Reel Life: 5 Stories Hollywood Fudged in the Movies

The following is an article from Bathroom Readers' Institute 13th edition Uncle John's All-Purpose Extra Strength Bathroom Reader.

They say art imitates life, but sometimes the facts get screwed up. And in Hollywood, truth inevitably takes a back seat to drama. Here are a few examples.

The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957, Alec Guinness, William Holden, Sessue Hayakawa)

The movie plot: British POWs in WWII Burma are forced to build a railway bridge for their cruel Japanese captors. Using superior British know-how, they succeed. British commander, Col. Nicholson takes such pride in the construction that at first he defends it against saboteurs, but then comes to his senses and blows it up himself.

The real story: The POWs actually built two bridges. And they used Japanese know-how, not British. The Japanese weren't all cruel. In fact, the real British commander, Lt. Col. Toosey, testified on behalf of Japanese commander Major Saito at his war crimes trial, saving him from a death sentence. The bridges were destroyed two years later, by the RAF, not saboteurs.

The English Patient (1996, Ralph Fiennes, Kristin Scott Thomas, Juliette Binoche)

The movie plot: French-Canadian nurse cares for dashing Count Laszlo Almasy (Ralph Fiennes), a burn victim, in a Tuscan villa at the end of WWII. Using flashbacks, the film recounts Almasy's illicit love affair with a friend's wife (Kristin Scott Thomas), his devotion to her and her tragic death. As he lays dying, his last thoughts are of her.

The real story: The real Count Almasy was a puny man with bad teeth. He was gay. He was in love with a German Army officer. He wasn't burned and did not die at the end of WWII. Actually, after the war, he worked as a Soviet spy.

The Sting (1973, Robert Redford, Paul Newman, Robert Shaw)

The movie plot: Two con artists, Gondorf (Newman) and Hooker (Redford) set up an elaborate betting parlor scam on an Irish racketeer to avenge the murder of a fellow grifter. The sting works and the lovable con-man get away with it.

The real story: There really was a Gondorf (but no Hooker). He and his brother really did work this scam. But they did it for money, not for justice. The real "sting" was pulled on an Englishman in 1914 who was cheated out of $10,000. He went to the real police and Gondorf went to a real prison.

Saturday Night Fever (1977, John Travolta, Karen Lynn Gorney)

The movie plot: Bored with his day-to-day life, Tony Manero, a Brooklyn teenager (played by John Travolta) becomes the local Disco king.

The real story: The movie was based on an article in New York magazine by writer Nik Cohn, who supposedly met, and interviewed the real Tony Manero. But it turned out to be a lie - there was no real Tony Manero. In 1997 Cohn admitted he had made the character up.

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981, Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, John Rhys-Davies)

The movie plot: Swash-buckling, whip-wielding archeologist Indiana Jones battles the Nazis to locate the mythical Ark of the Covenant, which contains the original Ten Commandments. Good triumphs over evil, and Indie returns to his job as a college professor awaiting his next adventure.

The real story: Jones' character is based on the 18th century inventor (and circus performer)-turned-archeologist, Giovanni Belzoni, who discovered several lost tombs in Egypt's Valley of the Kings. He battled French Egyptologists, not Nazis. And he didn't live happily ever after - he died from dysentery at the age of 55 while searching for the lost city of Timbuktu.

The article above is reprinted with permission from Uncle John's All-Purpose Extra Strength Bathroom Reader. The 13th book in the series by the Bathroom Reader's Institute has 504-all new pages crammed with fun facts, including articles on the biggest movie bombs ever, the origin and unintended use of I.Q. test, and more. Since 1988, the Bathroom Reader Institute had published a series of popular books containing irresistible bits of trivia and obscure yet fascinating facts. If you like Neatorama, you'll love the Bathroom Reader Institute's books - go ahead and check 'em out!

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There doesn't seem to be a problem here...stories in general are usually inspired by some real-life event and then altered to make it entertaining and more interesting. If complete adherence to facts were required we'd have to toss out an awful lot of "good stuff"... Shakespeare, Dickens, etc. Bummer. If a film isn't categorized as a documentary, why should one expect it to be completely factual?
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I've always had a problem with Uncle John's Bathroom readers...

In addition to the problems mentioned about the Bridge over the river Kwai, there is the problem that Count Laszlo was never a Soviet spy, that The Sting was only ever supposed to be loosely based on the life of the brothers Fred and Charley Gondorf, that the makers of Saturday Night Fever based their film on an expose they believed to be true at the time (and, again, since a report cannot equal the amount of info in a film, SNF was probably only intended to follow the gist of Nik Cohn's article), and that no one has ever confirmed that Indiana Jones is based on Giovanni Belzoni.I

n fact, why would one assume that the fedora-wearing 20th century archaeologist was based on an 18th to 19th century inventor/performer/archaeologist born in Italy? The only thing they seem to have in common is archeology.
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Speaking of historical inaccuracies in film, here's a fun article:

Movies saved by historical inaccuracies
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