12 Classic Movie Moments Made Possible by Abuse and Murder
No matter how hard we try to pretend that TMZ writers would be out of job in the classic days of Hollywood, the fact remains that the movie industry has always been filled with insufferable assholes. Some of those assholes produced your favorite movie moments ever -- and some of them did that while putting their cast and crew through relentlessly horrible experiences, which they didn't always survive.
Alfred Hitchcock Liked to Torture Actresses
Alfred Hitchcock was a genius, and by all accounts it was amazing to work with him ... as long as you were a dude.
Grace Kelly had to stand during Rear Window, while James Stewart just lounged around all day.
Hitchcock had a thing for the ladies, and it wasn't a healthy "thing." Even if you don't read anything into the fact that young, attractive blondes were continuously getting slashed, tortured or harassed in his films, his treatment of them off-camera was just slightly less deranged.
For instance, Hitchcock cast an unknown called Tippi Hedren in the lead role for The Birds -- presumably because he knew that a famous star wouldn't be quite as receptive to having massive piles of crap unleashed on her. Bird crap, to be more specific: For five days of filming, Hitchcock would throw live birds directly at the actress, peck, scratch and shit all over her. Not satisfied with the resulting terror, he ordered that the birds be physically tied to her, and one of them just missed clawing her eye out.
"Can you do that one again?"
All those scenes of the girl losing it in The Birds? She really is that scared, and since this was her big break, she didn't dare saying anything. The whole thing reduced Hedren to tears.
And then things got worse: Hitchcock became infatuated with Hedren, which he demonstrated by paying staff to follow her on her time off and sexually propositioning her (because chicks love guys who throw birds at them). When Hedren refused and demanded to be let out of her contract, the director vowed to ruin her career. And he did: For the next few years, Hedren remained under contract but made no movies. When she was finally released, demand for her had died down, and she spent the remainder of her acting career in relative obscurity.
Today this woman is better known as the mother of Melanie Griffith. Think about that for a second.
So what -- he had a weird relationship with one actress. We've all been there, right? Well, another of Hitchcock's victims was the lead actress of The 39 Steps. He'd shout "Bring on the Birmingham tart!" when calling for her on the set, and at one point he left her handcuffed to her male costar for hours until she developed bruises. Then in one scene, he needed a "shocked" reaction from her, so he started unbuttoning his pants as if he was going to whip out his cock.
For the love of God, DON'T PAN DOWN.
Coppola and Apocalypse Now Nearly Kill Martin Sheen
Decades before Charlie Sheen lost his mind in front of a camera, his father, Martin, was doing the same thing in Francis Ford Coppola's classic Apocalypse Now. Martin Sheen's breakdown at the beginning of the movie is one of the most memorable opening sequences ever filmed. This impressive performance was fueled by rich source material, Sheen's need to exorcise his personal demons and Coppola's being an irresponsible jackass.
Geez guy, simmer down. It's just 'Nam, not a real war like Grenada.
Sheen almost didn't survive it.
Apocalypse Now is famous for being plagued with production problems, not the least of which involved its being filmed in the middle of an actual war zone. Coppola had agreed to shoot the movie in the Philippines knowing the country was in a state of civil war, because the president offered to support the production and lend them some military equipment (including helicopters). Coppola and his crew were there faster than you can say "tax break incentive."
Most people saw a horrible, divisive war. Coppola saw an opportunity to save some money for his wine business.
At one point, Coppola had to give back some helicopters because the government needed them for, you know, blowing up insurgents. The cast and crew could hear gunshots and explosions in the distance -- real ones -- but Coppola's main preoccupation at this point was about to adjust his schedule to accommodate the Philippine army's needs.
But apparently Martin Sheen didn't take things so calmly, because he suffered a heart attack in the middle of the jungle.
The horror was too much for him.
Sheen staggered a quarter of a mile through the jungle before reaching help. How did Coppola react? He was terrified ... that the producers might insist on transferring Sheen to an American hospital. So he quashed the "rumors" of a heart attack by claiming Sheen had suffered heat exhaustion, and had him back on the set a month later. Hell, we're surprised he didn't offer him to the Philippine government to help it fight in its war.
Stanley Kubrick Gets Shelley Duvall to Act Traumatized -- by Traumatizing Her
Stanley Kubrick is one of the great undisputed geniuses of cinema. If every shot, every action, and every line of dialogue in his films seems perfectly staged and delivered, that's because, well ... they damned well had to be, otherwise no one was going home.
