Check the Cutting Room Floor

In recent weeks we have been discovering how some movies once included spanking scenes that were cut out, while others have been said to include spanking scenes but disappointingly don’t and never did. Often it’s clear enough which category a particular non-spanking movie belongs in, but from time to time the available evidence is harder to interpret: a spanking might have been filmed and it might not, but without an investigation of the studio’s archival records of the production, it is impossible to say for sure. Today we look at a selection of cases from the borderline, beginning with…

A Little Eastern Taming

In August 1952, United Press reporter Edith Kermit Roosevelt – not the former First Lady but her granddaughter – filed a story for syndication across America. Her subject was an outbreak of movie spanking scenes in recent years: ‘Just turn a glamor girl over on the lap of a leading man and watch the box office zoom,’ she wrote. Among several quotes she got from spanked actresses was this one by Yvonne de Carlo:

‘A spanking is cute, especially when it comes from dashing Richard Greene.’

She was talking about The Desert Hawk, a 1950 adventure movie starring her and Greene. He plays Omar the Desert Hawk, a sort of Arabian Robin Hood, five years before he played the English original on television. She is Princess Shaharazade, who is due to marry the tyrant oppressing Omar’s people. Since the alliance will give him additional troops from her father, Omar steps in and weds her himself, temporarily assuming the tyrant’s identity.

She’s a princess and his secret identity is a low-born blacksmith, so the relationship owes much to the kind of screwball cross-class romance that we’ve already encountered in Hard to Get.

desert-hawk-01

In the course of the story, he rescues her from the slave market and they ride away through the desert. En route, she speaks insultingly to him, and he responds by throwing her off his horse and making her walk along the sand behind him.

Later, his friends are talking with her handmaids about the couple. The friends suggest that ‘a little taming’ has been taking place on the ride, to which a handmaid responds, ‘He would not dare!’ – which rather makes one think that the word ‘taming’ might be meant, as it often was at this time and in this context, as a synonym for ‘spanking’. But though the Princess goes from shrewing to kissing, Omar doesn’t achieve this by putting her across his knee for a good, old-fashioned ‘taming’.

So why, two years later, did Yvonne de Carlo mention being spanked by Richard Greene? Since by then The Desert Hawk had come and gone, there was no publicity incentive for hype, and indeed she didn’t even mention the title: she wasn’t primarily talking about the film, and presumably that wasn’t what she was asked about; on the contrary, she was talking about being in a spanking scene. So it’s odd that she mentioned Richard Greene at all, when the actor she was spanked by on screen was Rod Cameron, in Frontier Gal (1945):

frontier-gal-3

Unless of course Greene had done it too, more recently, in an alternate, discarded scene of The Desert Hawk.

One reason why that’s at least plausible is that the screenwriter was Gerald Drayson Adams (1900-88). In the early 1950s, he specialized in ‘Easterns’ and his later credits included The Prince Who Was a Thief and Flame of Araby (both 1951), which both featured what might very loosely be described as ‘spankings’, and Princess of the Nile (1954), which may also have done. (My information is inconclusive.) So there is at least a decent likelihood that such a scene was also filmed for The Desert Hawk, and that Yvonne de Carlo has a place among the ranks of Hollywood stars who were spanked for nothing. At least she enjoyed it enough to find it ‘cute’!

The Wedding Night Spanking

The habits of screenwriters are often a relevant factor in these obscure cases. So let’s consider the track record of Ben Hecht (1894-1964) and Charles Lederer (1911-76). Hecht’s previous credits included Nothing Sacred (1937), which includes a spanking threat, as we have seen, though not a spanking scene. Lederer also co-wrote Cock of the Air (1932) in which Chester Morris did this to Billie Dove:

cock-of-the-air

And in 1940, they collaborated on the script of the foreign correspondent romance Comrade X.

