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10 International Movies That Were Cut For U.S. Release

Features
by Drew Taylor
October 11, 2013 1:19 PM
6 Comments
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"Cinema Paradiso" (1988)
What's It About? A famous Italian director flashes back to his childhood and the time he spent at his local movie house, which was run by a kindly projectionist. If you have heart strings, you better believe they'll be tugged. Hard.
Why Did It Get Cut? Interestingly, unlike most longer international versions that are cut in anticipation of western audiences, "Cinema Paradiso" was cut because it was a commercial flop in its initial release. In Italy, the movie fizzled, so when it was time to take it overseas, the filmmakers cut the film down from 155 minutes to 123 minutes. Unsurprisingly, what was left out were many details that contributed to this longer version's almost novelistic feel. The tactile details of childhood weren't just remembered, they were vividly brought back to life. Tellingly, this wasn't the last version of "Cinema Paradiso" to be released. In 2002, a "director's cut" of the film was unleashed running 170 minutes long.
Is It As Good As The Longer Version? Yes, the truncated version is just as powerful as the longer version, which does much to fill in details but little to deepen the film's already powerful emotions. "Cinema Paradiso" is a love letter to cinema. It always has been and it always will be, in whatever permutation it takes. (Though there are some members of The Playlist who believe the longer director's cut is actually the weakest version).

"1900" (1976)
What’s It About? Set in Italy at the beginning of the 20th century, "1900" chronicles the lives of two boys from opposite sides of the social strata (one wealthy, one poor) and charts their growth as young men who live through WWI and who cross paths again during Mussolini's fascistic rise pre-WWII. The film stars Robert De Niro, Gerard Depardieu and Burt Lancaster.
Why Did It Get Cut? Because of its super-exorbitant length (not really solved in any version), its laconic pace, poor dubbing (trying to find one definitive version that's not dubbed is a near impossibility) and over-involved story. Directed by Bernardo Bertolucci ("Last Tango In Paris"), his director's cut at Cannes that year ran a whopping 5 hours and 17 minutes. Though contracted to deliver a much shorter version by Paramount, the studio eventually let the director and his producer (who the filmmaker purportedly battled with over the cut) a 4 hour and 5 minute version that was actually released in U.S. theaters, believe it or not.
Is It As Good As The Longer Version? A long slog that's not easy to sit through in either length, Bertolucci's director's cut hit DVD in 2005 and we wept trying to get through that grueling, slow-moving experience. Philistines, you say? Watch "Seduced & Abandoned," James Toback's upcoming HBO documentary film about Cannes and selling movies. The director (and his cohort Alec Baldwin) interview Bertolucci himself in the movie and the topic of "1900" comes up (mind you, the auteur brings it up himself). While quotes can be provided upon request, Bertolucci, looking back, sees it as a bloated act of hubris from a young man who thought he could do no wrong (and coming off his biggest work to date, "Last Tango In Paris," one can see why). While it's beautiful to look at (Vittorio Storaro shot it) and it has a cumulative power, "1900" is not the masterpiece Bertolucci thought he was painting back in his peak era, and shaving an hour off its excessive run time can't change that.

