“You played it for her, you can play it for me! If she can stand it, I can! Play it!” [Humphrey Bogart to Dooley Wilson in “Casablanca” (1942)]
They say that the only things in life that are certain are death and taxes. Well dear reader that is not necessarily true when it comes to movies, television and the theater. They forgot to include something called “Remakes” and “Sequels!”
You know what they are. It seems like three quarters of all movies now fit into these two categories. You also cannot escape it on TV no matter how hard you try. Why it is even in the theater too. A classic case of a theater remake was for the classic Shakespeare play Hamlet in 1964 starring Richard Burton. That production was performed in a “rehearsal” setting with an incomplete set and the actors wearing modern street clothes which changed at times. There have been many different interpretations of Hamlet done before but this one was an especially big hit. Of course it also helped that maybe it was because Burton and Elizabeth Taylor fell in love the year before during the making of the movie, “Cleopatra” and the public couldn’t get enough of their continuing drama.
A good example of a sequel for a play was for the original Broadway play, “The Miracle Worker” (1959) about Helen Keller and her teacher, Annie Sullivan. It was originally written by William Gibson for the TV anthology series “Playhouse 90” in 1957 and was adapted into an acclaimed Tony winning Broadway play and later Oscar winning 1962 film. In 1982, Gibson wrote a sequel called, “Monday After the Miracle” about both characters’ later years. Unfortunately, while the play received generally favorable reviews, it did not achieve anywhere near the same success. That was a problem that occurs more often than not with a sequel or a remake.
On TV it is not unusual for both to occur. However, there are times when a remake can be a big hit too. Recently, two prior popular TV shows have been remade to popular success and both with one big Hawaiian connection. The first was “Hawaii Five-O” (1968-1980) which was a huge hit for CBS and made granite-jawed actor Jack Lord playing top cop, Steve McGarrett, richer than a Hawaiian King. It was remade in 2010 with actor Alex O’Loughlin (another member of the Australian actor pipeline to Hollywood) playing the lead. At nine years running, it has a chance to surpass the original’s twelve year run.
The second one, and more recent, was “Magnum, P.I.” (1980-1988) with Tom Selleck as the lead. Selleck, who must have just grabbed Jack Lord’s stash of old Hawaiian shirts as Lord left the scene, played a private investigator who roamed those mean Hawaiian stre… I mean, beaches dodging danger (and a bad sunburn). On September 24, 1918 a new “Magnum, P.I.” premiered to good ratings and a second season by CBS. This one stars Jay Hernandez (Nope, not an Australian this time) as Magnum. Haven’t watched this particular show but, other than the fact that if Hernandez is wearing those same Hawaiian shirts, man they must be pretty ratty by now, he is a great choice for the role. Why am I saying this if I haven’t even seen the show Dear Reader? Well, check out the movie “Suicide Squad” (2016) sometime. Despite all the negative press about this movie it is actually pretty good and two of the biggest reasons for this is because of actors Margo Robbie as Harley Quinn (who should have won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar that year) and Hernandez as fire demon El Diablo (who should have been, at least, Best Supporting Actor Oscar nominated). Hernandez is unrecognizable in the role as bald, multiple body/face tattooed, and tormented anti-hero El Diablo. He is an absolutely great actor. Years before “Mr. Robot” premiered, I told people to keep an eye on a guy named Rami Malek after I saw him in the Emmy Award winning HBO miniseries, “The Pacific” (2010). Now I’m telling you to keep an eye on this guy. He’s the real deal (OK! I sidetracked into a shout-out here. I promise to get back to the post now!)
For TV, remakes are not just for a regular TV or cable show, movie, or miniseries. It can even be for a single episode of a TV show. The most unusual example I have ever seen was for an episode of the old TV anthology series called, “The Dick Powell Show” (1961-1963). That episode was called, “Epilogue” (Episode 27, 1963). It starred Ricardo Montalban and Lee Marvin as two former members of an elite marine WWII commando team who meet up again after 18 years. Montalban is now a successful married lawyer while Marvin, who served under Montalban, is now the successful owner of a health club. Doesn’t sound like anything too unusual does it? Well that changes when right off the bat, you find out that Marvin is a psychopathic killer who murders people that he feels the law does not adequately either catch or punish and now he wants to ultimately kill Montalban because he defended a big time gangster (who Marvin kills first). Bruce Geller (who two years later would create and produce the original “Mission Impossible” TV show) wrote the terrific script and Bernard Kowalski directed [he also directed Marvin in multiple episodes of Marvin’s hit crime show, “M-Squad” (1957-59)]. Nobody could play bad guys and psychopathic killers like Marvin and this episode has one of the finest early TV fight sequences occurring late at night in Marvin’s health club locker room with both actors (Montalban was a serious iron-pumper in real life) going at each other without stunt doubles. This is classic TV at its finest!
