14 Epic Facts About “Gangs of New York”

Eric D. Snider and Mental_Floss present 14 Epic Facts About Gangs of New York.  Here are three of my favorites…

1. IT WAS 32 YEARS IN THE MAKING.
Martin Scorsese read Herbert Asbury’s 1928 nonfiction book The Gangs of New York: An Informal History of the Underworld in 1970 and immediately thought it would make a good movie. He didn’t have any money or clout yet though, so he had to wait. He bought the movie rights to the book in 1979, and even got a screenplay written around that time, then spent the next 20 years trying to get the project off the ground before finding a willing financial partner in Harvey Weinstein at Miramax Films.

7. SEVERAL CHARACTERS WERE BASED ON REAL PEOPLE.
Bill the Butcher was real, though Scorsese changed his surname from Poole to Cutting for the movie to reflect a creative liberty he’d taken, i.e., having the character live to see the Civil War (he was actually murdered in 1855). William “Boss” Tweed (Jim Broadbent) was a real politician who controlled the Tammany Hall political machine, as you may recall from your high school U.S. history class. So were the Schermerhorns, the rich people seen taking a tour of the misery and vice of Five Points. (Interesting footnote: Scorsese’s fifth wife, whom he married in 1999, is one Helen Schermerhorn Morris, a descendant of early New York elites.) Perhaps most surprisingly, Hell-Cat Maggie (Cara Seymour)—the vicious female fighter who bites off victims’ ears—was fact-based, being a composite of the real Hell-Cat Maggie (her real name is unknown) and a few other historical lady criminals.

13. THERE WERE LONGER CUTS OF THE MOVIE, BUT YOU WON’T SEE THEM.
The first cut, the throw-in-everything-and-see-what-works version, was three hours and 38 minutes, almost an hour longer than the final cut. Scorsese and his longtime editor, Thelma Schoonmaker, tinkered with it relentlessly, ultimately producing 18 different versions that were screened for various audiences. Weinstein, rightfully nicknamed Harvey Scissorhands for his ruthless trimming of the movies he releases, no doubt urged Scorsese toward a shorter runtime, but Scorsese said he’s happy with the one everybody saw, which is two hours and 47 minutes.

“There’s not one version that I would say, ‘That’s my original version,’” Scorsese said on the DVD commentary. They were more like drafts: “This was all a series of changes and rewrites and restructuring, until finally it comes down to the movie you see in the theater.”

10 Towering Facts About “The Iron Giant”

Michele Debczak and Mental_Floss present 10 Towering Facts About The Iron Giant.  Here are three of my favorites…

5. THE TITLE CHARACTER WAS COMPUTER GENERATED.
Despite being considered one of America’s last great traditionally animated films, The Iron Giant’s title character was created entirely with a computer. The creators took careful steps to make sure the Giant blended in seamlessly with the hand-drawn world. They even went so far as to develop a computer program to make the character’s lines wobble slightly, producing a crude, hand-drawn effect. 

6. IT FEATURES A PRE-FAST AND FURIOUS VIN DIESEL.
Before making a name for himself as an action star, Vin Diesel provided his voice to the towering robot in The Iron Giant. Not counting groans and grunts, the Giant utters a grand total of 53 words in the entire film. When Diesel returned to feature voice acting 15 years later for Guardians of the Galaxy, he played Groot, a character whose vocabulary is even more severely limited. 

7. THE DESIGN WAS INSPIRED BY THE ART OF NORMAN ROCKWELL.
The Iron Giant takes place in an idyllic Maine town in the 1950s—a perfect contrast to the themes of McCarthy-era paranoia the film explores. To give the setting more of a wholesome, Americana look, the creators drew inspiration from the art of Edward Hopper, N.C. Wyeth, and Norman Rockwell. Even the fictional town’s name—Rockwell—is a nod to the iconic American artist. 

10 Out-of-This-World Facts About “Plan 9 From Outer Space”

Mark Mancini and Mental_Floss present 10 Out-of-This-World Facts About Plan 9 From Outer Space.  Here are three of my favorites…

1. IT WAS BELA LUGOSI’S LAST MOVIE.
A lifelong Bela Lugosi fan, Ed Wood was able to cast his idol in 1953’s Glen or Glenda. Two years later, the director gave him a Dr. Frankenstein-like role in Bride of the Monster. For his next film, Wood once again wanted Lugosi to take center stage. At the California home of Swedish wrestler Tor Johnson—who’d also appeared in Bride of the Monster—Wood shot a handful of very brief scenes, all starring Lugosi. Depending on who’s telling the story, this footage was either intended for Plan 9 or for an unmade movie called The Vampire’s Tomb. Regardless, Lugosi sadly didn’t live to see any of it reach the silver screen. The horror icon died of a heart attack in August 16, 1956. Endlessly resourceful, Wood threw all of his existing Lugosi shots into Plan 9 from Outer Space.