Stanley Kubrick: Master of the self-indulgent profile pic 50 years before the creation of Facebook.
Just to be clear, we're not criticizing him for being a perfectionist. Lots of people like to make sure shit is done just right. But at some point, you go past "perfectionist" into "obsessive-compulsive." Beyond that on the spectrum, you have "insane," "a danger to himself and others" and finally a category that experts have simply named, "Stanley Kubrick."
Kubrick is the rape-eyed photographer back there. In case you couldn't fucking tell.
So, for example, in Eyes Wide Shut, there was a totally inconsequential scene where Sydney Pollack had to get up from his chair, walk and open a door. That's all. There was no dialogue. Kubrick forced the actor to perform the same scene, walking from chair to door, over and over and over and over, for two straight days.
"You will never see your family EVER AGAIN."
But when it comes to Kubrickian acting marathons, nothing beats The Shining. The shoot was originally scheduled to take 17 weeks, but the director's insane perfectionism stretched it into a full year. Why? Well, remember the classic scene where a horrified Shelley Duvall swings a bat at an insane Jack Nicholson? That moment alone took 127 takes, which, according to Wikipedia, broke the record for "most retakes of a single movie scene with spoken dialogue."
It also holds the record for "most times an actress secretly wished a director would just fucking die."
The whole shoot was one hellish year of doing the same shots over and over again. Nobody suffered that year worse than Duvall -- Kubrick's constant screams and demands made her so stressed that her hair began to fall out. She became physically ill from being yelled at too much by Kubrick, which, by the end of the shoot, qualified as a real medical condition.
Apparently, Kubrick intentionally created a hostile atmosphere toward Duvall (as seen in the Making of ... documentary) in order to get a better performance out of her. How else was he supposed to get an authentic "HELP I AM TRAPPED HERE WITH A GODDAMN PSYCHOPATH" reaction from an actress?
Jack Nicholson just wasn't creepy enough on his own.
The Wizard of Oz Assaults Actors with Toxic Metals, Fire
Most people associate The Wizard of Oz with psychedelic color schemes, Pink Floyd conspiracies and big crowds of the happiest goddamn little people you ever saw. Rumors that one of those little guys hanged himself on-screen have been thoroughly debunked -- so really, the only reason we're including the movie on this list is that they kept almost killing people, and also setting their faces on fire.
We still say there's somebody hanging in those woods.
Filming The Wizard of Oz wasn't as fun as it looked. The Technicolor process was expensive and time-consuming, so to cut down costs, the producers pushed the actors through 16-hour days, six days a week, on brightly lit soundstages that quickly reached more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit (and that was outside the carpeted lion suit).
The mask was specifically designed so you couldn't tell how much he was suffering.
But hey, we've all worked long hours, and probably for less pay. So how bad could it have been?
For one thing, the aluminum-powder makeup used for the Tin Man almost killed the first actor cast on the role. An allergic reaction gave him breathing problems and horrible body cramps that made him wake up at night screaming in panic, but the studio heads didn't really believe anything was wrong until they saw him lying on a bed, connected to an artificial lung. So they recast the part and changed the makeup to something less dangerous -- which then infected the eye of the new actor. The Wicked Witch had it pretty rough, too: Her makeup was so heavy that, for 16 hours a day, she could eat only through a straw. That distinctive green color was actually copper -- which is unfortunate, because copper happens to be an excellent conductive metal, and that's not something you wanna have all over your face when people are shooting fire all around you.
Imagine how permanently and irrevocably different your life would have been with this Tin Man.
In an early scene, the filmmakers made fire erupt from the ground to conceal the witch's exit as she was lowered by an elevator, but then the mechanism jammed and she caught on fire.
She's burning to death underneath that orange smoke.
The copper on her face made treating her burns all the more difficult. After being rushed to the hospital, the actress insisted on a stunt double for the next scene involving pyrotechnics. Given that the stunt double was also badly burned, we're going to go ahead and say she made the right call there.
Singing in the Rain, Dancing in Blood
Gene Kelly was basically a tap dancing Don Draper. Having utterly conquered the Broadway scene, Kelly moved on to become a successful actor and, later, co-director of classics such as Singing in the Rain, in which he danced alongside the lovely Debbie Reynolds. It includes one of the most famous scenes in entertainment history:
You don't get that good without being just a little bit crazy, and Gene Kelly fit the bill; he was a tireless workaholic who would constantly put in 16- to 18-hour days, and God help anyone who couldn't keep up. The fact that co-star Debbie Reynolds was just a 20-year-old with no dancing experience didn't stop Kelly from insulting her and making her work until her feet bled.
