World of Remakes – 5 Top Films

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single film in possession of a good story must be in want of a remake.

And so with the remake of Don Siegel’s The Beguiled. Sofia Coppola’s version features prettier costumes, better make-up, less sweat, and a touch less perversity. An at times tremulous Colin Farrell is a quite different proposition to Clint Eastwood on the edge.

The Beguiled was not the only Don Siegel film to be given a reincarnation – his 1956 Invasion of the Body Snatchers was superbly remade by Philip Kaufman in 1978. It’s arguably one of the best remakes ever. Creatures from outer space take over the people of San Francisco when they’re asleep, replicating their bodies in a viscous vegetal pod-like process. The clones seem similar to the original people in every way, but seem to have no emotion; they have a distinctive shout. Donald Sutherland, adorned with a fine moustache and very curly hair, is the hero seeking an escape. The film’s final scene is an exhilarating and terrifying moment – the sight and sound remain imprinted in the mind forever. Incidentally, Don Siegel was sufficiently enthusiastic about the remake to make a cameo appearance as a cloned taxi driver.

Some stories get remade time and again, not once, not twice but many times. King Kong has inspired several sequels, off-shoots, remakes and reboots. The remakes have been worthwhile. The original 1933 story, complete with damsel in distress and a showdown on the Empire State Building, was reimagined in 1976 – this time with a showdown atop the World Trade Centre, and then again in 2005, back on the Empire State Building. Each remake is worth it thanks in good part to the excellent choice in female leads. The original maiden in jeopardy was played by Fay Wray, then Jessica Lange, and finally, in the version directed by Peter Jackson, by the luminous Naomi Watts…. Each of them excellent and somehow managing to make a quite absurd story into something oddly moving: the impossible love of a supersize gorilla for a woman so tiny she fits in his hand.

It is disturbing, but disturbing stories provide a rich seam for remakes. The master of the disturbing and unsettling, Alfred Hitchcock, distinguished himself with The Man Who Knew Too Much, first in 1934 and then once more in 1956. The scenes set in London are especially heavy with menace and suspense. It feels astonishing that he transformed the irrepressibly sunny Doris Day into, almost, the perfect haunted Hitchcockian blonde. High time for a further remake. Any takers?

Another epic film which has inspired sequels, reboots, bits of A Bug’s Life, and not one, but two remakes, is Kurosawa’s 1954 Seven Samurai. In John Sturges’ 1960 version, The Magnificent Seven, the seven samurai appear as seven mercenary gunslingers, defending poor villagers from bandits. A Japanese classic turned into an equally classic Western, with a brilliant line-up including James Coburn, Yul Brynner and Charles Bronson. Yet the remake was slow to gain appreciation. A review in the New York Times at the time had described it as ‘pallid, pretentious and overlong…’. Harsh – and audiences have since disagreed en masse. A further remake appeared in 2016, with Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke. The film did well but has yet to make its mark in the world of cinephiles.

And finally, a most excellent remake, which makes up for all the remakes ever which might have caused hearts to sink a bit. Audiard’s 2005 The Beat that My Heart Skipped is a beautiful version of James Toback’s 1978 film, Fingers. Harvey Keitel plays a brilliant young pianist who also happens to work as a debt collector, and gets side-tracked by love and retribution. Audiard’s later version also allies music, love and retribution to moving effect. It is possible to remake and do justice.

Remakers of the World, we thank you.

First published on Screenwords, July 2017