By Peter Hummers on September 2, 2021
Last week we looked at a film that was later remade unnecessarily, in my opinion; but remakes can create a better film—two spring to mind.
As in 1956’s Ransom! (streaming here), which was itself an adaptation of a 1954 episode of The United States Steel Hour titled “Fearful Decision,” a wealthy businessman learns that the chances of getting his kidnapped son back, whether he pays the ransom or not, are 50/50, and goes on TV to announce that the money set aside for payment will instead be given to any member of the public who helps in the apprehension of the kidnappers.
This pivotal scene, played by Glenn Ford in 1956 and Mel Gibson in 1996, uses almost the same lines, and its effect on the later audience is probably undiminished from 40 years previous. The original theatrical movie is an excellent and groundbreaking film, with great performances by Ford and wholesome TV icon Donna Reed as his wife, and Leslie Nielsen, in his first film role as a cynical newspaper reporter.
When the businessman’s wife, who was sent to bed with the vapors upon first hearing of her son’s abduction, learns of her husband’s actions, she has a full-blown breakdown, quite against type for Donna Reed, but very well acted. And Glenn Ford, who is also in our other remade film, is revealed as a brilliant and well-rounded actor.
1997’s Ransom, directed by Ron Howard (Arrested Development), ups the ante, as it were, with an extended postscript that adds action and another plot twist. Rene Russo plays Tom Mullen’s unhappy wife; there’s no reporter (who was an audience proxy in the original film), and Gary Sinise is very good as the sinister kidnapper.
Either movie is a good watch; 1956’s Ransom! is available to watch (see above) for free, while 2006’s Ransom is a real thriller, a whole ‘nother experience. It comes at a price, but its trailer is linked above, in case you’re interested.
Two movie treatments have been filmed of Elmore Leonard’s 1953 story, Three-Ten to Yuma—in 1957 and 2007, the 1957 movie, coincidentally also starring Glenn Ford, is streaming here. It’s a sturdy western, well-directed by Delmer Daves (A Summer Place), in which Ford plays a charismatic but amoral leader of a gang of “road agents,” who is captured and must be gotten to the titular train while his bloodthirsty gang seeks to free him. An impovershed rancher (played unsympathetically in 1957 by Van Heflin) hires on to help get the notorious outlaw to the station.
The 2007 film, starring Russell Crowe (A Beautiful Mind), as the outlaw Ben Wade, and Christian Bale (American Psycho) as rancher Dan Evans, brooks no comparison to the earlier film (which plays out like Leonard’s short story). It is War and Peace to the first version’s Harriet the Spy.
To begin with, Michael Brandt and Derek Haas’ screenplay, while it uses some dialog from the book and the 1957 movie, is 121 pages to around 51 pages of Halsted Welles’, and with added exposition and character development, throws in another head-snapping twist at the end, a la Ransom, which increases the drama significantly. (Screenwriters have learned a lot in 50 years.)
Russell Crowe shares a great, organic chemistry with Christian Bale, and there are memorable roles for Gretchen Mol (Chance), Peter Fonda (Easy Rider), and Logan Lerman (The Patriot) as Dan Evans’ son, who now plays a pivotal part in the story. Ben Foster (Six Feet Under) shines as Charlie Prince, Wade’s sadistic right-hand man. 89% score on Rotten Tomatoes.
Next time, Civil War daze, from the individual to the generals: a TV treatment of Ambrose Bierce’s intimate “Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” and the epic 1993 film Gettysburg.
(Pete Hummers is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to earn fees by linking Amazon.com and affiliate sites. This adds nothing to Amazon’s prices.)
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