Original Vs. Remake: The Shop Around The Corner (1940) Vs. In The Good Old Summertime (1949)

Once again, we’re back for another round of “Original Vs. Remake!”  This time around, we’re featuring the films The Shop Around The Corner (1940) and In The Good Old Summertime (1949) for some holiday fun (I know that there’s also the 1998 film You’ve Got Mail, but from the bits and pieces I’ve seen of it, it pales in comparison to either of the earlier films).  So, let’s get started with the plot synopses (borrowed, of course, from the original reviews for both films)!

The Shop Around The Corner (1940): In Budapest, Hungary, we find Alfred Kralik (James Stewart) working as the head clerk at Matuschek And Company, which, as the shop’s name implies, is run by Hugo Matuschek (Frank Morgan). One time, while they were waiting for Mr. Matuschek to open up the shop, Alfred tells his friend and co-worker Pirovitch (Felix Bressart) that he answered a personal ad from the newspaper, and is now writing letters anonymously to somebody else. That same day, Klara Novak (Margaret Sullavan) comes in looking for a job. Alfred tries to tell her they have no opening, but when she manages to sell a cigarette box that plays “Ochi Tchornya” when opened (something that Mr. Matuschek wanted to sell in the shop but Alfred thought wasn’t for them), she is hired. Fast forward to the Christmas shopping season, and a number of things have changed. For one thing, Alfred and his pen pal have become more serious, and are trying to plan when to meet. In the shop, Alfred and Klara continue to bicker and fight, and, for some reason, Mr. Matuschek is having issues with Alfred as well, resulting in him being fired one day(of course, it would be the day he hoped to meet his pen pal). Alfred’s friend Pirovitch takes him to the meeting place at a restaurant as his moral support, where they both see that his pen pal is none other than Klara! Alfred decides not to go in at first, but later comes back alone. He doesn’t reveal his identity to Klara, but instead stops to talk with her (and it’s not long before they start bickering again). Later that night, Alfred learns from the shop’s errand boy, Pepi Katona (William Tracy), that their boss, Mr. Matuschek, had tried to commit suicide (but Pepi stopped him from going through with it). The reason? Mr. Matuschek had found out his wife was having an affair with someone! He had suspected Alfred (which is why he fired him), but it turns out it was another employee, Ferencz Vadas (Joseph Schildkraut). In the hospital, Mr. Matuschek rehires Alfred, and makes him the store manager (since he himself will be away from work while he recuperates). Almost all of Alfred’s co-workers are happy to see him back (and in a new position), but Alfred quickly finds an excuse to fire the flattering Vadas (like Mr. Matuschek wanted him to do). Klara, however, wasn’t feeling well, and so doesn’t come in. Alfred checks up on her after work, and sees her perk up when she receives another letter from her unknown pen pal. With Alfred now genuinely falling for Klara, will he be able to tell her the truth, or will they continue to stay apart?

In The Good Old Summertime (1949): Andrew “Andy” Larkin (Van Johnson) is the top salesman at Oberkugen’s Music Company in Chicago.  He has recently begun corresponding with a lady when he answered a personal ad in the paper (but neither pen pal knows who the other is).  Andy runs into trouble at work when his boss, Mr. Otto Oberkugen (S. Z. Sakall), orders one hundred harps, as Andy believes that they won’t sell due to the lack of market (which, of course, angers Mr. Oberkugen, since he likes them).  In comes Veronica Fisher (Judy Garland), who is looking for a job.  Andy and Mr. Oberkugen try to tell her that there isn’t any opening at the store currently, but Mr. Oberkugen hires her when she manages to sell one of the harps successfully (which, of course, gets her on the wrong side of Andy).  Andy continues to write to his pen pal (with the two of them slowly falling for each other), but doesn’t get along with Veronica at work.  The remaining ninety-nine harps continue to stay on the shelves (even with Mr. Oberkugen frequently trying to discount them), which causes friction between him and his bookkeeper/longtime girlfriend, Nellie Burke (Spring Byington).  One day, when she is so frustrated that she decides not to go out with him that evening (claiming she has a date with another man), Mr. Oberkugen’s jealousy gets the better of him, and he orders all his employees to stay after work for inventory (which really bothers everybody).  When Nellie decides to apologize to Mr. Oberkugen, he realizes how unjust he was being, and lets everyone go.  Andy had arranged to meet his pen pal at a restaurant that night, but when he and his co-worker/friend Rudy Hansen (Clinton Sundberg) arrive at the restaurant, they find out that his pen pal is none other than Veronica!  Disappointed, Andy leaves, but comes back later and tries to talk with Veronica (who gets very annoyed with him for disturbing her while she waits for her friend).  When she finally gives up and leaves, she finds a carnation outside (which Andy was supposed to wear to help identify himself as her friend).  She believes that her friend had seen the two of them together and left, which depresses her enough that she calls in sick the next day.  Andy comes to visit her on his lunch break, and sees how much she perks up when she receives her next letter from her friend.  The next day, Mr. Oberkugen and Nellie have a party to celebrate their engagement, but, much to Andy’s chagrin, Mr. Oberkugen asks him to sneak in his prized Stradivarius violin (which he plays at work when he is low, except he does it poorly, much to the dismay of his employees).  Unsure what to do, Andy ends up loaning it to his friend Louise Parkson (Marcia Van Dyke) for an audition that night.  When he arrives at the party, Andy is unable to tell Mr. Oberkugen that he loaned it out, pretending that he just couldn’t bear to bring it and left it at home.  When Mr. Oberkugen vehemently insists that Andy bring the violin, Andy borrows Louise’s violin, which Hickey (Buster Keaton), Mr. Oberkugen’s nephew (and one of his employees), accidentally breaks when he goes to give it to his uncle.  Andy is fired, but he gets the Stradivarius back after Louise’s audition goes well.  With him out of a job now, will he reveal himself as Veronica’s pen pal, or will they continue to stay apart?

