Saturday, July 16, 2005

Bad Movies That Need Remakes

Critics often say that instead of remaking great movies that can't be improved upon, Hollywood should try remaking movies that started with good ideas but didn't work the first time around. It's a good point, but they hardly ever give examples of movies that should be remade. So I'm going to name a few movies that I think need remaking, movies that were poorly executed but have stories that could potentially make a much better movie. Feel free to add your own examples in the comments section.

- Don't Just Stand There! (1968). This movie was written by novelist Charles Williams, who is best known for thrillers like "Dead Calm," but here he was adapting his comic novel "The Wrong Venus," a really insane novel with a plot that is almost impossible to summarize. Williams's script for the movie starts with the hero and heroine trying to smuggle watches into France by dipping them in creme de menthe so as to disguise the ticking; there's a famous authoress of sex novels whose ghostwriter is a six-foot woman with a black belt in karate; plot complications involve a guy who knocks on a French gangster's door and murders him with a crossbow; etc. It's nuts, and ever since I saw the movie, I've had certain lines stuck in my head that don't make any sense out of context -- lines like "Who is this ravishing Bougie?" and "If you need any help, I can take the girl." It also had a perfect cast for this kind of featherweight material: Robert Wagner, Mary Tyler Moore, Glynis Johns as the authoress and, as the ghostwriter, Barbara Rhoades, who made Julie Newmar look like a man and a very short man at that.

And all that goes down the tubes because the movie is so poorly made. This was the time when Universal was making most of its features like bad television shows, with flat lighting, stodgy blocking, poorly-done process shots and drab sets. To work, material as screwy as this needs either an informal and fast-paced approach, or a very stylized approach such as Get Shorty had; anything but this stuffy approach that kills every joke stone dead by treating this material as if it were an episode of Hawaii 5-0. Someone needs to return to The Wrong Venus and make a movie that's as wacky as the material -- though it's an open question whether you could assemble a cast that good today.

- Daddy's Gone a-Hunting (1969). This thriller had perhaps the creepiest, sickest premise of any mainstream Hollywood movie, which isn't surprising considering that it was written by Larry "It's Alive!" Cohen. It concerns a woman, happily married and about to have a baby, who is stalked by a man she had an unhappy relationship a few years before, and who wants to get revenge on her for aborting their child by, basically, trying to force her to kill her new baby. He also kills a doctor by strangling him with his own stethoscope.

This story is in the worst possible taste, but, done right, it could have been a truly creepy shocker playing on basic fears (fear of a previous bad relationship coming back to wreck your current life; fear of hyper-possessive boyfriends who want to take over your life). But it needed a director with the requisite amount of bad taste and willingness to exploit primal fears. Cohen wanted Alfred Hitchcock to do it, and Hitchcock was interested, but Universal talked him into doing Topaz instead (bad move); it wound up being directed by Mark Robson, who had made some fine shockers for Val Lewton but had turned in the intervening years into a ploddingly dull director who made even Valley of the Dolls seem middlebrow and tasteful. It needs to be done again, as a low-budget chiller, because sick as that story is, there's a lot in there that could still scare the daylights out of an audience if done right.

- The Silencers (1966). As the page "From Donald To Dean" makes clear, this first of the Matt Helm movies actually takes more material from another Matt Helm novel, "Death of a Citizen," than it does from "The Silencers." But whichever Helm novel is chosen for re-adaptation, it seems to me that now would be a good time to bring the real Matt Helm, Donald Hamilton's Matt Helm, to the screen. His style, which was basically a hard-boiled noir style applied to the secret-agent story, was too brutal for 1966 but might be just right for the Sin City era.

- Taking Care of Business (1990). This "comedy" starred Jim Belushi and Charles Grodin, was directed by hack Arthur Hiller, and was written by J.J. Abrams, a man who found his niche writing ridiculously self-important television shows with no sense of humor. Amazingly, it's not funny. But the basic idea of it just cries out to be remade: a wealthy, powerful man loses his private file, containing his credit card information, names and addresses of powerful people, all the information that only he has access to. A paroled criminal finds the file and uses it to the fullest. It played out as a standard Trading Places ripoff, but done right, it could be a highly entertaining examination of the idea, which we all have, that rich and powerful people know all sorts of things we don't, and if we could only know the secret names and places that they have access to, what wouldn't we do! And of course, a remake would revolve around a computer file, and feature the guy getting access to famous people's e-mail addresses and the like. It could work, as long as you kept Jim Belushi away from it.

- Carousel (1956). While Joel Schumacher has probably killed the movie musical stone dead with his Phantom of the Opera thing, if it isn't altogether dead, someone really needs to re-film Carousel. The movie version had a big budget and good singing (better singing than any modern-day version would be likely to provide), but just about everything else it wrong with it, from the clunky early-Cinemascope visuals to the miscasting of the lead character to the ill-advised changes such as having Billy die accidentally instead of committing suicide. Clearly it needs a new filming with more grittiness and more fantasy than the '50s version could offer; a director could model the visual style on the version of the story that did work, Fritz Lang's nonmusical Liliom.

No comments: