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Crime Film Remakes and Unfinished Projects

November 22, 2010

Take aim: which remakes would you like to see put to sleep?

Crime Fiction fans have a lot to look forward to from upcoming films: Rowan Joffe’s adaptation of Brighton Rock is out in U.K. cinemas in February 2011, HBO have just released the trailer for their mini-series adaptation of James M. Cain’s Mildred Pierce, John Le Carre’s classic Cold War novel Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is being filmed and is due for release next year and all three novels of Stieg Larsson’s Millenium trilogy are to be made into films directed by David Fincher. Now if there is one thing that puts a damper on these projects it is that they are all remakes of brilliant, some might say unsurpassably brilliant, films and television series. The Boulting brothers 1947 adaptation of Brighton Rock is perhaps the greatest British film noir ever made. The original BBC production of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy captured the tone and essence of Le Carre’s work better than any other film adaptation of Le Carre’s novels ever did. Do either of these productions need to be remade? There is nothing to say a remake can not be as good or even better than the original version: John Huston’s critically lauded adaptation of The Maltese Falcon was actually a remake (or if you prefer reinterpretation of Dashiell Hammett’s novel) of an earlier adaptation starring Ricardo Cortez. Raymond Chandler’s Farewell, My Lovely was filmed as the awful The Falcon Takes Over in 1942, but was later very successfully adapted in 1944 and 1975. But even with this in mind, there is still something about the upcoming remakes which is a little dispiriting. Wouldn’t it be better to see film versions of the as yet unfilmed Le Carre novels, The Night Manager and Our Game rather than sit through another production of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy? There is also filmmaking etiquette being breached with these remakes. In an interview with Word and Film, Niels Arden Oplev, the director of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, expressed anger that Hollywood is remaking the Millenium trilogy so soon after the original. Fincher’s first adaptation has gone into production before we in the UK have had a chance to see the Swedish version of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. Will the story be as interesting the second time around? Will Rooney Sara be anywhere near as good as Noomi Rapace’s stunning and definitive portrayal of Lisbeth Salander? I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

There is one thing that makes me more excited about these remakes than I might otherwise have been, and it is that I now see that a  project controlled by my favourite creative artists might not necessarily be any better. Some time ago I wrote of how the Hannibal Lecter franchise plummeted in terms of quality after the book and film of The Silence of the Lambs. So recently I thought it would be fun to read David Mamet’s rejected screenplay adaptation of Thomas Harris’ Hannibal. David Mamet is widely regarded as an outstanding playwright, screenwriter and director (and his novels are pretty good too), and while the film adaptation of Hannibal was terrible, I had long entertained the notion that it could have been really good had they used his original script. But then I sat down to read Mamet’s rejected screenplay on the dailyscript.com, and to my horrorI found it to be risibly bad. The action is stilted, the plot is driven by endless dialogue and the tone is obscure and arty. The Italian characters are offensive stereotypes and mutter dialogue as cliched as ‘buya lot of pasta for your wife.’ It’s not all bad, in fact it comes to life when Mamet is daring and deviates from the book. The controversial final ‘dinner’ scene is allusive and subtle, much better than the disgustingly explicit scene in the film. As the script really only comes alive when Mamet is tearing up the source novel, it makes me wonder if being a purist when it comes to books and films is largely futile, and I should be more enthusiastic about these coming remakes. It’s better to see these films getting made than money being lost on unproduced projects. Another fascinating screenplay to read online is the Carnahan brothers bizarre adaptation of James Ellroy’s White Jazz. The entire script is, like the novel, written from the first- person perspective of Dave ‘the Enforcer’ Klein (right down to Klein describing and directing the camera angles). It’s one of the most unusual scripts you’ll ever read, and it’s a terrible shame it was never made into a film.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. November 22, 2010 2:06 pm

    Great post! I’ve been thinking about this subject recently myself. Johnny Depp’s stated intention to revive the Thin Man series gives me some concern, especially as there’s been no announcement over who’ll play Nora. The remake will stand or fall on that bit of casting, I think. As I mentioned in my original blog when the news was announced, I’m not against reviving Hammett’s characters as written, but simply imitating the Powell-Loy series doesn’t have much artistic justification.

    Another one that will be difficult to get right is Soderburgh’s putative Man from UNCLE. It can’t be too serious but it shouldn’t go down the outright parody route of many big screen revivals of Hollywood shows (Get Smart, I Spy etc.). It’s a delicate matter of tone.

    At the risk of sounding like a philistine, I quite like The Falcon Takes Over! Yes, it’s silly but I think Ward Bond is fun in the Moose Malloy role. While those series films are repetitive and derivative, generally I find them far wittier and more charming than current Hollywood franchises.

    • Steve Powell permalink*
      November 22, 2010 5:52 pm

      The Thin Man / Man from Uncle franchises were so of their time it’s difficult to imagine how they could be made today without completely changing the material, in which case why not just produce an original story. I’m tentative about these remakes, they could be really good but when a remake is not good, they seem to be so much worse than any other average movie.

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  1. Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock « The Venetian Vase

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