This month, Cutting Edge takes a look at the UK censorship history of the 1989 action comedy Tango & Cash. As we've previously discussed in other articles in the series, it was a bit of a tough time to be an action movie fan during the 1980s
and 1990s when James Ferman was director of the British Board of Film Classification. Numerous films in the genre were subject to cuts of varying degrees, and Tango & Cash was no exception.
Pre-cuts and BBFC cuts for a 15 rated cinema release
After a troubled shoot and a torturous post-production process, Tango & Cash was released in the United States in 1989 with an R rating for its coarse language and violence. It came in for classification at the BBFC in 1990, with a request from
Warner Bros. for a 15 rating. Perhaps anticipating that the film would run into trouble with the BBFC, Warner Bros. submitted a pre-cut version American version that would later form the basis for showings on American network television even to this day.
This version had already removed much of the film's violence, but the BBFC felt that some further tinkering could be done to the film to make it suitable for British teenagers. The following examination of the UK cuts made to the film is not intended to
be definitive, but we'll do our best to give a rough overview of how the film faired in Britain as we go forward.
Cut Scenes: Interrogation Chair
The first scene the Board objected to was the sequence in Reel 1 where Cash interrogates a suspect with the help of a chair. As the man lays on the floor prostrate, Cash asks him repeated questions as the man's neck is squeezed by the strut of the chair.
For this sequence, the BBFC demanded:
During Cash's interrogation of Chinese villain in toilet, reduce emphasis on his squeezing of man's windpipe with cross-strut of chair.
The actual event still remained, but shots showing the villain wheezing, choking and struggling to speak were cut down for the UK cinema version.
Cut Scenes: Cell Bars
A sequence in Reel 2 was also cited for deletion by the BBFC, when Tango meets the villain Face in the prison. After Face threatens Tango, Tango yanks Face's head against the cell bars, causing him to bleed. For this scene, the BBFC demanded:
After man berates Tango from inside prison cell, remove all sight of Tango pulling his head onto cell bars with resultant blood.
It is interesting to wonder why this was cited as needing to be cut, as even by the standards of the 1980s it is relatively tame, nowhere close to sadistic and is offset by the comedy of the scene.
Cut Scenes: Prison Laundry
A little later, further cuts were made during the fight sequence in the prison laundry room. The pre-cut version submitted to the BBFC for a UK cinema rating was already lacking some violent elements, which included:
Cash smashing a prisoner's head against a piece of metal machinery
Cash sliding underneath another prisoner, punching him in the balls, and beating other men with a baseball bat
Tango ramming a prisoner's head through a glass window
On top of these removals, the BBFC demanded further cuts, stating:
When fight begins in prison laundry, remove all sight of Cash wielding baseball bat against aggressors and of his head-butt.
Cut Scenes: In Hot Water
More cuts followed in Reel 3, when Tango and Cash are tortured in the aftermath of the fight. In a prolonged and sadistic sequence, the men are slowly lowered into pools of water before live electrical cables are dipped into the liquid, causing them to
be electrocuted. The pre-cut version submitted for a BBFC rating was already reduced to remove much of the scene's sadistic edge, but even this was not satisfactory for the BBFC, who demanded:
In torture sequence which ends same fight by showing Tango and Cash lowered into electrified water containers, remove all sight of them actually dipped into water along with live cables, obscured or not.
No further BBFC cuts were demanded of the film, with the following examples of censorship concerning the pre-cuts made by Warner Bros. before the film was submitted to the BBFC.
Cut Scenes: The Death of Face
For instance, the death of Face was one scene that was reduced. In the UK cinema version, the electrocution was reduced by around five seconds.
Cut Scenes: Finale Fight
The majority of the distributor pre-cuts concern the finale of the film, with numerous trims having been made to remove blood spurts, detailed combat moves, and lingering sight of injuries. Around 90 minutes into the uncut version, Tango and Cash gun
down some enemies. In the UK cinema version, the explicit sight of bloodletting was reduced, leaving only the sight of enemies falling to the floor without any clear blood spurts.
Around a minute later, similar cuts were made to remove blood spurts as Quan is gunned down. Moments later, the death of Lopez was also very slightly trimmed to remove sight of his body being riddled with bullets.
A couple of minutes later, the film crosscuts between Tango and Cash fighting different enemies. The censored UK version removes almost 20 seconds of material, including:
The head-butt to Cash
The sight of the bloody wound on Cash's arm being pressed
A thug ramming his hand through plate glass before being beaten and receiving a throat chop
The sight of the grenade being forced into Requin's pants by Cash
The final change made for the UK cinema version concerns the death of Perret. A slight trim was made to the sight of his bloody head wound as he lands on the ground after he is killed.
After the BBFC decreed that 43 seconds of cuts were required for a 15 rating, Tango & Cash was classified for a UK cinema release on March 26th 1990 after 65 feet of film had been removed from the pre-cut submission, which brought the total amount of
removed footage to just under two minutes when compared to the uncut version.
Uncut on VHS but pre-cut for DVD
Six months later, Warner Bros. submitted the uncut version for a VHS classification, which restored the previous American pre-cuts and the BBFC's UK cinema cuts. It was passed uncut with an 18 rating on September 7th 1990 and would go on to become to the
standard version available to British buyers for almost 10 years.
By that point, the UK home video situation gets a little complicated. After the launch of the DVD format in the latter part of the 1990s, Warner Bros. submitted a pre-cut version for a DVD classification. The BBFC decreed that no cuts were required, and
the film was passed with a 15 rating stating that the film:
Contains strong violence and language.
This was a bit of a slap in the face to fans of the film that had been enjoying the uncut version on video since 1990. However, early pressings of the DVD actually contained the full uncut version that had been released on VHS with an 18 rating, so this
disc was later withdrawn from sale. You can check if you own this version by looking at the back of the DVD case -- illegitimate uncut versions show the running time as being 100 minutes.
Out of print censored version
New uncut version
Tango & Cash was resubmitted in its uncut form in 1999 for a BBFC classification and was passed uncut on June 30th with an 18 rating, with the BBFC noting that the film:
Contains strong violence.
This version would appear to have been released on VHS in the year 2000, and it was later re-released on DVD and Blu-ray in 2009.
If you're looking for the uncut version of Tango & Cash in Britain, you can find it on the 18-rated DVD release (easily spotted by its black cover) or the 18-rated Blu-ray release; neither of which contain the old 15-rated UK cinema version. That cut
version is now long out of print and even if it wasn't, it could not be recommended to anyone who wishes to indulge in the guilty pleasures that Tango & Cash has to offer. As is quite often the norm, American fans have had access to the uncut version
since its original release in 1989, and can also pick up the uncut version on Blu-ray.
Cutting Edge Video, Season Two, Episode 37: Tango and Cash
All articles are original works compiled by Gavin Salkeld, with occasional
help from a small team of researchers. Particular thanks are due to the BBFC
for their diligent and helpful explanations of their interventions.