Of course, with the two films being based on the same story (the 1936 play Perfumerie by Nikolaus László), there are bound to be similarities, 😉 so we should obviously start by looking at the various differences.  Some changes are more superficial than others. Location (Budapest, Hungary in Shop and the U.S. city of Chicago, Illinois in Summertime).  Type of store (knick-knacks in Shop versus musical instruments, sheet music, etc. in Summertime).  Character names (no doubt a reflection on the change in locations).  That type of stuff.

One fairly big change is the number of employees at the store.  In Shop, Frank Morgan’s Hugo Matuschek employs up to seven people at a time (after Klara is hired), whereas, in Summertime, S. Z. Sakall’s Otto Oberkugen has up to five people working for him.  As a result, this difference changes up the employee dynamic a bit (and which characters fulfill what roles).  Shop gives us a married Matuschek, which is where the trouble between him and James Stewart’s Kralik comes from, since he suspects Kralik of being the man that his wife is cheating on him with (when, in reality, it is Joseph Schildkraut’s Ferencz Vadas who is the culprit).  Summertime gives us a single Oberkugen, who is in love with his cashier/bookkeeper Nellie Burke (as played by Spring Byington). Apart from her romance with Mr. Oberkugen, Nellie essentially replaces two minor characters from the previous film (saleswoman Ilona Novotny as played by Inez Courtney and clerk Flora Kaczek as played by Sara Haden), although her presence in the story is much greater. The role of delivery boy Pepi Katona (William Tracy) from Shop is pretty much eliminated from Summertime. The role of Kralik’s friend, Pirovitch (Felix Bressart) is essentially divided between Clinton Sundberg’s Rudy Hansen and Buster Keaton’s Hickey (mostly, Rudy has the lion’s share of the character, with Hickey taking on the aspect of being the one that his boss picks on and calls names). Joseph Schildkraut’s Ferencz Vadas is also more or less gone from Summertime, with the main remnants being Hickey trying to appease his uncle (although in this case, it’s mainly because he is such a klutz and needs job reassurance with his uncle by listening to his uncle’s awful violin playing, as opposed to trying to get everybody else in trouble).

And finally, we also have the films’ central relationship and its various changes.  In Shop, the central couple first meet when Margaret Sullavan’s Klara comes into the store to look for a job, whereas in Summertime, they meet (and rather clumsily at that) when they run into each other at the post office before work (which gives just one more reason why Judy Garland’s Victoria is off to a rotten start in her relationship with Van Johnson’s Andrew).  And realistically, the revelation (at least, to us anyway) that the two are writing to each other comes at different points in the films, as (in Shop) we don’t really know for sure that Klara is writing to James Stewart’s Alfred until they are supposed to meet at the restaurant (although there are some hints beforehand that are more readily noticeable to those who either knew the story from a different version of the tale or have seen the film multiple times) whereas in Summertime, we find out that Victoria is the pen pal when she goes to talk to her Aunt Addie right after she gets the job at Oberkugen’s. The circumstances of when the pen pals are supposed to meet change, as Kralik’s reluctance to go in to the restaurant in Shop has to do with him being fired beforehand (and not really wanting to deal with anybody), as opposed to Andrew just being nervous about the meeting in Summertime. The other main difference is that, in Summertime, they do have romantic “rivals” (to be fair, they’re not really rivals, as Andrew is not really interested in Marcia Van Dyke’s Louise Parkson, nor Veronica in Hickey), whereas there is nobody else in Shop.

As to which film is the better film? That certainly depends. When you get down to it, the cast certainly helps make the movie. If I want to compare James Stewart versus Van Johnson, in my book, Jimmy wins out, as his Kralik is far more likeable, and Van Johnson is a little too cynical for me. As to the leading ladies? Judy Garland EASILY wins out for me against Margaret Sullavan. For me, she is the better actress and she is funnier (not to mention it’s nice to listen to her sing, as well). The only other characters worth comparing are the bosses. That’s where these films are more evenly matched, in my opinion. Frank Morgan I think does the better job of acting (mostly because of the material), but I also find S. Z. Sakall to be just pure fun and hard to dislike. When you get down to it, I would say that Shop is actually the better film since, as I mentioned in my review of Summertime, I think Buster Keaton’s Hickey is underutilized, particularly making the character less of a romantic “threat” (except in his own eyes). However, I’m still more of a musical fan, and with the combination of Judy, Sakall, and a few fun songs, Summertime wins out for me. Regardless, one nice thing about enjoying both films is that I can potentially alternate years in which I watch these films, thereby allowing me to enjoy the story every year, but get a different version, helping keep them fresh (or, I can forgo that and watch both)! They’re both fun Christmas films, and I have no problem in recommending either film!

Both movies are available on Blu-ray from Warner Archive Collection.

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The Shop Around The Corner (1940)

Film Length: 1 hour, 39 minutes

My Rating: 10/10

In The Good Old Summertime (1949)

Film Length: 1 hour, 43 minutes

My Rating: 10/10

The Winner (in my opinion): In The Good Old Summertime (1949) (By a VERY slim margin)

Original Vs. Remake: Show Boat (1936 Vs. 1951)

I’m back again for another round of “Original Vs. Remake!”  This time, I am back to doing two versions of the same film (although, considering the story, it’s more like “Remake Vs. Remake”).  The story?  Show Boat.  The films? The 1936 and 1951 versions (I haven’t seen the 1929 film and, given the excerpts included on the 1936 film’s Blu-ray that I did watch, I’m unlikely to want to see it anytime soon).  Of course, these two films aren’t exactly the same, so I’ll borrow the plot synopses from each film.

