Bill Barilko movie dream

LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 5:28 PM ET

Bill Barilko, the love story? No. 5 belting a walk-off grand slam? Those are some of the twists that backers of a Barilko movie wanted to spice up the tale of the star-crossed Maple Leaf to a mass audience — and why the highly anticipated project remains in limbo.

Seven years after Canadian producer George Mendeluk (Kidnapping Of The President, Deck The Halls an the upcoming The Terror Experiment) bought the rights to Without A Trace from biographer Kevin Shea, no one has shouted “action” on the ice or off.

Mendeluk thought the Barilko legend needed very little tweaking, but ran into some old-school film types who wanted to play up Barilko’s love life or even turn him into a baseball player, who hits a bases-loaded ninth-inning dinger before his disappearance. “I will never give up on the film, nor the story, and hope to start production in 2012,” Mendeluk said in an e-mail to the Toronto Sun. “I mean, it took the director of Black Swan 10 years to get it off the ground.”

Mendeluk once called Barilko “the Buddy Holly Story of hockey ... about an engaging, handsome young man, who died before his prime and what he could have been if he’d lived.”

He envisioned a period piece of the early 1950s with snappy art direction and Sinatra-themed music to support the story. Barilko played minor hockey in Hollywood during that city’s exciting post-war days, which was going to figure prominently in the movie as well.

“There is a prejudice among media types and distributors who seem to feel that hockey is not commercial and period pieces are a tough sell,” Mendeluk added. “Even though movies like Slap Shot made a tonne of money. The truth is that anything well done can make money, and a love story with Hollywood in its golden era is one such story, especially when you add the action of hockey.

“The real irony is, I couldn’t get a response from the Leafs organization, nor the National Hockey League, even though it’s about as analogous to (Canadian) culture as opera is to Italy’s.”

Shea hopes the story does find its way on the screen. He tried to explain the continuing fascination with Barilko as “a slice of Canadiana, in every way ... history, mystery, elation, family. It’s got that whole Leafs (aura), that hope that each spring, they’ll win the Cup.”


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