Monday, June 13, 2016

Top 10 Movies That Cannot Be Remade in the Present Day

This is not about sports.

There are movies that are not period pieces, but still couldn't be remade and set in the present day, due to changes in technology and personal mores.

One that I thought could be included on this list was Rear Window, Alfred Hitchcock's 1954 thriller in which Jimmy Stewart, bored because he's laid up in a wheelchair with a broken leg, uses his binoculars to spy on his neighbors, and sees evidence that Raymond Burr may have murdered his wife, but as trouble convincing anyone to believe him.

Knowing that technology could make it easier to catch such a killer, producers remade the film in 1998, with Christopher Reeve, already a paraplegic, using the high tech in his apartment to set a trap for the killer. But it's still not quite the same story.

But the TV show Castle got around this, by playing it for laughs, as Rick, temporarily wheelchair-bound due to a skiing accident, tried to record evidence with his video camera, but he didn't hit the record button in time.

What movies -- not counting films set in a specific time, such as in a specific war -- could not be made today, because technology would render them obsolete?

Oh yeah: Spoiler alert. And these movies are (more or less) in chronological order.

1. Pretty much any film made from a play by Tennessee Williams. Or any other story in which a male protagonist doesn't dare admit that he's gay. Tom Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie (first staged in 1944 and filmed by Irving Rapper in 1950 -- Williams' real name was Thomas Lanier Williams III) and Brick Pollitt in Cat On a Hot Tin Roof (first staged in 1955 and filmed by Richard Brooks in 1958 -- Brick is married to Maggie, but he's been depressed over the suicide of his friend Skipper) are both clearly gay, and heavily closeted.

In the latter play, Skipper comes out to Brick, but Brick rejects him, probably because he doesn't want to lose face in Southern society. But the film version, with Paul Newman as Brick, has the gay element virtually eliminated. How gay is Brick? He's married to Maggie, who's played by Elizabeth Taylor at her finest, both in acting and in form, and he's not interested in her.

The role of Brick was originally offered to Ben Gazzara, who'd played Brick on Broadway, but because of the changes, he turned it down. Then it was offered to Elvis Presley. Elvis turned it down, too, possibly because the character was still too gay. Wouldn't that have been something: Elvis and La Liz in the same movie. It might have totally changed Elvis' reputation as an actor. (However, he did make probably his best film that year, also a very Southern story: King Creole.)

If the movie were remade today, Brick and Skipper would probably both be out, and preparing to get married, with Big Daddy, Big Mama and Brick's former girlfriend Maggie all angry, and ganging up on them to try to prevent it. And it would be a comedy. Actually, that might be worth watching.

2. Twelve Angry Men. This story first appeared as a TV play written by Reginald Rose in 1954, and was filmed by Sidney Lumet in 1957. A jury must decide if a teenage boy murdered his father, with the penalty being execution. Henry Fonda plays the only juror who doesn't seem sure. One by one, he convinces the other jurors, until only Lee J. Cobb is left thinking the kid is guilty.

At first glance, this would seem to be a story that could be done today -- although it would have to be Twelve Angry People, since women would certainly be on that jury. But the knife would be checked for fingerprints (namely, the son's) and DNA (namely, the father's blood). Since Jack Klugman's demonstration about how a killer would use a switchblade is correct, one or the other (the son's prints or the father's blood) might well be on the knife, but both wouldn't be. Thus, the police would know fairly quickly that the son didn't do it.

3. The Apartment -- or any other film made before the rise of feminism in the 1970s. Billy Wilder's The Apartment is set in late 1959, and was released the following year. Jack Lemmon plays an insurance agent, who lets the higher-ups at his company use his apartment for flings with their mistresses. One of them is Shirley MacLaine, who, finding out that the company's boss was never going to leave his wife for her, attempts suicide.

Both feminism and sexual harassment laws make this film obsolete as hell. Even by 1981, when 9 to 5 was released, The Apartment was an anachronism.

4. Play It Again Sam. Woody Allen wrote this as a play in 1969, and filmed it in 1972. Whenever Tony Roberts' character, a real estate agent, gets to a new location, the first thing he does is call his office, and tell them that he can be reached at that phone's number.

I first saw this movie when I was in high school, in the late 1980s. Even then, this pattern seemed ridiculous. At that point, mobile phones weren't very common, as they were still too big to fit in your pocket. Today, he'd have a smartphone. Hopefully, he wouldn't answer it as stupidly as today's biggest real estate agent in pop culture, Phil Dunphy on Modern Family.

5. Jaws. Premiering in 1975, directed by Steven Spielberg and based on Peter Benchley's novel, Roy Scheider plays a police chief who thinks there's a man-eating shark off the coast of an island, but the Mayor doesn't believe him. Better sonar would settle it quickly, and the big-money 4th of July weekend would arrive with no unnecessary fear.