Show Boat (1936): Captain Andy Hawks (Charles Winninger) runs the show boat The Cotton Palace with his family and his theatrical troupe, which includes leading man Steve Baker (Donald Cook) and his leading lady Julie LaVerne (Helen Morgan), plus comedic dance team Frank Schultz (Sammy White) and Elly (Queenie Smith). Trouble comes, though, when it is revealed that Julie, who had one black parent, was married to Steve, a white man, which was illegal in that area. While they got out of that trouble, Steve and Julie were forced to leave the Cotton Palace just the same. Captain Hawks decided to promote his daughter, Magnolia Hawks (Irene Dunne), to the leading lady, and brought in river gambler Gaylord Ravenal (Allan Jones) to be the leading man, since he was seeking passage elsewhere anyways. Magnolia and Gaylord fall for each other, much to the dismay of her mother Parthy Ann Hawks (Helen Westley). Soon, they get married in spite of Parthy’s objections. A year later, Magnolia gives birth to their daughter, Kim, and Gaylord decides the three of them should move to Chicago. At first, all seems to go well, but then Gaylord gambles and spends all their money. Frank and Elly come to Chicago looking for a cheap place to stay since they got a job at a local nightclub, and they find the apartment they are looking at is being rented by none other than Magnolia and Gaylord! Of course, their timing couldn’t be worse, as Magnolia and Gaylord are being evicted and Gaylord decides to leave her, so she must find a job to survive. She auditions at the club where Frank and Elly are working, but it is only after the club’s current singer (which turns out to be Julie LaVerne) leaves that Magnolia is given the job. Magnolia’s parents have come to town in time for New Year’s Eve to see her, but it is her father who comes across her singing at the nightclub. When he sees her start to falter, he tries to support her, giving her the needed confidence that allows her to become a star on stage and make a comeback.

Show Boat (1951): The Cotton Blossom is in town!  Everybody is looking forward to seeing what show Cap’n Andy Hawks (Joe E. Brown) and his troupe are putting on!  His current troupe includes popular leading man Steve Baker (Robert Sterling), his equally popular leading lady (and wife offstage) Julie LaVerne (Ava Gardner), and dancers Ellie May Shipley (Marge Champion) and Frank Schultz (Gower Champion).  However, the boat’s engineer, Pete (Leif Erickson), who has been trying to flirt with Julie, gets into a fight with Steve (and loses).  Out for revenge, Pete goes to the local sheriff with some information about Julie.  Meanwhile, Cap’n Andy’s daughter, Magnolia (Kathryn Grayson), meets gambler Gaylord Ravenal (Howard Keel) while she is trying to air out the costumes, and they quickly fall for each other.  That night, the sheriff comes during the show, threatening to arrest Julie, a mulatto, for being married to a white man.  They are able to avoid arrest, but they are forced to leave the Cotton Blossom, much to everybody’s regret (well, everybody except Cap’n Andy’s wife Parthy, played by Agnes Moorehead).  But, Cap’n Andy is a quick thinker, and secures Gaylord’s services as a leading man, while giving his daughter Magnolia a chance as the leading lady.  Audiences take to them, and the two become quite popular.  Offstage, they fall in love, and decide to get married.  They leave the show boat, and move to Chicago.  Things are fine for a while, as Gaylord’s gambling is successful.  However, his luck starts to run out, and they have to give up their lavish lifestyle.  When they hit rock bottom and Magnolia calls him out for his obsession with gambling, he leaves her.  Just in the nick of time, Magnolia runs into Frank and Elly, who help her get a job at a local nightclub for New Year’s.  That night, Cap’n Andy goes out to see Frank and Elly perform, hoping to learn where his daughter is, only to find her faltering in her first performance.  With her father’s support, Magnolia pulls herself together and wins over the audience.  Afterwards, she tells her father what happened (including the fact that she is now pregnant), and asks if she can return home to the show boat (which obviously thrills Cap’n Andy).  As time goes on, both Gaylord and Magnolia continue to go their separate ways.  Will they ever be reunited, or will time forever keep them apart?

As I’ve admitted previously, I’ve seen the 1951 version many a time over the years, whereas I’ve only had the chance to see the 1936 film a few times.  I had actually planned to write my review of the 1951 film and compare the two last year (2020), after the 1936 version got released on Blu-ray and I finally got the chance to see it.  Had I done so, my opinions would have been different, with the 1936 version newly restored, and the 1951 film working from a pitiful transfer, which, to be fair, was the only way I had known the movie.  But, my gut was telling me that the 1951 film was likely to get restored soon (and I had a bunch of other stuff to review anyway), so I decided to delay.  After a year, my gut feeling was proven correct, and so now I have the two restored films to work with in commenting.

Warning to everyone: it’s hard to write about the differences between the two films without getting into how the stories turn out, so consider this your spoiler warning.

Story-wise, both films start out more or less telling the same story.  Sure, you get some differences like different songs or “Ol’ Man River” in different spots, but they are essentially the same.  The differences start to occur when the characters Magnolia and Gaylord get married.  In the ’36 film, they stay on the show boat until after Magnolia gives birth to their daughter, Kim.  Then they leave, enjoy some success, and things go downhill, with Gaylord leaving them.  Magnolia recovers, has a career of her own, before retiring and helping daughter Kim prepare (with Magnolia and Gaylord being reunited on their daughter’s first success).  In the ’51 movie, Magnolia and Gaylord leave the show boat when they marry, and after some ups and downs, they separate when Gaylord realizes how much Magnolia wasn’t ready for his constant failures.  Of course, he leaves before she can tell him she’s pregnant.  She tries to go on stage, but when her father finds her, she decides to return home (where she still has a small career), with Gaylord returning when he is told about their daughter, Kim.

Of course, there are more than just a few changes in story to differentiate the two movies.  The 1936 version was made while composer Jerome Kern was still alive.  As such, there were three new songs written specifically for the film (to take advantage of the cast’s abilities): “I Have The Room Above Her,” “Gallivantin’ Around” and “Ah Still Suits Me.” By the time the ’51 version rolled around, Jerome Kern had passed away (in 1945 at the age of 60), and the three newer songs weren’t included. It made up for it, though, by putting “Life Upon The Wicked Stage” back in as a full musical number (as opposed to background music in the ’36 film), as well as “I Might Fall Back On You.”

When you get down to it, though, there are a number of trade-offs between the two films, and how you feel about them will certainly affect how you like the movies. For instance, one difference between the two films are the characters of Frank and Ellie (played by Sammy White and Queenie Smith in the ’36 film, and Marge and Gower Champion in the ’51 version). In the ’36 film, they are mostly a comedy act, who play the secondary characters in the show. In the 51 version, they’re more of a song-and-dance team (who also do stuff in the actual play, but we don’t see it). I personally prefer Marge and Gower Champion, as I enjoy watching them dance (and the earlier pair really don’t do much of it). The trade-off, though, is that they don’t have as much to do with the story, and I wonder how much of that is their acting ability, or lack thereof (since it sounds like Joe E. Brown played the part of Cap’n Andy on the stage after this, and did the whole bit of telling the end of the story for the play). Sammy White and Queenie Smith are the better actors in the roles, but, as I said, I like Marge and Gower’s dancing better.

