Here are seven all-time favorite movies that Hollywood hasn’t ruined yet by remaking:
‘The African Queen’
The unlikeliest of love stories might be impossible to remake just because there’s no one to compare to Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn. Getting a New Millennium box-office hunk to play as dorky as Bogie played Harvey Allnut, or a big-money, glamour-puss leading lady to play as prissy as Hepburn’s Rosie – and still be as utterly charming and believable as they both were – is almost unimaginable.
In that movie – slovenly boatman takes straight-laced widow down the river, where love and adventure bloom – the leads are everything. Bogart and Hepburn are the only ones on screen for most of the running time.
I’ve heard rumors about a remake of Roger Vadim’s kitschy little sci-fi fantasy for years, but I hope it never comes to pass. A great deal of its charm came from the goofiness of its special effects and the affable earnestness of its cast. Of course, the title role being played by Jane Fonda – at the height of her sex-kitten potency – didn’t hurt at all.
Hollywood now would turn Barbarella into a high-tech, cutting-edge, special-effects extravaganza, which would rob it of its charm. And who among the present crop of starlets could walk in Fonda’s stiletto boots? Who’s got that kind of va-va, not to mention the voom? A couple of possibilities, like Jennifer Lawrence or Amber Heard, are intriguing. Given the Hollywood mindset, though, this one would have Kristen Stewart written all over it.
‘The Big Town’
A little film noir with a great ensemble cast (Tom Skerritt, Bruce Dern, Diane Lane) around Matt Dillon as a hick who quits the sticks to make it as a craps-shootin’ son-of-a-gun in the big city. I don’t think I could stand it if Hollywood updated the story to have the kid be some kind of video-game ace.
Bogart. Bergman. A Rogue’s Gallery of great character actors. A taut, funny, intelligent, romantic script and atmosphere to burn from director Michael Curtiz. It’s very nearly a perfect film, unapproachable in terms of a remake. The old expression is if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it – just ask the folks who remade Psycho.
The miracle of director Mike Nichols and screenwriter Buck Henry’s screen version of Joseph Heller’s anti-war war novel is how completely it captured Heller’s biting, absurdist, non-linear storytelling. The first thing Hollywood would try to do with it for a nowadays audience is dumb it down, resulting in a film about the ugliness of war that was just plain ugly.
‘Little Big Man’
The main purpose of director Arthur Penn’s Western epic was to provide a revisionist view of Cowboys and Indians, with Custer (a deliciously over-the-top Richard Mulligan) cast as the Bad Guy and Dustin Hoffman’s Jack Crabbe providing the common thread through nearly a century of fast-and-loose American history. It’s been done, and there’s no reason to do it again. That’s good, because there might not be an actor at present who’s capable of the range required of Hoffman in the original.
‘The Wizard of Oz’
Hollywood and Broadway (with Wicked) have been dancing around this one for decades; in the first half of 2013, Disney will offer the latest retooling, a prequel that reveals how Professor Marvel got to Oz ahead of Dorothy and got himself declared Wizard Deluxe.
Other than all the peripheral stuff – everything from a SyFy Channel re-realization to a Chevy Chase comedy (Under the Rainbow) about the shenanigans of the Singer Midgets during the filming – a straight remake has yet to be attempted, or even seriously rumored. I hope it stays that way.
Besides being a great, timeless story, The Wizard of Oz is a testament to a Hollywood that was stretching itself to its limits to create epic twisters, fantastical beings who lived in mythic other worlds, and appealing to both adults and kids – intense and funny enough for grown-ups, but sweet and charming enough to keep the little ones on board – and unbored – as well.
It’s the kind of film Hollywood – with the notable exception of Pixar and an occasional imitator – doesn’t want to make any more, let alone remake.