Movies undergoing enormous changes
And in the last shot, she kills herself. No, wait — he kills her. No, no: How about, he tries to kill her, she fakes him out, then she stabs him? So went the rewrite sessions after Fatal Attraction‘s original ending fell flat, according to director Adrian Lyne. But he’s hardly the first Hollywood director — nor the latest — to have a film whose last reel went back for repairs.
Wuthering Heights (1939)
Viewers of the rough cut were incensed when the picture ended with Cathy (Merle Oberon) dead in the arms of her cruel lover, Heathcliffe (Laurence Olivier). Director William Wyler refused to change it, so producer Sam Goldwyn commissioned a new close with the actors’ stunt doubles as reunited ghosts. Opening-night crowds wept and cheered, proving, Goldwyn said, that ”people don’t want to look at a corpse at the end of a picture.”
It’s all in Joan Fontaine’s head: Her husband, Cary Grant, hasn’t really been trying to murder her. That’s the predictable conclusion Alfred Hitchcock had to settle for after sneak-peek audiences ; jeered at his preferred windup: the glass of milk served up by Grant is poisoned, and a pregnant Fontaine buys the farm.
Meet John Doe (1941)
Frank Capra shot four endings for his tale of a tramp (Gary Cooper) hired by a reporter to say he’ll commit public suicide, the better to protest man’s inhumanity. Doe premiered in different cities with different conclusions; one had Cooper throwing himself off a roof and viewers throwing things at the screen. Capra called back all the prints and filmed yet a fifth finale, wherein Cooper is saved by a squadron of Doe Club believers.
Dr. Strangelove, Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb (1964)
Stanley Kubrick thought the funniest movie ever made about nuclear armageddon would be funnier if it climaxed with a custard-pie fight. He filmed and screened the sequence but decided it was too outrageously slapstick. Also, JFK had been assassinated between the end of filming and the release, and it seemed unlikely anyone would laugh at the line, ”Gentlemen, our President has been struck down in his prime.”
Topaz and Sweet Charity (1969)
Universal produced both of these big-budget flops in the same year and tried to improve them for European release with snappier, happier closings. Now that both are on laserdiscs with both sets of endings, it’s clear the auteurs’ hearts weren’t in the revisions. The ”feel-good” capper of Hitchcock’s Topaz shows a Soviet agent escaping but misses the droll style of Hitch’s favored finale, in which a sniper fells the agent during a stadium duel. (U.S. prints ultimately closed with a third scenario, a suicide scene that Hitchcock didn’t even supervise.) In Sweet Charity, the fate Bob Fosse wanted for Charity (Shirley MacLaine) — she’s dumped by another boyfriend — is played out with much more winning spirit than the ludicrous reconciliation that replaced it.
Thelma & Louise (1991)
A test version had outlaw pals Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis speed right off a cliff in their Thunderbird convertible…and drive away unscathed on the ground below. It was a symbolic statement about freedom, said the filmmakers. It was stupid and unrealistic, said audiences, so the heroines are now frozen in a still frame just as their vehicle begins to plummet.
Dying Young (1991)
Preview-card responses put the moviemakers in a double bind: Viewers didn’t like Campbell Scott’s leukemia-stricken character shooting himself, and they balked at Julia Roberts skipping off with interloper Vincent D’Onofrio. Though every scene still points toward the original unhappy ending, the final edit shows Roberts dumping D’Onofrio to drag Scott back to chemotherapy.
All of which proves one thing: From the beginning, it sure helps to have a good ending.
Alternate ending to this article: All of which proves one thing: Sometimes, the ending is just the beginning.