To take our minds off the election while the in-person voting and counting starts, let’s talk films, especially classic films.
I have expressed before my mystification with film makers who take classic films and then remake them. It is one thing to remake a poorly made original because you think you can do a better job with a story that you think is compelling. But the only reason for doing so when the original was successful and is now regarded as a classic is because you think that there is a new generation that would benefit from seeing it that would not watch old films which feature actors that current audiences are unfamiliar with and are often in black and white and lack the high production values of modern films. But we sometimes even have remakes created after barely one generation has elapsed since the original. Take the film The Karate Kid released in 1984 that was commercially successful. Naturally, it spawned sequels in 1986 and 1989. But it was then remade in 2010.
The problem is that the new versions of classics almost invariably compare very badly to the originals, as we have seen with remakes of Charade and Psycho. We now have a new entrant to the remake of a classic, and that is Rebecca. The original 1940 Alfred Hitchcock film was based on the novel by Daphne du Maurier, with Judith Anderson as the evil gaslighter, Mrs. Danvers, who manages to convince Laurence Olivier’s timid second wife (played by Joan Fontaine) that his late first wife Rebecca will always be his one true love and that Fontaine will never live up to the ideal of perfection set by her. This makes the Fontaine character (whose name is never revealed in either the book or the film) even more insecure, especially since her husband is curt and taciturn, refuses to speak of Rebecca, and gets touchy when she brings up the subject, which she puts down to the loss being too painful for him to think about.
Rachel Syme reviewed the remake and is not impressed.
Still, “Rebecca” could have warranted a remake. In a climactic scene in du Maurier’s novel, after Mr. de Winter has chastised the heroine for wearing the same dress as the dead Rebecca to a grand fête (the result of a dastardly scheme set in motion by Mrs. Danvers), she lies on her bed thinking that nothing could be “so shaming, so degrading, as a marriage that had failed.” In 1938, the dread in taking over a big house like Manderley came from the idea that one could end up an inept matriarch, a woman who could not fulfill her obligations. Today, the story could have been fertile terrain on which to explore issues of control, abuse, and the sheer terror of becoming a wife at all… A new film could have explored the violence and sensuality of du Maurier’s tale any way it pleased.
And yet Ben Wheatley’s superficial, slapdash new Netflix adaptation fails to plumb these possible new depths. It does not, in fact, really dip below its slick surfaces at all.
Here’s the trailer of the original.
Here’s the trailer for this year’s remake.
I cannot resist reposting this parody of the original film by That Mitchell and Webb Look. As is usual with film parodies, it is a lot funnier if you have seen the original.