Robert Osborne, the Movies and Me

It’s hard to imagine anyone with more knowledge of films–and more affection for the people who make them—than Turner Classic Movies host Robert Osborne, who died this week at 84.

I was lucky enough to meet Osborne on the inaugural TCM Classic Cruise in December of 2011, following his three month vacation/medical leave. He looked fit and handsome, and he exuded charm as he waved to everyone and greeted guest celebrities Ernest Borgnine, Eva Marie Saint, Norman Jewison and Tippi Hedren on deck the afternoon we set sail.

“You’re still a rock star,” I blurted out as Osborne moved toward a group of us at the welcoming party on the Celebrity cruise ship.

I wasn’t sure the elegantly dressed 79-year-old would take it as a compliment, but apparently he did because he smiled and nodded. Emboldened, I added: “Thanks for bringing back so many wonderful old movies. Especially The Mating Season. I waited decades to see that again.”

Osborne’s grin widened. “One of my favorites!” He sang the praises of the wondrous star, character actor Thelma Ritter, and I happily joined in the chorus.

Afraid I wouldn’t get a second shot at talking to him, I asked: “I know you were friends with Bette Davis and she really, really wanted to play Scarlett O’Hara. Do you think she would have been a good choice?”

Osborne shook his head—reluctantly, it seemed.

“No, I can’t imagine anyone but Vivien Leigh playing that role. She was perfect”

In his lecture the next day he would talk at length about Davis, but I had already grasped the essence of Osborne. As much as he loved her, he cared deeply about the quality of films. If the decision had been his, he would rather have seen the actress disappointed than miscast.

He lamented to the audience that both Davis and Katharine Hepburn chose “terrible” projects to end their careers—Wicked Stepmother and Olly Olly Oxen Free, respectively—in order to keep working. But he blamed the industry, which wanted to make money by honoring them at dinners instead of casting them in worthwhile films.

A Washington native, Osborne lived in Manhattan and shot his TCM segments in Atlanta. Yet a big piece of his heart remained in Hollywood, where Lucille Ball had hired him at Desilu studio and later urged him to share his wealth of film knowledge. He penned several books about the Oscars, wrote for the Hollywood Reporter and was a TV correspondent before becoming a host for the Movie Channel and then TCM.

Over the years he interviewed, critiqued and/or befriended legions of film icons, and his lectures on the cruise were peppered with spellbinding stories and thumbnail sketches.

His first encounter with Hepburn: She was starring in a play near his college and he sent her flowers and a dinner invitation. (She said no. Twice.)

Who most intimidated him: Lauren Bacall and Jennifer Jones–though it’s hard to believe anyone did. (Dude, seriously? After you asked Hepburn out when she was a star and you were a college kid?)

Toughest interviews: Veronica Lake (“extraordinarily difficult”) and Robert Mitchum (“gruesome”)

Favorite actors: Spencer Tracy, Loretta Young and Claude Rains and Cary Grant, to name a few

Top film picks: Notorious, Hobson’s Choice, Dodsworth, The Mating Season (“a honey of a film”) and Jewel Robbery were high on the list

I went to all three of Osborne’s lectures and had another brief chance to talk to him one on one, during the ship’s Casino Night, where he sported a wide-brimmed hat and resembled an extra from Casablanca or The Maltese Falcon.

As he passed through the crowded lounge, I returned to the subject of Gone with the Wind. Before he got completely surrounded, I managed to ask “Who would you choose to play Scarlett today?”

Osborne considered the question briefly and shrugged. “I can’t think of anyone who could do it justice.”

I knew it wasn’t classic-film snobbery talking because I’d heard him praise many contemporary actors such as Sally Field, Alec Baldwin and Drew Barrymore. I’m guessing he just felt the role had already been portrayed by the best possible actress.

The Old Hollywood I revere is vanishing too fast, and with Osborne’s passing we’ve lost not only what TCM General Manager Jennifer Dorian termed a “world-class host” but also one of our most important curators of film and film-people lore.

His partner, theatrical producer David Staller, says Osborne promised to see us all “at the after party” and I’m holding him to it. This conversation is far from over.

