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On Remakes

It’s easy, and maybe understandable, for classic film fans like myself to get all up in arms when a classic movie is remade. For example, it’s a good thing I wasn’t into watching these old movies when the remake of Psycho came out, or I likely would have had a brain aneurysm at the idea of it. The most recent example is The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, which has done quite well at the box office, and is based off a 1947 film (which is turned based off a James Thurber story). But for as much complaining as there may be about remakes sometimes, remakes are nothing new. As a matter of fact, remakes are as old as popular movies themselves.

Take The Wizard of Oz as one example. By the time the famed Judy Garland film was released in 1939, there had already been three other adaptations. Classic works of horror fiction like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Frankenstein and Dracula have been especially susceptible to being remade, with as many as dozens of adaptations as each. There was even a practice among some directors to remake their own films, something done by Alfred Hitchcock and Frank Capra and others as well.

So are remakes really that awful? Do they do anything to tarnish the original, when you actually stop and think about it? 12 Angry Men, airing late tonight on TCM got me thinking about this idea. That film, itself originally a tv special and then a play before it ever hit the big screen, has not only been remade several times, but as been the subject of dozens of homages and parodies over the decades. Has the prevalence of remakes and other similar pieces hurt it’s legacy and importance? Not in the slightest. Once source even cites that in 2011 the film was the second most frequently shown film in British secondary schools.

If anything, the argument could be made that these remakes help the exposure of the classic films. Take the original Walter Mitty. As of the time of this writing, the DVD of the 1947 version ranks #28 on best selling comedies on Amazon.com, right above and below two different seasons of Modern Family. You’re not going to see any other movies from the 40s on the list that high. It’s very obvious that any new interest in original Walter Mitty came about because of the remake.

So maybe remakes aren’t so bad after all. If it allows more people to be exposed to a classic film, then it’s been a benefit. If it doesn’t accomplish that, there’s still no harm done. The originals are always there.

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