Geller also developed the TV show “Mannix” (1967-75) starring Mike Connors as detective Joe Mannix (Gee, how original). Connors as an actor along with the show itself were both pretty mediocre but the public liked it well enough to make it a long running hit. It also gave Geller a chance to use his script again although someone else was given credit for the episode’s screenplay. If you care check, out an episode called, “A Ticket to the Eclipse” (Season 4, Episode 1, 1970). This time it’s Darren McGavin (speaking of mediocre) as the psychopathic killer from Mannix’s old Korean War Army unit (different war but same old psychopath story line). However, this time he’s just killing members of his old unit (maybe he got stuck doing KP one time too often). They even had the same old fight in the locker room late at night but it was so laughably choreographed and badly directed along with McGavin and Connors looking too old and out of shape, that their supposedly deadly Karate fight looked more like a Bitch slapping contest between a pair of fourteen year old girls.
Just when you thought that they finally put Geller’s story to rest once and for all they brought it back to life for a one year flop police show called “Bronk” (1976) starring Jack Palance as detective… Bronkov (a three year old could make up a better name for a TV show than these slobs). Palance at least tried to make his character a little bit different. He sometimes had a really bad temper and he liked cats even though he was allergic to them and would start sneezing whenever he was around them. However, he couldn’t do anything to save this show. Now our killer psychopath was Denny (Wagon Train) Miller (they really were scraping the bottom of the acting “food chain barrel” now) as someone bumping off WWII Navy vets he holds responsible for his father’s death (one of which is, of course, Bronk). By now, the old tired big fight in the locker room sequence was so weak that I’d have rather watched paint dry than put up with it again. Geller, tragically died in a plane crash a couple of years later or we probably would have seen the next psycho killer bumping off ex-members of the Air Force (that would have just about covered all the branches of the Armed Forces).
There are plenty of movie remakes and sequels too and sometimes the sequel is better than the original. A prime example of this is found in the first “Spider-Man” franchise starring Tobey Maguire [“Spider-Man” (2002)]. The first film was a big hit and universally acclaimed by critics. It was also popular being the first film to ever pass the 100 million mark in a single weekend. Of course Spider-Man, like so many other Superhero movies, was made with sequels in mind. However, when Spider-Man 2 (2004) came out just two years later, the results were even greater. Besides having better box office returns and acclaim by critics, there were other reasons why it was so good. Some of the reasons were that: (1) they had a lot more money to spend, (2) they also had as the villain, Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina) who was one of Spider-Man’s greatest foes, (3) Molina, a fine actor, was wonderful in the role, (4) the movie had great direction by Sam Raimi, (5) both Michael Chabon and two time Oscar winner Alvin Sargent worked on the screenplay, (6) the special affects were outstanding (and won the Oscar that year), and (7) the movie had some of the finest action scenes ever done for a movie (especially one scene in particular).
That scene was an incredible fight between Spider-Man and Doctor Octopus on board a speeding out-of-control elevated train. This action sequence was the very first scene that Director Raimi shot for the film and it shows by how visually brilliant it is. They even used an actual train carriage to make the action more authentic and realistic as Spider-Man desperately tries to stop the train. This movie is one of the best superhero movies of all time and a prime example of a sequel surpassing the original.
The last example I want to discuss is of a remake of a movie that has been done numerous times with the most recent version coming up again just this past year. Let me tell you about an old movie called, “What Price Hollywood” (1932) directed by George Cukor. The movie was a pre-Code drama film (meaning, before there was a censorship board) so it had supposedly more adult content (which today would be equivalent to a normal drama show on TV). The plot concerns a waitress (Constance Bennett) who is also an aspiring actress. She gets her chance at a screen test after a one night stand with a director (Lowell Sherman), a flippant, always drunken, charmer. However, as she goes up the ladder to stardom, he slowly goes down the drain to ruin due to his drinking. “Wait a minute”, I bet you are saying. “I’ve seen this before!”
You bet you have! It’s the original story line for the movie, “A Star Is Born!” This story was based, loosely, on a number of stories about real Hollywood personalities back then but the David O. Selznick produced film was a box-office failure. Actually, in an actual art imitating life moment, actor and film director Lowell Sherman, who was also an alcoholic, would die two years later in 1934 from double pneumonia. This movie and others before it were box office failures and Hollywood executives felt this was due to the general public not being interested in stories about Hollywood. However, Selznick was not one to give up so easily and just four years later the next “A Star Is Born” (1937) was born!
