The 25 Movies They’d Better Never Remake.
These films are not just near and dear to our hearts, they should be considered OFF-LIMITS to those jerks at the studios. The films on this list were special when they premiered and continue to be so today, and we’re going to explain why they shouldn’t be remade – as well as why they can’t be. So enough jabbering, on with the list!
NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959)
DIRECTED BY: Alfred Hitchcock
WRITTEN BY: Ernest Lehman
STARRING: Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, James Mason, Martin Landau.
A successful advertising man, Roger Thornhill is a real mover and shaker. Everything is good in his world until he goes to meet some friends for lunch, grabs the attention of a bellhop at precisely the wrong time and ends up escorted out of the building by a couple of unnamed (but not unarmed) henchmen-types. Taken prisoner in a palatial estate, he’s confronted by Phillip Vandamm (James Mason), who’s certain that he’s not actually Roger Thornhill, but a Mr. Geroge Kaplan. Determined to be rid of Mr. Kaplan, Vandamm and his cronies force Thornhill to drink an entire bottle of bourbon and send him off to navigate the cliffs and switchbacks in a sweet-ass Mercedes convertible.
When Thornhill ends up DWI instead of DOA, he sets off to figure out just who in the hell George Kaplan is. Along the way he’s accused of murdering a UN Diplomat, meets the sizzling Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint) and finds himself in the middle of an espionage plot that has him traipsing across the continent only to wind up fighting for his life on Abraham Lincoln’s nose.
Easy answer? Because it did everything first. North by Northwest is that movie that a lot of casual movie watchers have barely heard of and probably never seen, but can’t escape its impact. Is it the first movie that dealt with mistaken identity and a man wrongfully accused of a crime who goes on the run with the police and the real criminals on his tail? No. Hell, it’s not even the first Hitchcock movie to do that. But what it does do first is take all of those tropes and familiar beats and turn them in on themselves, giving the entire film a self-referential, witty quality. Instead of dealing with the grim and gritty criminal underworld, Hitchcock takes the chase to rural America – trading in dark alleyways and secret hideouts for cornfields and hotel lobbies. Trading smoky speakeasies for brightly-lit, well-occupied railway cars. Vandamm isn’t a criminal boss of the Al Capone variety, the man has class. And taste. His grammar is impeccable and his wardrobe top-notch. He uses fine art as a front for his espionage trade. Eve Kendall, a match for our hero in every way, uses her sexuality as an aid as opposed to a crutch. Her attractiveness is secondary (sometimes even tertiary) to her wit and charm and she’s quick enough on her feet to not only match fast-talking Thornhill word for word but to also navigate the face (heh) of a mountain in high heels. She’s a woman’s woman in a world of men’s men, so to speak.
This, as they say, is the first James Bond movie.
But above and beyond that, these are characters that are familiar to every one. They’re story-telling devices that are familiar to everyone. They’re familiar because they’ve been duplicated to some degree in countless movies (including the Bond films). But this is the source. This is where the duplication comes from. Hell, even down to the animation in the title sequence (kinetic typography, for the uninitiated), North by Northwest did it all first.
And none of this, by the way, even mentions the script – which is fanfuckingtastic. Every single word crackles and they’re not only given justice but actually elevated by the performances of those delivering them. If I wanted to be twee I’d type out the little heart emoticon, but instead I’ll be a grownup and say that this is a script that all screenwriters should look at as an example in how to do it not just right, but spectacularly so.
- The title sequence
- The drunk driving sequence
- “You gentlemen aren’t REALLY trying to kill my son, are you?”
- Thornhill meets Kendall on the train
- The crop-duster.
- The fight on Mount Rushmore
So I’ll use this section to, in essence, finish off the “Why It’s Sacred” bit. All of the above aside, because bits of it HAVE been duplicated so many times with varying degrees of incredible success, those things alone don’t necessarily make it untouchable. What does, however, are these three things:
1 – Alfred Hitchcock. As a director in both the technical and storytelling senses, Hitch is unmatched. Not only is his knack for creating tension untouchable, his technical eye stands alone as well. When you watch that crop duster scene and see the way that he not only composed but edited to perfection every single frame, the thought of someone else even attempting to match that (because there’s no hope in ever surpassing it) is not a pleasant one. At best you’d end up with a passable, workable homage. And that’s just that one scene. Take the drunk driving sequence and the use of POV shots (hell, the entire movie’s use of POV). It’s another example of sublime editing and shot composition and it’s a testament to Hitchcock’s ability to take the viewer out of their role as a simple spectator and put them through these experiences themselves. Which, unsurprisingly, was one of Hitch’s main goals in making the film in the first place. North by Northwest (like nearly all great films) was born from Hitchcock’s personal vision and his desire to put the audience through something they‘d never experienced before. Anybody trying to remake this film would honestly be coming at it from a sort of cynical place, as remaking it would go against everything Hitch was trying to do with it.
