Sanitation department

Rethinking "Reservoir Dogs," "Bonnie & Clyde" and Hollywood ultra-violence.

Published June 14, 1999 4:00PM (EDT)

The subject of violence in films -- its necessity, proportion and, most of all, effect -- has never been more hotly debated. On one side are those demanding Hollywood clean up its act for the good of, specifically, children. Opposed are those like the filmmakers themselves, who argue that graphic depiction of brutal violence is often required for the creation of cinematic works of art. Who's right? Hard to say. But perhaps further understanding can be gleaned by recalling several seminal violent films, and asking the question: Could there have been a less violent, slightly sanitized version that still clear the artistic bar? You be the judge.

Film: "Bonnie and Clyde"

Original: Classic 1967 film depicting the lives of the infamous 1920s bank robber duo, played by Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway. In the film's final scene, Beatty and Dunaway are viciously gunned down in their car.

Cleaned-up version: Beatty and Dunaway help an elderly person cross a street. The police notice and smile. A musical number ensues.

Film: "Scarface"

Original: Director Brian DePalma's tale of a Cuban immigrant, played by Al Pacino, and his rise to become a Miami drug lord. In the film's final scene, Pacino, girded by massive amounts of cocaine, straps on a grenade launcher, kicks open his office door, proclaims, "Say hello to my little friend," and engages a team of assassins in a voluminously bloody gun battle.

Cleaned-up version: After steeling himself in the yoga "downward-facing dog" position, Pacino carefully opens his office door and proclaims, "Say hello to my little friend, Pete," after which he puts a sock puppet on his hand and begins to make the assassins hired to kill him laugh by saying, in a high-pitched voice, "Hi, everyone! I'm Pete."

Film: "Rocky IV"

Original: Sylvester Stallone reprises the role of boxer Rocky Balboa. In this installment, Stallone battles a steroid-enhanced Russian fighter played by Dolph Lundgren. In the film's pivotal scene, Lundgren faces off with Stallone in the center of the ring and tells him: "I must break you."

Cleaned-up version: Lundgren tells Stallone: "I must tickle you." To which Stallone replies, "As a true sportsman, I wish you luck!"

Film: "Reservoir Dogs"

Original: Quentin Tarantino's auspicious debut, chronicling a bank robbery gone awry. In the film's most disturbing scene, a bank robber, played by Michael Madsen, cuts off the ear of an undercover police officer with a pocket knife while dancing to the tune "Stuck in the Middle With You."

Cleaned-up version: Madsen cuts off the ear of the undercover officer with a sterilized surgical blade and the help of a good anesthesiologist, while dancing to "Stuck on You," the touching ballad by Lionel Richie.

Film: "Natural Born Killers"

Original: Oliver Stone's meditation on the carnival of violence that is modern society. Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis play a hick couple on a mindless, often hallucinatory, drug- and alcohol-fueled killing spree through the American West. In one scene, Harrelson and Lewis arbitrarily kill a waitress in a diner, and laugh about it.

Cleaned-up version: Harrelson and Lewis kill the waitress, but they have a reason. A good one. And they don't laugh about it.

By Zev Borow

Zev Borow is a freelance writer in New York.


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