Edited for Television (badly)

Most movies that are edited for television aren't changed too much. Every once in a while, though, the changes that are made make no sense at all. Two examples come to mind: Blazing Saddles and Swimming to Cambodia. Seeing each of these on television left me scratching my head in amazement at the poor editing.

Blazing Saddles

About halfway through Blazing Saddles there's a sequence of vignettes where the new sheriff (Cleavon Little) tries to get rid of a big galoot named Mongo. Scheme after scheme fails, with each more ridiculous than the last. Particularly memorable was the exploding candygram; the phrase "Candygram for Mongo!" has almost entered pop culture.

When I was home from college, watching the movie on network television, I got a shock. Not only did they cut some of the vignettes, they added a new one!. I was so surprised by this that I almost missed the beginning of the next scene. Gene Wilder congratulates Cleavon Little on taking care of Mongo, and Little replies "The hard part was inventing the candygram.".

That would have been okay, except whoever edited the film for television cut the candygram scene. So Little's response made no sense at all if you were seeing the film for the first time. Oops. Poor editing!

Swimming to Cambodia

Another similar example occurred in the A&E showing of Spalding Gray's Swimming to Cambodia. It's Gray's monologue about acting in the movie The Killing Fields, part of which was shot on location in Thailand. In the middle of an early story, he interrupts himself to say:

Everything I'm telling you tonight is true, with one exception: that the banana sticks to the wall when it hits. Everything else is true.

So of course I was primed to hear about the banana. I waited, and I waited, and I waited. No banana. The movie ended. Still no banana. I had videotaped it, and when I watched it again there still wasn't a banana. Was Spalding Gray just being weird? What banana?

It wasn't until a few years later when I saw the movie on the public television station that I found out what he meant. There's a part where he talks about the seedy night life of Pat Pong: prostitutes, massage parlors, and live sex clubs. It's a bit lewd, you see, but A&E thought that only the last part was extreme enough to cut. And guess what was in the one scene they cut. You guessed it. A banana. Ahhh. It finally makes sense!

So this is a plea to all the editors out there: watch the film. After you've cut it, watch it again. If it doesn't make sense, it needs more work.


A friend pointed out that the meaning of Terry Gilliam's film Brazil was completely changed when the final scene was deleted when televised. While that's true, the film was still internally consistent, even if it wasn't what the creator intended. It didn't leave me scratching my head and wondering just what was going on, though, like the other cases of horrible editing.

Last updated 3 June 2000
All contents ©1999-2002 Mark L. Irons