Tom Cruise Mystery

The case of the doctored publicity photo.*

Correction: This piece raised questions about a photograph of Claus von Stauffenberg that appeared in a United Artists promotional campaign for the movie Valkyrie. The piece pointed out that the photo UA used looked more like Tom Cruise, the star of the film, than a similar-looking AP photo of von Stauffenberg. Because of insufficient photo research by Slate’s editors, we failed to discover another archival image of von Stauffenberg, which appears to be the one UA used in its publicity campaign. As a result of this mistake, the question the piece raised—whether the photo had been doctored in an effort to make Claus von Stauffenberg look more like Tom Cruise—was unwarranted. 

Tomfoolery: It appears that Tom Cruise isn’t putting all his eggs into the Valkyrie basket. Valkyrie, you’ll recall, is the Bryan Singer-directed thriller in which Cruise plays a German officer who tried to assassinate Hitler.That project has hit some bumps on its way to theaters. Meanwhile, Cruise is also making an attempt to go back to his roots. But making that happen isn’t simple: It seems that the Cruise camp recently reached out to Paramount about making Mission: Impossible 4 and got seriously disavowed.

Paramount’s response was to ask whether Cruise would like to produce the film—as in, produce but not star in. And, since he’s contractually guaranteed the right to produce such a film at this point, it wasn’t much of an offer. This tells us not to read too much into that supposed rapprochement between Cruise and Sumner Redstone. And it suggests that the fighting between Cruise and Paramount studio chief Brad Grey over the deal for M:I3 was a lot more rancorous than we knew at the time.

We don’t want to keep you in suspense: Cruise’s answer was no. Our source tells us that Paramount met this with a shrug, since in the not-too-distant future the studio expects that it will be free, contractually, to make the movie without involving Cruise’s production company. Some film executives say they think Paramount is being foolish, because they believe there is an avid audience for Cruise in this role. After all, the last one grossed about $400 million worldwide. (Maybe M:I4 could pair Cruise with Shia LaBoeuf as the young successor.) But Paramount seems to think it could relaunch the franchise with a young star and leave Cruise out of the equation.

So back to Valkyrie. We’ve already delved into the drama surrounding this film, in which Cruise plays would-be Hitler assassin Claus von Stauffenberg. Somewhere along the line, someone mentioned that there had been bad press in Germany. Well, of course there was. Tom Cruise is a Scientologist, Germans don’t care for Scientology, and the subject of Valkyrie is a German hero. But this was different bad press. The rumor that our source had heard was that there was a kerfuffle because some people believed Cruise’s company, United Artists, had tweaked a photo of von Stauffenberg to heighten a postulated resemblance to Cruise.

Indeed, United Artists released a side-by-side photo comparison some months back in which the resemblance was striking.

Our (not definitive) search didn’t turn up any German press about this alleged photo tweaking. When we asked UA, the studio said that tweaking didn’t happen. We took a look at an AP photo and then at the image used by UA. *

And we weren’t sure. So we submitted the pictures to our experts at Slate.

Jim Festante, a Slate designer, wrote: “Look @ the nose, mouth, and chin. Definite (but slight) altering. Also, the head’s width is squeezed slightly.” And then designer Holly Allen added this: “To me, the nose looks different and definitely the eyebrows. Cheekbones and angle of the chin, too.” Finally, as a coup de grace, designer Jacob Berlow overlaid the AP photo of von Stauffenberg with the United Artists version:

Looks like someone tweaked the photo. * Finding out who may be mission: impossible. (link)

June 12, 2008

Roman Polanski

Push back: Following up our report this week about the new Roman Polanski documentary, we take note of a weird statement released Wednesday under the signatures of the prosecutor and the defense attorney in the case.

Recall that both are featured in an HBO documentary, Roman Polanksi: Wanted and Desired, in which they bemoan the shabby treatment that alleged child rapist Polanski suffered at the hands of the Los Angeles Superior Court in 1977.

As we reported, the documentary originally ended with the assertion that an unnamed judge in 1998 was going to permit Polanski to return to the United States without risking jail time, but only if he appeared at a court proceeding that would be televised.

Last week, the Los Angeles Superior Court identified that judge as Larry Paul Fidler and vehemently denied that he had ever imposed such a condition. After a pause, HBO said Friday that it would change the end of the film to say that Polanski feared the proceeding would be televised, which is quite different from having a judge insist that it had to be.