Another trade-off is how the black characters are portrayed. In the ’36 film, we have Paul Robeson playing Joe, and Hattie McDaniel playing Queenie, both fairly prominent characters but also close enough to being the stereotypical blacks that their portrayals haven’t aged well. And a number of the other blacks that appear in the film are also troublesome stereotypes. The ’51 film removes a lot of those stereotypes, but, in the process, essentially removes the characters, too. Queenie, played by Frances Williams, has a few brief lines at the very start of the film, and is otherwise relegated to being a background character. Joe, played by William Warfield, fares better (as far as presence is concerned), and is less of a stereotype than in the earlier film (although he’s still not there as much). The worst part of it is that neither way is great, considering you get representation in the ’36 film (but heavily stereotyped), and no stereotypes in the ’51 film (but also no representation).

When it comes to which film I prefer, it’s the ’36 film, but only by a hair. I think the overall film is better, but there are individual elements that, in my mind, make the ’51 more enjoyable. I much prefer Howard Keel as Gaylord Ravenal (who, with his bass-baritone voice, was different than the usual tenors in the role, like Allan Jones from the ’36 film). As I said, I also prefer the husband-and-wife dance team of Marge and Gower Champion, as much as I enjoy their dancing. Of course, one of the most famous songs from the show is “Ol’ Man River,” and, in this, I also prefer the ’51 film. Visually, the song is more appealing in the earlier film, but I just like the orchestration and William Warfield’s singing in the latter film. It gives me chills every time I hear it. But, as a whole, the ’36 film is far, far better. Regardless, I could easily sit down and watch either of them, and, for that reason, I would certainly recommend either version!

My own opinion:

Show Boat (1936)

Film Length: 1 hour, 54 minutes

My Rating: 10/10

Show Boat (1951)

Film Length: 1 hour, 48 minutes

My Rating: 10/10

The Winner (in my opinion): Show Boat (1936)

Original Vs. Remake: Meet Me In St. Louis (1944) Vs. On Moonlight Bay (1951)

Maybe it’s just me, but this month seems like a good month for finding movies that are similar to others that I’ve reviewed previously! So, with that in mind, we’re back for another round of “Original Vs. Remake!” This time, we’re focusing on the two classic musicals Meet Me In St. Louis (1944) and On Moonlight Bay (1951)! As tends to be my practice, I will borrow the plot descriptions from my original reviews.

Meet Me In St. Louis: The story of the movie centers on the Smith family. Youngest daughters “Tootie” (Margaret O’Brien) and Agnes (Joan Carroll) are generally up to some mischief, especially on Halloween. Older daughters Esther (Judy Garland) and Rose (Lucille Bremer) are both eagerly looking forward to the upcoming St. Louis World’s Fair, while also trying to gain the attention of the men they are attracted to. Their father, Alonzo “Lon” Smith (Leon Ames), is offered a promotion with his law office that would require the family to move to New York, which he takes them up on, with plans to leave after Christmas.

On Moonlight Bay: It’s 1917, and the Winfield family has just moved into a new home. Most of them are unhappy with the move, as they miss their old friends and neighbors as well as their old house. However, head of the family George Winfield (Leon Ames) likes the new home, with its location closer to the bank he works at, and hopes that his older daughter, Marjorie (Doris Day), will meet some young men. Marjorie is a bit of a tomboy, but she attempts to be more feminine when she meets and takes a liking to her nextdoor neighbor, William “Bill” Sherman (Gordon MacRae). College man Bill, who is home for the summer, develops an interest in Marjorie as well, but his views on life (partially affected by the war raging in Europe) cause strife with Marjorie’s father. As a result, George tries to promote a romance between Marjorie and music teacher Hubert Wakely (Jack Smith), much to Marjorie’s annoyance. Meanwhile, younger son Wesley (Billy Gray) has trouble at school with his teacher, Mary Stevens (Ellen Corby). His tall tales (partially influenced by a movie he saw) get him out of trouble temporarily, but cause problems for his family.

While neither of these movies share the same source material, one can’t help but notice a number of similarities between them. One of the most obvious is the casting of Leon Ames in both films as the father figure. Both movies also feature a very forthright maid, who gets dragged into some of the family’s shenanigans. The younger child(ren) tend to be very mischievous in both instances, as they frequently get themselves into trouble. Even going beyond the stories themselves, we find that they both make use of mostly period music, some of which is handled by one of the respective studios’ bigger female singing stars, who portrays an older sister. We even find that both films take place throughout the year, pausing around Christmastime (with the actresses stopping to sing a holiday tune).

But, it’s hard to deny that these movies certainly do things a bit differently, too. As the father in both films, Leon Ames’ characters do not do things quite the same way. In On Moonlight Bay (OMB), he really interferes in his daughter’s love life, by both rejecting the guy she likes and trying to push somebody else on her that he finds more “acceptable.” In Meet Me In St. Louis (MMIST), he really doesn’t interfere (he threatens to once, but never actually follows through on it). Of course, the number of children varies between the two films, with only two in OMB and five in MMIST. Also, the older daughters in MMIST are quite feminine in nature, whereas Doris Day’s Marjorie in OMB is more of a tomboy (at least, until she tries to be a bit more feminine for her boyfriend). The overall situation and timeframe allows for some differences, as MMIST takes place (mostly) in 1903, with the family mainly looking forward to the upcoming World’s Fair in St. Louis, while the prospect of the first World War looms over OMB (with Gordon MacRae’s Bill Sherman eventually joining the armed forces).