2. A CHIROPRACTOR PLAYED LUGOSI’S DOUBLE.
Production on Plan 9 from Outer Space began in earnest after Lugosi’s death. Since he was no longer around to film certain scenes, Wood recruited chiropractor Tom Mason as a substitute. Physically, he wasn’t a perfect stand-in; Mason was noticeably taller than Lugosi (a fact that Wood tried to disguise by having him hunch over). But the good doctor made sure to mask his face under a cape at all times.

4. IN SOME VERSIONS OF THE FILM, YOU CAN SEE THE SHADOW OF A BOOM MIKE IN THE BACKGROUND.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Plan 9 has numerous bloopers. For example, the grave scenes use plywood tombstones, which wobble throughout the movie. But Wood’s team wasn’t responsible for every error. Early on, we see our hero—pilot Jeff Trent—flying a plane when a huge burst of light almost blinds him. Viewers may also notice that, as he recoils, a boom microphone shadow appears on the back wall of the cockpit. Look carefully, and you’ll also observe that Trent’s co-pilot is holding a copy of the script in his lap. Both of these gaffes were created when Plan 9 was converted to a film and TV-friendly format. Neither the script nor the boom mike shadow appeared in the original theatrical version. Unfortunately, the aspect ratio changes made to Plan 9 for its video and TV releases suddenly rendered both of these things visible.

14 Up-Tempo Facts About “Saturday Night Fever”

Eric D. Snider and Mental_Floss present 14 Up-Tempo Facts About Saturday Night Fever.  Here are three of my favorites…

6. IT HAS SOME ROCKY CONNECTIONS.
First connection: It was supposed to be directed by John G. Avildsen, whose previous film was Rocky. Ultimately, that didn’t work out and Avildsen was replaced with John Badham a few weeks before shooting began. Second connection: Tony has a Rocky poster on his bedroom wall. Third connection: Saturday Night Fever’s 1983 sequel, Staying Alive, was directed by … Sylvester Stallone.

8. THE WHITE CASTLE EMPLOYEES WEREN’T ACTING WHEN THEY LOOKED SHOCKED. 
In the brief scene where Tony, his boys, and Stephanie are loudly eating at White Castle, those were the real burger-flippers, not actors. Badham told them to just go about their business. He also told his actors to cut loose and surprise the White Castlers in whatever way they saw fit. The shot that’s in the movie appears to be a reaction to Joey standing on the table and barking, but Badham said it was actually in response to something else: “Double J (actor Paul Pape) pulling his pants down and mooning the entire staff of the White Castle.”

11. THE COMPOSER HAD TO SCRAMBLE TO REPLACE A NIXED SONG.
For Tony and Stephanie’s rehearsal scene about 30 minutes into the movie, Badham had used the song “Lowdown” by Boz Scaggs, going so far as to shoot the scene, including the dialogue, with the song actually playing in the background. (That’s usually a no-no, for exactly the reasons you’re about to read about.) According to Badham, no sooner had they wrapped the scene than Scaggs’ people reached out to say they couldn’t use the song after all, as Scaggs was thinking of pursuing a disco project of his own. Badham now had to have the actors re-dub the dialogue (since the version he’d recorded was tainted by “Lowdown”); what’s more, he had to find a new song that would fit the choreography and tempo of the dancing. Composer David Shire rose to the occasion, writing a piece of instrumental music that met the specifications, and that’s what we hear in the movie.

16 Lively Facts About “Death Wish”

Roger Cormier and Mental_Floss present 16 Lively Facts About Death Wish.  Here are three of my favorites…

4. CHARLES BRONSON AND HIS AGENT DISAGREED ON THE FILM’S MESSAGE.
“It’s the only time Paul Kohner, my agent, ever disagreed with me about a film,” Bronson said in 1974. “Paul felt very strongly that it was a dangerous picture—that it might make people think it’s right to take the law into their own hands. This is what the hero of the picture does when he wants a one-man vigilante squad to kill muggers, after three of them have murdered his wife and raped his daughter. I told Paul I thought the message was the same there that runs through a lot of my pictures: That violence is senseless because it only begets more violence.”

