Friday, December 02, 2016

the working title

The above still from "Sexual Perversity in Chicago," directed by Edward Zwick from the David Mamet play of the same title, was included in the summer preview press kit distributed by TriStar Pictures in 1986.

However, by the time the film was released that July, the studio got cold feet and retitled it with the generic moniker, "About Last Night."

It always seemed too good to be true that TriStar would retain the work's original, edgier title. (And ,of course, the title was retained for the 2014 Kevin Hart remake with Joy Bryant, Regina Hall and Michael Ealy).)

In the meantime, I have a Kris Kritofferson autographed shooting script for a Michael Cimino film titled "The Jackson County War" which, of course, became "Heaven's Gate" (1980). And let's not forget that Billy Wilder's "Ace in a Hole" (1951) became "The Big Carnival" in Paramount's desperate attempt to rescue it from box-office failure.

Which brings me to the point of this essay - namely, those films that underwent a title change and rarely for the good. I've come up with a few others that originally had singular titles that were vetoed in favor of the nondescript. Feel free to share others that come into mind. Here goes:

Sir Carol Reed's "Nobody Loves a Drunken Indian" (1970), starring Anthony Quinn and based on the Clair Huffaker novel, became the more politically-correct "Flap" on screen and in display ads.

Norman Taurog's Cary Grant/Betsy Drake vehicle, "Room for One More," (1951) became "The Easy Way" for its TV syndication when Warner Bros. decided to spin the film into a sitcom in 1961. That new title stuck, even after the series was long forgotten. The original title returned when Warner Archives put the film on DVD.

Paul Mazursky's "Jerry Saved from Drowning" (1986)- a remake of the 1932 Jean Renoir French film "Boudu Saved from Drowming" ("Boudu sauvé des eaux") - became "Down and Out in Beverly Hills." Nick Nolte assumed the role originally played by the legendary Michel Simon . And Gerard Depardieu played the role in yet another remake, 2005's "Boudu," directed by Gérard Jugnot. Got that? 

Sidney Lumet's Brando-infused "Orpheus Descending" (1960) became "The Fugitive Kind." And Joseph Losey's "The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore" (1968) - like "Orpheus Descending," by way of Tennessee Williams - became "Boom!" The latter starred Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in roles played by Tallulah Bankhead and Tab Hunter on stage, under the direction of Tony Richardson.

Edouard Molinaro's "I Won't Dance" (1984), with the much-missed Kristy McNichol, became "Just the Way You Are."

Tony Bill's "The Baboon Heart" (1993), with Marisa Tomei and Christian Slater, became "Untamed Heart."

Peter Yates' "The Janitor Doesn't Dance" (1981), starring William Hurt as the janitor and Sigourney Weaver as a reporter, became "Eyewitness."

Robert Aldrich's remake of "No Orchids for Miss Blandish" (1971) became "The Grissom Gang." Among the cast in Aldrich's film are Kim Darby and Connie Stevens, both of whom were married at one time to James Stacy. 

Howard Zeiff's sweet-natured "Born Jaundiced" (1991)- a great title -  became "My Girl."

Robert Altman's "The Presbyterian Church Wager" (1971) became "McCabe and Mrs. Miller."

Altman's "Brewster McCloud and His Sexy Flying Machine" (1970) was simplied to "Brewster McCloud."

Altman's all-star "Prêt-à-Porter" (1994) was translated to "Ready to Wear," thanks to Harvey Weinstein.


When director Robert Mulligan and his producing partner, Alan J. Pakula, decided to film the 1954 Horten Foote play, "The Traveling Lady," they had no idea that a song written for the film would overtake the marketing.  The opening titles feature an open highway with the camera staring down at the road, moving along with it.  But then composer Elmer Bernstein and lyricist Ernie Sheldon wrote Baby, The Rain Must Fall” for star Steve McQueen's character to sing. The film's screenplay was written by Foote but it was no longer known as a movie based on a distinguished play.  Lee Remick played the traveling lady on film, a role created on stage by Kim Stanley (who later reprised it for a live TV production).

