Hollywood has been running out of ideas since the time filmmakers started making movies in Hollywood. Even the first “official” feature film made in Hollywood proper, Cecil B. DeMille and Oscar Apfel’s 1914 Western The Squaw Man, wasn’t an original story. DeMille and Apfel’s Western was based on Edwin Milton Royle’s play. And prior to that, there had been movie shorts with titles such as The Squaw and the Man (1910), Cow-boy and the Squaw (1910), and The Squaw Man’s Sweetheart (1912).
So, no one should be too surprised that remakes, adaptations, and reboots have been Hollywood staples for decades. And here’s another remake in the works: DreamWorks and Working Title Films are to revisit (or reboot, as the case may be) Alfred Hitchcock’s 1940 Best Picture Oscar winner Rebecca, which starred Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine. As per Variety, Eastern Promises’ screenwriter Steven Knight will use Daphne Du Maurier’s novel as the source for the project, sort of like Todd Haynes’ adapting James M. Cain’s novel Mildred Pierce instead of directly remaking Michael Curtiz’s 1945 melodrama starring Joan Crawford.
Variety adds that Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Contraband producers Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner will handle the Rebecca remake for Working Title. In addition to David Cronenberg’s thriller Eastern Promises, Knight has also penned Stephen Frears’ socially conscious mystery Dirty Pretty Things, for which he received an Academy Award nomination; Michael Apted’s Amazing Grace; and the upcoming The Lost Symbol, based on Dan Brown’s novel featuring professor Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks in The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons movies).
As for the story, Rebecca is narrated by a shy young woman (Fontaine), who marries a rich widower (Olivier) and goes live with him in a somber mansion, Manderley. Once there, she realizes that the man’s dead wife, Rebecca, remains very much alive in the minds of both the widower and the servants, especially the devoted (and totally creepy) Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson), who loved Rebecca a wee bit too much. (Is Susan Sarandon available? If so, the producers should get her to play Mrs. Danvers in the remake. Else, they should check out Jessica Lange’s schedule.)
Rebecca was producer David O. Selznick’s follow-up to his multiple-Oscar-winning blockbuster Gone with the Wind. Robert E. Sherwood and Joan Harrison were credited for the film adaptation, and, along with Fontaine, Olivier, and Anderson, received an Academy Award nomination for their efforts. Hitchcock was also nominated, but lost the Best Director Oscar to The Grapes of Wrath‘s John Ford. The director would never win a competitive Oscar.
Previous remakes (and reboots) of Hitchcock’s movies include three in 1998 alone:
- Jeff Bleckner’s made-for-television Rear Window, with Christopher Reeve and Daryl Hannah replacing James Stewart and Grace Kelly;
- Andrew Davis’ A Perfect Murder, with Michael Douglas, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Viggo Mortensen in the old Dial M for Murder roles belonging to Ray Milland, Grace Kelly, and Robert Cummings;
- Gus Van Sant’s widely panned Psycho, with Vince Vaughn, Anne Heche, Julianne Moore, and once again Viggo Mortensen replacing Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh, Vera Miles, and John Gavin.
Nine years later, D.J. Caruso’s Disturbia was released. In this Rear Window reboot, Shia LaBeouf is the busybody, Carrie Ann-Moss the love interest, and David Morse the maybe/maybe-not murderer. Also, back in 1979, Anthony Page remade The Lady Vanishes, with Elliott Gould, Cybill Shepherd, and Angela Lansbury replacing Michael Redgrave, Margaret Lockwood, and Dame May Whitty. The remake has since all but disappeared from view.
And one can’t forget Hitchcock’s own The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), a color, Hollywood remake of his black-and-white British-made 1934 thriller, with James Stewart and Doris Day replacing Leslie Banks and the Edna Best.
Not to mention North by Northwest (1959), a reboot – long before the word was used as such – of The 39 Steps (1935), with Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint in the old Robert Donat/Madeleine Carroll roles. The 39 Steps, I should add, would be officially remade with Robert Powell in 1978 and with Rupert Penry-Jones for British television in 2008.