Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Feel Free to Spoil the Ending

I’m sure it’s happened to anyone who’s an avid fan of movies. You’re watching something, and then suddenly you’re not. An hour or so into the movie, and it ends, but much earlier than intended. Maybe you’re at the theatre, and the film falls off the reel. Or you’re at home, and a thunderstorm knocks out the dish. Or you’ve rented a DVD, and the previous renter got his grubby hands all over the playing side and thought the best thing to do would be to clean it with his raggedy shirt, and the movie’s final thirty minutes are pixelated garbage because the disc looks as if it’s been scrubbed with sandpaper.

These days, it’s easier to find another copy of a movie, and if you’re desperate, you can peruse the full synopsis on Wikipedia. But way back whenever, it took a little more effort. You’d have to find someone who’d seen the entire film and beg them for a breakdown of the parts you’d missed. But chances are that person would be another movie buff and would refuse to reveal anything, not wanting to “ruin” it for you, regardless of how many times you screamed, “Ruin it! Ruin it!” in their face. The only remaining option would be to wait for a return trip to the theatre, wait for your local video store to replace its dreadful copy, wait for the movie to crop up on TV someday. A whole bunch of waiting. And then maybe some dinner, followed by more waiting.

The first time I can remember missing a rather significant chunk of a movie was when my siblings and I stayed with our aunt and uncle. My uncle pushed a VHS copy of George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968) into a VCR. I was only 10 years old and had never seen it. The movie opens with a spooky drive to the cemetery as Johnny and Barbra visit their father’s grave. My sister wondered aloud why Johnny was putting on black leather gloves, and the potential reasons seemed feverishly endless. Johnny deliberately scares his sister: “They’re coming to get you, Barbra!” And suddenly a man appears, but he’s really a ghoul, and he attacks Johnny, and Johnny hits his head on a tombstone, and is he dead? No time to check, as Barbra runs to the car, locks herself inside, but oh, no! She doesn’t have the keys, Johnny does, and seriously, is he dead? The ghoul smashes the car window, and Barbra shifts into neutral, and the car starts rolling to prospective safety, and it looks as if she’s made her escape, but the car hits a tree, and she has to jump out, and --

Snow. My uncle had stopped the movie. For the longest time, I thought he’d cut it off because it was terrifying my sister, but I learned much later that he feared my mother’s reaction if he’d shown us a zombie movie. But I’m not sure he realized what he’d actually done. I didn’t see Night of the Living Dead until I was in my teens, so for years, my curiosity was relentless: What happened to Barbra? Did she get away? Was she turned into a ghoul? And seriously! Is Johnny dead?!

I was most affected by a premature ending with Alfred Hitchcock’s Marnie (1964). I’d recently discovered the British auteur and was on a massive run of Hitch films. I saw that Marnie was going to be on TV, and for whatever reason, I had to ask my sister to set the VCR for me. There I sat, following along with Marnie’s thievery and the wavering relationship between Marnie and James Bond… or, well, Sean Connery’s character. Then Marnie’s riding horseback, and her horse is wild, and it hurdles a stone wall, collapsing from an injury. Marnie is horrified, and she retrieves a pistol and returns to her fallen steed. Hitch’s camera is aimed at her hand as she lifts the revolver, hammer cocked and --

Static, image clearing, two ladies on a talk show. My sister, unaware of the film’s running time (about 130 minutes, probably two and a half hours on TV), set the VCR for only two hours. I shuffled through a few choice words but had no way of learning how the movie ended. Years later, my uncle, perhaps to redeem himself for the Night of the Living Dead incident, showed me the last 30 minutes or so. And here’s the clincher: the image of Marnie holding the gun is the image that’s been seared onto my brain, and, worst of all, I’ve forgotten the ending.

Instances like that have happened since and will likely happen again. But every shoddy DVD can be replaced by another. Every disappearing dish signal can be vetoed by a few YouTube clips. Every busy schedule can be ridiculed by a DVR full of things to watch at your own convenience. So now if you miss a movie’s ending, you need not worry. You’ll find the ending somewhere. You may have to wait, but only for a few hours or days, not years. It’s a persistent speculation, running the possibilities through your head: What was the ending like? I mean, just imagine. You’re totally invested, you don’t know how everything will wind up, and then suddenly --


  1. Your descriptions are very funny, the part about two women on a talk show made me laugh for some reason. But when it happens it's certainly NOT FUNNY lol.

    This happens to me aaaaall the time. I record alot of movies off of TCM and soemtimes they start a few minutes late or Robert talks too long, but I'll set it up leaving extra time at the end and it will still get cut off!

    For whatever reason, silent movies get cut off the most, I'll miss the last 10 minutes, I don't understand it at all.

    I also missed the end of "The Locket" with Laraine Day. It's at the end at the wedding scene. Is she going to go nuts? Kill someone? Realize her mother-in-law is evil? Dunno cause it cut off.

    It's also frustrating when I record a movie that is scheduled in the Now Playing guide to find that at some point, TCM decided to change it's schedule.

  2. Sark - You remind me of the early-ish days of VHS and having to set the VCR more-or-less manually to the channel to be taped. I mucked up more than one taping in one way or another in those days. And you're right, today it's much easier to find films than it once was - even laboriously watching 10 minute segments on YouTube is better than nothing...

  3. Sarkoffagus, you really touch on something when you describe the frustration of missing the end of a movie, for whatever reason. I record nearly everything for later viewing, and nothing irritates me more than when TCM has their timing off and I miss the very beginning or, worse, end of something. And it always seems to be something they're showing for the first time and won't be repeating in the near future. This happened with Losey's "These Are the Damned," and I had to wait for the DVD release a few years later before finding out how the movie ended, which is crucial with this one!

  4. Sarkoffagous and friends, your reminiscences of recorded movies that for one reason or another got cut off hit home with me. When I was a tween and a movie fan, I often used my VCR (quaint, I know :-)) to catch movies at half-past-ungodly in the morning, and it was often hit-or-miss as to whether I'd actually get the entire movie! Hooray for DVRs and DVDs!

    While we're on the subject, I wrote a blog post about late-night movie-watching, if you're interested. Here's the link:


    In any case, great post, Sark!

  5. Sark, I loved this post--it made me laugh out loud, but it's oh so true! After spending most of my life in the Eastern time zone, I lived in Alabama for four years. Yes, the switch to Central time was a disaster when it came to recording movies! I can't tell you how many times I joined a recorded film an hour into its running time. My favorite story of a missed ending involves a Hammer film called THE SNORKEL. I saw half of it on TCM and got thoroughly hooked. Unfortunately, I had to go somewhere that night and couldn't record the rest of the film. The next day, I mentioned it to my nephew...who had missed the first half, but saw the end. So, we exchanged plots and thus pieced together the whole film. A year later, it was released on DVD and I watched the whole thing (actually, it's a nifty little thriller). As for your NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD story, I can sympathesize with your uncle. The only thing scarier than a flesh-eating ghoul is a potentially mad mother!

  6. Excellent post, Sark. Pet peeves of mine include watching something on the telly and having it interrupted by "Breaking News: the President just purchased a new puppy!" seven minute or whatever segment or the mandatory emergency test that is run whose significance I still don't understand yet its broadcast ruined a critical segment of something I had invested time in. Dangling prepositions aside, I enjoyed your post immensely.

  7. Ah, the trials and tribulations of a movie buff in the making! A fun read!

    Almost shared some of my own memories you jogged. But they've nothing to do with this topic. For another time. thanks for sharing this.