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Ready To Draw: 9 Showdowns Between Western Classics And Their Remakes

The Playlist By The Playlist Staff | The Playlist July 2, 2013 at 1:12PM

When you read the words "remake" or "reboot," what comes to mind? If you're lucky, "Ocean’s Eleven," which took a solidly made Rat Pack heist movie and updated it for the new millennium. If you're not so lucky, "Arthur," which taught a valuable albeit obvious lesson: cheeky British comedians are not interchangeable. At worst, you're still shaking from flashbacks to the first time some hack bashed your childhood memories to a pulp. In either case, remakes are a mixed bag and should be taken with something between a grain and pound of salt, and the process of making one is a double-edged sword: the remake's task is to rework a tried and true concept without stepping on the original's toes or alienating its built-in fan base.
7
Maverick, remake

"Maverick" (1950s-1960s TV series) vs. "Maverick" (1994)
The premise: A charming cardshark makes his way through the west, ambling in and out of several adventures.
The old codger: The original TV series (1957-1962) boasted James Garner in the lead role of Bret Maverick, a city-hopping rapscallion who couldn't turn down a good game of poker.
The young gun: 1994's big budget "Maverick" teamed several proven Hollywood commodities together, including "Lethal Weapon" team Mel Gibson and director Richard Donner, with a script by William Goldman.
Who won the draw? This is the case of two almost identical killshots, THUNK into the forehead of each participant in a draw. The original series was mostly a showcase for the devilishly charming Garner, and while later episodes confused and complicated the gimmick, it remained one of the more lightweight television offerings of the era. The new film actually brings Garner back, this time as a villain against an at-his-peak Gibson in an amusing bit of meta-casting. The movie gets too cute about in-jokes -- Danny Glover stops by for a wince-inducing cameo that implies Murtaugh recognizes his old buddy Riggs -- but it's a reliably silly, safe, low-key adventure film that turns the serialized nature of the show into a streamlined charm factory for Gibson. The picture does what it says on the tin, paying respectful homage to the earlier show in a way that makes this one of the more beloved TV-to-movie adaptations, even if the material is so silly that both the show and the movie aren't really well-remembered today.

Wild Wild West (skip)

"The Wild Wild West" (1960s TV series) vs. "Wild Wild West" (1999 film) 
The premise: The adventures of two Secret Service agents of President Ulysses S. Grant, utilizing steampunk technology and quick wits to foil threats to the country.
The old codger: In the mid-1960s, CBS aired 104 episodes of "The Wild Wild West," a vaguely-anachronistic series that combined two hot flavors at the time, the western and the spy vehicle. The genre cross-pollination was an audience favorite, allowing the show to rise from the dead as a couple of television movies in 1979 and 1980.
The young gun: Long in development, the 1999 adaptation used the framework of the CBS hit as a star vehicle for Will Smith. "Wild Wild West" borrows the basic gimmick from the television show, but anchors it in expensive special effects and whiz-bang action sequences, changing hero James West to an African American and giving him a rivalry with Artemus Gordon (Kevin Kline), a close friend in the original series.
Who won the draw? This is just an out-and-out disaster, with the new "Wild Wild West" stumbling to remove his gun while its predecessor rips through the body with hot lead. The original series wasn't a titan of television, but it at least boasted a unique premise of its own, and solid chemistry between Robert Conrad and Ross Martin. The newer film features the unique anti-comedy of Smith and Kline mixing together like grape juice and Sex Panther, trapping the actors in a CG-nightmare that involves the infamous giant spider of Jon Peters' dreams, the one the producer wished to include in several planned films, including a mooted "Superman" relaunch. Attempting to capitalize on the heat of Smith reuniting with "Men In Black" director Barry Sonnenfeld, the movie is a turgid, unpleasant mess, reducing Jim West to a series of one-liners and uncomfortable racial jokes, while placing Artemus Gordon in a series of unflattering and wholly unconvincing disguises. Almost nothing works in this cynical attempt to dredge up an IP for the sake of enticing summer moviegoers, and yet it still ranks as one of the highest grossing westerns of all time.