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Marni Nixon: The Best Film Diva You (Almost) Never Saw

Unless you were monitoring the credits, you didn’t know who you were seeing when the Sound of Music nuns were trying to solve a problem like Maria. But undoubtedly you had already heard the lovely voice of Marni Nixon, who died this week at age 86, in some of your favorite films.

By the time she played Sister Sophia in the 1965 musical biopic, the pretty redhead had “starred” in three of the most beloved and successful movies of all time.

A former child actress and violin prodigy, the young soprano had already forged a career in opera and popular music when she broke into Walt Disney feature films—in Cinderella soloing on “A Dream is a Wish your Heart Makes” and in Alice in Wonderland as a singing flower.

A few years later she signed on to do Deborah Kerr’s vocals in The King and I after the contracted singer was in a fatal car accident. Nixon remained anonymous, but her renditions of “Getting to Know You,” “Shall We Dance,” “Hello, Young Lovers” and other Rogers and Hammerstein compositions were very well received.

When Kerr accepted her next musical role, nightclub chanteuse Terry McKay, the California native was again hired to sing for the British actress. In that iconic 1957 love story, An Affair to Remember, she performed the title ballad as well as the Gaelic lullaby “Tomorrowland.”

In 1961 Nixon dubbed Natalie Wood’s Latino character Maria, singing tunes such as the lighthearted “I Feel Pretty” and the romantic “Somewhere” in the ground-breaking West Side Story. While Wood did some of the singing, Nixon was on standby to enhance or correct problems with her vocals as she had done for Marilyn Monroe, Janet Leigh in earlier films. She also sang for both Wood and Rita Moreno in the riveting “Tonight” quintet.

When she took part in Jerome Robbins’ musical drama, Nixon later said, she was bothered for the first time about receiving no personal credit when her songs were so integral to the tale of teenage lovers caught up in New York’s gang violence. She had also been denied royalties though Leonard Bernstein, who had composed the music for Broadway, gave her a portion of his own earnings. Eventually Nixon would admit her invisible role gave her an “eerie” sensation.

Nevertheless, her uncredited talent again took center stage when she became the musical voice of Audrey Hepburn’s Eliza Doolittle in the highly acclaimed My Fair Lady. “The Rain in Spain,” “I Could Have Danced All Night” and “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?” are a few of her solos from the Lerner and Loewe score, which the public knew by heart because of its triumphant run on Broadway.

The Warner Brothers blockbuster won the Best Picture Oscar, as West Side Story had, and this time Nixon’s exquisite vocals gained national attention. A 1964 Time Magazine feature referred to her as “the ghostess with the mostest.”

Nixon can be heard in Gypsy and Can-Can, mainly on the high notes, and she played the grandmother in Disney’s 1998 cartoon Mulan. While she made several TV appearances, she focused more on opera and live theater, as well as teaching, in later years. She toured with Liberace and Victor Borge, earned two Grammy nominations, had her own cabaret act and often appeared on Broadway. Two of her three children followed her into the music field; her son, the late Andrew Gold, wrote his hit single “Lonely Boy” and the Golden Girls theme song.

In 2006 she published an autobiography entitled I Could Have Sung All Night and in 2008 she played Mrs. Higgins in a touring company of My Fair Lady, achievements that seemed to bring her career full circle. While audiences listened to rather than saw her most notable contributions, Nixon remains a vocal superstar whose legacy in the world of movie musicals is unparalleled.

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Patty Duke – Baby Boomer BFF and Girl Power Icon

The cute wardrobe. The honey-colored flip. The way-out slang. The cool parents. The goofy-but-adorable boyfriend.

And to top it off, the look-alike cousin in the adjacent twin bed sharing her confidences, her worries and all her wacky schemes and adventures.

What baby-boom girl didn’t want to be like Patty Lane?

At the time, we didn’t know about Patty Duke’s dysfunctional home life, dictatorial manager or heartache at having to forfeit her given name of Anna. We had no clue that she hated the clothes we envied and knew so little about mid-60s teen mores that she had to be taught those speech patterns and dance moves. In a way, her world had been nearly as limited as that of the blind and deaf Helen Keller she had played on stage and screen.

