Today the estimable Shout Factory releases the 1983 Jim McBride film “Breathless” on Blu Ray. It stars Richard Gere and Valerie Kaprisky in a loose-limbed lovers-on-the-run story, features a pretty groovy soundtrack comprising Jerry Lee Lewis, Mink De Ville and Sam Cooke songs along with a rather insistently overused Philip Glass track, and you can even catch a glimpse of Richard Gere‘s peen if that’s your thing. But none of that is the reason that “Breathless” is the curio that it is —it’s because the film has the sheer gall to be a Hollywood remake of the groundbreaking 1960 Nouvelle Vague film by Jean-Luc Godard that we talk about it at all.
Of course, remakes are mounted all the time. But a relatively unknown director (as McBride was) taking on the work of a monolithically accepted “auteur” is a little more unusual. And sometimes the reverse occurs, when a widely acclaimed filmmaker plunders someone else’s catalogue and remakes an existing film in their own image. We already looked at 10 Directors who Remade their Own Movies, but the release of “Breathless” (1983) along with all the chatter about the “Magnificent Seven” and “Scarface” remakes (both of which will technically be remakes of remakes) made us think we should look at some of those occasions where a film by a great director has been remade by a lesser filmmaker, or vice versa.
In selecting these ten examples, we’ve tried to stay away from films that are only believed to have influenced more recent takes (like “The Hidden Fortress” and “Star Wars“), unless there’s a solid credit somewhere down the line. We’ve also stayed away from films that are simply different versions of the same famous source material, so no “The Three Musketeers” or “The Wizard of Oz.” Instead we’ve tried to stick to direct film-to-film remakes, or at least those where we have some evidence that the later director had seen and been influenced by the earlier film, but that’s a pretty gray area. Mostly we just wanted to investigate a few of the less well-covered remakes in film history, so here are ten such and our considered verdict on which, if either, is worth your time (shocker: it’s not always the original!)
Original: “Breathless” (Jean-Luc Godard, 1960)
Remake: “Breathless” (Jim McBride, 1983)
Remaking any film takes a certain level of cojones —there’s a tacit
implication that however much you may admire the original, you can
improve upon it. So one has to admire the sheer ballsiness of looking at
Godard’s seminal New Wave classic, inarguably one of the most
influential and admired films ever made, and thinking “yeah, but there’s
a few things I’d change…” It’s even more astonishing that Jim
McBride, not exactly a huge name then or now, brought on the level
of financing and support that he did, all to turn out a curiously flat if quite well-made revamp of the Godard joint (whose script had input
from Francois Truffaut and Claude Chabrol), this time detailing a doomed romance between a small-time American thief (Gere) and a pretty French student in LA (Valerie Kaprisky), as opposed to the doomed romance of the original which unfolds in Paris between a French hood (Jean-Paul Belmondo) and a gamine American student (Jean Seberg).
The remake is a curious affair, nicely shot in an 80s neon-tinged way
and with more explicit sex and nudity, but one that only ever seems like
a empty imitation of the to-the-bone coolness of the original. Where
Belmondo could summon disaffection and cynicism with a tilt of his hat,
Gere’s equivalent character is a twitchy, almost manic version —he talks to himself, sings along lustily to Jerry Lee Lewis and
hurtles toward his own poetic showdown, ending in such an erratic manner
that it’s not easy to care for or understand his character. In Godard’s
versin, that was the whole point —the filmmaker himself
said he made “Breathless” as a means to show the world that there were
other ways to make movies than the accepted classicist way.
“Breathless” (1983) is Godard’s film reverse engineered back into being
one of those accepted wisdom-style film —it’s perhaps less a remaking
than an unmaking, though not one without its passing pleasures.
Verdict: Godard’s “Breathless” is a startling,
inspirational, beautiful, weird and progressive film; McBride’s remake
is an imitation that pales into pointlessness in every way except
its day-glo palette by comparison.
