The Best American Remakes You’ve Probably Never Seen

Sorcerer

(Welcome to The Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, a series that takes a look at slightly more obscure, under-the-radar, or simply under-appreciated movies. In this edition, we take a look at some of the best American remakes you’ve probably never seen.)

Remakes are typically derided from the moment they’re announced, and I’d be lying if I suggested the response wasn’t well-earned by decades of lazy reboots churned out of the Hollywood machine. The odds of a remake being fairly worthless seems to double when the original is a foreign film for some reason, but that hasn’t stopped several American films from managing the unexpected and actually matching the original. From The Ring to Let Me In, from Scent of a Woman to The Birdcage, from Sorcerer to Twelve Monkeys, there are good to great remakes out there.

Of course, I just named most of the great ones right there. Lucky for you, as is my goal with this column, I’m here to point to a handful of great American remakes that, for various reasons, aren’t nearly as well known as the likes of The Departed or True Lies. As a point of clarity, I’m calling these remakes as each of them hit the screen in previous foreign-language films, but some of them are also based on initial source novels. Details shmetails. Onward!

scarlet street

Scarlet Street (1945)

Chris Cross makes a street thug jump when he sees the man beating a young woman, but his heroic moment takes a turn when he falls for Kitty’s considerable charms. He’s married but enamored with the younger girl’s attention, and soon the pair find themselves in a relationship. What Chris doesn’t know is that Kitty and her assailant – her boyfriend Johnny – are playing him for the fool and plan on making him pay up soon.

Noir fans will be well familiar with this Fritz Lang feature as it’s considered by many to among the genre’s first. The story pits a mild-mannered man (Edward G. Robinson) in a loveless marriage whose spoken curiosity as to what affection from a younger woman would feel like comes true with tragic consequences. Kitty convinces Chris to rent her an apartment where she’ll live and he’ll paint free of his wife’s criticism, and this initial subterfuge leads to an exploration of not-so innocent interests butting up against blackmail, theft, and murder. Robinson is better known for tough guy roles, but here he brings life to someone far more fragile but every bit as dangerous.

A remake of Jean Renoir’s La Chienne (1931, France), which in turn is based on a French novel, this is a terrifically dark tale that finds a good man pressed into a corner. He doesn’t remain a victim for long, though, and each new turn brings moral challenges for all involved – challenges they almost exclusively fail to meet. The core here is a man’s descent fueled by poor decisions and misplaced love, but the various story beats are every bit as engaging, including a couple late twists that seal everyone’s fates.

Buy Scarlet Street on Blu-ray from Amazon or watch via Amazon Prime.

misunderstood

Misunderstood (1984)

Andrew and Miles are young boys living in Tunisia with their businessman father, but the adventure of global living is muted by loss. The boys’ mother has passed, and while the brothers struggle with grief and turn to their father for support, they find only his absence in return. He keeps busy with work, channeling his own loss into his massive business, while the boys are forced to grow up far too fast.

Previously filmed as Misunderstood (1966, Italy) and adapted from an 1869 novel, this is a bleak tale about the disconnect between a father and his sons. The distance is nothing new, but it’s heightened by death and absence of their mother and his wife. She was the warmth that bonded them together as family, and without it all three are lost. The film follows the boys as they go about their days with the older of the two taking the weight of understanding far better than his brother that they’ve essentially lost both parents.

It’s undoubtedly a sad story on the page, and the three lead performances drive the sorrow and heartbreak home with additional power. Gene Hackman has played cold men before, but he’s rarely done so opposite children, and the effect is even more devastating for it. His focus on work and away from emotional expressions hurts to watch, especially when reflected on the faces of the two boys. Henry Thomas plays the older Andrew while Huckleberry Fox is the sweetly unaware Miles, and both do work guaranteed to wreck viewers with hearts…and that’s before the film finds more heartache on its way toward the ending.

Misunderstood is not currently available.

quick change

Quick Change (1990)

A clown walks into a bank and robs it. The plan goes off without a hitch, and soon the thief with a painted face and his two partners in crime are on their way to Fiji. Well, they would be if they could get to the damn airport.

Jay Cronley’s book was previously adapted as Hold-Up (1985, France), and its second stab at the big screen remains Bill Murray‘s sole directorial effort. I have a soft spot for darkly comedic takes on people facing off against the universe, with Martin Scorsese’s After Hours being the cream of that particular crop (and my favorite Scorsese). Murray’s film fits that mold beautifully. The trio’s efforts to get from point A to B are blocked at every turn by traffic, bad luck, other criminals, and worse – it’s a near-endless parade of frustration and comic irritation for them.

Murray’s in top form as the clown leader of this motley trio, and he’s able to deliver a character who maintains the expected sarcasm and sass while also showing a warmth in his affection for his cohorts. Of course who wouldn’t love Geena Davis in full-on capable but still slightly wacky mode? Their romance adds a sweetness to the tale and works as a balance for the mayhem that Randy Quaid brings to the fold. He’s unsurprisingly playing something of a minor dunce, and while his character’s competent enough to aid in a robbery he becomes a flustered ball of pure panic as their plan turns to shit right before their eyes. It’s a fun movie all around, and the real crime here is its continued unavailability on Blu-ray.

Quick Change is not currently available.

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