(Warning: Do not read the following story if you have never seen — and intend some day to see — the movies Planet of the
Apes, Close Encounters of the Third Kind or Gandhi. You have been warned.)
Murder...arson...mass genocide...these are all ghastly crimes. But to my pal Bob, they are misdemeanors compared to the felony of
giving away the ending to a movie. Bob loves movies but he hates nothing more in this world than to have the denouement of a film tipped to him
I didn't know this about him until we went to see Planet of the Apes. Bob had heard it had a good, solid surprise ending
and he insisted we go see it the day it opened. The longer we delayed, the greater the chance that someone — a friend, a loudmouthed film
critic, someone — would tip the outcome. So we hustled over to the Pan Pacific Theater (which ain't there no mo') and got in line.
As we were waiting to get in, the performance before ours was letting out. A fellow who'd just seen the movie was walking past us
and he was telling everyone, just to be a rat, "At the end, he finds the Statue of Liberty. They've been on Earth the whole time!" Bob
couldn't help but hear this.
He screamed, "AUGGGHH!" in big, block letters (you could actually see them) just like Charlie Brown. The film, for him, was
ruined. "Let's go," he said.
"Go?" I pointed out that we had already paid for our tickets and I was jonesing for hot buttered popcorn or, for that matter, hot
"I don't care," he said. "What's the point? We know how it comes out."
"True," I replied. "But we don't know how it gets to that point and what it all means."
"Doesn't matter," Bob said with a decided pout. "I know how it ends. It's like knowing the final score of a baseball game
before you start watching it. How can I possibly enjoy the film now?"
I asked, "Didn't you ever see a movie twice?" He said sure...lotsa times. "Well," I reasoned. "The second time and
thereafter, you know how the movie ends."
"Yeah, but the second time you see a movie, it's to study. The first time, you go to watch it...and now I can't watch it."
The line was starting to head inside. "Well, come on," I told him. "Pretend this is your second viewing and you're here to
study." I dragged him inside and, while I enjoyed the film a great deal, Bob sat there sulking and squirming the whole time through. When
Charlton Heston finally happened upon the Statue of Liberty at the end, Bob shrugged and muttered, "Like he said..."
In the years following, I saw Bob go to great extremes to avoid learning the ending of a movie before he'd seen it. This became
increasingly difficult as the trend developed of promoting films via longer and longer trailers, "Making of..." documentaries, and stars going on
every talk show in creation and showing darn near the whole movie, one clip at a time. There are movies today I do not bother to attend because
to see them the first time would be like seeing them the second time.
Needless to say, Bob has learned to avoid reviews and promos and talk show clips until after he's seen a movie. If it's anything
he thinks he may like at all, he always tries to attend the day it opens.
One day in 1977, we were talking on the phone and he happened to mention that he was really looking forward to a new movie that would
be opening the following week. It was called Close Encounters of the Third Kind and, though Bob was doing all he could to evade the
advance publicity juggernaut, he'd heard enough to think it was a film he'd love. If only he could get to see it without hearing how it
"Gee," I told him. "I'm going tonight to an advance screening at the Academy..."
"DON'T TELL ME HOW IT ENDS," he screamed into the phone. Bob had recently perpetrated some sort of rotten trick on me, and he
feared that I might blurt out the ending, just to get even. Threateningly, he said, "Evanier, so help me, if you ruin this movie for me..."
"Bob," I said, "You have my word of honor..."
"You write comic books," he said. "You have no honor."
"Bob," I corrected, "You have my solemn promise. I will not reveal to you how the movie comes out."
That night, a date and I went to see Close Encounters of the Third Kind at the Academy's theater on Wilshire
Boulevard. We wound up seated next to Abe Vigoda, who was then playing the character Fish on the TV series, Barney Miller.
I said hello to Mr. Vigoda and mentioned to him that I was a scholar of comic books and that I knew his brother had once been an artist for the
Archie line. His response was along the lines of, "That's nice, who cares?"
The film started.
Years earlier, Mel Brooks lent his vocal skills to an Oscar-winning animated short entitled The Critic. The film consisted
of an array of abstract images and, throughout, one heard the voice of a disgusted old man (Brooks) verbalizing his bewilderment and disgust over
what was on the screen. At one point, he said something like, "This must be some kind of symbolism. I think it's symbolic of
It was a very funny film and, if you've ever seen it, you have experienced a rough approximation of sitting next to Abe Vigoda during
Mr. Vigoda hated the movie...or maybe he just didn't understand it. Either way, he sat there the entire time, not suffering in
silence but instead muttering, just loud enough that we and everyone for three rows around could hear...
"What the hell is this?"
"Why is he doing that?"
"Does anybody understand this thing?"
"Did this thing have a script?"