Bonus Round: Undeterred by the relative obscurity of this go-round (or perhaps heartened by its recent reclamation by Quentin Tarantino who cites the 1983 film as one of his favorites), it appears another Godard classic may be in for the remake treatment with “Alphaville” which is reportedly moving forward with cinematographer Frank Byers attached to direct.
Original: “The Virgin Spring” (Ingmar Bergman, 1960)
Remake: “Last House on the Left” (Wes Craven, 1972)
Perhaps just as a surprising as the highbrow provenance of Craven’s notorious but now super-tedious exploitation horror is the fact that a filmmaker as revered, influential and prolific as Bergman did not inspire more remakes. But the Swedish master’s tendency for overtly philosophical storytelling and for experimentalism (check out our recent rundown of 15 of his Most Essential Films) doesn’t lend itself to straight-on remaking (even Woody Allen‘s most heavily Bergman-esque films like “Interiors” are deeply-indebted-homages rather than retreads). And in order for oblique remakes to happen, the films have to have a strong and simple plot that can be lifted and adapted and repackaged. Unusually for Bergman, “The Virgin Spring,” which was itself based on an old Swedish ballad, has such a plotline —it boasts a simplicity and linearity rare in Bergman’s work, though he weaves a great deal of symbolism and religious allegory around that narrative. And so the central story of a young girl who is raped and murdered by a marauding gang, who then unwittingly take shelter in her family home only to become the targets of bloody revenge by her parents, is the only thing to survive the transition from medieval Sweden to 1970s America, and from Bergman’s clean, vivid and intellectual style to Craven’s messy, shambolic, shock-value approach. It’s hardly a fair comparison —”Last House on the Left” was Craven’s debut film, and has a student-y, ultra-lo-fi feel to it, from its creaky acting to its defiantly amateurish filmmaking, and the topicality that Craven tries to introduce in portraying the gang as a Manson Family-esque group of perverts and junkies makes it feel doubly dated. Add the narratively unnecessary bumbling policemen, the “Home Alone“-style booby trapping of the house by the girl’s father, not to mention some odd diversions from the source structure, as when the gang discovers that they’re in their victim’s house which reduces the ironic tension of the set up considerably, and you have a remake that is as simplistic and crude as the original is simple and evocative.
Verdict: Well, this is easy —the Oscar-winning “The Virgin Spring” is one of Bergman’s shimmering minor classics, and “Last House on the Left” is these days best left for film cultists with an academic interest in the history of low-budget horror cinema.
Bonus Round: “Last House on the Left” inspired its own remake by Dennis Iliadis in 2009 starring Garret Dillahunt, Aaron Paul and Monica Potter. At least the eyelines match in that one, though classing up a film that’s main selling point is its exploitation campiness always feels a bit pointless.
Original: “The Maltese Falcon” (Roy Del Ruth, 1931)
Remake: “The Maltese Falcon” (John Huston, 1941)
We’ve tried to avoid films that are separate adaptations of the same source material, and certainly that could be seen to be the case here with both these films being versions of Dashiell Hammett‘s novel of the same name. But Huston’s 1941 film reportedly took the 1931 script as a basis (though this is not credited), and moreover, the film that we now look at as the definitive classic and one of the greatest films noir ever made would probably not have taken quite the form it did had it not at least partially been a reaction to the earlier version. Namely, 1931’s ‘Falcon’ came out just before the notorious Hayes Production Code began to bite, and in addition to a very different tone of voice throughout (daffier, lighter, more debonair), Del Ruth’s adaptation contained a fair amount of fairly pointed sexual content, including leading lady Bebe Daniels in the bath, being subjected to a strip search and also explicitly being shown to have slept with Ricardo Cortez‘s Sam Spade. Additionally, the homosexual innuendo that is reduced to one line in Huston’s film (Bogart‘s Spade asks Detective Polhaus “What’s your boyfriend getting at, Tom?”) is writ large in the earlier adaptation. The 1931 version was soon suppressed for its “lewd content,” leaving the way open for remakes of the material that met Code requirements. But Huston’s film is not simply Del Ruth’s with all the naughty bits gone; with his very first directorial foray, Huston established a touchpoint in the genre, altering the mood to be something much darker and knottier, and alongside star Humphrey Bogart created the Platonic ideal of the rumpled detective whose cynical exterior conceals an unshakeable, baked-in moral compass —an archetype that persists to this day and yet has never been bettered.
