6 Classic Movies You Didn't Know Were Remakes
As we recently pointed out, a lack of creativity in the entertainment world is nothing new -- people have been doing adaptations, reboots and remakes since the first stories were told. What you may not have realized, however, is that some of the great landmark motion pictures were themselves just remakes of originals that nobody remembers.
The Wizard of Oz (1939)
We're guessing there are zero-point-zero people reading this who don't know about the multiple award winning classic children's tale of a lion, tin man, flying monkeys and witchslaughter with young Judy Garland in her star-making performance as Dorothy. But a remake? The thing was made in freaking 1939. Were there even movies before that?
We mean besides pornos.
Yep. And a bunch of them were The Wizard of Oz remakes.
All of them are based on the children's book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, published in 1900. And by "all of them" we mean there were at least 10 freaking movie versions before the quintessential 1939 film. Perhaps none captured the roiling sexual subtext NOT EVEN REMOTELY found in the book better than the major 1925 silent adaptation by Baum's son Frank Joslyn Baum.
Hold on to your hats, because things are about to get freaky.
Some might even say "nightmarish."
The 1925 version of The Wizard of Oz opens with Dorothy openly flirting with her uncle's farmhands in the days leading up to her 18th birthday. The farmhands in question are played by Oliver Hardy and the self-cast director Larry Semon. Sooo ... the 35-year-old director cast himself as the frustrated suitor of a family farm Lolita. And, yes, his name was Semon. But don't worry guys. The two actors were married in real life, so everything was totally kosher.
A match born in the deepest nightmares of the most composed serial killer.
So a tornado carries Dorothy to the Land of Oz, where the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion characters are introduced. But it isn't really the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion -- it's the horny farmhands in disguise, hiding from Ambassador Wikked and Prime Minister Kruel, presumably while President Badd Guye and Emperor Stok Kharakter Villun were vacationing in Helll. Dorothy is crowned Queen of Oz and marries Prince Kynd (sigh) and decides to stay in Oz forever, because hey, why not?
Meanwhile, the Tin Man turns evil and tries to kill the Lion and the Scarecrow. Then the Scarecrow falls out of an airplane and dies.
Doesn't matter. You cannot kill what dwells within that.
This celluloid travesty bankrupted its studio and shockingly never got a wide release. Which is probably a good thing, considering how much sooner fan fiction would have gotten off the ground if it had.
If you were a teenage boy at any time in the past 30 years, odds are good that you have seen the gloriously overwrought cokehead Mafioso epic Scarface. Al Pacino is Tony Montana, a Cuban refugee who rises through the ranks of a Miami drug kingdom with nothing but an aloha shirt, an accent cranked to 11 and an M-damn-16 assault rifle with a miraculous supply of bullets.
A movie that could have also been Pacino's personal biography.
Pacino, writer Oliver Stone and director Brian De Palma earn every morally ambiguous hip hop ode that has been spat in honor of this both Golden Globe and Razzie nominated crime classic. More specifically, Al Pacino earned the honor of teaching Spanish speakers how to roll their R's like they mean it.
The original Scarface was based on the 1929 novel also called Scarface, which was a thinly disguised biography of dermatologically challenged real-world gangster, Al Capone.
"Blood Acne Face" was already taken by another gangster.
It was such a grisly film that censors delayed its release and multiple versions resulted. You might even say it was the Scarface of its era.
When producer Martin Bregman set out to remake it in the 1980s, his intention was to do a gangster period piece faithful to the original. Ironically, the the filmmakers found the Prohibition-era Chicago setting too "melodramatic" so Sidney Lumet suggested changing the backdrop to the modern Miami cocaine cartel world.
Needs more cocaine
Oliver Stone, who had just kicked a wicked coke habit, was hired to rewrite the screenplay and boom! A million ethnic stereotypes and college dorm posters were simultaneously born. All because Oliver Stone is really good at reining in melodrama.
A Fistful of Dollars (1964)
Quick! What comes to mind when you think of Clint Eastwood in a classic western? A poncho? A cigarillo? How about a bunch of non-English speaking Europeans on location in Spain with their lines overdubbed like a kung fu movie? Boom. You win the jackpot.
If you are familiar with the term Spaghetti Western, you can thank the wild popularity of A Fistful of Dollars. Shot in Spain by an Italian crew with an international cast, Dollars sets grizzled American Clint Eastwood against rival gangs in a "Mexican" border town. The only thing missing from this melting pot of a movie was some Asians.
Oh wait, never mind. Because A Fistful of Dollars was a Japanese movie before it was an Euromerican one. Specifically, it was a frame-for-frame remake of Japanese director Akira Kurosawa's 1961 samurai picture Yojimbo. Only when Kurosawa made it, he used robes instead of panchos and swords instead of guns.
And princess buns instead of hats.
Ripping off foreign movies had been done before, but Sergio Leone didn't bother to get the rights to Yojimbo before he set about remaking it, which was why Yojimbo's producers were eventually awarded 15 percent of the remake's worldwide gross in a successful lawsuit. Kurosawa later claimed that he earned more money off of A Fistful of Dollars than he did from his original movie.
