Movie Preview: ‘The Man From Cincinnati’

Gulliver S. Gulliver’s lost 1936 screenplay is dusted off, then gussied up by an Ohioan filmmaker.

When the poet Gulliver S. Gulliver died in 1937, a year after completing the prize of his literary life, a screenplay he would call The Man From Cincinnati, an onerous and bombastic bio-epic about a poet-turned-mobster, he had still failed to sell the tome to any of the Hollywood studios whose doors he had been haunting for the previous five years.

‘It was an awful mess,’ United Studios exec Solomon S. Goldfink confided to Gulliver’s biographer Tad in 1943, ‘and he thought we would just cast him in the lead. That was one of his main bargaining points, believe it or not, and the fact that he thought he could wine and dine us in our own town.’

The screenplay was long believed lost in the turbulent aftermath of the poet’s death or disappearance, and yet in the decades that followed a strong cult following aggressively pursued the discoveries of various of his lost works, among which were Gulliver’s Lost Poems, published in the late 1950s, but also oral reconstructions of his three screenplays, Fowl Fly Away, Bugsy’s in the Belfry, and The Man From Cincinnati. These were finally published by his widow Regalia in a 1965 edition that was received like hot manna by the Gulliver S. Gulliver fanbase.

One of those fans was Millie W., a filmmaker and social rights activist from Cincinnati, who obtained rights to The Man From Cincinnati screenplay in 2003 but decided to sit on it for more than fifteen years, waiting for the opportune moment to film Gulliver’s film play and life.

‘I didn’t want to just do a straight-up adaptation of the script,’ she said in a March interview with The Gorko. ‘Gulliver was too big of a cult figure not to have made it somehow about him, too, and we were waiting for the younger people to pick up on his story. You know these personalities sometimes get picked up by succeeding generations. My Cincinnati is a mash-up of the screenplay, which is about a writer who gets mixed up with some very bad gangsters out of Cleveland and is eventually bumped off, oops is that a spoiler? And Gulliver’s own increasingly delusional existence in Oaxaca and Ohio, and we even put forward our own theory about what happened in that Cincinnati hotel in 1937.’

With Jack Monague in the lead role, with his iconic Donald Pleasance grimace, and Sheila Sharpe filling out the femme fatale Fedora Cardwardine, plus a budget of $35 million, hopes are high for the first cinematic attempt at unspooling the mystery of Gulliver S. Gulliver’s final days. Who, after all, has not wondered why the Cincinnati Man refused the basket Fedora left him on the train, that was supposedly stuffed with hundred-dollar bills? Or who the thin man with the turquoise cufflinks was, who slipped the bomb beneath the car, and then changed his mind, and threw it into the Ohio River? Or why the boxing gym was closed when Cincinnati walked past on his way to the theater, or what Tammy screamed from that second-story window, if indeed it WAS Tammy?

Though there may be no definitive answers to many of these questions, we certainly look forward to watching Millie W. take a crack at them this fall in 35 mm.

The Man From Cincinnati (2020) is due for a wide release this August in theaters across the country, pending COVID restrictions.