Verdict: The 1931 film is fascinating now for all the ways it differs from its beloved classic remake, but there’s no doubt that if we had to save one from a fire, it would be Huston’s peerless, thrilling, expertly crafted 1941 version.
Bonus Round: In between these two, another film remade the same material —this one a direct remake of 1931’s version with the same credited screenwriter. “Satan Met A Lady,” which stars Bette Davis and Warren William (coincidentally the star of Stahl‘s “Imitation of Life,” see below), and is largely played for Code-friendly laughs that fall flat, is widely regarded as the least of the three adaptations.
Original: “Imitation of Life” (John M Stahl, 1934)
Remake: “Imitation of Life” (Douglas Sirk, 1959)
Another instance, along with “The Maltese Falcon,” of a somewhat blurred line between a remake and separate adaptation of the same source novel, (the films do not share screenwriter credits at all, yet are so incredibly similar, and there was such a precedent for Sirk remaking Stahl’s films — see Bonus Round — that it’s hard to believe the later film sprang up isolated from the earlier), both versions of “Imitation of Life” are actually pretty terrific. Sirk’s remains the better known (here are 5 Things You Might Not Know about it), a classic example of lush technicolor melodrama that certainly, in its lusty colors and bold, borderline camp weepiness, seems like the more full-blooded version of Fannie Hurst‘s 1933 novel. But the earlier black-and-white version is actually the more faithful and has elements that are arguably superior, most centrally Claudette Colbert‘s gracious, effortlessly warm performance contrasted with Lana Turner‘s stiffer, more arch turn; and the casting of Fredi Washington, a light-skinned African-American woman, in the role of the conflicted daughter, as opposed to the half-Latina Susan Kohner in Sirk’s version. That said, Sirk’s version, happening 25 years later, has a much better-written role for the main black character, here called Annie and played by Juanita Moore, imbued with intelligence and spirit, where the patronizingly saintly depiction of Delilah (Louise Beavers) in Stahl’s film now seems a much queasier portrait of a servile, naive black “Mammy.” The 1959 version, as one would expect, also gets to go a little further in heightening the stakes, with Annie’s daughter not just “passing” as white at school and in the workplace, but dating a white boy, while the role of her mother is given an added shot of glamor by making her job that of an actress who rises to fame, as opposed to the saleswoman who builds a business empire in the 1934 version.
Verdict: They’re both great, but if forced to pick one, probably it would have to be Sirk’s, for the glory of the cinematography, for the lavish funeral scene at which Mahalia Jackson herself performs, and for the line Annie gets to deliver: “How do you explain to your child she was born to be hurt?”
Bonus Round: Sirk had already remade two other John M Stahl films — “Magnificent Obsession” (1935) became “Magnificent Obsession” (1954), and “When Tomorrow Comes” (1939) became “Interlude” (1957) — but “Imitation of Life,” while a huge hit, would be his last Hollywood film. Rather unfairly Sirk has been thoroughly reclaimed in recent years, but Stahl remains much less known. Bonus trivia: Susan Kohner, who starred in Sirk’s version of ‘Imitation,’ is the mother of Chris and Paul Weitz.
