civilization may be too high a price to pay.”

As hot a property as Nicholson was at the time, he was unable to get the financing he wanted to get the film made. A major sticking point was the fact that he only wanted to direct it, not star in it. Several investors were approached, almost agreed, and then walked when Nicholson declined to get in front of the camera. It’s a shame really, as it would have made a fascinating and worthy project had it come to pass. Not sure which role would’ve been played by Marvin, but the character’s situation of Johnson Monday sounds like the original plot to the stage play Paint Your Wagon. However, the description of Webster T. Webster sounds more like Lee Marvin’s screen persona.
We’ll never know now, of course. We can merely wish the great Nicholson a most happy birthday and recall the immortal words of John Greenleaf Whittier: “Of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these, ‘It might have been.’ “

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