This double review comes purely out of curiosity. Originally I was drawn to just checking out The King and I (1956) however a chance to see Anna and the King (1999) also became available. I’ll be using this review to see how both time and genre can change the same basic plot. They’ll be a little bit of history involved as I begin to understand a classic of the musical genre and a more straightforward remake, that surprisingly has Jodie Foster in the lead.
I think my approach to this review is completely wrong now. I felt during Anna and the King (1999) that was looking for the possible influences from The King and I (1956) which will always shadow over the later. Having only seen the odd clip in various programs and YouTube I can see some similarities, which I don’t think it would be fair to share until I catch the Musical.
Moving away from my initial regret I can see a matches the length of the original, not padded out with musical numbers written by Rodgers and Hammerstein we have a closer look at the relationship between English teacher Anna Leonowens (Jodie Foster) and the King of Siam King Mongkut of Siam (Yun-Fat Chow) who came on invitation to teach his dynasty of children and concubines, (a posh word for mistresses) English and the ways of the West. With an awareness of the Western world around him, with the British in Burma (Myanmar) and the French in Vietnam the developed world in imperial form was coming for them in the mid 1860’s.
Another major difference is the loss of the soundstage where the 1950’s musical would have been shot. Instead we are on location, which for me gives the film a firmer foundation in reality. You have less control over the locations, making even the possibility of breaking out into a musical number. We’re allowed to focus on the relationship between foreigner and king.
Moving away from the obvious differences it’s time to focus on the film itself. Told from the perspective of the oldest prince Prince Chowfa (Kay Siu Lim) whose looking back on the time when Anna came to visit, well her extended stay in his fathers employment. At first I thought it was the king himself, only to be cleverly revealed to be delivered as an extended diary entry. We first meet Leonowens as bereaved single mum traveling with her son Louis (a very young Tom Felton) who are eventually leaving the boat they arrived on with entourage in-tow as they make their way through the harbour in hopes of reaching the palace. So far we have a woman whose determined to make the most of her opportunity, a lone English woman with only son and servants for company. Bringing with her, the Western ideals that have brought her up.
Essentially it’s a culture clash of East meeting West and whose culture shall survive. Even at the King invitation he’s really unaware of the teachers influence on his family, not so much the country as a whole who are not really seen beyond being extra’s. All played with actors of Asian origin, bringing some extra authenticity. Updating what the original is plainly guilty of for one the leads, there’s no white washing or caricatures here. Instead the main cast are more rounded, admittedly the accent sounds a stereotyped, or am I just ignorant to the Taiwanese accent?
In the background we have the scent of war coming from the Burmese with villages being massacred, with the finger being pointed at the British. conveniently making things difficult for Anna who after getting off to a rough start in a sticky situation. Thankfully her unique approach has won his favour during her stay. It’s not quite feminine persuasion we are used to. It’s her will that doesn’t grind him down, it softens him to see her perspective that does cause trouble for him.
Just looking Anna and the King the expanded world of Siam with a war in the background, allows the film stand apart from the musical that focus on the teacher/king relationship. The war adds another dimension, the politics of the time to show how his position can easily be effected both emotionally and politically. With the classic culture clash running straight through it all. It’s not a stand out film for me, that makes me want to catch the original version to compare. The more serious and thoughtful tone is welcome for me placing it in a more real and historical setting. I’ll probably be bringing more thoughts to the review than just now.
It’s been almost a months since I watched the remake, admittedly in the wrong order. The Musical far less intense to absorb as a film. Being able to enjoy it as a classic Hollywood musical, without the heavy trappings of historical fact weighing it down. I did still however come to it, comparing it to the remake released 43 years later. Both are indeed visually sumptuous with close attention to the sets and the use of local designs to create a lost world of Eastern Asia. The original film follows the same basic structure from her arrival in Siam. The presence of the king is felt in the opening scene, when a boat’s sent to collect her from the port she has arrived in. There’s no sense of independence in her to make her own way with her servants through the town. Anna’s (Deborah Kerr) wanted in the palace far soon.
