Thursday, April 17, 2008

WORST MONTH EVER: Worst Alternate Ending

To Live and Die in L.A. has a lot going for it: a catchy title tune by Wang Chung, Willem Dafoe at his creepy best, one of the best car chases of all time, and ... by far the worst alternate ending ever conceived. If MGM had gotten its way and replaced director William Friedkin's original ending, it's hard to imagine a good movie crashing and burning in only a few minutes' time. Included in the Special Edition DVD of the movie that came out a few years ago, the alternate ending of To Live and Die in L.A. plays like a good Family Guy flashback -- too good to be true, for all the wrong reasons.

Before I break down the alternate ending, let's remember the ending as it is, which has helped separate the movie from the countless other cop dramas of the 1980s. After tirelessly chasing counterfeiter Rick Masters (Dafoe), secret service agent Richard Chance (William Peterson) may finally have his man after securing enough dough to get close to the criminal and catch him red-handed. Chance is posing as a client, although Masters has hinted that he knows of his real identity. Chance and his partner John Vukovich meet up with Masters, produce the cash and try to arrest him, but things quickly go bad as Masters' bodyguard pulls out a shotgun and shoots Chance in the face. Masters escapes, but Vukovich traces him to a warehouse where the law eventually prevails. The movie ends with one of the decade's best closing lines, as Vukovich tells his late partner's sexy informant "you're working for me now."

Awesome ... right? The closing line, along with the shocking death of the lead character makes for a memorable ending, but the studio didn't see it that way. According to the DVD, MGM didn't think audiences would want to see Chance die, so Peterson filmed a new ending: Instead of Chance getting shot in the face, he would only get shot in the gut at point-blank range, survive, then he and Vukovich would be relocated to a remote Alaska outpost and all is happily ever after. After seeing this horror, a disgusted Friedkin ordered the original ending restored...
... and the world is a better place. Chance's survival is bad enough, but the Alaska twist would have been on par with a Bridge on the River Kwai ending where the Japanese train screeches to a halt before hitting the bridge, and the conductor yells "This just in -- the war's over!" Relocating the characters to Alaska seems to be an attempt to wash over the two men's egregious misconduct, but why that sly smile by Chance? Does he think the secret service will just forget about them? Wouldn't the FBI still be a little peeved that they killed one of their agents? Watch for yourself, and see why Friedkin's firm stance on his ending may forgive the director for making Blue Chips, The Guardian, The Hunted, etc. (Also, take a look at Friedkin's bio, notice how his movies steadily declined after L.A.? Did his objection to MGM have anything to do with that?)


J.D. said...

Yeah, that's an awful alt. ending to be sure. I'm glad Friedkin stuck to his guns.

As for his later work, I thought that THE HUNTED had its merits. It was very lean in construction with minimal dialogue and some great visual storytelling.

Granted the story was pretty cliche, but I still thought it was entertaining.

I haven't seen it, but he got some good notices for BUG.

Adam Ross said...

It's strange, the wilderness scenes in The Hunted were filmed 20 minutes from my high school, yet I've never seen it. I probably should.