"Once Upon A Time In America" (1984)
What’s It About? Starring Robert De Niro, James Woods, Elizabeth McGovern with Joe Pesci, Burt Young and a very young Jennifer Connelly (her debut), ‘Once Upon A Time’ is an epic crime drama that centers on the lives of Jewish ghetto youths who rise to prominence in New York City's world of organized crime.
Why Did It Get Cut? Again, due to length. A grand (and tragic) statement on the American dream, 'Once Upon A Time' utilizes a moving and involved flashback structure that chronicles the lives of these characters in their poverty-stricken youth slowing building all the way to their crime hegemony in the late 1960s. At its debut at the Cannes Film Festival in '84 the movie was four and half hours. To appease European distributors, director Sergio Leone cut the film down to 3 hours and 49 minutes, but by the time it hit U.S. theaters, Warner Bros. had the movie whittled down to a comparatively scant 2 hours and 19 minutes.
Is It As Good As The Longer Version? There's a long-held belief in some cinephile circles that longer automatically equals better. And while often that's hardly the case, there's no question that Leone's film is a masterwork and the severely truncated version is one of cinema's biggest crimes. The studio re-edited the film in chronological order and destroyed the emotional beauty of the flashback narrative (not to mention leaving huge gaps in the story). In 2003, the closest thing to a "definitive" version was released on DVD, and that is the 3 hours and 49 minute version and it's quite excellent--elegant, epic and long, but not dull for a second. Hardcore Leone-philes' patience was further rewarded in 2012 with a 4 hour and 6 minute Blu-ray, just 23 minutes shy of the original Cannes release, while a restored 2012 version screened at Cannes at 4 hours and 12 minutes. Restoration proselytizer Marty Scorsese is working with Leone's family to regain the rights to the missing precious minutes (apparently there are some legal issues therein) to finally restore Leone's 4 hr and 29 minute version (to be exact). Leone never directed a film after 'America' and the legend has it he was so heartbroken by the disfigured U.S. cut, that it sapped whatever love he had left for making movies. WB, if that's true, you'll forever have blood on your hands.

Several more examples immediately spring to mind, like Michael Winterbottom's "The Trip," which originally started life as a six-part U.K. miniseries but was shortened to a 90-minute comedy, plus a number of Asian action movies like "Shaolin Soccer," "The Protector," and "Hero." Michel Gondry's typically dreamy "Mood Indigo" has also undergone some severe tweaks, according to sources, although the movie has yet to officially open in the United States. Only time will tell on that one. — with Rodrigo Perez

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6 Comments

  • Andrew | October 21, 2013 11:57 PMReply

    Ridley Scott's "Legend," re-cut and totally re-scored by Tangerine Dream for US release seems like a really obvious one to me.

  • Anthony E. | October 21, 2013 2:39 PMReply

    Two big ones appear to be omitted from your list: Michael Cimino's Heaven's Gate & Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai.

  • Adam Scott Thompson | October 19, 2013 5:10 PMReply

    I bought that 2003 DVD of "Once Upon a Time in America." Makes my eyes water. Every. Single. Time.

  • Christopher Derrick | October 18, 2013 8:35 PMReply

    There's always a few key films that are missing from a list like this, usually because the original cut can't be found or restored, e.g. The Magnificent Ambersons, Major Dundee and The Private Lives of Sherlock Holmes... the excised footage apparently doesn't still exist for any of these (save, supposedly the Wilder film).

    However, it's sort of a crime to leave off Welles' Touch of Evil, Kubrick's Spartacus and the full version of Lawrence of Arabia, which I believe kicked off the restoration movement in the late 80s/early 90s.

    Also, Ridley Scott's director's cut of Alien is very much worth seeing, and people say his Kingdom of Heaven is better in the longer version...

    I also don't think the restored The Good, The Bad and The Ugly is superior to the released version, and what's the deal with Fincher's Alien3?

  • Steven Flores | October 11, 2013 8:19 PMReply

    I have seen the 130-minute cut of "The Grandmaster" and the shortened U.S. cut and the long version is the definitive version while the shortened U.S. cut is an atrocity. Lot of the emotional impact of the story and some of its non-linear narrative gets lost along with some small details.

  • Gary Palmucci | October 11, 2013 4:17 PMReply

    After three decades, more misinformation continues to swirl around Once Upon a Time in America than virtually any other film. There was never a publicly screened 4 1/2 hour version; the 1984 Cannes premiere was Leone's 227 min original theatrical cut which had been disastrously previewed in Boston earlier that year, prompting the Ladd Company's ill-advised (and now, fortunately, hard to find) 139 min re-cut. The longer version played theatrically in Europe and subsequently appeared on US vhs, laserdisc and repertory cinemas via Warners.
    Cannes 2012 saw the premiere (I was there) of a longer, ca 250 min cut with numerous heretofore unseen snippets and fuller scenes inserted in black and white workprint. It received a mixed reaction from critics (and possibly had some unresolved legal issues with the 'talent' over the new footage) and to my knowledge still hasn't been screened outside of Europe, or released anywhere on DVD.

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