Friday, January 9, 2009

Lots of remakes

Hollywood isn't very original. They've been re-making their movies (and other people's movies) since time immemorial. Today, for example, TCM showed the 1960s remakes of Best Picture winners Cimarron and Mutiny on the Bounty. For the most part, they take well-known movies, and come up with lousy remakes. Who ever thought Psycho needed to be re-made?

There are, of course, cases where the original isn't so well remembered today, while the remake is. The biggest group of such movies would have to be the talkie remakes of silent pictures. This is one case where it was a pretty darn good idea to remake the movies. Once The Jazz Singer came out (the Al Jolson version, not the Neil Diamond version!), audiences wanted talking pictures. Since the remake had already been a cheap source of ideas, it was an obvious idea to update older, silent movies by adding more dialog and having a new cast make a talking picture with the same story. Perhaps the best pair of silent/talking versions would be the Ramon Novarro and Charlton Heston versions of Ben-Hur.

A second group of remakes is fairly common to the 1930s: studios made cheap B-movies, and then remade them as -- cheap B-movies. Some of these movies are quite interesting, in that they star people who were later to become quite famous. I've mentioned James Cagney in The Mayor of Hell; it was remade in the late 1930s as another B-movie, Crime School, which starred Humphrey Bogart. Bogart made another interesting B remake a few years earlier, known under the alternate titles of Two Against the World and One Fatal Hour. (The latter is the title under which it shows up, albeit rarely, on TCM.) It's a remake of a 1931 movie Five Star Final, which was nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. (It should be mentioned that there were actually eight Best Picture nominees that year, compared to today's five. Obviously, Hollywood made better pictures then than now.)

The most interesting group is those pictures where the original isn't so well known, but the remake is famous. Humphrey Bogart became a big star thanks in part to the 1941 movie The Maltese Falcon. However, it's a remake of a 1931 movie starring Ricardo Cortez as Sam Spade. A couple of other examples I've previously recommended are Gaslight, originally made in 1940, but better known for the Ingrid Bergman version. There's also Mystery of the Wax Museum, which was remade 20 years later as House of Wax.

With any luck, Hollywood will make its first truly original movie in 2009.

No comments: