Remake It? Please Don’t!

Film

Ladykillers

The biggest mistake directors commit when they remake classic films is misunderstanding the intent of the original. The last few years have seen one weak reboot after another, the most recent being Disney’s decision to remake its animation films as live action features. Originality is born out of time and place; Hollywood’s great screwball comedies, starting with the Marx Brothers and ending with ‘The Philadelphia Story’ cannot be remade because they were a reaction to austerity and straitened times. Mercifully no-one has suggested remaking ‘On The Waterfront’ with Jeremy Corbyn leading the strikers.

The Coen brothers came a cropper with ‘The Ladykillers’, a radical remake of the Ealing comedy classic that moved the story to the US deep South. They added swearing, slapstick, subplots and poo jokes, killing it. The obsequious, sinister Alec Guinness was replaced with perky chatterbox Colonel Sanders-lookalike Tom Hanks, but what they had spectacularly failed to recognise was the dynamic of the Ealing version, in which an elderly lady destroys a gang of crooks masquerading as musicians in her house. It’s quite clear from the original that Mrs Wilberforce is a force for expansive chaos from the moment she looks into a pram and makes a baby cry, while the crooks’ narrowness of mind brings their own downfall. It’s something that Graham Lineham understood well in his brilliant stage version, but the Coens removed this darkness and turned in an awkward heist caper instead.

The two most disastrous remakes were the conversion of ‘Sporloos’ (which had been a novel) into ‘The Vanishing’, which completely misunderstood the purpose of the original (that it wasn’t about a search for a girl but the hero’s needs) and added a hilariously bad shovel fight, and the staggeringly awful ‘The Wicker Man’, in which rural folk-religion is swapped for sisterhood and a deadly serious Nic Cage pulls a gun on a woman, commanding, ‘Step away from the bicycle.’

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Now HBO has brought back ‘Westworld’, hoping for a hit, but they’ve reversed the original’s fear of AI and made the robots the heroes, to my mind an absolutely terrible idea. Why complicate a clean concept? But I’ll give it a try, because minds are there to be changed.

It’s a problem of remakes, the over-elaboration of a pure plan. So far we’ve been spared  a new version of ‘The Man In The White Suit’ but surely it’s only a matter of time. We live in a world where people demand explanations where none exist. It’s why I despaired when a writer described his sequel to Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds’ by saying, ‘Now we’ll finally find out why they behaved as they did; pollution.’

11 comments on “Remake It? Please Don’t!”

  1. DC says:

    If the original was good, then don’t. If it was bad, why bother. That said, I’d have all the Star Wars prequels junked and remade, with a ‘proper’ story-line.

    Also, we are due several other TV series based on films, including Frequency, Lethal Weapon and Snatch.
    Not looking forward to the new Jumanji but I have some hopes for Going In Style.

    Oh! Rumour has it Michael Bay is working on a new production of The Birds. I trust you day is well and truly made!

  2. John says:

    I’ve been hearing about that remake of Westworld for years, practically a decade. Wasn’t it still in the works when Crichton was still alive? How long did it take to finally come together? Why bother when the original was of its time and perfectly fine on its own?

    When I saw the ads for the remake of The Magnificent Seven I pretty much decided that Hollywood has not only run out of ideas, it has absolutely no respect for its past. More specifically, they have no respect for the artistry and inventiveness of well made, entertaining movies that don’t need to be remade.

    A list of more pointless remakes in the works I found on imdb.com include An American Werewolf in London, American Psycho (could it be the recent stage musical on film?), The Neverending Story, All Quiet on the Western Front (for the third time), Barbarella, Dirty Dancing, and the umpteenth version of A Star Is Born starring Lady Gaga and directed by Bradley Cooper. That last one sums up all that’s wrong with remakes and is guaranteed to be derided and reviled if it ever sees the light of day.

  3. Davem says:

    John’s comments, particularly the re-make of Neverending Story, tempted me to take a look.