Ultimately, when you get right down to it, I would take Meet Me In St. Louis over On Moonlight Bay. Judy Garland is, to me, the far better actress and singer. The music itself in MMIST is far better and far more memorable (especially for the Christmas segments). Just the way it is filmed seems better, with the way director Vincente Minelli did things (especially with Judy on camera). Now, all that doesn’t necessarily mean that On Moonlight Bay doesn’t have its advantages, either. I do think I prefer Mary Wickes to Marjorie Main in the maid’s role (but I would say that has more to do with the idea that I prefer Marjorie Main when she is a bit more loud and outspoken, and she seems tame in comparison in MMIST). And we also get to spend more time with the characters from On Moonlight Bay, since that film did receive a sequel (By The Light Of The Silvery Moon) that was able to bring back most of the cast of the first film. Regardless, it’s a fun experience with either film, and I certainly would recommend both as good films to just sit back and relax while watching!

Meet Me In St. Louis

Film Length: 1 hour, 53 minutes

My Rating: 10/10

On Moonlight Bay

Film Length: 1 hour, 35 minutes

My Rating: 9/10

The Winner (in my opinion): Meet Me In St. Louis

Original Vs. Remake: The Awful Truth (1937) Vs. Phffft (1954)

We’re back again for another round of “Original Vs. Remake!”  To be fair, like my original post in the series (on My Man Godfrey and Merrily We Live), this one isn’t so much on a film and its remake, but on two similar titles made over a period of time: The Awful Truth (1937) and Phffft (1954).  As usual, I will borrow my plot descriptions from the original reviews.

The Awful Truth: We find Jerry Warriner (Cary Grant) and his wife, Lucy Warriner (Irene Dunne) getting divorced, due to their suspected (but not proven) infidelities.  They try to move on, but Lucy’s attempted romance with Daniel Leeson (Ralph Bellamy) is sabotaged by Jerry’s constant interruptions.  Lucy finally realizes she loves Jerry and calls off the relationship with Daniel, only to find that Jerry has also taken up with somebody.  So Lucy decides to engage in some sabotage herself.

Phffft: After much thought, television serial writer Nina Tracy (Judy Holliday) decides she wants to divorce her lawyer husband Robert Tracy (Jack Lemmon). However, instead of the shocked reaction she expected, he announces that he had been feeling the same way. So, off she goes to Reno, Nevada, and the divorce is granted. Robert moves in with his playboy (and playwright) friend Charlie Nelson (Jack Carson), while Nina spends some time with her mother, Edith Chapman (Luella Gear). Robert and Nina both still have feelings for each other, but everybody else in their lives are trying to encourage them to move on. Nina tries to go out with one of the stars of her show, Rick Vidal (Donald Curtis), but he only wants to become the main character of the show. Robert tries going out with Charlie’s friend, Janis (Kim Novak), but it doesn’t work out well for him, either. Robert and Nina try to come back together, but they end up fighting again. Will these two be able to get along again as a couple, or will they be able to get over each other?

As I said, these two are not based on the same story (but I’ll get to that in a bit), but have quite similar stories.  They are both of the “a couple gets divorced but find themselves unable to make it stick” genre.  Getting more into the details of the story itself, both of the main female characters have an older female relative that they spend time with (Irene Dunne’s Lucy has her aunt in The Awful Truth and Judy Holliday’s Nina has her mother in Phffft).  In both of those instances, the relatives are pushing the main female character back into relationships with other men.  The main couples of these movies essentially manage to stay connected instead of going their separate ways (in The Awful Truth, Lucy has custody of their dog, but Jerry has visitation rights, and in Phffft, Robert still acts as Nina’s lawyer and helps her deal with her taxes).  As a result of them staying in contact, the couples almost come back together partway through in both stories, but something causes them to pull back apart, if only until the end of the film.

Of course, even with those similarities, these two films do manage to take different directions.  To start with, they’re not based on the same property, as The Awful Truth was based on a play of the same name by Arthur Richman (although how much of the play was retained is debatable, considering the film director’s penchant for letting his cast improvise), and Phffft was based on an unproduced play by George Axelrod.  Storywise, we find that Phffft does give us the “meet-cute” story (via flashback), while The Awful Truth doesn’t tell us anything of the sort.  Meanwhile, while the women in both films have a relative that they stay with or talk to, it’s not quite the same for the men, as Cary Grant’s Jerry more or less goes it alone (outside of his relationships), while Jack Lemmon’s Robert has his friend (played by Jack Carson) that he stays with (and gets relationship advice from).  And speaking of their separate attempts at romance, that alone is different between the two films, as The Awful Truth more or less focuses on those relationships, with little view into their outside lives (particularly their work), while we do see both of the main characters at their jobs in PhffftThe Awful Truth is marked mainly by the two characters trying to interfere in the relationships of the other, whereas no such interference actually happens in Phffft (it almost does near the end, when Robert tries to stop his friend from doing anything, but his friend has already failed his attempt and left before Robert can get there).

Getting down to which movie I prefer, it’s an easy decision: The Awful Truth.  I’ll admit Phffft does have some things going for it, as I like the characterizations given by the actors.  They give us a real relationship, with their characters displaying different personality quirks that make it more interesting.  Both films contain some dancing, which makes it fun for me, but the way it is used affects how much I enjoy it.  Phffft plays it more seriously, as both characters decide to take up learning to dance, and manage to end up at the same nightclub, where they accidentally end up dancing together. In The Awful Truth, the dancing is played up for fun, with Lucy stuck dancing a slightly “countrified” dance with Daniel, much to her embarrassment (and the amusement of both Jerry and us, the audience). But, when you ultimately get down to it, I’ll still pick the cast (and story) of The Awful Truth over Phffft. The more screwball aspects of The Awful Truth work better for this reason. When given the material to work with, Cary Grant is one of the funniest actors to see (and he got the material). Jack Lemmon is also fun, but I’ve seen him with far better material than he had here. I’ve had fun with both movies, and I would definitely recommend both, but The Awful Truth is the clear winner here for me!

The Awful Truth

Film Length: 1 hour, 31 minutes

My Rating: 9/10

Phffft

Film Length: 1 hour, 29 minutes

My Rating: 7/10

The Winner (in my opinion): The Awful Truth

WOIANRA 2020 & Original Vs. Remake: Holiday (1930 Vs. 1938)

We’re back now for another edition of “Original Vs. Remake” (and in some respects still staying “What’s Old Is A New Release Again,” since both the movies were released together) with the 1930 and 1938 versions of the movie Holiday!