At first, people told him to shhh. But after a while, they all realized that not only was he not going to shhh, but
he was actually rather funny. I am against people talking in movies — this is why I so rarely go these days and why I bought a satellite
dish and a big-screen TV. Still, that night, it was very amusing to hear Mr. Vigoda cussing out Mr. Spielberg's movie. To this day,
whenever I see that clip of Richard Dreyfuss sculpting the mashed potatoes into a mountain shape, I cannot help but hear the voice of Fish snarling,
"What the hell is he doing that for?"
At the end, as we struggled into our coats, Abe was asking everyone what the movie was about. "Who were the aliens? Was
Richard Dreyfuss one of them? Is that why he got on the spaceship and went away?"
Naturally, I had planned to call Bob when I got home and ruin the ending for him. But Abe Vigoda's misunderstanding of what he
was seeing gave me a much more sinister idea.
The next day, I phoned my friend and told him I'd seen Close Encounters the night before. "Don't tell me anything how it
ends," Bob shouted. He was poised to hang up the instant it sounded like I might. I promised I wouldn't and we talked about other topics
for maybe twenty minutes.
At the end, just as we were both about to ring off, I said, "Oh, Bob, before you go...one more thing..."
"What is it?"
"Richard finds out he's an alien!"
"At the end, Richard Dreyfuss finds out he's been an alien all along."
There were gasps from the other end of the phone. Bob's reaction was exactly the same as if I had just whipped out a .357 Magnum
and shot him in the thigh. "I can't believe you did that to me, Mark," he choked.
"Bob, I didn't — "
"I thought you were my friend. This is a movie that I've been looking forward to for weeks and you just destroyed it for me."
"Bob, I was kidding. That isn't really the ending."
"No, it's too late. You told me. It's ruined." I tried to convince him otherwise but, fighting back tears, he told me
our friendship was over, done, finito, kaput, take a hike. Then he hung up.
A week later, a dispirited Bob dragged himself to see a matinee of Close Encounters of the Third Kind at the Mann Village
Theater. With zero enthusiasm, he waited in line, paid his money and loped into the theater. He wasn't going to go at all but there was
the chance — albeit a slim one — that something in the film would partially make up for the blown ending.
As the movie started, Bob kept nodding to himself: Yes, yes...it's so obvious. Richard Dreyfuss finds out at the end that he's
been an alien all along. Since he was aware of what was coming, Bob could spot all sorts of little clues...little indications that it would
soon be revealed that Roy Neary (the character Dreyfuss was playing) was from another world.
In fact, he started to think: Boy, this is so blatant, I'll bet everyone's figured it out by now.
At the end, Neary gets aboard the spaceship and heads for another galaxy. Bob could see it coming: The scene where Neary's memory
is restored and/or he is informed that he was a mole for the aliens, perhaps stranded many years ago on Earth. All along, his obsession with
space was not merely an Earthling's yearning for the endless possibilities of the universe but simple homesickness. That scene was surely
But instead came the end credits.
Everyone in the Mann Village applauded...everyone but Bob. He grabbed the person next to him and demanded, "Was Richard Dreyfuss
The grabbed person looked puzzled. "What are you talking about?"
"At the end! Did they say anything about how Richard Dreyfuss wasn't an Earthman? He was an alien all along?"
"What movie were you watching?" the person demanded.
Bob stormed out to the lobby, found a pay phone and called me.
"Evanier," he screamed. "You ruined the movie for me."
"I told you that wasn't the ending."
"I know you told me that wasn't the ending. But I sat there the whole time thinking it was the ending."
"So let me get this straight. You're mad at me now because I didn't tell you the ending?"
"Yes! I mean, no! I mean...I'm mad at you because you told me an ending...I mean...Oh, come on. You know
exactly why I'm mad at you." Bob then announced that, from that moment on, we were not speaking. Oh, we would still talk all the time and
go to lunch and to movies. But, as far as he was concerned, though we were talking, we weren't speaking.
One day a few months later, when we were talking but not speaking, he mentioned he was going to go see a new movie called The Big
Fix, which starred Richard Dreyfuss. I immediately said, "At the end, he finds out he's an alien."
Bob yelled, "This is a detective movie."
I said, "I know. It's a surprise ending." Bob hung up on me.
A few months after that, while we were again talking but still not speaking, he told me he was going to go see the new Clint Eastwood
movie, Every Which Way But Loose. I immediately informed him that, at the end, Richard Dreyfuss finds out he's an alien.
He shouted, "Richard Dreyfuss isn't even in this movie!"
"That's what makes it a real surprise ending," I told him. Again, he hung up on me. For the next few months, every time Bob
mentioned he was going to a movie, I told him that, at the end, it would turn out that Richard Dreyfuss was an alien. This got him
worried. He was very relieved, at the end of Gandhi, to see no trace of Mr. Dreyfuss or any extra-terrestrial beings. I, for one,
felt a void.
Then one day, it was announced that Mr. Spielberg had assembled a new "final cut" of Close Encounters. He was releasing it
with new footage as The Special Edition. "You going to see it?" I asked Bob. (By now we were speaking again...)
"No," he said. "I'm not taking any chances."