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Danny DeVito Digs Up Some Trimmings From His ‘Roses’

TIMES STAFF WRITER

It would be hard to find another director who has as much fun with the laser format as Danny DeVito does on Fox/Video’s special collector’s edition of 1989’s “The War of the Roses” ($70).

You can simply see and hear the movie as it was originally presented in the theater. But the real joy is listening to DeVito’s free-wheeling narration on analog track 1 and watching the 30 minutes of outtakes put together especially for this three-disc, five-sided set. From the sound of DeVito’s narrative, there are probably few directors who get such a kick out of directing or actors who enjoy their craft as much as DeVito.

His wicked chortle punctuates his commentary as much as his sly sense of humor permeates this dark film, which raised a lot of eyebrows for its uncompromising look at a marriage spiraling into Hades.

It feels as if DeVito’s sitting next to you on the couch, dipping into a fifth bowl of popcorn and letting you in on the delicious secrets of filmmaking, DeVito-style. He can barely contain himself. “God, do I love this picture!” he exclaims. He loved working with just about everybody: Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner (with whom he previously acted in “Romancing the Stone” and “The Jewel of the Nile”); German actress Marianne Sagebrecht; screenwriter Michael Leeson, who adapted the screenplay from Warren Adler’s book; production designer Ida Random.

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Most of all, it seems, he loved being the director: “When you’re a director you always get what you want . . . that’s the great thing about being a director!”

But he didn’t get everything he wanted--until this laser set. His first cut--3 hours, 4 minutes--was too long for a comedy, he says. So he forced himself to whittle it down to 1 hour, 56 minutes.

That cut doesn’t mean that DeVito let those frames go quietly into that good night. So now, for what may be the first time in home-video history, he takes us with great flourish on a tour of the cutting-room floor. Among the outtakes brought to light for this wide-screen laser release only:

* Four wonderful scenes that show Douglas and Turner alternately destroying each other’s most prized possessions, then avenging themselves on the other perpetrator: a prideful Douglas growing rare orchids in his home hothouse; the dead plants and blossoms, obviously Turner’s handiwork; a vengeful Douglas sawing the heels off her Imelda Marcos memorial shoe collection, and the falling bag of useless, heel-less shoes just missing Douglas’ head as they’re dropped off the second-floor landing.

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* Douglas blow-torching the fuse box, leaving Turner TV-less, light-less and air-less, arguably another scene that should have stayed.

* A revealing scene at the beginning of the film showing Turner’s unforgiving, unrelenting nature: She’s a waitress betting another waitress that she won’t fall in love before the summer is over. And she doesn’t take losing lightly.

* Another early scene shows Turner and Douglas getting to know each other after she has missed her ferry and before they go to bed that night.

Dogging the film since its release was the nasty rumor that after test screenings--"I like to do a lot of test screenings,” DeVito admits--the director inserted a close-up of Douglas’ pet pooch to make it clear that the dog hadn’t ended up as pate. “I so desperately wanted to kill the dog in my heart,” DeVito reveals, ". . . but I just couldn’t (do it).”

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DeVito doesn’t hesitate to talk about the great directors and scenes that he’s stealing from or, uh, paying homage to. “There are so many things I do that are lifted, you might say, from great masters. . . . (When) you grow up with this (industry) and you love it so much, you want to put it in your own work somehow. You’re influenced by it.”

You can go right to many of those scenes, or any of the other classic bits as we watch the Roses meet, marry, parry and destroy each other through chapter stops that have such enticing titles as “A Who-Can-Sink-Lowest-Fastest Contest” and “Was It Good for You?”

And all along the way, we have DeVito the character actor wanting us to take his mock-vanity seriously: “Boy, am I fat in this movie!” “When I look at the belly on me. Oh, God!”

One thing certain is that this laser disc is good for Danny DeVito, who’s obviously discovered a great way to have your cake and eat it too: Cut your film to fit theatrical distribution needs, but save all the outtakes for all the “hard-core discmaniacs” out there--DeVito chief among them.

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And, finally, after we’ve seen all the extra, added material, including storyboards and the full shooting script, the screen goes black and we hear the voice of DeVito’s ever-loving wife, Rhea Perlman: “You’ve milked this movie to death. It’s time to get on with your life already.”


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