A fascinating little movie that you not have heard of hit DVD and Blu-ray this week—its debut in either format. A New Leaf was the debut directorial effort of Elaine May, half of the comedy team Nichols and May (with Mike Nichols, who would go on to direct The Graduate, Silkwood, The Birdcage, and many others). She wrote, directed, and co-starred with Walter Matthau; a notorious perfectionist, she went over schedule on the picture, and when she finally turned it over to Paramount, it ran a full three hours. Studio head Robert Evans recut the film, softening its darkly comic tone and shortening it to 102 minutes. (It was an arbiter of things to come; though she had no difficulties with her second film, The Heartbreak Kid, she went over budget and over schedule on Micky & Nicky and the notorious boondoggle Ishtar, her final directorial effort to date.) May tried to both stop the film’s release and have her name removed, to no avail. It’s a pretty great movie, odd and funny, with peculiarly winning performances by May and Matthau; the disappointment is that the new video release has none of those deleted scenes, which studios frequently tossed or lost in the days before bonus features and director’s cuts.
Our longing for the original, extended cut of A New Leaf got us thinking about other films whose longer versions have either vanished or been suppressed. After the jump, we’ve gathered up what we know about ten of them; add your own in the comments, won’t you?
Perhaps the most famous extended cut of all time was Erich von Stroheim’s original assembly of his 1924 film adaptation of Frank Norris’ novel McTeague, which ran 42 reels — approximately eight hours (though some reports say it was as long as ten). Only a handful of people saw that original cut, but those who did said it was likely the greatest film ever made. The director knew it was unreleasable at that length, but he managed to wrench it down to 24 reels, which would be shown in two parts. But the suits weren’t having it; production entity Goldwyn merged with Metro during Greed’s lengthy post-production period, and after von Stroheim’s version was screened once (per contractual obligation), they put their editors to work, hacking it down to the version that exists today: two hours and twenty minutes. Longer versions have been rumored over the years, but never verified, and Turner Entertainment did a “recreation” in 1999, using still footage and an original continuity outline to reconstruct von Stroheim’s film. But the version released in 1924 met with poor reviews and lukewarm box office, and the director continued to see his films reworked (Walking Down Broadway) and buried (Queen Kelly) for the rest of his career.