They’re Making an Adventure Film About Nikola Tesla and Mark Twain

By  · Published on February 6th, 2017

Tom & Huck have nothing on this duo.

Deadline revealed over the weekend that CBS Films has purchased the rights to Tesla & Twain, an adventure film about the real-life friendship between the two great men. The inventor and the satirist apparently met through a shared social club, but became close when Tesla’s oscillator helped Twain to overcome his constipation – truly. Inauspicious though this beginning may sound, both men lived lives of sufficient invention and intrigue to easily fill ninety minutes.

Nikola Tesla has received the big-screen treatment before, notably in 1980’s The Secret Life of Nikola Tesla, a Yugoslavian film that starred an aging Orson Welles as J.P. Morgan. But perhaps the most memorable portrayal of the once-neglected genius was David Bowie’s in The Prestige. Bowie managed in that film to channel his own outsized charisma into the character’s quiet, enigmatic brilliance. Like Alfred Hitchcock and Truman Capote in years past, it appears that Tesla will now be the subject of multiple films in rapid succession (perhaps we have Elon Musk to thank for this): before Tesla & Twain’s release, Nicholas Hoult will portray him in Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s upcoming The Current War.

That film, which will also stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Michael Shannon, chronicles the battle between Tesla and his rival, Thomas Edison, with whom he vied for numerous patents. Edison and Tesla are famous enemies, in part because Edison is reputed to have stolen many of Tesla’s inventions. Whether or not this legend is true, Tesla’s ire for Edison is likely to find its way into Tesla & Twain. Why? Because Twain was also a compatriot of Edison’s. In fact, Twain appears in a silent film of Edison’s from 1909 – one of the first American films ever made. Despite many adaptations of his work, Twain has only been the subject of one biopic: 1944’s The Adventures of Mark Twain.

Twain in Tesla’s Lab, via History Buff

Based on a pitch by The Emoji Movie scripter Eric Siegel, Tesla & Twain isn’t likely to hew closely to the historical facts (though, given that The Emoji Movie features “Poo” as an actual character, the above constipation origin story might well appear). Rather, the film will probably take on the fictional quality of The Prestige, or indeed the tall-tale quality of Twain’s own work. Unconstrained by factual limitations, it could even turn into a Shanghai Noon/Knights-style parody (the latter film featured Sherlock Holmes author Arthur Conan Doyle). CBS Films specializes in mid-budget work that spans the range of quality, from 2016’s Hell or High Water to 2013’s Last Vegas, so their presence on the project predicts little about how good the film will likely be.

One additional clue: The Jungle Book­’s Brigham Taylor is signed on to produce, boding well for FX sophistication and story structure. But it’ll be hard to say whether Tesla & Twain is worth waiting for until a director and cast get on board. Note: all electricity puns have been spared thus far for the sake of the reader. We know, shocking.

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