With the release of “An Alan Smithee Film — Burn, Hollywood, Burn,” the Directors Guild of America’s all-purpose pseudonym for disowned films will make the unlikely move from cultish devotion to the realm of public knowledge. Recently, there was even an academic gathering devoted to the oeuvre of the fictitious director, the name put on more than 30 feature and TV films over the past three decades when the actual directors were too overcome with distress over the final results to live with their names appearing on them.
The first two films to have used the nom de film were “Fade-In,” actually directed by Jud Taylor in 1968, and “Death of a Gunfighter,” begun by Robert Totten and finished by Don Siegel the following year. The most recent picture signed by Smithee, of course, is “An Alan Smithee Film” itself, as original director Arthur Hiller pulled his name off the Joe Eszterhas-penned comedy when his original cut was significantly altered.
In between, there are 31 other pix in the Smithee canon, mostly films that scarcely surfaced at all and remain little-known today. Most notable are the longer TV versions of David Lynch’s “Dune,” the TV pic “Riviera” originally helmed by John Frankenheimer, the recut of “Backtrack” disowned by Dennis Hopper, and the heavily cut airline version of Martin Brest’s “Scent of a Woman.”
However, the possibility has now arisen that there may have been a real Alan Smithee. A half-hour 1955 TV drama called “The Indiscreet Mrs. Jarvis,” starring Angela Lansbury and directed by one Alan Smithee, has surfaced in the library of Rhino Video. Item predates the DGA’s invention of “Alan Smithee” by a good 13 years, but remains mysterious because there is no further evidence of such a director; the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, for starters, has no record of him. The writer of the show, Frank Burt, is deceased, and Angela Lansbury, contacted through her husband, Peter Shaw, has no specific recollection of the individual who directed her in the program.
Nor did the makers of “An Alan Smithee Film” suspect that there may actually have been a man with that name.
So, if he exists, will the real Alan Smithee please stand up?