The difference between a happy ending an a depressing one can often mean millions of dollars.
For instance, Jaws. Audiences still cheer when Roy Scheider blows up the shark at the end. How differently it would have played if the studio had allowed Steven Spielberg to use his original ending. In the original ending, Scheider has his head bitten off, resulting in a shocking geyser of blood. The film then takes a shockingly surreal turn as the shark turns to the camera and speaks directly to the audience, uttering the words “In the name of Fidel Castro, I claim this island of Amity for the people of Cuba and their struggle to dominate the world through the purifying elixir of proletarian struggle. Death to Roy Scheider and all the capitalist running dogs of the oceans of the world struggle for worker solidarity.”
Before the viewer had time to process this startling ending, the screen transformed into an image of a hammer and sickle against a red backdrop as the Soviet Workers’ Party theme played.
The ending did not sit well with audiences, who left the preview theaters in gloomy stunned silence. The studio battled with the director to remove this subversive ending. In the end they won, though it was an expensive battle, since they had paid a million dollars to Orson Welles to supply the voice of the shark. “In the long run, it was worth it,” said Universal executive Sidney Sheinberg. Rumor has it that the studio suppressed this ending, which is now lost.
“I was a radical in those days,” Spielberg admits. “We all were. I was young.” The director is quick to point out that, though this ending was obviously flawed and inappropriate, it was liked by Jean-Luc Godard, who even sent a telegram inviting Spielberg to give a speech to striking garment workers at a grimy Parisian hosiery mill.
Keep reading this column for more revelations about rare and forgotten original endings to your favorite movies.