I want to get started with a compare/contrast post. Today, we're going to discuss:
Roberta (1935) and the remake Lovely to Look At (1952)
I have a funny double standard when it comes to remakes. If a storyline is recycled but was released in the 30's through the 60', I am much more accepting of it than if it was released recently.
First, the original:
Roberta tells the story of a young football coach, John Kent (Randolph Scott) is traveling to Paris with his friend, Huck Haines (Fred Astaire) and Huck's band, "The Wabash Indianians." After some confusion with the band's booking, John visits his Aunt Minnie to see if she can get the band a job. Aunt Minnie owns a couture dress shop, Roberta's. John falls in love with his aunt's assistant, Stephanie (Irene Dunne) while Huck runs into an old sweetheart, a client of the shop, Countess Tanka Scharwenka (Ginger Rogers). After Aunt Minnie dies, John inherits Roberta's. Just when things are getting settled between John and Stephanie, John's ex-girlfriend, Sophie, shows up and adds a bit of mayhem to the plot. In the end, they decide to save the dress shop by combining talents and throwing a musical fashion show with Huck's band to showcase Stephanie's designs.
This is a storyline that I'm surprised has yet to be picked up in contemporary film. I feel like the story of a football coach inheriting a couture dress shop in Paris would provide filmmakers with all sorts of possibilities. I'm glad they haven't though; they'd probably fill it with crass humor and remove all of the charm and wit in the original.
The remake fascinates me because it keeps the basic storyline, sort of: unlikely American guy inherits a Parisian dress shop. However, characters are added and meshed together and everyone is a sort of combination of the original characters. I kind of like this approach because it makes it harder to compare the two. In Arlene Croce's The Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers Book, she remarks that Marge and Gower Champion are "dizzy" as Fred and Ginger. When I watched Lovely to Look At, I remembered her criticism and walked into the movie with some wariness. But, as much as I love her book, I disagree with her critique: Marge and Gower Champion aren't Fred and Ginger. They get some of the songs that Fred and Ginger performed in the original and Gower Champion is somewhat like Huck Haines, but they're actually pretty new characters to the plot.
Ok, so let me break down the remake for those who haven't seen it. Al Marsh (Red Skelton), Tony Naylor (Howard Keel), and Jerry Ralby (Gower Champion) are having difficulties in getting their show picked up by investors. Tony's showgirl girl friend, Bubbles (Ann Miller) offers to help them out, but Tony refuses her help. When Al receives word that he has inherited a dress shop from his aunt in Paris, the three pack up and head over to try and sell the shop and get on with their show. When they arrive, however, they discover that the shop is bankrupt and that the adopted daughters of Al's late aunt, Stephanie (Kathryn Grayson) and Clarisse (Marge Champion) have been waiting for Al to arrive and help them save the business. What follows is a great deal of mixed up love triangles, with Jerry and Clarisse being the only couple to come out uncomplicated: Al and Tony both fall for Stephanie, Stephanie falls in love with Tony, and when Bubbles shows up unexpectedly, and tries to win Tony back, Al starts to fall for her too. In the midst of all these romantic entanglements, the group decides to throw a musical fashion show (sound familiar?) and bring the shop back into the spotlight. Tony's love for Stephanie is put to the test when he finds a backer for the show and he must decide whether to continue with his own plans or stay in Paris to help with the fashion show.
a different approach to a musical fashion show
Again, this remake fascinates me. The songs and basic premise are the only things that really tie it back to the original. The additional complication of the show adds a different set of problems to the plot and the characters are all over the place compared to their original counterparts. The John Kent character is split into two by being Al, who inherits the shop, and Tony, who falls for Stephanie and has a girlfriend from back home who creates just the right amount of confusion to the budding relationship. Huck Haines is in part Tony, for being the friend of the heir, and Jerry, who's on the sidelines for a good part of the film. Stephanie is really the only character to stay consistent in name and role. But, Bubbles is a weird combination of John's girlfriend, Sophie, and Huck's nightclub performer girlfriend, Tanka. You see? When you start comparing all of the characters, it starts to get a little confusing. I like that! And I didn't even bring up Zsa Zsa Gabor who, I think, is a bit like Tanka as well.
I still like the original best. It's very funny and has a really cute storyline that is pretty uncomplicated. I love all of the characters in it. John Kent is very frustrating at times, but he's still pretty endearing. And Fred and Ginger are at their bantering best in this one. They never actually fight at all, which is a refreshing change in the pattern of mistaken identities and mixed up plot lines that they usually got.
The remake is a really cute move with some great songs. I don't like Tony's character at all, so I have a hard time understanding why Stephanie would fall in love with him; she deserves so much better. I'm not a huge fan of Red Skelton's physical humor, either, so that's a factor too. I love Marge and Gower Champion in the movie and I didn't have a problem with them taking Fred and Ginger's songs - I think they made the songs their own pretty well. The biggest problem I have with the movie, really, is that I don't like one of the main characters and he gets the girl at the end. As far as remakes go, though, it's a creative take on an original story.
What do you guys think? Have you seen either of the movies? Both? How did they compare?