The vast majority of movies, television programs and stage plays do not feature spanking scenes. That is the norm and not the exception. But sometimes, just sometimes, it’s an anomaly.
We recently saw how Hard to Get, a movie that had two quite different and very specific publicity references to its spanking scene, doesn’t actually contain a spanking scene, even though there is every indication in the movie itself that there ought to have been one. The hypothetical explanation I proposed, consistent with all the available evidence, is that originally there was such a scene, but that the film was reedited into a different version before its release. It is a film in which the absence of spanking is the consequence of a definite editorial choice, rather than because it simply happens not to have contained a spanking scene.
Let’s think further about this. Making a movie is a creative process that involves taking decisions about content. Many of these decisions will have already been made at the scripting stage, before the cameras roll.
For example, the draft script of the 1936 screwball comedy Libeled Lady featured a scene in which the title character, playgirl Connie Allenbury, is spanked by newspaper man Bill Chandler. Bill was due to be played by William Powell, and duly was, but there was some chopping and changing about who would be Connie. The original plan was to cast, and spank, Rosalind Russell:
Jean Harlow was another actress who was very interested in the part, something not unconnected with the fact that she was William Powell’s girlfriend at the time:
But the studio eventually decided to continue Powell’s long-standing and successful pairing with Myrna Loy:
That could have meant something similar to this scene happening eight years earlier than it did…
… except that the Libeled Lady spanking scene was cut on the advice of the Hays Office before the movie went into production. It was in the script when Rosalind Russell was in the frame, and it may well have been still there when Jean Harlow sought the role, but by the time Myrna Loy started learning her lines, she was out of danger.
But the process of revision and amendment didn’t end there. To understand what might happen after the script had stabilized and the cameras had rolled, we leap three decades into the future, to 1968. The occasion is a special preview screening of the Joseph Losey movie Secret Ceremony. It features an early big-screen role for Mia Farrow, playing an unworldly, unbalanced girl in search of a living embodiment of her dead mother, which she finds in a prostitute played by Elizabeth Taylor. The part had previously been offered to Julie Christie, who turned it down, perhaps in part because of the rigors described by a reporter who saw the preview:
‘Miss Farrow endures (by order of the script) physical brawls and violent arguments with Miss Taylor, a sound spanking by Robert Mitchum, and dressings-down by her eccentric aunts.’
So there we have definitive eye-witness testimony that the preview version of the film included a spanking scene. But if that’s the only thing that interests you about Secret Ceremony, don’t buy the DVD!
But if you have an interest in Losey, or Taylor, or Mitchum, or Farrow and you do buy the DVD, you’ll probably spot the moment where the spanking was as soon as it comes up. It’s an uncomfortable scene roughly an hour into the picture when Mitchum, playing her stepfather, tells her about his not quite sexual, not quite incestuous passion for her. He talks about fathers in the Australian ‘bashing their daughters like there’s no tomorrow’, then asks her to ‘say something nice’. She refuses, and he insults her, telling her she has never understood ‘the extraordinary purity of my longings’.
She’s obviously teasing him, and he gets up, seizes her, spins her around…
… then puts a wedding ring on her finger and kisses her. The cut has been made with surgical precision. If you didn’t already know there was a different version of the film in which he spanks her, you wouldn’t notice anything out of the ordinary here. But once you do know, it’s obvious that this is where it happened. And that means that, like Olivia de Havilland in Hard to Get, Mia Farrow was spanked for nothing.
Looking at a movie from the point of view of the finished product, it’s easy to underestimate how fluid things might be during the creative process. Whole scenes might be shot but then be deleted in the editing room. And even once there was a ‘final cut’, changes might still be made in the light of audience reactions at the previews. That is evidently what happened with Secret Ceremony, and it’s far from being the only example.
Take The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek, a 1943 comedy about an unwanted pregnancy. Betty Hutton plays Trudy Kockenlocker, daughter of the irascible local constable (William Demarest) and recipient of the unexpected bun in the oven. Diana Lynn plays Emmy, her cheeky younger sister, who helps her to cover it up.
