‘The Verdict’: Robert Redford’s loss, Paul Newman’s gain

verdictIt’s always fun to think about initial movie casting ideas that didn’t pan out, and what the iconic films involved would have been like with the original choices.

It’s hard to imagine Claudette Colbert as Margo Channing in “All About Eve,” but she was all set to star in that 1950 classic until a back injury caused the role to go to second choice Bette Davis.

Would “The Graduate” have turned out so well if Mike Nichols’ first choices Robert Redford and Doris Day had played Benjamin and Mrs. Robinson?

With the opening of the new version of “The Great Gatsby” on Friday, I was thinking about the 1974 version the other night and wondering what critics would have made of it if Ali MacGraw played Daisy Buchanan.

verdict1The plush F. Scott Fitzgerald adaptation was developed by her Paramount studio boss/husband Robert Evans because it was MacGraw’s favorite book. But when she ran off with Steve McQueen, Evans gave the part to Mia Farrow.

Getting back to Redford, I’ve always wondered why he hemmed and hawed about playing the troubled Boston lawyer in “The Verdict” — developed with him in mind — to the point where the project stalled and was eventually picked up by his friend Paul Newman.

The history of the movie is tangled. David Mamet wrote a screenplay that was rejected by the producers and director Arthur Hiller, who then hired Jay Presson Allen for an expensive new script. Redford came on board, but rejected the Allen script, and caused another new one to be written by James Bridges. 

Redford eventually left the troubled project, director Sidney Lumet came on board and used the shelved Mamet script — Lumet’s favorite draft — to entice Newman to play the part. The picture turned into a hit, and both Newman and Mamet were Oscar-nominated.  

Tomorrow night, moviegoers will have a chance to hear about the legal aspects of this classic courtrooom drama when the Bridgeport-based law firm Koskoff, Koskoff & Bieder sponsor a special screening of the movie at the Bijou Theatre at 7 p.m.

“The Verdict” is part of a year-long series “Reel Law” which looks at the legal issues raised by filmmakers. Last month, the law firm screened “A Few Good Men” and the next few months will bring discussions of “Philadelphia,” “Witness for the Prosecution” and other films revolving around trials.

It’s a great idea for a films series and the proceeds benefit the Bijou and the Greater Bridgeport Bar Association.

For more information, visit www.thebijoutheatre.com

Joe Meyers