Monday, December 03, 2018

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..." (One of the film's stars, Jim Belushi, had appeared in  Chicago's Apollo Theater Center production of "Sexual Perversity in Chicago").

It always seemed too good to be true that TriStar would retain the work's original, edgier title. Of course, the generic title was retained for the 2014 Kevin Hart remake (co-starring Joy Bryant, Regina Hall and Michael Ealy), titled simply "About Last Night" without the ellipses.

In the meantime, I have a Kris Kristofferson autographed shooting script for a Michael Cimino film titled "The Jackson County War" which is better known as "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 of that title, 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 starring Peggy McKay and Andrew Duggan. That new title would stick for decades, long after the short-lived TV series was forgotten. The original title returned when Warner Archives released the film (which had long evaded home entertainment) on DVD.

Paul Mazursky's "Jerry Saved from Drowning" (1986)- a remake of the 1932 Jean Renoir French film "Boudu Saved from Drowning" ("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 directed by Gérard Jugnot in 2005. It was then simplified to ... "Boudu."  Got that? 

Playwright Tennesse Williams experienced title changes when two of his plays were filmed. Sidney Lumet's Brando-infused "Orpheus Descending" (1960), which Williams co-adapted with Meade Roberts, became "The Fugitive Kind" co-starring Anna Magnani and Joanne Woodward. And Joseph Losey's "The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore" (1968), adapted solely by Williams himself, materialized as "Boom!," starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.

Three lesser-known films had original titled that were, well, wildly original - and preferred by me (if anyone cares).  Edouard Molinaro's "I Won't Dance,"  with the much-missed Kristy McNichol, became "Just the Way You Are" (1984).Tony Bill's "The Baboon Heart," with Marisa Tomei and Christian Slater, became "Untamed Heart" (1993). And Peter Yates' "The Janitor Doesn't Dance,"  starring William Hurt as the janitor and Sigourney Weaver as a reporter, became "Eyewitness" (1981).

Robert Aldrich's 1971 remake of "No Orchids for Miss Blandish" morphed into "The Grissom Gang." (By the way, 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 truly great title - became "My Girl."

Four of Robert Altman's films were put through title changes. "The Presbyterian Church Wager"  became "McCabe and Mrs. Miller," (1971), while "Brewster McCloud and His Sexy Flying Machine" was simplied to "Brewster McCloud" (1970). The all-star "Prêt-à-Porter" was translated (no thanks to Harvey Weinstein) to "Ready to Wear" (1994). And "L.A. Short Cuts," based on a series of stories by Raymond Carver of that title, became "Short Cuts" (1993).

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 and moving along the road. One can imagine the title, "The Traveling Lady," modestly scrawled across the screen. But then composer Elmer Bernstein and lyricist Ernie Sheldon wrote Baby, The Rain Must Fall” for star Steve McQueen's character to sing. The 1965 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 reprised it for a live TV production).

Joan Micklin Silver's "Chilly Scenes of Winter," based on the Ann Beattie novel of the same title, became "Head Over Heels" when it was released in 1979, only to revert back to "Chilly Scenes of Winter" for its re-issue.

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

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

George Cukor's Judy Holliday gem, "A Name for Herself," became "It Should Happen to You" (1954). Frankly, neither title is very good. The film deserved better.

Roman Polanski shortened the title of his film version of "God of Carnage" to the monosyllabic "Carnage"(2011).

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

Again, if you have title changes to share, please do!

Notes in Passing:  Regarding the two aforementioned Tennessee Williams plays, both share a Tallulah Bankhead connection. "The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore" had two Broadway stagings (and truncated runs) before being filmed. The first production in 1963 starred Hermoine Baddeley in a role that Williams wrote originally for Bankhead, who would star in the second production the following year. (The part of  Flora Goforth, reportedly, was based on Bankhead.) Tab Hunter co-starred and Tony Richardson directed. "Orpheus Descending" was also written with Bankhead in mind but when it opened on Broadway in 1957, it starred Miriam Hopkins (of Wyler's "These Three"). It was revived by Peter Hall (Rebecca's father) in 1989, who also directed a 1990 TV movie of the material. His star both times was Vanessa Redgrave.

