When an attempt to stream the unreleased version of 1994 movie I’ll Do Anything was halted at the last minute by Prince’s estate, a number of people mourned the opportunity to see just how bad it had been.

The flawed rom-com by James L. Brooks – one of Hollywood’s biggest names for decades – was originally intended as a musical, and Prince had contributed eight songs to the soundtrack. However, instead of being sung, the lyrics were delivered in spoken voice by actors including Nick Nolte. The fact that the story moved into song without any real reason for doing so contributed to the movie’s structural weakness, and in the end Brooks released it without any of the musical elements. It earned less than a quarter of its $40 million budget and remains one of the biggest flops in history.

One reason things became so bad is that people were cautious about trying to tell someone of Brooks’ stature what to do. That wasn’t the case for one producer, the late Polly Platt, who kept trying to tell him that it wasn’t working out. Perhaps if Prince had spoken up the disaster could have been avoided – and while he’s not known to have said anything negative, Platt’s memory of the day Prince visited the set suggests he at least suspected bad news.

Julie Kavner (best known as the voice of Marge Simpson in Brooks’ The Simpsons) was working on one of Prince’s songs that day. It’s worth considering what he might have thought of hearing Marge delivering one of his carefully-crafted pieces. “She sang off-key and was worse than bad, she was awful,” Platt recalled in an unpublished memoir. “I watched Prince listen to his song being mangled, and he was expressionless, no winces, no looking around. I ventured over to speak to him, despite his ban on being spoken to. ‘This is not how the song will be in the movie,’ I told him. ‘We will have someone else sing the song on the soundtrack later.’ He nodded, as if I had commented on the weather. He stayed a few minutes more and left as quietly as he arrived.”

By the time I’ll Do Anything hit screens and people started walking out, the previously-advertised Prince contributions had been dropped. “I thought music would articulate that which you couldn’t legitimately articulate in dialogue,” Brooks said later, “but the music broke the sense of reality instead of enhancing it.” Fortunately, his next movie, the Oscar-winning As Good As It Gets, made sure the flop didn’t damage his reputation too badly – although it remains as a cautionary tale among movie makers to this day.

‘I’ll Do Anything’ Musical Trailer

Prince salvaged three of his eight songs, using “Don’t Talk 2 Strangers” for the soundtrack for Girl 6, and included “My Little Pill” and “There Is Lonely” on the 1999 compilation The Vault… Old Friend 4 Sale. Another track from that album, “The Rest of My Life,” was one of two he’d submitted but hadn’t been picked up. The versions from I’ll Do Anything remain unreleased. Brooks later said he’d wanted to make a documentary about the experience, culminating in a playback of the musical version – but he “couldn’t get the music rights.”

 

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