I didn’t use to think I was a fan of movie remakes, but it has come my attention that frequently I do like them. I just watched the movie Waterloo Bridge with Vivien Leigh and that was a remake of the 1931 movie starring Mae Clarke (of Frankenstein fame) and directed by James Whale (also of Frankenstein fame). Both movies are actually quite interesting and I liked both, though they are very different. One is a pre-code film (which means it is much more upfront about the main character’s job as a prostitute) and has a definite class element to the story and a bit more of an edge to it. The remake is far more gentle and sentimental (in a good way), more coy about prostitution, and fits the mood much more of 1940, when Europe was at war and people didn’t want the edges of the early ’30s.
I also actually like both movie versions of Sabrina. I saw the 1995 version with Harrison Ford and Julia Ormand first and then was enchanted by the original that was directed by Billy Wilder and stars Humphrey Bogart and Audrey Hepburn. I also love both Ninotchka (with Greta Garbo) and the musical remake, with songs by Cole Porter, called Silk Stockings (Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse).
I guess I’m coming around to the idea that you cannot have too much of a good thing, if they really are a good thing. Since I love George Bernard Shaw’s play “Pygmalion;” I also love the movie (with Leslie Howard), the musical “My Fair Lady, multiple cast recordings, and also the movie version of My Fair Lady. I am even about to listen to a radio dramatization of the play.
And I cannot tell you how many different movie versions I have seen of Pride and Prejudice (at least five) and Great Expectations. Of course, there are an awful lot of awful remakes out there, but I am trying not to be judgmental.
But what put all this in my mind is that I just read online that Ben-Hur is going to be remade and will come out in 2016. And I also must confess that, despite all my enforced goodwill for remakes, my first thought was “Oh really? I wonder how that’ll work out.” Old habits of cynicism regarding remakes die hard.
Actually, the book Ben-Hur has been remade many times and the famous 1959 movie with Charlton Heston was the third movie adaptation. Published in 1880, it was originally adapted as a play (that must have been fun to stage!) and was then made into an unauthorized movie in 1907. It was fifteen minutes long and Lou Wallace’s estate sued and from then on movie makers were much more careful about getting the copyrights of a book before making a movie. The next version was made in 1925 (still a silent movie) with Ramon Novarro and was a huge hit.
And of course, it was made in 1959, directed by William Wyler and starring Charlton Heston. It was nominated for twelve academy awards and won eleven of them, a record it shares with Titanic and Return of the King. There was also an animated Ben-Hur made in 2003, with Heston providing the voice of the main character. And there was a 2010 miniseries made in Britain with Joseph Morgan in the main role and a supporting cast that includes Ray Winstone and Hugh Bonneville (of Downton Abbey fame).
Apparently, Jack Huston has been cast as the eponymous Ben-Hur. He is best known for his role in the show Boardwalk Empire, which I have never seen so I cannot judge whether or not he is a good choice. The producers of The Bible miniseries, Mark Burnett and Roma Downey, will be executive producers and it will be directed by Timur Bekmambetov, who has directed such movies as Wanted, Night Watch, and Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter. I will try and quash my doubts and wish them luck!