I love film. I have studied film, worked in the film business, and created films for both a hobby and a living. Watching movies is a wonderful experience. Watching movies that are simply wonderful is an experience I’d deem delightful. Watching lovely films that were remade as substandard is simply atrocious. It is because of this reason that many filmgoers like myself sit to watch a remake of a previously produced film with extremely dubious assumptions.
It is why I, after hearing of David Cronenberg and Géla Babluani’s plans to remake “The Fly” and “13 Tazameti”, respectively, I decided to take a look at 20 other films that were remade by the original 20 directors.
Thankfully, there are many times when the remakes far exceed the original film in tone, story, and execution. Many times, it is clear that the director revisited his earlier film with years of maturity, experience, and reflection to expand on a story dear to his heart.
Unfortunately, today’s films are not in that category.
“Remaking the Tinsel in Tinseltown”
“20 Films Remade by the Original Directors”
~Director: George Marshall~
Original Film: Destry Rides Again
Cast: James Stewart, Marlene Dietrich, Mischa Auer, “Charlie” Winninger
Country: United States
Specs: 94 mins / Black and White / OAR 1.37:1
Excellent western sets the bar high for many years to follow. The superbly written banter, clever dialogue, funny quips all add to this very well written script. After losing a bet over his pants with Dietrich, one cowboy says, “I can’t. It’s undignified. Think of my position! I’ve met every king in Europe” Dietrich retorts in perfect comedic timing “Now you’ve met two Aces in Bottleneck. Off with those pants”. Another perfectly executed scene involves every patron in the bar teasing Stewart for his gentlemanly ways. The bartender asks “Whattaya have? Milk?” Steward answers “Yeah, I think I will!” The look of sudden surprise on the bartenders face is excellently timed.
The opening scene with Dietrich pulling a fast one on the local ranch hands poker game is classic. Her titillating character as the tavern owner / cabaret performer is very memorable and superbly portrayed by the consummate actress. The wonderful direction by Marshall has Dietrich’s character hiding gold down her bra, displaying a very simple act that so cleverly defines her character. Her cat fight with Mrs. Callahan and Stewart is so exceptionally staged and dramatic that it stands head and shoulders above most other fight scenes. In fact, the whole scene is played with the actual actors, instead of stuntmen, and it adds to the realism of this scene, as well as the film.
The acting chops on display in this film are so spectacular, the plot so well written, the direction so amazing, this is simply one of the best.
My Rating: ***** / A
Remake Film: Destry
Cast: Audie Murphy, Mari Blanchard, Lyle Bettger, Thomas Mitchell, Edgar Buchanan, Wallace Ford
Country: United States
Specs: 95 mins / Color – Technicolor / OAR 1.85:1
What happened? For starters, there isn’t much different from Marshall’s spectacular 1939 version of this film apart from the cast. Other than the upgrade to widescreen and 3-Strip Technicolor, this a far less superior version in every way. The cast, and the direction for that matter, is so flawed, I cringed at the fact that the same director was behind this film.
For starters, the mayor has been re-envisioned as a bumbling idiot. Attempting to replace the iconic Marlene Dietrich proved futile at best. Frenchie is uncomfortably generic and uninspiring, lacking even the smallest iota of villainess qualities. The scene involving the bet for pants, a running gag throughout the original, is a quick bet for a woman’s hat.
Audie Murphy as Destry, played by the charismatic James Stewart in the original, now has ZERO charisma. Much of the dialogue from the first film is retained, word for word, Sadly, this time however, either the actors were given horrible direction for the comedic timing or they lacked the acting abilities to pull it off.
There is no mystery as to the location of the old sheriff, and none of the clever manipulating Destry performs to defeat the town villains. This time he simply “stumbles” into almost every situation. Little character traits that added depth and insight into the character, such as Destry whittling away at wood to create napkin holders, has been rewritten as fiddling with a piece of rope, tying knots the most basic of knots.
All in all, I was never completely convinced Marshall knew what he was thinking, nor the reason behind the soulless direction. Simply put, a terrible film with a sissy for a lead in Audie Murphy.
My Rating: ** / D+
~Director: George Sluizer~
Original Film: Spoorloos (“The Vanishing”)
Cast: Johanna ter Steege, Gene Bervoets, Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu
Language: Dutch / French
Country: Netherlands / France
Specs: 107 mins / Color / OAR 1.66:1
This Dutch film is a hauntingly tense suspenseful thriller. If you have not seen this film, I highly suggest you do so today. It is simply riveting with its portrayal not only of the inner turmoil the victims boyfriend goes under, but also the very believable actions of the perpetrator and his preparations. The film takes place in both the Netherlands and France, which adds tension in the form of being in a strange land, having a crime take place, and not completely being familiar with the language. Surprisingly, the film is strictly a character driven story with a very nontraditional (in Hollywood terms) ending. Even more surprising, the film contains very little coarse language, zero nudity and zero violence. A true testament to the filmmaking prowess of Sluizer.
If it doesn’t appear obvious, this is certainly, without question, an excellently produced foreign film.
My Rating: **** / B
Remake Film: The Vanishing
Cast: Jeff Bridges, Kiefer Sutherland, Nancy Travis, Sandra Bullock
Country: United States
Specs: 109 mins / Color / OAR 1.85:1
As with the previous remake, I ask “What went wrong?” A typical vanilla plain thriller with very predictable ending is a bland remake of the far superior Dutch film. This version, for reasons I cannot fathom, was directed in a style completely different from Sluizer’s first effort. It appears he was under a deadline, as the film feels completely rushed, with any sense of character development gone. Bridges character, whom in the original was brilliantly portrayed as having a relationship with a family, is nearly nonexistent. The dichotomy between good and evil, so cleverly evident in the original, has been completely erased, simply making the character of Barney nothing more than a sadistic evil creep.
Additions such as having Sutherland’s character being a novel writer contracted to write about his experience, and turning the new girlfriend into a super sleuth is silly and absurd. How she knows that he’s been buried alive, and how she has the strength to easily fight off the twice her size attacker is Hollywood nonsense. In fact, it seems at times that Sluizer intended to film an updated version of Sherlock Holmes, as her detective skills in finding him at a hotel, and finding the daughter to get directions to the house is more far fetched than an episode of Batman: Detective.
Lastly, the complete rewrite of the ending to a more traditional, and predictable, ending is tantamount to having a graphic on the screen read “For the easily pleased audience”.
Such wasted talent, both for the director and the usually entertaining cast. A witless remake, through and through.
My Rating: *** / C-