Monday, June 18, 2012

On the Celluloid Chopping Block: TWO-MINUTE WARNING (1976)

Our latest entry in the examination of films that are cut/edited/altered is a rather unique one in that not only was a significant amount of footage removed from the film, but nearly forty minutes of newly shot footage was added when the film debuted on NBC.  The plot of TWO-MINTUE WARNING is rather simple.  A crazed gunman climbs atop the flag tower at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum before a huge football game drawing 100,000 spectators. The police, led by Capt. Holly (Charlton Heston), are quickly made aware of him and a S.W.A.T. team, led by Sgt. Button (John Cassavetes), must find a way to get this guy out of firmed nestled position without anyone being killed or the gunman being alerted.

TWO-MINUTE WARNING is one of those standard concept thrillers that still exist today, but it is actually better than its set up suggests. The action unfolds in almost real time and is surprising in its level of detail while eliciting a fair amount of tension. For example, you have some great scenes in the TV control room where the television director (played by Andy Sidaris, who used to do this in real life before becoming an action T&A legend) tries to balance doing his job while the police do theirs. The suspense is well handled until the end where it turns into a mob of people running out of the stands as if Roy Schieder yelled, "Shark!"

1979 newspaper
TV version mention
With the all-star supporting cast in the stands, this actually reminds me a lot of the Irwin Allen disaster flicks of the 1970s. You have Jack Klugman as a degenerate gambler; Beau Bridges as a down-on-his-luck dad taking the family out; Martin Balsam as the stadium manager; David Janssen as a fan and Gena Rowlands as his lady; Walter Pidgeon as a pickpocket (Beau's real-life wife is his accomplice); and former footballer Joe Kapp as, of course, a footballer. (And look for Robert Ginty as a souvenir salesman.) Since the audience spends so much time with these characters, you can guess who is going to get shot. It is a bit disjointed and feels like a book (it was adapted from a George La Fountaine novel), but I think it helps establish the randomness of the shooter, whose motivations are never explained before he dies.

Speaking of which, NBC apparently had a problem with the idea of airing a "crazed gunman goes nuts for no reason" scenario.  Sure, they wanted those boffo ratings from airing a Charlton Heston movie in primetime, but heaven forbid they actually have an insane sniper with no motivation because that kind of stuff never happens in real life *cough* Charles Whitman *cough*.  In order to assuage their refined sensibilities, the network actually paid for extensive re-shoots for this before it aired on February 6, 1979.  And we’re not talking about new scenes to replace bloody deaths.  They added a whole new subplot that significantly alters the film.  In this new version, the shooter is up there in order to provide a distraction for a museum heist that takes place nearby.  So let’s get this straight – version involving a crazed gunman shooting at folks with no motive is bad; version involving a crazed gunman shooting at folks in order to help others get financial gain is good. Yep, sounds like standard television executive logic to me alright.

TV Guide ad (courtesy of Marty McKee):

                      Newspaper article on the extended version:

The differences are noticeable right off that bat with the opening credits.  New co-stars get prominent credits. Screenwriter Edward Hume unwittingly gets a co-writer as Francesca Turner gets a credit for what is now billed as the teleplay.  Additionally, original director Larry Peerce had his name removed from the project and one Gene Palmer (assumed this is the noted TV editor who did similar work on Universal’s TV debut of EARTHQUAKE) receives the directing credit.

New actors:

Film credits (theatrical vs. television):

Since we’re on “no random kill” watch, the TV version immediately removes the theatrical version’s powerful opening scene where the sniper (Warren Miller) tries out his rifle in a hotel room by firing on a random 1970s bicycling couple.

Also removed is the introduction of the football player played by Joe Kapp in his hotel with his lady.  In fact, Kapp must have been pissed when he saw this version as nearly all of his scenes have been removed.  So, all you fans of Joe Kapp shaving scenes and split focus shots will be doubly disappointed.

To replace these bits, we have new footage starting at roughly four minutes into the TV version.  First, we have a scene of the shooter outside of the stadium.  He eyes the tower he will soon climb and then feels the marble surface at the base of the tower (this is explained later).

After this we immediately dive headfirst into the heist plot.  At the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, we are introduced to the new characters of Patricia Owens (Joanna Pettet) and her boss Cooper Adams (William Prince) as they talk with a reporter and museum curator Mr. Kaslov.  You know this is a fancy museum as harpsichord music plays in the background.  Mr. Adams has decided to display his $10 million dollar art collection on football championship weekend, no doubt hoping to cash in on that Picasso and pigskin loving crowd.