Fred Astaire found Reynolds in the studio one day, hiding under a piano and crying.
Fred Astaire wasn't involved in the movie, but he magically appears in situations that require an uplifting musical number.
Reynolds says she spent the shoot being terrified and crying, and later, Gene Kelly admitted he had been an asshole to her and said he was amazed that she even talked to him afterward. So, yeah, fix that in your mind and then go watch that classic clip again of him happily splashing around in the puddles.
That also makes you wonder how many of those kids on Glee would secretly love to beat the living crap out of Ryan Murphy.
They can probably take him if they band together.
The Director of Casablanca Sends Extras to a Watery Grave
Hungarian-born director Michael Curtiz made 173 films in his lifetime (it is unclear how many he's directed since), but he's remembered for one: Casablanca. A timeless classic, Casablanca is such a genius film that it completely makes up for the fact that he made 172 others nobody cares about. It doesn't, however, make up for the fact that he should have been in jail at the time he made it.
He looks like a man who's earned jail time for a whole host of fascinating reasons.
Curtiz was known for being extremely prolific and efficient, often completing films ahead of schedule and under budget. That's how he managed to make 44 films in the 1930s alone, an impressive output for a director of movies where people keep their pants on. Of course, some of that superhuman efficiency came at the expense of basic safety. Early in his Hollywood career, Curtiz took over the filming of Noah's Ark and, determined to finish the film on time, cut a few incredibly crucial corners when it came to the flood scenes..
Well, it's not like it was the great deluge or anything ... wait.
For one, he failed to inform the actors that he would be spilling gallons of water on them. When cinematographer Hal Mohr asked him what would happen to all the extras, Curtiz replied: "Oh, they're going to have to take their chances." Mohr pointed out that they could do the exact same scene with miniatures and overlays and it would be just as realistic, but Curtiz insisted on doing it his way. Apparently, filming just isn't as rewarding for a director if there's no real death involved.
As a result, 15 cameramen and countless extras got knocked into the water and thrashed about for hours. The leading lady caught pneumonia, and one of the actors broke two ribs. According to one of the stuntmen on the scene, three extras drowned and one had to have a leg amputated (reports of that kind of thing kind of got swept under the rug back then).
Mohr later said about Curtiz: "The goddamned murderous bastard never should have permitted a thing like that to happen." But he did, and since this was before the Screen Actors Guild was formed (believe it or not, its original intent was to prevent this sort of thing), he got away scot free and was allowed to go on to direct one of the greatest movies in history.
And all it took were a few conveniently dog food-ed corpses.
By the way, one of the extras in the flood scene who didn't drown was a young John Wayne.
The Director of Three Kings Basically Punches Everyone He Sees
Besides the Academy Award-nominated The Fighter, David O. Russell's impressive credits include the revolutionary Three Kings (basically, the blueprint for every war movie you've seen this century) and the mindblowing I Heart Huckabees. That's right: David O. Russell is almost singlehandedly responsible for the fact that people now respect Marky Mark as an actor. Also, he's crazy.
And he appears to be on Thorazine in all of his pictures.
The guy has a bit of a short temper, apparently. During the production of Three Kings, he verbally and physically abused his crew members, at one point kicking a young extra on the ground while yelling at him. When George Clooney told Russell to cut it out, the director reacted like any mature 14-year-old would: by calling Clooney a pussy and daring him to throw a punch. Russell then lunged at Clooney and grabbed him by the throat -- which proved to be a mistake. Clooney went nuts and proceeded to thoroughly kick the director's ass.
"I am, after all, technically Batman."
And then things got really bizarre.
For I Heart Huckabees, Russell plunged into full-on lunacy before the cameras even started rolling, tracking down Christopher Nolan at a party and putting him in a headlock when he heard that Jude Law would be abandoning the movie to appear in The Prestige. Law went back to Huckabees, but that didn't exactly quell the director's craziness. A New York Times set visit article claimed that Russell "rolls on the ground, dances, does push-ups," strips down to his boxers and is seen "rubbing his body up against the women and men on the set."
We're sorry for that mental image. Here's a pretty girl.
He also had a tendency to grope cast members (including Mark Wahlberg), all the while continuing to be abusive to them -- at one point Russell had an argument with actress Lily Tomlin that led to one of the most infamous temper tantrums recorded on a Hollywood set:
After throwing a bitch fit Russell left, yelling, "I never fucking yelled at you!" at Tomlin (seemingly unaware of the layers of irony) and locked himself in his office, refusing to come out.
