Close Encounters of the Salkind

Tom Mankiewicz, the man who actually wrote most of Superman and Superman II, gives Newsarama what might be the greatest interview ever. By all accounts the producers of Superman were basically crooks, for example signing Ann-Margaret to play Miss Teschmacher then signing Valrie Plame for the same role because they could pay her less. When Mankiewicz said, “But how’s that possible? You just made a deal with Ann-Margret,” Alexander Salkind replied, “She can sue.” The interview is full of gems like this:

Donner and the Salkinds just loathed each other. Donner had called them assholes in print. The old man, Alexander Salkind, had paid the government of Costa Rica money to make him the cultural attaché to Switzerland. This gave him a diplomatic passport which made him immune from arrest because he was wanted on lots of fraud charges.

Alexander Salkind couldn’t even attend any of the openings in the United States because there was a warrant for his arrest. The FBI said, “I’m sorry, cultural attaché from Costa Rica to Switzerland doesn’t cut it with us. That’s not a diplomatic passport as far as we’re concerned.” So he couldn’t show up for any of the openings. In the meantime, another parallel story was going on.

Richard Lester was owed several million dollars by the Salkinds because of his share of the profits from directing The Three and Four Musketeers. Lester sued them and he won the lawsuit except he won it against a Bahamian corporation which was a company that was broke. So he couldn’t get any money. In essence the Salkinds did two things when the first Superman opened. They fired Donner immediately because they hated him and they said to Lester “If you finish Superman II we’ll pay you the money we owe you.”

Of course, their other absolutely inexcusable thing that they did was they took Brando out of the second movie. They read in the contract that he had a piece of the gross and if he didn’t appear in the film they didn’t have to pay him so they just cut him out.

I hate to sound pretentious by using words like arc but when Jor-El sends his son to Earth, it’s almost God sending Christ to earth or it could be Allah sending Mohammed to Earth. Then when the son screws up in the second picture and he loses his powers and falls in love, he in essence, becomes a selfish human and has to go back to the Fortress of Solitude and apologize to his father. All those scenes with Brando were just wonderful and they were all taken out and replaced with Susannah York, who had nothing to do with anything. She is a perfectly nice woman and a very good actress but was available for, I’m guessing, $5000 a week.

I never understood that because obviously the first one was a hit and the second one was going to be a hit so there was money for everybody. Marlon may be the signature star of the 20th century so cutting him out was just inexcusable. Then Lester called Donner said, “Listen, you’ve already shot 75 or 80 percent of [Superman II] so let’s share credit.” Donner said, “No, I don’t share credit.” Then Lester and the Salkinds found out that, according to the Director’s Guild, unless Lester had directed 40 or 45 percent of the picture, he couldn’t get his name on it as director. So they started eliminating scenes and sequences that we had shot already and replacing them with other ones.

Terry Semel asked me to go back and work on the film but Donner and I were friends had offices as Warners at the time. I said, “Terry I can’t do that. Dick is my friend and he brought me on the picture and it’s just inexcusable that he got fired by these people when he delivered them this huge hit movie.” Then Terry said “Well could you fly to London and arrange to accidentally run into Lester and have dinner with him?” I said, “No, I can’t do that either.” Terry said, “I understand.”

So they got David and Leslie Newman to write these scenes. In the new cut of Superman II, Lois throws herself out the window because she knows Clark is Superman and that he’ll catch her. There’s also a scene where she shoots Clark. Then there are all the Brando scenes. There’s about 45 minutes to an hour worth of new stuff. In my opinion it’s a vastly better movie than the one that was released theatrically. What they did was make a really good movie for the theatrical version of Superman II when they could have had an exceptional movie.

Mankiewicz also correctly diagnoses the big problem with Superman IV, whose story was conceived by Christopher Reeve:

Christopher Reeve, who was the nicest guy in the world and such an idealist, was about to do Superman IV: The Quest for Peace and he asked me to help him. I said to him, “Chris you’re forgetting the rules of Superman. World disarmament is a wonderful thing but Superman can’t get involved in things like that because everybody knows he could disarm the whole world in 20 minutes if he wanted to do. You can’t bring up famine in a Superman movie because Superman could feed the world if he wanted to. So don’t get into those areas because it’s not going to work. Chris understood but he went ahead and did it anyway. He’s a very idealistic guy and I think that put a lid on Superman for a while.

Incidentally, Mankiewicz was also the screenwriter of Diamonds are Forever, Live and Let Die, and The Man with the Golden Gun, and I agree 100% with his opinion of Daniel Craig compared to the other Bonds:

I didn’t dislike Pierce Brosnan but I didn’t think he was exceptional. I’ve seen the new one [Casino Royale] and I think Daniel Craig is just great. He’s a wonderful actor. Even though I’m a friend of Roger Moore’s and it was fun working with Roger there was something about Sean [Connery]. Sean has the face of a bastard. Sean looked dangerous and Daniel Craig is dangerous and that’s a really good thing.

The difference between Sean and Roger, was that Sean could sit at a table with a girl at a nightclub and either lean across and kiss her or stick a knife in her under the table and then say, “Excuse me waiter, I have nothing to cut my meat with.” Whereas Roger could kiss the girl but if he stuck a knife in her it would look nasty because Roger looks like a nice guy.

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