I just read about this "The Thin Man" remake being produced by Johnny Depp. While I appreciate Depp's acting and his ability to produce quality films, I wonder why they are choosing to remake such a well-loved film.
Remakes are fine when the story is easily adaptable. Some stories can, and should, be told over and over again for different generations. Each new approach can bring something new to the story. "The Three Musketeers" can and should be remade every generation, if not sooner. The same for "Dracula" or "King Kong" or any number of historical dramas. These stories benefit from retelling.
Films that are associated with a particular actor or performance, however, bring risks. Those films might benefit from a remake in the right hands. The recent adaptation of "True Grit" was successful because of the unique skills of the Coen Brothers and the good casting of Jeff Bridges. Other remakes, such as Gus Van Sant's literal remake of "Psycho," failed miserably.
I welcome a new take on Dashiell Hammett. His novels are dense and complicated and deserve a good adaptation. In some ways I wish the Coens were working on this. Their "Miller's Crossing" is a loose adaptation of "The Glass Key," Hammetts novel about mobbed-up political wars. "Miller's Crossing" is actually an improvement on the Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake version from 1942, which was something of a step backwards from an earlier 1935 version staring George Raft.
Hammett's most popular novel, "The Maltese Falcon," was perfected on film in 1941 with Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade. The first adaptation, from 1931, was racier than the classic Huston version, but suffers from a weak performance from Ricardo Cortez (who, you might ask?) as Spade.
We associate Bogart with Sam Spade for a reason - he's great at those hard-nosed, loyal, cynical tough guy roles. He attracts women but he's somewhat indifferent to them. He needs to solve the puzzle, first, and women can wait.
William Powell, as Nick Charles in "The Thin Man," is also irreplaceable. He's a cynical, funny, street-wise ex-cop who has what used to be called "savoir faire." He's a fish out of water, a regular guy who married-up and has to float equally well between two worlds. William Powell had that capacity to earn your confidence. He does it on screen between himself and his fellow actors, and he did it between himself and his audience.
I'm optimistic about Depp bringing his own characterizations to Nick Charles. He can play a loveable eccentric, or a handsome guy who everyone wants to be friends with. He has the star power to attract a good supporting cast - I'm especially curious about who will play Nora, as she hasn't yet been announced. Their interplay will make or break the film.
I have absolutely no faith, however, in Rob Marshall as the director. He does big budget pictures that, so far, have shown little nuance. The success of the film will rely on the screenplay and on the Nick and Nora relationship.
But the whole thing could flop if Marshall doesn't capture the heart and soul of Hammett's original novel.
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