Rob Reiner Had James Caan Crawling Through Spit On The Set Of Misery 

Logistically, Rob Reiner's filmed adaptation of Stephen King's "Misery" sounds like a breeze of a production. Set mostly in one location with two actors, it could've easily been shot as a glorified stage play — and King's narrative is viciously compelling enough that it would've worked just fine via proscenium framing.

But Reiner, riding one of cinema's most impressive hit streaks ("This Is Spinal Tap," "The Sure Thing," "Stand by Me," "The Princess Bride" and "When Harry Met Sally..."), wanted to plunge audiences into Victorian romance author Paul Sheldon's life-or-death struggle with Annie Wilkes, his number one fan. So he hired cinematographer Barry Sonnenfeld, renowned for his visually dynamic collaborations with Joel and Ethan Coen, to drive home the literally immobilizing terror of a bed-ridden writer tortured into bringing a character he detests back to life.

Paul is in bad shape when Annie rescues him from a blizzard-caused car crash, and, initially, it seems like the worst he'll endure is flattery from a fan he secretly despises. But when Annie reads the galley copy of his latest novel and discovers he's killed off her favorite character, his seeming savior tortures him into bringing the bane of his creative existence back to life. And to ensure that the on-the-mend Paul won't make a break for it, Annie shatters his ankles with a sledgehammer.

Thus begins an unforgettable skirmish that's harrowingly captured by stars James Caan and Kathy Bates. The latter won a Best Actress Oscar for her performance, while the former was denied a nomination. Obviously, Bates got the flashier role, but Caan deserved some kind of recognition for the punishment and, in one case, humiliation to which he was subjected on set.

Stop at the schmutz

According to a 1990 Los Angeles Times account of the shoot, Reiner and Sonnenfeld required something a little extra from Caan for the third-act scene where a hobbled Paul launches himself out of bed and crawls across the floor. Caan did as directed during rehearsal, but Reiner suggested an adjustment: after his star hit the deck, he wanted him to crawl to a mark. He found it. "[Y]ou crawl to here," instructed Reiner. "This black dot. If you go any further, you'll get too close to the camera and we'll lose you."

This, however, wasn't far enough for Sonnenfeld, so he did the gentlemanly thing and created a new mark with a gooey chunk of expectorated phlegm. This was agreeable to Reiner. "OK, Jimmy," he said. "You crawl to the loogie." Caan was stunned. "I can't believe you guys," he exclaimed. "You hocked a loogie." Sonnenfeld stepped forward and stomped the spittle into the floor. "When you feel a certain dampness, Jimmy, just stop there."

"Right," added Reiner. "Stop at the schmutz."

Caan, whose most famous movie moment might've been getting strapped with multiple exploding squibs for Sonny Corleone's turnpike slaughter in "The Godfather," again expressed his disbelief. "You guys are unbelievable. "Just stop at the schmutz!' This is the only movie ever where I have someone hocking my marks!"

There would be greater humiliations for Caan later in his career (he was once directed by Brett Ratner) but, in 1990, it took a stunning degree of gall to ask the Academy Award-nominated legend to drag himself into sputum. Had he received the nod he deserved, this would've made for one hell of a clip on the broadcast.

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