Thursday, February 10, 2011

"FOR RICE CAKES, BLANCHE!"



Shouldn’t overdubbed, edited versions of all but the most egregiously violent and transgressive movies be something of a cultural anachronism by now?

I remember one of the fun little parlor games we used to play when I was a kid was trying to imagine just how butchered some of our favorite films that opened in the ‘70s would be when they ended up on network TV three or four years down the line. (Yes, Children of Instant Gratification, it sometimes took that long, in the pre-VCR days, for a major motion picture to premiere on network TV, which was one of the only, if not the only secondary market for a movie after its theatrical run was over.) I remember seeing Carrie for the first time and during the opening credits thinking, “How are they going to show this on TV? There’s full frontal nudity underneath the credits!” It was on the set of National Lampoon’s Animal House that I was introduced to the shooting of alternate-take versions of scenes in which potentially objectionable material would be toned down or rewritten completely with the network censors in mind. So then it wasn’t a total surprise when I eventually saw Carrie years later and noticed that on CBS all the girls in that locker room during the opening credits had bras on at best, blouses at worst.

Back then language used to be either erased aurally or simply cut out altogether, along with most of a movie’s violence or sexual material. The trend still exists today, even in a world where cable networks like Comedy Central and FX, and even the Big Three broadcast networks, routinely deal in levels of swearing, violence, nudity and sexual material that would never have passed muster back in the days when I was TV-watching kid. I guess there must still be some moral fiber at stake worth preserving in that special way which apparently only censoring Hollywood movies can preserve. So you will still see even today the occasional wild instance of language overdubbed and replaced with ineffectual or blatantly nonsensical phrases, and always ineptly looped, when watching raucous comedies or tough action pictures on TNT or the like.

There are three classic examples that I can think of. The first one is literally the very first instance of such nonsensical replacement swearing I can ever remember hearing, or at least it is the one that was most obviously absurd enough that I couldn’t possibly forget it. of. In Alfred Hitchcock’s Family Plot there is a scene in which Barbara Harris and Bruce Dern, playing a phony psychic and her taxi driving boyfriend, are having an argument near the beginning of the film. At one point Dern, exasperated at something Harris says, responds with, “For Christ’s sake, Blanche!” Or at least that’s how it was in theaters. When I saw the film aired on NBC, Dern’s response was the certainly less blasphemous but otherwise incoherent “For rice cakes, Blanche!” Dern's character was certainly not the brightest bulb in the package, but neither was he obsessed with the bland little disc-shaped snacks, so his comment, looped in at a volume approximately twice that of the rest of the dialogue track for maximum distraction, seems even screwier.


Then there is the beloved moment from the Coen Brothers’ The Big Lebowski in which Walter Sobchak (John Goodman) and the Dude (Jeff Bridges) confront little Larry, disaffected and slovenly son of Walter’s hero, iron lung-bound TV writer Arthur Digby Sellers. Our heroes believe Larry stole the Dude’s car and with it a suitcase full of ransom cash. When Larry refuses to confess—Larry almost refuses to breathe, blink or provide any reaction whatsoever to Walter’s increasingly threatening tone—the big man finally cracks. “Do you know what happens, Larry, when you fuck a stranger in the ass?” he asks, not expecting a response. He asks the rhetorical question several times, in fact, on his way out to beat the shit out of a beautiful sports car which he believes Larry bought with the stolen ransom money. With each blow of a tire iron on the sexy metal surface of the car Walter continues, “THIS is what happens, Larry, when you fuck a stranger in the ass!” But on some cable screenings Walter’s hilariously obscene mantra has had many different incarnations, my favorite being the one documented in the Lebowski fan tome I’m A Lebowski, You’re a Lebowski: “So you see what happens, Larry, when you find a stranger in the Alps?!” Wh-Wh-Whaaaaaaat?!

