A look back at this day in film history
December 10
October 31, 1993
River's End

In a macabre twist, the 23-year-old actor River Phoenix died early on Halloween 1993 at 1:51 a.m. from a drug overdose at Los Angeles’ Viper Club. Phoenix had been there with friends on October 30, and was set to go on stage with Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Beforehand he made a detour to the men’s room where he snorted a line of Persian Brown, a form of meth mixed with various opiates. Within minutes, Phoenix started to feel sick, staggered out of the club, and passed out in convulsions on the sidewalk. Even though his brother called 911 immediately, paramedics on the scene could not revive him. At the time of his death, Phoenix was considered one of the most promising actors of his generation. Having grown up in a transient hippie family, he was discovered early on for his musical ability, but soon parlayed that into an acting career, starring in the 1985 space adventure Explorers at the age of 15 (with an equally unknown Ethan Hawke). Soon Phoenix was proving his youthful range in a series of features from the coming-of-age yarn Stand by Me to the spy thriller Little Nikita and finally to Gus Van Sant’s Shakespeare-inflected hustler drama My Own Private Idaho. Famous in life, Phoenix gained even more notoriety in death, as his drug overdose was held up as tragic reminder of celebrity drug culture gone horribly wrong. Viper Room owner Johnny Depp was so crushed by the event that he closed the club every Halloween up until he sold his share in 2004.

More Flashbacks
December 10, 1968
Oliver Released

When Oliver!, Lionel Bart’s musical stage adaptation of the Charles Dickens classic, proved a surprise hit in 1960, Hollywood knew a film adaptation wasn’t far behind.

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December 10, 1948
Sturges' Unfaithfully Yours

In December 1948, Twentieth Century-Fox released Unfaithfully Yours, the latest work from the comic writer-director Preston Sturges.  Fox was hoping to profit from the director’s possible comeback. From 1940 to 1946, the writer/director had a string of seven major hits, but then, after leaving Paramount and setting up a production company with Howard Hughes, Sturges seemed to have lost his magic touch. But Fox was betting he still had it in him, especially since the film was actually written in 1932, just prior to his hitting it big. Here a symphony conductor (Rex Harrison), believing his wife is having an affair, imagines different scenarios for murdering her as he conducts three classic orchestral pieces. During Rossini's Overture to Semiramide, the conductor envisions his wife as a vamp; during Wagner's Overture to Tannhäuser, he imagines a better life for himself, and finally during Tchaikovsky’s "Francesca da Rimini" ruminates on that special place in Hell for cheating wives. And while everyone was excited by the outcome, publicity storm clouds were on the horizon. Studio lawyers feared possible law suits from the English conductor Sir Thomas Beecham, who bore more than a striking resemblance to the main character. Then in July, Rex Harrison’s name was linked to the scandal swirling around the suicide of Carole Landis, an actress he was having an affair with. But, in the end, the film’s dark comedy was out of touch with a hopeful post-war America. And while it was praised by critics, few came to see it.

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