Where in the devil is the 'White City' movie?

April 2, 2010

When Erik Larson's The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic and Madness at the Fair That Changed America was published in 2003, it seemed to be only a matter of time before the brilliant book would become a motion picture.

The lavishly told tale of Daniel Burnham's heroic efforts to plan and construct the Chicago 1893 World's Fair juxtaposed with that of serial killer H.H. Holmes who ran a murderous house of horrors mere miles west of the fair captured the attention of actor Tom Cruise's company, which purchased the book's film rights in 2003. At the same time, Leonardo DiCaprio's camp said it had been working on its own film regarding Holmes. You could imagine a heck of a film, with special effects that would allow us to truly see the White City fairgrounds as they were--and how they served as a backdrop for an astounding cast of characters from Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass to Little Egypt (a rumpshaker) and Buffalo Bill Cody.

Seven years later--double the time it took to plan, host and close the 1893 Columbian Exposition--no film has been made. Cruise's film rights expired in 2004 and Paramount pictures picked up the ball in 2007...then nothing. Director David Fincher ("The Curious Case of Benjamin Button") and screenwriter Eric Roth told press junket reporters in 2008 that they were interested in taking on Devil, but it's been radio silence since then. Kind of troubling for those of us who want to see this movie get made:‚  The trusted Internet Movie Database (imdb.com),which used to list the movie as "in production" under its premium service, now doesn't list the movie at all. What gives?

 
"The Devil of the White City, HH Holmes


Daniel Burnham

Your intrepid reporter/flaneur has made a round of calls and inquiries to folks who might know the answer to such things, and awaits word. Meanwhile, let's play casting agent for a bit. Who would you cast as Burnham, Holmes, Louis Sullivan, Frederick Law Olmsted or any of the book's characters? Me? I'd like to see Alfred Molina take a run at Burnham, but his name might not be well-known enough, so do we then consider Tom Hanks? DiCaprio would make a very good Holmes, as I think would Johnny Depp.

But I think Robert Downey Jr--who does that sinister/cunning thing better almost any actor alive today--would be best.

And while I'm at it, I'd like to see John Malkovich play Olmsted and the underutilized Liev Schreiber as Sullivan.

But that's just me. What do you think? Comment below and let's have a discussion.