The End (1978)

R | 94 mins | Black comedy | 1978

Director:

Burt Reynolds

Writer:

Jerry Belson

Producer:

Lawrence Gordon

Cinematographer:

Robert Byrne

Editor:

Donn Cambern

Production Designer:

Jan Scott

Production Companies:

United Artists Corp., Lawrence Gordon Productions, Burt Reynolds Productions
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HISTORY

       In a 7 May 1978 article for LAT, screenwriter Jerry Belson described how The End eventually made it to the screen after seven years. In 1971, he read an article in the International Herald Tribune about a coma patient who left instructions to be removed from life support. Despite the fact that his family tried to honor his wishes, the medical system denied the request. As a result, the man was in a coma for eleven years, which caused financial and emotional difficulties for his wife and parents. Within a year, Belson turned the tragic story into a dark comedy. After a lengthy period of rejection, he considered reconstructing the screenplay for television. When actor and director Burt Reynolds and producer Lawrence Gordon decided to develop the project together, they also faced resistance because of the subject matter. It was not until the success of Reynolds’ Smokey and the Bandit (1977, see entry) that they were able to secure financing through United Artists Corporation. Although Belson does not mention it, another article in the same issue of the LAT stated that he originally wrote the screenplay with Woody Allen in mind. In a 10 Jun 1977 NYT article, Reynolds is quoted as saying that the film “‘was originally written for somebody like Woody.’”
       The film represented a professional reunion for Myrna Loy and Pat O’Brien who had previously acted together in Consolation Marriage (1931, see entry). A column in the 15 Aug 1977 Canyon Crier noted that Reynolds marked the ... More Less

