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Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013

Good Movie Remakes?

Against all odds, Hollywood has made a few

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Over the years, most movie remakes have been woeful. Recent examples include The Manchurian Candidate (2004) a botched version of 1962’s black-and-white beauty; 3:10 to Yuma (2007), a dud compared to 1957’s brooding, black-and-white gem; and The Thing (2008), which fell far short of 1951’s terrifying black-and-white original, The Thing From Another World, and 1982’s stunning initial do-over.

To be fair, a few remakes have been winners. Most notable, 1951’s splendid color version of the melancholy Show Boat was on a par with 1936’s ground-breaking, black-and-white original; Sorcerer (1977), a jolting reworking of the classic The Wages of Fear (1953); and Cape Fear, frightening in 1962 and 1991.

Two of the best were The Killers (1946, 1964) and Out of the Past (1947), retitled Against All Odds (1984). Each had stellar casts, tingling suspense and surprise endings.

The first version of The Killers, directed by Robert Siodmak, was a prime example of film noir. Based on a Hemingway story, it introduced the “dum-da-dum-dum” music that became famous on TV’s “Dragnet.” The gritty crime drama stars Burt Lancaster, in his first film, as a former boxer and ex-convict who joins a gang planning to rob a factory payroll in New Jersey. After falling for sultry Ava Gardner—gun moll of the ringleader (Albert Dekker)—the smitten pair scheme to trick the others and make off with all the loot.

Unfolding in flashbacks, The Killers provides a number of memorable scenes, especially the sizzling opener in a diner in a small town where Lancaster has worked at a gas station for seven years since the robbery. Two hit men, the killers of the title (William Conrad and Charles McGraw), track him down.

Edmond O’Brien plays an intrepid insurance investigator who unravels the robbery plot, joined by Sam Levene, as a detective and longtime Lancaster pal. Nervous Jeff Corey and leering Jack Lambert—a psychopath—are members of the gang.

In its gripping finale, a dying Dekker—shot by Lambert—reveals that Gardner is his wife, and was playing Lancaster for the robbery money. As a result, an amazed O’Brien declares: “The double-cross to end all double-crosses.” Indeed. This one is not to be missed.

In director Don Siegel’s 1964 color remake, Ronald Reagan stars as the villain mastermind. It was his final film. Luscious Angie Dickinson is in the Gardner role, with John Cassavetes playing the Lancaster role. A racecar jockey, he is hired by Reagan to drive in a million-dollar heist of a mail truck on a California back road. In the violent, reworked version, the hit men are played by menacing Lee Marvin and ice-cold Clu Gulager.

In 1947’s Out of the Past, a smarmy Kirk Douglas scores as a sophisticated bad guy. After hiring his old pal Robert Mitchum to track down his femme fatale girlfriend (Jane Greer) in Mexico, Douglas becomes jealous and dispatches a henchman (Steve Brodie) to kill Mitchum.

While seducing Mitchum, the scheming Greer—who already tried to kill Douglas—blows away Brodie, succeeds in her second attempt to ice Douglas and flees in a car driven by Mitchum. This stunning film noir, directed by Jacques Tourneur, offers crisp dialogue with many memorable lines. Its top-notch cast includes a zaftig Rhonda Fleming, Virginia Huston, Dickie Moore as a deaf mute and Paul Valentine as a sympathetic hoodlum.

In the scorching 1984 remake Against All Odds, the still-striking Greer appears as the mother of her character in the original, and Valentine has a cameo as a Los Angeles councilman. Directed by Taylor Hackford, its cast is headed by Jeff Bridges in the Mitchum role, and sexy Rachel Ward, in the original Greer role. Richard Widmark, James Woods, Swoosie Kurtz, Dorian Harewood and Alex Karras provide support.

Loosely mimicking the original, Against All Odds has Bridges, an injured pro football player, hired by love-smitten Woods in the Douglas role. Despite having been stabbed by Ward, Woods pays Bridges to find her in Mexico. Bridges tracks her down and falls for her. But after she kills Karras—a second pursuer hired by Woods—she leaves Bridges and runs back to Woods. In the finale, she shoots him to death, but skates.

The movie’s riveting musical score, including a frenetic nightclub number by Kid Creole and the Coconuts, ends with Phil Collins’ haunting, Oscar-nominated “Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now)” as the closing credits roll.

Richard G. Carter was a
Milwaukee Sentinel reporter, Milwaukee Journal columnist and local radio commentator, a New York Daily News columnist, and has appeared on “Larry King Live” and “Donahue.”
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