Its not a secret that Hollywood takes liberties with historical fact. Sometimes, lets face it, this just makes for a better movie. Sometimes, even when the movie is not very good, there is just an acceptance of fact by what the movie portrays. Sometimes these things are blatantly obviously fake. Sometimes, they are not so blatantly obviously fake. Here are a few examples where Hollywood might have legitimately confused you about the manner of a real life character’s fate.
Young Guns / Young Guns 2 (1988/1990) – I am not even going to pretend to lie. The Young Guns film series are two of my favorite movies ever put on film. Particularly, I can quote almost every word of Young Guns II. When I was a columnist for the Daily Mississippian in college, part of the reason given for my firing was my unabashed attraction for as well as quote Young Guns II. After these movies were ingrained into my soul, I wanted to visit the grave of William H. Bonny aka Billy The Kid. In 2007, I visited Ft. Sumter, New Mexico and visited the tomb. The museum held a couple pieces of information that actually shocked me at the time. Two of my favorite characters from the movie (Josiah G. “Doc” Scurlock and Jose Chavez Y Chavez) actually lived to be very old men in the old west. I had figured one or two liberties were taken with the films, but I had at least figured the scenes of people dying were somewhat close to what happened in real life. After a bit more digging, I found out that writer John fusco had strived for historical accuracy. Apparently. Keifer Sutherland could not make the return to film Scurlock’s characters’s re-union with his wife in Texas. They went on to have half a dozen kids together. At the raid on Stinking Springs, Charlie Bowdre (who was Scurlock’s brother in law ) was killed while exiting a door during the ambush. The trouble was that Bowdre had already been killed in the first Young Guns movie. Scurlock’s death was used as a fill in and reason for Sutherland to not film the other scene. Chvez gave up his Native American ways for the most part. Chavez was actually a rare “Indian” determined to live out life as a Cowboy. After the death of Billy The Kid, Chavez would go on to have a famous encounter with another famous cowboy of the era. The cowboy would be the “coward” Robert Ford. Ford is the man who shot and killed the famous outlaw Jesse James. After a dispute, Ford lost a shooting contest with Chavez. When Ford challenged Chavez on the results, Chavez challenged Ford to a duel. Ford left tow rather than face Chavez. Chavez lived till the 1920s and Ford was assassinated in Colorado as few years later.
The Untouchables (1987) – In the movie The Untouchables, Mob killer Frank Nitti is responsible for the death of Chicago cop Jim Malone. During the trial of Al Capone, Nitti attempts to escape and kills a court attendant in the process. Kevin Costner’s Elliott Ness follows Ness up to the top of the roof of the court building. Nitti tells Ness that his friend died screaming like a pig. In a fit of anger, Ness throws Nitti off of the roof. Nitti lands on a car screaming the whole way down. Ness heroically asks whether the screaming sounded anything like what Nitti had just screamed. In real life? Not so much. Frank Nitti was actually convicted of tax evasion along with Al Capone in 1932. Nitti received a lesser sentence of 18 months in prison. After serving his time, “The Enforcer” Frank Nitti was proclaimed the new boss of the Capone mob by the Chicago press. Ironically, Hollywood was actually Frank Nitti’s unraveling. Nitti masterminded a scheme to try and extort money from Hollywood studios. Nitti claimed that he would maintain labor peace in exchange for backend payments. Nitti did not realize that one of his top lieutenants was an FBI informant. To complicate matters, the studios went directly to the Government over Nitti’s scheme. A group of Mafia that Nitti was running called “the Outfit” decided Nitti should go to prison (because this was all his scheme after all.) Nitti had been severely claustrophobic during his first stay in prison. Not wanting to back, Nitti committed suicide by shooting himself on railway tracks the day before the Grand Jury was to start his indictment. It can be argued whether Nitti’s real end was more fitting than the one that scriptwriters devised for him.
Murder In The First (1995) – In the film Murder In the First, Henri Young is portrayed by Kevin Bacon. After an escape attempt from Alcatraz, Young is captured along with two other inmates (Rufus McCain and Arthur Barker.) In the film, Young is put into the hole for years for the break out attempt. After this extended period of time, Young kills McCain in a fit of rage after a short break from ‘the Hole.’ In the movie, after a dramatic court appearance Young commits suicide in prison after scrawling the word “Victory” on a prison wall. Real life is almost a stranger story in the Henri Young odyssey. We do mean “odd” as well. Young did attempt to escape with McCain and Barker. Young was put into solitary confinement for a few months over the incident. Rather than attacking like a wild animal, Young waited almost a year before disposing of McCain. Young did not commit suicide in 1942. As a matter of fact, Young faced the full measure of time for his criminal behavior. Henri Young was released from a Washington State correctional facility in 1972. This is where the story gets a little bit odd. No one has seen Henri Young since his release. There is no evidence that he is dead. As a matter of fact, Henri Young might be 94 years old right now. The state of Washington’s official opinion of Henri Young is that he escaped to “parts unknown.” Henri Young could have very easily spent the last few decades or so walking the Earth “you know, like Caine in Kung Fu.” No one knows Young’s fate. What we do know is that he did not commit suicide in 1942.
Gladiator (2000) – In retrospect, the Roman Emperor Commodus probably wishes that there was a historical Maximus. In addition to that, Commodus was exactly the type of guy that would have loved to have been killed by a peer in a field of battle in front of thousands of screaming fans. The historical Commodus was a much richer character than the one portrayed in the movie. The historical Commodus not only would fight wild animals in gladiatorial combat, he would also wear a lion’s skin and have people refer to him as Hercules while he was doing it. This would be the moral equivalent of dressing up like Batman and forcing people to call you Batman. Commodus was the freakin’ Emperor of Rome. He could get away with things like that. Commodus would have wanted a glorious death. Commodus did not exactly get one in real life. In real life, Commodus was strangled to death by a wrestler actually named Narcissus (how is that one for poetic justice) after being poisoned by his mistress Marcia. The strangling was done while Commodus was taking a bath. Narcissus was also a wrestling partner as well as trainer for Commodus. Keep in mind that at that time, all wrestling was done in the nude. Yeah, Commodus would have taken gladiatorial combat to the death any day.