And why all of his sons were named "Clint."
The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)
Since this is an Alfred Hitchcock joint, we're going to give you the quick and dirty recap: Everyday man and stylish blonde protagonist find themselves in a tangled web of espionage business they don't understand. There are chases, double agents, murders, a kidnapping, beautiful Moroccan scenery and a frazzled looking Jimmy Stewart cocking his head and looking intensely befuddled.
"That's my trick ear, Clarence! Speak louder!"
Not only was it a remake, it was a remake by Alfred Hitchcock of a 1934 Alfred Hitchcock film of the same name.
The unexpected new spin of this version was ... well, basically, that it was in color and had an American cast instead of a British cast. Also, they added a cute blond-haired kid. Seriously, that was it. Other than a couple of changed locations, it had the same plot, down to the same extended dialogue-free Albert Concert Hall climax, which was set to the same music.
What we're saying is, Alfred Hitchcock made the same damn movie twice.
We like to think that he just legitimately forgot about the first one.
It turns out that Hitchcock was insecure about his early British films. He pitched Hollywood on doing loose Americanized adaptations of them, or sequels, or (as in this case) flat out point-for-point remakes, just so he could take another crack at them. In particular, he obsessed that his 1934 The Man Who Knew Too Much was the work of a "talented amateur".
And then he just sat there and thought about what he did until his father got home.
It's as if Vincent Van Gogh decided his masterpiece self portrait wasn't good enough, so he returned from the grave to do a photorealistic airbrush version on the hood of a Trans-Am.
And, actually, that sounds pretty bitchin'. So good job, Hitch.
The Last House on the Left (1972)
And no, we're not talking about the 2009 reboot here.
Maybe you were raised by positive, nurturing role models, and movies that revel in prolonged sexual torture aren't a part of your pristine, Disney-fed consciousness. So maybe you're not aware of Wes Craven's 1972 directorial debut The Last House on the Left, which tells the inspirational story of two parents who gruesomely murder the murderers of their gruesomely murdered daughter. Love it or hate it, this movie struck a chord. Produced for only $90,000, it made millions worldwide and became a notable forerunner of an entire subgenre of 1970s slasher films. Until just recently it was banned in Australia and the U.K. due to extreme sadism and violence.
Not only was it a remake, it was a remake of a high-falootin' Swedish art movie. It all started with Swedish director Ingmar Bergman's The Virgin Spring (1960), which tells the story of a medieval Christian who grapples with his faith after violently avenging the rape and murder of his daughter. Like its more popular remake, The Virgin Spring was controversially graphic. Unlike its more popular remake, it won several awards including the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.
And a Beardy for Creepiest Beard in a Movie that isn't About Beards.
So Wes Craven started his career by remaking a legendary director's Academy Award winning classic as a low budget horror flick. That's pretty brash. It would be like a first time director remaking Schindler's List as torture porn.
P.S. If anyone actually does that and attributes it to us, we are going to be really angry.
The Maltese Falcon (1941)
Even if you've never seen the Academy Award nominated 1941 classic starring Humphrey Bogart, the title has probably already conjured up some badassery in your mind: a hard-faced, stone cold detective in a trench coat; a lispy, probably-not-straight bad guy patsy; a slithering femme fatale slinking her way around like some kind of lady-snake hybrid.
And that's without even getting into the plot. You know The Maltese Falcon because everyone from The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to Muppet Babies to this hilarious website has parodied it in some form or another. It's the movie that kicked off the whole film noir genre, and the movie that makes you want to take up smoking and slapping people.
Among the inspirational forces behind this cinematic achievement was a 1931 film called, um ... The Maltese Falcon. Like the classic Bogart film, the original followed the book closely, often ripping whole scenes of dialogue straight from the novel. Besides having the same title, characters, plot and tone, it was also produced by the same studio.
A whole different thing
So why remake it? Because the original Maltese Falcon opens with a young woman adjusting her stocking as she leaves Sam Spade's office, implying the two just did some unmarried nastiness. Later, Spade's femme fatale client stays overnight in his apartment, shares his bed and is shown almost-nude in his bathtub.
Which was why Hays Code censors gave the big "hell no" to an attempted re-release of the movie in 1936, probably for areola related reasons. So Warner Bros. really wanted to get another movie out of this great story, and they decided a gritty reboot was in order. Oh no, wait. They decided a zany reboot was in order. Warner Bros. changed the character names and recast the whole cockamamie thing as a light-hearted comedy. This time it starred a young Bette Davis and was called Satan Met A Lady.
So when John Huston endeavored to tell yet another sanitized version of the same exact story, it wasn't even sloppy seconds. It was sloppy thirds.
And THAT is how you pioneer a cinematic movement.
Jeff Beauvoir is a producer and songwriter in the great Northwest. Hear his only slightly ironic music at www.signorgroove.com.
For more icons that are totally unoriginal, check out 6 Famous Characters You Didn't Know Were Shameless Rip-Offs. And check out some "remakes" that are totally awesome in 9 Foreign Rip-Offs Cooler Than The Hollywood Originals .