Her ability to make herself known to the king (Yul Brynner) shows she’s wasting no time, that even after the first number that demonstrates to the audience she’s as frightened as everyone else in the world. Her entrances to scenes are pretty much the same, her arrival from the side rear to a wide open stage to be greet the camera and her king who has requested her presence.
With the staging’s confined to the large expensive sets we lose the expansive wide open spaces of the court yards and location scenes that we find with Foster exploring the world around her more. Giving her time to see where she has come to, get to know the king beyond the role of monarch and father to his many children.
However one important element has remained here, the Tuptim (Rita Moreno) character was still given a sub-plot, still given as a gift to her king. When all she wanted was to be with her lover Kralahome (Martin Benson). The later version sees him give up and becoming a monk, enough for Tuptim escape her life of essentially being a sex-slave to her king. It’s her education with Leonowens, It’s the influence of a western education that opens her mind to follow her heart at any cost. Playing up the will of the heart, whilst her part on the staging of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which explores the ideas of slavery even under a Taiwanese translation the idea of emancipation is not lost on her.
I can’t ignore the racial stereotyping that is all over this film, more so with the passing of time. From the “etcetera” line being milked to death, a phrase that’s used to suggest more of the same is a novelty to the king who bouncing it around like a toy with every other line. Using it to create a sense of intelligence and the Westernisation that he longs for his country. His children and many mistresses/wives play up the ignorance of the culture as it’s portrayed, willing to learn, but falling back on the comfort of the myths that the King has constructed for them. The introduction of an improved map in the classroom’s mocked almost immediately, on learning that Taiwan is far smaller than they once believed it to be.
The whole sub-plot of Burma and the potential invasion of the British is brushed over in a few scenes. Presenting an image to visiting dignitaries and the ambassador he seems to soothe the whole issue completely. Whilst the theme of death’s treated with kid gloves, instead of a child dying, which is always more emotive, they go straight for the our King whose heart seems to give out after an argument with Anna from the previous scene. It’s his way of keeping her in the country long after his death. He may not be able to marry her out of her cultural refusal. It becomes an obligation to the future of the country to carry on her work. Whilst the new king lays out down the first laws to help modernise the country, which Leonowens has helped shape through her teachings. By the close of the film the country is slowly changing in her image, that of the West that has caused the industrial revolution.
It’s not too long before it will be creeping into this still very untouched nation that’s steeped in Buddhist tradition. It’s her stubbornness to not give in and conform that sees the country slowly change in her image. Foster’s Anna doesn’t stick around, instead she knows when to leave and move on with her life, it becomes just another chapter in her career, but that doesn’t make for the classic Hollywood ending that endures. One that last far longer than that of a ship sailing off into the horizon.
I’m going to try something new in this review – 3 films, well 2 films and a TV episode all titled – Cape Fear. For sometime I’ve been thinking about the relationship between these horror films. Having also read that the Martin Scorsese remake in 1991 was pointless really, I need to see this for myself to understand what is actually going on here. Has Scorsese wasted a cast and crews time and a film companies money, not to mention the audience who went to see etc. I’ll finish on a more comedic note with The Simpsons spoof Cape Feare which combines the best of both films. I’m one film in – the original which I shamefully saw in about 9 parts on YouTube whilst working at a summer camp a few years ago.
The 1962 original released as part of a cycle of horror films that attempted to emulate Psycho (1960) which reshaped the genre forever, what a was expected from the genre and its very form. What followed was a series of cheap knock-offs so to speak that tried to replicate that magic for the next few years. With time for the industry to react one of the first films out using A-list actors with well established careers, such as Deborah Kerr‘s The Innocents (1961), and the cult classic of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962). However Cape Fear has more in common with film noir, or the first shoots of neo-noir after it ended a few years earlier with Touch of Evil (1959). Take some of the best bits of The Night of the Hunter (1955) and repackage it into a more audience friendly film that has also become a classic.
