Producer Alan Ladd Jr. recently abandoned plans to film an updated version of the dark-toned 1955 Robert Mitchum movie "The Night of the Hunter."
"It's hard to find the right actor [today] who has the menace of a Mitchum," Ladd said this week, referring to the late star who portrayed a psychotic religious fanatic in Charles Laughton's classic thriller.
"We tried to put it in the modern day and couldn't," Ladd said of the script his company tried to develop for nearly eight months. "But we found it worked only in this particular era [the Depression]."
Ladd's decision comes at a time when some studios are steaming ahead with updated versions of memorable movies.
At Disney, for example, the studio is awash in remakes. With the recent success of "101 Dalmatians," Disney is set to release "Flubber"--an updated version of "The Absent Minded Professor"--as well as "The Parent Trap," "Mr. Magoo" and "Mighty Joe Young." The studio also is developing remakes of "Peter Pan" and "Journey to the Center of the Earth."
Coupled with the ongoing--some would say overworked--effort to turn retro television shows into feature-length movies, studios are scouring their film vaults in search of material from past films that can be retooled using today's major stars and big production budgets to give them a boost at the box office.
"I don't think there is anything left in the vaults," said producer David Permut, who is in pre-production on a feature-length film version of the sitcom "The Love Boat."
But as one top agent sees it, casting today's stars in remakes of Hollywood's most memorable films is a no-brainer.
"There's a new generation of filmgoers who never saw the movie," said Jim Wiatt, president of International Creative Management.
Wiatt's agency recently helped broker a deal in which screenwriter Nora Ephron would reteam with her "Sleepless in Seattle" stars Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan in a new version of director Ernst Lubitsch's charming 1940 romantic comedy "The Shop Around the Corner."
Lubitsch's film about unsuspecting romantic pen pals in a Budapest notions shop starred James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan. In the new version, written by Nora Ephron and her sister Delia, the story would be set in Manhattan and would be titled "You Have Mail."
The lure for Warner Bros. is obvious. Hanks, Ryan and Ephron proved themselves bankable in 1993's "Sleepless in Seattle," which made $126 million for TriStar Pictures.
"Some critics like to think you can never redo the original films," Wiatt said, "but the population at large, I don't think, would know the difference."
Rick Jewell, associate dean of the USC School of Cinema-Television, said films like "The Shop Around the Corner" are difficult to remake.
"That film is so much a part of its time," Jewell said. "It's such a sweet kind of sentimental picture made by a master--Lubitsch. Who are you going to get to direct the material like that anymore?"
Even when projects are vastly different from the original films, studios sometimes need to acquire certain rights to an older film in order to pursue another venture.
Warner Bros., for example, is currently developing a project loosely based on director John Ford's classic 1956 western "The Searchers," which starred John Wayne in one of his defining roles. But though the basic elements of the film may remain intact, the filmmakers say that in fact they don't have any plans to actually remake "The Searchers."
"[Warner Bros.] approached us a few months ago and said this is something Bruce Willis had been dancing around," said Steve Rabineau of the talent agency Endeavor, which represents Phillip Noyce, the director attached to the project.
Rabineau said Noyce ("The Saint") has no plans to remake "The Searchers," stressing that the director wants to go in a different direction with his film.
"He wants to stay away from 'The Searchers,' " Rabineau said. "He doesn't want to tread on John Ford's brilliance."
But while the settings and story lines may be altered to satisfy audiences in the 1990s, it seems there is no slowing of the remake craze.
At New Line Cinema, Jim Carrey is attached to an updated version of Danny Kaye's 1947 comedy "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty," while producer Diane English is developing a script for Julia Roberts and Meg Ryan based on "The Women," director George Cukor's 1939 adaptation of a Clare Boothe Luce play starring Joan Crawford and Rosalind Russell--a movie that itself was remade in 1956 as "The Opposite Sex."
At TriStar Pictures, the same team that made the sci-fi box-office hit "Independence Day" is now at work on a big-budget version of the Japanese monster picture "Godzilla." Columbia Pictures, meanwhile, is currently filming a Sharon Stone remake of the 1980 film "Gloria," which starred Gena Rowlands.