by Shirley Hailstock
When you buy a DVD, don’t you love getting that bonus material? I do. At first, I never thought of watching it. Then I stumbled across alternate endings and it triggered a memory I’d forgotten.
I've only seen one alternate ending on a DVD. That was Training Day and I agree the one that was played in the theaters was the better ending. But I like seeing what another version would have been and deciding if I agreed with the director.
I think the marketing departments of movie houses add the extras to entice people to buy the DVD. It’s the “more” you get when you buy a movie you’ve already seen. I never thought about whether I liked the choices or not. I definitely did not like the alternate ending of Training Day. But I have been guilty of giving my own alternate endings to movies and books.
Long ago in a time far, far away, I watched a movie called This Could Be the Night. It’s an old black and white with Anthony Franciosa and Jean Simmons. I didn’t like the ending. It was okay, but I wanted a Happily-Ever-After-commitment ending. So in my mind I mentally re-wrote it. And not only the ending, I re-wrote some of the scenes, even added some that weren’t in the movie. For years and years I thought about that movie, and even though I wanted to see it again, it seemed to never come up on TCM. I didn’t even know the name of it so I couldn’t look it up anywhere. And as time will do, it passed and I could no longer remember the actors either. But I never forgot the story or the ending -- my ending.
After DVD’s came out and Turner Classic Movies began releasing the old movies on videotape and DVD’s, I saw the movie again on television and immediately recognized it. I sat down and watched it to the end. But I was confused. It ended too quickly. Where were the other scenes? Surely they wouldn’t cut it. After all TCM shows movies in their entirety. It’s part of their advertising. So why did they cut this one? And the ending? What happened to the ending? This is not the same movie, I thought. But there couldn’t be two. I remembered some of the characters. Then I started to laugh out loud. Memories returned to me. I’d re-written the ending. I’d added scenes that weren’t there. They were only in my head, but they were so ingrained, that I thought they were actually part of the original.
This Could Be the Night is the only movie or book I did this to and didn’t remember my own creation. I have changed other endings too. Yes, Gone With the Wind has an alternate ending in my mind. And not just an ending, there are additional scenes with Scarlett and Rhett away from Tara or Atlanta. In fact, they’re in Charleston and bear no relation to anything in the novel Scarlett.
Casablanca is my all time favorite romantic movie and the hero and heroine don’t live happily ever after. Even so, I have never changed the ending of this movie. I can’t see any other ending. Even though I wanted Rick and Ilsa to end up together, I could see that the larger stake was world democracy and I was unwilling to fiddle with that even in a movie. At this writing I’m thinking I could fast forward to after the war, when democracy wasn’t an issue, and bring them back together at that point. Of course, I’d have to account for what happened to Victor (Ilsa’s husband), but that wouldn’t be difficult. However, I've decided to leave it as Michael Curtiz directed.
I like books that give me an alternate version of the world. I suppose that’s why 1984 was so popular long before the actual year arrived. And why it still works today. 1984 posed an alternate world for the future. Star Trek did the same thing for television and look at the survival of both of these forms of entertainment.
I read Clive Cussler novels. He writes male adventure stories and his hero is a former Navy Seal named Dirk Pitt. All the Dirk Pitt novels pose an alternate to something we “know” to be true. For example, in Raise the Titantic, they raise the old ship and find a document that cedes Canada to the United States. In another novel, Abraham Lincoln didn’t die at Ford’s Theater, but was captured by the confederates and spirited away on one of the iron clad ships of the day. (Suspension of believe has to be done for his stories, but they are entertaining and almost believable.)
Even Cinderella got my personal ending treatment in relation to the wicked stepsisters. I’m far less forgiving than the fictional character, so I changed the ending to give the girls and their mother, their due. Then Ever After with Drew Barrymore was released. Not only does Cinderella have valid motivation for staying at the house and accepting her plight, but in the end she wins out over the life she was forced into. And the wicked stepmother and daughter get their comeuppance. Bravo!
There are endings I can’t change. I loved American history. At English and French history, I’m pretty good at remembering the details, but when it comes to Russian history, I was never able to follow all the last name changes and the different families that ruled or their titles. So when I saw Nickolas and Alexandra and watched their love story unfold, I didn’t like what happened to them in the end. As I voiced this opinion to my history-major friend, she informed me that I could not change history. So I let that one stand, but I didn’t like it. I was appeased when I read Anatasia. It gave me hope, even though I knew the truth.
Dr. Zhivago is a different story, however. That ending I did change. Laura looks back and sees Yuri on the bus. She never lost their daughter. The couple reunite and live happily ever after.
As you can see, I provide my own alternate endings on a regular basis. I wonder how Hollywood would have done it if they could go back and reshoot the endings to some of those classic movies. Would they satisfy my need? I don’t know, but if it didn’t, I can always change it in my mind.
When I write, I plot the book out, so I know the ending. If I’m doing a suspense, I know who the villain is. But in the writing, things change, characters take on new roles and backgrounds come out that might change that carefully plotted ending. In this case, I have an alternate ending. However, the reader rarely finds out about it. In my book One Christmas Night, the ending was exactly as I plotted it. There are books and movies, like my Christmas book and Casablanca, where no other ending is appropriate. You just have to leave it be.
Happy reading and movie watching. Let me know if you, too, change endings to suit yourself.