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Which movie is better--the French original or the Hollywood adaptation? Check these out.

March 06, 1997|SUSAN KING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

New on video shelves is the comedy "The Associate." But don't look for Whoopi Goldberg's face gracing the box. Though she starred in a 1996 comedy called "The Associate," that farce doesn't make its video bow until April 15. The version released by First Run Features Tuesday is the 1979 French comedy on which Goldberg's vehicle is based.

So is the original worth checking out?

The answer is oui if you enjoy Michel Serrault. The French "Associate" ($30) is a featherweight farce made palatable by Serrault's understated performance as a meek businessman, who, after he's fired from an advertising job, decides to become a financial consultant. But with no capital and a wishy-washy personality, he discovers the only way to lure clients is to create a powerful imaginary partner.

In general, Hollywood has had a mixed track record when it comes to transforming French films into American hits. Remember the dreadful "Pure Luck," "Three Fugitives" and "My Father, the Hero"?

Among the success stories is the Oscar-nominated "Three Men and a Cradle" (MGM/UA, $20), which became the Tom Selleck blockbuster "Three Men and a Baby" (Touchstone, $15). The Arnold Schwarzenegger hit "True Lies" (FoxVideo, $15) was actually a French film called "La Totale."

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Friday March 7, 1997 Home Edition Calendar Part F Page 26 Entertainment Desk 1 inches; 22 words Type of Material: Correction
Photo caption--The identities of "La Cage aux Folles" stars Michel Serrault and Ugo Tognazzi were reversed in a photo caption in Thursday's Calendar Weekend.

One of last year's biggest hits, "The Birdcage" (MGM/UA, $20), was a remake of the award-winning Gallic farce "La Cage aux Folles" (MGM/UA, $15). Tim Allen's latest film comedy, "Jungle 2 Jungle," which opens Friday, was inspired by the Gallic hit "Little Indian, Big City."

Here's a look at several other French films on video and their American remakes:

Back in 1938, producer Walter Wanger remade the popular 1937 Jean Gabin vehicle "Pepe Le Moko" (Video Yesterday, Nostalgia, $20) in America as "Algiers" (Congress; Nostalgia, $20). Charles Boyer received an Oscar nomination for his performance as the hard-boiled criminal who falls for a beautiful woman (Hedy Lamarr).

The wonderful Gabin had one of his best roles in the 1939 Marcel Carne classic "Le Jour Se Leve" (Home Vision, $30). Gabin plays a factory worker who has committed murder and now is trapped in a police standoff. This acclaimed drama was remade with poor results in 1947 as "The Long Night" with Henry Fonda. That version is not available on video.

Henri-Georges Clouzot directed the delicious 1943 film noir "Le Corbeau" (Nostalgia; Hollywood Home Theater, $40). Pierre Fresnay stars in this tale about the paranoia and despair that develop when the residents of a small French village begin receiving poison pen letters.

Eight years later, Otto Preminger gave "Corbeau" the Hollywood treatment as "The 13th Letter." Boyer, Linda Darnell and Michael Rennie star. The film is not yet available on video.

Four decades after its release, Clouzot's 1953 "Wages of Fear" (Home Vision, $40) is still an edge-of-your-seat thrill ride. Yves Montand stars in this award winner about four truck drivers on a suicide mission to deliver nitroglycerin to put out a well fire hundreds of miles away.

Director William Friedkin, though, wasn't able to capture the essence of the original with his disappointing 1977 remake "Sorcerer" (Universal, $20). Roy Scheider stars.

One of Jean Renoir's best films is his 1932 farce "Boudou Saved From Drowning" (Interama, $20), starring the terrific Michel Simon as a tramp who disrupts the wealthy household of the man who saved him from drowning. In 1986, writer-director Paul Mazursky scored a big hit with his version "Down and Out in Beverly Hills" (Touchstone, $15), with Nick Nolte in the Simon role. Richard Dreyfuss and Bette Midler also star.

The 1972 slapstick comedy "The Tall Blond Man With One Black Shoe" (Columbia, $30) was a big hit in France and among the art-house crowd in America. The lanky, fuzzy-haired Pierre Richard stars as a goofy violinist who is oblivious to the fact that rival spies think he's actually a spy. Jean Rochefort also stars.

The 1985 American version, "The Man With One Red Shoe" (FoxVideo, $10), pales in comparison despite the presence of the very able farceur Tom Hanks.

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