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The Beggar’s Opera and The Player and Stupid Endings

October 1, 2015



John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera (1728) and Robert Altman’s movie The Player (1992) share a remarkably similar commitment to the idea of the ludicrous happy ending.

At the end of The Beggar’s Opera, the beggarly writer informs the theatre manager that Macheath, the hero, will be hanged and that all his associates will be hanged and transported in due course.   This ending offers realistic poetical justice.  The theatre manager asserts that such a tragic ending will prove quite unacceptable and so the writer instead comes up with the idea of someone riding up at the last minute with a pardon.  Macheath is saved and everybody dances.  It’s not a realistic ending, but it’s wonderfully realistic about how commercially unrealistic realism can be.

Likewise in The Player (scripted by Michael Tolkin), there is in Altman’s Hollywood, a film constantly being pitched within the movie.  Played by Richard E. Grant…

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