Remakes will always be remakes. The originals are the real McCoy. Director Peter Jackson,with his virtuoso triple act in The Lord Of The Rings has famously said that he started making films only because of the very first King Kong. Watching it today,you can see why: every single frame of the film,made in 1933,oozes with vitality.Those whove only seen Jacksons remake,itself quite a film,will be struck by the fact that Merian C Coopers King Kong was made at a time when special effects were done by a bunch of studio hands,not an army of highly-paid,highly-specialised techies. The other fearsome creatures on King Kongs remote islandthe serpent which terrorizes anything that falls in the lake,and the dinosaur which goes after trespassers on land look like inflated rubber toys to our sophisticated eyes. But not King Kong. Though you can see he has been assembled as rudimentarily as well,but his fascination for the blonde haired Ann Darrow is very human. He is the beast,she is the beauty,and he knows it. But like every unworthy lover,he still wants her. Sigh.
For a creature feature,King Kong also has that rare thing:a sense of humour. The boatmen,who get off at the island,make funny cracks while running for their lives. And when a heavy-set fellow treads on her feet in his eagerness to see the giant in chains,a bejeweled lady in the audience says A gorilla? Arent there enough in New York already?
Another classic which has been remade,thought not quite as successfully,is The Big Sleep,a faithful adaptation of one of Raymond Chandlers most noir-ish stories. Chandler wrote hard-boiled detective fiction (he practically invented the genre) as if he knew that one day his words will turn into screenplays. You can recognise images and scenes from the story: this is a great specimen of fiction turned into crackling cinema.
Humphrey Bogart makes an apt Chandler,the sleuth with the easy lines and the hard life. Lauren Bacall sizzles as one of the two girls that Bogey the gumshoe has to keep rescuing: in the story,she is the older sister,and it is the younger one who has the more exciting part,but in the movie,Bacall takes over.
Bogey and Bacall. What more do you want? How about Buster Keaton,one of the greats of the silent era in American cinema. Other comics who used the same arsenaldeadpan face,lots of physical movementwere other comics; Keaton was Keaton. He was prolific,he directed,scripted and acted with boundless energy. Once sound took over the movies,he made the shift,but he is remembered for,particularly because his work stayed alive on TV re-runs,was for his racy,pacy silents.
In The General,he takes a subject like war and makes a fun film out of it. In the film he spends most of the time scooting around in a steam engine,in an attempt to best the enemy and save his girl. Keep an ear out for the music which accompanies the action (piano speeding up as the train goes faster,slowing down correspondingly).
And watch out for the trademark scene: Keaton on the bar of the engine,moving,moving. Thats what movies are for.