6. DENZEL WASHINGTON MADE HIS ON-SCREEN DEBUT IN THE MOVIE.

Denzel Washington’s acting debut as a thug was, unfortunately, uncredited. He was 19 years old at the time.

16. SYLVESTER STALLONE WANTED TO REMAKE IT.
Sylvester Stallone was set to direct and star in a Death Wish remake for MGM back in 2008. While that project, uh, died, it was recently reported that Paramount and MGM are teaming up to remake the movie—with Bruce Willis starring.

8 Fascinating Facts About Butch Cassidy

Fiona Young-Brown and Mental_Floss present 8 Fascinating Facts About Butch Cassidy.  Here are three of my favorites…

2. HIS LIFE OF CRIME BEGAN WITH A PAIR OF JEANS.
Cassidy’s first recorded criminal offense occurred around 1880, when he stole a pair of jeans. To his credit, the teen left an IOU. The store’s owner pressed charges, but the soon-to-be outlaw was acquitted. According to Larry Pointer’s In Search of Butch Cassidy, Cassidy “had been raised with the frontier ethic that a man’s word was his bond. The IOU was an inviolate pledge. The merchant’s distrust was an unfamiliar response and, before the matter was settled, the humiliated youth was having mixed emotions over legal process and blind justice.”

5. HE DISLIKED VIOLENCE.
As odd as it sounds to think of an outlaw who disliked getting rough, records and personal recollections from the era all describe Cassidy as a very polite man who avoided violence whenever possible. He may have waved a gun around when robbing trains and banks, but he didn’t use it. Those who knew him said that one of his proudest claims was that he never killed a man.

8. THERE’S NO REAL EVIDENCE THAT HE WAS KILLED IN A SHOOTOUT.
Butch and Sundance were killed in early November of 1908 following a shootout with authorities in Bolivia … or were they? Some historians argue that there is no real evidence that the two men were involved in the payroll robbery that led to the shootout, or that they were even involved in the shootout itself. Several alternative theories have arisen, claiming that the outlaws were not killed that day.

Josie Bassett, an acquaintance of the Wild Bunch, claimed that Cassidy visited her in the 1920s and that he “died in Johnnie, Nevada … He was an old man when he died. He had been living in Oregon, and back east for a long time, where he worked for a railroad.”

By far, the most popular theory is that Butch may never even have gone to Bolivia. Rather, he left Argentina in early 1908, adopted the name William T. Phillips, got married, and passed away (anonymously) in Spokane, Washington in 1937. Butch’s younger sister Lula added credence to this in her 1975 book, Butch Cassidy, My Brother, saying that he visited her and their father at the family home in 1925. A handwriting analyst also claimed that Butch Cassidy, Robert LeRoy Parker, and William T. Phillips were one and the same. But the main proponent of this theory, Larry Pointer, has recently said that he was wrong and Phillips was not actually Cassidy.

In 2009, an unabridged copy of Phillips’ Bandit Invincible, a Cassidy biography, emerged. And following clues, Pointer came to the conclusion that William Phillips was actually another Wild West outlaw named William Wilcox. So for the moment, the mystery lives on.

13 Action-Packed Facts About “Rumble in the Bronx”

Anna Green and Mental_Floss present 13 Action-Packed Facts About Rumble in the Bronx.  Here are three of my favorites…

2. JACKIE CHAN WANTED IT TO BE HIS BREAKOUT AMERICAN FILM.
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, success came easily to Chan in Asia, where his movies were consistently box office hits. But America was a completely different story. Rumble in the Bronx marked his fourth attempt to break into Hollywood. Previously he’d starred in Robert Clouse’s Battle Creek Brawl (1980) and appeared in The Cannonball Run (1981) and The Protector (1985). But none of those films made much of an impact for Chan. For Rumble in the Bronx, he decided it was time to take things into his own hands: Instead of looking for the right role in a big-budget Hollywood film, he decided to make a Hong Kong film that could work as a cross-over hit.

8. CHAN DECIDED TO MAKE RUMBLE IN THE BRONX AFTER TURNING DOWN A ROLE IN DEMOLITION MAN.
Before he decided to make Rumble in the Bronx, Chan was hoping to find his breakout role in an American movie. He was friends with Sylvester Stallone, who repeatedly offered him roles in his upcoming films—which Chan, for one reason or another, repeatedly turned down. In I Am Jackie Chan, Chan recalled, “Another film Stallone offered me was Demolition Man, a movie with Sandra Bullock from the movie Speed. He wanted me to play a super villain running loose in the far future, chased by a super cop, played by him. I didn’t feel right about that role either. It ended up going to Wesley Snipes—so the two people I’d wanted to work with, and couldn’t, ended up working with each other.”

