When the Ending is the Movie

Earlier this week I wrote a post on the beginnings and endings of movies, which ones have better beginnings, which ones have better endings and which rare few have a great beginning and an ending.   I provided a caveat: “To be clear, I’m not talking about grand finales, that’s a completely different animal (and one I’d like to post on soon).  I’m not talking about the endings to big epics with special effects and explosions and the whole budget up their on the screen.”  I provided that caveat because I knew that’s what I wanted to talk about next.  There are plenty of movies where a grand finale or big finish is in order and while it is certainly a highlight of the film, the whole film offers quite a bit more than just the ending.   And then there are other movies where the ending is everything.  It’s not just the climax, it’s the whole movie.

Finale Kwai

Like I said, plenty of movies have big finishes, like The Bridge on the River Kwai (mentioned in the comments of the last post), that are a part of a bigger whole.   I love watching that movie from beginning to end but other movies have big finishes that I love taking in on their own, almost as if they were made just so they could film the finale.  Of course, big finishes have been part and parcel to Hollywood’s success for as long as spectacle was guaranteed to bring home the box office and it didn’t take long for Hollywood to figure out biblical epics and disaster pictures were custom made for the job.

One example is the reason this whole post starting formulating in my head in the first place, Cecil B. DeMille’s Samson and Delilah.  It got a full restoration last year and is now available in a beautiful copy on DVD and blu-ray but  when I was watching it, I have to be honest, I really only care about that ending, the destruction of the temple.  I mean, that’s what the whole movie’s there for, the big special effects finale and I’ll give it credit, it doesn’t disappoint.  Even viewed today, with moviegoers born and bred on sophisticated digital effects, it was damned impressive.  The integration of the miniatures and the optically inserted extras is as seamless as 1949 technology would allow and still, with those limitations, it’s quite a sight.  It was the biggest money maker of the year in the states and the second most in Britain and you can see why.  I’m sure plenty of people bought a ticket just to see that temple come down full screen.

An early example of the disaster picture that I love watching the end to is John Ford’s The Hurricane (1937).  It’s actually a fine film all the way through but that finale, when the hurricane hits?  Holy cow!  It’s amazing.  I once wrote a short post elsewhere on just how great the end of the movie is (which you can see here in all its glory).   It’s an incredible combination of full scale action with miniature setups and the actors getting as battered by the soundstage-produced wind and waves as they would in a real hurricane.  Heck, there are times during the finale where there’s a genuine concern for the actors on the set.  I don’t know how Thomas Mitchell managed to deliver his lines while being utterly assaulted by wind and water in a dinghy but, by God, he did and did it well.  His acting super powers were clearly not to be trifled with.

Of course, science fiction has always been good for this kind of thing, too.  One of my all-time favorite sci-fi/action movies is director Byron Haskin and producer George Pal’s 1953 War of the Worlds.  I’ve watched it more times than I can remember and love the big citywide destruction of the finale before the alien ships crash and burn having been exposed to our bacteria (I would’ve provided a spoiler but, come on, it’s War of the Worlds, who doesn’t know that story?).  Now this is a movie that is absolutely terrific from beginning to end so it’s not like you would just fast-forward to the ending to catch the big finale but you could and not be dissatisfied.  The design work by Al Nozaki on the alien ships and the model work of Los Angeles is the art of the special effect miniature at it’s zenith and the film revels in it, spending almost a third of the film on Los Angeles’ destruction.

Los Angeles

Sticking with the fifties for a moment more, and another Haskin/Pal collaboration, The Naked Jungle, with Charlton Heston and Eleanor Parker was a childhood favorite.  I never really cared for the story leading up to the climax (it’s rather clunkily done and a bit dull) but no matter because once Heston has to take on the ants, it’s all worth it.  No miniatures here.   There’s Heston, ants and water.  Lots of water.  Tons and tons of water.  And Heston (and stunt doubles) right there in the thick of it.  The movie was based on the short story, Leiningen Versus the Ants, by Carl Stephenson and, for the life of me, I can’t understand why anyone would change that title.  Give the movie a pulpy title like that, stick to repelling the ants for most of the story instead of just the climax and scrap the whole romantic subplot and you’ve got an all-time winner.  Instead, you have an average film made exciting in the last ten minutes.

Sometimes, though, even the big finish doesn’t really pay off.  When I saw Earthquake many years ago, I was honest with myself that the only reason I was watching it was for the earthquake effects at the end.    And those effects are very well done with great miniature and effects work by a lot of very talented people.  But, brother, that movie is bad.  Really bad.  Even the grand finale plays as kind of disjointed and feckless.   Great effects scenes are intercut with hopelessly dull live actor scenes and some not very well matched cuts between the two.