Joan Micklin Silver's "Chilly Scenes of Winter" (1979), based on the Ann Beattie novel of the same title, became "Head Over Heels," only to revert back to "Chilly Scenes of Winter" for its re-release.

Andrew Bergman's "Cop Gives Waitress Two Million Dollar Tip" (1994), with Bridget Fonda and Nicolas Cage, became "It Could Happen to You."

Jon Avnet's hugely poplular "Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe" (1991), based on the book by Fannie Flagg, was reduced to "Fried Green Tomatoes."

George Cukor's Judy Holliday gem, "A Name for Herself" (1954), became "It Should Happen to You."

Roman Polanski shortened the title of his film version of "God of Carnage" to the monosyllabic "Carnage."

Finally, there's a film whose re-title I prefer - Jonathan Demme's "Citizen Band" (1977) , a so-so moniker that was momentarily changed to "Handle with Care" before Paramount decided to stick with the original.


Two other perfectly fine titles, meanwhile, were preserved at the 11th hour. Gilbert Cates' "I Never Sang for My Father" (1970) was slated by Columbia to be retitled "Strangers" (replete with a title song sung by Roy Clark) before someone there wised up and decided to keep the title of the lovely Robert Anderson play on which it is based.


And William Wyler's 1961 film version of the Lillian Helman play, "The Children's Hour," almost became "The Infamous."  This was the second time that Wyler directed Helman's material and the second time he had to deal with a title change.  He earlier filmed the play in 1936 and it was given  the title, "These Three." In this case, the change made sense, given that the original subject of homosexuality was supplanted by a plot about a romantic triangle. It was no longer "The Children's Hour."
Note in Passing:  Thanks to Glenn Erickson and his invaluable DVD Savant site, I was reminded that another Altman film underwent a title change - ”L.A. Short Cuts,” based on a series of stories by Raymond Carver , became "Short Cuts."

13 comments:

Laurence said...

In 1971, the George Segal-Ivan Passer drug addict drama, "Scraping Bottom," was retitled "Born to Win," in a futile attempt at positive thinking.

Tom said...

Glad they changed it to "My Girl". No one would know what "jaundiced" is.

joe baltake said...

Tom! I know what you mean, but I love the titled "Born Jaundiced," absolutely uncommon. "My Girl" is kinda blah and I doubt if that generic title helped attract more people

Alex said...

One of my favorites is MURDER, MY SWEET, an adaptation of Raymond Chandler's FAREWELL, MY LOVELY. But since Dick Powell, cast as Phillip Marlowe, had up until then been known to audiences as a singer and light comedian, RKO probably feared audiences would think a movie titled FAREWELL, MY LOVELY must be a musical. Hence the change.

Joe Amodei said...

The Joan Micklin Silver movie HEAD OVER HEELS was CHILLY SCENES OF WINTER..I think. What a good movie!
And then there is always "March of the Wooden Soldiers" also known as "Babes in Toyland."
Great stuff!!!

Joe Amodei said...

Reading your posts makes me think of the times I saw movies like Head Over Heels that is mentioned in your article. I hadn't thought of that film is a very long time but now I can remember the moment I first saw it and relive that nice movie memory. Thanks Joe. Your essays continue to move, enlighten and entertain me every time I read them.They are all just "pieces of time" right?

joe baltake said...

Thanks, Joe!

Brian Lucas said...

"Baby, The Rain Must Fall" may be a good song title, but it's awful for a movie. I wish Mulligan and Pakula had kept "The Traveling Lady," but perhaps they had no say in the matter.

Sheila said...

FYI. The Beatles film "Help!" was once titled "Eight Arms to Hold You," until John Lennon wrote the song, "Help."

joe baltake said...

Thanks, Sheila. Once again, I prefer the original title. "Eight Arms to Hold You" is wonderfully clever

Kiki said...

A name-change column. Brilliant.

Jimbo said...

The name change that has always annoyed me is when "Dog Soldiers" which was changed to the insipid "Who'll Stop the Rain."

joe baltake said...

Jimbo! Great catch. I completely forgot that one. And I agree with you 100%