Even as stardom was suffocating Patty and eclipsing her identity, the youngster she portrayed on TV served as a symbol of freedom, empowerment and self-expression to those of us watching at home.

Lively and pretty in a relatable way, Patty Lane wasn’t content to bask in her popularity and active social life. She was smart, energetic and funny in a pre-feminism era when girls often remained more passive, laughing at the boys’ jokes and praising their achievements. Patty wanted to do things. And not just high-school things although she wrote for the newspaper, cheered for school teams and ran for class president.

Patty aspired to greatness and like a diminutive Lucy in denim jumper, conscripted the normally sensible Cathy, her own in-house Ethel, into one outlandish venture after another. With a fervor that outdid Sgt. Bilko’s, she catapulted them into money-making enterprises, from designing dresses to manufacturing “Mother Patty’s” jam, that went hilariously awry. So did her attempts to launch careers in modeling, singing, child care and acting. But somehow she bounced back from failure and learned her lesson, with help from Mommo or Poppo, and became less impulsive. Until the next project caught her fancy.

Fueled by New Frontier idealism, Patty Lane also wanted to change the world. Like many of her viewers, she hoped to join the Peace Corps someday but in the interim served her community on a smaller scale. She volunteered in the children’s ward of the local hospital, “adopted” an Asian orphan and even helped the police capture a crooked fortune teller.

Patty had the same moments of selfishness, envy and deceit as any adolescent, but her basic loyalty and generosity always prevailed. Perhaps her best trait was her commitment to looking out for those who were vulnerable—older people, lonely classmates and especially her motherless cousin Cathy, a shy bookworm trying to adapt to a strange country and a new family.

The Patty Duke Show lasted three years, and by the end the troubled ingénue had become a teenage bride and won the role of drug-addicted superstar Neely O’Hara in the blockbuster melodrama Valley of the Dolls. She went on to marry three more times and was diagnosed as bi-polar in the 1980s.

Ironically, though, many of the dreams Patty Lane played out on the small screen came true for Anna Marie Duke. She became president of the Screen Actors Guild, had several LPs and a Gold Record to her credit and continued acting for six decades. An acclaimed author, she bravely chronicled her traumatic youth and her struggles with mental illness in best-selling books. The Oscar she won at 16 for The Miracle Worker was followed by many more awards including a Golden Globe and three Emmys—one of them for portraying Helen Keller’s teacher, Annie Sullivan.

Between acting, singing, writing and raising three sons—two of them highly successful actors—she was a committed advocate for the Equal Rights Amendment, AIDS-related funding and nuclear disarmament. She also had several grandchildren and celebrated her 30th wedding anniversary two weeks before her death.

Through it all, the Brooklyn Heights girl who “loves to rock and roll” remained her signature role, our favorite 60s gal pal and a pop-culture icon. And nearly as much of an inspiration as Patty Duke, who changed the world more than even her TV doppelganger could have hoped to.

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Eight Holiday TV Movies That Should Air in 2016

When December’s shopping and baking are done and it’s time to relax over cookies and TV, we usually turn to feature films like Elf or A Christmas Carol. We might even look for I Love Lucy or Honeymooners Yuletide episodes or check out the newest holiday specials.

But television has been producing its own seasonal movies, hundreds of them, ever since the small screen was actually small. They run the gamut from brilliant to awful, but even some of the trashiest can be as sweet and comforting as cocoa on the first chilly night of the year.

The problem is that so many new films materialize each year while older ones tend to disappear quickly. And unlike movies released in theaters, too few resurface on DVD, Hulu or Netflix.

So I’m starting next year’s Christmas list early. Here are eight holiday TV movies, in no special order, that I’ve enjoyed in the past and hope to see once more. They’re only the first to occur to me, so I’m likely to make additional requests in the future. And I invite you to do the same.

It Happened One Christmas
– Long before It’s a Wonderful Life took its rightful place as a holiday treasure, this 1977 role-reversed version paved the way for its popularity by reviving the 1946 saga of the Bedford Falls family’s crisis and redemption. Marlo Thomas stars as the self-sacrificing president of the building and loan company, Cloris Leachman as the bumbling but earnest angel who guides her, Wayne Rogers as Mary’s loving spouse George and Orson Welles as wealthy, tyrannical Mr. Potter.