When, midway through the movie, Kockenlocker finds out some of what they’ve been getting up to, he tells them, ‘What you two ought to have is a good shellacking!’
Neither girl gets the shellacking in the released version of the film. For that, audiences had to wait a few months for And the Angels Sing, which features a mass spanking scene, with Betty Hutton in the middle and Diana Lynn on top of the double-decker spanking to the right.
(Also being spanked there are, to the left, Dorothy Lamour and, underneath on the right, Mimi Chandler.)
But Diana Lynn did get spanked in The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek, in a moment that didn’t make it into the final cut. It happened in a scene on the front porch when Constable Kockenlocker attempts to interfere in Trudy’s love-life, and Emmy asks, ‘Father, can’t you be more refined?’
In the film as released, she turns to go back indoors, and her father attempts to administer a kick in the rear, but only achieves a comedy pratfall:
But there was an alternative version of the moment, and here’s director Preston Sturges giving a demonstration of what he wants to see:
We don’t know at what stage it was decided to go with the pratfall rather than the spanking, but there was opportunity aplenty. For much of the shooting, Sturges worked without a finished script (when production started he didn’t even know how the story was going to end), which is why some scenes were shot in multiple versions. Moreover, even after what was intended to be the final edit, Sturges had to go back and shoot additional footage to comply with the demands of the powerful Catholic Legion of Decency. (The film ended up classified by them as ‘Morally Objectionable in Part’, which was at least better than an outright ‘Condemned’.)
But when a film is shot with more economy, or on a tighter budget, it becomes more of a challenge to change the action after the event. That’s why one of the fight scenes in the 1978 version of The Big Sleep, directed by Michael Winner, ended up looking rather a mess.
The central character, private eye Philip Marlowe, is played by Robert Mitchum. The other combatant in the fight scene in question is Agnes Lozelle, a blackmailer’s accomplice played by Joan Collins.
What happened to her in the scene, though not in the finished movie, is well documented. Reports from the set appeared in the British press, one of them headlined ‘The Day Joan Got Her Bottom Smacked’. Better than that, though: she got spanked. Writing many years later in 2010, she remembered the sequence in exact detail: ‘He had to wrestle me to the floor, fling me across the room, grab my hair, twist my neck and then, the grand finale, throw me across his knee and spank me.’ Only some of which happens in the finished movie, more’s the pity.
The fight happens after Marlowe pays a less than social call on bookmaker Joe Brody (Edward Fox) and finds Agnes there with him. After some difficult conversation, another visitor comes to the door and Brody goes to answer it, giving Agnes a gun to keep Marlowe covered. The new arrival isn’t friendly, and Brody is soon engaged in a fight of his own. Meanwhile Marlowe grabs the gun from Agnes, she tries to get it back and their struggle is for possession of the weapon.
Joan Collins wrote in 2010 that she was worried that she might be injured in the scene, especially since she’d been badly beaten up by Jack Palance when making The Great Adventure (1975); it came as a relief, she said, that Mitchum simulated the violence so expertly that afterwards she was as unbruised as she had been before. Immediately afterwards, however, she told reporters that her main concern was whether she might have inadvertently shown her panties during the fight!
After that risky moment, the action goes into extreme closeup to show her trying to bite him and getting her head pulled back. It looks awkward because we are given only a disjointed impression of the progress of the fight, with no master shot to show more clearly what is happening. And the reason for that is that the master shot that Michael Winner had taken didn’t match up. What was happening there was:
That is, of course, only the rehearsal beforehand (stills photography isn’t usually done during a take, so as not to get shutter clicks on the soundtrack), and we may hope that they improved on the positioning for the take itself. But that became largely academic in post-production after they decided not to include the spanking. This left the film editor, Frederick Wilson, with the task of piecing the fight sequence together out of whatever else they had shot.