    Re-makes planned of The Time Bandits, The Orphanage and Scarface. All pointless.

  4. Vivienne says:

    Nobody could have seen every film, so why waste time watching a film you’ve seen before and, this time, will be worse? Realise I’ve probably discounted those who always want 3D type things – just imagine huge computer generated crows for The Birds. I will try not to.

  5. Ness says:

    Sabrina is the only film I can think of where I have enjoyed the remake almost as much as the original. I laughed at the ending of the new and improved “Vanishing”. What were they thinking?

  6. Trace Turner says:

    I can only think that films are remade to satisfy the people remaking them, not for the viewers. Kenneth Branagh is doing Murder on the Orient Express. Why? The one with Albert Finney was so good and the last remake with Alfred Molina was so awful.
    Later this month we will get a new version of The Rocky Horror Picture Show on American TV – I am only slightly hopeful.

  7. Roger says:

    It depends on the film: A Star is Born and Scarface have strong enough stories and enough potential variation to be possibly worth doing again. This Westworld, by changing the emphasis might be worth watching, Good remakes change the story’s dynamics: True Grit – one of the Coen’s triumphs and based on a good original; Red River – a remake of Mutiny on the Bounty. The original Magnificent Seven was a remake, remember, but by emphasising the importance of Wallach’s villain the story was completely changed.
    There are actually three versions of The Maltese Falcon, and while Huston’s is the best, the others have their own virtues.

  8. snowy says:

    I had/have a pet theory that, The Ladykillers remake was the result of a small mistake that ‘snowballed’ out of control.

    A harried Film Producer is in a frantic search for a ‘new’ project and he is out of ideas. He has already tried 3 lines of thought, the evidence of which are still visible around his nostrils, but nothing. And then it comes, a re-make, but what?

    Ah! That old black and white picture he saw on TV!

    Not being one to bother himself with details, he has underlings for that. He calls an assistant and issues orders. “I need you to get me the rights to a script.” “No I don’t know what it’s called.” “That’s what I pay you for.” “It’s about an old dame, or two dames, it doesn’t matter.” “She has a Boarding House” “And her lodgers die.”-“How do I know if there is an orchestra!” “There are these Lady Killers in an old house!”

    And that’s how, what might have been a decent reworking of ‘Arsenic and Old Lace’ became, well what it did.


    Everything is a remake or a homage or a revival or ‘inspired by’. Remixed, translated, updated, recycled.

    ‘Assault on Precinct 13′ is as we all know a remake of a remake based on a foundation myth of the American West, but similar tales repeat through time, [Beau Geste, Khartoum, Zulu.]

    ‘The Thing’, same director, turned a film about an external monster into one about an internal horror.

  9. Helen Martin says:

    Snowy, I really like your theory. I’ll bet it could even be true. How about a remake of Arsenic & Old Lace? You’d have to change some bits of it to place it in modern time and putting it in colour would change the impact. Could it still be Roosevelt & the Panama Canal or would it have to be …?? the defense of Saigon?
    I just saw The Magnificent Seven again and have no desire to see the new one. I wouldn’t mind seeing Seven Samurai again, though.

  10. The Coen Brothers remake of True Grit is rare. It is much better than the original.

  11. DC says:

    Actually there are quite a few remakes that are perhaps worthy. Not always better but sometimes different or updated. Some like the Maltese Falcon and True Grit have been mentioned.

    Cape Fear, Wizard of Oz (never seen the Oliver Hardy version), The Thing, The Fly, Scarface, numerous Hound of the Baskervilles (though the original is my favourite), A Fistful of Dollars (another Japanese influenced remake), The Departed, Heaven Can Wait (1943 remake is better), A Star is Born (1954 version please)…

    Mustn’t forget Hitchcocks The Man Who Knew Too Much, which was remade by Hitchcock. I like both but they are quite different in tone.

    The 39 Steps is endlessly remade but no-one quite seems to want to do the film of the book. The ITV remake is a travesty!

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