Not every scrap of film which gets shot winds up in a finished movie, and often the scenes that hit the cutting room floor contain entire performances. Most of these deleted performances are of no consequence to the film, but often the actors who are scissored out of a movie are of significant star power. To celebrate those who didn’t quite make the cut (or perhaps made the wrong end of the cut), we present our guide to the top deleted performances of all time.
1. Ronald Reagan in “Submarine D-1″ (1938). Warner Bros. went out on a limb in hiring sports radio broadcaster Ronald Reagan as an actor, and the studio tried to play it safe by casting Reagan as a radio announcer in his first movie, “Love is on the Air.” While he seemed natural and at-ease in that programmer, Reagan was stiff and amateurish in his second movie, the B-effort “Submarine D-1.” The future president was reportedly inconsolable that his performance was scissored out of the finished film, but he ultimately pulled himself together and worked harder at his craft. Within a short period, he made the leap from dum-dum B-Movies to classy A-level flicks such as “Dark Victory” and “King’s Row.” Perhaps being dropped from “Submarine D-1″ was the best thing for his acting career?
2. Buster Keaton in “New Moon” (1940). In 1933, MGM fired its top-grossing comedy star, Buster Keaton, due to costly problems created by his rampant alcoholism. The firing wrecked Keaton’s career and the only on-screen work he could get was in cheap shorts and obscure European productions. MGM allowed Keaton back to work as an uncredited gag writer, which was a major demotion for a talent of his caliber. By 1940, though, the studio opted to give him another chance and have him co-star with Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald in “New Moon.” Keaton was to have provided comedy relief in several sequences throughout the production. But when the film was ready for release, Keaton was cut out completely from the movie. No reason for his deletion was ever given, though allegedly one can spot Keaton among the extras in several scenes – a sad comedown for a star who only six years earlier was headlining his own MGM productions.
3. W.C. Fields in “Tales of Manhattan” (1942). This episodic drama followed the journey of a top coat through different levels of the New York social hierarchy. The film veered from its dramatic nature for a broadly comic episode starring W.C. Fields as a charlatan health expert who buys the coat from a second-hand clothier and wears it to a lecture he is presenting to a high society gathering. The subject of the lecture is the health benefits of coconut milk, but in the course of the evening a malevolent butler spikes the coconut milk with rum and both Fields and his wealthy audience get sloshed. The sequence (which included Phil Silvers and Margaret Dumont) was cut prior to the film’s release when the producing studio, 20th Century Fox, claimed the film ran too long. Truth be told, Fields was also way past his prime when he shot the sequence (he could not recall his lines and walked off the set after feuding with his director) and the absence of this none-too-amusing segment was no great loss.
4. Tyrone Power is “Solomon and Sheba” (1959). Tyrone Power’s career was far below its once-stellar heights when he flew to Spain to star in King Vidor’s epic recreation of the Old Testament love story. The casting of Power as the Israelite king may have seemed unlikely, but it made more sense than Vidor’s casting of Italian glamour queen Gina Lollobrigida as the Queen of Sheba. The film was roughly 60% completed when Power suffered a fatal heart attack. Rather than shut down the production or rewrite the script to work around Power’s absence, Vidor decided to cash in the $1.2 million insurance policy on Power’s life and shoot the film over with a bewigged Yul Brynner as Solomon. The resulting film was a major commercial flop.
5. Katina Paxinou in “The Trial” (1962). Orson Welles called on his long-time friend, Oscar-winning Greek actress Katina Paxinou, to play a pivotal role in his adaptation of Franz Kafka’s “The Trial.” Paxinou was to play a scientist who foretold the inescapable doom facing Joseph K. (played by Anthony Perkins). Welles previously directed Paxinou in a memorable performance in “Confidential Report” and there was nothing to suggest their newest collaboration would be anything but sterling. However, as the film’s December 1962 premiere approached Welles was behind schedule and was fretting over the ebb and flow of his complex movie. Right before the film was to open, he decided that Paxinou’s sequence slowed down the pace of the movie and the entire segment was cut. The absence of the sequence, however, made Joseph K.’s late-movie behavior seem erratic – especially when he goes to his death with a sense of bravado and confidence which he lacked earlier in the film.
6. Alain Delon and Dorothy Dandridge in “Marco the Magnificent” (1965). Two of the prettiest people in movies, French matinee idol Alain Delon and sultry singer/actress Dorothy Dandridge, were the leads in a projected biopic on the life and adventures of Marco Polo. Filming began in 1962, but it proceeded in fits and starts and halted when funding ran out. A year later, filming began anew but with new leads: German actor Horst Bucholz was signed as Marco Polo and Italian star Elsa Martinelli played “The Woman with the Whip.” Why Delon and Dandridge did not resume their roles is not clear, and the footage they shot was reportedly scrapped. Delon went on to a highly successful career, but Dandridge’s life was already wrecked by personal and professional misfortune and she was dead from a drug overdose in 1965, the year “Marco the Maginificent” opened.
7. Jayne Mansfield in “The Loved One” (1965). Jayne Mansfield’s career was on the skids when she got a call from MGM to appear in a small guest role in Tony Richardson’s all-star production of “The Loved One.” Mansfield reportedly made the most of her still-potent anatomy in a leather-clad sequence involving Robert Morley (whom, we hope, did not shoehorn his own portly body into S&M playwear). Alas, Richardson’s film ran much longer than commercial viability allowed (some reports say the director’s cut is five hours in length), and Mansfield’s appearance never made it into a projector.
8. Larry Kert in “New York, New York” (1976). Larry Kert was a Broadway actor who originated the role of Tony in the premiere production of “West Side Story.” Hollywood, strangely, did not see any potential in him (non-singing Richard Beymer played the role of Tony in the movie version, with another performer dubbing his musical numbers) – his only post-“West Side Story” film was the forgettable indie exploitation drama “Synanon.” Kert’s career was primarily in theater, with occasional TV guest parts, before Hollywood finally called in 1976: Martin Scorsese wanted Kert to perform opposite Liza Minnelli in the “Happy Endings” musical number being planned for “New York, New York.” However, the lavish number was omitted from the film’s 1976 release and Kert’s movie debut was left on the cutting room floor. Scorsese restored the number for the 1981, though Kert strangely did not receive screen credit. Nor did he ever receive another screen role – he died from AIDS in 1991.
9. Harrison Ford in “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” (1982). Steven Spielberg cast Harrison Ford in an unbilled appearance as the school principal in “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial,” which was co-scripted by Ford’s wife Melissa Mathison. It seemed like a fun idea when Ford’s scene was shot, but as Spielberg was editing the film he realized that having a major star of Ford’s presence abruptly appear in the middle of a movie with a no-star cast would throw the action off kilter. Since the principal was not essential to the storyline, Ford was taken out of the movie.
10. Kevin Costner in “The Big Chill” (1986). Lawrence Kasdan hoped to give young unknown actor Kevin Costner his first major screen time as the character of Alex in “The Big Chill.” Alex’s death reunites the characters in the film and Alex himself was supposed to be seen in several flashbacks. However, Kasdan changed his mind about the ebb and flow of the storyline and the flashbacks were removed – and Costner went along with them (he remains in the film, barely, as Alex’s corpse). Feeling somewhat guilty, Kasdan made amends by casting Costner in his next film, “Silverado,” which gave Costner his first major screen role.
Posted on March 28, 2006 in Features by Phil Hall
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