Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Risky Business: The Alternative Ending

I don't think anyone who saw Risky Business when it was released in 1983 has forgotten it, and I don't know of anyone that dislikes it.  It's probably the same for the 90% of current American adults who've seen the film.  An unusual storyline mixing teenage male angst, comedy, reflections on materialism, sex, catch phrases, classic scenes, charismatic young stars appealing to both the boys (Rebecca de Mornay, and boy, was she appealing) and girls (Tom Cruise), perfect music in the right setting (remember the train ride with Phil Collins' In The Air Tonight and the hypnotic music of Tangerine Dream?), all of which kept the viewer off-balance.  Was the movie a comedy, a romantic comedy, a black comedy, a drama with comic touches, a teen fantasy film, a serious social commentary?  It depends how you view Joel (Cruise) and Lana's (De Mornay) characters, particularly the ambiguity surrounding Lana.  Was it all a setup or was it real?  Or both at the same time?  Yes, no, maybe.

Risky Business was the first film directed by Paul Brickman.  Despite it's huge commercial and critical success, it was also his last directorial venture; a choice made by Brickman after he lost an argument with the studio over the ending of the film.

The theatrical version of the film ends with two scenes; the first a dinner between Joel and Lana in a swank Chicago restaurant, where Joel inquires about their future and whether it was all a set up, interspersed with cuts to Joel's fellow business club members making their presentations.  It then closes with a second scene of Joel and Lana walking through the park exchanging casual repartee with a humorous turn on the dialogue from their very first encounter, leaving open the possibility that their relationship may not be over.

Brickman hated that second scene which was added at the studio's insistence after the original shooting ended.  For Brickman, Risky Business was ultimately a tragic story and the walk through the park, with its light heartedness, shattered the feeling he wanted the viewer left with.

Below is the original ending, as intended by Brickman.  To me, it makes clear that Joel now has the upper hand in the relationship - he's going to Princeton after all, since "Princeton can use a guy like Joel" (which only happened because he followed Lana's advice) and it is much clearer that both Joel and Lana know their relationship is doomed and she will not have a good ending.

Some things I noticed:

In the first scene below in which Joel finds out he's going to Princeton and embraces his Dad, the embrace and the position and look on his face is identical to Lana's embrace and look when, earlier in the film, Joel comes to her after being expelled from high school, and Joel's Dad has his head bowed in the same way as Joel does in his embrace with Lana.  Joel is now as cynical as Lana.  You can do your own comparison; watch below and then watch the earlier scene. (This scene is the same in both the Brickman cut and the theatrical release, I just hadn't noticed the parallels with the earlier scene before).

There is a continuity problem with the original scene in the restaurant.  When it starts, it is full day outside but when Joel and Lana embrace it suddenly looks like early evening.

While I think the original ending is actually better, the final line "Isn't life grand?" is not as effective as the last in the theatrical release, "The time of your life, huh, kid?"

What do you think?


  1. Nice article, thanks for posting.

    I loved the film so much and have seen it so many times - I can't imagine how I would have felt about the alternative ending. I guess I just see them both as parallel stories now, an either or option.

    I grew up watching the film as a teenager in the 80s and later in life I had chance to live in the area it was filmed.

    Your definitely right that the original last line is so much better, I felt like it spoke to me directly at the time.

    Still one of my favourite movies

  2. Ya, the last line has to be "Time of your life, huh kid?". "Isn't life grand?" just seems like it is trying too hard.

    I also don't mind the 2nd ending in the park with the playful exchange between Joel and Lana, but it isn't necessary.

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