Movie Remakes Worth a Second Look

Movie remakes are often pale shadows of the original film, but there have been some notable exceptions. Entertainment critic, Elvis Mitchell, shares his list of favorites, including The Maltese Falcon and Heat.

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JOHN YDSTIE, host:

Summertime is sequel and remake time in Hollywood. From "Spider-Man" to "Shrek," from "Pirates of the Caribbean" to a remake of John Water's "Hairspray." A lot of story lines are being recycled.

Remakes are often pale shadows of the original film with some notable exceptions. To celebrate the approaching summer, WEEKEND EDITION's entertainment critic, Elvis Mitchell, who is no copycat and never recycles material, has brought his list of favorite remakes to our New York bureau.

Hi, Elvis.

ELVIS MITCHELL: Hi, John. Let's me remake that. Hello, John. How are you?

YDSTIE: I'm very well. Thank you. You know, for a bottom line-oriented movie executive, recycling storylines probably seems like a good idea, but how do they generally do at the box office?

MITCHELL: Well, a lot of time, they do quite well. And the ones we're going to talk about are all, in one way or another, quite successful. We think of remakes as being a kind of a recent advent, but they go back to basically the beginning of the movie business where if you want to take a chance on a first-time director, let's say, somebody who've written a few scripts for you but hadn't really directed before. You give him a piece of tried-and-true material that had been made twice before.

Let's say, it's Dashiell Hammett's "Maltese Falcon," and you got this young screenwriter named John Huston whose work you really like and you say, well, John, here, give this a shot and see what happens with it. It had been made twice before as "Satan Met A Lady" and also as "The Maltese Falcon." What Huston did was really stay faithful to Hammett's book, but also go a little bit further with it than the original version went and, sort of, stuck to the meanness, the misanthropy and misogyny of the material just to show how this guy sensed they were just a hustler who happened to be smarter and slightly more criminal minded than the crooks he was chasing.

(Soundbite of movie, "The Maltese Falcon")

Mr. HUMPHREY BOGART (Actor): (As Sam Spade) Wow, I know where I stand now. Sorry, I got up on my hind legs, boys, but you fellows trying to rope me made me nervous. Miles getting bumped off upset me, and then you birds crack and foxy, but it's all right now, now that I know what's it's all about.

YDSTIE: So what else do you have on your list?

MITCHELL: In the late '80s, Michael Mann did a TV movie called "L.A. Takedown." It was about, basically, a cop and a criminal being two sides of the same coin then, basically, all that keeps him going really is a devotion to craft and a devotion to their duty. Michael Mann expanded it and probably about a hundred times the budget for the 1995 feature, "Heat."

(Soundbite of movie "Heat")

Mr. ROBERT DE NIRO (Actor): (As Neil McCauley) You see me doing thrill-seeker liquor store holdups, sort of, with a "Born to Lose" tattoo on my chest.

Mr. AL PACINO (Actor): (As Vincent Hanna) No, I do not.

Mr. DE NIRO: (As Neil McCauley) Right. I am never going back.

Mr. PACINO: (As Vincent Hanna) Then don't take down scores.

Mr. DE NIRO: (As Neil McCauley) And I do what I do best - I take scores. You do what you do best, trying to stop guys like me.

Mr. MITCHELL: Here in "Heat", it's about these guys and their pursuit of a goal and, in a way, their pursuit of each other.

YDSTIE: Okay, what's your top remake of all time?

MITCHELL: It's "A Fistful of Dollars." Now…

YDSTIE: "A Fistful of Dollars"?

MITCHELL: Strictly speaking, this probably isn't what people consider to be a remake, but anytime the original filmmaker sues and gets a credit because it's a theft of his film, I think that's a remake. It's Akira Kurosawa's "Yojimbo."

YDSTIE: It wasn't a western when Kurosawa made it.

MITCHELL: But, you know what? In effect it was a western. Clearly, a movie influenced by the iconic western hero. When you're in a movie like "A Fistful of Dollars," which reinvents the genre, and not only reinvents the genre, basically inspired the whole the new wave of filmmaking behind that, that's a great remake.

YDSTIE: Let's remind people what the plotline is for folks who haven't seen it.

MITCHELL: Let's just say a stranger wandered into a town, where there's a range war going on and uses both sides against each other so he can sweep up and then basically…

YDSTIE: Walk away with "A Fistful of Dollars."

(Soundbite of movie "A Fistful of Dollars")

Mr. CLINT EASTWOOD (Actor): (As Man With No Name) The gangsters over there - look who's there? Me, right in the middle.

Unidentified Man #2: Where you do what?

Mr. EASTWOOD: (As Man With No Name) Crazy bell ringer was right. There's money to be made in a place like this.

Unidentified Man #2: Mm-hmm.

MITCHELL: Clint Eastwood was essentially a pale TV actor.

YDSTIE: Isn't that amazing?

MITCHELL: Yes, but it's also a movie, too, that, in addition to reinventing the western, it also reinvented film. It used music and sound in ways they had never been used before. Everything in it felt new, and as Clint Eastwood put it, he set the big difference in "A Fistful of Dollars." It was the first time that the protagonist, the hero, shot first.

YDSTIE: Mm-hmm. Well, Elvis, it's been a lot of fun. I'm going to have to go and rearrange my net flicks queue now.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MITCHELL: Yes, go straight to remakes and sequels section.

YDSTIE: Elvis Mitchell is WEEKEND EDITION's entertainment critic. He spoke with us from New York. He's also the host of the Public Radio show, "The Treatment" on KCRW. Thanks again, Elvis.

Mr. MITCHELL: Thank you, John.

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