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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Remakes: Good or Ripoffs?

At the risk of sounding wishy-washy, I think some film remakes are good and some bad. Some film makers try to cash in with remakes of blockbusters just to take advantage of the good fortune some other guy took on a big career risk.

Regardless, remakes are nothing new. Even in the early 1930’s, the philosophy was that if something was a hit, let’s beat it to death until the audiences say “No, we’ve had enough!” Remakes then were as they are now: either a remake of the same film (sometimes scene for scene) or sequel the audience to death.

An early example is “The Maltese Falcon”. There was an excellent version made in 1931 starring Ricardo Cortez as Sam Spade. In 1936, it was copied poorly as “Satan Met a Lady” with Warren William. Hollywood was not satisfied that they got all they could out of that story so in 1941 we got the benchmark version with Bogart and Astor. In this case, the third version was worth waiting for.

Next, we have “The Front Page”. There have been four versions of it with all of them good: 1931, 1940 (as “His Girl Friday”), 1974, and 1988 (as “Switching Channels”). My favorite? It has to be “His Girl Friday”. It was done as one of the last screwball comedies and how can we improve on a cast of Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell, and Ralph Bellamy plus a room full of great character actors?

“High Sierra” is in my top five favorites and the remakes (“I Died a Thousand Times”, 1955), and Colorado Territory (1949), are decent.

Now, we have the stinkers: “Doctor Doolittle” (1967), (1998). Why even do a remake? The first version with Rex Harrison was a snoozer at 144 minutes in length. The second with Eddie Murphy was a little better but still induced yawning.

It’s the same with “Rollerball” (1975). It was OK and had a good cast with James Caan and John Houseman but did it warrant a remake? If you saw the 2002 version, I’m sure you’ll agree that once was enough.

In the case of “Stagecoach” (1939), it isn’t that the 1966 version is bad, it's just that the original from 1939 was so good that it was impossible to improve upon. “Stagecoach” re-launched John Wayne as a major star after he floundered in the 1930’s. With the combination of the Duke with Thomas Mitchell, John Carradine, Claire Trevor, Andy Devine and others the 1966 cast with Bing Crosby, Robert Cummings, Ann-Margret and Slim Pickens had no chance.

Do I dare mention “Psycho” from 1998 vs. the 1960 Hitchcock version? Think Janet Leigh vs. Ann Heche as Marion Crane and Anthony Perkins vs. Vince Vaughn as Norman Bates. Enough said?

Test yourself: Name four films made during the 1940s that included Barton MacLean and Humphrey Bogart.

John Wayne in "Stagecoach". So long to "The Three Mesquiteers".

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