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Depression movies redux

Some classic films could be updated for our times.

March 15, 2009|Susan King

The Great Depression: bad for the economy, good for movies. The 1930s proved to be a prosperous time for Hollywood, with several film genres -- screwball comedies, gangster films, socially conscious dramas, epics and horror films -- coming of age and resonating with audiences looking for any kind of escape. In today's tough times, many films from that era seem ripe for recycling with just a little tweaking. Here are a few remakes we'd like to see:

'It Happened One Night' (1934)

A charming down-on-his-luck newspaper reporter comes across the story of the decade when he discovers a runaway heiress traveling "incognito" on a bus. The bus trip also leads to a road romance for the two.

The update: How to get these two on a Greyhound in 2009? The heiress discovers the authorities (and paparazzi) are combing airports and train stations looking for her, so the bus is the safest option. And considering that dailies are giving little to no compensation to their axed journalists, an unemployed reporter could afford to travel only by bus as he searches for a new job.

Suggested casting: Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway

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'My Man Godfrey' (1936)

Irene, a spoiled, rich girl on a scavenger hunt for a "forgotten man," finds him at the city dump in the form of an erudite bum named Godfrey. He soon becomes the butler for her highly dysfunctional family. Through a series of comedic circumstances -- and a savvy stock deal -- Godfrey ends up helping her father, who is in dire financial straits

The update: So why is Godfrey penniless this time around? Why, he's lost all of his savings thanks to Bernie Madoff. And in this remake, he saves the family by brokering a deal to have them star in their own reality TV show.

Suggested casting: Since the film's original stars -- Carole Lombard and William Powell -- were ex-husband and wife in real life, it seems fitting to reunite former spouses Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston in the lead roles.

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'You Can't Take It With You' (1938)

A cutthroat banker is buying up land for his approved munitions factory in hopes of destroying a competitor's business. But one carefree family, headed by an eccentric and lovable grandfather, tries to stop him.

The update: In this version, the banker is building a plastics factory that will cause massive pollution problems. Grandpa, a veteran of Vietnam War protests, leads the fight, even enlisting his old friend, Al Gore.

Suggested casting: Jack Nicholson

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'Golddiggers of 1933' (1933)

A Broadway producer hasn't paid his bills, so the sets and costumes are confiscated the day before opening night of his latest musical, leaving three chorus girls unemployed. But then they hear the producer is trying to mount a new show if he can find a backer.

The update: This remake is timely because the blues have certainly hit Broadway this season. The plot of this new version follows the original, but this time around, the three chorus girls and a young composer join up with the producer to put on a "Rent"-style musical at their high school alma mater in Queens. After critics get wind of the show, it moves to Broadway.

Suggested casting: Richard Gere

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'The Invisible Man' (1933)

H.G. Wells tale of a scientist whose experiments make him insane.

The update: This time around, the brilliant young scientist comes up with the idea that creating an invisible army would give the military a leg up in the battle against terrorists. But when the government backs off on financing for the project, he decides to test an invisibility serum on himself and transforms into a murderous madman intent on killing the president.

Suggested casting: Matt Damon

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'American Madness' (1932)

A bank president doesn't let Depression woes stop him from lending money to customers in hopes that putting more greenbacks into circulation will help the economy. However, the bank's conservative board of directors wants to oust him because of his lending policies.

The update: The liberal lending practices of a visionary president of a small independent bank has irked his board of directors, who have been using government bailout funds for perks and parties. They are so afraid of giving up their luxurious lifestyle, they hire a hit man to murder him.

Suggested casting: Harrison Ford

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'Wild Boys of the Road' (1933)

Two middle-class teenagers quit high school and leave their families because of economic problems. They end up riding the rails, along with a girl disguised as a boy, in hopes of finding a job so they can send money back home.

The update: This time around, they are gay high school buddies who set out with their best gal pal for greener pastures in their SUV. But the grass isn't greener for them. Along the way, they are carjacked. Instead of going into a life of crime to make ends meet, the boys disguise themselves as girls and they become an all-girl musical trio.

Suggested casting: Michael Cera, Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Kat Dennings

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susan.king@latimes.com

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