Original: “The Heartbreak Kid” (Elaine May 1972)
Remake: “The Heartbreak Kid” (Peter & Bobby Farrelly, 2007)
We’re already on record as huge fans of the all-too-short directorial career of Elaine May (here’s our Retrospective), and her 1972 “The Heartbreak Kid” is probably her most satisfying and complete film — boasting not only her brilliantly skewed sensibility, but a watertight script from Neil Simon and a career-defining turn from Charles Grodin. It’s the deeply down-in-the-mouth tale of a nebbish but pompous young man who gets married impetuously and already starts to fall for someone else on his honeymoon. In the 1972 original, the film evolves into a three-way character study, with Grodin’s second-guessing bridegroom caught between Cybill Shepherd‘s manipulative daddy’s girl and his strident new wife, played to an Oscar nomination by May’s own daughter, Jeannie Berlin. Spin forward three-and-a-half decades, though, and the Farrellys attempted one of those remakes that manages to entirely miss the point of the original. Gone are the subtlety of the relationships and the characterization in favor of broad pratfalls and twists upon twists, all of which contribute to a schizophrenic and frenetic tone that sits at uncomfortable odds with the basic misanthropy and darkness of the premise. As acerbic and unkind as May’s original film often is to its characters, and as unlikeable as they are, they are desperately relatable — Ben Stiller‘s wacky attempt to divest himself of Malin Akerman in order to couple up with Michelle Monaghan in the remake, however, just comes across as strained and unpleasant, and the attempts a a similar kind of world weary black comedy strike a very sour note. Why on earth should we care about the romantic entanglements of such charmless individuals, who are nothing but horrible to one another? The genius of May’s original film, and everything that the remake lacks, can be summed up in the final shot of the 1972 movie as Grodin sits by himself on a sofa at his own wedding, with people passing back and forth, but no one talking to him. Simply by holding on that shot, and on Grodin’s ever-so-gradually deflating expression, May turns comedy to tragicomedy, and delivers more insight into the nature of human relationships than the steadily mounting casualty rate of the remake could ever manage.
Verdict: Elaine May’s “The Heartbreak Kid” is a bittersweet ’70s classic that deserves to be bracketed with the likes of “The Graduate“; the remake isn’t really fit to bear the same name, which is ironic, since the title was reportedly forced on the Farrellys who had wanted to change it.
Bonus Round: In addition to Berlin’s nomination for Best Supporting Actress, Eddie Albert got a nod in the Supporting Actor category for his role in the original film as Shepherd’s doting, suspicious, truculent, and somewhat bigoted father.
While only credited as producer on the 1951 film, the great Howard Hawks is widely acknowledged to have been a major creative influence over the film. While John Carpenter’s version is a far more faithful adaptation of the source, science fiction novella “Who Goes There,” than it is a rehash of the Hawks/Nyby film, Carpenter’s often-asserted admiration for Hawks means the “remake” tag is at least partly applicable here. The differences, however, are huge, and watching the 1951 film now you can almost believe it was an entirely separate film, were it not for the similar setting and the identical (and now iconic) opening title treatment in which the words “The Thing” seem to burn through the screen. In fact, though it may have been admirable for the time (and it was regarded as one of the best films of its year), the 1951 film now feels pretty creaky — more indebted to the B-movie monster pics of the period than to the kind of existential horror that the source novella and Carpenter’s remake deal in so effectively. In the earlier film, the alien, for example, does not have the fascinating shapeshifting ability that makes it so insidious, and so the danger it represents remains external to the men. The anxiety of the times, in regards the atomic bomb and a widespread mistrust of science and scientists, is reflected in the character of the quasi-deranged boffin who insists the alien be saved even at the expense of all of their lives, for the sake of progress and scientific advancement. Hilariously referred to as an “intellectual carrot” at one point, the humanoid creature of Hawks/Nyby’s film is just a monster (composed of vegetable matter to boot) to be defeated by the brave derring-do of the soldiers stationed on the base. In Carpenter’s tremendous revisioning, though, the alien’s ability to mimic human form, along with its telepathy and some absolutely brilliant creature effects by Ron Bottin and Stan Winston (who made the alien/dog hybrid), make it a far more terrifying adversary, and the crew who must take it on are less a stoic square-jawed model of military bravery than a rag-tag motley crew characterized by desperation rather than heroism.
Verdict: Hawks and Nyby’s film is a superior 1950s monster movie, but for actual scares and atmosphere it can’t hold a candle to the evergreen, stripped back brilliance of Carpenter’s classic, which also boasts an all-time great horror score.
