At the Vulture website for New York magazine this morning, there's an item linking to a post on The Overlook Hotel, a website devoted to "[e]phemera related to Stanley Kubrick's masterpiece of modern horror, 'The Shining'," concerning the deleted epilogue of the film. The post has stirred up a very slight flurry in my circle of Twitter, with one commentator expressing not entirely inapt amusement at a title card proposed in the epilogue in a draft of the screenplay, the relevant pages of which are reproduced in the post. "The Overlook would survive this tragedy, as it had so many others. It is still open every year from May 20th to September 20th. It is closed for the winter." The post at the site assures the reader, thought, that said title card probably didn't make it past the draft reproduced: "Clearly, the final text about the Overlook's history was an idea omitted in the writing process." Silly tone of the prose aside, it was probably obvious almost from the point that typewriter key hit paper that it would not do to go all Barry Lyndon in the context of a contemporary story.
"Even the many people who saw the epilogue when The Shining was first released have varying recollections of the exact details," the post observes. Indeed. I was one of those people. Well I recall the excitement building up to the May 23 1980 opening. My Close Personal Friend Ron Goldberg™, relatively fresh out of NYU Film School, had somehow or other acquired a one-sheet for the movie several months prior, and while we were not crazy about the pinscreen inspired Saul Bass graphic, it grew on us eventually. We knew we had to be there on opening day, and we Jerseyites were in luck, because one of the theaters in which it was opening was the Cinema One on Route 46 in Totowa, a pretty swank first-run then-single-screen theater constructed atop a short cliff of the side of the highway. We would be there for the first screening, one p.m. A bunch of us had been living in this dump in Orange from which we would soon be evicted for blasting Roxy Music records on Ron's Bose 901s at all hours (the landlord, who lived downstairs, was married to a nurse who worked odd hours and needed plenty of rest because "lives depend[ed] on her") but relations had recently been strained on account of Ron's girlfriend having been my girlfriend scant weeks earlier. While our shared cinephilia tended to transcend such relatively petty personal concerns, the rift meant that we'd all be coming in from different points in north Jersey, I from some form of an ancestral home. I had talked my 16-year-old younger brother Michael into playing hooky from school (it didn't take much); he had read Stephen King's novel a while before and was keen to see whether Kubrick was gonna be able to pull off all the hedge maze stuff. Ron turned up with his-current/my-former girlfriend Debra and this stout, gruff, not-quite hippie chick named Tonka, who was the lover of one of the in-and-out Orange roommates. She was the first lesbian my little brother had ever met, and I was so proud.
Anyway. The Overlook post quotes Diane Johnson as saying that "Kubrick felt felt that we should see them in the hospital so we would know that they were all right. He had a soft spot for Wendy and Danny and thought that, at the end of a horror film, the audience should be reassured that everything was back to normal." The epilogue as I remember it did nothing, or at least very little, of the sort. As the Overlook says, people's recollections vary. I don't recollect any interaction between Ullman and a reception nurse, or Ullman with Danny. (The above picture is a continuity Polaroid from the set, so obviously such an exchange was shot.) I can almost swear that the exchange in which Ullman tosses a ball to Danny was not in the sequence. I mainly remember the exchange between Ullman and a still-shaken Wendy in which he recounts to her, in terms more officious than comforting, that there was no physical evidence that any of the phenomena she claims to have witnessed at the Overlook, e.g., gallons of blood gushing from the elevators, ever actually occured. Barry Nelson's portrayal struck me more as manager trying to steer an ex-employee away from a lawsuit than a caring former boss. Of course that could just have been my anti-authoritarian streak, a common trait in twenty-year-olds.
This was not really a "return to normal" kind of scene, in other words. It left more of a "what the hell happened" feeling in this viewer. We knew that Danny and Wendy had survived; Danny getting pulled into the Sno-Cat and that vehicle driving away had a very satisfying modern fairy-tale feel to it. The hospital scene threw us into a state of doubt again.
I also recall the placement of the scene differently than how it's described on the Overlook site. The post says it's "located between the shot of Jack frozen in the snow and the long dolly shot through the lobby that ends on the July 4, 1921 framed photo." Oddly enough, my own recollection is that the scene occurs after the shot of the Sno-Cat taking off. There was then a blackout, then the hospital scene, and then the shot of Jack frozen in the maze, then the lobby shot. Of course this makes no sense. Obviously if the Overlook people had been able to check out the hotel and insure that the elevators had not been flooded with blood and so on, they would also have discovered and disposed of Jack Torrance's mortal remains while on the job, and hence he would not be sitting frozen in the maze after Ullman had debriefed Wendy. On the other hand, the placement makes sense in terms of delivering a final shock to viewers, and also linking the mad dead Torrance to the droll champagne-glass-holder of 1921. We'll never know who's right, or who's "right," but again, that's how I remember it. (Roger Ebert's musings on the epilogue, cited in the Wikipedia entry on the movie, have Ullman saying that Jack's body was not found during the investigation, which would make the placement of Jack in the maze after that scene make a sort of sense/nonsense; my recollection of the scene does not have that dialogue and neither do the script pages reproduced in the Overlook post.)
The reason I had/have such a strong impression of the missing ending is because I ended up seeing The Shining again, with at least one of the same party, pretty shortly after seeing it the first time, and being flummoxed by the absence of the hospital scene. Ron did some investigating, and according to the story he told me, on the evening of the first day of screening, Warner Brothers had dispatched a batallion of in-house editors, armed with razor blades and Scotch tape and a memo from Kubrick himself, to every theater that had a print of the film, and sliced out the scene and taped the reel back together, and that was that.
As I've said elsewhere, The Shining kind of became our social activity that summer. It was like a remake of Marty, only we were idiots: "Whaddya wanna do tonight?" "I dunno, whaddya wanna do tonight?" "Wanna go to The Shining?" "Sure." Think we saw it nine times before September. Ace picture!
UPDATE: I was so caught up in describing the more comic/picaresque aspects of my first Shining outing that I forgot to include one crucial member of our party, Joseph Failla, who as of 1980 had been my stalwart movie-going mate for over a decade. He too was there, and he e-mailed his thoughts last night:
"It's funny how we can remember the same event so differently particularly since I was sitting right next to you at the time. As I recall, the deleted SHINING footage does indeed begin just after the shot of Jack Nicholson frozen in the snow and finishes on that long track down the hotel hallway into the black and white photo. It should be mentioned that the footage ends as a dissolve and not the quick cut that we see in the film today. The transitional shot originally started on a close up of Shelley Duvall and then slowly fades, revealing more of the corridor further back, so you could not yet tell where we were headed as the pictures on the wall were too small to make out.
"So does the scene add any weight or clarity to the movie at all, or does it just puzzle the audience even more? I'm not sure if the ending as is, can tidy things up any better than what we first saw in 1980, but having seen the footage as part of the film, it's hard even today to ignore my memory of it. Keep in mind the European version of THE SHINING is further cut to under 2 hours, removing a substantial 25 minutes of more material we have always had access to. The cuts amount to numerous trims of existing sequences including the entirety of Anne Jackson's scene as a doctor examining Danny and questioning Wendy. The removal of that scene would take us directly from Danny's nightmare, to the family's drive up the winding highway to the Overlook. It's a possible smoother segue but it does rob the film of a memorable 'shining' moment when Wendy explains to the doctor how Jack nearly dislocated Danny's shoulder by pulling his arm too hard as, 'Just one of those things...'. "
Looks like we have a potential Shining Rashomon here. Maybe I'll ask MCPFRG™ and my brother how they remember the ending. I don't know about Debra though. As for Tonka, she's MIA.