#3. Ben-Hur -- Charlton Heston Didn't Know His Character Was Gay
Ben-Hur tells the story of Judah Ben-Hur (played by Charlton Heston), a Jewish prince who is betrayed by his childhood friend Messala and forced to endure a life of slavery, and it happily takes the better part of four hours to do so. Ben-Hur keeps almost meeting Jesus in a Forrest Gump sort of way, and in the end restores himself, his family, and his friends by murdering the shit out of Messala in a chariot race.
The Ten Commandments don't apply to anything you do via horses.
In spite of all its overblown spectacle (including a then-jaw-dropping ocean battle sequence that today looks like Jerry Bruckheimer playing with a bunch of toys in his bathtub), the most common criticism of Ben-Hur is focused on one key point -- Messala's betrayal seems to make absolutely no sense. These guys are supposed to be lifelong friends, and yet Messala rolls on Ben-Hur almost instantly after Ben-Hur refuses (politely but firmly) to help him find dissenting Jews now that Messala is a newly minted stickman of the Roman Empire. Why would Ben-Hur's best friend for life take away his home and family and toss him into anonymous slavery just because he refused to help Messala track down some rabble-rousers that the Romans would've eventually found on their own anyway?
Because Ben-Hur and Messala are actually former lovers, a subtext that was deliberately written into the film and just as deliberately hidden from Charlton Heston.
According to screenwriter Gore Vidal, he and the other writers were trying to think of a way to have Messala's betrayal make more sense when they came up with the "unrequited love" angle, suggesting that the reason Messala turns so instantly vicious toward his old friend is because Ben-Hur's rejection applies not only to advancing Messala's new career, but also to rekindling their previous relationship.
The director was hesitant (putting a homosexual love affair into a movie about Jesus is something no studio would do now, let alone back in the 1950s), but admitted it was a way better story than what they had and told them to go ahead with it. The filmmakers told Stephen Boyd (the actor who plays Messala) about the subplot, but Charlton Heston was kept utterly clueless because the director was convinced he'd "fall apart" if they told him. This is another way of saying that Charlton Heston could not bear the thought of pretending to be gay for a four-hour movie, so nobody told him that he was.
"No, seriously, Romans used to spit-shine each other's dicks all the time."
Boyd isn't exactly downplaying the moony gazes he throws Heston's way, so we assume Heston was simply too busy concentrating on the emotional thrust of his jaw in each scene to notice. Going back and watching the movie now, it seems impossible that Heston could've remained as heroically oblivious as he did. Yet, when he finally found out about the implicit romance years later, Heston emphatically denied that Ben-Hur ever nakedly embraced another man, saying the idea "irritates the hell out of me." Vidal shot back by vehemently backing up his claim and pointing out that Heston was the third choice for the role. Rock Hudson, an actual gay person, was initially offered the role of Ben-Hur, but his agents told him to turn it down because they thought the homosexual undertones could damage his career as a leading man -- the part was literally too gay for a gay man.
#2. Blazing Saddles -- The Singer of the Theme Song Didn't Know the Movie Was a Spoof
Blazing Saddles, the classic Western satire by Mel Brooks, is one of the most popular comedies ever produced. The script (co-written by Brooks and Richard Pryor, among others) balances unflinching portrayals of the irrational stupidity of racism alongside Looney Tunes gags, a man punching a horse in the face, and the most embarrassingly homophobic dance sequence in the history of film. It also contains a scene where a bunch of cowboys fart for a full minute without exchanging a word of dialogue.
Not all the jokes are quite so timeless, unfortunately.
Even though Blazing Saddles is a 90-minute clinic in absurdity, Mel Brooks still wanted to make it as close to a traditional Western film as he could. So, he hired Frankie Laine, a singer who had performed countless theme songs to Western movies and TV shows like 3:10 to Yuma and Rawhide, to do the theme for Blazing Saddles, which Brooks himself had written.
The thing was, Frankie Laine had no idea Blazing Saddles was a comedy. Despite the over-the-top goofiness of the lyrics, Laine approached Brooks after he finished recording the song and told him it was so beautiful, it had made him cry. It is unclear whether "He rode a blazing saddle" or "Yes, Bart was his name" was the specific line that brought Laine to tears. This would be roughly the same thing as Dean Martin becoming emotionally overwhelmed after delivering a heartfelt rendition of Weird Al Yankovic's "Fat." But as far as Laine knew, he had just recorded the theme to another powerful dramatic classic like High Noon, and Brooks didn't have the heart to tell him otherwise.
"As long as it's got a white fella riding around shooting bad guys, it's A-OK with me!"
Laine didn't actually see the film until it premiered, at which point he cringed with embarrassment over how emotionally invested he had been in his performance of the theme song, probably somewhere between the third and fourth rape joke.
#1. The Thin Red Line -- Adrien Brody Thought He Was the Main Character
20th Century Fox
The Thin Red Line was director Terrence Malick's attempt to make Saving Private Ryan as boring as he possibly could. The movie tells the story of various soldiers of C Company during the Guadalcanal Campaign in the Pacific Theater of World War II, with a bloated cast that reads like a list of talking points on an episode of I Love the '90s, including George Clooney, John Travolta, Nick Nolte, John Cusack, Woody Harrelson, and drunken woman-punching machine Sean Penn.
One name we left off of that list was Adrien Brody, who played Corporal Fife, the central character of the novel on which the film is based. You might assume we didn't mention him because Brody wasn't a huge star at that point, because why else would we leave out the main character? That same question was doubtless at the front of Brody's mind when he finally saw the finished film, because it wasn't until that moment that he discovered he'd been cut almost entirely out.
20th Century Fox
Even from the choreographed dance number that played over the credits.
It's fairly common for an actor's performance to get trimmed down substantially or completely removed, but Brody was the main character. He had filmed his entire role, done press junkets and magazine interviews, and brought his freaking parents to watch the movie's premiere, all with the understanding that he was the central character and that The Thin Red Line was his big break. To call back Saving Private Ryan, this would be like if Steven Spielberg had cut Tom Hanks' role down to three lines and didn't tell him about it until the movie came out.
Brody was understandably heartbroken -- he'd filmed countless hours of material and endured six months of boot camp with Sean Penn and John Travolta, which automatically entitles you to an Academy Award for Special Achievement in Not Killing Yourself (see Carrie, above). Years later, he still considered the experience an exercise in public humiliation, a feeling probably shared by the rest of the people Terrence Malick cut out of the film, including Gary Oldman, Billy Bob Thornton, Martin Sheen, Viggo Mortensen, Bill Pullman, and Mickey Rourke, who, in all fairness, was probably removed because the editors mistook him for a leathery old rhinoceros that had accidentally wandered in front of the camera.
20th Century Fox
That didn't stop Armond White from praising Rourke's performance as "powerful."
Related Reading: Some actors actually weren't acting. Like when Michael J. Fox was nearly hanged in Back to the Future 3. Marty McFly nearly killed the actor playing him. But to be fair, some actors wind up wishing they could kill their iconic roles: such was Sean Connery's hate for James Bond. He still wound up better off than the actors who had these terrible final films.
Why do we love to be scared? There's a reason there are 1,000 SAWs and Paranormal Activities. But now that love is spreading into our newsfeed with increasingly over-embellished headlines terrifying us on a daily basis. Our latest podcast, Jack O'Brien and David Wong sit down to discuss this phenomenon and its unsettling origins. Be sure to download it here and subscribe to it here.