Disguised Remakes (was : Remakes (Re: Maltese Falcon))

From: David P. Hayes
Newsgroups: rec.arts.movies.past-films
Date: Sunday, April 19, 1998 9:34 PM

JimNeibaur wrote in message
><1998041503120601.XAA16926@ladder03.news.aol.com>.. .
>During this horrid decade in film history, it is painfully obvious
>filmmakers are running out of ideas. To do feature length versions of
>so many old TV series is certainly an indication. And remakes like
>The Nutty Professor, Island of Dr. Moreau, et al, are hardly an attempt
>to take an average older film and improve upon it.

I (David P. Hayes) responded in message
>The Eddie Murphy version of "The Nutty Professor" was an attempt
>(successful) to revitalize the comedian's film career by giving him a
>character that would play off what had become dissatisfaction with him by
>much of the movie-going public; Jerry Lewis guided Murphy through the role
>to allow the latter to take advantage of Lewis's experience in the role.
>"The Nutty Professor" cannot be considered to have been original in the 1963
>Jerry Lewis incarnation. The Jerry Lewis version, like the Eddie Murphy
>version, is still a thinly-disguised remake of "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,"
>which in addition to having been filmed in serious versions in 1941, 1932,
>1920 and 1920 (yes, twice in 1920), and in a multitude of rip-offs, dates
>back to the novel by Robert Louis Stevenson published in the late-19th

I do agree with Jim, however, that there are a lot of remakes among today's films. What I will show is that not all remakes are even recognized as such.

What I identify here are what can be described as "Disguised Remakes" -- films that at the surface level will strike the ticket-buyer as original ideas even though they aren't.

"The Cable Guy" (1996) remade "Strangers on a Train." Instead of being about an misunderstood, implicit agreement for swapped murders, "The Cable Guy" was about two men who misunderstand what is meant by their becoming friends. Jim Carrey plays the Robert Walker role with menace, creepy psychosis, and vengeance, whereas Matthew Broderick reprises the Farley Granger role of the soft-hearted, unassertive professional fellow whose weak ways leads him into a nightmare of misleading cues. In both films, the opening scene is of a chance meeting; in both films, the Robert Walker character loses his hold on his mind at a public event, the Robert Walker character leaves threatening notes for the Farley Granger character where they will be seen by others (in the newer film, a message is left as a computer message that cannot be removed from the screen), the Farley Granger character is engaged to a fine woman whom he does not tell of his troubles and whose family is to be perplexed by the male fiancee's behavior), and the events lead to a physical fight on a moving, circular platform (a carousel in the original, a satellite dish in the remake).

"The Truth About Cats & Dogs" (1996) remakes "Cyrano de Bergerac," the 1897 play by Edmond Rostand which became an Oscar-winning vehicle for José Ferrer in 1950. The story is changed from being about two men in love with the same woman, to being about two women seeking the same man. Rather than expressions of one's soul, in the form of messages of love, being delivered by letter, they are spoken over the telephone by a woman who arranges for it to seem that it is the other woman doing the speaking. Nonetheless, this new version retains the belief of the two suitors that only together do they have both the beauty and wit that they deem necessary to woo the object of their affection, and this new version incorporates the balcony scene where the person speaking is camouflaged (this time it is by facial cream, not by shadows), the efforts made by the two suitors to learn by honest, respectful means which characteristics it is that the love-object truly is enamored by, the realization by the duped person as to whom had done what, and the classic line near the end about double loss (in "Cyrano," it was, "I have loved but one man in my life; I have lost him twice"; in "Cats & Dogs," it is "I have loved only one woman in my life; I don't want to lose her twice").

The original version within these last three pairs each ALSO had an ACKNOWLEDGED remake. "Mary Reilly," released the same year as the Eddie Murphy "The Nutty Professor," acknowledged "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" as its source. "Throw Mama From the Train" (1987) acknowledged its debt to "Strangers on a Train." When Steve Martin made his "Roxanne"(1987), its credits named "Cyrano de Bergerac."

There have been other unacknowledge remakes in recent years:

"Mannequin" (1987) re-did the story of "One Touch of Venus" (1948). I was astonished when, in seeing the trailer for "Mannequin" before the release of the feature, that EVERY SCENE in the two-and-a-half-minute trailer looked like it was copied from "One Touch of Venus."

"Havana" (1991), Robert Redford's failed attempt to come back as a romantic lead, was cited by a few critics as having taken the love triangle, the casino setting, and the foreign intrigue of "Casablanca," merely transplanting its location and time.

"Meet Wally Sparks" (1997) cast Rodney Dangerfield as a well-known, opinionated media celebrity who becomes wheelchair-bound while at the home of a fan, upsetting the household routine during his prolonged stay, manipulating the people residing there, and earning the wrath of the head of the household, who had never liked him anyway. The story leads to a live broadcast from the residence. Can you say "The Man Who Came to Dinner"? (originally done in 1941 with Monty Wooley, Bette Davis, Ann Sheridan, and Grant Mitchell as the head of household).

Can anyone think of some more? Titles suggested should have well-known stars or be the work of a respected filmmaker, which is to say, they should be films intended for general release. The film considered to have been remade should have been of (at least) general appeal at the time of its release. In other words, let's leave out schlock rip-offs and films from such obscure companies that it becomes unlikely that any of today's filmmakers would be among those few dedicated individuals who go to the great lengths necessary to see these long-forgotten films.

David Hayes


Return to Table of Contents

Go to next article