FILM / Tying up the loose ends: Fatal Attraction is back - and this time it all goes horribly wrong. John Lyttle on the revenge of the original ending

Hollywood worships the happy ending. No matter the darkness that has gone before, the happy ending works its old white magic, invoking the promise of a better tomorrow. The symbol of the Feel Good ethos that fuels mainstream film, the happy ending is: Romance Rewarded, The Family Reunited, Virtue Triumphant, Villainy Defeated. The happy ending is proof positive of the American Dream. You do not question the American Dream.

As the director Adrian Lyne knows. The video re-release of his Fatal Attraction, complete with original ending, provides a rare opportunity to assess the pressures that keep the happy ending alive and sickening. Here is the way his Fatal Attraction was supposed to wrap: Michael Douglas has survived a big confrontation scene with Glenn Close in the latter's kitchen. The morning after, Douglas, wife Anne Archer and adorable child are sweeping up leaves. The police arrive. Douglas is taken aside and told Alex Forrest is dead.

'You think I did it,' he says.

Indeed they do. Clever Alex has cut her throat with a butcher's knife. Douglas's fingerprints are all over the handle like a bad rash. Off he's driven, presumably to fry. It would have been interesting to see how feminist critics, angered by the notorious alternative ending - lunatic interloper Alex is despatched and the nuclear unit reconstituted - would have reacted to this even-handed yet ambiguous finale.

Test audiences - and Paramount Studios - hated it. Both parties loathed the next ending even more; Archer discovers Alex Forrest's threatening audio tape inside her husband's Filofax. She plays the tape - and damned if Alex doesn't broadcast her intention to commit suicide. 'Thank God,' gasps Archer. 'Oh hell' moaned the masses.

Lyne favoured scriptwriter James Dearden's first impressions. But, as in the case the end-changing writer played by Richard E Grant in Robert Altman's The Player, self-preservation carried the day. 'When I read Dearden's script I thought, this is wonderful. This is black. It's Hitchcockian. But I think if you spend two hours getting an audience to sympathise with and enjoy a family, to then abandon that family at the end of the movie and say 'That's it', it just doesn't work . . . I think the ending that we went with in the end was the best way of going. It was the most satisfying dramatically for the movie.' As Grant explains in The Player, justifying the elimination of 'reality' from his wannabe blockbuster thriller: 'What about the way the ending tested in Kanoga Park? They hated it. We re-shot it. Now everybody loves it. That's reality.'

Lyne is not the first director to bow to the inevitable. Hollywood history is littered with examples of re-edited endings, from the earliest flirtations with preview cards to the present-day dominance of the marketing departments. As far back as the Thirties, MGM's Irving Thalberg could declaim, 'Movies are not made. Movies are re-made.' The movies were re-made in the image of the Russian-Jewish immigrant moguls who ruled the studio system. The ex-furriers, junkmen and shoemakers who made it big, as the author Neal Gabler records in An Empire of Their Own, 'created an image of their adopted country out of their own idealism, a vision that proved so powerful that it shaped the myths, values, traditions and archetypes of America itself'.

Such wishful thinking, harnessed to the Draconian strictures of the Motion Picture Production Code - 'the sanctity of the institution of marriage and the home shall be upheld' - soon trained consumers worldwide to believe that the best invariably happens.

Even for Frankenstein. Universal's original conclusion had the Baron burnt alive along with his creation. Too downbeat. The new ending, calculated to spread a little sunshine, had the mad scientist's father toasting the rescue of his heir: 'Here's to a son to the House of Frankenstein]' Continuity, like sequel- potential, counts. Not even genius was spared trite moralising. Orson Welles's masterpiece, The Magnificent Ambersons, the sombre story of a wealthy family losing its fortune and influence, was re-cut by RKO so the clan accepted its fall from grace and extracted a life-lesson from ruin.

RKO was 'protecting' its investment. It was likewise 'protecting' Cary Grant's image when it wooed the star back for re-takes on Hitchcock's Suspicion. Eager to portray a cold-blooded killer, Grant had agreed to poison Joan Fontaine and then, whistling cheerfully, to post her last letter, unaware that it names him as her murderer. Exhibitors' protests dictated otherwise. Turns out Joan's been imagining that her co-star's a sociopath. He's loved her all along, the big goose.

And then there's self-censorship: no one protested about Billy Wilder's big Double Indemnity pay-off - except Billy Wilder. Having spent dollars 150,000 of Paramount's money building a replica of Folsom prison's gas chamber to asphyxiate Fred MacMurray, Wilder decided the scene was 'too strong'. MacMurray would instead stagger from Edward G Robinson's office, bleeding to death. Not exactly happy, true, but at least MacMurray didn't actually croak on screen. 'I don't think audiences would have stood for it,' Wilder said. 'That sort of thing wasn't acceptable until the Sixties.'

Vietnam, political assassination, the Permissive Society and Watergate brought the temporary triumph of the crappy ending. Bonnie and Clyde went down in a hail of bullets and blood. So did The Wild Bunch and Easy Rider's counter-culture heroes. The American Dream as American Nightmare.

But old habits - and cultural imperatives - die hard. By the dawn of Reagan's New Morning in America, the happy ending was back, cinema devoting itself once again to Entertainment, with High Priest Steven Spielberg presiding at the altar. Come 1982 the sci-fi sentimentality of ET held sway, one reason why Ridley Scott's chilly Blade Runner, released the same year, flopped. Test audiences detested Scott's first ending: Harrison Ford realises he too is an artificial life form, doomed to perish in four years, like his beloved Sean Young. Suddenly, this: Ford, a 'replicant' no longer, relates that Young is - wait for it - the latest replicant model, complete with normal life-span (something the creatures' creator has already said is impossible). 'I should think our alternative ending will be accepted,' Scott predicted. Wrong.

And a decade later? The recession echoes the mood of the Great Depression, the hey-day of twinkling Shirley Temple. Despite of, or maybe because of, Aids, race conflict and a rocketing divorce rate, the US's appetite for Happy Endings has never been more voracious. In fact, even if the movie is called Dying Young, audiences are sure to complain that it's about, gee, dying young. Which is why Julia Roberts assented to a 'fresh' ending to her first 'adult' romance, research having revealed that ticket-buyers didn't want Julia leaving her leukemia-stricken boyfriend for a healthier suitor. So Roberts staggered back and stood by her man.

No matter. Dying Young was Julia Roberts' first box-office failure. Variety reported that she was 'not happy'.

'Fatal Attraction', with original ending, was released on CIC Video on Tuesday. 'Blade Runner', with original ending, will be shown at the National Film Theatre on 22 November as part of the London Film Festival (071-928 3232)

(Photograph omitted)

Arts and Entertainment
Legendary blues and rock singer Joe Cocker has died of lung cancer, his management team as confirmed. He was 70
music The singer has died aged 70
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams looks concerned as Arya Stark
tv
Arts and Entertainment
photography Incredible images show London's skyline from its highest points
Arts and Entertainment
'Silent Night' last topped Classic FM's favourite Christmas carol poll in 2002
classical
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tv 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there