Historical movies aren't history. It's common knowledge that movies based on historical events routinely omit facts, distort narratives, and sometimes just make stuff up. There are all kinds of reasons why filmmakers do or don't include a particular historical detail, but today we're focusing on one specific case: stories that are true but still too weird to include.
Sometimes, these stories are omitted because they strike the wrong tone for the movie. A serious drama about the final days of WWII probably doesn't need a realistic depiction of a certain chancellor's flatulence. But it still would have been historically accurate. On the other hand, some details just sound so far-fetched that most audience members would assume the filmmakers were making them up for dramatic effect, which could undermine the serious movie. But the saying "truth is stranger than fiction" is a cliche for a reason.
Today, we're going to cover the weird details that filmmakers ignored. And for some of these movies, including the strange stuff might have made them even better.
- Photo: DreamWorks Pictures
Roman gladiators weren't just professional warriors who fought for the public's amusement. The best gladiators were something like the professional athletes we have today. When they weren't fighting, they lived in relative comfort and received the best possible medical care. And the most successful gladiators could become so popular that they actually endorsed products, just like a Michael Jordan or a Serena Williams. Gladiators would agree to lend their names to be used on the Roman version of billboards, or they would directly endorse products to the masses before their fights. It's one of the earliest versions of marketing in history.
The filmmakers behind Gladiator tried to make the film as accurate as possible, and an earlier draft of the script included Maximus endorsing olive oil. But producers eventually decided the scene would have been too jarring to include. "If you cut to Russell Crowe endorsing a chariot or olive oil, that would become parody when in fact it’s true,” said producer Douglas Wick.Ridiculous story?
War drives technological innovation, and the outbreak of the Cold War at the end of WWII forced both the US and the Soviet Union to spend billions and billions of dollars developing technology to defeat the enemy. This meant that during the 1960s, the CIA tested a variety of projects to give America an edge over the Soviets. Some of these projects were nefarious, like MK Ultra. Others were just silly, like Project Acoustic Kitty. The elevator pitch went something like this: Let's spy on the Soviets with microphones surgically implanted in house cats.
Using animals for national security purposes is common, but cats are notoriously difficult to train. Even so, the CIA believed that a cat was inconspicuous enough to avoid notice. The bigger problem was designing a functioning recording device that could be implanted inside a cat without harming it. This took about five years to complete. Altogether, the CIA spent $20 million to get their FrankenKitty operational. And on its very first mission, it was run over by a taxi before reaching its target.Ridiculous story?
- Photo: Constantin Film
What's the worst part about being stuck in a bunker with Hitler during the fall of Berlin? The fact that he was a substance-using megalomaniac who refused to accept the truth 'til the end? Okay, but what's the second-worst part? He was notoriously gassy. Actual medical records written by the chancellor's private physician Theodor Morrell show that this particular patient sought treatment for both "excessive flatulence" as well as constipation. To treat this, Dr. Morrell prescribed Dr. Koester’s Anti-Gas Pills, a remedy that contained strychnine. It didn't work.
But it's not just Downfall. Practically zero movies have ever shown Hitler cut one. You can imagine why a serious WWII movie wouldn't have a farty Führer - but the comedies? Seems like somebody should have done it by now.Ridiculous story?
- Photo: Orion Pictures
If there's a theme to this list, it's that people are complex, even historical figures. And Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is one of the more complicated people in history. He wrote music that's still played centuries later. He also loved bathroom humor. Not only were Mozart's personal letters full of poop jokes, he also wrote songs that elementary schoolers would have loved. In 1991, a Harvard University librarian rediscovered a song Mozart wrote in 1782 titled "Leck Mich Im Arsch," a German expression that roughly means "Kiss My A**." Mozart apparently wrote several songs like this and meant for them to entertain his friends. "Leck Mich Im Arsch" was still included in an 1804 compilation, but the title was changed to "Let Us Be Glad."
It's understandable why other depictions of Mozart would avoid mentioning these songs, but they would have been more at home in the 1984 dramedy Amadeus. That film portrays Mozart as a genius who's so talented that the rules of decorum don't really apply to him, all of which infuriates his rival Antonio Salieri. It's unfortunate that Mozart's B-sides weren't discovered until seven years after the movie came out.Ridiculous story?