       In a 7 May 1978 article for LAT, screenwriter Jerry Belson described how The End eventually made it to the screen after seven years. In 1971, he read an article in the International Herald Tribune about a coma patient who left instructions to be removed from life support. Despite the fact that his family tried to honor his wishes, the medical system denied the request. As a result, the man was in a coma for eleven years, which caused financial and emotional difficulties for his wife and parents. Within a year, Belson turned the tragic story into a dark comedy. After a lengthy period of rejection, he considered reconstructing the screenplay for television. When actor and director Burt Reynolds and producer Lawrence Gordon decided to develop the project together, they also faced resistance because of the subject matter. It was not until the success of Reynolds’ Smokey and the Bandit (1977, see entry) that they were able to secure financing through United Artists Corporation. Although Belson does not mention it, another article in the same issue of the LAT stated that he originally wrote the screenplay with Woody Allen in mind. In a 10 Jun 1977 NYT article, Reynolds is quoted as saying that the film “‘was originally written for somebody like Woody.’”
       The film represented a professional reunion for Myrna Loy and Pat O’Brien who had previously acted together in Consolation Marriage (1931, see entry). A column in the 15 Aug 1977 Canyon Crier noted that Reynolds marked the occasion by hosting a celebration on the film’s set at the Goldwyn Studios in Los Angeles, CA.
       Filming began 11 Jul 1977, according to a 24 May 1977 HR brief. In addition to the Goldwyn Studios, the production used locations in Santa Barbara, CA, as noted in a Box brief dated 22 Aug 1977. A photograph of the cast and crew appeared in the 17 Oct 1977 issue of HR along with the announcement that principal photography had wrapped, “two days ahead of schedule.” The production budget was listed as $3 million in the 7 May 1978 LAT article.
       The world premiere occurred on 7 May 1978 at Filmex, the Los Angeles International Film Exposition, and was the closing night selection, according to the festival’s program.
       The reviews were generally poor. Most critics recognized that Reynolds was attempting a different image by donning a beard and embracing a selfish character, but they singled out his direction and the script as ineffectual at tackling dark humor and also wasting the talents of the supporting cast. In his 11 May 1978 LAT review, Charles Champlin described the film as “a succession of confrontations, like skits in a very long variety show.”
       Certain Polish-American groups criticized and protested the film’s Polish jokes, primarily performed as a monologue by Dom DeLuise’s character, “Marlon Borunki.” An article in the 8 Nov 1978 Var reported that an estimated thirty-five people, including the Mayor of Amsterdam, N.Y., picketed the 7 Nov 1978 opening at a theatre in Amsterdam, a city with a sizable Polish population. According to an item in the 10 Jul 1978 LAT, the Milwaukee, WI chapter of the Polish American Congress threatened to sue the production based on the state’s consumer protection laws. Furthermore, they requested that the film’s advertising include a warning about offensive subject matter, which the state’s attorney general declined to mandate as stated in a Var brief from 12 Jul 1978. In a separate challenge, Leonard Jarczab, who described himself as the leader of the Polish American Guardian Society, filed a one million dollar lawsuit against United Artists and the film’s production company. A 9 Jul 1981 DV article announced that after two years a circuit court judge in Chicago, IL ruled in favor of the production, determining that the jokes in the film were not libelous. An appellate court in Massachusetts dismissed a similar lawsuit by the same organization, as reported in a HR legal brief dated 20 Mar 1981. For that case, the Society also claimed “emotional distress.”
       In contrast, an item in the 23 May 1978 LAT mentioned that Orson Welles wrote a “five-page fan letter” to Reynolds, describing how “truly impressed” he was by the film.
      The film contains two songs, which are not acknowledged in the screen credits: "Another Fine Mess," written by Paul H. Williams and "My Way," written by Paul Anka, Claude François, Jacques Revaux and Gilles Thibaut.
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SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
22 Aug 1977.
---
Canyon Crier
15 Aug 1977.
---
Daily Variety
9 Jul 1981.
---
Hollywood Reporter
24 May 1977.
---
Hollywood Reporter
30 Jun 1977.
---
Hollywood Reporter
1 Jul 1977.
---
Hollywood Reporter
28 Jul 1977.
---
Hollywood Reporter
25 Aug 1977.
---
Hollywood Reporter
17 Oct 1977.
---
Hollywood Reporter
28 Apr 1978.
---
Hollywood Reporter
3 May 1978
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
20 Mar 1981.
---
Los Angeles Times
7 May 1978
Calendar, pp. 32-33.
Los Angeles Times
11 May 1978
p. 1.
Los Angeles Times
23 May 1978.
---
Los Angeles Times
10 Jul 1978.
---
New York Times
10 Jun 1977.
---
New York Times
10 May 1978
p. 21.
Variety
3 May 1978
p. 26.
Variety
12 Jul 1978.
---
Variety
2 Aug 1978.
---
Variety
8 Nov 1978
p. 3, 26.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
A Lawrence Gordon/Burt Reynolds production
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Unit prod mgr
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
PRODUCERS
Exec prod
Assoc prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
1st asst cam
2d asst cam
Stills
Head elec
Key grip
Photographic equip by
Lab processing
Videotape systems op
Best boy
Lamp op
Best boy grip
Dolly grip
Goldwyn Studios best boy
ART DIRECTOR
Prod des
FILM EDITORS
Asst film ed
Apprentice film ed
SET DECORATORS
Prop master
Asst prop master
Const coord
Standby painter
Set des/Sketch artist
Set des
Const foreman
Leadman
Swing gang
Swing gang
Greensman
COSTUMES
Cost supv
Men`s cost
Women`s cost
MUSIC
Mus arr and cond
SOUND
Boom op
Re-rec mixer
Supv sd ed
Asst sd ed
Cableman
VISUAL EFFECTS
DANCE
Choreog
MAKEUP
Hairdresser
PRODUCTION MISC
Scr supv
Prod secy
Asst to prod
Asst to prod
Casting
Casting
Prod asst
Prod accountant
Asst auditor
Craft service
Transportation capt
Transportation cocapt
Transportation
Transportation
Transportation
Transportation
Dir's secy
Prod's secy
Exec prod's secy
Auditor's secy
STAND INS
Stunt coord
SOURCES
SONGS
"Another Fine Mess," written by Paul H. Williams, performed by Glen Campbell, published by EMI Music
"My Way," written by Paul Anka, Claude François, Jacques Revaux and Gilles Thibaut, performed by Frank Sinatra, published by Chrysalis Standards Inc.
DETAILS
Release Date:
1978
Premiere Information:
Filmex screening: 7 May 1978
Los Angeles and New York openings: 10 May 1978
Production Date:
began 11 July 1977
Copyright Claimant:
United Artists Corporation
Copyright Date:
11 January 1979
Copyright Number:
PA20895
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Prints
DeLuxe®
Duration(in mins):
94
MPAA Rating:
R
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
25153
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