And finally, a little channel surfing the other night brought me across a broadcast of the insufferably bad Robin Williams vehicle Patch Adams. I was not able, as I usually am when confronted with this cinematic steamer, to switch the channel with my typical speed, and as a result I inadvertently caught what is sure to become yet another classic of overdubbed sanitizing of ostensibly offensive language. Near the beginning of the movie Patch, who has been voluntarily committed to a mental institution after a suicide attempt, tells the doctor in charge that he is going to check himself out. The doctor, believing Patch still has issues, does not approve of the action and informs Patch that his report will read “A.M.A.—that you were signed out of this hospital against medical advice.” This brilliantly sets Patch up for the first of many rim-shot-worthy rejoinders with which he will devastate the authoritarian bastards who will try to thwart his glowing spirit at every turn. With that patented Robin Williams smugness at full tilt Patch lobs this one back at the doctor: “And my report will read I.D.G.A.R.A.—I don’t give a rat’s ass!” Cheers and laughter as Patch turns his back on mental illness and toward a career as a doctor who gets laughs from cancer patients by sticking an enema blub on his nose. But on the cable broadcast I stumbled upon Patch’s response had been altered slightly: “And my report will read I.D.G.A.R.A.—I don’t give a rat’s anus. The subtle message in this bit of ill-advised clean-up is clearly, best not to focus on the furry posterior, or buns, of the rat; much better to conjure up images of the beast’s actual asshole, for that is surely the more clinical, less offensive image. Thanks, Mr. Censor. In your rush to protect the oversensitive Patch Adams viewer, you’ve succeeded in grossing me out.

These are just a few examples that I came across in the past couple of days that I could recall easily. What instances of this kind of inane nonsense have you encountered? Have you heard some particularly funny substitutions? Or better yet, can you come up with some ridiculous takes on classic movie lines that might be more satisfactory to the clenched-cheek aesthetic of the typical Standards and Practices nudnik? For rice cakes, let’s hear ‘em!

********************************************

30 comments:

Patrick said...

OH so many favorites.

I'll never forget Ferris Bueller confiding, "Pardon my French, but Cameron is so tight that if you stuck a lump of coal IN HIS FIST, in two weeks you'd have a diamond."

Or the use of the word "mickey-fickey" in Do the Right Thing.

Or the phrase "elephantitis of the guts" in Breakfast Club.

Or the unforgettable melon farmers in Repo Man.

Or "I have had it with these monkey fighting snakes on this Monday-to-Friday plane!"

Finally, check out the way the phrase "Hand me the keys, you fucking cocksucker" was handled when The Usual Suspects came to cable.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=krfSC0fzO-4

Scott Nye said...

My favorite instance remains watching Dumb and Dumber one night (a pleasure if there ever was one), and coming up to the part where the gangster have them handcuffed to the bed. Harry and Lloyd get into a fight over the girl, and eventually Lloyd suggests that they just call it quits as friends. Harry says, "you just tell me where to sign," and I mentally prepared for the next line - "Right on my ass after you kiss it!" (I've seen Dumb and Dumber many, many times).

Only that's not what Lloyd said. Instead, he said, "Right on my sandwich, after you kiss it!"

His mouth still made the big one-syllable motion, but a complete bit of two-syllabic nonsense came out. Not a funny line as originally written - hilarious as dubbed.

Flickhead said...

Peripheral to your subject, when ABC-TV first showed On Her Majesty's Secret Service in the 1970s, they completely (and I do mean completely) rearranged its structure, added a voiceover narration (!), and cut the film into two parts broadcast over two evenings.

Robert H. said...

Where do I begin...

The 'melon farmers' that seem to pop up in REPO MAN, Tony Montana asked if he got his scar by "eatin' pineapple" in SCARFACE; Ronny Cox's "The sick onery Beast is gaining on us!" in THE CAR...

Ah, Univeral!

Matthew Bradley said...

Isn't the classic example of that changing "Your mother sucks cocks in Hell" to "Your mother sews socks in Hell" in THE EXORCIST? Or was that apochryphal?

Chris Stangl said...

For my televiewing dollars, maybe nothing delighted me more than DO THE RIGHT THING with the "motherfuckers" replaced:

RADIO RAHEEM: D, mickey fickey, D! Learn to speak English first, all right?
KIM: How many you say?
RADIO RAHEEM: Twenty, mickey fickey, twenty.
SONNY: Mickey fickey you!
RADIO RAHEEM: Mickey fickey you? You all right, man.

Peter Nellhaus said...

Not quite the same thing, but I have a vintage Thai action movie, where one badass threatens another with the subtitled words, "You're going to die like a frog.".

james1511 said...

"I don't give a fig". Heard a couple of times in Lethal Weapon 2, though the last time I saw it on TV a few weeks ago it was uncensored.