Bonus Round: If you’re still unconvinced that Carpenter had any particular homage to Hawks in mind with “The Thing,” just look again at the film playing in the house in Carpenter’s “Halloween” — that’s right, it’s “The Thing From Another World.”
Original: “Yojimbo” (Akira Kurosawa, 1961)
Remake: “Last Man Standing” (Walter Hill, 1996)
Remember watching Walter Hill’s 1996 Bruce Willis vehicle “Last Man Standing” (few do…) and thinking, “Boy, this plot sounds familiar?” Well, that’s because, despite being a bullet-soaked action-thriller set in Prohibition-era Texas, the film is a direct and credited remake of Akira Kurosawa’s landmark samurai picture, “Yojimbo,” which was released 35 years earlier, and has inspired more than a few films in its time. Kurosawa’s picture stars his best-known collaborator, Toshiro Mifune, as a nameless ronin who wanders into a town plagued by warring criminals led by Seibei (Seizaburo Kawazu) and Ushitora (Kyu Sazanka). To bring peace, he decides to wipe out both forces, nominally teaming with both sides in order to play them off against each other. As is par for the course for the Japanese master, it’s thrilling, beautifully made stuff, with Mifune instantly iconic as the masterless hero (he would sort of reprise in the following year’s inferior “Sanjuro”), and the film in general is textured, unpredictable, and slyly funny. Given that the director was influenced by American Westerns and, more specifically, Dashiell Hammett novels, it seemed fair game for the storyline to cross the Pacific again. Hill’s neo-Western sees Bruce Willis’ John Smith confronting an Irish gang led by David Patrick Kelly and Christopher Walken, and an Italian one led by Ned Eisenberg and Michael Imperiorli, who are feuding over a Texas town. The film hits most of the same beats as the original but still over-convolutes what was always a perfect piece of plotting, and even if Hill’s action is typically and admirably crunchy, he seems rather disengaged. Finally, toning down Willis’ charisma to make him a taciturn man of action is a fatal mistake, one that visibly bores the actor, his co-star, and the audience, making him nowhere near a match for Mifune.
Verdict: “Last Man Standing” isn’t quite as bad as its reputation (it was a major flop at the time), but it mostly feels like a cast and filmmaker going through the motions. For all the handsome production value involved it can’t hold a candle to the deliriously entertaining “Yojimbo” — the latter might not be Kurosawa’s deepest and richest film, but it might be his most fun.
Bonus Round: Of course, not to bury the lead, “Yojimbo” inspired another action classic: Sergio Leone’s breakthrough “A Fistful Of Dollars.” In that case, however, the Italian helmer just ripped off the story after failing to get the remake rights, resulting in a lawsuit that held up the film’s U.S. release for three years. It might have been unethical, but Leone’s Spaghetti Western classic, starring Clint Eastwood, is a much better attempt to capture the spirit of the original than Hill’s official remake, which feels even more redundant as a result. “Yojimbo” also inspired the David Carradine-starring sword-and-sorcery flick, “The Warrior And The Sorceress,” for better or worse (mostly worse).