"You! You beat me up next!"
The Chariot Race From Ben Hur Looked Strangely Realistic ...
The 1925 version of Ben Hur was an early Hollywood blockbuster and the most expensive silent film ever made. The famous chariot-race scene looks epic even by today's standards; it's been recreated virtually everywhere, from the Charlton Heston remake to the pod-racing scene in The Phantom Menace.
The hats in all those movies paled by comparison.
Want to guess how you got a realistic-looking chariot kill-or-be-killed race back in 1925? You pretty much just held a kill-or-be-killed chariot race.
At least one guy died during the making of the chariot scene. But, undaunted, director Fred Niblo continued shooting the sequence later and noticed that the stunt drivers were driving much too carefully and responsibly, which didn't make for a good spectacle. So he decided to make matters more interesting by simply letting them race and offering $100 to the winner. The drivers went "Holy shit, that's like $1,200 here in 1925!" and proceeded to crash in a horrendous pileup where several horses died -- which a satisfied Niblo kept in the movie.
But the race wasn't even the most dangerous part of the shoot (and Snopes.com points out that there could have been more deaths that were covered up, which as we mentioned was apparently a common occurrence in Hollywood back then).
The plot of Ben Hur also involved a giant freaking sea battle, so naturally, the producer decided the simplest way to film it would be organizing a giant freaking sea battle and pointing some cameras at it. Since the scene was shot in Italy, the casting director capitalized on local tensions by dividing the extras up along political lines, intentionally pitting pro-fascists against anti-fascists. Also, apparently he gave them prop swords that had been sharpened for real -- why spend money on making the extras look all bloody and beaten when they can do that themselves?
"Yours is the only sharp one. Promise."
Since things clearly weren't insanely dangerous enough (or perhaps feeling encouraged by the general atmosphere of homicidal carelessness), the director Niblo tried to spice things up by setting one of the ships on fire. The fire blazed out of control, sending extras diving into the sea (some of them reappeared days later). Niblo, when told that the armored men were falling off and possibly drowning, reportedly answered, "I can't help it, those ships cost me $40,000 a piece" and kept filming.
Then he killed six kittens and made a hat out of them.
Director Werner Herzog was a Weapon of Mass Destruction
German director Werner Herzog is best known for being crazy. As for his actual work, in the U.S. he's known for his documentary Grizzly Man, about a man so obsessed with bears that he ends up being eaten by one. Oddly enough, Herzog's own obsessions have led to equally dangerous situations -- except that the ones in danger were usually his cast and crew. And himself. And the local villagers.
He looks like he's permanently about five seconds from collapsing in on himself.
For a while there, Herzog seemed bound and determined to keep his crew in a constant state of terror.
In Aguirre: The Wrath of God, he told the story of a conquistador and his men floating down a river in the middle of the godforsaken jungle. Herzog, in what we hope you're starting to recognize as a theme, decided to film the whole thing by making his crew float down a river in the middle of the godforsaken jungle. There was no budget for effects or stuntmen -- everything that happened in the film had to happen in real life as well. That includes a catastrophic flood, which wasn't in the script but Herzog saw as too good an opportunity to miss.
You don't need CGI when you have crazy German people.
Most directors would spend the rest of their lives doing romantic comedies after an experience like that; Herzog, on the other hand, returned to the South American jungles for Fitzcarraldo, about an Irish entrepreneur who moved a steamship overland from one river to another. The real-life Fitzcarraldo managed to move the 30-ton boat by dismantling it and reassembling the pieces on the other side, with the help of 1,100 natives; Herzog had his small crew (and some local villagers) haul a 320-ton steamer in one piece up a muddy, 60-degree mountain slope.
Then they dropped it into a river and filmed it shooting through real rapids ... from the inside, a shot that injured three of the six people involved in filming it. You can see the lead actor helping an injured crew member near the end of this video. Herzog is the one taking a drink, looking unimpressed.
Is that gin?
Cannibal Holocaust Was Pretty Much What the Name Implies
Cannibal Holocaust was the Blair Witch Project of the early 80s: It's the earliest (and for a decade, only) example of a film presented as "found footage," a genre that's exploded into the mainstream in recent years thanks to movies such as Cloverfield and Paranormal Activity. Director Ruggero Deodato created one of the most original films ever made -- and he did it by stranding his cast and crew in a tiny village in the Amazon and tormenting them physically and emotionally.