After going on a holiday to Lake Placid, Johnny Case (Robert Ames in 30, Cary Grant in 38) comes home engaged to Julia Seton (Mary Astor in 30, Doris Nolan in 38). He is surprised to find out she is an heiress, the daughter of a rich banker. Her sister, Linda Seton (Ann Harding in 30, Katharine Hepburn in 38) takes to him, and blesses the marriage, with her brother Ned Seton (Monroe Owsley in 30, Lew Ayres in 38) being indifferent. However, her banker father Edward Seton (William Holden in 30, Henry Kolker in 38) is wary, and looks into Johnny’s prospects. Linda wants to give them a small party to celebrate their engagement on New Year’s Eve, but Edward decides to give a big party for all his society friends. Linda opts not to come to the party, instead staying in the playroom. There, she entertains Nick (Edward Everett Horton) and Susan Potter (Hedda Hopper in 30, Jean Dixon in 38), along with Johnny, who tells her of his dream to quit work and go on a holiday while he tries to figure life out and enjoy it before returning to work when his money runs out. When Edward and Julia come up, Johnny tells them his dream, except they are both disturbed by it, resulting in Johnny leaving. With Linda developing feelings for Johnny while still trying to support her sister, what will come of all this?

Obviously, being that both movies are based on the Philip Barry play, it’s altogether too easy to mention the similarities (including a rare instance of the same actor playing the same part in two different versions, since Edward Everett Horton plays Nick Potter in both films), so we can skip right on to the differences. Of course, sticking with Edward Everett Horton, we find one of the big changes between the movies. In the 30 version, his Nick Potter is one of the rich, although he is Linda’s friend. In a change reflective of how long the Depression had gone on, he became a professor at a university for the 38 film, as well as being Johnny’s friend (and making him much more a “man of the people”). Another point being some of the portrayal, as Horton hadn’t yet fully developed his screen persona at the time he did the 1930 movie, but by 1938, he had become more established as a character actor, and that was reflected in how he portrayed Nick Potter for that film.

Of course, there are different events that happen in the two movies. The 30 film starts off with both Johnny and Julia arriving at her mansion together, while the 38 version has Johnny stopping off at Nick and Susan’s place to leave his things before meeting Julia. One major difference between the two movies is how much Julia’s cousin Seton Cram (Hallam Cooley in 30, Henry Daniell in 38) and his wife Laura Cram (Elizabeth Forrester in 30, Binnie Barnes in 38) have to do with the story. In the 1930 movie, we meet them on the first day that Johnny meets Julia’s family, and Laura has as much to do with planning the New Year’s Eve party as does Edward Seton. We also see them at the wedding rehearsal (a scene that is in the 1930 film but not the 1938 one),, where Laura is as much trying to help plan the fashionable wedding, based somewhat off how THEY had gotten married. In the 1938 film, the two characters only really appeared at the party (still serving the same purpose there that they had at the party in the previous film). Of course, a lot of the events occurring at the party in the playroom changed, allowing for the different performers and their various screen personas.

As to how I feel about these two movies? I think my scores tell the tale:

My Rating for Holiday (1930): 6/10

My Rating for Holiday (1938): 10/10

For me, the acting is so much better overall in the 1938 film. Cary Grant embodies the role of Johnny Case so much better, and when you throw in his natural ability with screwball comedy plus giving him a chance to some of his tumbles and flips, it’s hard not to prefer his version of the character. As for Katharine Hepburn, I do find her way much better than Ann Harding. Both of them make references to the trapeze in the playroom, but, honestly, I find Katharine Hepburn’s version more believable as somebody who might have used it (and would now). Of course, it does help that the 1938 film does have her character doing at least one tumble with Cary Grant, even if Katharine may have had a stunt double do it (although I don’t truly know that for sure). Of course, my opinion of Edward Everett Horton is that he is great in both film versions. But at the same time, I also feel he draws out the weakness of the 1930 film. One line, uttered in both movies by Linda Seton (admittedly about Johnny Case but it applies to Edward Everett Horton here), is “Do you realize life walked into this house today?” Well, with the 1930 film, life walks in with him, and leaves when he does. I would guess his role is about equal in screen time between the two films, but it feels like less in the 1930 film because he isn’t backed up by the rest of the cast like he is in the 1938 film. As I have said, I’m not as fond of the acting by most of the cast in the 1930 film, so when he is on, it shows, versus the 1938 film where he is still good, but so is the rest of the cast. Don’t get me wrong, I like Mary Astor in the 1930 film (and I think she is better in the role than Doris Nolan), but her character is more dramatic in a movie that *should* be a comedy. I will readily admit, I enjoy both films, but the 1938 film is far superior in my mind, and the version I would recommend.

Of course, they were both recently released together, with the 1938 film as the main feature and the 1930 film as a bonus, on Blu-ray and DVD from Criterion Collection. Of course, one extra on that set, featuring a conversation between filmmaker/distributor Michael Schlesinger and film critic Michael Sragow wherein they talk about the original play, the 1930 film and the 1938 one (mostly about the 1938 film). Easily a wonderful release, and one I would highly recommend!

The winner: Holiday (1938)

Original Vs. Remake: Ninotchka (1939) Vs. Silk Stockings (1957)

Now that we’re back for another edition of “Original Vs. Remake,” let’s take a look at the 1939 comedy Ninotchka and its 1957 musical remake, Silk Stockings. Since the two plots have enough differences, I’ll just borrow the two plot descriptions from each of the individual reviews.