Stacia said...

Since the 1980s when unedited versions of films were made available for home viewing, I have deliberately stopped watching edited versions, so I sadly have no "rice cakes" examples. However, years ago at a gathering at an in-laws house, I saw a Family Channel showing of "Support Your Local Sheriff!" with all the damns and hells bleeped out. It was followed by "Blazing Saddles" with the same editing, but the old lady saying "Up yours, nigger!" was left intact. I was the only one who seemed to notice how odd that was.

Greg said...

I remember Smokey and the Bandit replacing "Son of a bitch" with "scumbum," whatever the fuck that is.

Also, The Breakfast Club had Judd Nelson screaming to Paul Gleason, "Fill you!".

But I don't think anything, ever, will beat the "Alps" line from Lebowski. I mean, that just kind of leaves one speechless.

J.D. said...

My fave is from REPO MAN where they changed "motherfucker" to "mellon farmer." Classic. Apparently, Cox supervised the dubbing over of alt. dialogue himself. Hah!

Junius Ponds said...

There's two that keep sticking in my head from "Fast Times at Ridgemont High".

Forrest Whitaker's character warning people to stay away from his car: "DON'T FOOL WITH IT."

Spicoli outraged by Mr. Hand's unfairness: "You nerd. You fuzzy nerd."
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n7zfnbdyAW8

Anthony Strand said...

Two that I've always been very fond of -

In The Usual Suspects, when the lineup is asked to say "Give me the keys, you fucking cocksucker," it's dubbed on TV as "Give me the keys, you Fairy Godfather!"

In Ron Howard's otherwise-forgettable The Paper, Glenn Close yells "Hand me that man's fucking phone!" On a TV airing I saw in the late 90s, it was changed to "Hand me that man's portable phone!"

kenjfuj said...

I'm surprised no one has yet mentioned the hilarious terrible overdub that Conan O'Brien highlighted in one of the first episodes of his late-night TBS show: turning John McClane's classic "Yippee-kayyay, motherfucker" quip into "Yippee-kayyay, Mr. Falcon" in the TV edit of Die Hard 2.

Bob Westal said...

If I am ever so fortunate as to interview John Goodman, I'm going to ask him what actually does happen when you find a stranger in Alps.

Ivan said...

The TV version of Used Cars had all of Gerrit Graham's "JE-sus CHRIST"s changed into "Cheese and Rice."

David! said...

FX's edit of The Departed is a thing of beauty.

Greg said...

when ABC-TV first showed On Her Majesty's Secret Service in the 1970s, they completely (and I do mean completely) rearranged its structure, added a voiceover narration (!), and cut the film into two parts broadcast over two evenings.

That's astonishing. Who narrated, Bond, or a generic omniscient narrator?

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Ivan, I remember that now. Graham's reading of that particular blasphemy is part of my personal lexicon, but I can't imagine that CHEESE and RICE! would have made the cut! Thanks for the memory jog.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Kenji: "Mr. Falcon" is exactly the kind of out-of-nowhere absurdity that makes this specious practice almost an art form unto itself!

NickCarraway said...

The Die Hard 2 TBS edit deserves a special section given that Bruce Willis's lines are dubbed by someone obviously not Bruce Willis, giving the goofy replacements like "Yippee-ki-yay, Mr. Falcon" a quality unmatched by any other edited version.

I recall Simon Pegg claiming that for the edited version of Hot Fuzz, they made up the most convoluted dialogue replacements they could think of, though specifics elude me. Makes me wonder whether these heights of hilarity are actually subversive jokes on the part of the filmmakers forced to dumb down their work for sensitive Middle American ears.

Anonymous said...

I recently watched School Ties on cable after having not seen it since it was in Theaters. In the final scene Matt Damon's character say's to Brendan Fraser's character
"You know something? I'm still gonna get into Harvard. And in 10 years no one will remember any of this. But you'll still be a goddam Jew." In the theatrical version David Green responds with,
"And you'll still be a prick." In the television version they completely omitted David Green's response and cut to him walking across the quad after Matt Damon's insult. This completely undercuts everything that had come before. It leaves the impression that David Green is not standing up for himself. Dick Wolf(Law and Order) was the screenwriter. All this for the word, "prick"? Reminds me of what George Carlin said in his seven words routine, "You can prick your finger, but DON'T finger your ...