As Adams and Patricia leave the museum, they pass by a couple of exposition cops.

Cop #1: “I read where Mr. Cooper Adams is the richest man in Texas.”
Cop #2: “He’s also one of the richest men in the world.”

We then cut to the Fairchild hotel for more new footage (interestingly, this is where Kapp was staying and where Klugman’s degenerate gambler is also at).  Inside a dingy hotel room, the sniper – now finally addressed by his last name of Cook – meets up with the other 5 men who are in on the plan, who spend their time ogling Polaroids of the paintings they hope to steal.  The masterminds are Tony (Paul Shenar), Richard (James Olsen), and the Professor (Rossano Brazzi). 6 white guys?  Yeah, they're trouble alright.

Cook is debriefed by Richard, his former commanding officer in Vietnam, about his role in the heist plan and told there is an escape hatch in the shaft.  The arrangement is simple – Cook will open fire at the two-minute warning during the championship football game to distract the cops, which will allow the other guys to rob the museum.

Concerned about his risky effort and possibly being a patsy, Cook demands a sum of $100,000 more before heading out. You know he is unstable because in addition to breaking down his rifle to hide in his coat (using recycled footage from the excised opening), he also stashes two bottles of booze in his pockets in a later scene.  Ah, money and booze! There’s that motivation the network executives were looking for.

Meanwhile, Adams stops at a bank to do some business and Patricia goes shopping.  But she has ulterior motives as she called the hotel to speak with her boyfriend Tony.  Dah, dah, dah!  She’s in on the heist.

It is interesting to note that tons of footage has been removed from the theatrical version to accommodate this new stuff.  Long suffering Joe Kapp sees his inviting of friend/fan priest (Mitchell Ryan) during communion removed; the intro of the S.W.A.T. team led by Sgt. Button as they teargas an abusive husband is gone (as is later footage of Button at home with his family); the intro of Beau Bridges driving his family to the game is gone; the intro of a pair of pickpockets (Walter Pidgeon and Julie Bridges, Beau’s wife) is no longer there; and, most importantly, the following shot of Klugman’s gambler character grabbing his lady friend’s breast is missing.  How am I supposed to know he is a degenerate now?

To compensate for this, we have more new footage of Adams and his assistant Patricia riding around in his Rolls Royce. He takes her to a fancy French restaurant (it is intercut with the Klugman restaurant footage above) and it becomes obvious they have more than a working relationship.  Adams gives her some token jewelry and then drops the bomb on her.  “I transferred ownership of my collection to your name last week,” he says.  Oh snap!  Not only that, her sugardaddy says he set up a trust for her.  Double snap!  Then he asks her to look over some insurance papers, but she points out his lawyer screwed up the policy and put the wrong amount on there.  And, yes, the waiter is really wearing that outfit.

Obviously she needs to call this off because everything is being messed up due to Adams’ creepy old man love gestures. But she can’t reach Tony at the hotel as he and his men have already gotten into their white van and headed for the art museum.

Inside the van, we get a conversation between four of the men.  One guy, who is dressed as a cop, says he doesn’t feel comfortable being the contact between them and Cook.  Richard reassures them that Cook is “the best in the business for this job” and the “best man I had in Vietnam.”  They also talk about how the money will be transferred and mention that their client is named Ambassador Lopez.

Meanwhile, all of our star spectators have been arriving at the game.  Cook also arrives and makes his way to the tower at roughly 36 minutes into the TV version.  This is a good example to show you how the creators of the TV version just bounced events all over the place as this happens much earlier in the theatrical version.  And in news sure to disappoint Ryan Seacrest, the National Anthem sung by Merv Griffin is cut down.

And can you guess who else is checking out the game today?  Adams and his sexpot assistant!  Unable to contact her boys about the recent developments, Patricia tries to get away from Adams but he is smitten and says he’ll go with her to the gallery.  No go and she goes to the game.

Just before the hour mark, the white van arrives at the museum's loading dock.  Inside we get another conversation which gives us more into the insight of the relationship between Tony and Patricia.  The Professor seems uneasy about his former student Patricia being in a relationship with Tony.  Tony accuses the Professor of being in love with her and the teacher replies, “I have loved her since the first day she walked into my class.”  Then Richard gets on it and says he has feelings for her too.  Oh boy.