The altered documentary aired Monday. Yesterday, the film’s publicists released a statement signed by the prosecutor in the case, Roger Gunson, as well as defense attorney Douglas Dalton. It contends that at the 1998 hearing, Dalton pressed “for a resolution of the case that would allow for minimal news media.” The statement says Dalton “recalled that Judge Fidler would require television coverage,” and then adds: “Mr. Gunson recalls television coverage discussed at the meeting.”

Talk about lawyer words. There’s no further elaboration as to what, if anything, Gunson remembers about that discussion. Presumably, it could have gone like this:

Gunson: “So, your honor, what about television coverage?”Fidler: “Hate it.”

The statement, based on this rather threadbare set of assertions, concludes that both lawyers denounce the court’s “false and reprehensible statement” disputing the notion that Fidler demanded television coverage.

No word from HBO on whether the film will be changed again. (link)

June 9, 2008

Rewind: Tonight, HBO airs Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, a documentary that, according to the HBO press materials, raises “lasting questions about … the U.S. legal system.” Without being exactly sympathetic to Polanski, the message of the film is clear: The courts did to him what he did to a 13-year-old girl in 1977.

Marina Zenovich’s documentary was well-received at Sundance and at Cannes. But the film to be broadcast tonight differs in one key respect from the version that those audiences saw. The ending has been changed—apparently because it was wrong.

The final shot of the film that was seen at the festivals and reviewed by critics asserts that Polanski, who fled the United States in 1978, considered returning in 1998 but declined because the court seemed poised to screw him again. That shot was altered after the Los Angeles Superior Court took the step of contacting HBO’s lawyers.

No one seems to take issue with the film’s premise that the judge who originally presided over Polanski’s case, Laurence Rittenband, was obsessed with the media and far less obsessed with honoring his word. Both prosecutor Roger Gunson and defense attorney Douglas Dalton say on the record that Rittenband reneged on agreements that could have resolved the case. Rittenband died in 1994, so he’s certainly in no position to take issue with that portrayal.

But Zenovich concludes her film on an ironic note: In 1997, those two attorneys appeared before a sitting Los Angeles Superior Court judge—not named in the film—and reached an agreement that if Polanski returned to the United States, he would not be taken into custody. At the very end, the film states in white letters dramatically typed on a black background, the judge imposed one condition: The proceedings would have to be televised. The obvious implication: Here we go again, another Los Angeles judge poised to turn Polanski into media chum. Polanski, the film reports, turned the deal down.

But it doesn’t seem to have happened that way.

There was a 1998 meeting with the judge, who was Larry Paul Fidler. He presided over the recent Phil Spector murder trial, and in that case, he allowed the cameras to roll. Spector’s case was the first criminal trial televised in its entirety in a Los Angeles Superior Court since the O.J. Simpson case in 1995. That may be why Fidler was sensitive to the film’s implication that he was another media-obsessed jurist.

But Los Angeles Superior Court spokesman Allan Parachini says Judge Fidler unequivocally denies that he imposed any such condition. “Judge Fidler made it very clear to counsel that any ultimate resolution of the Polanski matter could only occur in open court, on the record. There was no discussion about television coverage,” Parachini says.

Parachini’s office got in touch with HBO (as did we), and on Friday, HBO said that it was altering the documentary to reflect “new information” provided by the court. That must have been quite a scramble for something that airs tonight, especially since the allegation in question is kind of the film’s punch line. HBO—which also will have to fix prints that are headed to theaters in July—did not say exactly how the revised ending will go. But presumably Fidler can relax.

Except that, inevitably, the film’s premise is already well-established, since many outlets have already reported on it. A New York Times review from critic Manohla Dargis calls the film “sharply argued” before concluding: “Mr. Polanski survived the Holocaust and the murder of his wife, Sharon Tate, in 1969 by followers of Charles Manson. It was the American legal system that almost did him in.”

In its coverage, the British Telegraph said “the legal shenanigans surrounding the case have continued in California,” citing the supposed requirement that the trial be televised. And the paper argued that Polanski, meanwhile, has “lived a blameless, hard-working life in exile in France.” Meanwhile, Polanki has expressed the view that he is innocent, that Americans are “prudish,” and that he has “suffered enough.” (link)

Correction, June 18, 2008: Because of an editing error, a promotional headline for this piece on Slate’s home page originally referred to von Stauffenberg as a Nazi.  He was a German officer but not a member of the Nazi Party.