At the doctor’s office, Wendell Sonny Lawson, a real estate agent in Southern California, is told that he has a toxic blood disease and only three months to a year to live. His stomach aches and he is depressed, but otherwise, he feels reasonably fine for someone who is dying. Dr. Samuel Krugman, a hematologist, explains that he is probably in remission, a stage where patients often appear radiant. Krugman mentions treatment options, such as removing the spleen and bone marrow injections, but Sonny refuses, determined to face his death with dignity by not revealing his fate to anyone. Oblivious to others around him, Sonny sobs loudly in the elevator. Outside the medical building, he sees a funeral procession drive by and follows in his convertible, nagging the mourners with questions about the deceased’s cause of death. Veering in front of a Catholic church, Sonny decides to go inside. He tells a boyish, inexperienced priest that it has been twenty-two years since his last confession and admits to scandalous real estate sales and committing adultery two hundred times during his marriage. At the Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, Sonny takes a peek at the terminally ill patients and upon seeing them bed-ridden and tethered to tubes, he makes up his mind to not find himself in the same state. Hastily, he tracks down Marty Lieberman, his best friend and attorney, to inform him about the fatal disease and his plan to kill himself. When Marty asks how, Sonny says he will take sleeping pills because it seems like the least painful method. Despite his intentions otherwise, Sonny shares ... +


