Five Films Changed Against Their Director's Wishes

Five times that studios and distributors changed a director's film without asking first.




GONE TO EARTH (1950)


Gone to Earth was a co-production between British filmmakers Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger and American producer David O. Selznick. Selznick disliked the version that Powell and Pressburger had produced and took them to court to get it changed. He lost, but soon discovered that he had full control over the film's US release. Selznick had the entire film re-edited, removing scenes he didn't think were dramatic enough even if they were essential to the plot. New scenes were shot in Hollywood under director Rouben Mamoulian which included a prologue, scenes literally explaining things by putting labels or inscriptions on them, and more close-ups of star Jennifer Jones, who was also Selznick's wife. This version, which was 28 minutes shorter than the original, was renamed The Wild Heart and released in 1952.

PAT GARRETT AND BILLY THE KID (1973)


Sam Peckinpah had a difficult relationship with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer throughout the making of this underrated Western about lawman Pat Garrett (James Coburn) being hired to bring down his old friend Billy the Kid (Kris Kristofferson). After producing a preview cut the studio took the film away from Peckinpah and produced their own truncated version. It was a critical and commercial failure and was denounced by the cast and crew. In 1988, four years after Peckinpah's death, his preview cut was released on video and laserdisc by Turner Home Entertainment to huge acclaim. A third version of the film was released on DVD in 2005 combining elements of the theatrical and preview cuts as well as material not seen on either version.

NAUSICAA OF THE VALLEY OF THE WIND (1984) 


Technically, Nausicaä was the first Studio Ghibli film to get a major American release. At least, it would be if the film that came out bore any actual resemblance to Nausicaä. The distributors cut 22 minutes from the film, changed character names and plotlines (Nausicaä was now Princess Zandra), toned down the environmentalist themes, made the Ohmu aggressive enemies, and renamed the film Warriors of the Wind. They even put out a poster full of male characters who don't even appear in the film. After what happened to Nausicaä, Ghibli would enact a strict no-edits policy for all future film releases outside Japan, which co-founder Toshio Suzuki famously enforced by sending an authentic katana with a simple "No cuts" note to the head of Miramax when he tried to change Princess Mononoke.

ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA (1984)


Sergio Leone's epic final film, which followed the lives of two Jewish gangsters (played by Robert De Niro and James Woods) in New York over a 50 year period, was a passion project that the veteran director had been trying to get made since the late 1960s. He originally envisaged two three-hour films, then a single 269 minute version before he was finally convinced by the distributors to shorten it to 229 minutes. This is the version that was shown in Europe, but the film's American distributor, The Ladd Company, recut the film without Leone's involvement, trimming the runtime down to 139 minutes, and rearranged all the scenes into chronological order. This version was a commercial failure and was trashed by critics, especially by those who had seen both versions. A restored 251 minutes was shown at the Cannes Film Festival in 2012 and later released on DVD and Blu-ray. Efforts have been ongoing to restore and release Leone's original 269 minute cut.

BRAZIL (1985) 


Terry Gilliam's original cut of his dystopian satire was 142 minutes long and this was the version that was released internationally by 20th Century Fox. However, the film's American release was handled by Universal. Sid Sheinberg, the chairman of the studio, insisted on extensive cuts and that the film have a happier ending. Sheinberg's 94 minute cut became known as the "Love Conquers All" version. Gilliam engaged in a very public battle with Sheinberg over the release of Brazil, with both taking out full page ads in Variety. This dispute caused the film's release to be continually delayed. Gilliam eventually got sneaky. He was allowed to show clips of the film so he'd hold screenings for film schools and local critics where he'd basically show the entire film. This resulted in Brazil being named Best Picture by the Los Angeles Film Critics Association. This caused the studio to finally release a 132 minute cut of the film approved by Gilliam, although the "Love Conquers All" version would turn up on syndication and the film's DVD release.


Mark Greig has been writing for Doux Reviews since 2011 More Mark Greig

2 comments:

Baby M said...

I wonder, has there ever been an instance of "executive meddling" that improved a show or film?

CrazyCris said...

That's a good question from Baby M!

After reading another post on Director's cuts, and now this one... damn that's a lot of studio interference! You can understand why any director with a bit of weight to his/her name nowadays will push to avoid that.

I've seen Pat Garret & Billy the Kid, don't remember when though. But I don't remember it being bad. I wonder which version I saw?

Would be interesting to do a series of posts comparing studio cuts to director's cuts when they exist, and discuss the pros/cons ;)