A rather long sequence here has the men walking around the museum doing that art gawker thing.  One man makes a phone call to an airport to confirm their post-heist flight. Richard babbles to some young woman about art. The Professor babbles to some young woman about art.  You get the picture.

Back at the game, Adams just happens to run into his lawyer and asks him to fix the error he made right away.  Yeah, I'll just drop watching this football game and head over to the museum.

Patricia finally reaches Tony by calling the museum and tells him about the change of plans.  She lies by saying Adams got tipped off, but Tony says tough luck.  Patricia decides the next best course of action is to call the museum and tip off the security.  That’s woman logic for ya.  Anyway, after conferring with his associates, Tony and the men decide to still go forward with their plan.

Around 1 hour and 14 minutes into the TV version, we get one of the more interesting additions in that it is one of only a handful of new scenes shot to feature an actor from the original film.  And it isn’t just anyone, it is Charlton Heston himself.  We get a brief scene of Heston receiving a phone call from museum director Mr. Kaslov saying he is worried because he heard rumors of a heist.  Heston says he has so many men at the football game, but he will see what he can do.  It is interesting to note that Heston sports a lighter colored toupee than the one he wore in the original film.

Our thieves get sweaty palms when a couple of extra cops arrive at the museum thanks to Heston’s orders.  They think about calling it off but they can’t seem to contact Cook (obviously giving him a walkie-talkie was beyond their planning) and they opt to send a guy dressed as a cop to go there and kill him when he tries to escape through the hatch. Also around this time, Priscilla convinces Adams to leave the game.

Interestingly, another omission from the theatrical version during all of this cross cutting is when Cassavettes and his men grab a random fan hanging out in the bleachers who they think might be in on it.  In the theatrical version, he is taken into the bathroom and roughed up by Cassavettes, who makes sure to knee him in the balls.

Around the 1 hour and 53 minute mark, the shooting finally starts to happen.  Now this is where it gets interesting as all of the shots of people being, well, shot are replaced.  Instead we get shots of Cook shooting out lights or shooting at empty chairs.

Die, empty chairs, die!

The biggest beneficiary of this is actor David Janssen, whose character now gets to live.  In the theatrical cut, he and his girlfriend played by Gena Rowlands are out arguing in the concourse.  They decide to get married (ah, women) in Vegas, but not before they go finish watching the game they flew all the way from New Jersey to see.  Janssen walks into his seating section and becomes the sniper’s first victim.  In the TV version, he mumbles “let’s go to Vegas right now” and that is the last we see of them, as if they are walking away from the game.  Here's how he originally met his end.  Beats getting married, I suspect.

This means poor Branscombe Richmond gets his screen debut removed as well.  And the winner for Best Supporting Actor Covered in Blood is…

The sniper also gets a new lease on life as he never gets wounded by one of the S.W.A.T. team snipers.

Crime also doesn’t end up paying as the characters played Walter Pidgeon and Jack Klugman live to pick more pockets and gamble more money away, respectively, another day.  Here's how they bought it in the theatrical version.

The second new bit of Heston footage appears just after the two hour mark as a uniformed cop runs up to him and tells him he can’t contact the security guards patrolling the museum section.  “That’s it! That art museum,” Heston says, “Take some men and get over there right away.  I’ve got a hunch there is a heist going on and that is what this is all about.”

What no one counts on were 100,000 people to continue rampaging through the streets.  Can you guess where they are headed?  That’s right – the museum!  There is a hilarious bit where some cops see them coming and close the doors.

Intercut between the stampeding masses is a section of Cook trying to escape from the secret hatch built into the tower.  He crawls down to the bottom and opens the door, only to be met by the bad guy dressed as a cop waiting for him with his gun trained.  Trapped!

As the entire over-the-top melee unfolds (seriously, the frenzied crowd looks like a marathon), the criminals in the museum subdue the guards and begin cutting out all the prized paintings.  In the words of Lawrence Tierney, "Let's go to work."

Meanwhile, Heston and Cassavettes are taking care of our sniper.  The poor patsy gets back to the top of the tower just in time to get a gas canister thrown in his face.

