This is the ninth in a series of examinations of legends from movies and the people who make them and whether they are true or false.
Click here to view an archive of the previous eight.
MOVIE LEGEND: A scene had to be removed from the film The Program because teenagers were killed imitating it.
The Program was a 1993 film about college football starring James Caan as a college football coach and Craig Sheffer and Omar Epps as two of his star players.
As far as films go, the film was pretty much standard fare. It made about $23 million at the box office – not enough to make people stand up and take notice but also not so little that people would be disappointed.
As far as sports movies go, it was probably better than most.
However, one aspect of the film that DID jump out was a scene that actually had to be removed from the film after its release!
At one point in the film, the star quarterback of the team (played by Sheffer) decides to lay down on the dividing line in the middle of the highway as cars whiz by him. His teammates are shocked at first, but then they basically say, “Hey, that’s a fine idea!” and then the rest of his teammates do it as well.
Makes for a dramatic scene, no?
Well, it must have looked pretty darn cool, because a number of folks were inspired by the film to try it themselves – with deadly results!
From the New York Times…
Michael A. Shingledecker Jr., 18, of Polk, Pa., was killed almost instantly about 1 A.M. Saturday when he and a friend were struck by a pickup truck while lying on a two-lane highway in Polk, a small borough in western Pennsylvania. His friend, Dean G. Bartlett, 17, was critically injured. And Michael Macias, 17, of Syosset, L.I., was critically injured when he was hit by a car at 10:40 P.M. Saturday as he lay in the middle of Bayville Avenue in Bayville.
The scene was cut from the film and rumors are that the negatives were actually DESTROYED so that no one could ever restore the scene for future release!
Makes those “do not attempt this at home” disclaimers seem less silly, doesn’t it?
Thanks to Michael Hinds for the information!
MOVIE LEGEND: Fritz Lang changed the title of his film, M, because he thought it sounded better and not because of any fear of Nazi persecution.
STATUS: I’m Going With False
M is Fritz Lang’s classic film noir story about a child murderer played by the great Peter Lorre (the film appears to be based on Peter Kürten, a real life child killer in Düsseldorf in the early 20th Century).
I won’t go into specifics, but let’s just say that there’s a significant scene involving an “M” in the film.
Well, originally, the film was going to be called Mörder unter uns, which in English translates to “The Murderer Among Us.”
I was reading the other day where it was said:
Contrary to popular belief, Fritz Lang did not change the title from “The Murderers are [sic] Among Us” to “M” due to fear of persecution by the Nazis. He changed the title during filming, influenced by the scene where one of the criminals writes the letter on his hand. Lang thought “M” was a more interesting title.
I thought, “Wow, that’s interesting – I always thought that was the reason for the change. That’s interesting.”
Fritz Lang (who was born in Vienna but lived and worked in Germany) actually left Germany in 1932 after his latest film, Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse (The Testament of Dr. Mabuse) was banned by the Nazis.
Interestingly enough, Lang’s wife at the time (they had been married since 1922), Thea von Harbou, eventually became a Nazi. They split when he left the country and officially divorced in 1933.
So Lang definitely had some issues with the Nazis (it did not help him that he had some Jewish ancestry), but at the same time, M IS a lot cooler of a title than The Murderer Among Us and the “M” in M is pretty darn significant, so I could believe that Lang made the change just because he thought it sounded better.
However, here’s Lang on the topic:
When I tried to make M in 1931 (its original title was The Murderer Among Us), I received menacing anonymous letters, and I was then told that the main studio at Staaken was off limits. “But why such an incomprehensible conspiracy against a film about a child killer in Düsseldorf?,” I asked the studio director. “Ah, I understand,” he said, and with a big smile, he gave me the keys to the studio. But I had already seen the Party insignia on the back. I then understood that the Nazis thought the title applied to them. When they found that the film was based on Peter Kürten, the killer of Dusselforf (whom I knew personally), they consented to let me make the film. The title had to be changed to M. for murderer.
That seems to be pretty much on point, right?
In an amusing sidenote, in 1946, after the war, filmmaker Wolfgang Staudte made a movie about how to deal with all the Nazis left in Germany after the war.
Die Mörder sind unter uns, or in other words, The Murderers Are Among Us.
Thanks to Barry Keith Grant’s Fritz Lang: Interviews (Conversations With Filmmakers) for the perfectly on point Fritz Lang quote!
MOVIE LEGEND: Robert Towne’s original ending for Chinatown was about the complete opposite of the ending that Roman Polanski went with.
Robert Towne was an experienced script doctor who Robert Evans was familiar with from some work Towne did on The Godfather.
Evans tried to hire Towne to write the film adaptation of The Great Gatsby.
Towne felt he could not do the book justice, but he told Evans that he DID have a script that he thought Evans should take a look at.
That screenplay was for the 1974 film, Chinatown, which is one of the most acclaimed noir films in movie history.
Amazingly enough, though, for a film with a legendary ending, the ending that the movie ended up with is about a 180 degree turn from what Towne originally had as the film’s ending.
SPOILER WARNING FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO HAVE NOT SEEN CHINATOWN!!!
The film, which starred Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway and John Huston (as one of the creepiest villains in film history), was directed by Roman Polanski.
In Towne’s original screenplay, the movie ends with Dunaway’s character killing her father and she and Nicholson’s detective, Jake Gittes, kissing as the sky opens up and rain comes pouring down (the film is set in Los Angeles during a drought), metaphorically washing away the sins of the characters.
While Evans loved this upbeat, classical ending, Polanski did not.
Polanski specifically did not WANT the sins to be washed away – he wanted them directly in our collective faces when the movie ended. As Polanski said about the film in 2000…
If it all ended with happy endings, we wouldn’t be sitting here talking about this film today. If you…feel…there’s a lot of injustice in our world, and you want to have people leaving [the] cinema with a feeling that they should do something about it in their lives, [then] if it’s all dealt for them by the filmmakers they just forget about it over dinner, and that’s it.
So Polanski asked for the production designer to give him a street in Chinatown and in one day he wrote the script that the movie ended up using, with Dunaway’s character being shot by the cops and John Huston’s character taking custody of his granddaughter (who is also his daughter, since he impregnated his own daughter after raping her).
As Jake Gittes’ mind spins at the great injustice of it all, his friend tells him, “Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.”
It’s a beautifully sad ending, but Towne felt it was far too depressing. He described Polanski’s ending with a great turn of phrase – “It was like the tunnel at the end of the light.”
However, in the end, I think Polanski’s probably correct – the ending of the film probably does make it stand out more as a film than anything else – although it would still be well regarded if it DID have a happy ending.
Thanks to Mark Cousins for the great Polanski quote.
Okay, that’s it for this week!
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org