Forgotten films that are predecessors of well-remembered films

From: David P. Hayes
Newsgroups: rec.arts.movies.past-films
Date: Saturday, February 21, 1998 9:13 PM

We are all familiar with instances where a well-done or popular film spawns imitators. Sometimes the plot is lifted, sometimes just techniques are copied, but it becomes apparent that when something strikes the right emotional chord, other filmmakers try to recapture (or duplicate) the magic by aping the earlier work. However, sometimes a less-remembered film is the predecessor of the classic, the latter-done movie having been successful despite having re-done what had not previously struck the public's fancy.

One such pair of unknown-and-classic films is "Scarlet Dawn" (1932) and "It Happened One Night" (1934, Academy Award winner for Best Picture and the four other major categories). "Scarlet Dawn" cannot be recommended as entertainment (although I found it of interest for illustrating that in 1932 Hollywood there could be a sympathetic depiction of a Tsarist-Russian aristocrat shortly after the Bolshevik takeover, and a negative depiction of the usurpers). Douglas Fairbanks Jr. is the aristocrat who escapes the country with a servant girl of his that he never knew (Nancy Carroll), but once they are abroad, the film becomes a watered-down precursor of "It Happened One Night." Sure, it's predictable that they will fall in love, BUT when these two strangers share lodgings, they use a blanket to create a wall ("The Walls of Jericho"--although that term would be unique to "It Happened One Night"); in the same scene, when Fairbanks undresses, in removing his shirt, he reveals that he wears no undershirt--as Clark Gable would two years later to the more lasting notice of film historians.

Another pair: "Through Different Eyes" (1929) and "Roshomon" (1950). Everyone knows "Roshomon" as the Japanese film in which the same scenes are shown again and again, each time from the viewpoint of a different participant or witness. When the television sitcom "All in the Family" used the device for an episode about a wrecked refrigerator, television observers cited "Roshomon" as its inspiration. When the 1980s television musical-drama series "Fame" used had several witnesses relate in succession their own flashback of a single event, the show's creators didn't make film historians guess at the origin of their conception: the characters who give the accounts shown in the flashbacks are gathered below a movie-theater marque on which is written "Akira Kurasawa Film Festival."

Yet, Fox in its early-talkie "Through Different Eyes," under John Blystone's direction, had Mary Duncan, Edmund Lowe and Warner Baxter repeatedly playing out the events leading to a murder trial, each time from a different and conflicting viewpoint. "Through Different Eyes" has been forgotten.

Some of what led me to think to ask you readers to come up with examples of forgotten films being predecessors of well-known films, was my realizing that I had made several such observations of pairs in my earlier posts, and that others had too. The following excerpts from earlier posts may help to stimulate you to think of other examples.

In "Re: Your favorite 'short' feature," posted Monday, January 26, 1998 8:44 AM, I paired "Headline Shooter" (1935) and "His Girl Friday" (1940) while not forgetting the 1931 "The Front Page":

"One title of special note: 'Headline Shooter' (1935). William Gargan, recognizable to so many of us for his many films in supporting parts as a detective or cop, gets to play a lead--a zippy newspaper photographer eagerly seeking the biggest news stories. His quick-witted interplay with a woman reporter who goes to some of the same stories, comes across as a male-female version of 'The Front Page'--seven years before 'His Girl Friday.' ['His Girl Friday' is an acknowledge remake of 'The Front Page' that differs from 'The Front Page' chiefly by changing the principal reporter character to a woman from a man.] And she's contemplating marrying a man who she's glad would take her away from news-gathering--and he's a dull stable guy played by Ralph Bellamy! [Ralph Bellamy would in 'His Girl Friday' again play a dull but stable man engaged to marry the woman reporter.] A nifty hour-long feature."

A pairing of "Peter Ibbetson" (1935) and "The Fountainhead" (1949) came about in someone else's "Re: Gary Cooper movie info request." In December 1997, there was this: "Gary Cooper starred in a movie as an architect who refused to change his plans when he was requested to. Had an affair with the wife of the man who hired him. Does this sound familiar to anyone out there?" A few responses were along the lines of this one: "The A[y]n Rand thing, …The Fountainhead…," but Gene Stavis (FilmGene) correctly noted, "Actually, that could also describe the plot of 'Peter Ibbetson' (1935) with Gary Cooper and Ann Harding -- a little known masterpiece by Henry Hathaway." In my response of Saturday, December 13, 1997 4:24 PM, I wrote:

"Gary Cooper's… rhapsodic speeches about the value of architecture is so similar in both films as to be eery. The 1935 film is indeed a little-known masterpiece… ."

And on Tuesday, December 16, 1997 5:53 PM, under "Re: Gary Cooper movie info request. (Peter Ibbetson but not The Fountainhead)," I wrote:

"Cooper's character [in 'Peter Ibbetson'] does refuse to compromise his design, [and] he doesn't relent [as in 'The Fountainhead']. He does refrain from saying anything when the wife of his client states that he has succumbed to her design, but this silence seems to come from his desire to appear a gentleman." [This latter is similar to 'The Fountainhead.']

And with this, I bid you:

Happy recollecting!

David Hayes


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