But at least that was work done in the cutting room, with all the rushes still available to create a sequence that would pass muster in context, however unsatisfactory it may be when subjected to closer scrutiny. It’s only when you decide to make cuts in retrospect, to a picture that is completely finished, where the rushes have been junked and all you have to work with is the release print itself, that you risk leaving real, visible scars. A case in point is the silent romance The Primitive Lover (1922), starring Constance Talmadge.
She plays Phyllis Graham, who married Hector Tomley (Harrison Ford – but not that Harrison Ford!) after the sudden death of her fiancé, novelist Donald Wales, and is now a bored and unhappy wife. It turns out that Donald’s death was only a publicity stunt, and when he returns she realizes the marriage was a terrible mistake and initiates divorce proceedings. Determined to win her back, Hector learns from a native American couple that women like their men to be masterful, and learns from his own ears, when eavesdropping on her conversation with Donald, that Phyllis harbors romantic ideas about going into ‘the primitive, God-ennobling wilderness’ to learn, ‘freed from the vulgar conventionalities of life’, just what love really is. So he kidnaps them both and takes them into the God-ennobling wilderness – well, a log cabin, anyway – and makes himself her ‘primitive’ lover in rivalry to the urbane Donald. And this leads on to ‘our’ scene.
Again, there’s ample contemporary testimony about what happened in the version of the film that was released in 1922. Here’s Picture Play Magazine:
‘It is particularly popular these days to invent a hero or heroine whose favorite form of flirtation is banging the beloved playfully on the head with a pickax. Harrison Ford doesn’t go quite this far with Constance Talmadge in The Primitive Lover, but he does spank her and instead of throwing the kettle at him in return – which I am sure Connie would do in real life – she becomes his willing slave.’
The British trade paper Kinematograph Weekly said that ‘the scene where he spanks her in outright fashion’ was one of the most entertaining, and the American equivalent, the Exhibitor’s Trade Review, agreed: ‘The scene where the much-abused Hector turns the tables on his vixenish little spouse by spanking her vigorously is irresistibly funny.’ And for the Baltimore American: ‘The spanking scene alone is worth double the price of admission.’ On the other hand, the New York Times sneered loftily at ‘the strange ways of film-makers who, in comedy, can labor for five or six reels over the crude idea that a man may make a girl love him by spanking her’. And those for whom crudity was business, the studio publicists, suggested that exhibitors might use this headline:
‘See Connie Talmadge Spanked!’
Would that we could! The print available on DVD has a modern caption at the start which says that the film ‘is presented here just as it was released in May 1922’. Regrettably, that’s simply not true.
In the key scene, she’s with Hector in one cabin while Donald is across the way in another. She’s hungry and unhappy. He makes her a cup of tea.
‘How dare you pity me!’ she says, ‘How dare you!’, and angrily dashes the cup out of his hand. He throws down the saucer too and advances on her… whereupon the scene changes to outside as she makes a distraught exit and crosses back to Donald’s cabin.
The print has been cut there, but it’s competently done and you might not notice anything amiss, if it weren’t for the way Hector and Phyllis behave in the following scenes. Hector confides to his native American sidekick, ‘I’m afraid I overdid it, Chief!’ – a bizarre remark if all he did was offer her tea! – but the smiling Chief Bluebottle replies, ‘No! New stunt – but heap good!’ Meanwhile, over in the other cabin, Donald tells her that he has found some horses, so they can make their escape. Her reaction is less than overjoyed. We only see it in medium close-up, but the up and down movement of her left arm is unambiguous: she’s rubbing her bottom.
And she tells him:
In other words, she has just been spanked, and so will have difficulty sitting on the horse. As it turns out she doesn’t have to: Hector catches them before she mounts, and only Donald gets away.
And right at the end of the film, after Phyllis has learned to her joy and Donald’s discomfiture that her divorce wasn’t granted, we cut back to Hector and Chief Bluebottle. The Chief has made something for him:
It’s a spanking paddle, whose use he proceeds to demonstrate on his own hand. Hector looks at it morosely and says, ‘Chief, your system may be good, but it didn’t work on this girl. I’ve lost her.’ He throws the paddle on the fire. And then Phyllis arrives, full of wifely adoration, and the Chief gets to say ‘I told you so.’ End of picture!
