(link to Contents Page) Dennis Wheatley's
Films and Screenplays
Of the fifty-four published novels by Dennis Wheatley, it is surprising to find that only five were filmed.  Unhappily, the making of two of these was dogged by continuous problems, and one became the swansong of a major British film studio.  And if he was unlucky with the films based directly on his books, he was no more fortunate with the five original screenplays he wrote, none of which were taken up by a studio.

One of the main reasons why so few of his books found their way onto the cinema screen was that, on the whole, they were difficult to film.  His historical titles in particular included battle scenes, complex plots and many different characters.  Likewise, his occult novels had scenes that, until recently, would have been expensive to shoot convincingly.  Add to this the fact that although his books sold extremely well in Britain, Europe and throughout the Commonwealth, he never achieved a similar popularity in America.

Wheatley loved the cinema and counted a number of film actors and directors among his friends.  He had made the film industry the subject of his second published novel, 'Such Power is Dangerous', and had a good understanding of how the film-world operated.

One particularly good friend was the up and coming British director Alfred Hitchcock.  Wheatley had been a guest on the set of many of his early films, and when 'The Forbidden Territory' was published in January 1933, he presented 'Hitch' with a copy.  At a dinner shortly afterwards, Wheatley was pleased to discover that Hitchcock so enjoyed the book that he intended to direct a feature film of it.  But, unfortunately, this promising beginning was soon beset with problems and disappointments.

(still image from the film)
Gregory Ratoff and
Boris Ranevsky in
‘Forbidden Territory’ 1934
(still image from the film)
Anthony Bushell (left) in
'Forbidden Territory' 1934

Hitchcock was just in the process of moving to Gaumont-British studios and taking up a contract to work for Michael Balcon, so told Wheatley to hold onto the film rights until such time that he could persuade his new employer to purchase them.   When the time came, however, Balcon wasn't interested and instead insisted that Hitchcock direct 'Waltzes from Vienna', a musical starring Jessie Mathews.   Unperturbed, Hitchcock then approached Richard Wainwright, a distinguished producer who had been head of UFA films in Germany and had recently relocated to Britain.   Wainwright was keen to pick up a promising new subject for his first British film, and immediately bought the rights.  Although there was a verbal understanding that Hitchcock was to direct, Michael Balcon refused to release him, and instead began production of the famous thriller, 'The Man Who Knew Too Much'.  Wainwright, committed to studio space, technicians and actors, had no alternative but to proceed without him and placed the film into the hands of the American director, Phil Rosen.  This set back was soon followed by another, when Gerald du Maurier, who was originally cast to play the part of the Duc de Richleau (renamed Sir Charles Farringdon in the film), died before filming began and was replaced by Ronald Squire, whom Wheatley considered a totally inappropriate choice for the role.  On its release in November 1934, it was denied a West-End premier and attracted little attention.

In his autobiography 'Drink and Ink', Wheatley bemoans this missed opportunity: 'If only Hitch had made it, Hollywood might have bought the rights to every book I wrote thereafter.  But it was not to be.’

As it is, the film that can been seen today, and which was re-discovered in 2009, is somewhat hard to follow. This is only partially because the currently available film is the U.S. version, which cut out 8 minutes from the U.K. version, but more importantly because the producers ineptly shot a film that was far too long for the cinemas of the day; when completed it ran to 11,000 feet, and they had to edit it down to 7,000 feet before release. As a result, as DW explained in a contemporary letter to autograph-hunter Eileen Cond, audiences found the plot somewhat difficult to follow. To read DW’s explanation, click here

Two years later in 1936, one of Wheatley's most popular novels, 'The Eunuch of Stamboul' was filmed as 'The Secret of Stamboul’.

 (still image from the film) 
James Mason and Valerie Hobson
in ‘The Secret of Stamboul’ 1936

Richard Wainright once again produced it, and Andrew Marton, a Hungarian who later achieved fame directing the chariot race sequence for the 1959 remake of 'Ben Hurr', directed it.  It starred a young James Mason alongside Valerie Hobson.  The inclusion of Hobson probably helped it gain a US distribution as she had already appeared in a couple of Hollywood films, including 'The Bride of Frankenstein' the previous year.  It was finally released in America under the title, 'The Spy in White’.

Around this time, Wheatley wrote an original screenplay entitled 'His Guiding Star'.  This long and complex script of well over thirteen thousand words is an amusing light comedy/thriller similar in tone to Hitchcock's 'The Lady Vanishes', and like that film is stuffed full of stereotypical English types and incompetent foreigners.  Unfortunately, there is no evidence that it was ever seriously read by a studio.

In 1936, at the instigation of Hitchcock, Wheatley wrote another screenplay, 'The Bombing of London', (published in 'Gunmen, Gallants and Ghosts', 1943).  Throughout the thirties, he was utterly convinced that in any future war with Germany, London would be destroyed within minutes by bombing and felt that the government should wake up to this fact and take rearmament seriously.  However, relying as the film industry does on finance from big business, the project could find no backer as the subject was considered to be too controversial and likely to cause the public undue alarm, and as a result, the screenplay was shelved.  Interestingly, the same year, Alexander Korda released 'Things to Come', based on H.G. Wells' futuristic novel, in which a major war breaks out in 1940 and the towns and cities of Britain are completely destroyed by aerial bombing!

