Snails and Oysters
August 17, 2016 9:33 PM   Subscribe

On the last episode ("Coda") of Series 3 of the ITV show Endeavour, which is set in 1967, a clearly queer-coded character (Jerome Hogg) makes a reference to the famous "snails and oysters" scene from the 1960 movie Spartacus, saying to Morse of a (presumably attractive) young man whom he has just told to run along, "Alas, I fancy, a lover of oysters, for all my blandishments." And I have questions (that are NOT about what that means, no)!

Now, I had always thought that scene was not viewable by the public until the 1991 re-release of the movie. Googling turns up this NYT article from 1991 that agrees, saying it was cut after being shown only to two preview audiences, although other sites (e.g. TV Tropes and possibly the Wikipedia article, although maybe it's just unclearly written) disagree and assert the scene *was* in the "original" (1960) release and only taken out in a 1967 re-release.

Question 1: When was the scene actually cut? Did anyone in fact see it beyond those two preview audiences in 1960 before the 1991 re-release?

Question 2: If it was not included in the original 1960 non-preview release, did people still know about it? Was it common knowledge what the scene said and that it had been cut (and why)? Was it common knowledge among general audiences, or gay audiences specifically?

Because what I'm really wondering is...

Question 3: Is this reference in the Endeavour episode historically plausible for the character to make, or is it a modern (post 1991 re-release) anachronism? And would (presumed non-queer) Morse have been expected to understand it? I can't imagine that Morse would have understood unless he was familiar with the Spartacus scene, as it's only an obvious shorthand if you get the reference. (I wouldn't necessarily expect a random straight person to get it immediately now, either, but, for the record, the same character in an episode of the original Morse series makes a reference when talking to Morse to "the love that dare not speak its name," so he has a habit of saying that sort of thing to him.)

Thank you!
posted by lysimache to Media & Arts (6 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
This is a super fun question because it seems like the thing that should be solvable via research.

I was able to find three references to this scene in contemporary reviews. Were all of these reviewers in one of the preview audiences? Maybe?

1) Pauline Kael's review from 1960 indicates that she probably saw the scene ("Crassus is a wonderfully gaudy character: he takes Tony Curtis, a young "singer of songs," as his sexual favorite"). In 1960 she was in the film industry, but not yet famous.

2) Google Books shows a reference to this scene in an issue of Sight and Sound from either 1961 or 1962.

3) Also from Google Books, a reference in Films and Filming from 1961.

The production notes from the 1991 edition say this about work on the 1991 restoration:

"there was no readily accessible picture and dialogue continuity which could serve as a guide to precisely what the original version had been...Some reviews mentioned graphic elements of the battle scenes...arms being lopped off--blood spurting from a stump. Film lore had discussed, but few could remember actually seeing the scene in which Tony Curtis is the attempted seductive of Laurence Olivier--what has become known as the "snails and oysters" scene. Nor could people actually remember seeing the blood of the slave Draba (played by Woody Strode) hit Crassus (Olivier) square in the face as Draba's neck is slit by Crassus' knife."

Now, it seems hard to imagine forgetting that scene, but 40 years had gone by since it was shown.

Unfortunately, this evidence is all really inconclusive. But one thing that does seem likely is that even if it was in the original release, it wasn't considered quotable or the kind of thing someone would likely get an allusion to in 1967.
posted by phoenixy at 10:47 PM on August 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

The 1960 NYT review makes no direct reference to this scene, though it does refer to Curtis's character's "theatrical[ity]."

Apparently Douglas was sufficiently upset by the censorship that he discussed it at some length in his memoir. I would look there.
posted by praemunire at 10:54 PM on August 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

Good call, praemunire. Kirk Douglas says that the scene was indeed not present in the 1960 theatrical release.

"After the first press screening...the studio had the 'final cut' before distributing it...without my approval, Universal made forty-two cuts to the film...Gone was the 'snails and oysters' scene."
posted by phoenixy at 11:39 PM on August 17, 2016 [3 favorites]

In polari, oyster is mouth (was worth a shot).

But if you Google "oyster female" you'll find plenty of references, including some unattested ones to oyster being "Victorian slang". What makes you think it has to be a Spartacus reference? Why can't Spartacus be referencing something earlier?
posted by Leon at 12:36 AM on August 18, 2016 [3 favorites]

I can't imagine that Morse would have understood unless he was familiar with the Spartacus scene, as it's only an obvious shorthand if you get the reference. (I wouldn't necessarily expect a random straight person to get it immediately now, either,

Echoing Leon's comment above, the oyster metaphor isn't necessarily solely a Spartacus reference and not strictly coded queer language either. If you happen to know the Spartacus reference, it could certainly serve as a callback to it, but it's not difficult to leap to the connection between oyster-slurping and...being an enthusiastic lover of women.
posted by desuetude at 7:48 AM on August 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

You may already know this, but that scene was featured in the 1995 documentary Celluloid Closet. That movie (or related book and research materials) might have answers to your question. My memory is they don't talk much about the scene though, mostly just show it and have Gore Vidal make catty comments about Charlton Heston.
posted by Nelson at 10:17 AM on August 18, 2016

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