At Disney’s annual shareholders’ meetings, invariably one or more conservative stockholders will stand up and whine about any of the non-family type films that slip through the Magic Kingdom’s gates each year. “Walt Disney would be turning in his grave if he knew” is a common refrain heard in reference to how the company’s founder might react to the studio’s more racy movies, which are made under Disney’s adult-oriented movie labels Hollywood Pictures and Touchstone, instead of the more traditional Walt Disney Pictures family film banner.
Well, Uncle Walt might well be doing back flips right now if he saw Hollywood Pictures’ forthcoming release “Color of Night,” an erotic thriller starring Bruce Willis and Jane March (“The Lover”) and directed by Richard Rush (“The Stunt Man”).
In the movie--for which Disney has postponed its April 29 release, possibly until late summer, to allow Rush more editing time--Willis plays an unconventional psychologist who, in an attempt to discover the murderer of a former colleague, takes over his deceased friend’s therapy group, in which he believes every patient is a suspect.
Meanwhile, Willis’ character, Bill Capa, meets and has a reckless, passionate affair with the beautiful young Rose (March).
Steamy bootleg outtakes from Willis and March’s love scenes are currently circulating around Hollywood.
It is certain that the estimated $40-million film, which was produced by Andy Vajna’s Cinergi Productions (and has a distribution deal with Hollywood Pictures), would never have been released in Disney’s day.
Rush said that he was given Disney’s complete blessing to “go for it” when it came to making the film as sexually explicit as he wanted.
“We had a meeting before we started shooting and I explained what I wanted to do in the film and they said, ‘Great, go for it, it sounds terrific,’ ” recalls Rush, referring to Hollywood Pictures President Ricardo Mestres and other executives present.
Rush added that he had heard Disney Studios Chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg “came to one of the previews and was extremely complimentary and warm about the film . . . they tell me he didn’t even get up for popcorn or to go to the bathroom like he usually does.”
Mestres concurs: “We’re making all kinds of movies . . . we were confident from the outset that Dick and Andy (Vajna) would always operate within the bounds of good taste.” He describes “Color of Night” as an “intelligent, very erotic, beautifully explicit thriller.”
As for those outtake scenes, which were obtained and viewed on videocassette by The Times, they show various underwater shots of Willis and March naked in a pool (though Willis keeps on his running shoes) engaged in various acts of lust. They also show the passionate couple’s bare bodies pressed against a glass shower door, as well as a very erotic scene in bed, accompanied by heavy breathing.
Rush, who garnered two Oscar nominations for “Stunt Man” (best director and co-screenwriter) and also directed such movies as “Freebie and the Bean” and “Getting Straight,” said that he has every intention of keeping his movie as provocative and sexy as he can.
Including Willis’ frontal nudity?
“Yes. I’d like to keep both shots where his genitals show,” says the director. “I haven’t had any trouble with Bruce on it.”
But the Motion Picture Assn. of America ratings board is having trouble with it, and took exception to several scenes after the director’s first cut was submitted.
If the outtakes, and even the trailer, are any indication, “Color of Night” would be hard pressed to get anything but an NC-17 rating, and it is well known that Disney does not release NC-17 movies. In fact, Rush is contractually obligated to bring the film in with an R.
The director says that what he finds annoying is that the MPAA board will not specify exactly what they object to. “They will only say, ‘The sequence that starts with this gives us trouble, fix it.’ ” An MPAA spokeswoman would only say, “All I can say is the film is unrated at this time.”
Rush said that the footage in question is what he calls “the big love montage,” a seven- or eight-minute sequence that starts in the pool, goes to the bedroom, the dinner table and ends in the shower.
The director noted that the MPAA did not object to some of the film’s other “daring love scenes,” like the ones between two female characters, one of whom is played by Lesley Ann Warren.
Rush said he was shocked that he “didn’t get a peep” out of the MPAA on yet another “daring” scene that takes place in a bathtub, where March is on top of Willis lying face up as a remote-operated toy tank “runs over her body from foot to head.”
However, the director said, “strangely, one scene I’m getting internal objections to (from Disney and Cinergi) hardly has any (frontal) nudity,” but involves a nude March serving dinner to a fully clothed Willis, whom she has instructed to put on a formal suit. Rush claims that even though he was told the scene was “too much,” no one is insisting it be cut.
The MPAA also took exception to some of the film’s violence, particularly the big murder scene, in which the hero’s friend is stabbed to death. Rush, who is steadfast in his position of not wanting to change much of the film, said that he will likely resubmit another cut to the ratings board in the next week or so.
He denied rumors that the film’s release was being pushed back because of various problems, including negative reaction from some test audiences to the cliffhanging ending that one source said “looks like a phony shot” and may require some reshooting.
“There have been questions about the ending and we’re trying some small variations of it,” admits Rush, who said that he has been told nothing of any reshoots. He is also working on “shortening the final love scene.”
But overall, the director says, “I personally am very happy with the movie, and for me I’m very pleased with the push back, because right from the beginning I said to everybody ‘This is a summer picture.’ ” Then, last week, “everyone agreed we weren’t giving it the polish it deserved.”
While Rush, Vajna (who is the film’s executive producer) and Disney officials all insist that the general reaction to the film at its various test screenings has been very good, one informed source said, “the plot was confusing and needs to be simplified because it takes so many twists and turns.”
Vajna, who said it has not yet been decided if any reshoots are needed, insisted that it was “totally my decision” to move the film’s release date. “We just felt the picture wasn’t ready and since we have such a wonderful picture why should we rush it out for a slot that was just hypothetically set before we had a finished product?”