Remake News of the Day

Ever since Hawaii 5-0 has been rebooted, producers are trying to jump on the bandwagon of remake success. Only most of them don’t make it and fall on their fannies instead. Ironside, Charlie’s Angels and Dallas (which was just recently canceled) are recent examples of a trend that’s not new but feels increasingly overdone.

I know, I know. Battlestar Galactica did fairly well and Matthew Perry may actually surprise us as Oscar Madison in the revival of the Odd Couple. But what do I hear is in the works now for NBC? A Bewitched spin-off focusing on Samantha’s granddaughter? I’m stunned. Didn’t the movie version scar us deeply enough?!

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Merry Christmas!

As a holiday treat this year, I bring you a list of my favorite holiday films. So lean back and click the links to the trailers and teasers to get into a blithe mood for Christmas.

  • It’s a Wonderful Life: The older I get, the more I appreciate this film and the deeper I fall in love with it. James Stewart and Donna Reed are so powerful and touching in this film, for all of you who haven’t seen it yet, here’s a colorized version for you this season.
  • Miracle on 34th Street: Maureen O’Hara, John Payne, Edmund Gwenn and a very young Natalie Wood – this 1947 original was remade for TV in 1955 and then again for theatrical release in 1994. Judge for yourselves which version you like best.
  • Barbara Stanwyck Christmas movies: Yes, she starred in two – in Remember the Night in 1940 and five years later in Christmas in Connecticut. Both films are not what you might expect of holiday entertainment and yet they capture the essence of the true meaning of Christmas.
  • A Charlie Brown Christmas: Yes, an animated classic from 1965. Charlie, Linus, Lucy, Snoopy – what’s not to love?! Never mind that Charlie Brown even manages to turn Christmas into a problem.
  • White Christmas: Yes, granted, the song was already a hit when the film was released in 1954, but the cast turned it into a smash of its own. Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera Ellen sang and danced to Irving Berlin’s beautiful music and thus conquered the hearts of a romantic audience.
  • The Bishop’s Wife: “Sigh, Cary Grant” as a friend of mine would put it. Yes, and David Niven and Loretta Young, too. Now if that’s not an incentive to watch this special film from 1947. It was remade as The Preacher’s Wife with Whitney Houston and Denzel Washington in 1996, but like so many remakes, at least for me, it doesn’t hold a candle to the charm of the original.

And last but not least, I recommend another Christmas favorite of mine, The Andrew Sisters Christmas album. Here’s a sample song from their joy-filled collection of songs –  exactly the kind of spirit I like on Christmas!

Season’s greetings to you all, wherever you are, and a wonderful start into a blessed new year 2013!

True Grit

Talkie of the Week: True Grit

USA 1969, 128 minutes, color, Paramount Pictures. Director: Henry Hathaway, Written by Marguerite Roberts, Based on “True Grit” by Charles Portis. Cast: John Wayne, Glen Campbell, Kim Darby, Robert Duvall, Jeff Corey, Dennis Hopper, Strother Martin, John Fiedler, Jeremy Slate, Alfred Ryder, Ron Soble, James Westerfield, John Doucette, Donald Woods, Edith Atwater, Carlos Rivas, Isabel Boniface, H. W. Gim, John Pickard, Elizabeth Harrower, Ken Renard, Jay Ripley and Kenneth Becker

Plot summary: 14-year-old Mattie Ross hires Marshall Rooster Cogburn to hunt down her father’s murderer and bring him to justice with a little help of Texas Ranger La Boeuf.

Review: True Grit was my first John Wayne Western, a fact I admit with some shame because he was such a heavy weight in Hollywood and a talented star in his fifty years on the silver screen, I should have started exploring his work much earlier than I did. But there are so many beautiful classics out there, so many favorites whose work I haven’t completely gotten my hands on just yet, John Wayne somehow fell behind as a priority. Once I did see him in True Grit, however, I felt inveigled to put him up high on my list. After all, his portrayal of Rooster Cogburn spoke to me much more than the only recently celebrated interpretation by Jeff Bridges.