Taking the Charles Laughton noir of a preacher who works his way into a community, marrying a Jail birds widow, in order to get his hands on the money which the dead husband has hidden. Memorably played by Robert Mitchum, whose physical presence transformed the role and the film into that of almost folklore horror. Seeing America through the eyes of an English director who gave us his vision of a country deeply rooted in its religion that could be so easily be corrupted. The Mitchum character of Harry Powell becomes Max Cady, again not long released from prison has a one track mind, not money, he has plenty of that. Its more like a destiny that he has to fulfill coming to the home town of successful lawyer and family man Sam Bowden (Gregory Peck) who had to testify against him on an attack charge against an innocent woman. After first meeting Cady we know he’s not a family man, not meant to live around law-abiding people. He’s not a gentlemen who stops to pick up papers for woman on the stairs. He’s to be avoided, even before we learn his back story.
The Cady’s live in reasonable comfort, a small lawyer whose life is about to be turned upside down, about to take him and his wife Peggy (Polly Bergen) and daughter Nancy (Lori Martin). I couldn’t help but start to draw comparisons with this to the remake, what were the new relationship that brings Cady to town. It’s more complex for sure in the remake. Back to this more straightforward film that doesn’t waste time establishing whose the good and bad guys. However it’s the law whose hands are tied, Cady’s being doing more than marking the days in his cell before being released. Reading up on the law and planning his revenge. Starting his war of terror against Bowden and his family, taking aim at the teenage daughter – Nancy whose awareness of the male gaze and sexual power is about to blow wide open.
Cady is not just a deranged criminal out for revenge he’s a sexual predator too, making Nancy his next victim. This could be where Scorsese got a bit of tunnel vision, along with changing taste and the loosening of censorship which allowed for a more adult version of the film. Nonetheless the original filmed in cheap/standard black and white adds another layer to this dark film that gets more intense scene by scene. Tying Sam in knots with nowhere to turn but to lead him into a trap on the houseboat along the Cape Fear river. The sexuality is all coming from Mitchum, even middle-aged has a decent body that added to his domineering on-screen presence. If anything I found the ending lackluster, instead of what the audience wants – and Scorsese gives us. We have the law winning out, the courts of justice putting Cady back behind bars before a swift and happy ending. It feels after all of that struggle the good and civilised in Bowden wins out, his primal desire and wishes earlier on in the film to shoot him are repressed to allow him to drag him to a prison cell before a having another trial. Hopefully leading to reform, something I really can’t see happening to Cady, whoever plays this disturbed character.
Onto the remake now, which after hearing it was pointless, I’m starting to see why after just finishing it. I first watched it at University, thinking it was a great thriller, I even used it as part of my research for thrillers and suspense. What the hell was I thinking, more to the point what was Martin Scorsese thinking. It wasn’t even a film he wanted to do, it was an assignment given to him by the Universal, for reasons I just don’t understand, I don’t think he does either. Probably hoping to get his next project The Age of Innocence (1993).
Lets take a look at the film on the face of it, a remake of the 1960’s classic thriller which saw the Bowden family being tormented by the deranged Max Cady that still remains at the core of this film. However 30 years have passed and the script admittedly needed altering in some respects. There’s far more sex on-screen, along with the usual depiction of Scorsese penchant for violence. Making it a good match, but then the same can be said of lots of directors. He’s a director for hire here. The main difference is Cady played by a hammy Robert De Niro whose clearly having a ball, glad to be working with his old pal Marty one more time. The crime committed now is, aggravated assault, essentially rape when you get to know the character. He’s come back to get revenge on his old lawyer Sam Bowden (Nick Nolte) who we learn buried evidence that could have allowed Cady to go free. That facts are made clear early on away from Cady who is beginning his campaign of fear.
Originally Bowden was a witness to an assault committed by Cady, now we see that the lawyer has used his professional power to alter the course of Cady’s life. I couldn’t have seen that working in 1962, only a few years from playing Atticus Finch (Peck) couldn’t betray that upstanding heroic image. Whilst Mitchum could’ve easily played that role to the extreme without getting as hammy as De Niro. We spend more time with the daughter now named Danielle (Juliette Lewis) who is more sexually aware. Whilst the wife is pretty much unchanged, reacting instead to the plot as it unfolds. If anything she is more traumatised by the films events. So the father and daughter get the thick of it.