11. ROGER EBERT COMPARED CHAN TO FRED ASTAIRE.
“Any attempt to defend this movie on rational grounds is futile,” Roger Ebert wrote in his review of the film. “Don’t tell me about the plot and the dialogue. Don’t dwell on the acting. The whole point is Jackie Chan—and, like Astaire and Rogers, he does what he does better than anybody.”

10 Electrifying Facts About Nikola Tesla

Jane Rose and Mental_Floss present 10 Electrifying Facts About Nikola Tesla.  Here are three of my favorites…

2. HE PIONEERED MANY SIGNIFICANT MODERN INVENTIONS BEYOND ALTERNATING CURRENT.
For many, Tesla is associated with the “War of the Currents”—waged with onetime employer and later rival Thomas Edison—over the form of electricity that would become standard. Edison championed direct current, or DC, while Tesla and ally George Westinghouse fought for alternating current, or AC. AC, of course, eventually won out over DC, despite Edison’s attempts to malign Tesla’s invention by pushing the electric chair as a method of execution to show how dangerous AC was. However, Tesla also conducted pioneering work in electric light, electric motors, radio, x-ray, remote control, radar, wireless communications, and robotics, and created his famous transformer, the Tesla coil. Tesla was in many cases not properly recognized for his contributions, with other inventors receiving credit for improving on what he began. He obtained around 300 patents in his lifetime.

3. HE HAD EXTREMELY REGULAR, EVEN OBSESSIVE-COMPULSIVE, HABITS, AND WAS A GERMAPHOBE.
Throughout his life, Tesla displayed a formidable work ethic, keeping a regimented schedule. Some claim he slept only two hours a night. He often took his dinner at the same table at Delmonico’s in New York, and later at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel. He had an all-consuming fear of germs and required a stack of 18 napkins. He was obsessed with the number three, and was prone to carrying out compulsive rituals related to three. When he was young, he would develop a fit at the sight of pearls, and couldn’t bear to touch hair.

8. HE WANTED TO ILLUMINATE THE ENTIRE EARTH, LITERALLY.
Tesla believed that his work had the potential to light the earth’s atmosphere, banishing darkness and bringing in a new era of light. He theorized that gases in Earth’s upper atmosphere were capable of carrying high-frequency electrical currents, and successful transmission of such currents there could create a “terrestrial night light” that would make shipping lanes and airports safer and illuminate whole cities. But like most of Tesla’s loftier aims, this goal was never realized, and its possibility remains unproven.

15 Out-of-this-World Facts About Space Mountain

Stacy Conradt and Mental_Floss present 15 Out-of-this-World Facts About Space Mountain.  Here are three of my favorites…

4. THE DISNEY WORLD AND DISNEYLAND RIDES ARE SIGNIFICANTLY DIFFERENT IN HEIGHT.
Florida’s mountain is more than 180 feet high and 300 feet in diameter. Because Disneyland is built on a much smaller scale than the Magic Kingdom, Disneyland’s Space Mountain would have towered over Main Street and ruined the illusion of scale had it been an exact replica. A precise copy also wouldn’t have fit, as Magic Kingdom is a bigger space. As a result, the California Space Mountain is significantly smaller at 118 feet tall and 200 feet in diameter.

6. THE RIDE COST MORE TO BUILD THAN THE ENTIRE DISNEYLAND PARK.
By the time Disneyland officially opened on July 17, 1955, the final price tag was $17 million. Twenty years later, the construction of the Space Mountain complex cost $18 million, including an arcade and a permanent amphitheater.

12. WANT 10 MORE FEET OF RIDE? PICK THE “ALPHA” TRACK. 

There are two tracks to choose on the Magic Kingdom ride: Alpha and Omega. For a slightly longer ride, opt for the Alpha track, which is 3196 feet long versus Omega’s 3186 feet.

27 Things We Learned from Roger Donaldson’s “No Way Out” Commentary

Rob Hunter and Film School Rejects present 27 Things We Learned from Roger Donaldson’s No Way Out Commentary.  Here are three of my favorites…

25. The ending of the film was apparently “controversial” at the time as audiences are on the side of Costner’s character throughout only to be stung by the final revelation. He was happy that people kept the secret and wonders if that aided the word of mouth and the film’s success. Can you imagine this movie opening in today’s internet culture?

