My appreciation for Kurt Vonnegut’s writing is pretty much confined to his essays and his earlier novels, but this AbeBooks showcase of signed and collectible Vonnegut works has a very intriguing item indeed: a pair of draft screenplays for George Roy Hill’s 1972 film version of Slaughterhouse-Five, along with a letter from the MPAA ratings board listing changes required to bring the film in with an “R” rating instead of the dreaded “X.” It’s pretty funny to think of any version of Slaughterhouse-Five getting hit with an “X” or an “NC-17” or any other kind of five-alarm rating nowadays, but remember that only a couple of years earlier Midnight Cowboy had gone out with an “X,” and Stanley Kubrick had been forced to recut A Clockwork Orange to get its initial “X” rating reduced. So the world had to be kept safe from the sight of Valerie Perrine’s boobs.
I’m not interested enough to park nearly four grand in the seller’s bank account, but I would like to see some of the changes made during the film’s development. Not only is the Hill-Geller version of Slaughterhouse-Five greatly superior to the novel (a fact Vonnegut himself acknowledged), but it’s also a model of how to adapt a dodgy prose work for the silver screen. Everything in the film is perfect — I wouldn’t change a single frame.
Hill tends to get overlooked by film buffs because, like Carol Reed, he adapted his style to the material at hand, rather than the other way around. And the man was a class act. With the bucks from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid still rolling in, Hill used his box-office cred to make a demanding art-house film with an unpopular philosophical outlook, no big-name stars, and a deliberately subdued and colorless lead performance. I watched it again a few months ago and it holds up quite nicely — certainly much better than “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head.”