Remakes are a constant in Hollywood; always have been. Despite how easy it is to bemoan the current perception that there are no new ideas in Hollywood and everything is a remake or a sequel, it’s not really THAT different from what Hollywood has always done, capitalizing on existing properties for new profits. And sometimes this actually works out well, whether it’s a new take on a book that’s been adapted before, or a transposition of an older film into a new context or culture. This week, we have remakes of Footloose and The Thing (remake, prequel, whatever) on our screens, and while I haven’t seen either of those and can’t comment, I thought it’d be fun to look back at several remakes throughout Hollywood history that are definitely worthwhile in and of themselves. Granted, some of these are actually secondary adaptations of source material from a different medium, but in all cases, there were well-known and often quite good film versions already in existence. Also, I’m not necessarily saying these remakes are better than the originals, but just that they’re worth watching on their own terms. So before you say “another version of THAT?” or “they’re adapting that AGAIN?” – remember these.
His Girl Friday
The Front Page is far overshadowed by its more famous remake, and there are good reasons for that. Though The Front Page is a snappy newspaper comedy much like His Girl Friday, Howard Hawks had a stroke of genius in switching the gender of hotshot reporter Hildy Jackson from male to female, adding a romantic and battle-of-the-sexes angle to the story that’s totally absent in the original. He also innovated the use of overlapping dialogue to make an already fast-moving script move even faster. The all-male version of the story was remade again in the ’70s by none other than Billy Wilder, with the original title. I have not seen that version. But if there was ever an argument for remaking things with liberal changes, it’s His Girl Friday, which stands as one of the greatest films ever made.
1940 USA. Director: Howard Hawks. Starring: Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell, Ralph Bellamy. Remake of THE FRONT PAGE (1931).
The Maltese Falcon
Remakes get tricky when there are books involved as sources. Few people would disagree that John Huston’s film is the definite version of Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon, but it wasn’t the first. It was, in fact, the third version, but neither of the first two have the crackle or power of the 1941 film. Easy enough to say, well, this isn’t a remake, it’s an adaptation of a book, but ultimately that’s an arbitrary judgement because we like this version better. If someone tried to adapt The Maltese Falcon now, it’d certainly be compared to this version and considered a remake.
1941 USA. Director: John Huston. Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet. Remake of SATAN MET A LADY (1936) and THE MALTESE FALCON (1931).
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