Three years later, at very short notice, he was asked to submit a screenplay for Albert de Courville's film 'An Englishman's Home' (USA 'Madmen of Europe').  Much to his annoyance, it was rejected, but when the film was finally released in 1939, he was given a credit along with a number of other writers, although how much, if any, of his script got through to the final version, is unknown.

In his two collections of short stories, 'Mediterranean Nights' (1942) and 'Gunmen, Gallants and Ghosts' (1943), Wheatley included two further film treatments, 'The Terrorist', and 'The Fugitive King'.  'The Terrorist' was actually read by Angus McPhail, the head of the story department at Gaumont-British studios, who reported enthusiastically on it, but Wheatley had specifically written the lead role for the actor George Arliss, who had complete script approval, and he unfortunately, rejected it out of hand.  'The Fugitive King' is a scenario rather than a completed film script, and is based on the second and third chapters of his biography of Charles II, 'Old Rowley' which tells of the young king's flight across England following his defeat by Cromwell at the battle of Worcester.

The Second World War put a sudden stop to any further projects by Wheatley regarding the cinema, and it was only with the burgeoning British horror film industry of the 1960s that producers once again became interested in his work.

Towards the end of 1963, Hammer Films acquired the rights of Wheatley's occult novels, 'The Devil Rides Out' and 'The Satanist', but it wasn't until four years later that filming began on the first of these.  By that time, Hammer had also bought the rights to another Wheatley classic, 'The Haunting of Toby Jugg', and had put into production 'The Lost Continent' based on his 1938 'lost race' adventure 'Uncharted Seas'.  With the film industry showing so much interest in his work, Wheatley believed that very soon studios would be queuing up to film the rest of his books.  This, however, was not to be.

 (group photo) 
Dennis and Joan Wheatley on the set
of ‘The Devil Rides Out’
 (postcard image) 
Promotional Theatrical Postcard
for 'The Devil Rides Out', 1968
Hammer’s version of 'The Devil Rides Out' (1968) cuts the very heart out of the book replacing it with feeble special effects and, apart from Christopher Lee, vacuous performances.  It is curious that Wheatley should have been so pleased with the final outcome, but possibly, he was comparing it with 'The Lost Continent' (1968).
 (poster image) 
Advertising Poster for
'The Lost Continent', 1968
The two films had been in production at the same time and were premiered more or less simultaneously.  Although sporting a superb cast, 'The Lost Continent' is a total fiasco, the second half of which bears no resemblance to the original story whatsoever, and makes 'The Devil Rides Out' look like a masterpiece!  Finally, 'The Devil Rides Out', renamed 'The Devil's Bride', in case its original title would lead American audiences into believing it was a western, flopped in America where a new wave of modern occult horror was emerging typified by Roman Polanski's 'Rosemary's Baby' (1968) and later by William Friedkin's 'The Exorcist' (1973).
 (poster image) 
Promotional poster
for the unmade
‘The Haunting of Toby Jugg’

Following the failure of both of their Wheatley projects, Hammer was loath to invest more money in the other properties it owned, and although for a short while it seemed as though 'The Haunting of Toby Jugg' might finally be made, in the end, this too fell through.

But although failing on the screen, Wheatley's novels were still selling in their millions and this prompted Hammer to consider making a television series called 'The Devil and all His Works' which was to compose of twelve sixty minute adaptations of his occult stories.  But yet again this idea never got beyond the initial planning stage.

By this time, Wheatley had become a close friend of Christopher Lee who had starred in 'The Devil Rides Out', and made over to him, at no cost, the rights to a number of his occult novels.  With these properties under his belt, Lee formed his own short-lived production company, Charlemagne, which following a failed first venture with the film, 'Nothing But the Night', was dissolved in 1975.

By the mid seventies, in the wake of the phenomenal success of 'The Exorcist', subjects dealing with the occult were big box office, particularly if the storyline also involved children, and hoping to capitalise on this, Lee offered the rights of 'To the Devil—A Daughter' to Hammer.

 (poster image) 
British release poster for
‘To the Devil—A Daughter’ 1976

They readily accepted, and in September 1975, the film went into production with a mixed cast of notable British actors such as Christopher Lee, Honor Blackman and Denholm Elliot, alongside the highly regarded American actor Richard Widmark.

Again, there were production difficulties! Widmark, who had script approval, demanded a number of changes and on a couple of occasions threatened to walk out, and when the film was eventually completed, the studio cut the final scene in which the satanic Father Michael played by Lee is struck by lightening, down to a bare minimum and refused the money for it to be re-shot. The completed film bore little resemblance to Wheatley's original story, and so unhappy was he with the final result that he refused to allow Hammer to film any more of his books and in effect vetoed the making of the film's sequel, 'The Satanist', which was to have starred Lee again and Orson Welles. Yet, in spite of its reasonable performance at the box office both in the UK and America (where it was released in some areas as 'Child of Satan'), it proved to be the last of Wheatley’s books to be filmed by Hammer Studios, and the last horror film to be made by Hammer.

