Missing in action: the movies you never get to see the start or end of

Mark talks about the strange way that some movies elude your attempts to watch them…

film reel

Ever had a movie that actually seems to evade your attempts to watch it? No, seriously. I’m talking about a movie that either you never get to see even if you wanted, or more curiously, those films that, for whatever reason, you never get to see the beginning or end of?

I’ve had a few of these, where, for whatever coincidental events, I would always tune to the film after it had started, or something would happen meaning I’d never see the conclusion. This phenomenon started personally for me with the classic Disney 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954). My memories of exactly what year it was are a little vague now, but my guess is that I would have been six or seven when my sister (who is six years older) was empowered to take me and my school mate to see this on re-release in the UK.

At the time I was growing up in St Helen’s, Lancashire, and there were, I think, only two cinemas in town. We got in early, found a comfy seat in the ‘circle’ and waited for deadly submarine on giant squid action to be unleashed.

The movie started, but seemed oddly free of James Mason or Kirk Douglas, although it did have ocean scenes. After about 20 minutes we’d concluded that my sister, not one for details as such, had actually taken us to the wrong cinema, and used most of our money to take us to a wildlife documentary.

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We left abruptly and header over to the other one, where we only had enough cash left for the ‘stalls’. In doing so, I missed the first 20 minutes of that movie, and for at least 25 years I managed to miss those events, as at every point our paths intercepted I’d always tune in at the point where Kirk and friends were already on the Nautilus.

The advent of video recorders had no impact whatsoever on this, as it would fail to kick in at the right time, or even refused to record, or mysteriously change channel.

In recollection,  I was at least 25, maybe even 30 years old before I managed to see the start of this movie and understand how they came to be shipwrecked.

But it wasn’t the only movie that seemed intent on not been seen in its entirety. The classic John Wayne movie Chisum (1970) was one where I found it nearly impossible to see the ending. In fact, as I recall (and I might be entirely wrong here in my recollection), I’d tuned in to view that exact part of this movie on BBC1 on a Bank Holiday Monday in 1980, the 5th of May, to be exact. Things progressed as I’d remembered from a previous attempt to see it, right up until approximately 7.30pm that evening, where the movie took a rather odd and unexpected turn.

Suddenly, instead of the Duke riding high, speaking slow and shooting fast, it now had strange men dressed entirely in black blowing out the windows of what looked like a classic London residence built in the Georgian period. At the crucial part of the movie for me, the BBC had cut away, entirely unannounced, to cover the Iranian Embassy Siege.

But often such obscure occurrences weren’t to blame. I just got tired, or the phone rang, or someone turned up with a computer to fix.

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Other films I’ve had problems seeing the end of included Lawrence Of Arabia, The Long Kiss Goodnight (at least four attempts before I got that ending seen), Heat, The Shining and One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. I’ve managed to snag all those through perseverance, but some of them it took a good number of tries.

What’s really odd about most of the examples I’ve mentioned, is that, for the most part, the bits I missed weren’t much of a revelation when I did see them. It was more the frustration of there being parts I hadn’t seen.

I could form some clever Schrödinger’s Cat hypothesis that the exact plot of the film is never really defined until you’ve seen it all, but that wasn’t my purpose here. I was more interested to find out if this was something that was special to me, or was it a common thing among those who love movies.

Have any movies been like this for you? Or is it just me who has had this experience?