First of two parts
When Roxanne, the hit Steve Martin movie filmed in Nelson, was released on DVD in 2000, it contained no deleted scenes or bonus features apart from the theatrical trailer.
This was a let down because we know some parts did end up on the editing room floor. (If you’ve never seen the film, or haven’t in a long time, best do so before reading further.)
But in 1997, Martin published his original screenplay, giving us some idea of what didn’t make the finished movie. What’s striking isn’t only what was left out but what was added.
When the film was released in 1987, Martin told the New York Times it was “almost depressing” how many big laughs came from improvised material. However, he considered “those spontaneous gags as much a part of the screenplay as anything I spent two and a half years creating.”
For instance, a scene where Martin’s character buys a newspaper from a coin box, screams in horror at the front page, and then spends another quarter to put it back was added after producer Dan Melnick had the dispenser placed on the street as a set decoration.
The finished movie is far better than the script and for the most part the deleted scenes don’t add much. Still, it’s interesting to learn what didn’t make the cut and imagine how it might have appeared in the film.
Roxanne was Martin’s adaptation of Edmund Rostand’s 19th century play Cyrano de Bergerac, about a man whose gigantic nose comes between him and the woman he loves. Martin starred as C.D. Bales, fire chief of Nelson, Wash., and Daryl Hannah as the lovely Roxanne, an astronomer in town for the summer.
One of the first things Martin had to figure out was where the movie would take place. “I needed a setting where people could run into each other on the street and be believable,” he told the Times. Martin lived in Aspen, Col. in the 1970s and decided a ski resort town “was the perfect size and everybody hung out in the same place.” The exact location was apparently chosen by the time the script was finalized, for Nelson is mentioned by name on the first page.
Martin began thinking about a modern-day Cyrano in 1983 and wrote ten screenplay drafts before showing it to Columbia Pictures in 1985. He eventually wrote another 15 drafts, although some versions only had a few scenes altered. (In 1990, Martin donated his drafts, revisions, and final shooting script to the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Centre at the University of Texas.)
“The secret was to have the courage to throw things away at any point when they didn’t seem to be working,” Martin said. “I’d get a better idea and it would affect everything else, so other things would go out of balance.”
Martin co-wrote most of his films to that point, but had never done a solo screenplay. Feeling insecure, he laboured at it 12 hours a day, and at one point asked Gore Vidal to write the movie, but he declined. Martin did, however, receive suggestions from Melnick and directors Herb Ross and Mike Nichols.
In one early version, Chris, C.D.’s rival for Roxanne’s affection, dies in a fire and several months later, Roxanne tells C.D. she’s pregnant and wants to raise the child with him. However, Martin decided killing Chris off was “arbitrary.”
“My big breakthrough was when I asked myself, ‘If I keep Chris alive, what is he thinking?’ and I realized that after his one night of glory, he would be tremendously uncomfortable with Roxanne.”
Script vs. film
The final shooting script had a slightly different opening, in which C.D. encounters several townsfolk, including a group of elderly women — known as The Biddies — who are obsessed with the TV show Dallas. He also runs into Mayor Deebs, played by Fred Willard, leading to one of the better exchanges of deleted dialogue.
C.D.: Congratulations, Mayor! It was a close race but you won …
Mayor: Well, no one likes to see their opponent die a week before the election … but it’s still a victory.
C.D.: So the recount is final then?
(A version of the mayor’s line can be overheard when Chris runs to the washroom after encountering Roxanne.)
Then comes C.D.’s famous duel with a couple of drunks at the top of Vernon Street involving ski poles and a tennis racket. The scene is expertly choreographed but the script describes the action in a single paragraph.
• When C.D. helps Roxanne, who is locked out of her home naked, he fails to realize she’s being ironic in refusing a coat. This leads to one of the movie’s more famous lines — “See, people ski topless here while smoking dope, so irony’s not really a high priority” — but it isn’t in the script.
• Once C.D. has Roxanne back in her house, she asks him how he became a firefighter. His reply isn’t in the movie, but foreshadows a late scene.
C.D.: Well, actually, I was in chemistry class and I smelled smoke. Nobody else smelled it. I kept insisting that I did. They thought I was just making a disturbance but sure enough, there was a fire inside the walls. Everybody got out in time, and I met the local fireman and I got along with them. All my friends were becoming drug addicts and I was swept up into being a fireman because of my extraordinary … gifts.
