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Five ridiculous studio mandated endings

Five ridiculous studio mandated endings (photo)

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Most Hollywood movies are products of collaboration and compromise. Unless their directors have the contractual right to select their own final cut, the ultimate decision on the content of the film belongs to the studio that distributes it. Occasionally, this process can produce a stronger movie than one made in a creative vacuum. Other times, the results can be disastrous. Just recently, I watched two films whose endings had been radically recut by their distributors in last ditch attempts to lighten up uncommercial material. When test audiences found 1972’s “Conquest of the Planet of the Apes” too dark for their taste, an unmotivated reconciliation speech was hastily and awkwardly woven into existing footage. “Conquest” is a famous example of studio intervention; 1997’s “Mimic” is not. But as I sat and watched a character heroically sacrifice themselves and then magically reappear alive a few scenes later, I could just tell I was watching a resolution other than what director Guillermo del Toro originally intended. A little research confirmed my suspicion.

Those movies got me thinking about the most ridiculous studio mandated endings in history, and by ridiculous endings I mean the ones that deviate in the most extreme ways from the directors’ and writers’ original intentions. Ridiculous means tragic becomes comic, sad becomes happy, and dead characters get a new lease on life. There are many, many examples of this phenomenon. Here are my picks for the five most flagrant. And given that this is an article about endings, you should know that the SPOILER ALERT is in full effect throughout.


“Suspicion” (1941)

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

“Suspicion” was based on a 1932 novel called “Before the Fact,” notable for its story of murder told from the point-of-view of the victim. Hitchcock’s big-screen adaptation was notable for the fact that its studio, RKO Pictures, demanded an ending that totally reversed the original novel’s intent. In both versions, Lina (Joan Fontaine) falls for Johnnie (Cary Grant), but begins to suspect after their wedding that he is not an ideal husband. She learns about secrets in his past and trouble with money, and eventually comes to suspect he is plotting to kill her. In “Before the Fact,” Lina’s suspicions are entirely correct; Johnnie poisons her and she goes to her death willingly because despite his flaws, she loves her husband. But because Johnnie was played in “Suspicion” by Grant, who the studio believed the audience could never accept as a murderer, the film’s ending — and its entire meaning — was changed. Instead of Johnnie trying to kill Lina, he’s actually trying to kill himself. It’s an absurd reversal, but it’s one that actually plays to Hitchcock’s strengths; it turns a novel about love in dark extremes into a film about a wrongfully accused man and a paranoid leading lady, two of Hitchcock’s most popular themes.

Watch more about the end of “Suspicion” in this making-of documentary:


“The Last Laugh” (1924)
Directed by F.W. Murnau

There is just one intertitle in all 101 silent minutes of F.W. Murnau’s “The Last Laugh.” It is placed shortly before the end of the film, according to Roger Ebert, “almost as an apology,” because the title marks the moment when the films slips from Murnau’s control. Apparently the German studio UFA demanded Murnau’s tragic tale of an old man (Emil Jannings) who loses his beloved job as a hotel doorman conclude happily to improve its box office potential. Murnau obliged, in a fashion; he gave his doorman a happy ending, but chose one so absurdly upbeat that it became what Alyssa Katz describes as “a grotesque parody of a happy ending.” And he gave the audience a taste of his displeasure with that one intertitle, which reads: “Here the story should really end, for, in real life, the forlorn old man would have little to look forward to but death. The author took pity on him and has provided a quite improbable epilogue.”

The infamous intertitle, and the “Wayne’s World”-ready mega happy ending, can be found starting at 12:09 of this embedded clip.


“Brazil” (1985)
Directed by Terry Gilliam

Yes, Terry Gilliam directed “Brazil,” but he almost didn’t choose its ending. The film was distributed by Universal Pictures, and the studio’s chairman at the time, Sid Sheinberg, so disliked Gilliam’s preferred finale (in which the hero Sam’s mind is destroyed by the totalitarian regime he’s been struggling against) and ordered the film recut. His so-called “Love Conquers All” version took a portion of Gilliam’s ending — — Sam flees from the city to a beautiful countryside which is actually a figment of his catatonic imagination — and removed the framing scenes that revealed that Sam’s escape was all an illusion. As Sheinberg had it, Sam didn’t dream of freedom, he actually found it. Fortunately, Gilliam was able to leak his cut to the press, and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association gave this “Brazil” their Best Picture award of 1985. Rising critical sentiment finally convinced Sheinberg to release a modified (but Gilliam approved) 132 minute version. For once, love didn’t conquer all.

Excerpts from Sheinberg’s “Love Conquers All” ending. You can also find comparison stills of the various editions here:


“The Magnificent Ambersons” (1942)
Directed by Orson Welles

Fittingly for a movie about a young man who finally gets his comeuppance, “The Magnificent Ambersons” was the place where boy genius writer/director Orson Welles’ luck ran out. He lost his right to final cut after “Citizen Kane” and then he lost his follow-up film altogether. According to editor Robert Wise, audiences in 1942 were too concerned with World War II to care about a story of a wealthy family’s gradual fall from grace. So with Welles out of the country and unavailable for reshoots and edits, Wise himself oversaw the removal of several dozen minutes of footage and the shooting of an entirely new, far more upbeat denouement (for a full accounting of the changes, read the “Ambersons” page on Filmsite.org). The young man, George (Tim Holt), gets his comeuppance and then a manufactured happy ending. Welles got a manufactured happy ending and, whether deserved or not, a big dose of comeuppance of his own. It would not be the last in a career marked by struggle and studio intervention.

“Ambersons”‘ original ending is considered lost along with the rest of the deleted scenes from Welles’ cut. You can see Wise talk about his work on the film at TCM.com.


“Little Shop of Horrors” (1986)
Directed by Frank Oz

“It’s pretty dark, in a nightmarish way,” says “Little Shop of Horrors” director Frank Oz on the commentary track to his film’s original ending. Brother, he ain’t kidding. Oz’s adaptation of an off-Broadway musical initially maintained the play’s bummer of a finale: greedy Seymour Krelborn (Rick Moranis) and his girlfriend Audrey (Ellen Greene) are eaten by the flower shop’s star plant (really an evil alien from outer space), who continues to grow into an enormous monster and then takes over the world. The off-kilter wrap-up may have played well off-Broadway but when “Little Shop” was tested for preview audiences, Oz says they “just hated” the fact that they killed the adorable and charming Greene, and that in turn killed all the film’s momentum before the big show-stopping final number. Oz reshot the ending so that Seymour triumphed over his extra-terrestrial foe and lived happily ever after with Audrey, a total 180 from the scripted conclusion. That meant scrapping a massive special effects sequence where the plant takes over the island of Manhattan; it also meant losing some of the story’s intended value as a cautionary tale. Suddenly Seymour was standing triumphant, with sweet understanding that off-Broadway plays can take chances that multimillion dollar films cannot.

Embedded below is the first part of the original ending, along with Oz’s commentary. To find the rest of the twenty minute sequence, go to YouTube.


What’s your pick for the most ridiculous studio mandated ending of all time? Tell us in the comments below or on Facebook and Twitter.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.