Ninotchka: Three Russian commissars (Sig Rumann, Felix Bressart and Alexander Granach) come to Paris with the intention of selling jewelry that had once belonged to the Grand Duchess Swana (Ina Claire). However, Swana is living in Paris, and she learns about the jewels through a former Russian nobleman working at the hotel the commissars are staying at. She sends her lover, Count Leon d’Algout (Melvyn Douglas), to delay the sale of the jewelry in the hope that she can reclaim it. Leon helps introduce the commissars to some of the pleasures of Paris and capitalism, but special envoy Nina Ivanovna Yakushova, or Ninotchka (Greta Garbo) is sent to to take over the case. Leon accidentally meets her on the street, and is instantly smitten (although at first neither realizes who the other is). Once she overhears his telephone call with one of the commissars, they realize who they are with. Leon still likes her, and keeps trying to go out with her, which becomes easier after he is able to make her laugh and loosen up. Swana sees all this going on, and jealously takes advantage of Ninotchka when Ninotchka comes back to her hotel room drunk and leaves the safe containing the jewels open. Swana agrees to relinquish her rights to the jewelry if Ninotchka would immediately return to Russia, which she reluctantly agrees to do. (Length: one hour, fifty-two minutes)

Silk Stockings: Movie producer Steve Canfield (Fred Astaire) wants Russian composer Peter Boroff’s (Wim Sonneveld) music for his new movie, and tries to help him stay in Paris. The Russian government is displeased with this, and sends three commissars (Jules Munshin, Peter Lorre and Joseph Buloff) to bring him back. When Steve distracts them with wine, women and song, special envoy Nina Yoschenko (Cyd Charisse) is sent to try again. She proves to be more resilient, but as the attraction between the two develops, even she manages to loosen, and Steve proposes to her. However, when Nina, Peter and the three commissars hear how Peter’s music has been changed for the movie, they are all offended and they all return to Russia. (Length: one hour, fifty-eight minutes)

This is another instance where it’s not really worth noting the similarities. With Silk Stockings being a remake of Ninotchka (with a Broadway musical in between the two film versions), there is definitely some similar dialogue. We do get George Tobias in both movies, although he plays different parts in each movie (and neither are very long). But really, not much else beyond the very basic story is the same.

So let’s get some of those obligatory surface differences out of the way. First, Ninotchka = comedy, Silk Stockings = musical. Secondly, outside of the leading lady’s character having the same first name (and nickname), none of the characters share names between the two movies. Thirdly, Ninotchka had the Russians coming to sell some jewelry to buy food for the Russian people, with the sale being delayed by the original owner and her lover. Silk Stockings has the Russians coming after a Russian composer who is seeking asylum and providing music for a movie producer, who is trying to prevent him being taken back to Russia.

There are certainly some differences in characterization, but the three commissars do seem to be a bit more vivid. In Ninotchka, when we first meet them, they are already showing signs of wanting to enjoy some of the benefits of staying in a capitalistic society. Instead of staying in the hotel their government had already arranged for, they are arguing themselves into a better and classier hotel, and decide to go with the royal suite, at least partly because it has a safe for them to store the jewels in. In Silk Stockings, since they are coming after Boroff the composer, it’s up to Fred’s Steve Canfield to distract them with the glitz and glamour, almost like a devil who knows how to tempt some of the people he has to deal with and keep them from their mission.

Another major difference, to me, is how the two movies treat the Russians. While Ninotchka is intended as a comedy and a satire of communism, the Russians are not being portrayed in a completely negative light. Sure, the three commissars want to enjoy the benefits of capitalism away from their own country and we see some of the problems of communism itself (including the reference to the then-recent mass trials that resulted in “fewer and better Russians”), but the fact remains that they are in Paris to sell the jewelry to buy more food for their people. Which really puts the Grand Duchess Swana in a bad light, as she just wants her jewels and doesn’t really seem to care at all what happens to the Russian people. And, to a degree, Melvyn Douglas’s Count Leon comes around to the idea of communism, at most, being frustrated with the Russian government for denying him a visa to come and see Ninotchka when she goes back to Russia. Silk Stockings goes a different route, not portraying them as well. In between them trying to force composer Peter Boroff to return (and the three commissars), the political philosophy is never embraced by Fred Astaire’s Steve Canfield (which in some respects injects a bit of sexism and American disregard for other cultures into the story, considering it is used as this story’s excuse to separate the two lovers and have her return to Russia of her own free will). Personally, I suspect this change was partly due to how society changed between the two movies, in between the start of the Cold War and the anti-communist feelings that had swept the country.

As to which movie I prefer? Silk Stockings. It’s been the version of the story that I’ve seen the most (and for many more years). While I do think Greta Garbo was the better actress (both overall and in this role), I still can’t deny that, for me, Fred Astaire brings a magic of his own, that I have enjoyed for a number of years. Not to mention my opinion that I much prefer watching Cyd’s Ninotchka transformation between Fred dancing with her to “All Of You” and Cyd’s solo dance to the title tune as she changes from her drab outfit into a dress. The music by Cole Porter is catchy, the dancing is fun to watch, and it’s just overall easier to sit down and watch Silk Stockings. I can’t deny there are some things that require either seeing Ninotchka or at least some knowledge of what the Soviet Union was like, such as the one guy who passes through Ninotchka’s living area (in Ninotchka, we are given the explanation that he is the type that you can never tell whether he is just going to the washroom or to the secret police, and that explanation is absent when he walks through during the “Red Blues” number in Silk Stockings). But, while I do prefer Silk Stockings, Ninotchka is no slouch, either, and I would definitely recommend both movies highly!

Ninotchka

My Rating: 9/10

Silk Stockings

My Rating: 10/10

The Winner (in my opinion): Silk Stockings

Original Vs. Remake: The Philadelphia Story (1940) vs. High Society (1956)

And in this edition of “Original Vs. Remake,” we take a look at The Philadelphia Story (1940) (PS) and High Society (1956) (HS).

The plots are very similar, so I’ll just try to go with the common points of the story. Tracy Lord (Katharine Hepburn, PS or Grace Kelly, HS) is getting married again. Her ex-husband, C.K. Dexter Haven (Cary Grant, PS or Bing Crosby, HS) is back in town, hoping to get her to come back to him. Tracy also has to contend with a writer, Mike Connor (James Stewart, PS or Frank Sinatra, HS) and a photographer, Liz Imbrie (Ruth Hussey, PS or Celeste Holm, HS), who are there from SPY magazine to cover her wedding. Tracy feels pressure from her father and Dexter, who are trying to remind her that nobody is infallible, including her, which increasingly confuses her, and leads her to start drinking too much champagne, almost getting her into an affair with Mike Connor.