21. The shot of Susan falling to her death was filmed with her standing upright on a dolly being pushed towards a wall that had been made up like the floor complete with a glass table.

4. The film is based on Kenneth Fearing’s novel, The Big Clock, but Donaldson thought it was an original script all the way through production. “I was at a party and ran into Mel Gibson, and he said ‘Oh I heard you made the remake of The Big Clock.’”

13 Infamous Facts About “Bonnie and Clyde” the Movie

Eric D. Snider and Mental_Floss present 13 Infamous Facts About Bonnie and Clyde.  Here are three of my favorites…

2. FAYE DUNAWAY’S STAR-MAKING PERFORMANCE ALMOST DIDN’T HAPPEN.
Warren Beatty, doing double duty as star and producer, and director Arthur Penn considered many other actresses first, including Tuesday Weld, Jane Fonda, Natalie Wood, Sharon Tate, Leslie Caron, and Ann-Margret. (Back when he was only producing it and not starring in it, Beatty had also considered his sister, Shirley MacLaine, for the role.) Beatty said they were turned down “by about 10 women,” though he would later say Weld was the only one they made a firm offer to. When Beatty met Dunaway, he didn’t think she was right for the part, but he told her to meet with Penn, who he thought would think she was perfect. Beatty was right.

7. THE STUDIO’S LACK OF FAITH MADE WARREN BEATTY VERY, VERY RICH.
Thinking the film wouldn’t make any money, Warner Bros. offered Beatty a ridiculous deal: a $200,000 salary, plus 40 percent of the gross. Yes, 40 percent. Of the gross, not the net. The film made more than $50 million.

5. WHATEVER YOU THINK THE FILM “REALLY” MEANS, YOU’RE PROBABLY WRONG.
Some viewers interpreted Bonnie and Clyde as a commentary on other issues, but Newman and Benton said they didn’t intend it that way. As they wrote in an introduction to a published version of their screenplay, “[People] have told us that Bonnie and Clyde was REALLY about Vietnam, REALLY about police brutality, REALLY about Lee Harvey Oswald, REALLY about Watts. After a while, we took to shrugging and saying, ‘If you think so.'”

16 Super Facts About “Superman – The Movie”

Mathew Jackson and Mental_Floss present 16 Super Facts About Superman.  Here are three of my favorites…

6. EVERY MAJOR STAR OF THE DAY WAS SEEMINGLY CONSIDERED FOR THE TITLE ROLE.
In order to secure the rights to adapt the comic book, the Salkinds had to bow to certain demands from DC Comics, and the publisher ultimately sent along a list of “approved” actors who were allowed to play Superman. The list was far-reaching, and basically included every major star of the time. Among the names on the list: Dustin Hoffman, Al Pacino, Steve McQueen, Robert Redford, Paul Newman, and Muhammad Ali.

7. RICHARD DONNER WANTED TO CAST AN UNKNOWN AS SUPERMAN.
The Salkinds, hoping to land a major movie star in the title role, offered Superman to Paul Newman and Robert Redford, who both turned it down. The Salkinds also booked a meeting between Donner and Sylvester Stallone, who was hot at the time because of Rocky.

“I tried to be nice and say, ‘This is wrong,’” Donner said.

Believing that a movie star in Superman’s costume wouldn’t be believable, because audiences would only see the movie star and not the character, Donner lobbied hard for an unknown. He eventually found his man in Christopher Reeve, who impressed the director with his theater work.

9. MARGOT KIDDER’S CLUMSINESS WON HER THE LOIS LANE ROLE.
For the role of Lois Lane, several actresses—including Lesley Ann Warren and Anne Archer—were considered, but Margot Kidder ultimately won the role by simply being herself.

“When I met her in the casting office, she tripped coming in and I just fell in love with her,”Donner said. “It was perfect, this clumsy [behavior]. She was one of the few [actresses] we flew to London to test with Chris. Anne Archer [also tested]. But they were magic together.”

To compound Kidder’s clumsy, silly side even further, an eye injury meant that she had to act without contact lenses one day. Donner was so charmed by the way it made Lois bump into things and widen her eyes that he made sure Kidder continued to play the role without her contacts.

“There was a law after that: every morning people had to come to me and make sure she didn’t have her contacts in, and that she would act without her contacts. It just made her wonderful.”

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