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When you think of Rob Reiner’s 1990 adaptation of Stephen King’s horror novel Misery, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? It’s that brutal "hobbling" scene, right? A moment so vicious it’s become synonymous with the film. In the book, however, it plays out very differently, but the producers had to make a change because no one wanted to work on their movie.
In the novel, Annie (Kathy Bates in the movie), doesn’t bash Paul (James Caan) with a sledgehammer, she straight up cuts off his foot with an axe and cauterizes the wound with a propane torch. However, according to Yahoo, who recently dug into what has become an iconic moment in movie history, actors and directors who were interested in working on Misery kept bailing because of the brutality of this particular moment.
George Roy Hill (The Sting was attached to direct, but left because he couldn’t see himself filming "calling ‘action’" on that scene. Rob Reiner was a producer at the time, and after the troubles finding people to helm Misery ultimately took over the duties himself, though they still had issues finding actors. Warren Beatty was lined up to play Paul, a romance writer who has the misfortune to meet his biggest fan in the most twisted way possible, but opted out over concerns with this scene.
As you well know, they dialed the violence back some. Instead of lopping the foot off at the ankle, Annie places a board between Paul’s legs and smashes his joints with a sledgehammer. But even though it was restrained some from the original version, the scene gave many performers pause. In addition to Beatty, the list of actors who almost played Paul reads like an all-star roster and includes Dustin Hoffman, Michael Douglas, Harrison Ford, Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, William Hurt, Kevin Kline, Richard Dreyfuss, and Robert Redford. That’s an impressive, and a little bit insane, line up of could-have-beens.
In case it’s been while, take a look at the final scene as a refresher.
Even though it may have been toned down a bit, the scene is still plenty brutal. As it is, it’s become a notorious bit of cinema, and has been referenced in everything from The Simpsons and The Critic to Gilmore Girls and countless other shows and movies.
I know it’s not — no matter how broken an ankle is, there’s potential for it to heal, while a severed foot isn’t coming back — but somehow by changing the scene, Reiner and company almost made it even more brutal and nasty. Maybe it’s just that we see limbs get severed in movies all the damn time, but there’s something particularly visceral and disturbing about breaking bones, especially in this graphic manner. In reality it’s really no contest, but cinematically speaking, there’s a very good reason why this moment sticks with so many of us.