This week, “Fright Night” marks the second good remake of a Roddy McDowall movie this month alone. The new version of Tom Holland’s 1985 vampire flick and the recently released “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” are both exceptional arguments for why recycling in Hollywood isn’t a terrible thing, as each film improves upon the original and does something fresh with its premise while not entirely expelling the predecessor’s own stature and relevance within film history. Gone are the days when rehashing titles on McDowall’s resume meant dreck like Tim Burton’s “Planet of the Apes,” Wolfgang Petersen’s “Poseidon,” Michael Mayer’s “Flicka” and the Christina Ricci-starred “That Darn Cat.”
For an actor who appeared on the big screen for seven decades, especially as prolifically as this former child star worked, it’s not surprising that many of McDowall’s filmography has been pilfered for plenty of remakes and reboots. And certainly some would have to be bad. But I’m optimistic that August 2011 marks the beginning of a positive streak for the actor’s legacy. We can now actually look forward to the J.Lo redo of “Overboard,” since bettering the Kurt Russell/Goldie Hawn version can only mean brilliance. And you can bet the Angelina Jolie as Cleopatra movie will win Best Picture, or at least more Oscars than the Liz Taylor biopic.
If this month’s double shot is indeed the beginning of something positive for remakes, what other of McDowall’s movies are ripe for an update? Check out my picks for worthy candidates after the jump.
“Dirty Mary Crazy Larry” (1974)
A couple of guys with NASCAR racing dreams rob a supermarket and then, along with the driver’s lover, are pursued by a sheriff in a helicopter. It may not have the name recognition of the “Bonnie and Clyde” remake, but it also wouldn’t upset so many people other than famous fan Quentin Tarantino, who references it in both “Jackie Brown” and “Death Proof.”
“Scavenger Hunt” (1979)
We need more ensemble “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” type comedies, and it’s only a matter of time before this and “Midnight Madness” are simultaneously redone as competing scavenger hunt movies (both of which could again feature Paul Reubens). I always loved this one as a kid, particularly for the way the teams were broken up. McDowall was one of a group of servants to the late game creator whose will sends potential inheritors on a wild chase. Maybe this and the “Clue” remake can be combined.
Speaking of inheritance… It may not have pirates or monsters to the extent that “Treasure Island” or “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” do (both appear to be in development, yet again), but David Balfour’s adventures deserve another go in the cinemas as much as the other Robert Louis Stevenson novels do. Since McDowall starred in the third adaptation, “Kidnapped” has been redone numerous times, with the 1960 Disney version being the best known. While so many other literary classics are getting hip reworkings, why not this, too? Especially when some hot teen heartthrob could take the Balfour role. Just don’t try to animate it and put it in outer space.
“The Cat From Outer Space” (1978)
A magical talking cat-like alien crashes on Earth and must fix sporting events to afford the repairs. McDowall’s other Disney cat movie wasn’t remade so well, and this likely would just be silly kiddie fare, but it would probably at least make a whole lot more money than “That Darn Cat” did.
“The Third Day” (1965)
From Jason Bourne to Liam Neeson in “Unknown,” Hollywood loves amnesiac protagonists these days (okay, it always has), and just like in those two films this little-known mystery thriller involves a man able to be redeemed by forgetting his old life. In this one, the lead awakens following a car accident in which he’s killed his mistress. Does he deserve to go to jail for her death? Should his wife hate him for cheating if he can’t recall doing it? Of course, the new version will have to feature a lot more action.
“What’s a Nice Girl Like You…? (1971)
A TV movie that sounds like “Dave” only with a prostitute who resembles a famed socialite instead of a social worker who looks like the President. And here she’s kidnapped and made to pretend to be the rich girl for an extortion plot. Get Milos Forman or some other filmmaker known for making bad actresses appear great to direct Paris Hilton in her first seemingly Oscar-worthy (or at least Golden Globe-worthy) double-duty performance.
“Mean Johnny Barrows” (1976)
After being dishonorably discharged from the military, the title character returns to civilian life with no job prospects other than working for an anti-drug mob family. Fred Williamson’s blaxploitation film would work perfectly as a modernized commentary on today’s wars and economy.
Another from the same year, this sci-fi horror flick could be for perfect for fans of last year’s “Splice,” as well as its thematic predecessor, “Species.” Like the latter it has a rapidly aging young woman, and like the former it… Well, it has a similarly immoral plot point, only less disturbing in visual terms. And it’s apparently in the public domain, so free rein!
A teenager finds a futuristic weapon in the desert and uses it for revenge against the local bullies while aliens try to get the laser cannon back. Did this “MST3K” fodder at all inspire the plot of “Cowboys & Aliens”? Perhaps it will work better with a more faithful contemporary setting rather than the Old West. Then again, it has already been remade once, as 1989’s “Deadly Weapon,” and that didn’t do so well either.
“The Big Picture” (1989)
Fact: Christopher Guest completely forgot he made this Hollywood satire back when I brought it up during a screening of “For Your Consideration.” So if the film’s director doesn’t remember it, he shouldn’t mind it being remade. I personally love it to death, but it’s a bit dated and we could use an update on the industry nearly 25 years later. McDowall only appears in a cameo role as himself in a hilarious student film, but I think it counts.
BONUS: “Batman” – Episodes “The Bookworm Turns” and “While Gotham City Burns” (1966)
This is a TV series, but as long as we’re talking about Roddy McDowall roles, it’s hard to ignore his two-episode stint as villain Bookworm on the old “Batman” series. It’s too late for Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight Rises” to feature the character, but whoever is doing the subsequent reboot of the Caped Crusader should consider a fresh bad guy like this, even if he was only created for the show.