Remake or original, that may be the question here to ask. Although, in 1975, John Wayne himself already reclaimed the part that had brought him his well-deserved Academy Award. In Rooster Cogburn, he starred with Katherine Hepburn, chasing after the murderer of her father, a plot that may sound slightly familiar to everyone who has seen True Grit in 1969 or 2010.  So was it so bad for the Coen Brothers to re-imagine this John Wayne classic? Well, it probably depends on how fond you are of contemporary interpretations. I didn’t like True Grit much when I saw the adaptation from 2010, but liked it better with John Wayne, Glen Campbell and Kim Darby. That said, I should add that the story itself is not my favorite, not so much for its general content, but for the character of Mattie Ross. But the original film in general is a real gem, telling the story of an interesting journey with an interesting end. So for anyone who enjoys a Western without any Indians, do pick this one as your after-dinner treat. You may be surprised how fast two hours can evaporate by watching a decent movie.

Available on DVD and BluRay. True Grit trailer available here.

Emergency Wedding

Talkie of the Week: Emergency Wedding

USA 1950, 78 minutes, black & white, Columbia Pictures. Director: Edward Buzzell, Written by Dalton Trumbo, Nat Perrin and Claude Binyon. Cast: Larry Parks, Barbara Hale, Willard Parker, Una Merkel, Alan Reed, Eduard Franz, Irving Bacon, Don Beddoe, Jim Backus

Plot summary: Rich heir Peter Kirk Jr. marries a young lady doctor who puts her career first and thus makes her husband think about the value of his own life.

Review: In this remake of You Belong to Me from 1941, starring Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda, young millionaire Peter Kirk has an accident with his car and thus meets Helen Hunt, a lady doctor whom he falls in love with at first sight. Insisting on having her as his physician in the ER, as well as his company for the rest of the road trip back to California, Peter charms Helen into marrying him, despite her initial reservations. After all, she is a doctor and worked hard to start her own practice, she doesn’t want to see her efforts wasted, something Peter agrees to without realizing what it means to be married to a doctor. Despite his best intentions, Peter soon gets irritated, bored and jealous watching his wife leave at odd hours and having a life outside their home. Coping with his wish to control her life at first, Helen finally decides to leave her husband if he doesn’t find himself an occupation other than distrusting her with her male patients. Awakened by his wife’s plea for a divorce, Peter ultimately tries to make a difference in his life and the life others, an endeavor that ultimately makes him fight for the love of his soon-to-be ex-wife.

With its slightly altered plot, Emergency Wedding is one of those remakes that is worth watching without regret. Apart from the diverting storyline and funny dialog, it is the chemistry of its main cast that makes this film worthwhile. Reunited on screen after their first Columbia success, Jolson Sings Again, Larry Parks and Barbara Hale did a wonderful job creating two characters who love each other although they come from two different worlds. With his boyish yet mature charm, Larry Parks presented an heir who is funny and handsome even when he starts meddling with his wife’s professional life. Barbara Hale, mostly hearty and sweet on screen, got to show a tougher side of herself as she played an educated woman who knows how to stand her ground in court against her own husband. Supported by an entertaining Willard Parker, the two lead actors took the story of Peter Kirk and Helen Hunt and made it their own, delivering genuine performances. It is unfortunate that the film wasn’t more successful and thus hasn’t made it onto the Columbia DVD release list so far. It is a gem fans of romantic comedies shouldn’t miss and a real treat for anyone who enjoys the warmth and universalism of Barbara Hale, as well as the buried talents of Larry Parks.