At the doctor’s office, Wendell Sonny Lawson, a real estate agent in Southern California, is told that he has a toxic blood disease and only three months to a year to live. His stomach aches and he is depressed, but otherwise, he feels reasonably fine for someone who is dying. Dr. Samuel Krugman, a hematologist, explains that he is probably in remission, a stage where patients often appear radiant. Krugman mentions treatment options, such as removing the spleen and bone marrow injections, but Sonny refuses, determined to face his death with dignity by not revealing his fate to anyone. Oblivious to others around him, Sonny sobs loudly in the elevator. Outside the medical building, he sees a funeral procession drive by and follows in his convertible, nagging the mourners with questions about the deceased’s cause of death. Veering in front of a Catholic church, Sonny decides to go inside. He tells a boyish, inexperienced priest that it has been twenty-two years since his last confession and admits to scandalous real estate sales and committing adultery two hundred times during his marriage. At the Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, Sonny takes a peek at the terminally ill patients and upon seeing them bed-ridden and tethered to tubes, he makes up his mind to not find himself in the same state. Hastily, he tracks down Marty Lieberman, his best friend and attorney, to inform him about the fatal disease and his plan to kill himself. When Marty asks how, Sonny says he will take sleeping pills because it seems like the least painful method. Despite his intentions otherwise, Sonny shares the news of his imminent death with his girlfriend, Mary Ellen. While she lies on the bed in her negligee and bawls, Sonny becomes aroused and persuades her to make love. Afterwards, she is worried that Sonny’s despair will cause him to do something crazy, but he reassures her by agreeing to return that evening. Without giving a reason, Sonny asks his ex-wife, Jessica, for sleeping pills. She refuses, and their bickering becomes a heated argument before Jessica leaves on a date with her Latin lover. Next, Sonny visits his parents, Maureen and Ben Lawson, who have plenty of sleeping pills in their medicine cabinet to give him. From there, Sonny picks up his daughter, Julie, and takes her for an outing at a miniature golf park to impart some fatherly advice about sex. Julie becomes upset when Sonny explains that he is going away for a while. Although he assures her that he is coming back, she suspects that he is sick. He manages to cheer her up by swearing that he is not going to a hospital. At home that evening, Sonny looks through a photo album of himself. On his first suicide attempt, he spits out sleeping pills after taking them with sour milk. Grabbing a vodka bottle, he successfully swallows a handful of pills and waits for something to happen, until he realizes that he forgot the suicide note. After some indecision, he addresses it to his daughter. Sometime later, at the La Playa psychiatric hospital, Sonny wakes up cursing. Sitting next to his bed is Marlon Borunki, who describes himself as a paranoid schizophrenic. Marlon becomes excited when he recognizes Sonny from his real estate ads on television and reports that Sonny was transferred from the hospital to La Playa after a failed suicide attempt. While Sonny listens in astonishment, Marlon chatters incessantly on a variety of topics, including an account of strangling his father because he was Polish. After Sonny complains that there is nothing in the room with which to end his life, Marlon suggests crushing his head within the metal rails of the electric bed. At that moment, the attendants enter and take Marlon back to his wing in a straightjacket. When Jessica and Marty arrive, they find Sonny screaming as his skull is pressed inside the bed frame. The hospital director, Dr. Waldo Kling, immediately orders all the dangerous beds replaced, creating chaos in the hallway. Meanwhile, a depressed Sonny pulls Jessica aside to talk, and they attempt to be civil with each other. Later, Sonny consults with Dr. Maneet, a cheerful death therapist, who also suffers from a fatal condition, heart disease, and could die at any time. Maneet thinks that Sonny does not actually want to commit suicide and harbors feelings of guilt. When the doctor reads aloud the apologetic note Sonny wrote to his daughter, Sonny becomes enraged. He bangs on the door and the desk with his hand, until he is reminded how much he hates pain. Thanks to Maneet’s optimism, Sonny starts to reconsider the benefits of death therapy. At that point, the doctor collapses in front of him from a heart attack. On the grounds of La Playa, Marlon tries to help Sonny find a method of suicide that will not hurt. He takes Sonny to the Tower, a possible location for jumping to his death. In an effort to push Sonny from the ledge, Marlon falls off instead and upon landing agrees with Sonny that the Tower is not high enough for suicide. After Marlon presents Sonny with the gift of a rope, they rig a hanging, until Sonny recoils from the initial pain. Determined to try the next attempt on his own, Sonny steals a gardener’s pickup truck and crashes through the gates of La Playa. Marlon jumps into the bed of the truck and escapes with him. At the end of a daredevil ride, Marlon leaps off the truck in excitement, allowing Sonny to drive away without him, but Marlon is able to follow him after seizing a nearby car. At Mary Ellen’s house, Sonny finds his gun and threatens to shoot himself if she calls the police. While Sonny holds the gun to his head, Mary Ellen helps him change from his hospital clothes to a sweatsuit. As soon as she admits that she removed the bullets, the gun accidently fires, bursting a pipe. Frustrated, Sonny leaves and drives to the shore. Leaving the gun inside the truck, he climbs down to the beach and swims out to sea as far as he can. He holds his breath and goes underwater. While his heart beats faster, he hears the voice of his daughter, which prompts him to spring to the surface. He declares out loud that he wants to live. Struggling to swim back to shore, he promises to be a better man and to give God fifty percent of his profits. As he is catching his breath on the beach, Marlon shoots at him, until the gun runs out of bullets. Sonny yells at Marlon to stop trying to kill him because he does not want to die anymore, but Marlon says that he only wants to help. Angry, Sonny threatens to strangle Marlon until Marlon states that he understands Sonny’s change of heart. They hug in friendship and roll in the surf. Suddenly, Marlon pulls a knife on Sonny and chases him down the beach. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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