Bagley and film pre-production

In an interview with Dennis Barker from The Guardian, published on 23rd February 1972, Bagley talked about film rights to his novels.

A very cool thinker, Mr Bagley – he can even say nuts to film producers who want him to write scripts. He has worked on a script in Hollywood, but the film was never produced. Film rights of two of his novels have been sold, and options on another two have produced cash. “But no films have been made yet out of any of them. I am interested in films, but I will no longer jump through hoops for producers – they are all talk and no action.” [1]

Desmond Bagley Icelandic media article from Timinn 15th April 1973.

An article entitled ‘Out into the unknown and Desmond Bagley’ appeared in the Icelandic publication Tíminn on 15th April 1973. This article gave an insight into Bagley’s experience whilst in Hollywood negotiating pre-production for a film adaptation of Running Blind. It included extracts from a previous interview Bagley had conducted ‘some time ago’ with a Norwegian newspaper. Bagley stated that he had been approached by Hollywood and visited three times over a period of three months. It was a particularly unpleasant experience for Bagley as his story was changed beyond recognition; he left Hollywood not wishing to return. The extract of this interview is shown below:

This was a terrible experience that I would not wish to experience again. Everything you have read about Hollywood is true. I felt it was a great honour when I was informed that a movie would be made from the book and that I should travel west to write the script. But my experience of the capital of cinema was a poor experience. I was there three months, and during the whole time we could not agree on a script. I sat there with a good idea in mind whilst around me sat a group of senior men who could not agree.

There were limitless meetings. I could never bring my own views across, but the top men continually struck me on the shoulder and said that this would do quite nicely. They tore the words of Running Blind apart and put the story together again in order to tear it apart again. I came many times with the modest suggestion that we should now start to work on the script itself. And they just smiled at me and said that this do would fantastically well. When they finally finished cutting and carving the story, so that it was more profitable but unrecognisable, they asked me to start writing the script. But I’ve never written with a group of people around me forever raising questions and comments. At this point, I was getting annoyed at Hollywood and wished that I had never written Running Blind. Stupidity and nit-picking reached its peak one day as we sat round and all talked about one issue for three consecutive days, if the girl in the movie was to say, “Hello darling, it’s great to see you” or “Darling, how marvellous to see you, come right in”. They did not reach an agreement and the item was wiped out. I left Hollywood and did not think of going back. [2]

The above article mentioned that Bagley had returned to England and had instead made a deal with the film distributor ‘Rank’.

This was corroborated in an article published in Morgunblaðið on 6th March 1973 [3] stating that Bagley had recently written to his publisher in Iceland, Torfi Ólafsson, and informed him that Out into the unknown would be filmed in Iceland in the summer of 1974. Bagley stated he would be arriving in Iceland a few months later on 11th June with his wife, film producer Geoffrey Reeve and two technicians. They would stay for a week to find suitable locations, and intended to spend three days in Reykjavík and three days in Akureyri. The estimated cost of the project was 360 million Icelandic krona (approx £1.8m). This was also reported in Vísir on 27th March [4] stating that the filming would take place in the same locations as in the novel, including Kleifarvatn and Ásbyrgi.

On 8th May 1973 Morgunblaðið [5] published an interview with the British writer Ian Rodger who had visited Iceland on a research trip after he was commissioned to write the screenplay for the film. Ian Rodger, who had started his career, and then spent many years, as a journalist wanted to progress his career as an author. He left the UK for Sweden and lived in Stockholm writing four novels with a Swedish background. Rodger returned to the UK and wrote fifteen plays for radio and television, Elizabeth R – Sweet England’s Pride being televised in 1971.

At the time of being approached to write the screenplay he had just finished writing a television documentary on Roald Amundsen, which he hoped, would be filmed by the Icelandic filmmaker Gisli Gestsson. Running Blind was to be Rodger’s first film screenplay and his research in Iceland was conducted in the company of Gisli Gestsson. Rodger stated that the film Director and actors were not yet decided, though it would be filmed in Widescreen colour and would not be a ‘B’ picture.

However when 11th June 1973 arrived Bagley and Joan did not actually make it to Iceland. It was reported in the Icelandic press, in an interview with Gisli Gestsson, that although Geoffrey Reeve and Ian Rodger, who wrote the screenplay and visited recently, would still arrive in July, Bagley would not now be coming as he had suffered a heart attack. Gisli said:

A tour of the country, where the story takes place, will be made from Keflavik to Akureyri, Ásbyrgi and Öskju and then south through the highlands and Westmann islands and Vík in Mýrdal. The script was not yet finished but is different from the story. [6]

Gisli Gestsson gave an interview to Morgunblaðið [7] on 11th May 1975, two years after his research trip with writer Ian Rodger. In it he stated that he had spoken with representatives from the film company who had decided that the filming of Running Blind would now not take place. He explained that the same film company had produced the movie of Alistair Maclean’s novel Caravan to Vaccarès, (also directed by Geoffrey Reeve and released in 1974) which turned out to be more costly than expected. Since Running Blind was supposed to be more expensive they simply did not have the finances to produce it. Gisli also offered two other reasons why the film company was reluctant to produce the film in Iceland. Firstly that they were appalled by the lack of facilities, particularly that they would have to bring all of their equipment with them as it was not possible to hire any in Iceland. Secondly, that the rate of inflation was a major obstacle for foreign companies wishing to work in Iceland.

Running Blind was not to follow in the footsteps of its character Slade’s sequel The Freedom Trap, which was released on film as The MacKintosh Man in July 1973. However in May 1978 came the news that BBC Scotland were going to produce Running Blind as a three part series for television. [8]

Read contemporary Icelandic press articles about the failed film production of Running Blind


Image © Tíminn (1973). ‘Út í Óvissuna og Desmond Bagley’ (15th April 1973 p. 13).

1. The Guardian (1972). ‘Fortunes in men’s eyes’ (23rd February 1972 p. 10) © Guardian News and Media Limited.

2. Tíminn (1973). ‘Út í Óvissuna og Desmond Bagley’ (15th April 1973 pp. 13 & 39).

3. Morgunblaðið (1973). ‘Metsölubók  Bagley’s kvikmynduð hér’ (6th March 1973 pp. 31& 32) © / Árvakur hf.

4. Vísir (1973). ‘Desmond Bagley Hingað’ (27th March 1973 pp. 1 & 16) © DV ehf.

5. Morgunblaðið (1973). ‘Verður gerð sjónvarpsmynd eftir Njálssögu?’ (8th May 1973 p. 12) © / Árvakur hf.

6. Vísir (1973). ‘Kaupa sumarbústað við Þingvallavatn til að kveikja í honum’ (16th June 1973 p. 20) © DV ehf.

7. Morgunblaðið (1975). ‘Charlotte Rampling í “Caravan to Vaccarès”, en þessi mynd varð til þess, að ekkert verður úr fyrirhugaðri kvikmyndun á “Running Blind” hér á landi í sumar.’ (11th May 1975 p. 46) © / Árvakur hf.

8. The Stage and Television Today (1978).  ‘BBC Scotland making three-part Icelandic thriller’ (Issue 5066 18th May 1978 p 18) © The Stage Media Company Ltd.