When the possible remake of a classic film is mentioned, we roll our eyes and say, “Hollywood has run out of ideas!” Part of that declaration may be true at times but in truth, remakes have been happening practically since the beginning of film-making.
It started with “Red Dust” (1932) which was directed by Victor Fleming and starred Clark Gable and Jean Harlow in the first of four films they would make together. Set in Indo-China, Dennis Carson (Gable) owns a rubber plantation. During a monsoon, a prostitute named Vantine (Harlow) is suddenly his responsibility until the next riverboat arrives and love enthuses. In 1953, MGM Studios gave “Red Dust” a serious remake since the original was made before the Hays Code and the subject matter would not sit well with the audience. “Mogambo” (1953) also stars Clark Gable with two beautiful co-stars – Ava Gardner and Grace Kelly. The setting has changed to Kenya, Africa where Vic Marswell (Gable) owns a game trapping company. A playgirl named “Honey Bear Kelly” (Gardner) and Dr. Nordley with his wife, Linda (Kelly) arrive on his territory. Soon, it is “Honey Bear” and Linda vying for Vic’s affections. Obviously, “Mogambo” (1953) is quite a different story from the original.
The original “Shop Around The Corner” (1940) starred Margaret Sullivan and Jimmy Stuart that exhibited the classic plot of two characters who despise each other without simultaneously realizing that they are falling in love over a secret pen pal system. A scant nine years later, “In The Good Old Summertime” (1949) starred Van Johnson and Judy Garland adding a musical atmosphere to the same plot. “You’ve Got Mail” (1998) is the contemporary remake that was the second collaboration of director/writer Nora Ephron with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. The concept was slightly changed to accommodate the new internet technology and the main characters were competing bookshop owners instead of being employed in one store. Unfortunately, it turned out to be not only an incredibly poor remake but a film that could not stand on its own.
“Love Affair” (1939) originally starred Irene Dunne and Charles Boyer but the more popular version of this film is “An Affair To Remember” (1957) starring Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr. The plot is roughly the same, where their characters fall in love on board a ship, each with a fiancé waiting for them when they disembark. They promise that when a certain amount of time passes, they will meet on top of the Empire State Building and get married. In 1994, “Love Affair” was remade with real-life couple Warren Beatty and Annette Benning. It was another poorly remade version but an interesting fact about watching it, is that Kate Hepburn as “Ginny” was her last ever on-screen performance.
Clearly, the notable difference between old Hollywood and contemporary remakes, is that old Hollywood strived to not just “remake” a film’s plot but strengthen what the original may have lacked and make a film that could stand on its own.