 (still image from the film) 
Robert Pattinson, Julian Sands and Rachael Stirling in
The Haunted Airman.

The next time a Dennis Wheatley novel was to be filmed was in 2006, when BBC Four released The Haunted Airman, initially on TV and later on DVD. Starring popular actor Robert Pattinson, it was well received by the public, but disappointed purists by having little in common with the book, and being devoid of almost all its Black Magic themes.

There is little doubt that with modern techniques in special effects, 'The Devil Rides Out' could be made far more effectively today and Christopher Lee is reported to have said several times that he was keen to reprise the role of de Richleau, pointing out that he was now the correct age for the part.

But whether this happens or not, there is much excellent material to be found in Wheatley's books that would translate perfectly to either the cinema or television, and the plots of many of his occult novels could quite easily be updated to a modern context with no loss of integrity.

We shall have to wait and see.

Film Details
Forbidden Territory
November 1934 Progress-Wainwright / General Film Distributors
(USA – 1938 Progress-Wainwright / J H Hoffberg)

(Note : the UK version is 82 minutes long; the US version is only 74 minutes long)
Cast Production
Binnie Barnes:
Gregory Ratoff:
Barry MacKay:
Anthony Bushell:
Tamara Desni:
Ronald Squire:
Boris Ranevsky:
Anton Dolin:
Marguerite Allan:
Alexie Leshkin
Marie Louise
Sir Charles Farringdon
Jack Straw
Phil Rosen
Richard Wainwright
Alma Reville
(Mrs. Alfred Hitchcock)
based on the novel by Dennis Wheatley
Secret of Stamboul
6 October 1936 Universal-Wainwright / General Film Distributors
(USA – ‘The Spy in White’ – 1941 Progress-Wainwright / J H Hoffberg)
Cast Production
Valerie Hobson:
Frank Vosper:
James Mason:
Peter Haddon:
Kay Walsh:
Robert English:
Laura Cowlie:
Andrea Malandrinos:
Cecil Ramage:
Emilio Cargher:
Leonard Sachs:
Sir George
Prins Ali
Andrew Marton
Richard Wainwright
Richard Wainwright,
Howard Irving Young,
Noel Langley
based on the novel
'The Eunuch of Stamboul'
by Dennis Wheatley
The Devil Rides Out
7 July 1968 Hammer / Warner-Pathé
(USA – ‘The Devil's Bride’ – 1968 Hammer)
Cast Production
Christopher Lee:
Charles Gray:
Leon Greene:
Patrick Mower:
Sarah Lawson:
Paul Eddington:
Duke de Richleau
Rex Van Ryn
Simon Aron
Marie Eaton
Richard Eaton
Terence Fisher
Anthony Nelson Keys
Richard Matheson
based on the novel by Dennis Wheatley
The Lost Continent
14 July 1968 Hammer / Warner-Pathé
aka ‘The Dying Sea’ (UK: video box title), ‘Lost Island’ and ‘The People of Abrimes’
Main Cast Production
Eric Porter:
Hildegard Knef:
Suzanna Leigh:
Tony Beckley:
Nigel Stock:
Jimmy Hanley:
Eva Peters
Unity Webster
Harry Tyler
Dr. Webster
Michael Carreras
Michael Carreras
Michael Nash
based on the novel
'Uncharted Seas'
by Dennis Wheatley
To the Devil—A Daughter
4 March 1976  Hammer-TerraFilmkunst / EMI
aka ‘Die Braut des Satans’ (West Germany, 1976) and ‘Child of Satan’ (USA: video title)
Cast Production
Richard Widmark:
Christopher Lee:
Honor Blackman:
Denholm Elliot:
Michael Goodliffe:
Nastassja Kinski:
Anthony Valentine:
Derek Francis:
John Verney
Father Michael Raynor
Anna Fountain
Henry Beddows
George de Grass
Catherine Beddows Michael Goodliffe:
Nastassja Kinski:
Anthony Valentine:
Derek Francis:
John Verney
Father Michael Raynor
Anna Fountain
Henry Beddows
George de Grass
Catherine Beddows
Peter Sykes
Roy Skeggs
Chris Wicking & John Peacock
based on the novel by Dennis Wheatley
2006 BBC Four
Main Cast Production
Robert Pattinson:
Daniel Ainsleigh:
Scott Handley:
Melissa Lloyd:
Julian Sands:
Robert Whitelock:
Rachael Stirling:
Toby Jugg
Pilot Officer
Sqdn Leader Peter Enfield
Sister Grant
Dr Hal Burns
Julia Jugg
Chris Durlacher
Chris Durlacher
Chris Durlacher
based on the novel 'The Haunting of Toby Jugg' by Dennis Wheatley

Back to top

This page last updated    Copyright © 2002-2006 Bob Rothwell. 2007-2022 Charles Beck.   Article Copyright © Richard Humphreys 2002.