Home for the Holidays – A post-Flying Nun Sally Field stars as the youngest of four sisters returning to the country home of ailing patriarch Walter Brennan in this 1972 thriller. The prime suspect in the ensuing string of murders is stepmom Julie Harris, who Dad claims has been poisoning him, but over several dark and stormy nights it becomes clear that the family closet has lots of other skeletons.

Little Women – This 1978 retelling of the March sisters’ Civil War-era life and loves is sweet, sensitive and fairly faithful to Louisa May Alcott’s book. Susan Dey shines as Jo and heads a first-rate cast that includes Eve Plumb as Beth, Meredith Baxter as Meg, Greer Garson as Aunt March, Dorothy McGuire as Marmee, Richard Gilliland as Laurie and Robert Young as his grandfather. It served as the pilot for a series that, unfortunately, lasted only one season.

Ebbie– Scrooge, in this 1995 incarnation of A Christmas Carol, is a bitchy department store head played to the hilt by soap queen Susan Lucci. After four spirit visitations, including a comical one from a pair of rowdy galpal ghosts of Christmas past, she sees the light, reconciling with her niece and becoming a second mother to Taran Noah Smith’s Tiny Tim.

Turn Back the Clock – Connie Sellecca plays an actress named Stephanie Powers (seriously!) in this 1989 mystery. After a New Year’s Eve murder she can’t piece together the following day, she wishes for, and gets, the chance to relive the previous year so she can prevent the death. It’s a bit predictable but highly entertaining and stylish noir, right down to the dreamlike black-and-white opening with splashes of color painted in.

Christmas List – This lighthearted 1997 fantasy stars Mimi Rogers as a talented perfume consultant whose career and love life are at a dead end until her wish list winds up in her store’s North Pole mailbox. It’s fun to watch Melanie’s dreams come true one by one, even her unwritten longing for a husband and family, and to see her get the best of man trap Marla Maples.

Silver Bells – Based on a Luanne Rice novel, this 2005 family drama brings bereaved Anne Heche together with single dad Tate Donovan, who sells his farm’s evergreens in Manhattan each December. When his teenage son runs away to pursue a career in photography, Heche becomes his guardian angel, mentor and ultimately the catalyst for reuniting the two men.

Gift of the Magi – Marla Sokoloff of The Practice fame brings a lot of spirit to this thin but charming 2010 update of the O. Henry tale. She and new husband Mark Webber struggle to pay rent and keep a car running, but their biggest challenge comes when their efforts to buy each other Christmas gifts in secrecy nearly destroys their marriage.

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Old School Comedy: Twelve Classic College Films

Whether you’re heading to college, packing off your kids or just remembering the campus craziness of your youth, it’s the right time of year for a little movie nostalgia.

Higher education has been a gold mine for humor since the silent-film era, long before animals partied in togas or nerds took revenge on jocks. There are lots to choose from but start with this dozen, in no special order, for a good cross-section of bygone fads, clothes, slang, comedy–intentional or otherwise—and pranks.

1. Animal House – The undisputed king of the genre, this 1978 glimpse of collegiate life in 1962– when frat rats, not protesters, were wreaking havoc—is credited with reviving the Greek system after the counter-culture 60s. If you’re among the few who haven’t seen John Belushi and his Deltas’ food fight, road trip, frat-house orgies and explosive parade, rent it now or you may wind up on double-secret probation.

2. Good News – Another dose of retro times two, this 1947 musical is set in the 1920s, when student sheiks dressed like old-time golfers and courted their sweeties in crowded jalopies and malt shops. Mel Torme out-sings bookworm June Allyson and letterman Peter Lawford, of course, but the dancing and tomfoolery are the cat’s pajamas all the way around.

