It's the nature of the Hollywood dream factory that creating film more resembles sausage production than a sustained striving for artistic merit. On rare occasion the miraculous unassailable classic emerges, only to be vandalized by industry execs. And sometimes, projects of near genius are put into production, only to be weakened by mind-maddening casting mistakes.
No doubt, Eric von Stroheim was an extremely controlling eccentric seemingly intent on bankrupting the studio system. His lavishly expensive detail on decadent scenery is the stuff of legend. But the man had enough talent to apply him self heart and soul to faithfully adapting the great book, McTeague. He ultimately assembled a brilliant 10 hour version, which was obviously still beyond anything that Goldwyn could release. He grudgingly trimmed it down to 6 hours and, eventually 4, still leaving the main of the story intact.
Unfortunately for Eric, Goldwyn merged with Metro and Louis B Mayer, who brought along the young Irving Thalberg (Fitzgerald's The Last Tycoon). Thalberg ripped the film away from him, and had it cut down to a version that no longer made sense in terms of plot and character. Released as Greed (75th Anniversary Restoration), it is still considered a triumph, but a broken one that led to the end of von Stroheim's career of film mastery.
It's hard to imagine the lovable Marx Brothers being subjected to heavy handed and outright shoddy censorship, but sure enough, their great Horse Feathers is chopped up all over. Mostly it it Harpo who has lost some of his best scenes, no more so that his encounter with Thelma Todd on her couch. This scene is well described in The Marx Brothers: Their World of Comedy and seems darn well identical to the antics of Woody Allen and Lynn Redgrave in Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Afraid to Ask. I wonder if Woody ever got his hands on an uncensored copy, perhaps while visiting Britain. Right now, no one seems to be able to locate a clean reel.
With the final (or very near) restoration of The Complete Metropolis [Blu-ray], the movie most sought after in rusting reel containers in South American libraries is the original cut for Orson Welle's most ambitious Citizen Kane (Amazon Exclusive 70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition + The Magnificent Ambersons on DVD) [Blu-ray]. Welles finished shooting what he felt to be his most perfect project, left instructions for it's editing, and then rushed down to Brazil to fulfill his role in the American Good Neighbor policy activites (which led to the promising, but incomplete and failed It's All True [VHS]). During his absence, his film was assembled, previewed, and then savagely hacked, with a refilmed happy ending slapped on. The footage that had been cut by the studio was destroyed. There is some hope that Orson himself had his original reels when he was in Brazil, but never indicated that he kept them, rather being reduced to tears when asked about the film. Still, hope remains eternal.
The reason that Arsenic & Old Lace was the most successful play ever to hit broadway was because of the great Boris Karloff, playing a warmly comical version of "the monster". So how in heaven's name, after going to the expense of adding Cary Grant and Frank Capra, could they leave the great show's cinematic star out of the production? (Poor Ramon Massey does his best, but he ain't Boris.) Money, of course. Somehow, it was calculated that more dough was to be had leaving Karloff on tour than to waste the time it took to shoot the picture. Our loss.
Money was in the calculations of Jack Warner when he decided that Julie Andrews was too risky to cast in what may have been the greatest musical of all time, My Fair Lady. Forget that not only did she originate the part in the show that stormed Broadway and then London, and My Fair Lady dominated the charts for two years. Or that Andrews had enjoyed enormous succes on American television, particularly with Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella (1957 Television Production), viewed by more than 100 million. No, Jack wasn't taking any chances. Of course Jule ended up winning the academy award that year for Mary Poppins (Two-Disc 45th Anniversary Special Edition) and setting box office records with The Sound of Music Re-version [Blu-ray].
Not that Audrey Hepburn didn't do a fine job acting in the film. But beside being "owned" by Andrews, Hepburn suffered the indignity of having her voiced dubbed for most of the singing. Marni Nixon doing her usual admirable job.
Marni was needed for West Side Story (Full Screen Edition) as well. There is so much good stuff going on in this picture, it really is a shame that it is shackled by the inadequacy of the two leads. Natalie Wood is a lovely, talented actress, whose awkwardness with musical comedy was charming in Gypsy, but not up to snuff here. And as much as I love Richard Beymer in Twin Peaks: The Complete Series (The Definitive Gold Box Edition), he is not up to Tony here. Going out on a limb here, can you imagine the incredible energy this movie would have had if Elvis and Ann Margaret brought the chemistry they found in the otherwise ordinary Viva Las Vegas [Blu-ray]? (Elvis was offered the role of Tony, but the Colonel turned it down. Why waste the King's time with a long shooting schedule when he could make so much money playing race car drivers being rude to difficult engenues?