Thursday, July 31, 2008

Quickly Assembled American Remakes

Craig Kennedy's recent comment in my Tell No One review thread made me ponder the numerous instances in which well-regarded foreign films were quickly remade by Americans. It made me think, are there any cases where the American film ended up actually being better? (Or even as good?)

The only recent one that I think was a definitive improvement was Christopher Nolan's remake of Insomnia. I still like the original but it's a case where I actually prefer the remake.

Fritz Lang famously remade Jean Renoir's La Chienne (1931) into Scarlet Street (1945). La Chienne is an excellent film, but Scarlet Street remains more memorable. More of a draw, Lang's remake of Renoir's The Human Beast (1938), the somber Human Desire (1954), coming hot off the heels of the then-misunderstood The Big Heat (1953), which was considered another disappointment in a string of such at the time for Lang by many critics. (In the cases of Lang's two Renoir remakes, it should be noted that there was at least something of a significant gap in time between the originals' releases and Lang's efforts.)

Anyway, I just wanted to get the ball rolling, and let you folks bring up examples, both classic and modern as well as try to think of those outstanding cases where the remake was actually either as good or even better than the original.

16 comments:

Alison Flynn said...

Well, I'll throw 3:10 to Yuma out there. The original was great, but I did enjoy 2007's remake as well.

Alexander Coleman said...

Ah, okay, Alison, go ahead, ignore the guidelines of the thread right out of the gate if you must.

I'm just kidding--I'm fine with this being about remakes in general, too, such as remakes of other American films.

The 2007 remake of 3:10 to Yuma is a good movie, both quite different from but also similar to the original from fifty years earlier. I thought Crowe and Bale both gave very rock-solid performances in that, and it was favorite even tenuously-labeled "popcorn film" of 2007.

Alison Flynn said...

Yeah, I always have to be different, don't I? It's supposed to be American remakes of foreign films.

Of course, The Departed comes to mind, Scorsese's westernized remake of Infernal Affairs. In my opinion the original is infinitely better, but I can't deny that Scorsese made a really tight, taut American version, with an excellent acting ensemble, and he did a great job adapting it cross-culturally.

So maybe I'm still ignoring the guidelines, but I'll just say that The Departed wasn't as good as the original Hong Kong movie but it was good in its own right. :)

Alexander Coleman said...

Wow, Alison, you just killed with that pick. I should've thought about that before posting this, frankly. You'd think I would have thought of the recent Best Picture winner that remade a foreign film from only four years earlier, but I guess it was hiding in plain sight and you nailed it.

It helps that I really agree with you. Scorsese's film is a lot of good fun, but like you I prefer Internal Affairs, partly because I thought it was the "tight, taut" take whereas Scorsese's, for good and ill, in about equal measures, I think, was the bigger, perhaps more operatic version.

Alison, to heck with the guidelines. They are as elastic as rubber bands, and like them, they also break. :)

Alison Flynn said...

There's also The Magnificent Seven, of course, the remake of Seven Samurai, Americanized and turned into a western.

I have to admit that I can't even watch the American remake. Seven Samurai is it for me. But many people highly praise The Magnificent Seven, so I guess it can qualify.

Still, it's far easier to come up with examples of American remakes that shouldn't have even sprung up as ideas.

Sam Juliano said...

Interesting thread here, and not easy to come up with films that fullfill your request. I do say however that LA CHIENNE is an underated Renoir masterpiece that may edge out SCARLET STREET for me, but I respect your view, as it's a close call.
Another nefarious attempt to match the original is in the bizarre double-dip by George Sluizer, whose original Dutch THE VANISHING was followed up with that abomination with Jeff Bridges.
I am going to "cheat" and veer off into literary adaptations by proclaiming that the classic 1951 A CHRISTMAS CAROL with Alistair Sim trumps the one from the 30's with Reginald Owen, and I am ready to be attacked on this next one, which I admits flies in the face of my supreme love for silent cinema. William Wyler's intimate and spiritual BEN-HUR(1959)--has anyone ever hear of that film? LOL is better than the very fine silent BEN-HUR (1925) with Ramon Navarro. But two close friends do not concur and we have argued for years. But again I have violated your rules, as neither of these was originally "foreign" as is the case of the Dickens.
But I understand that your posing here is of films that remake stories, and not necessarily exact titles.
John Carpenter's THE THING, which was a literal adaptation of the source material (I think it was called "Who Goes There?)is greater than the still-campy Hawks.........ah, I am stillfollowing Alison's lead.......LOL.........ah, this is a terrific challenge, but it's late here on the East Coast now and I am drawing a blank.........I will come back to this thread tomorrow after I think on it.........

Alexander Coleman said...

Somehow, The Magnificent Seven doesn't bother me because it's sufficiently different enough from Kurosawa's masterpiece that despite the clear lineage that ties them together, they feel quite separate from one another. Also, The Magnificent Seven has that terrific music and a strong ensemble. But I understand your position, Alison. In so many ways The Seven Samurai is an almost infinitely superior motion picture.

Sam, at this point the rule book has been thrown out the window, run over by a rush hour's worth of traffic and thrown into a wood-chipper. Let's talk remakes of all eras and of all national origins, haha, I don't care.

I do agree with you, however, in thinking that for all of its faults, William Wyler's Ben-Hur is markedly superior to the silent from 1925. I love silent cinema like you but I do think Wyler's film still captures some of the great emphasis so common in silent cinema. The problem, for me, is it's appropriately at least some of the talky scenes of Ben-Hur (1959) that threaten to bog it down.

And you're right about The Vanishing, unfortunately remade.

One self-imposed idea I've wanted to enact is watching the Hawks and Carpenter versions of The Thing back-to-back one of these days. I think it would be a rewarding experience.

Interestingly, Sam, my absolute favorite A Christmas Carol is the 1980s take with George C. Scott, so that's even more radical than your favoring Alistair Sims over the 1930s version (which I do as well). Haha...

Sam Juliano said...

OK, I have come up with two instances with the original, stringent specs:

Reservoir Dogs OVER City on Fire

Borzage's LITTLE MAN WHAT NOW? over the German original of the previous year.

Alexander Coleman said...

Two excellent picks, Sam.

Alexander Coleman said...

Evan Derrick's timely review of The Maltese Falcon (1941) illustrates perhaps the greatest example of a remake being vastly superior to the two cinematic efforts based on the source material that came before it.

Daniel G. said...

Can't think of anything new at the time being, but The Departed also came to my mind immediately when you asked the question. Of course, I missed multiple opportunities to see IA and still haven't, so I couldn't have said much anyway...

Sam Juliano said...

Excellent point there Alexander about Evan's timely review of that masterwork that bettered the two before it. The greatest example indeed!

Alexander Coleman said...

It's the thought that counts, Daniel.

Yes, Sam, Evan's review's timing was fortuitous indeed.

Craig Kennedy said...

I liked The Departed better than Infernal Affairs.

Alison Flynn said...

Always have to be contrary, don't we, Craig?

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