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Nick-- That sounds perfectly believable coming from the Pegg-Frost-Wright brain trust. I get a kick out of them totally screwing with the process of having to soften their films like that.

But Anonymous brings up a great point that I hadn't considered: What about the instances in which a film's very point is either undercut, smudged or lost altogether, just because it is assumed that teenagers and adults will somehow by ill-affected by hearing the word "prick"? It's very telling (and the story told is not one that reflects well on what we as a society choose to hide from ourselves) that lines like "Up yours, nigger" and the insult "goddamn Jew" make the cut, but nasty words without political or racial context like "shit" or "prick" must be scrubbed away. The "Up yours, nigger" line in Blazing Saddles is pointedly satiric, especially in light of the old lady's second, more superficially genial appearance. ("Of course you'll have the good taste not to mention that I was here.") But it just plays insensitive when everything else in the movie is so meticulously (or sloppily) monkeyed with. And Anonymous's point re the "goddamn Jew" business being left to hang there like an open sore is well taken.

I've always tried to curb my swearing aroud my kids, and as they get older I've been less and less successful. But, tellingly, whenever they hear something nasty in a movie they still cover their own ears-- they know they're not supposed to hear that kind of stuff routinely-- or they just look at me and say, "That guy sounds like you, Daddy" and wag their little fingers. Who needs an anonymous board of Standards and Practices? I've got my kids.

Flickhead said...

Greg, the clip of the ABC edit of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service that’s on You Tube is exact as it was from that amazing broadcast — note the ski chase, past the middle of the film in the “real” version, is now the beginning of the beginning action scene: click here if you dare!

Greg said...

Flickhead, I dared. What a bizarre and utterly inexplicable thing to do. Clearly the work of S.P.E.C.T.R.E, intent on driving the viewers of ABC insane!

Ivan said...

Not that I'm defending ABC's re-edit of OHMSS, but I saw that version when it was broadcast, and as a kid, I was intrigued by it. Up until then, I'd only seen Connery/Moore films (with their standardized templates), and heard that the Lazenby film stunk. I tuned in expecting it to be total garbage, but instead was treated to something that seemed it was from Nic Roeg's reject pile (yes, as a kid my folks took me to see Don't Look Now and Man Who Fell to Earth) with its shifting timeframe/non-linear story. Not that I thought the ABC version was good (and I now think that OHMSS is a very good spy movie, just not a Bond film), but I was impressed that Broccoli & Co. were willing to experiment. Little did I know...

Mr. Peel said...

Since it was rated R I wasn't allowed to see THE JERK until it hit network TV. As a result, for years I thought that the dog's name was Stupid.

mike schlesinger said...

While surfing one day, I came across BLAZING SADDLES on AMC, and ALL the "niggers" were bleeped out, which pretty much negates the entire point of the film.

My favorite--though incredibly obscure--example comes from the 1974 comedy MIXED COMPANY, but with a twist: the redubbing was in the theatrical version, to get a less restrictive rating. Near the end, Joseph Bologna is pleading with the cops not to arrest him and his family. Finally, he blows up and yells, "Book us!"--which is the exact opposite of what he's been saying the past couple of minutes. You didn't need to be a lip-reader to know what he originally said.

Marc Edward Heuck said...

I first saw OHMSS with my father on its single-night "ABC FRIDAY NIGHT MOVIE" broadcast in 1980, and as I recall, aside from the reshuffled opening and the narration, this version did not even feature the Maurice Binder title sequence that was at least preserved in the two-night 1976 broadcast; I'm daarned sure of this because I was a fan of those sequences and was very upset not to see one. I'm pretty sure my dad noticed that too, since he likely saw it in its theatrical run before I was born. I don't think it even had the "This never happened to the other guy" gag. I suspect that while the 1976 split run divided the movie in two 90-minute segments, they had to cut a little more out in order to make it fit a 3-hour prime time slot, or to sell more commercial time, hence those omissions.

wwolfe said...

This would make for a fun little book - a compilation of the best (meaning worst(meaning best)) edited-for-TV dialogue changes. There's a similar series of small paperbacks containing misheard song lyrics (my fave is Tom Petty's "I was born a rebel" being heard as "I was Barney Rubble"). Surely if those folks can get at least three books from that idea, you can get one from this, Mr. Falcon.