Clark Gable plays McKinley B. Thompson, a journalist in Stalinist Russia who is also smuggling out damaging stories under the alias ‘Comrade X’. Hedy Lamarr plays a devout communist who’s curiously named Theodore:

comrade-x-theodore

Her father blackmails Thompson into taking her out of Russia in order to save her from her beliefs. His first move is to persuade her that he is a party member sent to escort her on a propaganda mission to America, but he then finds that the only way of procuring an exit visa is to marry her.

According to the publicity tagline: ‘Hedy gets spanked… mauled… jailed… scratched!’ Here it is at the foot of the movie poster:

comrade-x

She does get jailed. She does get mauled and scratched in a catfight.

She has a big fight with Thompson on their wedding night after discovering that he is not a communist after all, during which she swings at him with a chair and spits at him. He tells her to put the chair down or he’ll ‘crown’ her, and she admits she’s been behaving like a child – and proceeds to be more adult by trying to denounce him to the secret police. But she doesn’t get spanked. She doesn’t even get smacked. Her bottom remains untouched by human hand.

So the tagline was untrue. But it’s more likely to have been a mistake rather than an outright lie. If you look at the Comrade X publicity material as a whole, there’s a lot that doesn’t quite match the movie. To take one example, earlier on the wedding night, Theodore changes into an exceedingly utilitarian nightgown, and Thompson gets her to put on a more feminine one, which is what she’s wearing during the subsequent fight. The moment features on the small picture to the right of the poster, with a line of Thompson’s dialog: ‘You call that linen duster a nightgown? Here, put this on.’ A slightly different, extended version of the line also appears in the lobby card.

comrade-x-lobby

But in the movie, the only part of the line he says is ‘Put this on’ – the least witty, least inventive bit. So where did those other words, the ‘linen duster’ and ‘motoring’ remarks, come from?

The obvious answer is that the publicity department were working with an earlier version of the movie than the final release print. They might only have had the draft script, but since they also had the on-set stills photography, it’s much more likely that they were using a first cut of the actual film. If so, then Hedy Lamarr did get spanked, almost certainly by Clark Gable in the wedding night fight while she was wearing the sexy nightgown – and then the moment was deleted, which inadvertently rendered the publicity inaccurate.

The Social Butterfly and the Stern Archaeologist

Five years earlier, the tagline for the Joan Crawford movie I Live My Life (1935) assured prospective audiences,

‘It’s heavenly romance from the first kiss to the last spanking!’

Press display advertisements referred to the leading man’s ‘spanking technique’. A newspaper preview promised: ‘You’re in for a treat when you see Joan as the pampered darling of society, spanked across the knee of a handsome he-man.’ And what’s more, a different paper reported how that scene affected some moviegoers: ‘How the lassies’ hearts go pitter-patter when virile Brian Aherne puts Joan across his knee and administers a sound spanking.’

That seems pretty definitive, doesn’t it? Not just publicity that might have been superseded by a later edit, but a specific account of the impact the spanking scene had when the film was shown in cinemas. Yet the version currently available on DVD has not even a hint of any such scene. So what gives?

The movie had the same director and screenwriter as the Clark Gable-Joan Crawford vehicle Forsaking All Others the year before, so the track record is promising. Joan herself, meanwhile, had a spanking pedigree back as far as Rose Marie (1928), in which she co-starred with House Peters, seen spanking her here:

rose-marie

This time her man is Brian Aherne, playing Terry O’Neill, a straight-laced Irish archaeologist with a hearty dislike of spoiled rich girls. Joan is Kay Bentley, a spoiled rich girl who happens to be visiting the Greek island where he is conducting a dig.

i-live-my-life

The romance follows an escalating pattern: she behaves badly, he is stern with her, she likes it and pursues him further. So the trajectory of the relationship ought to escalate in much the way the advertising tag-line says, towards the ultimate rebuke that will cement their relationship: a good spanking!

