Like Martin Guerre and Jack Sommersby themselves, some movies aren’t necessarily what they seem. Are they original films? Or are they uncredited remakes with just enough details changed to disguise their real identities? Wasn’t Alien just a gory facsimile of It! The Terror From Beyond Space? And wasn’t Pale Rider really a retread of Shane, with Clint Eastwood in the Alan Ladd role? Some convincing cases to consider:
Sneaky remake: A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS
Shared premise: Lone warrior restores peace in a town beset by rival mobs. Changes: Fistful just transposes the action from 19th-century Japan to America’s Old West. The winner: A tie. Both are by world-class directors (Akira Kurosawa and Sergio Leone), feature iconic leads (Toshiro Mifune and Clint Eastwood), and have eccentric scores (by Masaru Sato and Ennio Morricone).
Original: THE VIRGIN SPRING
Sneaky remake: LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT
Shared premise: Parents exact revenge on the sleazeballs who raped and murdered their daughter. Changes: A second teen added to take grisly punishment, lots of repugnant violence, New York locations. The winner: They’re two different animals: Ingmar Bergman’s Virgin Spring is très art house; Wes Craven’s Last House, strictly grind house.
Original: WALKING ON AIR
Sneaky remake: THE SHRIMP ON THE BARBIE
Shared premise: Heiress wants to marry worthless playboy, but parents object, so she hires a good-hearted lout to pose as her new fiancé. Changes: Australian locales, Cheech Marin as a romantic leading man. The winner: While Ann Sothern fans will cherish Walking, straight males will go gaga over Carole Davis’ striptease in Shrimp.
Original: THE GLASS KEY
Sneaky remake: MILLER’S CROSSING
Shared premise: The relationship between a corrupt politician and his enigmatic henchman strains when they become involved with the same woman. Changes: Updated with stylized violence, smart-aleck humor, anti-Semitic flourishes. The winner: Old-time star power (Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake) and sincerity give The Glass Key an edge.
Original: ANGEL AND THE BADMAN
Sneaky remake: WITNESS
Shared premise: A hardened man of action learns ways of peace when he is forced to enter a religious community. Changes: Now there’s a little kid (the title character). The winner: Angel is quaint and cute, while Witness is trim and absorbing; Harrison Ford and Kelly McGillis are a more convincing love match than John Wayne and Gail Russell.