On the Other Hand

10 Re-Written Classic Novels and Films, From Hemingway’s ‘A Farewell to Arms’ to Hitchcock

Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms’ is being republished with all 47 alternate endings included. See other classic revisions.

A Farewell to Arms

In a 1958 interview with The Paris Review, George Plimpton asked Ernest Hemingway about the hardest part of writing the ending to A Farewell to Arms. “Getting the words right,” Papa answered. He wasn’t kidding. This week, Scribner will publish a new edition of the 1929 novel, complete with the 47 endings Hemingway didn’t use. Among them are the so-called “Nada Ending” (“That is all there is to the story. Catherine died and you will die and I will die and that is all I can promise you.”) and the one F. Scott Fitzgerald suggested (“[The world] does not break it kills. It kills the very good and very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.") In the end, [SPOILER ALERT for high schoolers!] Hemingway settled for something that sounds, well, Hemingway-esque: “After a while I went out and left the hospital and walked back to the hotel in the rain.”

Great Expectations

In 1861, after Charles Dickens had sent off the final chapters of Great Expectations to his publisher, the author showed the pages to his friend and fellow novelist Edward Bulwer-Lytton. It turns out that the man who wrote “the pen is mightier than the sword” didn’t like Dickens’ ending—he felt it was too much of a downer not to have [SPOILER ALERT for seventh graders!] Pip and Estella wind up together. So Dickens re-wrote it and that’s the ending used in most editions.  (Though some now include the first one). Of course, everyone’s a critic and many prefer Dickens’ original. George Bernard Shaw famously wrote that the book "is too serious a book to be a trivially happy one. Its beginning is unhappy; its middle is unhappy; and the conventional happy ending is an outrage on it."

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Fatal Attraction

Imagine how different Fatal Attraction would have been if [SPOILER ALERT for potential stalkers!] Anne Archer hadn’t shot Glenn Close in that bathtub. And yet it wasn’t Adrian Lyne’s original ending to the movie. The final scene, which is included on special edition DVDs, was to have had more of a Madame Butterfly feeling (complete with “Con Onor Muore” on the soundtrack): Close’s character commits suicide by cutting her throat with a knife, but Michael Douglas’ Dan is framed for her murder. The problem was, test audiences hated it—they wanted him to kill her.  (Apparently, you can’t boil a bunny and get away with it.) “I don’t know why people have this pristine idea with film that you should not touch it,” Douglas told an interviewer about the new ending. “Are you making the film for the director, as an artist? Or for an audience?”

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Suspicion

Even an auteur like Alfred Hitchcock wasn’t immune to the power a studio had over a movie. Which is why the filmmaker disliked the ending to Suspicion starring Cary Grant and Joan Fontaine. As Hitchcock explained to Francois Truffaut, [SPOILER ALERT for wife killers!] Grant’s character was in fact a murderer, who intended to poison Fontaine with a glass of milk in the final scene. But producers felt that the audience would not accept the charming star as a killer. So the director was forced to change the ending. Film historians have since doubted Hitchcock’s version of the facts, but the theatrical ending has always felt like a cheat. That said, it did produce one of the most memorable scenes in all of Hitchcock’s movies—Grant walking up the stairs with a glass of milk that glows because a tiny light was hidden inside.

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Clue

Long before Battleship bombed at the box office, there was another misguided movie based on a board game: Clue.  The 1985 whodunit had one seemingly clever gimmick that mirrored the game itself—alternate endings. Theaters received three different scenarios for who killed Mr. Boddy, but the DVD has them all. For the record, it was [SPOILER ALERT for masochists!] Miss Scarlet. And Mrs. Peacock. And of course Professor Plum.

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The Mystery of Edwin Drood

Unlike with Great Expectations, Charles Dickens left the ending to The Mystery of Edwin Drood ambiguous for a very simple reason: he died before he could finish it. So when it came time to mount a 1985 Broadway musical based on Dickens’ final novel, creator Rupert Holmes (of “Piña Colada” song fame) came up with a solution that was faithful to the work—he let the audience decide who killed Drood. “When the evening's unbeatable emcee, George Rose, leads the audience in a series of hand votes to determine the identity of the title character's murderer and other narrative variations, the atmosphere in the theater becomes as merry as that of an unchaperoned auditorium of high-school kids,” Frank Rich wrote in his review of the play.  “Little else in 'Edwin Drood' can quite match the spontaneous fun of that final 45 minutes.” (Perhaps that’s because the actors had to learn several variations of the ending.) But you can see for yourself soon—a revival of Drood will be staged by the Roundabout Theatre in October.

Hopscotch

As its title implies, Hopscotch, a 1963 novel by Argentine writer Julio Cortázar, can be read by skipping around—along with Nabokov’s Pale Fire, it is considered an early example of a so-called “hypertext novel.” Ostensibly the story of a writer who lives with his mistress in Paris, the book has a “table of instructions” (rather than a table of contents) to help readers navigate the unusual structure. As such, the ending [ALERTA DE SPOILER for postmodernists!] can be determined by the reader.

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Blade Runner

The only thing more confusing than the original ending of Blade Runner—is Harrison Ford’s Deckard a replicant, or what?—is how many subsequent versions there have been. Six, to be exact. Of them all, the two that matter most are Ridley Scott’s 1992 “Director’s Cut” and his “Final Cut” released 15 years later. The main difference [SPOILER ALERT for androids who dream of electric sheep!] is that Ford’s voice-over is removed from the ending—presenting a much bleaker version of the film than the theatrical release. “I went along with the idea that we had to do certain things to get audiences interested,” Scott told the New York Times  upon Blade Runner’s 25th anniversary. “I later realized that once I adopted that line, I was selling my soul to the devil, inch by inch drifting from my original conception.”

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Titanic

Even in James Cameron’s alternate ending to Titanic, [SPOILER ALERT dead ahead!] the ship was still going to sink and Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jack Dawson was still going to die. The main difference is what happened with Old Rose. In the theatrical release, Gloria Stuart’s character climbs onto the ship’s rail by herself and drops the Heart of the Ocean pendant into the water. But in Cameron’s rejected version, Bill Paxton’s Brock Lovett and Suzy Amis’ Lizzy witness Rose on the ship’s deck and stop her. After she reveals that she has the necklace, Lovett asks to hold it, just for a second. Then Rose tosses it in to the ocean—much to the horror of the ship’s crew. Even to devoted fans of the movie, the scene borders on parody.

Choose Your Own Adventure

One of the most popular children’s series of all time, the Choose Your Adventure books were created by Edward Packard and published from 1978 to 1998. Told in second-person narration, the books allowed tween readers to chart the course of the story by making choices throughout the plot. (The concept began with a bedtime story Packard told his daughters, allowing them to decide what happened next.) SPOILER ALERT for would-be authors: The series has sold more than 250 million copies to date.