Magnificent Obsession

Talkie of the Week: Magnificent Obsession

USA 1954, 104 minutes, color, Universal International Pictures. Director: Douglas Sirk, Written by Robert Blees and Wells Root, Based on the book by Lloyd C. Douglas. Cast: Jane Wyman, Rock Hudson, Barbara Rush, Agnes  Moorehead, Otto Kruger

Plot summary: When Bob Merrick learns that he survived an unnecessary accident that indirectly took the life of celebrated humanitarian Dr. Phillips, the millionaire decides to change his life and follow the doctor’s example of taking care of others and their struggles. Rejected by Dr. Phillips’ family for his attempt to help them in times of hardship, Bob ultimately manages to prove his sincerity and falls in love with Helen, the late doctor’s widow, despite her initial rejection.

Review: Based on the novel by Lloyd C. Douglas, Magnificent Obsessions had already been adapted for the silver screen in 1935 when Douglas Sirk decided to pick up the story for his technicolor remake. Originally starring Irene Dunne and Robert Taylor, Sirk’s version from 1954 presented Jane Wyman and and a practically unknown Rock Hudson in the leading roles. Commercially successful in theaters, the film received mixed reaction from critics for the emotional story and the director’s choice of material. While Jane Wyman and Rock Hudson conquered the screen with a chemistry that resulted in another collaboration of the two stars in Sirk’s All That Heaven Allows one year later, reviews often stressed the sappy quality of the motion picture, a fact that didn’t stop the Academy of Motion Pictures, Arts and Sciences to nominate Jane Wyman for an Academy Award for her performance.

Recorded for radio several times before Magnificent Obsession re-entered with stars such as Irene Dunne, Claudette Colbert and Myrna Loy, the story itself grew into a classic story about loss, love, grace and altruism. Rock Hudson’s first significant movie role brought him well-deserved recognition and kicked off a career as one of Hollywood’s most charming leading men. It was the fourth Oscar nomination Jane Wyman received for her portrayal of Helen Phillips, an honor Grace Kelly in The Country Girl ended up winning that year.

Magnificent Obsession is a film that works the emotional scale of its audience by merging drama with romance in a way that is now a lost art. Be prepared to stock up your supply of tissues before you watch it, the score and moving performances will make you sob if your heart beats for this kind of gem.

Available on DVD. Magnificent Obsession trailer

Imitation of Life

Talkie of the Week: Imitation of Life

USA 1959, 119 minutes, color, Universal Pictures. Director: Douglas Sirk, Producer: Ross Hunter, Written by: Eleanore Griffin and Allan Scott, Based on the novel by Fannie Hurst. Cast: Lana Turner, John Gavin, Juanita Moore, Robert Alda, Dan o’Herlihy, Sandra Dee, Susan Kohner and Mahalia Jackson

Plot summary: Lora and Annie master their lives with their daughters, living through the ups and downs of success and love. Annie struggles with her daughter Sarah Jane whose skin color is the main source of trouble between her and her mother while Lora neglects her daughter Susie for a career that guarantees her a childhood Lora herself never had.

Review: Imitation of Life is an adaptation of Fannie Hurst’s novel and a remake of its namesake film from 1934 with Claudette Colbert as Lora. Reduced to a soap opera by a number of critics in 1959, the film was a great success in movie theaters and earned Juanita Moore and Susan Kohner Academy Award nominations in the Best Supporting Actress category that year. And rightly so. The film, although a perfect vehicle for Lana Turner’s dramatic acting style, allows its entire cast to shine and leaves the audience gasping for air emotionally.

Starting off in 1947, the film follows Lora Meredith’s path, a young widow and mother of six-year-old Susie, who has a strong dream to make it big on Broadway. Although she is barely scraping by, she takes in Annie Johnson and her eight-year-old daughter Sarah Jane as they meet on Coney Island. Both women seem to be equally lost and out of place in the overcrowded jolly place and soon become employer and maid, as well as friends.

Early on, both women struggle with the challenge to do the best for their daughters. Together, they try everything to give them the lives they always aspired for. It is Sarah Jane who fights her mother most ferociously – with her white skin color she cannot stand the way her mother tries to humble and prepare her for a world that will degrade her for being black. Susie faces her own sorrows with an absentee mother whose career seems to come first no matter what.