3. Back to School – Rodney Dangerfield mortifies his shy son by registering at his college, joining his diving team, turning their dorm into a lavish man cave and wooing their lit teacher. Besides the star in top form, this 1986 film’s wonderful cast includes Burt Young as his bodyguard, Robert Downey Jr. as the class geek, Ned Beatty as “Dean Martin” and Sam Kinnison as a deranged professor.

4. Horse Feathers – With Groucho as the dean, Zeppo as his son the perpetual student and Harpo and Chico mistakenly hired as football ringers, what could go wrong at Huxley College? From their competition for the favors of the campus “widow” to Dean Wagstaff’s anatomy class to the big game finale, this 1932 entry is a witty, uproarious must-see.

5. College – Finding that brains don’t impress his schoolmates, bookish Buster Keaton strives to become an athletic hero in this silent 1927 movie. As he looks for a sport he can play and a job to pay his tuition, he keeps bungling badly but finally redeems himself by winning a race and rescuing his imperiled sweetheart. Sure he’s in his 30s while playing a teen but he’s Keaton, the master of deadpan humor, so just go with it.

6. The Affairs of Dobie Gillis – No, this 1953 tale of romance-minded slackers at Grainbelt University isn’t as clever as the sitcom that followed. But you get to watch Debbie Reynolds go undercover with Happy Stella Kowalski’s hillbilly band, in between blowing up chemistry labs, and some first-rate hoofing by Bob Fosse and Bobby Van.

7. High Time – Widower Bing Crosby matriculates at age 50, bunks with Fabian and his pals, falls for his French instructor and does his own “varsity drag” in ball gown and wig for a pledge initiation. This 1960 fish-out-of-water story also features the biggest bonfire ever and Tuesday Weld as the roommates’ flighty mascot.

8. The Freshman – Harold Lloyd’s 1925 silent-film classic finds klutzy, hapless “Speedy” Lamb trying to become popular and win the heart of a classmate. Like Keaton in College he’s old enough for his tenth reunion, but who cares when Lloyd finds himself in a breakaway tux and becomes the football team’s water boy only to score the winning touchdown?

9. Revenge of the Nerds – This raunchy underdog yarn pits computer-science misfits of 1984, when geeks had little or no cool factor, against their popular frat-boy tormentors. It spawned several sequels and clones, but the original broke ground with its feel-good, prophetic message that the techno-dorks of the world have game, so bully them at your own peril.

10. Mr. Belvedere Goes to College – Middle-aged fussbudget Clifton Webb leaves his nanny gig to attend Clemens University in this 1949 followup to Sitting Pretty. Navigating campus rituals like Whisker Week and athletic meets, a sorority house job and a false peeping Tom charge, the prissy genius manages to earn a diploma in one year and set a pole-vaulting record.

11. Here Come the Co-Eds – Abbott and Costello, billed in the 1945 promos as “teacher’s petters. . . in a girls’ school,” flee from the police and land caretaker jobs at the snooty college where Bud’s sister is becoming a basketball phenom. The inevitable goofy mishaps culminate in a big game, in which a befuddled Lou takes part disguised as hoopster “Daisy Dimple.”

12. Mother is a Freshman – This romcom finds widowed socialite Loretta Young, broke and unable to work–since it’s 1949 and people would talk—enrolling at her daughter’s school on an obscure scholarship for women named Abigail Fortitude. Going incognito with a coed wardrobe and vocabulary, the new MILP (Mom I’d Like to Pin) is a hit with everyone but her offspring, who has a crush on Abby’s most ardent suitor, English prof Van Johnson.

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Remakes: The Good, the Bad and the Untouchable

Remakes, reboots, retreads, failures of imagination—whatever you want to call them, recycled stories seem to be ruling the big and small screens.

It’s hardly a new trend, since films were being redone a full century ago, but it has spiked in recent years. Do-overs aren’t always a bad thing, but when they fail they can do it spectacularly.

People tend to be passionate on the subject, more often on the opposing side, so their diversity of input was impressive. They not only named their most hated remakes but also identified competent or superior ones and recommended some reboots. Here are the highlights.

The good: Footloose, Sabrina, Boy Meets World, The Thomas Crown Affair, His Girl Friday, The Maltese Falcon and Ocean’s Eleven were among the favorites, considered as good as or better than the original. While the latter 2001 effort got several votes and was great fun, I’d still have to give it to the Rat Pack’s iconic 1960 film.

