Thursday, April 24, 2008

Negulesco, Haneke et al: Same Material, Same Director

Remakes rarely, if ever, elicit much enthusiasm, particularly not among self-styled film aficionados. I can't say I appreciate them much myself.

But there's a fascination about that small, select group of remakes that are the work of their original filmmakers - and major filmmakers at that. I mean, a really resourceful film programmer might want to consider double bills by the following filmmakers...

Alfred Hitchcock: "The Man Who Knew Too Much" (1934 and 1956)

William Wyler: "These Three" (1936) and "The Children's Hour" (1961)

Frank Capra: "Lady for a Day" (1933) and "Pocketful of Miracles" (1961)

Georges Sluizer: "The Vanishing" (1988 and 1992)

Leo McCarey: "Love Affair" (1939) and "An Affair to Remember" (1957)

Yasujiro Ozu: "Floating Weeds" (1934 and 1959)

Cecil B. DeMille: "The Ten Commandments" (1923 and 1956)

Francis Veber: "Les Fugitifs" (1986) and "Three Fugitives" (1989)

In most of these cases, the original and the remake are equal, although Hitchcock's "The Man Who Knew Too Much" is arguably better than his first take on the material.

Much less successful, however, was Jean Negulesco, whose "The Pleasure Seekers" is a sad 1964 remake of his popular three-gal hit from a decade earlier, "Three Coins in a Fountain." (BTW, "The Pleasure Seekers," not available on DVD, receives an American Movie Classics telecast at 6 a.m. (est) on Friday, April 25th.)

Negulesco was something of a specialist when it came to making films about three women who either work together or room together. In the space of two years, he made "How to Marry a Millionaire" (1953), followed by "Three Coins in a Fountain" and "Woman's World" (both 1954), and several years later, "The Best of Everything" (1959) and "The Pleasure Seekers."

In the case of the latter, rarely has so much enticing scenery (Madrid) been wasted - or has so much bad acting been contained in a single performance in a single film. The strident, desperate performance by Ann-Margret here is a vulgarization of the role originally played by Jean Peters in the 1954 original.

Ann-Margret eventually developed into an appealing screen presence and fine actress, but at this point in her career, she was nearly unwatchable and her manic performance here (someone's misguided idea of "adorable") single-handedly sinks the film. Filmmakers of this period were seemingly in thrall to her, if audiences necessarily weren't - as evidenced by George Sidney, by then a veteran filmmaker, who sat idly by and let her hijack the awful "Bye, Bye Birdie" (1963) and then pull an Eve Harrington on Elvis Presley in the even worse "Viva Las Vegas" (1964).

But the other performances in "The Pleasure Seekers," turned in by usually reliable people (including Gene Tierney), aren't much better. Carol Lynley and Pamela Tiffin play the two other young women looking for love in a vacation location, and Brian Keith and Tony Franciosa are two of the men they flit around. The third is played by Garner McKay, who is such a stick of an actor that he inadvertently balances out Ann-Margret's relentless hysteria.

So, let's forget "The Pleasure Seekers" and move on to something equally disturbing ... Michael Haneke and his "Funny Games" (1997 and 2008).

Haneke's shot-for-shot American remake of his '97 German film is a willfully alienating work in which the filmmaker essentially apes the vicious behavior of his work's two cultured thugs (Michael Pitt and Brady Corbet): He takes his audience hostage and forces us to witness, and by extention, participate in a harrowing home invasion. He makes us complicit in the evil, sadistic acts being perpetrated on screen and then goes a step further and blames us for the crimes.

Finally, in the spirit of pure mean-spiritedness, he holds the audience responsible for the fact that he made the film in the first place.

We wanted it, see?

Complicating and exacerbating matters is the fact that "Funny Games" - in both its incarnations - is brilliant. And the American version boasts yet another masterful turn by Naomi Watts as one of the tragic victims.

Finally, there's "September" (1987), the film that Woody Allen, made twice, filming it first with his original cast and then starting from scratch again, with some of his original players switching roles, while other parts completely recast.

It's a melancholy, Chekhovian piece in which six people share their misery during a weekend in the country. The first version starred Mia Farrow, Maureen O'Sullivan (Farrow's mother), Dianne Wiest, Denholm Elliott, Charles Durning and, briefly, Sam Shepard, who was replaced by Christopher Walken.

Dissatisfied with the movie, Allen immediately reshot it with Elaine Stritch, Sam Waterson and Jack Warden assuming the roles originally played by O'Sullivan, Walken and Durning, respectively. Wiest and Farrow stayed in their roles. Elliott also remained in the film but in a different role.

Of course, the original version has never been seen but would make a nifty feature on a double-disc DVD of "September."

(Artwork: The poster art for Negulesco's "The Pleasure Seekers," a still shot from the film with Carol Lynley; the display ad for Haneke's American remake of "Funny Games," and a scene from the film with Naomi Watts)

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Anyone interested in perusing some 2060 of my film reviews, dating back to 1994, can do so by simply going to RottenTomatoes.Com


jim said...


Tom Bryant said...

You can keep "Funny Games." Do you think there is anyone working now who will ever bring us the same delights as Hitchcock?

Moviezzz said...

How about Howard Hawks with BALL OF FIRE and A SONG IS BORN?

And I would argue that the original MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH is the better film, although Day and Stewart add a lot to it.

j. Corcoran said...

You should have gone into more about which of the versions is the better. I go with the remakes.

joe baltake said...


I do modify my opinion about the superiority of the remake of "The Man Who Knew Too Much" with "arguably." Actually, I like both.

Thanks for the tip on Howard Hawks. Sorry I overlooked him.

Anonymous said...

Not that it's worth watching again to verify, but I swear that "Cruel Intentions 2" is a straight remake of "Cruel Intentions". It was originally shot as a TV pilot and then fluffed up with nudity for a direct-to-video release instead. Both were directed by the apparent one-hit-wonder Roger Kumble.

On a more auteurist level, wasn't John Ford's "The Sun Shines Bright" a musical remake of "Judge Priest"? Or did it just share the same character?

bob said...

"Pocketful of Miracles" would have to be about 5 times better to rise to the level of "pale imitation" of "Lady For A Day".

joe baltake said...

To Godard--

Re your speculation on whether Ford's "The Sun Shines Bright" is a musical remake of his "Judge Priest," I went to Dave Kehr, who undoubtedly knows way more about Ford than I do, and Dave offers this informed take on the matter:

"Both are based on stories by Irvin S. Cobb, who was a popular magazine writer of the period. He specialized in tales of southern life and can be seen as Will Rogers’s rival riverboat captain in 'Steamboat ‘Round the Bend.' 'Sun Shines' has some music in it but calling it a musical is going pretty far. The film is an interesting and probably unique example of accidental restoration: when Republic issued it on VHS, they unknowingly mastered it from a 100 minute print, allegedly Ford’s own, that was made before the studio insisted on 8 minutes of cuts. Paramount presumably now owns it, having acquired most of the Republic titles from Aaron Spelling, though they have done nothing with the Republic films other than re-license a few of the John Wayne titles to Lionsgate. A shame, because the Republic library seems a very rich one, to judge only from the westerns that have been surfacing on Encore Westerns. They also have a huge library of crime films, melodramas, serials and even a few musicals – including Allan Dwan’s utterly enchanting 'Sweethearts on Parade'— that hasn’t seen the light of day in decades."