By CEAN BURGESON
My wife is a sucker for the formulaic Hollywood happy ending.
All of the loose ends in the film need to be tied up nice and neat for her at the completion of the film, or she feels a little bit cheated. Many a time the screen has turned to black and the credits start rolling, and I see her searching for something to throw at the TV while she screams, “But what happens next!”
I can’t say I blame her. As the old saying goes, “everybody likes a happy ending.”
I, on the other hand, am a big fan of films that break the genre, or go against the typical formula, with twists and turns, and endings that surprise me.
But I also have to admit, the selfish side of me, at times wishes that some movies would end differently, or that they would go on just a few more minutes, and let us know what happened next. This is what I like to call an “alternative movie ending fantasy.”
In the 1969 classic, “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” the final scene has our two heroes low on ammunition, bleeding, and surrounded by Bolivian Federalis. As they make their last stand, the action freezes, and we hear a hail of gunshots.
It’s a brilliant final scene.
But a little part of me wishes that the action didn’t freeze; that the boys kept running. My ending would go something like this: The boys shoot their way out in one of the goriest filmed western scenes since “The Wild Bunch,” kill about 50 of the Federalis, steal a couple of fresh horses, and ride off into the setting sun. They happen upon a quiet little village to retire to, and live happily ever after, under false identities.
Aaaah. How satisfying.
And who could forget Saturday Night Live’s imagined ending to “It’s a Wonderful Life?” After the whole town turns out to pitch in their collective savings and bail old George Bailey out his financial predicament, someone in the crowd discovers that it was indeed Potter who took the Savings and Loan’s missing $8,000. In true mob fashion, everyone goes over to the bank and takes turns tuning up Potter for stealing the money. George and Mary even get a chance to pummel the warped frustrated old man repeatedly after he is dumped from his wheelchair. It always bothered me that the mean old S.O.B. got to keep the eight grand.
Aaaah. The bad guy gets what’s coming to him.
How about the 1950 classic, “Sunset Boulevard?” Poor hack writer Joe Gillis. He wasn’t trying to hurt anybody, surely not aging silent movie queen Norma Desmond. Did he really deserve to die? In my imagined ending, Joe would have the guts to leave that nut-job Desmond, hook up with his love interest Betty Schaefer, and live happily ever after. The two would team up writing hit movie after hit movie in the ensuing years. Some time later, Desmond would die, and, remembering the joy Joe brought her during their brief affair, leave him a boatload of money.
Aaaah. The boy gets the girl. And doesn’t end up face down in the pool with a bullet in his back. And he ends up rich!
I’ve always thought that the incest revelation ending of Roman Polanski’s “Chinatown” was just plain creepy. How about instead, Evelyn’s sister is not really her daughter, and according to plan, they both escape to Mexico safely. Rather than “Forget it, Jake, it’s only Chinatown,” we instead hear, “Good job Jake, now that’s Chinatown.”
Aaaah. The innocent victims escape the bad guys. And there’s no lewd sexual triangle involved.
A lot of endings have people getting killed, and while it makes for a gritty, more realistic, non-Hollywood ending, it sometimes leaves us, the audience, a little unsatisfied. Take “The Bridge on the River Kwai,” for example. Wouldn’t it have been great if Colonel Nicholson, played brilliantly by Sir Alec Guiness, helped Commander Shears, played by Bill Holden, to blow the damned Japanese bridge up instead of trying to stop him? And then, Nicholson lives to finally escape the prisoner of war camp, and is lauded as a hero by his countrymen upon his triumphant return. In my cut, they’d get to build their bridge and blow it up, too. And live to tell their grandchildren.
And how many people wish that Jack Nicholson didn’t get labotomized at the end of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest?” (I hope this didn’t spoil it for anyone). It’s a wonderfully bittersweet ending to the film, but when you root for the hero during the entire picture, darn it, you want him to make it in the end! What if Nicholson escaped from the insane asylum, and instead nasty old Nurse Ratched gets labotomized? How great would that be?
What about having “Bonnie and Clyde” (1967), take a detour from the historical facts, and just once more get away from the cops instead of having a hail of bullets end their lives in that old sedan? In my ending, the two take a side road, miss the police ambush, and live happily ever after — maybe even have kids and buy a nice little house outside Chicago with a little white picket fence.
Another alternate movie ending that would break with history would be to have “Patton” be able to keep his big stupid mouth shut in front of all the reporters and his superiors, make all the brass happy with his exemplary performance, and get assigned to lead the D-Day assault, going down in history as the greatest general of all time. Give em hell old blood and guts! And no way would he die in a stupid car crash in my version. He would make it to Berlin, personally choke Hitler to death, and die defending his battalion headquarters single-handedly with a pearl handled revolver blazing in each hand.
Yet another type of ending that drives moviegoers mad is the ambiguous, figure it out yourself ending. Wouldn’t it be satisfying just to understand the ending of “2001: A Space Odyssey?” It may be fun for movie purists, film school grad students, and sci-fi geeks to try to interpret that one, but in my special directors cut, a narrator comes on at the end and explains exactly what that damned big black monolith is, how it works, and why it does what it does. Nice...and neat.
Animals and other creatures aren’t excluded from the world of alternate endings. Why did “King Kong” have to die? It would have been extremely cool if instead, Godzilla showed up, the two smashed the living crap out of New York, and then he let Kong hitch-hike on his back while he swam him back to Kong Island, where the King had regular visits from his spicy blonde actress friend Ann Darrow and lived well into old age.
Alternative endings wouldn’t have to be complicated, either. There are some endings that could have been tweaked just a tiny bit to better please movie audiences. At the end of “Shane,” when Joey yells, “Shane, come back!” just once I’d like to see Alan Ladd turn his horse around, ride back, and have Joey’s mom patch him back up just like new. What was the deal with Shane and Joey’s mom anyway? Maybe in “alternative ending land,” Joey’s dad would catch a stray bullet during a gun fight and Shane would marry his mom. (That’s what the kid really wanted, anyway).
In alternative ending world, Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda would have gotten away from those rednecks at the end of “Easy Rider,” too. In director Burgeson’s version, the two yokels pull up, point that shotgun at our heroes and — click — they forgot to load their gun. Wyatt and Billy ride off on their choppers while they flip off the rednecks, and discover America after all.
There are plenty of other perfect endings and “what ifs” out there in cinema-land — these are but a simple few. The wonderful thing about movies is that you can imagine any ending, sequel, prequel, or “viewer’s cut” you want, as long as you remember that each film is your own personal viewing experience — and no one can take your private interpretation of any given theatrical masterpiece away from you.
Cean Burgeson can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org