Boy Meets World followed the adventures of young Cory Matthews from 1993 to 2000, and a longtime fan said she “fell in love all over again” when they redid the sitcom in 2014 with an adult Cory and his daughter Riley.

“They managed to recapture the quirkiness and the silliness, and the life lessons have a modern spin to them,” she said.

The bad: Two of the most reviled remakes came in 2003, one of 1961’s beloved The Music Man, with Matthew Broderick in the Robert Preston role, and another of Cheaper by the Dozen, a 1950 biopic about efficiency expert Frank Gilbreth. The latter was truly odious since it kept none of the characters or storyline and moved it forward 80 years.

One viewer said it “wouldn’t stand up as much of a film even it hadn’t claimed some genetic connection to the Clifton Webb/Myrna Loy offering.”

Psycho, The Little Rascals, The Sound of Music, Cape Fear, The Manchurian Candidate and Heaven Can Wait were also slammed while Pocketful of Miracles, Frank Capra’s 1961 remake of his 1933 Lady for a Day, was judged adequate but not as good as the more understated original.

The good/bad: You’ve Got Mail, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Sabrina, The Birdcage, A Kiss Before Dying and the new Odd Couple series made both the best and worst lists.

“The relationship between Matthew Perry and Thomas Lennon feels forced, the story lines are improbable, and the dynamic just falls flat,” said a fan of the Jack Klugman-Tony Randall show.

I initially found the new series lacking, but more one-on-one screen time helped the pair develop their chemistry. And thinking back, I didn’t warm to the first show immediately because I adored the film with Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau.

You’ve Got Mail, a third go-around for The Shop Around the Corner, got praised as a “lovely, well-made update” and criticized as an “infomercial for Starbucks and Yahoo Mail.”

The original Sabrina boasts Audrey Hepburn, who set the bar too high for any successor. But winsome Julia Ormond’s chemistry with Harrison Ford in the 1995 entry far surpassed Hepburn’s with Humphrey Bogart, so I’d call it a draw.

A fan of both films also noted “Ford’s take on Linus Larrabee is so much better than Bogart’s.”

The sacred cows: In the hands-off category were Casablanca, I Love Lucy, M*A*S*H, It’s a Wonderful Life, Holiday Inn, White Christmas, Bewitched, Father Knows Best and Leave it to Beaver.

A few of these have been attempted, with results ranging from so-so to atrocious. I enjoyed the Beaver TV movie and series follow-ups with the original cast though not the 1997 feature film.

Often an exceptional star like Lucille Ball or Humphrey Bogart accounted for a series or movie’s untouchable status. But some stories were considered too flawlessly written, cast, and/or executed to be tampered with. A film like The Russian are Coming, the Russians are Coming, according to one viewer, has all these qualities and was released at the perfect time as well.

“There is no way to improve on it, especially since it would have to be presented as a period piece that would bore anyone born after about 1990,” he says.

Ripe for remaking: A handful of projects were suggested, not because the originals were substandard but because they are apt to appeal to a whole new generation. These included Hill Street Blues, Brian’s Song (which actually was redone pretty nicely 15 years ago) and The Boy in the Plastic Bubble.

Cheaper by the Dozen got a vote, just to wash away the taste of the 2003 travesty.

My choice would be the wonderful 1944 mystery Laura. Some might consider this heresy, but the 1968 TV remake–starring a wooden and anti-charismatic Lee Radziwell–was so abominable that I’d like to see another one properly made and cast. And this time without the awful bossa nova rendition of its exquisite theme song.

One film lover summed it up well, observing that a good remake enhances the story.

“If a new movie can take the basic conflict/situation in an older film and make that modern and honestly different (not just adding tech or updating the clothes and lingo) then I’m all for it.”

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Play it Again: In Defense of (Well-Made) Remakes

Somewhere at this very moment, scores of people are probably pitching remakes.

Whether it’s over tennis in California, lattes in New York or laptops in remote villages, old, new and wannabe industry members are making the case for reboots. A handful of these will become a reality, and that handful seems to be getting more generous by the year.

