Remakes are nothing new. Since films began, they were remade. Stories are revised, plot lines are shifted and new actors are cast in roles someone else made their own years before. Other times, the story, scenes and lines are exactly the same as they were in the original.
Today, more than 20 years will pass before a movie is remade, but during the classic era, 10 years didn’t even have to pass before an old script was dusted off to make new again. Take for example, The Last of Mrs. Cheyney (1929) starring Norma Shearer which was remade in 1937 with Joan Crawford under the same title.
But there is a special kind of remake which is a whole different animal — the musical remake — where an old story is dusted off the shelf, but this time songs and dances are incorporated into the plotline. The idea is that the music will improve upon the original story — and sometimes it does but sometimes it doesn’t.
Here are a few musical remakes you may have missed:
The Awful Truth (1937) remade as Let’s Do It Again (1953)
The Awful Truth itself was a remake. It first was seen on the screen in 1925 and again in 1929 under the same title. But the classic and best known version was released in 1937 starring Irene Dunne, Cary Grant and Ralph Bellamy. The story revolves around a couple divorcing and trying to thwart each other’s new romance. In 1953, the story was remade as Let’s Do It Again, a musical starring Ray Milland, Jane Wyman and Aldo Ray. Milland plays a Broadway composer who becomes angry when his wife and former musical star, Jane Wyman, spends an evening with a rival composer.
The Women (1939) remade as The Opposite Sex (1956)
The appeal of The Women (1939) was that the plot revolves around the trouble with men, but not one single man appears on screen. The remake, The Opposite Sex, however includes men in the cast, such as Jeff Richards, Harry James and Leslie Neilson. Esther Williams was initially cast as the lead, and in her autobiography she wrote that she declined the role because she thought it was a mistake to remake The Women. June Allyson was cast instead in the Norma Shearer role, the woman jilted by her husband for a more sultry dame (Joan Collins plays the role, originally played by Joan Crawford). The remake’s cast also includes Ann Miller, Joan Blondell, Agnes Moorehead, Ann Sheridan and Dolores Gray.
These two films are more similar to each other than other remakes. Both involve a dreamer of a girl — Ginger Rogers in the 1941 version and Jane Powell in the 1958 version — who have three suitors to pick from: a reliable guy with a job, a handsome loafer, and the rich man.
In both films, Rogers and Powell have to determine if they want to marry the rich man they always wanted, or to marry for love. While many people today know Ginger Rogers from her musicals, Tom, Dick and Harry is not a musical. It’s The Girl Most Likely that is filled with songs and Gower Champion choreographed dances.
What’s sad about The Girl Most Likely, is that it marks the end – it was the last musical film that Jane Powell made.
Kentucky (1938) remade as Down Argentine Way (1940)
Kentucky is a modern day Romeo and Juliet story starring Loretta Young and Richard Greene. Their families had been feuding since the Civil War and Young’s grandfather, played by Walter Brennan, is keeping the anger alive. Both families also raise racing horses.
Down Argentine Way, starring Don Ameche and Betty Grable, also deals with racing horses and a family feud, but the location is changed from Kentucky to Buenos Aries, Argentina where Betty Grable and her aunt, Charlotte Greenwood are vacationing. And Grable has no crotchety grandfather. Instead, Ameche has a grandfather played by Henry Stephenson, who doesn’t want him to sell any horses to Grable’s family. Down Argentine Way seems to be a little less about the feud and more about Grable and Ameche’s romance, racing horses and lots of great music.
The Male Animal (1942) remade as She’s Working Her Way Through College (1952)
In The Male Animal, Henry Fonda plays an English professor working at a Midwestern university. Everyone at the school, including his wife played by Olivia De Havilland, only cares about football, which frustrates Fonda. In the midst of the big football weekend, Fonda finds himself in trouble for many reasons: He gets in a free-speech fight with his trustees when he wants to read Bartolomeo Vanzetti’s sentencing statement to his class, and when his old pal Jack Carson comes to visit, his wife swoons for the old football star.
When Warner Bros. remade the film in 1952 as She’s Working Her Way Through College, the focus of the professor — played here by Ronald Reagan — takes a backseat to the character of Angela, or Hot Garters Gertie, played by Virginia Mayo. Angela is a showgirl who wants to go to college and is a character added to the story that isn’t in The Male Animal. Reagan’s character is still the frustrated English professor and an old friend and football star, now played by Don DeFore comes to visit. Instead of a speech, Reagan has to defend wanting to put on a musical rather than a Shakespeare play, and also has to defend Mayo’s opportunity to get an education.
Other honorable mention remakes:
- It Happened One Night (1934) starring Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert remade as You Can’t Run Away From It (1956) starring Jack Lemmon and June Allyson
- Richest Girl in the World (1934) starring Miriam Hopkins and Joel McCrea remade as The French Line (1953) starring Jane Russell and Gilbert Roland
- Ninotchka (1939) starring Greta Garbo and Fred Astaire remade as Silk Stockings (1957) starring Cyd Charisse and Fred Astaire (this was a Broadway musical before made as a musical film)
- Brother Rat (1938) starring Ronald Reagan and Jane Wyman remade as About Face (1952) starring Gordon MacRae and Virginia Gibson
- Four Daughters (1938) starring Priscilla Lane and John Garfield remade as Young at Heart (1954) starring Doris Day and Frank Sinatra
- His Girl Friday (1940) starring Rosalind Russell and Cary Grant remade as The Thrill of Brazil (1946) starring Evelyn Keyes and Keenan Wynn
– Jessica Pickens for Classic Movie Hub
Jessica can be found at cometoverhollywood.com and on twitter at @HollywoodComet. In addition to her overall love of classic movies, she has ongoing series on her site including “Watching 1939″ and “Musical Monday.”