Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio were hoping to one day adapt Erik Larson’s fantastic book The Devil in the White City into a feature film, with Scorsese directing, and DiCaprio starring as the notorious H.H. Holmes, thought to be America’s first serial killer. But now, things have changed. Instead of a movie, we’re getting a Devil in the White City Hulu show, and while Scorsese and DiCaprio will still be producing, it’s doubtful their involvement will go much further than that. And that’s a bit of a bummer.
THR has the news regarding the film to TV series switch for The Devil in the White City – news that was announced at the Television Critics Association press tour. I won’t sugarcoat things: I’m disappointed. While I do think Devil in the White City lends itself better to a TV series than a film, I really wanted Scorsese to direct. Now, it’s very unlikely (unless he happens to direct the pilot episode, as he did with Boardwalk Empire and Vinyl). THR also says “few details about the TV series — including whether or not DiCaprio will take an onscreen role in the series as initially planned in the movie version — are known at this time.” But I have a hard time believing DiCaprio is going to appear on a Hulu TV series. But stranger things have happened, I suppose.
The Devil in the White City tells two different stories. One involves the design and building of The Chicago World’s Fair of 1893. The other involves H.H. Holmes, a serial killer who built a hotel near the fairgrounds dubbed The Castle. This was no normal hotel – Holmes designed it with torture chambers and air-tight vaults, all designed to kill young women who were flocking to Chicago for work. Here’s the book’s official synopsis:
Two men, each handsome and unusually adept at his chosen work, embodied an element of the great dynamic that characterized America’s rush toward the twentieth century. The architect was Daniel Hudson Burnham, the fair’s brilliant director of works and the builder of many of the country’s most important structures, including the Flatiron Building in New York and Union Station in Washington, D.C. The murderer was Henry H. Holmes, a young doctor who, in a malign parody of the White City, built his “World’s Fair Hotel” just west of the fairgrounds—a torture palace complete with dissection table, gas chamber, and 3,000-degree crematorium.
Burnham overcame tremendous obstacles and tragedies as he organized the talents of Frederick Law Olmsted, Charles McKim, Louis Sullivan, and others to transform swampy Jackson Park into the White City, while Holmes used the attraction of the great fair and his own satanic charms to lure scores of young women to their deaths. What makes the story all the more chilling is that Holmes really lived, walking the grounds of that dream city by the lake.
Devil in the White City is one of my all-time favorite books – it blends the complicated architecture of the World’s Fair with the terrifying bloodthirsty designs of Holmes in a sweeping, engrossing way. The book reads more like a great novel than a historical true story.
I’m still curious to see how the Hulu adaptation turns out. Hulu has been creating some great original shows lately, and if they manage to attract the right talent to this, I’m sure it’ll end up being worth watching. Still, a part of me will always pine for the Scorsese film that never was.
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