Also, re "The Children's House," I wrote about its fascinating history in an essay back in 2014.

Regarding Comments: All comments are enthusiastically appreciated but are moderated before publication. Replies signed "unknown" or "anonymous" are not encouraged. Please sign any response with a name (real or fabricated) or initials.  Be advised that a "name" will be assigned to any accepted post signed "unknown" or "anonymous." Thank you.

(from top) 

 ~The cast of "Sexual Perversity in Chicago" - Elizabeth Perkins, Rob Lowe, Demi Moore and Jim Belushi - before it became "About Last Night..."
~Photography: TriStar 1986© 

~Cary Grant, Betsy Drake and the kids in "Room for One More"
~photography: Warner Bros. 1951©

~Lee Remick and Kimberly Block in "Baby, The Rain Must Fall"
~photography: Columbia Pictures 1965©

~Melvin Douglas and Gene Hackman in "I Never Sang for My Father"
~photography: Columbia Pictures 1971©

~Joel McCrea, Merle Oberon and Miriam Hopkins in "These Three"
~photography: The Samuel Goldwyn Company/ United Artists 1936©

~Shirley MacLaine and Audrey Hepburn in "The Children's Hour"
~photography: United Artists 1961©


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.

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

Lawrence 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

joe baltake said...

Thanks, Lawrence. Once again, I don't like either title! -J

Peter L. said...

Robert Stone's great book, "Dog Soldiers," was changed to "Who'll Stop the Rain" for the Nick Nolte movie. Not good.

joe baltake said...

Not good? You're talking about the title, right, Peter? The movie itself is great, even if the makers opted to name it after the Creedence Clearwater Revival song. BTW, Stone worked on the screenplay himself.

Kevin Barry said...

Great article, Joe... Another Tennessee Williams title change is The Seven Descents of Myrtle, a play that starred Estelle Parsons on Broadway. When Sidney Lumet filmed it the title was changed to Blood Kin, then finally to The Last of the Mobile Hot Shots. The original title of the play was best, I think, and pure Williams!

joe baltake said...

Yes, Kevin, "The Last of the Mobile Hot Shots"! Awful title.

j. novak said...

Glad you included "Citizens' Band"/"Handle With Care." One of the great 1970s movies that benefited from neither title!

mike schlesinger said...

I'd always thought it was "Mobile," as in mobility, until I saw the film and realized it referred to the town in Alabama!

Here's mine: Many years ago, I was plowing through a box of half-sheets, and came across one for LATIGO. The dealer had never heard of the film, so he let me have it for four bucks. I eventually got it signed by James Garner and Burt Kennedy, making it an even rarer rarity, for it became one of my favorite films under its last-minute title change: SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL GUNFIGHTER!

Nick Patterson said...

The 1982(or was it 81?)film Cutter and Bone with Jeff Bridges and the magnificent John Heard was changed to Cutter's Way. Worth a view for the performances alone, an over-looked gem.

bufffilmbuff said...

Robert Wise's STAR! bombed and was cut severely and reissued by Fox as THOSE WERE THE HAPPY TIMES.

Karel Reisz's ISADORA was cut and renamed LOVES OF ISADORA (which led one critic to suggest readers see the film before it was cut again and named I LOVE IZZIE.).

David Selznick produced many films for his wife Jennifer Jones and was notorious for fiddling with them. Robert Powell's GONE TO EARTH was cut and partially re-shot and released in the U.S. as THE WILD HEART. He hired Italian neo-realist director Vittorio De Sica for Jones to co-star with Montgomery Clift in TERMINAL STATION. But he partially re-shot and cut the film and in the U.S. it began INDISCRETION OF AN AMERICAN WIFE.

joe baltake said...

Mike, Nick & James- Many thanks for sharing! -J