Original: “Wings Of Desire” (Wim Wenders, 1987)
Remake: “City Of Angels” (Brad Silberling, 1998)
Realizing that sappy 1998 Nicolas Cage/Meg Ryan weepie “City Of Angels” was based on Wim Wenders’ “Wings Of Desire” is a bit like discovering that “The Notebook” is a remake of “Eraserhead.” Well, perhaps not in such strong terms, but the 1980s German original — one of Wenders’ best-known pictures — and the American remake seem to share so little with each other that you wonder why they bothered to get the rights at all. Wenders’ picture, which won him Best Director at Cannes, and is dedicated to Ozu, Truffaut, and Tarkovsky, is set in Berlin (before the Wall came down, lest we forget) and loosely follows angels Damiel (Bruno Ganz) and Cassiel (Otto Sander) as they wander the city listening to the thoughts of the city’s inhabitants, until Damiel falls in love with a lonesome trapeze artist who dreams of immortality (Solveig Donmartin). Oh, and Peter Falk (as himself) is in town: it turns out he also was once an angel, though he’s now an actor making a film about Berlin under the Nazis. It’s a strange, singular picture, a sort of tone poem on Berlin’s place in the world — what it once was, and what it could become — while also touching on elements of mortality, humanity, and the existence of a higher power (or higher powers). It’s captured in stunning black-and-white by veteran cinematographer Henri Alekan (who shot Cocteau’s “La Belle et la Bete”), and though it’s sometimes a little precious, it’s something truly gorgeous. Unsurprisingly, “City Of Angels,” from “Caspar” director Silberling, only keeps the angel-human romance element, with Cage’s angel Seth looking over, and falling for, principle doctor Maggie (Ryan). It’s a sickly bastardization of Wenders’ picture, anaemic and insipid, with very little sense of place, despite the LA reference of the title, and overall it’s scarcely recognizable as descending from its source material, although we get Dennis Franz as a rough surrogate for Falk’s character, and Silberling has an occasionally interesting eye. Unsurprisingly, it made roughly a hundred times more at the box office than Wenders’ movie did.
Verdict: “Wings Of Desire” is a heart-stoppingly beautiful black-and-white picture that serves as a perfect time-capsule of the time and place it was made, and has a late scene at a Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds concert. “City Of Angels” has a scene where Meg Ryan rides a bike with her eyes closed and is promptly and deservedly run over by a truck.
Bonus Round: While nowhere near as tin-eared, Wenders proved that he himself was maybe not equal to the task of revisitng the “Wings of Desire” world either when he made the disappointing sequel, “Faraway So Close,” in which Falk, Saner, Ganz, and Donmartin all return, to greatly lesser effect, and the poetry of the original is replaced by patience-testing stretches of languor.
Original: “Scarface” (Howard Hawks 1932)
Remake: “Scarface” (Brian de Palma, 1983)
Five decades before Al Pacino said hello to his little friend, and Brian De Palma stirred up a major controversy about the violence and graphic bloodletting of his Oliver Stone-scripted film (written in cocaine daze, by all accounts), director Howard Hawks also ran afoul of censors with his original version of that same story (based loosely on the 1929 novel of the same name, which was inspired by the life story of Al Capone). In fact, Hawks’ “Scarface” was ready to go in 1931, and would have preceded similarly themed, and very successful, gangster pictures “The Public Enemy” and “Little Caesar” in theaters, except for protracted wrangling with the Hayes Code office over the moral stance the film took with regards to its criminal protagonist, and whether or not Paul Muni‘s character (as well as George Raft and Boris Karloff in support, and Karen Morley as his moll) contributed to a “glamorization” of the gangster lifestyle. Hawks eventually squeaked by in states where the code was less strictly enforced by tweaking the ending and adding opening text that hammers the point home, along with the subtitle “Shame of the Nation.” Spin forward half a century, and Brian De Palma’s splashy remake positively wallows in its unabashed glamorization of gangsterism to the point that its archness is unmistakable, with the director achieving something of an apotheosis of his slick, visceral style, providing Al Pacino with the choleric, coked-up counterpoint to his more cerebral Michael Corleone, and launching Michelle Pfeiffer‘s career all at once (check out our full De Palma retrospective here).
Verdict: The two films show two auteur directors with very different sensibilities, styles, and contexts transforming the same material into two completely separate and individual movies, so we’re not even going to try to choose between them. Suffice to say, both are excellent, and if the cautionary satire of De Palma’s version is lost on the many rappers and fratboys who unironically embrace Tony Montana as an aspirational role model, it reflects poorly on the world, rather than on the film, if you ask us.
Bonus Round: An interesting stylistic Easter egg in the Hawks version: throughout the film, and usually when a character dies, somewhere in the mise en scene of the shot you can find a “X” shape, deliberately placed as a callback to the “X Marks the Spot” convention of the day in which photos of gangland murder sites often marked out where the bodies lay with an X. It’s particularly noticeable in the recreation of the St. Valentine’s Day massacre that happens in shadow beneath wooden support girders that are criss-crossed with X shapes.
