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.”


About famewalker

Loretta Wish is a novelist, essayist, playwright, musician and writer of print and online columns and feature stories. A former newspaper reporter and government communications writer, she is now a freelance writer/editor and plays guitar in a classic rock band. A devotee of old movies and TV, she hopes that in the next life Eve Arden will star in her biopic. Unless Thelma Ritter is already attached to the project.
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3 Responses to Remakes: The Good, the Bad and the Untouchable

  1. Another for the ??? division; High Society, the musical remake of The Philadelphia Story with Grace Kelly in the Katherine Hepburn role, holds up well enough if you divorce it entirely from the original and look at it independently. If you compare it to the original, though, it falls flat. Crosby and Sinatra just don’t stand up against Grant and Stewart, although Grace does a tolerable job keeping up with Kate. I’ll watch either movie any time you want to show it to me; I just have to completely isolate the one from the other.

    • famewalker says:

      I have similar feelings about the two films. If I look at them as completely separate, not weighing the first and better screenplay against the fabulous Cole Porter tunes, I love them both.

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