Why 'Pretty in Pink' Director Cut Its Most Famous Line (At First)
It’s been 34 years since Molly Ringwald uttered the words, “I just wanna let them know that they didn’t break me.” This line has not only served as the defining message of Howard Deutch and John Hughes’ Pretty in Pink, but it also became a rallying cry for an entire generation of Andies and Duckies that were made to feel like outsiders. Naturally, the high school experiences of Andie (Ringwald) and Duckie (Jon Cryer) still resonate with today’s youth, and the same can be said about the majority of Hughes’ work since he strived to give a voice to adolescence in a way that was unique from most teen movies to that point.
According to Deutch, Pretty in Pink’s most enduring line was nearly cut for length until Ned Tanen, the head of Paramount, intervened. Oddly enough, Ned Tanen also inspired Back to the Future’s Biff Tannen, the villain who antagonized Lea Thompson’s Lorraine Baines McFly. Thompson and Deutch would eventually marry in 1989.
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“When I did the first cut of the movie, we were a little bit long, so I cut out that scene right before Andie goes to the prom,” Deutch tells The Hollywood Reporter. “We showed it to Ned Tanen, the head of Paramount, and he said, ‘Where’s the scene where she says she’s not going to let them break her?’ So, I immediately put it back, and I’m embarrassed to admit it. That goes to show you that you never know. That was a pivotal moment where Andie transitions and says, ‘I’m gonna stand on my own.’ So, it was a big lesson for me.”
Pretty in Pink also starred the late Harry Dean Stanton as Jack, the father to Ringwald’s Andie, and Deutch happened to reunite with Stanton 27 years later on HBO’s Getting On. While Stanton’s memory had already started to deteriorate according to Deutch, the filmmaker was caught off guard when Stanton surprised him with a Pretty in Pink memory out of nowhere.
“Years later, I worked with Harry on a show called Getting On. He had dementia; he was very old, and that was sad,” Deutch recalls. “He couldn’t remember his lines and all kinds of stuff like that. He barely remembered me, but then he looked at me and said, ‘Wait a second! What happened to that scene where I go out and buy that dress for Molly?’ He could still remember that a scene of his was cut. (Laughs.) It was amazing.”
In a recent conversation with THR, Deutch also reflects on the “disaster” that was his third film with Hughes, The Great Outdoors, and how Sixteen Candles introduced him to Hughes.
So how does a first-time director end up with a John Hughes script?
How it happened was I made movie trailers. I had a company that made trailers, and we met working on Sixteen Candles. Our company. So, John liked the work, and we got friendlier and friendlier. At the time, I was also directing music videos. It was that time when everybody was starting to do that. So, he asked if I would do one for Sixteen Candles, and he liked it. So, that’s how that happened.
Directors usually have some say over the script regardless if they get credit for it. Now, I know that Jon Cryer added some lines via improv, but generally speaking, was it encouraged to not make changes to Hughes’ script? Or was there leeway as usual?
To me, he was open, available and completely collaborative. He used to ask more and more if I had anything. So, early on, we talked about stuff, and he would do passes on the script immediately. But I trusted his gut more than mine. The script was very close to what you see, except for the ending.
When it comes to this era’s family tree of movies and actors, was the goal to create an acting troupe of sorts, or was their talent too great to not use again and again?
It’s funny, John used to say to me, “Let’s make stars,” and not have to be dependent on convincing other stars to do his stuff. He loved the idea of a repertory group. In Pretty in Pink, we offered Anthony Michael Hall the part of Duckie. He had already done The Breakfast Club, Vacation, Weird Science and Sixteen Candles with John, but he passed. John knew who he was writing for, and that was a big difference for him. When he got friendly with John Candy, he’d spend hours on the phone with John (Candy) all through the night, and he’d write as he was talking to John (Candy). When he knew who he was writing for, it made all the difference to him.
Is there a personal touch that you’re most fond of in the film, such as a record you put on display at the record store?
That’s a good question. I always liked when Jon Cryer dances. I hadn’t seen a lot of that. In the script, it was left fairly general as he just came into the place and a record was playing. Of course, there wouldn’t be the whole sequence, but I’d been doing these music videos and it was all I really knew at that point. So, I said, “Why don’t we do something like that?” Jon immediately jumped on board and said, “Great!” It’s become an iconic scene, and I really am proud of that.
I thought the choice to use no music in the Duckie-Steff fight was incredibly effective. You didn’t need music to evoke a feeling because we were already feeling the same way that Duckie was feeling towards Steff (James Spader). Was that the reasoning behind this choice?
It’s a long time ago, but thinking about it as you asked the question, that moment is so emotional that I don’t think it needed any help. You could feel his pain, and I certainly related and got pulled into the undertow of that moment. And I think most people did.
The outdoor lighting when Blane (Andrew McCarthy) and Andie (Molly Ringwald) debate going to Steff’s party was pretty spectacular. Was it mostly natural lighting at dusk, or did you set up some lights to enhance it?