Original: “Boudu Saved from Drowning” (Jean Renoir 1932)
Remake: “Down and Out in Beverly Hills” (Paul Mazursky, 1986)
In the right hands a remake can be like a good cover version of a favorite song — it transforms the material enough to give it new relevance and to feel like it brings new insight to bear, but it still honors the original. Paul Mazurksy‘s transposition of Jean Renoir‘s classic, about a tramp who overturns the lives of the affluent family who take him in (itself a take on a French play), from 1930s Paris to 1980s Los Angeles works so well because the framework is such that it allows some biting satire to occur at the expense of relatably new targets like the 1980s American yuppie, as opposed to the 1930s Parisian bourgeoisie. It is, of course, a great deal broader, and played for more outright laughs than the Renoir original, but Mazursky’s comedy still has intelligence and wit to burn, even if, overall, it comes across as more affectionate and lightweight. Renoir’s film, by contrast, is altogether darker. In fact, it’s still a surprisingly blackhearted watch, with Michel Simon‘s Boudu character representing a certain untamable, anarchic instinct that is not as easily categorized as the “lovable, gradually reforming rogue” that is the measure of Nick Nolte‘s ‘Beverly Hills’ character, Jerry. Boudu does not necessarily come to change his benefactors’ lives for the better, whereas Jerry ultimately does, and where Jerry is really a con man who manages to puppeteer his way into the household of arriviste couple Richard Dreyfuss and Bette Midler, along with their comely Mexican maid (the late Elizabeth Pena) and totally scene-stealing dog, Boudu warps the people around him to his own ends, but without really ever affecting any level of actual interest in them.
Verdict: “Boudu Saved from Drowning” is an anointed classic, though we’d say not quite as essential a comedy of manners as Renoir’s “The Rules of The Game,” for example, and it could now be a bit of a slog for first-time viewer unaccustomed to the sometimes silent-movie-esque theatrics, and the enormous, divisively cantankerous Michel Simon performance. Mazursky’s “Down and Out in Beverly Hills” is a frothy and fun watch, though it loses something of the sting of the original, particularly in its closing scenes, which could almost be interpreted to have the opposite moral from the original. So, neither film is flawless, but both are fascinating in their way.
Bonus Round: A third version exists here too, with Gerard Depardieu seemingly perfectly cast as the tramp character in 2005 French-language remake, “Boudu.” Sadly, it’s a film that goes the warm and life-affirming route, rather than the scabrous misanthropy of the original, and lacking even a particularly new setting or culture to lampoon it feels peculiarly pointless.
There are many other pairings we could have chosen, and we may do it again at some point. Most cinephile-y is the little-known fact that both Jean Renoir and Akira Kurosawa (who each appear elsewhere on this list) directed versions of Maxim Gorky‘s play, “The Lower Depths,” but since Kurosawa’s later film is directly based on the play and not, apparently, on Renoir’s film, we ruled it out. And as for Kurosawa’s “The Seven Samurai” being remade into John Sturges‘ “The Magnificent Seven,” that feels a little better known than most of the picks above. Elsewhere, depending on where you stand on classifying James Cameron as an “auteur,” “True Lies” is a remake of french action comedy, “la Totale!“; Matt Reeves‘ “Let Me In” is a remake of Tomas Alfredson‘s “Let the Right One In“; Cameron Crowe‘s “Vanilla Sky” is a remake of Alejandro Amenabar‘s “Open your Eyes“; Martin Scorsese famously remade the “Infernal Affairs” trilogy into “The Departed,” to Oscar-winning effect; while classic Western maven Henry Hathaway‘s “The Sons of Katie Elder” being remade as “Four Brothers,” and Delmer Daves‘ “3:10 to Yuma” being reworked by James Mangold, are just two of the many examples the Western genre has to offer. Let us know what you think of our takes on the above, and which other cinephile-y titles/remakes you’d like to see us cover in the future.
–Jessica Kiang and Oli Lyttelton