The 1980s Madonna film that got mangled by its studio

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The story of the film released by a major studio, that was sent into cinemas with a chunk of the film missing – and nobody noticed.

When it comes to the movies, Madonna tends to be quite picky as to which features she appears in. In fact, she hasn’t appeared on screen in a feature film since her cameo in 2002’s Die Another Die, although she has directed two features since then, 2008’s Filth And Wisdom and 2011’s W.E..

Her most prolific run of movies though came from the mid-80s up until her taking on the title role in Alan Parker’s film of Evita in 1996.

Some of the films she took on in that period are reasonably high profile, and earned varying degrees of acclaim. In particular Desperately Seeking Susan, Dick Tracy and A League Of Their Own. She was also cast by Woody Allen in one of his features, Shadows And Fog. But then there was a low budget oddity that has slipped a little between the cracks. And as it turns out, even when it came to its original theatrical release, it was manhandled by Columbia Pictures, the studio that released it.

The film in question us 1989’s Bloodhounds Of Broadway, Madonna’s first screen role since 1987’s Who’s That Girl. Mind you, it was a film that started shooting in December 1987, but would take its time to make it to the screen.

Matt Dillon, Jennifer Grey, Julie Hagerty, Rutger Hauer, Randy Quaid, Steve Buscemi and Fisher Stevens were amongst those in the extensive ensemble, and the film itself is an adaptation of four short stories from Damon Runyon (whose stories also part-inspired the musical Guys And Dolls). The stories had been adapted for the screen before in the 1950s, but this new version was no remake.

The film is an ensemble period comedy set in 1928,  and the low budget production came with a bill of $4m for the negative. It was the work of director Howard Brookner. Tragically, it would be his sole feature. Brookner died at the age of 34, following a battle with AIDS that he’d kept secret for much of the film’s production. To ensure he had the physical strength to shoot the film, he stopped taking his medication. Production duly wrapped in February 1988, following a shoot that had taken in four different cities. He’d paid a price, but Brookner had filmed his feature.

Sadly, he then had to fight for it all over again. He’d been planning to shoot another film – Scary Kisses, which would have starred Tilda Swinton and Sean Penn – but his remaining strength would be required to further fight for his picture. Columbia wasn’t happy with the cut of the movie that it’d seen, and the studio management was going through changes. Out had gone David Puttnam, who had greenlit the movie during his year as its boss. Since then, Dawn Steel had taken over as studio boss, and within a further year, Sony was taking the studio over from Coca-Cola (which had decided it didn’t want to own a movie studio anymore).

It was against this backdrop that the studio wanted to make changes to Bloodhounds Of Broadway. It could hardly market the film either as solely a Madonna movie, given that her role in it was a modest one. As such, the poster that was produced listed the players in the movie in alphabetical order, although Madonna’s face did make it to the top right of the image (the image above is the eventual DVD cover, incidentally, but it’s based on that poster).

Brookner, though, wouldn’t get to see all this. He lost his battle with AIDS on April 27th 1989, at the age of just 34. One of many people taken from us by the awful disease. He never got to see the final release – or the final cut – of the movie, although given what happened next, it’s pretty certain he wouldn’t have been best pleased. Columbia executives recut his film, and thus we never got to see the version that Brookner wanted. For instance, a narration was added in post-production after his death, that hadn’t been part of the project he envisaged.

Furthermore, those who went to see the film when it was released in the States didn’t even get the version that Columbia had sanctioned. Unbeknown to the studio, it had made an error when it came to distributing the movie, and as former TriStar boss Mike Medavoy revealed in hismemoir, You’re Only As Good As Your Next One, the film was shipped to cinema around the country with an entire reel of film missing. In this case, around ten or eleven minutes of the movie hadn’t been included, and because of the structure of the film – four stories in one – nobody had spotted the error. That was the version that those who paid to see the film in cinemas ultimately got.

Perhaps predictably, the film earned downbeat reviews, and in spite of the presence of a global superstar in its ensemble, it promptly bombed at the box office too. It would gross just $43,761 in US cinemas, and didn’t enjoy much of a run on home formats either. If anything, it now lives on primarily as something of an oddity in Madonna’s film career – it was the movie she did before one of her biggest cinematic outings in 1990’s Dick Tracy – but that at least helped get the film a DVD release.

The sad thing is, though, that the version that we got to see isn’t, well, the version that had been intended by Brookner.

But if you want to get a flavour of the final movie, here’s the trailer for it…


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