So this is a story that turns on the moment when Phyllis is spanked by the temporarily ‘primitive’ Hector. But at some point after 1922, the spanking scene itself was efficiently snipped out of the extant print, leaving a version that is not just disappointing for us but also only superficially coherent.
There may well be other instances where a film doesn’t survive in the form in which it was originally exhibited. Take The Rains Came, a 1939 epic of romance and adventure in the British Raj. Brenda Joyce plays Fern Simon, an American teenager who has run away from her parents’ mission in order to see some life. George Brent is Tom Ransome, a drunk and a womanizer.
The rains do come, and Fern gets wet. She takes refuge in Tom’s bungalow, and he allows her to change out of her wet clothes into a pair of his shorts. But she’s not there entirely by chance. She explains that she wants to leave India, and that her scheme is to get herself sent home in disgrace after spending a night unchaperoned with a man. She has selected Tom to be the man because, she says, the incident cannot cost him his good reputation, for he has none to lose.
So what’s Tom going to do about that?
Well, according to a veteran (and presumably now dead) spanking aficionado who saw the film at the time of its original release, the answer is, exactly what he wanted to see!
But watch The Rains Came today and one thing you certainly won’t see is Brenda Joyce getting spanked on the shapely seat of her shorts. The reason for that might be to do with the print. The film originally ran to 112 minutes, but when it was reissued in the 1950s, it was cut to 103, the length now quoted in every reference listing of the film. The archive copy is evidently the truncated reissue.
The trouble is, there’s almost no other evidence that Brenda Joyce was spanked in The Rains Came. I say ‘almost’ only because the teenage Kenneth Tynan once wrote that Brenda was his favorite actress, ‘because she can take a spanking better than any other woman on screen’. That comment would be quite sufficiently justified by her performance in the spanking scene in Public Deb No. 1 (1940)…
… but it certainly wouldn’t be incompatible with her also being spanked in The Rains Came the year before.
Still, you can’t dispute an eye-witness report, can you? Well, actually, you can: what a person remembers, especially when that person is an enthusiast, is not always necessarily what he really saw but what he would like to have seen, and maybe dreamed about later.
I really cannot say for sure whether or not there was a Brenda Joyce spanking in the original, longer version of The Rains Came, but I’m on firmer ground in the case of a 1969 British television sitcom that is sometimes said to have included a spanking scene. Thicker Than Water starred comedian Jimmy Jewel as widower Jim Eccles, the father of three teenage daughters, including the dark-haired, mini-skirted Vicki, played by Roberta Rex.
According to the story we are told, one episode begins with Vicki, dressed in school uniform, across her father’s knee with her skirt up, being spanked on her white panties. I’d love to have seen that, but never will because the master tapes of all seven episodes were junked by the BBC in the 1970s. More to the point, I will also never see it, other than in my mind’s eye, because it never happened.
Of course, the fetish signals in the description are a good reason to approach it with suspicion and scepticism: some things really are too good to be true. But if the programs no longer exist, how can I be so sure the alleged scene is nothing more than a pleasant fantasy? Because I have read all seven scripts, that’s how! Not the draft scripts, which might have been amended afterwards in rehearsal, but the production scripts with the camera directions, which were used in the studio when the programs were actually made. There are a few moments when Jim threatens to spank more than one of the three daughters, but the spanking scene is just a figment of somebody’s imagination.
And that leaves us with a problem. Some films have spanking scenes and most don’t; but a few of those that don’t once did, only to lose them somewhere on the way from script to screen. So when we encounter a reference to a spanking scene in a film that has no spanking scene, it might be a mistake or it might be evidence of what happened in a different, earlier version. But how can we tell which is the case? That is a question we shall begin to wrestle with next week.