[Cinematographer] Tak Fujimoto said, “Let’s try to do it at dusk,” so we did do it at magic hour. It left us little time to get the shot — 20 or 30 minutes tops. It was freaking me out, and we all felt like, “Oh shit. It’s too dark. We’re in trouble.” But then we saw it, and I thought it looked great.
“I just wanna let them know that they didn’t break me” really defines the spirit of the film; it’s the mission statement in a way. Was that line circled from the start as the pivotal moment of the piece?
(Laughs.) Not only did we not… I think John may have, but when I did the first cut of the movie, we were a little bit long, so I cut out that scene right before Andie goes to the prom. We showed it to Ned Tanen, the head of Paramount, and he said, “Where’s the scene where she says she’s not going to let them break her?” So, I immediately put it back, and I’m embarrassed to admit it. That goes to show you that you never know. I’ve done it in other movies too where I thought I was making the right decision. Everybody who’s involved in the bubble of making a movie — the director, the writer, the producer — it’s hard to see the forest through the trees. Sometimes, I think we don’t trust the audience enough. We’re concerned about all these things. Is it too long? Is it boring? Is it working? Is it cooking? Like you just said, that was a pivotal moment where Andie transitions and says, “I’m gonna stand on my own.” So, it was a big lesson for me.
[Writer’s Note: The villain of the Back to the Future trilogy, Biff Tannen (and family), was named after the aforementioned Ned Tanen. Biff Tannen tormented Lorraine Baines McFly, who was played by Lea Thompson, Deutch’s wife of 30-plus years.]
Was the original ending also shot at the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles?
Molly has talked a lot about the fact that she was sick during the original ending of the film. If we didn’t know that information, would we be able to tell through her performance?
No, she was a trooper. She danced with Duckie, and we went into a swirl of pink. After the test screening, the original ending lasted for about two minutes.
The new Blu-ray includes a mini-documentary about the revised ending, as well as actor interviews and b-roll footage of the original ending. However, why haven’t the powers that be released the original ending — the actual scene that only test audiences saw?
I don’t know. That’s above my paygrade. (Laughs.) I don’t have anything to do with why we haven’t released it. Over the years, I’ve heard that it’s been on YouTube and other things.
[Writer’s Note: I followed up with Paramount on why the original ending scene hasn’t been released, and I was told that the footage is missing despite the studio’s best efforts to find it for inclusion on home releases.]
In the computer scene with Andie and Blane, was that functionality actually available then, or did you get something made for the movie?
That’s very, very astute. There wasn’t something with that functionality, but it shows you how visionary John was. It occurred to me only recently that that is what we have today. It was amazing how that worked in that scene.
I still feel for Andie’s father when I watch that big dust-up scene. What’s your go-to Harry Dean Stanton memory?
My favorite memory isn’t from the Pretty in Pink set. Years later, I worked with Harry on a show called Getting On. He had dementia; he was very old, and that was sad. He couldn’t remember his lines and all kinds of stuff like that. He barely remembered me, but then he looked at me and said, “Wait a second! What happened to that scene where I go out and buy that dress for Molly?” He could still remember that a scene of his was cut. (Laughs.) It was amazing.
I have to ask you about the third film you made with Hughes, The Great Outdoors. Once I saw it in the early ‘90s, I just had to prove my steak-eating abilities at Morton’s shortly thereafter. In 1988, immediately after release, was there an “Old 96er” wave of hospitalizations as people attempted to imitate John Candy’s character?
(Laughs.) I don’t know! I was so miserable making that movie, though. It was so difficult for me, and it was a broad comedy, which I didn’t really feel I was the right candidate for but I did it anyway. I don’t know the answer, but everybody always mentions that steak scene. By the way, that movie was a disaster in terms of test screenings and everything else. Tom Pollock, the head of Universal, said to me, “You’re never going to work in the movie business again.” So, I thought it was the end of my career. Then, it opened, and it had a great opening weekend in theaters. And then everybody called me. But I almost had ten heart attacks during that movie.
Also, just as you intended, I watched your Melrose Place pilot in 1992 when I was a very young boy. Clearly, I wasn’t your target demo at the time, but I just want you to know that I turned out okay.
(Laughs.) I’m so glad! That’s funny.
The industry has put together all sorts of guidelines in order to resume shooting soon. Will you rush back to work, or are you going to hold out as long as possible?
Well, I’m in the middle of working on a show for Apple TV+ and Paramount. When they decide they want to go back, I’ll go back, but they haven’t decided yet. So, I’m waiting to hear like everybody else.
By the way, I noticed that Zoey (Deutch) was sporting a huge bandage on Instagram. Is everything okay?
(Laughs.) Yeah, she had some wisdom teeth pulled.
It was quite a dramatic bandage.
She’s a great actor. You must be awfully proud.
Yeah, I am! Her sister (Madelyn Deutch) is also a great writer. So, they’re doing well.
Pretty in Pink is now available on collectible Blu-ray and digital from Paramount Home Entertainment.