The police make it inside the base of the tower and we get our third and final scene of new Heston footage.  For some reason they have him spot the escape entryway and he shouts, "Alright you! Climb out of there, right now!"  It is odd because everyone else is still trained on the guy the know is climbing up the ladder.

Of course, they finally get their man as he is shot and falls from the top of the ladder. 

Back to the museum! As the men try to escape in their white van, they get surrounded by thousands (well, dozens) of still frenzied fans (no joke, they’ve been running for their lives for like 15 minutes; I think you’re safe now). The best part is this is all airing live on TV and Adams and Patricia are watching it unfold in the back of his Rolls Royce. Now why cameras were trained 20 feet across from the escape van is beyond me.

The van driver decides to haul ass and ends up bumping a young girl onto the sidewalk.  Naturally, this sends the hysterical football hounds into an even further rage.  They surround the van like zombies and tip the damn thing over.

Some uniformed cops get onto the scene and immediately arrest the thieves as they spill out of the back of the van.  Art robbery of the century foiled!

UPDATE (in Robert Stack voice): Julian Grainger left a comment below asking about the end credits and I did a few more framegrabs.  The end credits unfold the exact same way (helicopter shot pulling away from the stadium), but we do get some additional new people listed.  Veteran cinematographer and Emmy winner Harry L. Wolf is credited as the DP on "additional photography."  

Two credit listings later, TV version credited director Gene Palmer joins the film's previous two film editors. And Jaroslav Gebr - who used to do the paintings on shows like GHOST STORY and Rod Serling's NIGHT GALLERY - is given credit for the paintings seen in the museum.    

It is interesting to note that the cast listing is exactly the same as the theatrical version, so folks like Michael Pataki ("that guy" in the gang pic earlier) never gets proper credit for his role.  The end copyright notice has been changed as well, now listing 1979 (MCMLXXIX) after the 1976 date.

Good lord!  Did I just unleash 60 plus pictures to describe the alternate version of TWO-MINUTE WARNING that debuted on “The Big Event” on NBC some 33 years ago?  Apparently I did.  As you can see, this revamped version creates quite a different film and I’m sure there were tons of people who saw it theatrically who were going “what the hell?” and wondering if their buttered popcorn had been laced when they saw it debut on TV.  This new version is really amazing because the executives wanted to get as far away from reasonless killing as possible.  Yet the cops still blow away the sniper in the end.  And his crime was nothing more than shooting some empty seats and light fixtures.  That’ll teach him.  The trick worked though as this special edition of TWO-MINUTE WARNING got a monster 28 percentage share of the TV viewing audience.  Yet it still wasn’t the number one program that night. You see, they lost out to something far more deadly than a lone sniper hiding in a tower.  Old Chuck got blasted by the evil combo of LAVERNE & SHIRLEY and MORK & MINDY.  Bull’s eye, baby!

UPDATE #2: If you've made it this far reading (congrats!), be sure to check out the comment from reader Matt below.  He gives a detailed write up of the novel on which the movie is based and it is a lot different and even crazier in some ways.  Great stuff.

22 Reactions:

  1. This is beyond wonderful. Excellent job. I posted a link at the Home Theater Forum (which had a discussion going) and will tweet.

  2. Was this a one-time airing, Wllliam? (I did watch it, at least some of it.) Have you done a piece about the TV "Event" airing of EARTHQUAKE?

  3. To answer Robert Cashill, the revamped Two-Minute Warning played in syndication throughout the 1980s. In fact, following the end of its HBO run in 1978, the theatrical version wasn't seen again until the VHS and LaserDisc releases in 1992.

  4. Epic and entertaining stuff William.

  5. I guess Universal got its money's worth then. I do recall seeing some of that 79 broadcast and not revisiting the film until it hit DVD.

  6. Hi,

    Great site! I'm trying to find an email address to contact you on to ask if you would please consider adding a link to my website. I'd really appreciate if you could email me back.

    Thanks and have a great day!

  7. Hi William,
    What a stunning piece of work - a real boon to fans of the film and serious researchers and historians alike.
    One question: did the end credits of this TV version contain extra names such as extra cast and crew and maybe even a revised copyright date? If so, would you consider posting screens of these for a detail-nut such as myself?
    Thanks again.

  8. Julian,

    Good question! I've updated the breakdown with three new screenshots at the end. Thanks for the kind words.