Another example of a not very good movie that you sit through just to see the ending is Raise the Titanic.  Again, the movie isn’t much to look at but the effects work on that ship coming out of the water is quite well done.  (And yes, I have video of that one, too, here - also, most of the others).

Now, one genre I’ve left out so far is the war film.  Many have great and glorious final battle sequences and many are quite well done but some of the best combined miniature/full-scale/stunt work I’ve ever seen employed in the service of a war film is Tora! Tora! Tora!  The movie details, in documentary-like fashion, the events of the sixth and seventh of December, 1941 leading up to the attack on Pearl Harbor.  It was pretty well panned upon its release but, really, it’s a very good film that creates a fair bit of tension and holds onto to it until the release of the attack.   And that attack sequence is extraordinary.  Amazing stunt work carries the day but fleeting shots of miniatures and plenty of pyrotechnics certainly help to carry the load.

Some movies have grand finales that are visually beautiful (Close Encounters of the Third Kind), some disaster-laden (Deep Impact) and some that are pure visceral excitement (Mad Max II: The Road Warrior) and the dividing line between the good and the bad is defined by how much that ending means to the whole movie.  If the ending stands out to the point that the rest of the movie is ignored or forgotten, it probably isn’t a very good movie.  If the ending feels like the natural extension of everything that came before, only more so, job well done.  Now, these are just some of my favorite big finishes but there are hundreds more awaiting their own due.  As for me, I will now exit this post with the finale you’ve all been waiting for… THE END!  (sorry, small budget)

35 Responses When the Ending is the Movie
Posted By Cary Watson : January 27, 2013 2:50 pm

Glad you mentioned Tora, Tora, Tora. Everything up until the attack is a bit dry and stiff, but the finale is amazing, and probably the last great action sequence that didn’t involve CGI. For my money no film beats the end of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: Tuco searching that massive amphitheatre-like graveyard; the 3-way shootout; and then Tuco standing on a grave marker with a rope around his neck. And Ennio Morricone’s score on top of it all! I’ve got a piece on it here:

http://www.jettisoncocoon.com/2012/05/film-review-good-bad-and-ugly-1966.html

Posted By Cary Watson : January 27, 2013 2:50 pm

Glad you mentioned Tora, Tora, Tora. Everything up until the attack is a bit dry and stiff, but the finale is amazing, and probably the last great action sequence that didn’t involve CGI. For my money no film beats the end of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: Tuco searching that massive amphitheatre-like graveyard; the 3-way shootout; and then Tuco standing on a grave marker with a rope around his neck. And Ennio Morricone’s score on top of it all! I’ve got a piece on it here:

http://www.jettisoncocoon.com/2012/05/film-review-good-bad-and-ugly-1966.html

Posted By andrew : January 27, 2013 3:01 pm

Begging forgiveness in advance for this post…
But that almost the ending part of James Cameron’s Titanic from when it hits the iceberg till Kate blows the whistle is great. Maybe not great enough to sit through the preceding 36 hours of drivel, but I really enjoyed that part.

Perhaps more on point is the the Laura Dern/Treat Williams flick, Smooth Talk, which makes me want to stab my eyes until Treat starts talking to her through the screen door. (How did he not become a huge star?)

Posted By andrew : January 27, 2013 3:01 pm

Begging forgiveness in advance for this post…
But that almost the ending part of James Cameron’s Titanic from when it hits the iceberg till Kate blows the whistle is great. Maybe not great enough to sit through the preceding 36 hours of drivel, but I really enjoyed that part.

Perhaps more on point is the the Laura Dern/Treat Williams flick, Smooth Talk, which makes me want to stab my eyes until Treat starts talking to her through the screen door. (How did he not become a huge star?)

Posted By Gene : January 27, 2013 3:17 pm

Good post. Hurricane is a great film with a truly wonderful climax. Have never been able to make it to the end of Earthquake because it is so painfully wretched. What this reminds me of is how many films I have seen over the last few years that are wholly redeemed by their ending. I can not count the times I have been debating leaving a theater altogether or thinking how to rate a film because it plods along without ever making me feel involved until that last 20-30 minutes. I seriously can’t think of a title off the top of my head because the ending, indeed, made the rest of the film worthwhile in retrospect.

Posted By Gene : January 27, 2013 3:17 pm

Good post. Hurricane is a great film with a truly wonderful climax. Have never been able to make it to the end of Earthquake because it is so painfully wretched. What this reminds me of is how many films I have seen over the last few years that are wholly redeemed by their ending. I can not count the times I have been debating leaving a theater altogether or thinking how to rate a film because it plods along without ever making me feel involved until that last 20-30 minutes. I seriously can’t think of a title off the top of my head because the ending, indeed, made the rest of the film worthwhile in retrospect.