Did we mention the village was only accessible by a private plane flight followed by a boat ride? And that the film was a brutal gorefest full of graphic murder and rape?
Not what we expected from the subdued poster.
Seven animals died during the filming of Cannibal Holocaust, or more specifically, were killed at the director's orders. Deodato had the cast slaughtering native animals, often in a single, unrehearsed take. Various actors and crew members were reduced to hysteria or tears, and some later described Deodato as "remorseless and uncaring" and "a sadist."
The native extras (many of them children) had to do some incredibly dangerous shots, like the one where they're crowded into a burning hut. If you've been paying attention to this article, you already know they filmed it by doing exactly that:
Also, according to one of the actors, these extras weren't even getting paid; even the stars had to argue for their pay and were initially underpaid in local pesos.
The violence in Cannibal Holocaust was so extreme and well-done that Deodato was charged with making a snuff film and, when he proved none of it was real, was arrested for obscenity. Sometimes an abusive lunatic just can't catch a break.
It's always the pretty ones ...
A Crazy Howard Hughes Plus Airplane Stunts Equals Horror
Besides being insanely rich and insanely insane, Howard Hughes was also a prolific film producer and occasional director. Along with the original Scarface, his best-known film is probably Hell's Angels, about a group of heroic combat pilots in World War I. This period in Hughes' life served as the basis for Martin Scorsese's The Aviator, starring Leonardo DiCaprio.
As seen in that film, Hughes was obsessed with making the air battles as realistic as possible. What Scorsese and DiCaprio didn't tell us is that he did such a great job with the realism that the fights even came with their own casualties.
Kind of makes the final battle in Avatar feel sort of half-assed, doesn't it?
Since Hell's Angels was all about pilots in WWI, Hughes hired actual Air Corps veterans from the war to fly authentic biplanes and triplanes in choreographed stunts. You know, the same guys he was supposed to be honoring -- whom he then put in mortal danger with his insane stunts. Four people died in crashes during filming: three pilots and one mechanic.
When told about a crash that almost killed two more people, Hughes said he would be right there ... as soon as he finished his game of golf.
The No. 1 priority of the super-rich.
The film's final sequence called for stunts so dangerous that even the veteran pilots refused to fly them. Undeterred, Hughes jumped into a plane and flew the scene himself, successfully completing all the stunts. Then he crashed the plane, like the pilots predicted, possibly because he was simultaneously flipping two birds at them while piloting with the craft upside-down.
The Flight of the Phoenix Finds a Way to Make Aviation Even More Dangerous
The Flight of the Phoenix stars James Stewart as a cargo pilot who crashes in the desert, forcing him and his crew (and their pet monkey) to build a smaller plane from the wrecked parts of the first one. The 2004 remake with Dennis Quaid didn't do quite as well as the original.
The reason is obvious just by looking at the poster: No monkey.
Another key difference is that the making of the James Stewart version involved building a real plane that looked made out of stray pieces of junk -- and then getting someone to fly it.
Yep, the studio commissioned a plane that resembled bits and pieces of a Fairchild C-82 Packet, the model that crashes in the film. The private firm that engineered it used plywood, wire and even clothesline to give it a more "cobbled-together" look, scavenging parts from different planes and building others from scratch. In the end, that's what sold the movie: watching the pile of junk lift off at the end is a cathartic experience for anyone who has to sit through the 130 minutes when they're just sitting there, putting the thing together.
But shockingly, the plane specifically designed to look like it could barely stay in the air, um, barely stayed in the air. While flying close to the ground, the aircraft struck a hillock, tipped over and completely broke apart, instantly killing the pilot and badly injuring a stuntman.
"Oh, well, we all saw that coming," was the pilot's last thought.
In the grand tradition of saying, "Fuck it, let's keep filming," the film crew brought in a similar-looking plane for the remaining shots. They removed the canopy and added skids, among other changes, because clearly, maintaining visual consistency was way more important than not killing any more people. Luckily, this one didn't crash.
It's also worth mentioning that the man killed when the plane came apart (also one of the partners in the firm that built it) was an accomplished pilot with more than 30 years of experience doing film stunts -- in fact, he survived being one of the stunt pilots in Howard Hughes' Hell's Angels.
So he was already living on borrowed time, really.
You can read more from Orrin here.
For more Hollywood horror stories, check out 6 Beloved TV Shows (That Traumatized Cast Members For Life). Or learn about some movies that were almost completely shitty, in 7 Terrible Early Versions of Great Movies.
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