• Deleted dialogue from a bar scene includes C.D.’s friend Dixie, played by Shelley Duvall, offering to loan Roxanne her “extra Betamax” and giving her pills for a headache, noting “My mother sends them to me from Canada.”
• A photo in the Nelson Daily News of June 30, 1987 had the caption: “Roxanne art director Ian Baker, director [Fred] Schepisi, and producer Dan Melnick study a Nelson ‘you are there’ sign, part of a mostly-cut subplot satirizing small-town boosterism.”
The sign was under a shingled kiosk on Baker Street, opposite the Medical Arts Building. The script, however, only contains one reference to it, when Mayor Deebs asks C.D.: “Have you seen the new ‘You Are Here’ maps around town? They’re a tremendous hit.”
• A famous scene has C.D. coming up with 20 better insults for his own honker after a drunk can only think of “big nose” — echoing a similar speech in the original play.
After C.D. has delivered 19 zingers, he asks for a total and someone yells “Fourteen, chief!” So he adds six more, bringing the total to 25. Martin actually wrote 32 and in the script C.D. has rattled off 26 when he’s informed he’s only at 14.
These are the seven that didn’t make the final cut.
Sad: Oh, why the long face?
Deductive: With an eraser like that, there must be a mighty big pencil around here somewhere.
Helpful: If you’ve got some handles for that thing, you’d have a nice set of luggage.
Snide: Table for two?
Instructive: No, you’ve got it wrong. Let a smile be your umbrella.
Curious: When you sleep facedown, what does it do, retract?
Familiar: Aren’t you the great prognosticator, Nostrildamus?
• A scene in the script has Chris struggling to buy supplies in a stationary store, unsure how many sheets of paper he needs to send a letter to Roxanne.
• In another deleted scene, C.D. is perplexed when he spots the fire truck parked on the street. One of the firefighters emerges from the dry cleaners carrying laundry and explains “The wife was using the car.” The scene was filmed outside a former dry cleaner next to the Savoy Inn.
• In the movie, when Chris sees C.D.’s nose for the first time, he is mesmerized before blurting: “They said it was big … but I didn’t expect it to be … big!” The script has him instead beating around the bush: “I just want you to know that I’m not … you know, looking. But it’s not that I’m not looking. I am looking … just the right amount. Not too much, not too little.”
• Many minor characters have more prominent roles in the script, including Sandy the waitress who eventually takes off with Chris, and the town’s initially incompetent volunteer fire department.
One sequence not in the movie has the firefighters leaving their day jobs — including Mayor Deebs interrupted at a city council meeting — to respond to an alarm. When they’re annoyed to learn it’s only a cat in a tree, C.D. dresses them down.
C.D.: You have a cat, don’t you, Mayor? What’s its name?
C.D.: Well, this time it’s Snowball up there. But one day it could be Puff. Don’t you see? It doesn’t matter who’s up there. Puff, Snowball, or Puss-puss. That’s what firemen are all about! Now go!
• During shooting, Wait’s News was fitted with a sign that read the Blue Barrel – but it didn’t appear in the film. It’s not mentioned in the script either.
• From the script, we learn the background to a late scene, where a barn on Baker Street burns.
Chris: Is there a lot of, you know, fires here?
Dean: Well, we had one, a while ago, 1887. Some jerk left a cow in a barn with a lantern. Dumb. Dumb thing to do. Same thing happened in Chicago but they got all the publicity.
In the movie, Mayor Deebs explains his next gimmick — the Nelson promotional cow. But in a part that wasn’t included, he commemorates the city’s historic fire by placing the cow in the barn with a burning lantern.
C.D.: You can’t have the lantern.
Mayor: What? It’s nothing without the lantern.
Chris: I got news for you. It’s nothing with the lantern.
C.D: No, look, you can’t have it. Use a paper cutout. With little burning flames on it. Use a hologram. Anything. You can’t use a lantern.
Of course, C.D.’s fire safety advice is ignored and his firefighters are later tested in saving Bossy the cow from a charbroiled fate.
Next: The Coletti family’s Roxanne experience