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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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Hard Out

Comedy From The Closet

Janice and Jeffrey Available Now On IFC's Comedy Crib

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She’s been referred to as “the love child of Amy Sedaris and Tracy Ullman,” and he’s a self-described “Italian who knows how to cook a great spaghetti alla carbonara.” They’re Mollie Merkel and Matteo Lane, prolific indie comedians who blended their robust creative juices to bring us the new Comedy Crib series Janice and Jeffrey. Mollie and Matteo took time to answer our probing questions about their series and themselves. Here’s a taste.

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

Mollie & Matteo: Janice and Jeffrey is about a married couple experiencing intimacy issues but who don’t have a clue it’s because they are gay. Their oblivion makes them even more endearing.  Their total lack of awareness provides for a buffet of comedy.

IFC: What’s your origin story? How did you two people meet and how long have you been working together?

Mollie: We met at a dive bar in Wrigley Field Chicago. It was a show called Entertaining Julie… It was a cool variety scene with lots of talented people. I was doing Janice one night and Matteo was doing an impression of Liza Minnelli. We sort of just fell in love with each other’s… ACT! Matteo made the first move and told me how much he loved Janice and I drove home feeling like I just met someone really special.

IFC: How would Janice describe Jeffrey?

Mollie: “He can paint, cook homemade Bolognese, and sing Opera. Not to mention he has a great body. He makes me feel empowered and free. He doesn’t suffocate me with attention so our love has room to breath.”

IFC: How would Jeffrey describe Janice?

Matteo: “Like a Ford. Built to last.”

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Mollie & Matteo: Our current political world is mirroring and reflecting this belief that homosexuality is wrong. So what better time for satire. Everyone is so pro gay and equal rights, which is of course what we want, too. But no one is looking at middle America and people actually in the closet. No one is saying, hey this is really painful and tragic, and sitting with that. Having compassion but providing the desperate relief of laughter…This seemed like the healthiest, best way to “fight” the gay rights “fight”.

IFC: Hummus is hilarious. Why is it so funny?

Mollie: It just seems like something people take really seriously, which is funny to me. I started to see it in a lot of lesbians’ refrigerators at a time. It’s like observing a lesbian in a comfortable shoe. It’s a language we speak. Pass the Hummus. Turn on the Indigo Girls would ya?

See the whole season of Janice and Jeffrey right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Die Hard Dads

Inspiration For Die Hard Dads

Die Hard is on IFC all Father's Day Long

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIPHY

Yippee ki-yay, everybody! It’s time to celebrate the those most literal of mother-effers: dads!

And just in case the title of this post left anything to the imagination, IFC is giving dads balls-to-the-wall ’80s treatment with a glorious marathon of action trailblazer Die Hard.

There are so many things we could say about Die Hard. We could talk about how it was comedian Bruce Willis’s first foray into action flicks, or Alan Rickman’s big screen debut. But dads don’t give a sh!t about that stuff.

No, dads just want to fantasize that they could be deathproof quip factory John McClane in their own mundane lives. So while you celebrate the fathers in your life, consider how John McClane would respond to these traditional “dad” moments…

Wedding Toasts

Dads always struggle to find the right words of welcome to extend to new family. John McClane, on the other hand, is the master of inclusivity.
Die Hard wedding

Using Public Restrooms

While nine out of ten dads would rather die than use a disgusting public bathroom, McClane isn’t bothered one bit. So long as he can fit a bloody foot in the sink, he’s G2G.
Die Hard restroom

Awkward Dancing

Because every dad needs a signature move.
Die Hard dance

Writing Thank You Notes

It can be hard for dads to express gratitude. Not only can McClane articulate his thanks, he makes it feel personal.
Die Hard thank you

Valentine’s Day

How would John McClane say “I heart you” in a way that ain’t cliche? The image speaks for itself.
Die Hard valentines

Shopping

The only thing most dads hate more than shopping is fielding eleventh-hour phone calls with additional items for the list. But does McClane throw a typical man-tantrum? Nope. He finds the words to express his feelings like a goddam adult.
Die Hard thank you

Last Minute Errands

John McClane knows when a fight isn’t worth fighting.
Die Hard errands

Sneaking Out Of The Office Early

What is this, high school? Make a real exit, dads.
Die Hard office

Think you or your dad could stand to be more like Bruce? Role model fodder abounds in the Die Hard marathon all Father’s Day long on IFC.

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Founding Farters

Know Your Nerd History

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs via Giphy

That we live in the heyday of nerds is no hot secret. Scientists are celebrities, musicians are robots and late night hosts can recite every word of the Silmarillion. It’s too easy to think that it’s always been this way. But the truth is we owe much to our nerd forebearers who toiled through the jock-filled ’80s so that we might take over the world.

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Our humble beginnings are perhaps best captured in iconic ’80s romp Revenge of the Nerds. Like the founding fathers of our Country, the titular nerds rose above their circumstances to culturally pave the way for every Colbert and deGrasse Tyson that we know and love today.

To make sure you’re in the know about our very important cultural roots, here’s a quick download of the vengeful nerds without whom our shameful stereotypes might never have evolved.

Lewis Skolnick

The George Washington of nerds whose unflappable optimism – even in the face of humiliating self-awareness – basically gave birth to the Geek Pride movement.

Gilbert Lowe

OK, this guy is wet blanket, but an important wet blanket. Think Aaron Burr to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. His glass-mostly-empty attitude is a galvanizing force for Lewis. Who knows if Lewis could have kept up his optimism without Lowe’s Debbie-Downer outlook?

Arnold Poindexter

A music nerd who, after a soft start (inside joke, you’ll get it later), came out of his shell and let his passion lead instead of his anxiety. If you played an instrument (specifically, electric violin), and you were a nerd, this was your patron saint.

Booger

A sex-loving, blunt-smoking, nose-picking guitar hero. If you don’t think he sounds like a classic nerd, you’re absolutely right. And that’s the whole point. Along with Lamar, he simultaneously expanded the definition of nerd and gave pre-existing nerds a twisted sort of cred by association.

Lamar Latrell

Black, gay, and a crazy good breakdancer. In other words, a total groundbreaker. He proved to the world that nerds don’t have a single mold, but are simply outcasts waiting for their moment.

Ogre

Exceedingly stupid, this dumbass was monumental because he (in a sequel) leaves the jocks to become a nerd. Totally unheard of back then. Now all jocks are basically nerds.

Well, there they are. Never forget that we stand on their shoulders.

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC all month long.

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