Terry and Kay meet when she rides into the site, ignoring the ‘Keep Out’ signs as spoiled rich girls always do. He orders her to leave, but she has lost her mule and will have to walk down the mountain; so she trips over and pretends to sprain her ankle, forcing Terry – who’s still a gentleman despite his class prejudices – to carry her down in his arms. When they get to the bottom, she reveals that she was shamming and says she’ll go on foot the rest of the way to her yacht – whereupon he slings her over his shoulder and carries her back to the top so that she has to do the whole walk herself after all.

i-live-my-life-01i-live-my-life-02i-live-my-life-04

Even though she already has a fiancé, she is clearly attracted to Terry, and the following day, she visits him to apologise for her childish behavior. She also explains that she is not in fact a spoiled rich girl at all, only the secretary to a tycoon (actually her father). He follows her to New York, intending to marry her, and almost immediately discovers the falsehood. Then they meet by chance: pressed for an explanation for her lie, she tells him she was only flirting, and he threatens to punch her in the nose, then gives her a stern lecture about her selfishness and leaves. This only renews the attraction for her.

And it’s the third time round the loop that gets us to ‘the first kiss’, about halfway through the picture. There’s no need to go through the ups and downs of the romance in detail, which entail her extrication from one engagement in order to install Terry in the vacated position of fiancé. What matters is that, the night before the wedding, they have a blazing row about their incompatible lifestyles and ambitions: he wants to go back to being an archaeologist in Greece, whereas she wants to go on being a spoiled rich girl. They agree to break it off; but since she doesn’t want to be known for having been jilted, it’s agreed that she will jilt him by simply not turning up to the wedding. The next day he waits in church, confident that he will soon be free of his obligation to her. And then she shows up after all, to his evident irritation…

In the DVD print of the film, he turns the tables by saying that he will show just cause or impediment why they shouldn’t be married, and she turns them back by producing tickets for Greece: she will live his life with him after all.

So how come the ‘first kiss to the last spanking’ tagline indicates that the story more or less ends with Kay being spanked? How come the newspapers described just such a scene and talked about its erotic effect on the ‘lassies’ in the audience?

It may be relevant that, after principal photography was finished, the cast were recalled in the first week of September 1935 to shoot an alternate ending to be used in some overseas prints, including in Britain. The available details are sketchy, but the intention was reportedly to tone down the way Terry behaves at the altar. So there’s good contemporary evidence that a spanking occurs in the last scene, and there’s evidence that there were two distinct versions of that last scene. Since Terry’s behavior in the DVD print doesn’t seem particularly outrageous, at least to modern eyes, it’s a reasonable inference – though it’s still a hypothesis, not actually a fact – that the surviving print of the film is the one with the softened ending.

These cases of missing spankings may seem complex to unravel, but you haven’t heard anything yet! Next week, our investigation turns to the most bizarre of them all…

Postscript (July 2017): I have now seen and enjoyed Princess of the Nile, starring Debra Paget and Jeffrey Hunter. She plays Princess Shalimar, whose father nominally rules an Egypt occupied and dominated by tyrannical bedouins. The Princess leads a double life: by night she becomes Taura the exotic dancer and resistance leader. It’s in this capacity that she first meets Prince Haidi (Hunter), son of the all-powerful Sultan of Baghdad and the eventual liberator of Egypt. Their relationship is one of those romances that starts out on the wrong foot: she stabs him in the shoulder before finding out who he is, and that he’s not one of the evil bedouin hordes.

That kind of scenario sometimes means the girl gets spanked as part of the initial discord… but not this time. Such business might have added piquancy to the later scene when Haidi learns who Taura really is, because then he’d have to come to terms with the fact that he had unwittingly spanked a Princess, who also happens to be his royal hostess. But there’s no sign that a spanking scene was ever so much as contemplated. It’s another case where optimistic rumors seem to have absolutely no basis in reality.

So if you should ever get a chance to watch the movie, please enjoy it on its own terms, not in anticipation of any spanking!

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