A memorable addition or “nod” of approval to the remake, is the inclusion of three of the original cast Peck, Mitchum and Martin Balsam each having a few scenes. Was this more a ploy to bring in the older audience to see three older actors once more, or to say that the film is not being made without their blessing. I think its more the former with a bit of promotional casting. Mitchum first appears as the detective who wants to help but is forced to not suggest to seek alternatives. Whilst Peck is clearly having more fun in his cameo as Lee Heller who is Cady’s defence lawyer. Whilst a clearly bored Martin Balsam the original detective plays the judge who rules a restraining order in Cady’s favor. The aging actor clearly underused and wondering what the hell he is doing on set.
The law is clearly not in Bowden’s side throughout, doing all he can to protect his family, being screwed at every turn by a criminal who has read his books, including the Bible and Sexus (just for added smut). There are times when you are on the Bowden’s side, then you think, haven’t we been here before, only in black and white and not for as long. Drawing out the scenes and adding new ones that only drag out this practically scene for scene remake. The religious overtones are very heavy and clearly a directorial stroke, which makes the work his – overtly.
Ultimately it’s a hammy overreacted, waste of film that sees an accomplished director scraping the barrel with sacred material that shouldn’t have been touched. He should have looked back to Dead Calm (1989) which had the boat thriller in the bag in every way. We have actors who are doing their best, whilst some are just glad for the bigger paycheck and a few days work. Lastly Scorsese only makes you think about the original more overtly with the lazy use of the original score by Bernard Herrmann, conducted by Elmer Bernstein who simply conducted it for the “new” soundtrack. There’s no attempt to be really a unique film that is about the same basic premise, its the just the same just sexed up.
Now I want to watch the far superior Simpsons parody which focuses in the best elements. The second episode of season 5 – (yes it’s that old), a longtime favorite of mine. I remember getting it on video – the murder mysteries tape. Makes me feel old just thinking about it. It’s been a while since I last saw the episode until last night. It was still as fresh and spot on with the jokes that came thick and fast. Midway through the golden age of the now long running animated sitcom, which has now become the longest running of its kind too. Cape Feare was also the third time that Sideshow Bob (Kelsey Grammer) appears in this now iconic role. Assuming the Max Cady role directly from the Scorsese’s film gave us a year before. It’s a cheeky spoof that is more entertaining that the thriller which is 6 times as long.
I think the focus was on the more recent film still fresh in the public consciousness, which is understandable, leaving the original alone. Taking the best bits of a pointless film and making fun of the rest in 20 minutes of animation. We already know that Bob has it in for Bart (Nancy Cartwright) who has twice already found him out, once for robbery, and for attempted murder. Now it’s time for revenge. There’s no need to build up that history between the two except in a few short scenes. The blood written letters and the parole hearing before Bob’s released, using his charm to gain his freedom.
Already the Simpson family are on edge, the letters and now the cinema scene which is ensures we are in for a scene for scene spoof. Of course there’s more common sense at play, the harassments taken seriously by the police instead of going down the private detective route – which leads to the fishing wire and teddy bear set-up which isn’t taken seriously. Ultimately they’re referred to the FBI who put them into the Witness Relocation Program giving them a new identity and opening titles. It’s all played fast a loose. Yet the law is on the families side, moving the spoof quickly on, there’s no time to discuss the need to use a gun or to kill Bob, it’s about hiding.
The finale is more family friendly with a Gilbert and Sullivan homage, making the most of an earlier scene in the car journey. The houseboat is loose on the water, just not out of control as Bart uses the performance to buy him time. He’s too clever to result to deadly violence to see his enemy (not Moe Szyslak (Hank Azaria) and his panda’s). The episode delivers some of the finest moments not just of the season but a collection of jokes that are better than the expensive thriller that tries to outdo the original.
So ends my first 3 (2 and a spoof) film review, attempting to find a relationship and history. I’ve chosen an easier trilogy (of sorts) to begin with a film, a remake and a spoof. I can see how it a classic (before it was more common) to remake a film. Seeing that it was sexed up, add some violence and some cheeky cameos to draw in the audiences. Whilst a controversial cartoon plays fast and loose, appropriate the events of a recent film and make fun of it, so is the nature of a spoof which in the case of this film is more entertaining, than the remake.