Posted By Jennifer : January 27, 2013 7:59 pm

Yes, I wholeheartedly agree with you about Earthquake. I saw it when it came out because my mother wanted to see and feel all the special effects. All I came away with was soft drink soaked tights and a fear of earthquakes.

Posted By Jennifer : January 27, 2013 7:59 pm

Yes, I wholeheartedly agree with you about Earthquake. I saw it when it came out because my mother wanted to see and feel all the special effects. All I came away with was soft drink soaked tights and a fear of earthquakes.

Posted By Doug : January 27, 2013 10:54 pm

Just finished watching a movie with a GREAT ending: “The Blues Brothers”. Jake and Elwood saved the orphanage for the Penguin.
And a good time was had by all…except some Nazis and the Good Ol’ Boys.

Posted By Doug : January 27, 2013 10:54 pm

Just finished watching a movie with a GREAT ending: “The Blues Brothers”. Jake and Elwood saved the orphanage for the Penguin.
And a good time was had by all…except some Nazis and the Good Ol’ Boys.

Posted By jennifromrollamo : January 28, 2013 1:08 am

In Heston’s autobiography, he even panned Earthquake. I think I liked watching those disaster movies just to see which famous actor/actress would live and who wouldn’t. Didn’t Tora, Tora, Tora win an award for its special effects?

Posted By jennifromrollamo : January 28, 2013 1:08 am

In Heston’s autobiography, he even panned Earthquake. I think I liked watching those disaster movies just to see which famous actor/actress would live and who wouldn’t. Didn’t Tora, Tora, Tora win an award for its special effects?

Posted By jennifromrollamo : January 28, 2013 1:10 am

One other thought, I saw Samson and Delilah last year on TCM. I agree that the temple falling apart at the end is well done, but I would guess that it did such big box office here and in the UK was due to the two leads, Victor Mature and Hedy Lamarr.

Posted By jennifromrollamo : January 28, 2013 1:10 am

One other thought, I saw Samson and Delilah last year on TCM. I agree that the temple falling apart at the end is well done, but I would guess that it did such big box office here and in the UK was due to the two leads, Victor Mature and Hedy Lamarr.

Posted By Richard B : January 28, 2013 3:12 am

For me, the climax of Samson and Delilah is when Samson shoves against those pillars, suddenly there’s a grating of stone againsts tone, and the entire crowd falls silent. Everything that follows…even George Sanders fatalistically raising his cup in a toast to “Delilah!”…pales in comparison.

Posted By Richard B : January 28, 2013 3:12 am

For me, the climax of Samson and Delilah is when Samson shoves against those pillars, suddenly there’s a grating of stone againsts tone, and the entire crowd falls silent. Everything that follows…even George Sanders fatalistically raising his cup in a toast to “Delilah!”…pales in comparison.

Posted By swac44 : January 28, 2013 11:53 am

Wasn’t it Groucho Marx who said Samson & Delilah was the first film he’d seen where the male lead’s chest was bigger than the female lead’s? To be honest, I’ve never been that big on biblical epics, but maybe I should finally give this one a shot.

I’m still waiting for someone to make a film out of Grover the Muppet’s There’s a Monster at the End of This Book. You’d think a title like that would sell itself (it would make a great double feature with Monster a Go Go, where SPOILER ALERT!!! it turns out there was no monster).

Posted By swac44 : January 28, 2013 11:53 am

Wasn’t it Groucho Marx who said Samson & Delilah was the first film he’d seen where the male lead’s chest was bigger than the female lead’s? To be honest, I’ve never been that big on biblical epics, but maybe I should finally give this one a shot.

I’m still waiting for someone to make a film out of Grover the Muppet’s There’s a Monster at the End of This Book. You’d think a title like that would sell itself (it would make a great double feature with Monster a Go Go, where SPOILER ALERT!!! it turns out there was no monster).

Posted By DBenson : January 28, 2013 4:51 pm

Not a spectacle by any means, but Disney’s “Old Yeller” is all about the ending. Not the final fadeout but the REAL ending.

You could change it and still have a perfectly agreeable, if ordinary, boy & dog movie. But it seems the whole movie exists for that moment.

If you get the excellent two-disc DVD, watch the movie before you look at ANY of the bonus materials.

Posted By DBenson : January 28, 2013 4:51 pm

Not a spectacle by any means, but Disney’s “Old Yeller” is all about the ending. Not the final fadeout but the REAL ending.

