Wednesday, July 18, 2012

"Hollywood is Running out of Ideas" 1934 Edition

There’s one complaint that gets trotted out whenever anything like an adaptation or a remake gets announced, like the new Total Recall. You know the gripe. “Hollywood is running out of ideas.” Its never just the phrase either, but the intonation, too. As though this is a new, fallen era of cinema that pales compared to the long-lost Golden Age, where every successful movie was an original or some hash. Despite the veneer of classiness the Golden Age of Hollywood was as full of remakes and adaptations of novels as they are today.

Don’t believe me? I went to IMDB and looked up the most popular films from 1934, the same year the Hays Code was starting to be enforced. (most popular according to user rating, that is, meaning that people now are still watching and enjoying such films. Maybe not the most scientific benchmark but whatever, I just threw this together as a brief survey). Let’s take a look at the top 20 and see how many of 1934’s greatest films were original ideas. 

In other words: Hooray YouTube links!

1. It Happened One Night. Frank Capra’s comedy won 5 Oscars and was based on a short story. Adaptation.

2. The Thin Man. Fantastic detective comedy (and one of my favorite things ever) based on a Dashiell Hammett novel. Spawned 5 sequels (none of those based on a novel). Adaptation.

3. The Man Who Knew Too Much. Hitchcock thriller starring Peter Lorre. Hitchcock himself remade it in 1956. Original story.
(it says "trailer" but seems like its just the first 10 minutes of the film, but its the best I could find on short notice)

4. The Black Cat. Boris Karloff & Bela Lugosi horror movie very, very loosely based on the works of Edgar Allen Poe. Adaptation.

5. L'Atalante. French drama/romance (okay, not made by Hollywood at all, but its regarded as a classic). Original script.

6. Babes in Toyland. Laurel & Hardy musical comedy. Adaptation of a play/operetta.

7. Imitation of Life. Drama based on a novel by Fannie Hurst. Adaptation.

8. The Gay Divorcee. Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers musical comedy. Based on a musical play.

9. The Count of Monte Cristo. An adaptation of the novel AND a remake. Film versions date back to 1908.

10. The Scarlet Pimpernel. Adaptation of the novel and a remake of a 1917 film.

11. Tarzan and His Mate. Adaptation of the Edgar Rice Burroughs characters and a sequel. Tarzan movies go back to 1918.

12. Of Human Bondage. Bette Davis movie based on the novel.

13. The Scarlet Empress. Historical drama starring Marlene Dietrich about Catherine the Great and technically an  Adaptation of her diary.

14. Manhattan Melodrama. Crime drama starring Clark Gable, William Powell and Myrna Loy. Original.

15. Cleopatra. Cecil B. DeMille epic and an adaptation of historical material and probably a hefty dose of Shakespeare.

16. Death Takes A Holiday. Romance adapted from an Italian play.

17. Palooka. Comedy based on a comic strip.

18. Twentieth Century. Based on a play.

19. Blue Steel. John Wayne western. Original story.

20. The Merry Widow. Musical comedy/romance based on an operetta. And a remake of sorts.

No embed but the Trailer is here:

Still here? Good

Its silly to think that Hollywood is any more out of ideas now than it was back then. Of the 20 movies I listed, only four of them were from original stories written specifically for the screen. I didn’t pick box office rankings because, well, these are ratings by living users who tend to be the same ones complaining about Hollywood being out of ideas. It’s not a legitimate complaint. Find a new dead horse to beat. PLEASE.

Now the quality of said remakes and adaptations, that’s a different, and entirely valid argument. But if that’s your beef, then say so. 

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