The Trouble with Remakes

Sometime  around 1988, a year after graduating from High School, my dad and I went to the historic Charles Theater in downtown Baltimore to see The Manchurian Candidate. This 1963 film about brainwashing, sleeper agents, and the attempted assassination of a US Presidential candidate stars Frank Sinatra (Major Bennett Marco), Laurence Harvey (Raymond Shaw), Janet Leigh (Eugenie Rose Chaney) and the great Angela Lansbury (Mrs. Iselin/Raymond Shaw’s mother).

Hollywood lore says that Sinatra had the film pulled from theatres because of the John F. Kennedy assassination (Frank was a big supporter of JFK), and only years later did he re-release the film for exhibition. It’s a tough call to say if the absence of this film for so long made it more popular when it was finally available, simply because it is such a great movie. The remake was released in 2004 with an award winning cast in Denzel Washington, Meryl Streep, and Liev Schreiber, and was directed (and produced) by Jonathan Demme (Silence Of The Lambs, Philadelphia).

It should have been a slam-dunk: marry a great story that has relevance to today’s world with a superlative cast and one of the greatest directors of his generation. Unfortunately, they all dropped the ball. Demme and company seemingly changed key plot points and characterizations just to be different than the original. And when that happens, you should know you’re in trouble.

Some films should never be remade. Citizen Kane, Casablanca, Gone With The Wind are just a few that are too iconic for Hollywood to remake (one hopes).

In 2003, right before the remake of the film, critic Roger Ebert said The Manchurian Candidate as an exemplary “Great Film”, declaring that it is “inventive and frisky, takes enormous chances with the audience and plays not like a ‘classic’ but as a work as alive and smart as when it was first released”. That surely played into Hollywood’s need to ruin a product with a lame remake.

Nine times out of ten, a remake dilutes the original’s impact; especially when the new screenwriter, director and, producer decide to change things simply for the sake of changing them. Stick with the original my friends, you won’t be disappointed.   WH