Not really much to say here on the similarities, since High Society is a remake, and does make use of a good fraction of dialogue from The Philadelphia Story, so we’ll just dig into the differences. Obviously, one big difference is the fact that PS is a comedy/drama, whereas HS is a musical. The setting also changes, with it being Philadelphia in PS, whereas it is in Newport, Rhode Island (which may have been because the film was planned as a combination of two films projects, one was a remake of PS, and the other was planned on the Newport Jazz Festival).

The actors’ portrayals are also different. With Cary Grant, I’m left with the feeling that he is bitter over the divorce, which is why his words feel like they have a little more venom, while Bing Crosby’s Dexter is not quite so bitter, and almost seems to have come to terms with the idea of her remarrying (although he obviously wishes it could be him). With Katharine Hepburn, I can’t help but feel like her Tracy Lord has always been a bit of a snob, looking down on other’s faults, while Grace Kelly’s Tracy seems like she wasn’t always so bad (as shown through her flashback when she is reminded of Dexter’s ship the “True Love”), mainly changing as the result of when her father cheated on her mother. And as to the two reporters from SPY magazine, James Stewart and Ruth Hussey’s characters seem more like they wish they could do what they want, but their necessity for money dictates that they have to work for SPY, while Frank Sinatra and Celeste Holm’s characters are doing this as a normal job.

As to my own opinion as to which movie I consider the better movie? That would be High Society. I do enjoy both movies very much, but I usually prefer musicals and I like Bing Crosby as an actor. My opinion of The Philadelphia Story has definitely improved (and being able to see it restored on Blu-ray helps a little), but that opening scene still bothers me. I understand how it was done partly for audiences of the time who didn’t like Katharine Hepburn and wanted to see her knocked down, but it still bothers me, since I still don’t have that frame of mind. If not for that scene, I do think it would be a lot closer for me, but I still prefer High Society. However, both movies are wonderful, and I would certainly recommend watching either of them and making up your own mind!

The Philadelphia Story (1940)

My Rating: 9/10

High Society (1956)

My Rating: 10/10

The Winner (in my opinion): High Society

Original Vs. Remake: My Man Godfrey (1936) vs. Merrily We Live (1938)

Ok, so this isn’t really a case of “Original Vs. Remake,” but since the movies My Man Godfrey (1936) (MMG) and Merrily We Live (1938) (MWL) seemed fairly similar to me, I felt the need to compare the two, and let you know what I think about them. Of course, to simplify things, I’ll just borrow the plot descriptions from both of my reviews.

In My Man Godfrey, we find Irene Bullock (Carole Lombard) and her sister Cornelia (Gail Patrick) competing against each other in a scavenger hunt for the social elite. They both come to the city dump, looking for a “forgotten man.” Cornelia, who is a spoiled brat, finds Godfrey (William Powell), and offers him five dollars to come with her, but he turns her down. Irene, who is a little more scatterbrained, but not quite so spoiled, realizes the idea is wrong, and Godfrey agrees to come with her to help her beat Cornelia. Afterwards, she hires Godfrey to be the family butler. The rest of the movie is about Godfrey as he works for the family, who are all a little screwy, except for the father, all the while Godfrey tries to keep his own background hidden while avoiding the affections of Irene, who falls for him.

In Merrily We Live, our story starts in the Kilbourne household, where their chauffeur has disappeared with the family silver. Emily Kilbourne (Billie Burke), the family matriarch, has had a history of hiring tramps, but after this betrayal, she decides to stop, to the happiness of the rest of the family. However, Wade Rawlins (Brian Aherne) comes to the door after the car he was driving goes off a cliff while he is trying to get some water. The butler tries to make him leave, but Emily sees him, and decides to hire him. His reception from the other members of the family is a little cool at first, but slowly, everyone warms up to him, with all the female members of the house (except for Emily) developing a crush on him, as he falls for eldest daughter Geraldine (Constance Bennett).

Both movies definitely seem to go off on similar trajectories. Both feature tramps being hired by rich families as servants. Both have several female members of the household that seem to fall for the “tramps.” The fathers are the ones who appear to be the most normal members of the household (although Mr. Kilbourne in MWL seems to have a slight lapse when he gets drunk). One shared actor is Alan Mowbray (Godfrey’s friend Tommy Gray in MMG and the butler Grosvenor in MWL). Also, from what I have heard, actress Constance Bennett was actually considered for the role of Irene in MMG, losing out to William Powell’s choice of Carole Lombard. Of course, one shared coincidence between the two movies is that the actresses portraying the family matriarchs (Alice Brady in MMG and Billie Burke in MWL) were both nominated for the Best Supporting Actress Oscars for their respective years (although neither won).

The differences in these movies are what everybody would most want to know about. When we first meet Godfrey, we can plainly see that he is a tramp, and we have little reason to doubt it. On the other hand, with Wade Rawlins (MWL) we really can’t say for certain that he is, just that he is wearing some old clothes and hasn’t shaved recently. Godfrey appears to be sane, and questions what is going on in the household, whereas Wade Rawlins appears to almost fit right in with the family. There is some element of timing at play as well, as the Bullocks (MMG), rich though they are, still can feel the effects of the Depression, as Mr. Bullock is constantly trying to remind everybody, while the Kilbournes (MWL) don’t seem to have any troubles with it.

The ultimate question here, which is the better movie? I myself believe them both to be wonderful movies. The main difference seems to be in the tone of the movies, as My Man Godfrey seems to be a mixture of comedy thrown in with some serious moments, as we all stop to think about the effect of the Depression, while Merrily We Live seems to keep seriousness at bay, with comedy constantly at the forefront. Due to this, most people would say that My Man Godfrey is the better movie. I myself would have to give a slight edge to Merrily We Live. I prefer the constant comedy, but it also may depend on mood. Either way, I highly recommend both movies if you get the chance to see them, they are both just that good!

My Man Godfrey

Film Length: 1 hour, 33 minutes

My Rating: 10/10

Merrily We Live

Film Length: 1 hour, 35 minutes

My Rating: 10/10

The Winner (in my opinion): Merrily We Live (By a VERY slim margin)