Imitation of Life is a drama in its purest form, dulcified with a strong musical performance by the powerful Mahalia Jackson and eye candy fashion in best 1950s style. It is a rich mother-daughter tale, poignant and a fabulous mix of modern and traditional. Douglas Sirk’s great masterpiece, a beautiful composition of moving performances, top notch writing and juicy colors.

In essence, the morale of the film may be to honor your mother for she only wants your best. Or to respect your daughter as her own person, however far away she needs to get away from you. The coin of every decision always has two sides, and mothers are humans, too. That’s what it comes down to in this film, at least for me. And I highly recommend it!

Available on VHS and DVD.

Remakes

Although it may sometimes seem as if remakes are a contemporary idea, they actually go back to the 1920s (e.g. The Battle of Sexes, made in 1914 and then again 1928, each directed by D.W. Griffith) and the 1930s when talkies became more popular than silent movies. When studio bosses decided to re-do successful films. Hollywood, after all, has always been an industry.

But as old as its core motivation, the discussion of remakes has also remained the same – is it necessary to re-tell a story that has worked before? Can’t Hollywood come up with new ideas? New characters and plots?

Well, in times of reshaping and relaunching TV shows from the 1970s and 80s, I guess the answer is clear. It is often cheaper to pick up on an already established franchise. May seem more sensible. Almost like an homage – although  how could it be  if everything that used to work and made a product genuine is being replaced, updated and beautified?

Opinions will always differ on remakes. I myself was thrilled when I first heard about a new version of The Women back in 2008. Annette Benning’s name truly pleased me when I saw it listed for the project. Then I saw the movie. And in spite of Ms Benning, it paled in comparison to the original movie from 1939 on all levels.

But remakes can work. There are examples, sometimes unknown to us today. Love Affair from 1939 for example, starring Charles Boyer and Irene Dunne. It was remade by the same director, Leo McCarey, in 1957 with Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr, called An Affair to Remember. And then again under its original title in 1994, starring Warren Beatty and Annette Benning, plus Katherine Hepburn.

The Window from 1949 (see Talking Classic‘s first “Talkie of the Week” entry) was also remade in 1966, under the title of the short story the film was originally based on, The Boy cried Murder. I have not yet seen this version but would love to see how and if they made it work.

Father of the Bride and Father’s little Dividend from 1950 and 51, directed by Vincente Minnelli, starring Spencer Tracey, Elizabeth Taylor and Joan Bennett, were also remade in 1991 and 95. Then with an all-star cast led by Steve Martin and Diane Keaton.

What’s striking about the remakes of Father of the Bride and The Women though is the almost screwball-like quality paired with hysterics. Although equally well cast, the films don’t live up to the originals. It may be a reflection on the 1990s and 2000s, but the adaptations seem to lack a sense of sincerity in their otherwise entertaining and comedic plots. Steve Martin is not a Spencer Tracey, Diane Keaton is no comparison to Joan Bennett, nor is Meg Ryan a Norma Shearer. How could they be? They live in different times and so do the stories that were told so beautifully in their own time, with their original cast.

Now another remake is being discussed, green-lit by Warner Bros. The Thin Man is supposed to be redone, starring Johnny Depp and Rachel Weisz. I personally adore the original six movies which came to theaters between 1934 and 1947. William Powell and Myrna Loy. What better a pairing could you find? I am not convinced that you could replace them. Or that the plot will work in a new movie with a contemporary perception of Dashiell Hammett’s characters. Mind you, it worked to base a couple on Nick and Nora on TV in the 1980s. Hart to Hart was a good success. But William Powell and Myrna Loy as Nick and Nora are so iconic – just have a look at the screen version of Bewitched  from 2005. Another example for an over-the-top version of a classic hit franchise. It disappointed fans and didn’t exactly score with the critics. However, the film did bring in some money, so if that’s the old motivation, I better keep spending it on the originals. And hope for more of them to be released on DVD.