You could change it and still have a perfectly agreeable, if ordinary, boy & dog movie. But it seems the whole movie exists for that moment.

If you get the excellent two-disc DVD, watch the movie before you look at ANY of the bonus materials.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : January 29, 2013 12:39 am

So we’re all agreed: Earthquake is terrible. Really terrible.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : January 29, 2013 12:39 am

So we’re all agreed: Earthquake is terrible. Really terrible.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : January 29, 2013 12:41 am

Andrew, funny because I thought about that one and then figured it was so much of the film (last third or more) that I didn’t include it but I’m in total agreement with you. Everything before the iceberg is insufferable.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : January 29, 2013 12:41 am

Andrew, funny because I thought about that one and then figured it was so much of the film (last third or more) that I didn’t include it but I’m in total agreement with you. Everything before the iceberg is insufferable.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : January 29, 2013 12:45 am

Jenni, Hedy Lamarr is always a selling point for me. Say what you will about her, I don’t care, I loved her.

Richard, you’re right. It’s a great moment when after all the laughing and jeering everything gets silent as the entire crowd has a collective “Uh oh” moment.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : January 29, 2013 12:45 am

Jenni, Hedy Lamarr is always a selling point for me. Say what you will about her, I don’t care, I loved her.

Richard, you’re right. It’s a great moment when after all the laughing and jeering everything gets silent as the entire crowd has a collective “Uh oh” moment.

Posted By tdraicer : January 29, 2013 2:41 am

>[Greg on The Naked Jungle]: I never really cared for the story leading up to the climax (it’s rather clunkily done and a bit dull)

Strongly disagree there; I think TNJ has one of the most adult romances of the era (and Parker was never sexier) during which they also neatly drop disquieting hints of the approaching horror without-if you ignore the advertising-giving the game away.

Posted By tdraicer : January 29, 2013 2:41 am

>[Greg on The Naked Jungle]: I never really cared for the story leading up to the climax (it’s rather clunkily done and a bit dull)

Strongly disagree there; I think TNJ has one of the most adult romances of the era (and Parker was never sexier) during which they also neatly drop disquieting hints of the approaching horror without-if you ignore the advertising-giving the game away.

Posted By Nim Kovak : January 30, 2013 12:53 am

* I have to say that what I love most about Samson & Delilah (all of it!) is the ludicrously over-the-top camp dialogue and manner among the principals!! … And yes, Lamarr is really stunning in that, as in everything she did — and didn’t I hear somewhere that someone discovered recently that she was also a secret science genius in her spare time?!?

* Compare it sometime with a film like Solomon & Sheba (also with a hammy Sanders of course) — in which an equally stunningly beautiful Lollobrogida acts throughout as though she were reading rigidly from a stationary teleprompter somewhere in outer space or something — painfully reminding us that beauty is best when mingled with intelligence and spark as with Lamarr

* For the category here, I’d nominate all of the Busby Berkeley movies in which the first 2/3 or 3/4 are always just mildly entertaining slogs leading up to mind-bogglingly stunning numbers and choreography all bunched up at the ends — if memory serves, this is more or less true of Dames, 42nd St., the Golddiggers films (although ’33 is wonderful enough to be well worth seeing all the way through even so) & etc.

Posted By Nim Kovak : January 30, 2013 12:53 am

* I have to say that what I love most about Samson & Delilah (all of it!) is the ludicrously over-the-top camp dialogue and manner among the principals!! … And yes, Lamarr is really stunning in that, as in everything she did — and didn’t I hear somewhere that someone discovered recently that she was also a secret science genius in her spare time?!?

* Compare it sometime with a film like Solomon & Sheba (also with a hammy Sanders of course) — in which an equally stunningly beautiful Lollobrogida acts throughout as though she were reading rigidly from a stationary teleprompter somewhere in outer space or something — painfully reminding us that beauty is best when mingled with intelligence and spark as with Lamarr

* For the category here, I’d nominate all of the Busby Berkeley movies in which the first 2/3 or 3/4 are always just mildly entertaining slogs leading up to mind-bogglingly stunning numbers and choreography all bunched up at the ends — if memory serves, this is more or less true of Dames, 42nd St., the Golddiggers films (although ’33 is wonderful enough to be well worth seeing all the way through even so) & etc.

Posted By B Piper : February 1, 2013 6:07 pm

Re: NAKED JUNGLE, there’s quite a bit of miniature work in the finale, virtually all of the action after the dam is blown.

The inverse of everything posted above would be DELUGE, which starts with an amazing sequence of Manhattan being devastated by a tidal wave and then is all downhill from there…

Posted By B Piper : February 1, 2013 6:07 pm

Re: NAKED JUNGLE, there’s quite a bit of miniature work in the finale, virtually all of the action after the dam is blown.

