The Movie Title Change as a Hollywood Distribution Ruse

Edge of Tomorrow is the large-scale 2014 science fiction actioner with Tom Cruise, but the front of the Dedge of tomorrowVD indicates that the title is LIVE, DIE, REPEAT, which was the tagline on the original poster and in larger letters than Edge of Tomorrow.  (The spine does reference Edge… after the new title.)  What gives?  The theatrical version was successful.  Does the studio feel potential purchasers of the DVD won’t realize Edge of Tomorrow is the same as LIVE, DIE, REPEAT?  The title change will make more money off DVD sales?  This unusual decision is reminiscent of a title change in 1968 and an advertising ploy in 1969.

Star! (1968) was a roadshow (reserved-seat) super musical  with she- who-could- do-no-wrong, Julie Andrews.  After her stage triumphs in The Boy Friend, My Fair Lady, and Camelot, she was signed by Walt Disney for the original screen musical,Star Mary Poppins (1964).  (Recall the hullabaloo over Audrey Hepburn not receiving an Academy Award Nomination for Best Actress in the film version of My Fair Lady that same year.  Andrews was not on the moviegoing  public’s radar so an established star like Hepburn was a natural to play Eliza Doolittle.)  Mary Poppins was a smash and Andrews received a nomination and won.  Andrews followed Poppins with an even larger musical, The Sound of Music (1965), a Best Picture winner with Andrews receiving her second Best Actress nomination.  Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967) came next and was a hit despite the flimsiness of the plot and studio sets.  It seemed natural for Andrews to re-team with her Sound of Music director, Robert Wise, for another big extravaganza.  Star! (1968) was based on the life of legendary British stage star Gertrude Lawrence, who had played the original Anna on Broadway in The King and I in 1951 and won the Tony Award for her work.  But even Wise admitted that they were taking a chance with a musical biography based on the life of a mostly stage actress who died in 1952.  The studio went all out.  The musical numbers were excellent if sometimes artificial (camera zooming in on Andrews’ face in a way the audience never could) but besides Lawrence being almost unknown to most citizens,those were the happy times the film showed her warts as well as her strengths.  There was talk that this flawed character was not the Julie Andrews the public wanted to see.   The filming was much covered in the press, the world premiere at the Dominion in London in July, 1968, and in October at New York’s  UA Rivoli and in Los Angeles at the Fox Wilshire, a glitzy affair with proceeds earmarked for charity as were most roadshow premieres.  Nevertheless, Star! did not catch on and was such a disappointment that 20th Century-Fox  took the odd step of editing it down, letting it play continuously (no longer reserved-seat) and changing the title to Those Were the Happy Times.  It didn’t succeed.  The public sensed this was still Star! and stayed away.

The following year witnessed not a title but a promotional change for another roadshow, sweet charitySweet Charity.  Like Star!, this was hyped during filming, and its opening night was equally glittering.  The East Coast premiere took place at Boston’s Saxon immediately following a snowstorm.  The L.A. premiere  was covered live by Regis Philbin on assignment from The Joey Bishop Show.  Guests included Cary Grant Gregory Peck, Irene Dunne, Governor Reagan.  Shirley MacLaine had left the set of Two Mules for Sister Sara to attend.  There was talk she’d receive another  Best Actress nomination.  But that was before the movie premiered and  like Star! failed to attract crowds.  Many middle-aged people found it sacrilegious, especially Sammy Davis Jr.’s hippie-inspired “Rhythm of Life.”  Times were changing in real life and on film.  Young filmmakers who’d touched a nerve with Bonnie and Clyde and The Graduate were the toast of Hollywood.  The era of super musicals was about to close.  The youth audience followed their parents and stayed away from Sweet Charity despite her supposedly “hip” persona.

MacLaine certainly deserved a nomination and the film was moving and full of great songs Sweet Charity 2, including “Big Spender,” “If You Could See Me Now,” and “I’m a Brass Band.  Initial critical opinion was favorable.  It was dancer/choreographer Bob Fosse’s first assignment as film director, and except for slightly disconcerting stop-action scenes, he did well.  MacLaine carried the day, making her dancehall hostess (code for taxi dancer, code for prostitute) winning, charming and pitiable.  Universal attempted to salvage its investment by changing, not the title of course, but the ad campaign.  They played up the risqué nature:  “Men Called Her ‘Sweet Charity,” “They dig the way they live!,” “Meet the Pros!” and “Swingers All…Men Were Their Business.”  As with Fox’s attempt to save Star!, Universal’s ploy failed.

By Kim

References 

Elder, Robert K.  The Best Film You’ve Never Seen.  Chicago:  Chicago Review Press, 2013.  Director Bill Condon (Gods and Monsters, Dreamgirls, two Twilight films) analyzes Sweet Charity.

Holston, Kim.  Movie Roadshows:  A  History and Filmography of Reserved-Seat Limited Showings, 1911-1973.  Jefferson, NC:  McFarland & Co., 2013.

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