6. The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training. The sequel to the original The Bad News Bears, directed by Michael Pressman, came out in 1977. There is no way a Little League team would be allowed to go from Los Angeles to Houston without a coach. And there's no way the State Police would see a 13-year-old boy driving a van and fail to pull him over.

7. Smokey and the Bandit. This movie, directed by Hal Needham, came out in 1977, when CBs -- citizens' band radios -- were huge. Much like ham radios, they were a precursor to the Internet. But with cellphones, CBs would be obsolete. Maybe the "Breaker, breaker" lingo could coexist with Leetspeak, but the CB systems themselves would now be quaint.

Also, the film's main plot wouldn't work, since, by 1988, shipping Coors beer was legal in all 50 States. A 2016 version of Big Enos Burdette could just go to any liquor store, and buy as many cases of that foul stuff as he wants. If he wants the Bandit to go get him something far away and bring it back under a deadline, it will have to be something else.

8. Manhattan. Woody Allen again. He made this movie 1979 -- before life imitated art and he hooked up with stepdaughter Soon-Yi Previn. As creepy as that was, it was legal, and he has now been with her longer than with all his previous loves combined.

But in Manhattan, his character is 42 years old, and has a 17-year-old girlfriend. No. Just no. If Woody wanted to admire Roman Polanski as a filmmaker, that was one thing. But to imitate Polanski's personal life... No. I don't know why he got away with filming that (without his character at least getting arrested) in the Disco Period. But even if Woody didn't get together with Soon-Yi, there's no way he would get away with that today.

Then again, today, Woody is 80, and Mariel Hemingway is 54. At those ages, it wouldn't be so bad.

9. Ferris Bueller's Day Off. As I said in a post on Friday, this John Hughes film came out exactly 30 years before, on June 11, 1986. This film couldn't be made today. And not because America's self-appointed moral arbiters would object to nearly every adult in the film being portrayed as a blithering idiot. Here's how it would be different in 2016:

* Grace's phone would have Caller ID. She'd know the call from "George Peterson" was coming from the Bueller house -- or, more likely, Cameron's cellphone. The scheme would fall apart right there. Failing that...

* Ed Rooney might have a friend in the police department, who could use a GPS to track Ferris' phone. He'd have the documentary evidence that proved Ferris was ditching. Then he'd show up at the Bueller house at 6:00, meet Ferris and his parents there, and say, "I've got him." Which, unlike in the actual movie (where all he could legally prove was that Ferris was home after school), he would. Failing that...

* Ferris wouldn't risk stealing the Ferrari belonging to Cameron's father. He'd call Uber.

* If Ferris could hack into the school's computer in 1986, in 2016, surely, he could hack into Chez Quis' website, and find out the names on their reservation list. He'd see only one name with a party of three for 12:00, see that it's Abe Froman, then Google the name, and see, "Oh, he's the Sausage King of Chicago. He'd be recognized. I'd better try another restaurant."

* Jeanie would use her phone's camera to take a picture of the knocked-out Rooney. Thus, the Shermer police would believe her, and Rooney would be arrested for unlawful entry. Even if he beats the rap, this would be very suspicious behavior on his part, and he'd be fired. At the least, Jeanie wouldn't be arrested.

10. Midnight Run. This one, directed by Martin Brest, was released in 1988. As with Ferris, this is one of my 5 favorite movies of all time. Also like Ferris, this one wouldn't work today. (Neither would the other 3: They're Casablanca, set in World War II; Star Wars, set "a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away"; and V for Vendetta, set in a dystopian future.)

Robert De Niro plays a bounty hunter with 5 days to get embezzler Charles Grodin from New York to Los Angeles. As the promotional material said, The mob wants him dead, the FBI wants him alive, and De Niro just wants him to shut up.

The key to resolving this movie is that Grodin tells De Niro that he was arrested before he could put his safety net into action: After discovering the guy he was working for was a mob boss, he was going to record all of the crime family's dealings on computer disks (the old hard kind that we nonetheless still called "floppy disks"), and turn them over to the FBI. So De Niro gets fake disks, and gets the boss to take them. There's no evidence on the disks, but the boss doesn't know that: He thinks he's tampering with evidence, therefore he's guilty of conspiracy to obstruct justice, and the FBI arrest him.

If this story happened today, Grodin would probably have everything he needed put on a flashdrive much faster than he could have put it on those old-style disks, and would have gone to the FBI, and be in the Witness Protection Program before the boss even knew it was too late.

If he had failed to do that, this would still be an awfully short movie, because the FBI would have found De Niro and Grodin using GPS. This would have happened before Grodin told De Niro about the flashdrive/disks, and before De Niro could tell the FBI this and cut the deal that sets him free from all of the charges he's racked up (from car theft to impersonating an FBI agent).

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