In addition to this month’s Cinderella, 2015 will see revivals of Jurassic Park, Poltergeist, Peanuts, Mad Max, Point Break and Frankenstein. On television, the Odd Couple will be joined by updates of Bewitched, Coach, Heroes, The X-Files and Married with Children.

Usually our collective instinct is to hate the very idea of redoing a story, especially a beloved one. Not without reason, of course, since we’ve all seen this go horribly awry. But we’ve also seen excellent remakes although many of us won’t admit it. Or don’t realize it.

Let’s look at a few of the most common objections to remakes.

It didn’t need to be remade. This is an absurd argument because how many movies or TV shows truly “need” to be made at all, regardless of quality? Maybe Schindler’s List or 12 Years a Slave, but need usually isn’t a prerequisite for making or remaking anything.

The original was wonderful. Does that mean a revamp can’t be just as good or better? Not at all. Case in point: Little Women, which was impeccably filmed in the 1930s and again–in a rendition more faithful to the book–in the 1990s.

The original was terrible. Maybe it made a mess of a favorite story or simply had inherent problems, but a do-over could end up doing it justice. Case in point: These Three, a fine 1936 film but a poor adaptation, omitting the play’s lesbian plotline and violent outcome. In 1961, when movie censors had become more permissive, Lillian Hellman’s The Children’s Hour was beautifully and faithfully redone.

It’s better as a movie. That depends on how it’s interpreted for TV. Case in point: M*A*S*H, a commercial and critical smash of a film, was far more explicit than censor-hamstrung 1971 would permit a TV series to be. But what it lost in raunchy content and language, it made up for in irreverence, literacy and characters so engaging that a whopping 77 percent of all TV viewers watched their 1983 swansong.

It’s better as a TV show. Conversely, a film can take a series in other directions and give it new depth. Case in point: The Fugitive, an iconic 1960s series re-imagined in a 1993 film with the same premise and lead characters but different villain, motive and resolution. It was riveting enough to become a megahit and get four Oscar nominations, including one for best picture.

The star of the original was too perfect. So he or she owns the role for all eternity? Hardly. Case in point: The Odd Couple, featuring the comedic dream team of Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau on film and transferred to the small screen with the equally superb Tony Randall-Jack Klugman combo. Or Basil Rathbone, the definitive Sherlock Holmes since the 1940s film series—but not so much once Benedict Cumberbatch brought Sherlock to TV in 2010.

Getting back to the classics so adored that reboot talk is often treated as heresy, many of those are actually remakes. Consider the following examples.

The Wizard of Oz – This 1939 megahit was the fifth remake of the Frank Baum fairy tale, among them a 1925 version featuring Oliver Hardy as the Woodsman.

A Christmas Carol – Best known as “the one with Alistair Sim,” this 1951 film was preceded by a dozen others dating back to the infancy of movies, including the popular 1938 MGM entry starring Reginald Owen.

Hamlet – Laurence Olivier’s is widely considered the best, but it was the twelfth to be filmed. Many more were to follow, notably the highly acclaimed ones with Richard Burton, Mel Gibson and Kenneth Branagh.

Marty – Awarded four Oscars, including the top prize, this bittersweet 1955 love story had been an hour-long Philco-Goodyear Television Playhouse episode. It aired in 1953 starring Rod Steiger, who was so moving that he was offered the film role Ernest Borgnine ultimately won.

Pride and Prejudice – Whether the 1995 BBC series or the 2005 film is your favorite, ten others came earlier including David O. Selznick’s star-studded 1940 costume drama.

The Maltese Falcon – This 1941 noir classic was the third adaptation of Dashiell Hammett’s thriller, preceded in 1936 by Satan Met a Lady with superstar Bette Davis. The 1931 original was so eclipsed by the Humphrey Bogart film that it came to TV in the 1950s with its title changed to Dangerous Female.

Before we move on to the many pitfalls of remakes, here’s your chance to weigh in. What do you consider the best and/or worst remakes ever?

For extra credit, is there a film or TV show you’d like to see remade? Let’s hear your pitch.

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