Where is Parsifal and the Continued Enigma of Terence Young
At the beginning of the year I wrote a piece for this blog titled Terence Young: The Man Who Would be Bond. Young was a British film director best known for directing three of the first four James Bond films. He served his country with distinction in the Second World War and later went on to direct some impressive films. After the 1960s his career declined, and he had the dubious distinction of directing what is generally regarded as one of the worst films ever made – Inchon (1981). This critically panned film portrayed the titular Korean War battle and was financed by Unification Church founder Sun Myong Moon. Odd, dubious sounding projects marred Young in his last years. He is rumoured to have directed or edited a propaganda film for Saddam Hussein titled The Long Days (1980). The rumour has never been proven, but I explored the possibility of it being true in the original post.
Recently, quite by chance, I came across Young’s name again. I was on the British Film Institute’s website reading about their list of 75 most wanted lost films. The most recent film on the list is Where is Parsifal? (1984). This bizarre film was screened at the Cannes film festival and then seems to have disappeared. It features a stellar cast including Orson Welles, Tony Curtis, Peter Lawford and Donald Pleasance but was savaged by the few critics who saw it. From what I can discover of the plot, it appears that Tony Curtis plays Parsifal, an eccentric hyponchrondriac who has invented a laser skywriter and is trying to sell the patent. A cast of oddballs descends on Parsifal’s castle, and a series of frenetic comic episodes ensue. The BFI has scanned an original programme of the film screening which lists the production team, and when I saw it one named jumped out at me. The executive producer of Where is Parsifal? was one Terence Young. There is no mention of the film on Young’s imdb page, but the BFI site indicates the film was produced by Young and Slenderline productions, who only appear to have one credit, so I assume it was Young’s own shortlived production company. Intriguingly, one of the cast members of Where is Parsifal? was the wonderfully intense Polish character actor Vladek Sheybal. Sheybal appeared in many spy films including, most memorably, From Russia With Love (1963) directed by Young himself. In an article about Sheybal, David Del Valle claims the producers of Where is Parsifal? lied to the then morbidly obese and dying Orson Welles about his role in the film:
It was the second feature with Sheybal and Orson Welles, who was, by then, huge and still trying to raise money to direct again. Welles had taken the role because the (lying) producers had promised to back his planned version of King Lear.
It’s sad to think that Welles was exploited in the making of this film and Young may have been complicit in it. The BFI webpage on Where is Parsifal? appears to be down right now so I can’t link to it, but needless to say if you happen to know about a copy of the film the BFI would like you to get in touch.
UPDATE: A copy of the film has now been found! Read more here.