Aug 28, 2006

Remaking the classics

Jaime J. Weinman notes that the new DVD of Double Indemnity includes a 1973 made-for-TV remake that comes off looking like a bad episode of "Columbo."
Hearing all the old favourite lines coming out of the mouths of these very different actors is extremely disorienting. But it also points up how you can have all these great lines and still wind up with a terrible movie: a test case in how a good script does not, in itself, make for a good film if the director and the performers aren't up to it. So the remake tries to replicate the murder scene from the original, with the same close-up of Phyllis Dietrichson as her husband is murdered. But Samantha Eggar and director Smight completely botch the moment by having Phyllis with a blank, who-me? look on her face; they missed the point of the scene, which was Stanwyck's scarily self-satisfied expression. Plus the sound editor or somebody forgets to put in the sound of the husband screaming as he gets killed.

Hollywood has been remaking movies since forever, but some movies just shouldn't be remade. A case in point: Sabrina, which exists as a vehicle for Audrey Hepburn to look fabulous in gorgeous clothes. This renders the Julia Ormond remake de trop because, though Ormond is attractive, she's not Audrey Hepburn.

But it's more than that. The movie is told as a fairytale that begins:
Once upon a time, on the north shore of Long Island, not far from New York, there was a very very large mansion, almost a castle, where there lived a family by the name of Larrabee. There were servants inside the mansion, and servants outside the mansion; boatmen to tend the boats...
I suspect the era of wealthy industrialists living on the North Shore of Long Island was already outdated by 1954, but was just fairy-tale plausible in 1954, when the first movie was made. But it's pretty much insupportable by 1995--the year of the remake. Wealthy industrialists on the North Shore of Long Island are the province of PG Wodehouse, who featured a few of them in his novels. Their heyday was sometime in the 1920s, before suburbia encroached and the North Shore became an upper middle class suburb of lawyers, doctors and accountants commuting to New York.

Hepburn, at 25, is plausible as a young woman whom everyone thinks of as a child. Ormond, 30 when the remake was made, isn't. She simply doesn't look young enough.

And then there are the clothes. Audrey returns from Paris wearing a turban and carrying a miniature poodle. Ormond turns up at the train station wearing this. No one was ever bowled over by anyone over wearing a black pants suit.

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