Stagecoach

"Stagecoach" (1939) vs. "Stagecoach" (1966)
The premise: Based on the Ernest Haycox short story "The Stage of Lordsburg," a motley crew (including all but one of the following: alcoholic doctor, army wife, embezzling banker, gambler, goodtime girl, gunslinger, traveling liquor salesman, Biff the Wonder Dog) travel by stagecoach through the Wild West and come together while under siege.
The old codger: Directed by John Ford, the 1939 black-and-white version stars John Wayne as The Ringo Kid, Thomas Mitchell as Doc Boone (an Oscar-winning performance), John Carradine as Hatfield, the gambler, and Andy Devine as Buck, the stagecoach driver.
The young gun: Directed by Gordon Douglas, the 1966 color remake stars Ann-Margret as Dallas, lady of the evening, Bing Crosby  as Doc Boone (Crosby's last film role), Van Heflin as Marshall Curly Wilcox, Robert Cummings as Henry Gatewood, the banker, and Slim Pickens as Buck. Added bonus, Norman Rockwell has a cameo as a "townsman."
Who won the draw? At the count of ten, the old codger turned and shot the young gun through the head, chest and in the unmentionables. An all-out slaughter, the remake is buried in a shallow grave, ready to be dug up for a trick pub quiz question. Simply, nothing can touch the original, arguably the greatest western film of all time. Revitalizing a well-worn genre with character-driven drama, it is one of the most influential films in cinematic history. Want an example? Orson Welles cited the film as a filmmaking textbook, watching it over 40 times while making "Citizen Kane." Go ahead and argue with that in the comment section. Come at me, you contrarians arguing that the latter has a "better cast" (the guy from "Airwolf" vs. the Duke, do you really want to go there?) or that you "just like color more." Oh, and the 1986 TV movie with Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Johnny Cash, and Waylon Jennings was a not-so-innocent bystander, succumbing to a lethal heart attack at the sight of the original approaching the corral.

Destry

"Destry Rides Again" (1932) vs. "Destry Rides Again" (1939) vs. "Destry" (1954)
The premise: A man named Tom Destry seeks vengeance and/or refuses to succumb to violence in the Old West.
The old codger: Based off of the Max Brand novel, the B-western early talkie features a vengeful gunslinging Destry (Tom Mix) out to get the jurors who wrongly convicted him of robbery.
The young gun: Borrowing the title and lead's name but little else from the original, Tom Destry (James Stewart) is a deputy sheriff who manages to carry out the "letter of the law" while remaining true to his pacifist beliefs. Along the way, he befriends the saucy saloon-owner Frenchy (Marlene Dietrich).
The whippersnapper: A 1954 remake, "Destry" follows the 1939 version pretty closely, acting as a vehicle for WWII hero Audie Murphy
Who won the draw? Unlike the others on this list, not only are there three contenders, but they were all made by the same studio, Universal. Even so, only one was left standing. Dodging whizzing bullets from both sides, the James Stewart version shot Tom Mix's square between the eyes and got Audie Murphy's in the chest, leaving Murphy's gasping for air in a puddle of blood and dirt. The first is all-but-forgotten and the last is remembered fondly by baby-boomers, if at all, whereas the 1939 version withstands age as a timeless classic that touches the core of right vs. wrong and theory vs. action. On the political side, the film can also be seen as an allegory for American foreign policy pre-Pearl Harbor (good old Isolationism being not so good after all). Superficially, who can really argue against a so adorably earnest Jimmy Stewart paired with a very gutsy Marlene Dietrich (check out "See What The Boys In The Back Room Will Have")? On the sidelines, "Frenchy" (the "Destry Rides Again" remake with Shelley Winters in the Dietrich role and without a Destry) fainted at the first sight of blood and the John Gavin-starring 1960s TV series ran for cover at the first gunshot. 

This article is related to: True Grit, The Lone Ranger, Features, Feature


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