2 – 2010 ain‘t 1959. Just a year or so removed from the McCarthyism debacle, America as a nation was used to the idea of double agents and false identities. Not knowing who to trust and who was who was a familiar feeling for Americans and North by Northwest, with its dry wit and comedic sensibilities, was a bit of a pressure release. It was a way for the nation to let out a collective breath and sort of knowingly giggle a bit at the whole situation. It was catharsis for a nation that had been held captive by distrust and then when you throw in that whole Cold War thing it’s a movie very much of its era. The spy movie as a genre certainly succeeded in North by Northwest’s wake, but as a nation we no longer look at it as an identifier – the spy movie is entertainment, not something to which we can relate anymore and any sort of attempt to recreate that sort of resonance would ring hollow.
I would also say something about the differences in society, but Mad Men’s existence and perpetual success would pretty much render anything I had to say moot. So…
3 – Cary Grant. There’s only one actor alive that I can think of that comes close to emulating Cary Grant and that’s George Clooney. And while I think Clooney would make a fine Roger Thornhill, the fact remains that the role was written for Grant and with Grant’s sensibilities and persona in mind. And while Clooney does indeed do a fine job of emulating everything that made Grant so wonderful, in the end it’s just an emulation. That’s not a knock on George, whom I adore, he’s just no Cary Grant.
Michael Bay’s been producing remakes all over town, using his Platinum Dunes company as a front. So naturally he’d be the logical choice to spearhead any attempt at remaking this classic. How would it pan out, you ask?
- Neveldine and Taylor write for Bay to direct.
- Shia LeBeauf gets the lead, Scarlett Johansson gets cast as Eve.
- Take the subtle espionage angle and put it to the side, focusing more on hi-tech surveillance and cool James Bond-ish gadgetry.
- Copy the crop-duster sequence shot for goddamned shot (EXCEPT SHOOT IT IN IMAX) and have Thornhill walk away from the exponentially larger explosion with a speed-ramped, low-angle hero shot.
- Have a stereotypical nerdy guy consult on the fake shooting, taking the time to show Thornhill getting loaded up with squibs, then slow-mo the shit out of their exploding.
- Keep the Mt. Rushmore sequence pretty much as-is, except again – shoot it in IMAX, and find a way to work in a gratuitous rocket launcher so that we can see $30 million be pumped into the digital explosion of our Founding Father’s faces.
- End the movie with our couple at the airport, the lady at the counter wearing a Northwest nametag. “And where will you two be traveling today?” Thornhill smirks at Eve. “I dunno…maybe…North.” Boom. Linkin Park song, cut to “DIRECTED BY MICHAEL BAY” on black.
The story of the fake agent that Hitchcock uses against Mr. Thornhill was actually bought from Otis C. Guernsey, a journalist who wrote a little treatment based on a story he heard about some World War II Secretaries who fabricated an agent and watched the Germans waste time following him around. One of the original working titles was The Man On Lincoln‘s Nose. North by Northwest was never intended to be the actual title either, but was left because they couldn’t think of a better one. The film was also originally supposed to include a big murder scene in Detroit and end up with the climax in Alaska.
REBUTTAL: None of the other guys have anything to say here, obviously, but I am going to take a moment to play Devil’s Advocate with myself (sexy!). The effects of this film are far-reaching indeed, but the one thing I kept noticing throughout the entire running time were the traces of this I could see in almost all of the Coen Brothers’ films. Especially their more rural ones. Wide-angle shots of country roads that lead to infinity, that sense of intimacy between the camera and the performers and their environments, the story-telling device of having an everyday person make a dumb decision and finding themselves in over their head, but telling that story with a sardonic wit and just a faint trace of contempt…it’s what the Coens have made a career doing. And I mentioned George Clooney earlier, with whom the Coens have a great, extensive working relationship. So, if this absolutely had to be remade, then I would want the Coens to do it with Clooney as their lead. No, they wouldn’t be able to recapture the resonance of that film in that era, but playing with these people and these stories is what they do best and if word came down tomorrow that they were actually doing it, I’d follow the development with an interested, perhaps even excited eye.
However, that’s not going to happen and this is why (Yeah – I just rebutted my own rebuttal): almost anybody that we would want to tackle these films isn’t going to because they understand cinema as a viable art form. They understand that even if they COULD use their various skills in such a way as to make a remake worthwhile, they have no desire to because they understand that classics like these exist in their own little bubble (and because they ARE indeed artists, they’d rather make something of their own). The Coens could probably make a damn fine version of North by Northwest, but the same qualities and sensibilities that would make them a good fit for the project are the same qualities and sensibilities that will keep them away from it.
That, of course, is why we love them and have an entire segment of this list devoted to making fun of Platinum Dunes.
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