  9. Hi William,

    I am so grateful for the extra information and screenshots. Thank you for taking the trouble to go back and take a look. Basically, this is the ultimate piece on this version of the film! Now, to see what else is on this great blog...
    All best wishes

  10. Wow this is great I live in the UK and have been looking for this for a great many years but have never been able to obtain this US Tv version, is there any way I could obtain a copy of this, I would meet costs

  11. WOW! "Two-Minute Warning" has always been one of my favorite cult/exploitation films and your incredibly detailed comparison between the theatrical and television versions just made my day! Thanks so much for providing so much great info and such terrific images from the TV cut.

    In case you're interested, I just finished reading George La Fountaine's original novel and it's almost entirely different from BOTH cinematic versions of the story.

    The most striking difference between the novel and the movie versions is the depiction of the sniper himself. The book goes into harrowing detail about the sniper's nightmarish childhood. His name is Norbert (?!) and he's the most fully realized character in the entire story. At one point in the novel, he's forced to watch his abusive father chop the heads off four newborn puppies! It's one of many wild flashback scenes that help explain why he commits such a monstrous act of violence at the stadium. In another flashback, he meets with a group of Black Panthers and tries to join their organization! Instead, they steal all his money and throw him out. We learn so much about him that he becomes surprisingly sympathetic at times. He's only 17 years old in the book, which gives the story a level of depth that I wasn't expecting.

    Very few of the subplots from the theatrical film are included in the novel, and there's no art theft material at all. The book itself begins with only 8 minutes left in the football game (which is clearly referred to as the Super Bowl, FYI). All of the action takes place over the course of approximately 30 minutes or less.

    Also, there are no sequences in the book where the crowd panics and runs for cover. Aside from the cops and two people in the stands who get shot, no one at the game ever learns that there was a sniper in the stadium. It's all kept very quiet.

    The book is rather fascinating and I highly recommend it to any/all "Two-Minute Warning" fans.

    Thanks again!

  12. Matt,

    Wow! Thanks for that fascinating info on the novel. I'm going to update my piece to make sure to point people to the comments to see what you wrote.


  13. I loved reading this! Thank you very much :)

  14. Great post and thanks for providing it. One question...I can barely remember watching the TV version of this film here in North America. Can you confirm that it was originally shown over TWO nights or not. Myself and a few friends were actually convinced the extra footage was to balance out the story over two nights of viewing to give the American network more advertising bang for it's buck. My memory might be playing tricks but I believe that's how it was originally done...over two nights.

    Great detail in your post...really enjoyed it.

    1. It played in a single night, over the entirety of prime time (three hours, 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. Eastern time). NBC's "The Big Event" was a series of specials that filled the prime-time slot.

  15. Superb work. Amazing that the extra cast members are not listed on IMDB or anywhere else for that matter.
    I can add these with character names for you:
    Michael Pataki as Gail, the driver
    Richard Seff as Emmett, Cooper Adams lawyer
    John Cunningham as Mr Baird, who interviews Cooper Adams
    Joseph Maher as Dr Irving Kaslov
    I'm still trying to work out who 'This Guy' is.
    I have seen him before, but for the life of me I cannot put a name to his face....

  16. Trevor,

    Thanks for the kind words and the extra cast info!


  17. Thanks for this wonderful comparison. I just watched the movie version and was wondering what happened to the whole museum theft story! I had no idea about all these changes — two different movies, really.

    1. Hello. I had no idea about the TV version either until like 1984 or so. My late parents saw the original version in the theater when it was released in 1976. When they showed the tv version in 1979, my father told me they had changed the entire story and plot around to suit the tv network standards. I found the unedited theatrical version on and bought it in 1992. Now I have both versions! I recorded the tv version off of cable tv back in 1984.

  18. I saw that this and EARTHQUAKE are getting a blu-ray release and I immediately thought of Vid Junkie.

  19. The Blu-Ray release includes the TV cut and notice that it is sourced from an off-air home video recording on TNT (complete with an announcer's voice during the end credits). The reason for that is because Universal's copy of the TV cut that was used for TV viewings was destroyed in the studio fire in 2008 that conceivably may have destroyed the other Universal 70s films that had expanded TV cuts. (the raw elements would still exist in the film vault but a new transfer would have to be created).

  20. Hello guys !!..... Thanks for all explanation . How can we get the television version movie ?
    Thanks !


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