Friday, August 7, 2009

Never Mind: The Lost Saturday Night Live Movie

Contrary to popular belief, The Blues Brothers was not the first film to be based on a reoccurring Saturday Night Live sketch. That honor goes to Never Mind an unfinished and ill-conceived take on Gilda Radner’s doddering Emily Litella character.

In Never Mind, Emily Litella has outgrown her welcome at Weekend Update but because her brother (Garrett Morris, ha, ha, get it?) is one of the show’s producers she’s promoted as a news correspondent and sent to Munich to cover Oktoberfest. Unfortunately, thanks to one of Emily’s classic misunderstandings, she sparks a civil war between East and West Germany. Occasionally, the film digresses from this storyline and focuses on several tertiary characters such as Nick the Lounge Singer (Bill Murray) who struggles with his foreign audience at Oktoberfest, Beldar Conehead (Dan Aykroyd) as a French UN delegate who hates his job and Larry and Bobbi Farber (John Belushi and Radner) who are taken hostage by a rogue KGB agent played by Klaus Kinski.

Originally intended to be released during the fourth quarter of 1977, Never Mind boasted most of the original Saturday Night Live cast (Chevy Chase was conspicuously absent) in supporting roles and cameos. With SNL’s popularity peaking during this time it’s more than likely that Never Mind would’ve been a huge hit. So what happened? Why wasn’t the film ever finished?

Well, part of problem can be traced back to Lorne Michaels’ wrongheaded decision to hire Rainer Werner Fassbinder as the film’s director. Reportedly, Michaels was a big fan of Fassbinder’s comedy Satan’s Brew and felt that he was the best person for the job. Unfortunately, Fassbinder’s unique directorial style (e.g. verbally abusing anyone within earshot) didn’t ingratiate himself with the cast or crew. Fassbinder’s creative decisions only made things worse. The pacing was sluggish and odd while the cast was made to look as ugly as possible (particularly Radner whose neck was covered in gaping sores). The film also suffered from a downbeat ending in which Emily was accidentally shot to death by American troops. Things eventually came to a head during a scene between Radner and Kinski. When Radner was unable to convincingly portray hunger, Kinski kicked her in the stomach. Radner was then carried off the set and never came back. Producers briefly flirted with the idea of replacing Radner with Loraine Newman but quickly realized that it wouldn’t work. Shortly thereafter, Paramount pulled the plug on Never Mind.

Strangely, in spite of SNL’s status as an American institution, not much is known or has been written about Never Mind. In fact it’s not even mentioned in either Jeff Weingrad and Doug Hill’s A Backstage History of Saturday Night Live or in James Miller and Tom Shales’ Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live. Hopefully in the years to come more information will come out about this film.

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