This is the sixteenth 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 movie urban legends.
MOVIE LEGEND: The sequel to Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension was re-worked into the screenplay for Big Trouble in Little China.
Reader Devin wrote in suggesting a legend that was, well, just like the one I posted – was the sequel to Adventures of Buckaroo Banzia Across the Eighth Dimension re-worked into the screenplay for Big Trouble in Little China?
The answer to that is no.
Big Trouble in Little China began in 1982 as a Fantasy/Western screenplay, with the Jack Burton character a cowboy and the whole thing set at the turn of the 20th Century in San Francisco. At this time, it was written by the film’s original screenwriters, Gary Goldman and David Z. Weinstein.
The studios liked the basic idea of the screenplay (doing an adventure film mixing Western heroics with Eastern mysticism), but disliked everything else, particularly the whole “set in the past” aspect of the script.
So after purchasing the script, the insisted the screenwriters update the story to modern times. When they balked at the changes, the studio had them removed.
In stepped W. D. Richter, writer and director of Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension, a very cool, off-kilter science fiction adventure film from 1984.
Sadly, while the film has achieved the level of “cult classic” in the years since its release, at the time, it was not a particularly profitable movie.
It did so poorly that the sequel to the film that was promised during the end credits (see below) never materialized…
So since the sequel never showed up, people presumed that Buckaroo Banzai Against The World Crime League was just re-worked into Big Trouble in Little China.
That is not true.
Richter substantially re-wrote Goldman and Weinstein’s screenplay (to the point where Richter tried to get credit for writing it himself – but the Writers Guild of America ruled that Goldman and Weinstein would still receive “story by” credit, and Richter simply listed as the adapter of their work), but the very general framework of the film remained the same from the original screenplay (Jack Burton gets into trouble in Chinatown).
Richter just re-wrote it all set in modern times (with new dialogue, news scenes, etc.).
John Carpenter (director of the film) then did some re-writes himself.
The released film was dramatically different than the original screenplay, but it WAS based on the original screenplay, not the sequel to Buckaroo Banzai.
Thanks so much to Devin for writing in with the suggestion!
MOVIE LEGEND: Ray Bolger occasionally set himself on fire while on set during the filming of the Wizard of Oz.
STATUS: Basically True
Ray Bolger was already a Broadway song and dance star by the time he took the role of the Scarecrow in 1939′s The Wizard of Oz, but let’s be honest, we know (and he knew) that he will forever be known as the Scarecrow – which is certainly a fine legacy for any actor.
The extensive costuming for the film took up a whole lot of Bolger’s time, and it had other side effects, as well, most notably the effect it had upon his smoking habit.
As you can see, the Scarecrow’s costume is filled with dry straw like an actual Scarecrow…
Well, naturally, all the adult actors on the film smoked cigarettes (who didn’t back then?), and that caused a problem with Bolger’s costume.
At least twice, a stray flame from a cigarette lit his costume on fire!!
Now, of course,
A. It was just small fires that were easily put out
B. Most of the costume was treated with asbestos (ah, the things we didn’t know back then), so it was unlikely for the costume to ever go REALLY up in flames (this treatment was made necessary because there were a few points in the film where Scarecrow comes very close to flames)
but still, he DID catch fire, which is pretty darn hilarious, no?
In fact, according to MGM’s Studio News of the time, a fire extinguisher was kept near Bolger at all times just in case!
Thanks to by Elaine Willingham’s excellent Cooking in Oz: Kitchen Wizardry and a Century of Marvels from America’s Favorite Tale (which actually includes a picture of Bolger in costume smoking a cigarette – if anyone could scan that for me, I’d greatly appreciate it!) and thanks also to Jay Scarfone and William Stillman’s great book, The Wizardry of Oz: The Artistry And Magic of The 1939 MGM Classic for even more information on the topic!
MOVIE LEGEND: Howard Hughes filmed an entirely different ending to Scarface (withOUT actor Paul Muni) to help appease censors.
Howard Hughes’ 1932 smash hit, Scarface, continued in Hughes’ string of screen hits that he produced that pushed the boundaries of censorship in the various states of the U.S. (this was all before the film industry decided to censor itself – back then, each state had their own censorship laws for films).
In the ending of the film (a fictionalized account of the life of Al Capone), Antonio “Tony” Camonte (played by Paul Muni), escapes police custody and is tracked down. He refuses to surrender and is instead gunned down in a blaze of gunfire.
Director Howard Hawks directs the conclusion of the film brilliantly, if violently.
Here, Tony is struck by police bullets…
See as he gets knocked around by the gunfire…
Here are the police firing on him…
Finally, his dead body lies on the ground…
And Hawks beautifully pulls up and we see a sign on a billboard, almost mocking Tony’s death…
And that is how the film ends, with a close-up of the billboard…
It’s a wonderful ending by Hawks.
The problem was, it was deemed far too violent (not to mention that it seemed to show Tony’s defiance of the police in a bit too positive of a light – almost like he was heroic to take on the police).
Hughes decided that his desire for a hit film outweighed any artistic problems he had with the censorship of the film, and since he could certainly afford the costs of doing so (being, you know, really rich and all), he re-shot a brand-new, censor-geared ending of the film, without Hawks’ presence (or permission).
In this new ending, also filmed withOUT Muni, we pick up from the point where Tony has reluctantly given himself in to the police. In the original film, Tony escapes (only for the police to catch up with him and shoot him dead) – in the new version, Tony does not escape. Instead, the next scene we see is a judge sentencing Tony (Tony is off screen at this point, because Muni was not present for these re-shoots). The NEXT scene is an aerial shot, taken from far away where Tony (played by a stunt double) is taken to the gallows and is hanged.
So Hughes figured that this much-less dramatic ending would satisfy those who wanted a more “moral” ending of the film PLUS less violence.
However, THIS ending was deemed unacceptable by state censors, as well.
So Hughes just said, essentially, “screw it, then” and threw out the new ending and returned to the original. He then released the film only in those states whose censors would allow it – and the film became a smash hit ANYways!
In less than a decade, though, things would be a lot different in the film industry, censorship-wise (which Hughes would be all too familiar with when his film, The Outlaw, was released – but that’s a story for another time!).
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