The inverse of everything posted above would be DELUGE, which starts with an amazing sequence of Manhattan being devastated by a tidal wave and then is all downhill from there…

Posted By robbushblog : February 11, 2013 2:38 am

How can so many of you hate Earthquake so much? Do you hate it because of Marjoe Gortner’s hammy acting and totally unnecessary character? Or do you hate it because of Victoria Principal’s afro wig? Those things are all to be celebrated…as 70′s era disaster cheese. I’ll tell you what though….Victoria looked hot in that skintight suit. That was worth some of the time wasted leading up to the big finale.

And Titanic: Good lord, leading up to the drawing scene it is terrible. It picks up with that scene, at least for most men, and then the iceberg hits. Once that happens, it’s hard to take your eyes off of the screen.

Posted By robbushblog : February 11, 2013 2:38 am

How can so many of you hate Earthquake so much? Do you hate it because of Marjoe Gortner’s hammy acting and totally unnecessary character? Or do you hate it because of Victoria Principal’s afro wig? Those things are all to be celebrated…as 70′s era disaster cheese. I’ll tell you what though….Victoria looked hot in that skintight suit. That was worth some of the time wasted leading up to the big finale.

And Titanic: Good lord, leading up to the drawing scene it is terrible. It picks up with that scene, at least for most men, and then the iceberg hits. Once that happens, it’s hard to take your eyes off of the screen.

Posted By moviemorlocks.com – I’m Tired: When Genre Exhausts Its Possibilities : September 25, 2013 6:30 pm

[...] focuses on all the sensational spectacle one would expect from a Cecil B. DeMille production (see an earlier post from me here talking about it).  Hollywood served up biblical epics for decades before they suddenly tanked [...]

Leave a Reply

Current ye@r *

MovieMorlocks.com is the official blog for TCM. No topic is too obscure or niche to be excluded from our film discussions. And we welcome your comments on our blogs and bloggers.
See more: facebook.com/tcmtv
See more: twitter.com/tcm
3-D  Action Films  Actors  Actors' Endorsements  Actresses  animal stars  Animation  Anime  Anthology Films  Art Direction  Art in Movies  Australian CInema  Autobiography  Avant-Garde  Aviation  Awards  B-movies  Beer in Film  Behind the Scenes  Best of the Year lists  Biography  Biopics  Black Film  Blu-Ray  Books on Film  Boxing films  British Cinema  Canadian Cinema  Character Actors  Chicago Film History  Cinematography  Classic Films  College Life on Film  Comedy  Comic Book Movies  Crime  Czech Film  Dance on Film  Digital Cinema  Directors  Disaster Films  Documentary  Drama  DVD  Early Talkies  Editing  Educational Films  European Influence on American Cinema  Experimental  Exploitation  Fairy Tales on Film  Faith or Christian-based Films  Family Films  Film Composers  Film Criticism  film festivals  Film History in Florida  Film Noir  Film Scholars  Film titles  Filmmaking Techniques  Films About Gambling  Films of the 1960s  Films of the 1980s  Food in Film  Foreign Film  French Film  Gangster films  Genre  Genre spoofs  HD & Blu-Ray  Holiday Movies  Hollywood history  Hollywood lifestyles  Horror  Horror Movies  Icons  independent film  Italian Film  Japanese Film  Korean Film  Literary Adaptations  Martial Arts  Melodramas  Method Acting  Mexican Cinema  Moguls  Monster Movies  Movie Books  Movie Costumes  movie flops  Movie locations  Movie lovers  Movie Reviewers  Movie settings  Movie Stars  Movie titles  Movies about movies  Music in Film  Musicals  Outdoor Cinema  Paranoid Thrillers  Parenting on film  Pirate movies  Polish film industry  political thrillers  Politics in Film  Pornography  Pre-Code  Producers  Race in American Film  Remakes  Revenge  Road Movies  Romance  Romantic Comedies  Satire  Scandals  Science Fiction  Screenwriters  Semi-documentaries  Serials  Short Films  Silent Film  silent films  Social Problem Film  Sports  Sports on Film  Stereotypes  Straight-to-DVD  Studio Politics  Stunts and stuntmen  Suspense thriller  Swashbucklers  TCM Classic Film Festival  TCM Underground  Television  The British in Hollywood  The Germans in Hollywood  The Hungarians in Hollywood  The Irish in Hollywood  Theaters  Thriller  Trains in movies  Underground Cinema  VOD  War film  Westerns  Women in the Film Industry  Women's Weepies