This remake, even though it is old, is the best of the bunch. It was directed by William Wellman (a better director than Cukor ever was). It starred Janet Gaynor and Fredric March who each gave terrific performances and were both justly Oscar nominated. The screenplay was also far better and won an Oscar. Lastly, the Technicolor cinematography by W. Howard Greene was spectacular and won a special Oscar that year. It is amazing that RKO studios did not sue Selznick and his own production company of Selznick International Pictures for basically stealing the story line from the prior film. However, this screenplay was supposedly based on other Hollywood actors’ experiences so RKO maybe thought that it would be too much trouble to prove in a court of law. After this movie’s success, the next remake wouldn’t occur until 17 years later in 1954 and as a musical.
This version of “A Star Is Born” was directed by George Cukor (who originally turned down directing the 1937 version because it was too similar to his 1932 film). Now the stars were Judy Garland and James Mason and the screenplay was by Moss Hart. Garland, who wanted to use this film as a comeback vehicle since she hadn’t worked in close to four years, was in a sad state due to her emotional and substance abuse problems which would ultimately kill her in 1969. Production problems, delays, editing to reduce an overlong film to a version that would attract the viewing public doomed this remake despite the top performances by both Garland and Mason (both Oscar nominated), top notch musical sequences, and good reviews by critics. This serious musical was also a precursor to more adult versions of musicals which would be a standard for such individuals as composer John Kander and lyricist Fred Ebb, and composer/lyricist Stephen Sondheim. It would be another 22 years before the next remake in 1976 and what I call, “The Curse of Barbara Streisand!”
There are certain actors that are, despite their talent, not nice individuals! The reasons why are not important. They just are. There are numerous examples such as Errol Flynn, Sean Penn, Marlon Brando, Marilyn Monroe, Joan Crawford, Madonna, Charlie Sheen, and Jessica Lange. And then there is Barbara Streisand. If Webster’s Dictionary had a page with the definition of “Bitch” on it, a photo of her picture next to the definition would not be out of place. Director Frank Pierson, who did this movie, was a good Oscar winning screenplay writer but a mediocre/lousy director. He was so angered with having to deal with Streisand’s antics and her then boyfriend producer/hair stylist (I’m not kidding) Jon Peters’ interference, that he wrote a first person account describing her as “egocentric, manipulative, and controlling.” This remake was also now about the music, rather than the movie business. Streisand was well known for not wanting anyone to upstage her as a singer. When she directed “Yentl” (1983) the cast included Mandy Patinkin, one of the few actor/singers who could match her shot for shot as a singer. So of course she made sure that only she did all of the singing, the movie be damned. For this “Star Is Born” she didn’t have any worries. She had Pierson cast Kris Kristofferson as her co-star. Kristofferson once said that “Filming with Streisand is an experience which may have cured me of the movies.” He didn’t have the voice to match Streisand and he certainly wasn’t a good enough actor to outshine her there either. This remake came in under budget, was popular with the general public, and even won an Oscar for best song. However, a number of critics summed up the movie best by calling it, “A Star Is Still-Born!”
Now, after 42 years comes the latest remake of “A Star Is Born” (2018). This one has Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga as the leads with Cooper directing. This version does have some good things and even some real surprises. The surprises are Cooper’s singing and Gaga’s acting which are both pretty good. The other good things, besides Cooper and Gaga’s acting, are Sam Elliott’s performance as Cooper’s brother and Rafi Gavron’s performance as Gaga’s music producer/manager. The songs are also very good and when Gaga starts singing it just reinforces what a great singer and performer she really is (take that Barbara Streisand)! Unfortunately, despite all of that, this film still has a lot of problems.
One, the movie is too long and becomes redundant with Cooper’s continually “falling off the wagon” shtick. Two, the prior versions’ female character (except for Streisand’s film) does not turn into a full fledged professional star immediately and in some versions (1932, 1937, and 1954) she is actually not very talented to begin with. Gaga is great from the very beginning and better direction by Cooper should have shown how this person developed into a star, not how she was an undiscovered star to begin with. Three, the movie’s second half devolves into basically a Gaga music video revue which, while good, does not take away from the realization that this movie is grinding to a halt. Four, and maybe the worst problem, is that this remake does not do anything really too original or different but instead, just repeats the same story over and over again.
Well that’s it for now. I suppose people will sort of forget this version after 20 to 40 years pass bye so when the next version is done, they may actually think they are seeing something new when they actually are not. Maybe even Hollywood will finally update it in a different sort of way. It could be something like… A STAR IS BORN…..
IN SPACE !!!
God help us!