The biggest narrative change in the U.S. theatrical version, however, involved Sam’s duel with the samurai (shown here in a preproduction costume design sketch). In the international version, Sam wages a single lengthy battle before killing the samurai, removing the warrior’s mask and finding himself within, only to be awakened by the singing telegram girl. The story then continues through Sam’s mother’s party and Sam’s acceptance there of Helpmann’s offer of a job at Information Retrieval. The samurai later makes a second appearance in the lingerie area of the department store, where Sam assumes a battle stance and is knocked out by security forces. In the U.S. version, the fight is stopped midway through when Sam is awakened by the telegram girl. He leaves for the party, where he accepts the promotion. Later, he sees the samurai at the department store, where in his fantasy he kills his opponent but in reality is knocked unconscious.
By incorporating the fight (and Sam’s victory) in this fashion instead of the way the original does, the U.S. version depicts Sam as failing to succeed until he has accepted the post at Information Retrieval—becoming part of that system—which both enables him to track down Jill and exposes him to mortal peril. This makes more dramatic sense than Sam defeating the samurai before he has accepted the promotion. But the alternative carries an intriguing message: that while Sam may defeat the samurai—the system—it cannot be destroyed. It is unconquerable.
David Morgan, author of Monty Python Speaks and Knowing the Score, coproduced the Criterion Collection’s special edition releases of Brazil and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. He is a senior producer at CBSNews.com.
Film stills by David Appleby, courtesy of Universal Studios Home Entertainment LLC. © Embassy International Pictures N.V. MCMLXXXV. Other images courtesy of Terry Gilliam’s personal archive and the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center, Boston University.