In Hollywood, plenty of scripts get purchased, and should they even make it to the big screen, the long and arduous process of getting them there is called “development hell”. Montezuma has been living in hell for almost half a century. Written by Dalton Trumbo in 1965 as a starring vehicle for Kirk Douglas (the two previously worked together on Spartacus) with Martin Ritt (Hud) intending to direct, the story focuses on the dark and twisted history between Spanish conquistador Hernando Cortez and Aztec leader Montezuma. According to Deadline, the story is “an epic tale of the kinship and ultimately the bloody collision between Montezuma and Cortez as the latter led the Spanish infiltration into Mexico.”
Now, Montezuma may finally escape the bowels of damnation with the help of Steven Spielberg, Javier Bardem, and Steve Zaillian. Hit the jump for more.
The involvement of three major talents like Spielberg, Bardem, and Zaillian would be a nice redemption for the project. Trumbo was among the “Hollywood Ten”, a group of people in Hollywood who refused to testify in the communist witch hunt scared up by the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Trumbo spent 11 months in jail for contempt of Congress, and likely would have been banished from Hollywood forever if not for Douglas hiring him for Spartacus in 1960. Despite Trumbo having 17 film credits to his name afterwards as well as developing One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest for Douglas (they couldn’t get it made with the classic star, and eventually Jack Nicholson took the Oscar-winning role), Montezuma remained in stasis.
According to Deadline, it’s one of Hollywood’s great unmade scripts, and it caught Bardem’s attention since, despite the title, it’s actually from Cortez’ perspective, and he wants to play the role. I haven’t read the script, so I don’t know how Cortez is depicted, but in history, he plundered Mexico in 1519, gave the populace smallpox, befriended and then imprisoned Montezuma, slaughtered the Aztec people, and then Montezuma was killed by his countrymen. To add insult to injury, Cortez fathered a child for Montezuma’s daughter afterwards. If Trumbo’s Montezuma (which could be re-titled to Cortez) stays even fairly close to reality, it’s a juicy role for any actor.
The story could also be enough to woo Spielberg, who’s currently looking for a project after tabling Robopocalypse and departing the adaptation of American Sniper. However, Deadline notes, “This is all just coming together, maybe too soon for Spielberg to do next.
Zaillian is on board to produce, and Spielberg will probably be joining him in that capacity. However, DreamWorks has the rights but Zaillian had a first-look deal with Fox, so there could be a team-up between the two studios.
No matter how this pans out, it’s definitely good material for a film, and I’m glad these three Oscar-winners are considering it.