• U.S.

Show Business: Uprising at MGM

4 minute read

Producer-Director Herbert B. Leonard had just turned in the finished version of his movie Going Home to MGM. Arriving for a scheduled meeting with MGM President James Aubrey, he was told that Aubrey was busy recutting a new film and could not be disturbed. “What movie is he recutting?” Leonard asked. “Yours,” came the reply.

In Hollywood, it was nothing new for a studio boss to fiddle with a director’s efforts. What was unusual was that Leonard, unlike the sometimes helplessly subordinate directors of old, protested loudly and publicly. In the version of Going Home that was recently released, starring Robert Mitchum, Aubrey carved out 21 minutes of graphic footage to obtain a GP (instead of an R) rating. Some of his deletions toned down a rape scene, but when Leonard saw the result he charged: “He unilaterally and arbitrarily raped the picture.”

Besides Leonard, a clutch of film makers are complaining about Aubrey’s cutting-room tactics—and in some cases going to court—in what amounts to the biggest uprising against a major studio that Hollywood veterans can recall. Items:

> Producer Michael S. Laughlin and Director Paul Magwood placed a black-bordered ad in the Hollywood Reporter a few weeks ago that said: “Regarding what was our film Chandler, let’s give credit where credit is due. We sadly acknowledge that all editing, post-production as well as additional scenes were executed by James T. Aubrey Jr. We are sorry.” Laughlin and Magwood claim that Magwood was locked out of the MGM cutting room, and that Aubrey inserted several minutes of new footage to simplify the plot and replaced their nostalgic score with a trendy one. The result, says Laughlin, is “a completely different movie” from the 1940s-type private-eye flick that he set out to produce, starring his wife Leslie Caron and Warren Gates. He and Magwood have started legal action to have Chandler withdrawn from distribution.

> Producer Bruce Geller (TV’s Mission: Impossible) has asked to have his name removed from the credits of his first film, Corky, which is soon to be released (directed by Leonard Home). Geller says Aubrey’s changes made the central character, a violent garage mechanic, too sympathetic, played down the picture’s redneck setting and eliminated a climactic murder scene. Says he: “It’s not my picture any more.” > Director Blake Edwards (Pink Panther, Darling Lili) has stopped post-production work on his film A Case of Need, and instructed his lawyers to file a breach of contract suit against Aubrey. The studio chief, says Edwards, reneged on promised script changes to enhance the love interest between Stars James Coburn and Jennifer O’Neill, cut Edwards’ location shooting unreasonably short, and set an April release date for the film that made it impossible for Edwards to edit it properly.

So far. Aubrey has declined to comment on the uproar, which also includes several complaints—and more lawsuits —over MGM’s handling and promotion of films after the cutting stage. Since taking over the ailing studio in 1969, he has sold property and hacked away at expenses until, this year, he has brought MGM its first operating profit in four years ($7,835,000). Now, in cutting films as relentlessly as he has cut costs, he is presumably trying to capitalize on the commercial touch that he displayed back in his days as president of CBS-TV (among his hits: The Beverly Hillbillies and Petticoat Junction). Whether he can do so remains in doubt: MGM is still heavily in debt, and 50% of its features have not recovered costs.

With such high stakes in the balance, discontented producers like Michael Laughlin feel little confidence that their suits will succeed. “You just can’t deal with Aubrey,” he says. “He realizes that litigation can be a great expense, and that because of legal delays the film will have disappeared long before your case comes to court.”

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com