Saturday, May 29, 2010

#192: Movie Star

I was overjoyed recently when I stumbled across these lobby cards for Death Of A Gunfighter. Not just because it’s one of those movies that virtually nobody you’ve ever met has seen, nope. Not because it’s a Richard Widmark movie, he, as an actor, doesn’t move me much and frankly the only thing of his I enjoyed was Madigan. Not even the presence of John Saxon, who I adored in Enter The Dragon, nope, what excited me about this movie was the name of the director, and who wasn’t credited.

You see, Death Of A Gunfighter was the first ever Alan Smithee movie. With the working title of ‘Patch’ movie had been offered to director Don Siegel, who was rapidly becoming hot after a long and illustrious career, that had seen him direct possibly the best Elvis movie, along with Steve McQueen, Widmark and, most recently, the first of five collaborations with Clint Eastwood, a collaboration that placed them both on the movie making map as major players. Siegel passed on the movie and recommended a young director that he knew and thought that was the end of it.

Sadly it wasn’t. Widmark wasn’t happy with the young director, Bob Totten, and insisted that Siegel replace him. Siegel refused at first but was soon talked, reluctantly, into it. Sigel took over the movie and shot what he estimated as being about 40% of the finished movie, but he refused to take director credit, insisting that as Totten had shot the bulk of the footage then he deserved to take full credit. Totten refused as he wanted nothing to do with the movie, and Widmark, so the Directors Guild stepped in and created ‘Alan Smithee’. So now you know how that came about. Totten went back to television and Disney and Siegel subsequently went on to be a major director with his next three movies, Two Mules For Sister Sara, The Beguiled and Dirty Harry, the latter establishing Eastwood as an icon.

From this movie Smithee went on to direct many more films, some crap and some not so crap. Generally when a movie was taken away from a director by the studios, they took their name off the finished product and attached Smithee both as a protest and as a sign that the movie was plagued by troubles and issues. David Lynch’s Dune became an Alan Smithee film after it was recut and issued as a ‘Directors Cut’. Both The Insider and Heat, directed by Michael Mann, are Alan Smithee films when you see it on television. Other Smithee films include Scent Of A Woman, Meet Joe Black and shit like Morgan Stewart's Coming Home. Even Showgirls became an Alan Smithee film, but as it’s one of the worst movies made it’s understandable.

Alan Smithee retired soon after he released his last movie, An Alan Smithee Film: Burn, Hollywood, Burn, but if I’ve always thought that someone should change their name, officially, to Alan Smithee and claim credit for all of that celluloid. Think of the career you could then boast!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Alan Smithee gives the lie to Auteur theory and proves the paucity of screen studies, as there is one discernible thread through the Smithee films and it's not deliberate. Although I have read a very amusing essay which assessed them as if they were the product of one mind, albeit insane. ~Martin