There was a thread yesterday on Rotten Tomatoes about remakes, and which ones were better than the originals. It actually sparked an interesting discussion about whether or not remakes can be good movies. As usual, there were some who said basically that remakes are completely unnecessary and that they’re only made so frequently now because Hollywood is running out of ideas.
Well, that’s just not true. And it shows a complete lack of knowledge of cinema history.
In the classic era, remakes were extremely common. Silent films were remade for sound, pre-code films were remade after enforcement. And sometimes a director, producer or actor just liked the story so much they wanted to make is again.
If anything, remakes may have been even more frequent in the classic era than they are now. And some of the best movies ever made are remakes. His Girl Friday is a remake of The Front Page. The Maltese Falcon is a remake of Dangerous Female (this also received an earlier remake with the bizarre Satan Met a Lady.) It could be argued that these aren’t exactly remakes. The Front Page is a play and The Maltese Falcon is a book. But do you really think that these films would have had a second (or third) go so soon after the original was made if the originals were excellent films?
Part of the reason The Maltese Falcon and His Girl Friday work so well as remakes is because they take the opportunity to try something different. The Maltese Falcon couldn’t get away with the pre-code sexuality of the original film, so John Huston created a unique, dark atmosphere, and pretty much kicked off the noir movement. His Girl Friday switched the gender of one of the main characters and turned the story into a romance. Both His Girl Friday and The Maltese Falcon are considered better than their predecessors.
And just because a remake may not be as great as the original doesn’t mean it’s automatically a bad movie. There are several remakes from the classic era that are very good movies, even if they aren’t as good as the original. Silk Stockings is a musical remake of Ninotchka. Weekend at the Waldorf is a comedic remake of Grand Hotel. Daddy Long Legs is a musical remake of the silent film of the same title. The Children’s Hour is a remake of William Wyler’s These Three.
These films are good because, like with the two films discussed earlier, they take the material and put an original and unique spin on them. There are remakes seem to be pointless because no attempt is made to try something new. The Jennifer Jones remakes, A Farewell to Arms and The Barretts of Wimpole Street are perfect examples. The only significant change to these is the addition of color. And as for The Barretts of Wimpole Street, director Sidney Franklin, who also directed the original, used the exact same shooting script, word for word. Both of these films end up being completely dull and uninteresting, especially since the original films are among the finest films of the 1930s.
Of course, not every remake that adds something unique to the material is good. I suppose it’s a matter of looking at the material and attempting to see if that ‘something’ fits. Two musical remakes, The Opposite Sex and Smilin’ Through suffer from this problem. Smilin’ Through, a remake of the 1932 film, feels awkward and bizarre with musical numbers. Borzage directs the non-musical parts of the story well, but then a musical number pops in and it simply doesn’t feel like it fits in the movie. The Opposite Sex, a remake of The Women, is just a wretched movie all around. The musical aspect, while terrible, the least of the problems, which starts with a horrible cast, and goes right down to the addition of men to the film.
There are movies from the classic era that would benefit from a remake now. Specifically Lady In the Lake. It was the first film directed by Robert Montgomery, and he really showed both his skill as a director and his incredible creativity and skill with a camera by shooting the entire film in first person. While Montgomery’s film is both a fascinating film experiment and and just an amazing film all around, the story could certainly use a remake to film it in a more traditions, third person stle.
So, after all that, are there any classic films you guys think would benefit from a remake today?
By Katie Richardson