The original is still the the greatest

The other night, I was flipping channels and came across the original King Kong (1933). I remembered what “richard” said about it in our discussion of movies we watch over and over:

“King Kong (1933) is one that draws me in every time. Great noir-ish NYC scenes in the beginning, and the entire movie is so atmospheric. It goes without saying that the animation and special effects were great for that period. Some slightly corny stuff near the end but nothing’s perfect.”

kong

So I watched it and it did draw me in and I did really enjoy it. King Kong has been re-made a couple of times: the 1976 version with Jeff Bridges, and the 2005 version with Jack Black. I’ve seen parts of both the re-makes but I can’t really say whether they were “good” or not, because the re-makes didn’t hold my attention well enough to stay with them. I’ll just go out on a limb and say the original is still the greatest.

I guess it makes sense to re-make Kong or some other classics to try to take advantage of improvements in technology, e.g. to re-make a black-and-white movie in color, or use new special-effects tools like CGI. It makes sense particularly for the “horror” genre where you can now create more realistic and scary monsters.

But “updating” with better tech cannot a great movie make. You still need a great story with a great script and great performances.

I can also see why you’d want to re-make a movie that wasn’t very well made the first time around, but might have some box-office appeal if executed a little better. I know how you all like a movie quiz, so here’s an easy mini-quiz – these flicks were entertaining and watchable as re-makes, but pretty much stunk the first time around. Here ya go:

In my judgement, good movies generally don’t cry out to be re-made.  The re-make is a solution looking for a problem, and that problem typically turns out to be, “How can I improve my cash flow by ripping off someone else’s success?”

Today’s challenge is for you to think of a pair of movies where the original  was good or great, and the remake was even better.  It’s not easy to do. I’ll start you off with a handful of candidates that almost make it but not quite. I like both versions, but the original is still the greatest, IMHO.

1.  Mutiny on the Bounty – 1935 vs. 1962

mutiny 1935

Mutiny 1962

Charles Laughton and Trevor Howard are both convincingly despicable as Bligh. The difference for me is Marlon Brando’s foppish Christian vs. Clark Gable’s “man’s man”. Brando just seems a little off to me, though still magnetic.

The original is still the greatest.

2. The Heiress (1949) vs. Washington Square (1997)

heiress 1949

washingtonsquare

I mentioned both of these in this post and I don’t want to repeat myself too much. I think Montgomery Clift is a bit miscast as Morris Townsend, the fortune hunter, in the 1949 version, but I’m not completely convinced  by Ben Chaplin in 1997 either, so that’s a wash.

Olivia de Havilland and Ralph Richardson are perfect as Catherine Sloper and her father, particularly  de Havilland. Jennifer Jason Leigh and Albert Finney are great as well, particularly Finney.  The original performances are a little stronger in my view. For me, the original screenplay is a tad sharper as well, though, again, both are very good.

The original is still the greatest.

3. Dr.Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931 vs. 1941)

hyde 1931

hyde 1941

Fredric March in the title role in 1931 is amazing. Spencer Tracy is very good in 1941 as well, but nothing like March. Tracy’s performance in 1941 redeems the flick and makes it eligible for inclusion in today’s challenge, but the 1931 version really is just a better movie. I find the stunt work in particular to be amazing, and the make-up is better as well.

It’s not completely clear to me why this movie had to be re-made only ten years after the original, but I’m too lazy to research it – maybe one of the GOML readers can tell us.

The original is still the greatest.

4. Cape Fear (1962 vs. 1991)

Cape Fear 1962

Cape Fear 1991

Robert De Niro is excellent in 1991 as Max Cady, the psycho revenge-seeker, but so was Robert Mitchum in the original. I give the edge to Gregory Peck’s lawyer over Nick Nolte’s, but again, both are good. We’re pretty close to a draw here, I think, so I’ll just fall back to “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, and say the original is still the greatest.

5. The Thomas Crown Affair (1968 vs. 1999)

thomas crown 1968

thomas crown 1999

I’m a big Rene Russo fan, and she’s good in 1999. I’m not a big Pierce Brosnan fan, and here he’s playing the usual Pierce Brosnan type. Can he be anyone else? Where’s the “acting”? Steve McQueen, on the other hand, is playing completely against type in 1968 and is completely believable. And the young Faye Dunaway? Wow. All the Boston locations also put the 1968 version way ahead in my  estimation, though I realize that’s just my parochialism talking.

The original is still the greatest.

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7 thoughts on “The original is still the the greatest”

  1. The Magnificent Seven comes close to being as good as Seven Samurai. I’m a Kurosawa fan and not a big “western” fan but Magnificent has a lot going for it.

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  2. Okay. Here’s a few or so:

    Scarface. The original with Muni was a solid ’30s tough guy thing, but the Pacino was epic. “Choot that piece of chit!”

    True Grit. The Duke towards the end, good but no Searchers. Jeff Bridges and Haille Steinfeld brought quirks and toughness.

    Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The original with Kevin McCarthy was a thoughtful ’50s alien film. The Sutherland version is cool and disturbing and deeper.

    The Birdcage/Le Cage aux Folles. I thought the French original was charming and “original”. The remake was seriously funny. Nathan Lane is priceless, and a kooky Hank Azaria.

    Heaven Can Wait/Here Comes Mr. Jordon. The original was ok, but Robert Montgomery had a funny accent! Warren and Julie were lovely and Grodin/Cannon were a gas.

    The Departed/Infernal Affairs. The Japanese original was pretty cool but confusing for the round eye. The remake was a fantastic film. Jack with his jackness was really scary, but the Leo-Matt tension really made it. Good Marky-Mark part.

    One last one. A Christmas Carol.
    I’ve seen them all. (Muppets is my guilty love.) I watch them all in December by myself. The single best remains the 1951 version with Alistair Sim which gets me every time, which is 60 and counting.

    Thanks, SG, for the fun, as usual!

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  3. Great King Kong shot you selected at the top. So much to grok that it takes a few minutes to soak it all in. Looking forward to my umpteenth viewing of it.

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  4. I’m happy to be reminded of these good movies, esp Thos Crown Affair, thanks. If any of these came from a book, which would be better?

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