“We’re Gunslingers…And you don’t win every duel…”
On paper the notion seemed sound. He wasn’t Richard Donner (Or indeed Lester) but nevertheless a tenured Director with an impressive resume littered with some notable titles, The Ipcress File, The Entity and more recently cult sensation Iron Eagle. Moreover he was keen, available and as this particular project was now Christopher Reeve’s baby, a shoe-in after Wes Craven’s vision was met with Indifference.
Unfortunately Sidney J. Furie had it all against him. Taking on a franchise that had already derailed, its future now in the hands of easily the most notorious producers of the age and a star looking to dominate proceedings wherever possible. Superman IV: The Quest For Peace was always going to be somewhat insurmountable, but nobody could have foreseen just what twists and turns lay ahead.
Indeed, according to producer Michael Kagan ‘Nobody wanted to make a bad movie’ even though the script by Laurence Konner & Mark Rosenthal (with story input by Reeve) was considered to be in dire need of another draft. Reeve had already been served with a lawsuit from outraged would-be writers Barry Taft and Ken Stoller who claimed the Nuclear disarmament theme of the story was theirs. The case would eventually be thrown out but was the start of many obstacles to overcome. The Go-Go Boys, (having bought the series from the dejected Salkinds at a discount on a sunny afternoon in Cannes) were nothing if not keen to get the picture made and out to its built-in audience in order to help Cannon Films finance the 30plus projects shooting around the globe at the time.
In the above interview with Steven Simak taken from the Summer 1987 Issue of Galactic Journal Magazine, Furie at least seems to have a clear outlook, fighting for Margot Kidder to be reinstated and citing that heavy-handed auteurship (i.e. Dick Lester) could be detrimental to the truth of the character. Arguably the love-triangle described with the introduction of Mariel Hemmingway’s character that Furie seems so keen to explore were among the best scenes in a film otherwise consumed by the spectre of visual effects done on the cheap.
Details about the infamous test-screening were recently revealed by Visual Effects artist Harrison Ellenshaw, who stated that while he sat in with the audience, Furie patiently waited in a cafe across the road. When the showing, (and indeed, the rioting) was over, Ellenshaw reported back to Furie who allegedly asked ‘Was it that bad??’ Word soon got back to Warner Bros. who would issue a simple, yet damning directive before general release – ‘Lose two reels’.
The resulting cuts are well-documented but the fallout remains. The sub-plots, the runtime, the soundtrack. Clive Mantle’s entire part – the list goes on. At one time thought to be merely a rough cut, Ellenshaw did confirm the test screening was that of the full-length feature, warts & all – and despite long being thought destroyed, Warner Bros. have confirmed the print survived and is stacked among the multitude of cans rescued from the Pinewood Studios vault to facilitate the Richard Donner cut of Superman II.
So with all this information finally brought to light – and over three decades later – can there be closure on the enigma that is Superman IV? The choice, as ever, seems to rest with the fans. For all the furore that saw the eventual release of @thesnydercut people seem to forget that @releasethedonnercut was not only first, but revolutionary in terms of studios response to the DC fanbase. We (the Superman community) proved that it can be done. We know what it takes to be done. We also now have the benefit of knowing the footage exists so it could be done. I therefore beseech anyone with even the slightest interest in this film to make their feelings known to @warnerbros and @warnerarchive to #releasethefuriecut and see the full extent of his much-maligned vision. We owe it to ourselves as Superman fans but we also owe it to a Director who suffered the humiliation of having 45minutes cut from his picture, leaving an incoherent mess.
Alongside the campaign for the release, hopefully you will have heard my ramblings on the @thecapedwonderpodcast, #releasethefuriecut on Twitter, and the amazing restoration work done by @aaronprice. I will be writing a separate post on that topic shortly but meantime, all these efforts have not gone unnoticed by the man himself, who, at 88 is still going strong and recently posted in response to seeing what can be achieved with modern VFX with “This is wonderful – if only we had this kind of technology back then…”