TV Cream

Films: I is for...


Well, you can’t blame David Puttnam for this one. His predecessor in the job of head of Columbia Pictures, Guy McElwaine, had a rather chequered career. On the plus side, he got the first two Karate Kids off the ground. On the minus, he spent $25 million on bollocks revivalist jungle romp Sheena (with romantic lead Ted Wass!), and shareholders can never forgive a folly like that. In a last-ditch attempt to make amends, McElwaine raided his Rolodex to put together a hasty raft of package deals featuring as many industry ‘players’ as he could muster, and that’s how Dustin Hoffman and Warren Beatty came to wear those gold lame dinner jackets. Enter Puttnam, and things get frosty. A few years back, his nice little film Agatha, about the ‘lost days’ of the Marple mistress, was loused up when Dustin nosed his way onto the cast list and set about changing everything in sight. Putters walked, and slagged off the Hoff in public. Later, when Chariots romped home at the Oscars ahead of Beatty-helmed fave Reds, Puttnam again flapped his chops in derision of the Shampoo shagabout. Hence no mutual fan club could be said to exist between Ishtar’s stars and their new handler. Puttner then stirred up things all the more by insisting on a clause in his new contract to the effect that he could not be held personally responsible for the failure of the film. Then he tried to get a breach of contract clause put on Beatty in the event of the budget going over $50 million. The budget promptly went over $50 million, but nothing happened. On completion of the edit, Dave refused to even look at the print, and told trade papers as much. This could be viewed as sabotage to the odd interested party, but to be honest it’s nothing worse than most incoming heads of any media enterprise perpetrate on the leavings of their predecessors, and Ishtar deserved every punnet of scorn Puttnam could pack. It’s revisionism-proof guff, to be sure – trying to like the thing, setting yourself up against all the naysayers down the ages, mentally calling to mind a cavalcade of lazy talking heads who you bet haven’t seen it slagging it off, combing every camel gag, hilarious ‘bad singing’ set-piece and gun battle for hidden comedy gold – it just leaves you rather tired and irritable. It’s a bad film in excelsis, in that its failure doesn’t entertain, unless you count that uneasy frisson of embarrassment on behalf of everyone involved, yourself, everyone you’re watching it with, and the entire human race by association for allowing it all to happen.



  1. Richardpd

    August 27, 2022 at 11:13 pm

    Supposedly it’s not as bad as it’s made out to be, but still not worth spending $50 million so try & be a modern day homage to the Road To films.

  2. Sidney Balmoral James

    August 28, 2022 at 9:52 am

    Is this the most famous film no one has ever seen? That was released at any rate (so excluding stuff like The Day the Clown Cried). Can’t even recall it being on television, although must surely have been shown at some point.

  3. Richardpd

    August 28, 2022 at 1:58 pm

    Some of the video nasties were almost impossible to see anywhere for years, along with ones like A Clockwork Orange .

    David Puttnam was also partially responsible for Leonard Part 6, which thanks to Bill Cosby buying the rights to stop it being shown more than it needed to has hardly been seen, & is even harder to see after his run in with the law.

  4. Glenn Aylett

    August 28, 2022 at 8:40 pm

    This bombed big time and I don’t know anyone who went to see Ishtar as the reviews were so bad. It joins Howard The Duck from the previous year as one of the most expensive comedy flops of the eighties.
    Regarding video nasties, my local Co Op in the early eighties had a video department that was full of video nasties, porn and brutal martial arts films. Odd for a company that prided itself on its community values and moral values that it seemed to be making a tidy sum out of such wholesome fare as Driller Killer, Erotic Blue and people fighting each other to death.

  5. Richardpd

    August 29, 2022 at 1:30 pm

    Heaven’s Gate is another film that went way over budget & gets high on the “Worst Ever” lists, but supposedly is better than it’s reputation if you see the proper edit of it. At least it occasionally gets an airing on TV every now & again.

  6. Glenn Aylett

    August 29, 2022 at 4:01 pm

    Raise The Titanic is probably one of the biggest British film flops and helped to end Lew Grade’s attempts to save the British film industry. One wag at the time said it would have been cheaper to lower the Atlantic.

  7. Sidney Balmoral James

    August 29, 2022 at 6:00 pm

    Raise the Titanic has tremendous John Barry score, and superb model work; not much else. Heaven’s Gate remains THE case study of a studio not keeping control of a director, resulting in United Artists almost going under – Final Cut by Steven Bach is one of the best books ever about Hollywood. Recently it was revealed that David Lean was approached about taking control of the film, but it didn’t happen (union rules said they weren’t even supposed to discuss with another director if the original director had not been fired).

  8. Richardpd

    August 29, 2022 at 10:20 pm

    Lew Grade managed to over-egged the pudding with Raise the Titanic, spending loads of money on building a tank off Malta because there weren’t any suitable places to film the massive model they built, & it took loads of takes to get the raising right. Grade also messed things up by trying to make it more family friendly. Clive Cussler wouldn’t allow any other adaptations of his books for years after.

    At one point Michael Cimino threatened to take Heaven’s Gate to another studio because of United Artists complaining that he was letting things run out of control. Later on there as an attempt to sell it, but no studios were interested!

    Michael Cimino’s career never really recovered, only being allowed to direct four more films before he retired to write books, being almost a recluse by the time he died.

  9. George White

    August 31, 2022 at 2:36 pm

    Also, IIRC Raise the Titanic, IIRC it wasn’t eligible for Eady funds as only the bits with Alec Guinness and the climax were shot in Britain (everything was shot either in Malta or at the former Republic Pictures studios, then owned by CBS in Hollywood)
    Also re:Cimino, THEY had privately transitioned to female in the last 20 years of their life.

  10. Richardpd

    August 31, 2022 at 10:10 pm

    I’ve heard of rumours Michael Cimino had a sex change later in life.

    Raise the Titanic also sat on a shelf for a while before being released, possibly next to The Long Good Friday.

  11. Glenn Aylett

    September 3, 2022 at 1:10 pm

    One Grade film I do quite like and which never set the box office alight was Escape To Athena, starring Roger Moore just before he made Moonraker and Telly Savalas as a Greek resistance fighter. It was a cross between a comedy and a war film, was good for star spotting and had a fantastic motorbike chase through a Greek village, and seemed to do better on television than in the cinema.

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