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February 4, 2009
Remaking Hitch's masterpieces has long been something of a cottage industry in Hollywood. Here is a list of some of the best, some of the worst, and a preview of coming attractions.
THE LODGER (1927): Adapted from a novel by Marie Belloc Lowndes about a Jack-the-Ripper-esque killer and his landlady, Hitch made this as a silent film in England, and it cemented his reputation. The 2009 remake stars Simon Baker ("The Mentalist"), the stupendous Hope Davis, and Alfred Molina (unforgettable in "Spiderman 2"), and is set in my own little hamlet of West Hollywood. Cue the doomed prostitutes!
THE 39 STEPS (1935): Currently playing on Broadway, winner of two Tony Awards. The Hitchcock version was based on an adventure novel by John Buchan. Personal highlight: Annabella being fatally stabbed with a bread knife.
SHADOW OF A DOUBT (1943): Check out the 1991 made-for-T.V. movie with the role of the murderous Uncle Charlie played by Mark Harmon, who apparently specializes in playing charming lunatics (i.e., Ted Bundy in 1986's "The Deliberate Stranger"). Watch for small cameo by Hitchcock crush Tippi Hedren (who just happens to be the mother of Melanie Griffith, who stars in the 1984 "Body Double," Brian DePalma's infamous homage to "Rear Window," "Vertigo" AND "Dial M for Murder").
LIFEBOAT (1944): Remade as a made-for-T.V. movie called "Lifepod" in 1993. This kitsch masterwork chronicles the sorry fate of eight survivors after their spaceship is blown up on Christmas Eve. Starring Jessica Tuck (I loved her in "One Life to Live") and Kelli Williams (oh-so-annoying on "The Practice"), "Lifepod" was the penultimate directorial effort of Ron Silver (remember him on "Rhoda"?) -- and a person can well understand why. "You know," says Kelli Williams (who attended my high school), "on Venus, EarthCorp uses cameras like that to spy on people."
REAR WINDOW (1954): Speaking of spying on people, I quite liked D.J. Caruso's "Disturbia," starring Shia Lebeauf as a plucky teenager under house arrest who spies on his homicidal neighbor from the window. But is "Disturbia" an homage to "Rear Window" or an act of theft? Producer Stephen Spielberg is currently being sued by the Sheldon Abend Revocable Trust, which controls the rights to "It Had to Be Murder," the Cornell Woolrich short story upon which "Rear Window" was originally based. Good thing Spielberg has deep pockets!
STRANGERS ON A TRAIN (1951): Based on Patricia Highsmith's novel of the same name. In the 1969 remake, Carol Lynley sleeps with a golf pro to get him to kill her shrink, who wants to have her committed. Lots of cool sixties clothes and period shots of L.A. and Malibu. But one forgets the classic 1987 spoof, "Throw Momma from the Train," at one's peril. See Danny DiVito (who also directs) whack Billy Crystal in the head with a frying pan! Watch Momma make Danny fetch her another drink with ice!
DIAL M FOR MURDER (1954): This wonderful Grace Kelly movie has been remade seven times, including once as a Bollywood musical, once as a TV movie with Angie Dickinson of "Police Woman" fame (love the starchy hair, which Drew Barrymore has been channeling recently to ill effect), and once as a 1998 feature film with a well-dressed Gwyneth Paltrow, a sexy Viggo Mortenson, and a slimy Michael Douglas.
PSYCHO (1960): was subjected to a shot-by-shot remake in 1998 by director Gus Van Sant. It was not a roaring success, despite sexy Viggo Mortenson's appearance in his second Hitchcock remake of the year, and Rita Wilson's amusing stab at Caroline, a role played in the original by Hitch's talented daughter, Pat. Particularly cringeworthy: Vince Vaughn's stolidity and Anne Heche's orange parasol.
THE BIRDS (1963): Michael Bay's production company Platinum Dunes is reportedly putting together a remake of the Hitch masterpiece about a spoiled socialite who runs "afowl" of some avian foes. Naomi Watts is said to have the Tippi Hedren role and George Clooney the somewhat thankless role originally played by Rod Taylor. In negotiations to direct is Martin Campbell, who hit the big time with the James Bond reboot, Casino Royale, starring the sullen Daniel Craig. I'd like to see Emily Blunt in the Suzanne Pleshette role, and maybe Melanie Griffith as George's possessive mother (fine, she's a bit young, but remember when Anne Bancroft played opposite Dustin Hoffman in "The Graduate," she was only five years older than he was).