Ocean’s Eleven (1960)

2010 #80
Lewis Milestone | 122 mins | TV | PG

“Remakes are not as good as the original” is one of the rules of filmmaking. Of course there are plenty of exceptions, and everyone has their own opinion, and most modern remakes are expressly about making a quick buck from a US audience who can’t watch a film and read at the same time rather than making a better quality film — but, more or less, the rule persists. It may have won him an Oscar, but the consensus seems to be that not even Martin Scorsese can overcome this rule.

Steven Soderbergh’s star-studded 2001 remake of Vegas-set Rat Pack vehicle Ocean’s Eleven, then, is widely seen as a rarity in bucking this trend. And that opinion is right. This original is a scrappier film, with a less focused story and a seemingly endless number of scenes that are seemingly endless, no doubt due to the indulgence of allowing the matey cast to improvise much of the dialogue.

Indeed, the whole film is more about its actors, their camaraderie and humour, than the heist itself, which is fairly basic… and yet still shown in mundane, repetitive detail. Soderbergh managed to create a likeable, funny crew and an exciting heist, not to mention a story that didn’t feel like it was meandering on with no purpose, besting the original in every respect.

Ocean's first 11It does have its moments: a couple of songs are shoehorned in (even if there’s only two or three and each gets two or three airings) and the cast do succeed in making some of their indulgences entertaining. Nonetheless, this would definitely be for Rat Pack fans only had it not been for the remake… and, really, there’s no reason the remake should change that.

The two Ocean’s Elevens stand as proof that, given the right filmmakers, a mediocre original can be remade into a highly entertaining film. That would be a good new rule for Hollywood to learn.

3 out of 5

High Society (1956)

2009 #54
Charles Walters | 107 mins | DVD | U

High SocietyCole Porter-scored musical remake of The Philadelphia Story, which is probably most famous for featuring Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? and being star Grace Kelly’s final film before becoming a princess.

Despite rarely singing, Kelly is by far the film’s standout element — it’s easy to believe three different men would be vying for her affection, but she also gets the chance to show the greatest range of any cast member. Admittedly it’s shades of comedy rather than a full awards-worthy display of ability, but she carries the film beautifully. It’s no wonder her husband-to-be, Prince Rainier of Monaco, objected to her appearing in movies when she played roles such as this: a divorcee who at one point allegedly sleeps with another man on the eve of her wedding to a third is surely no role for a princess. (Turns out she didn’t sleep with him, mind.)

Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra are more-or-less themselves as the male leads, though the sole song they perform together, Well, Did You Evah!, is one of the film’s best — despite being a late addition from a previous Cole Porter musical after it was realised Crosby and Sinatra didn’t have a number together. Louis Armstrong also plays himself, literally, and brightens up the screen whenever he appears. His band’s duet with Crosby, Now You Has Jazz, is another of the film’s highlights.

Despite being adapted from an acclaimed play and film, the plot feels like a relatively slight contrivance to link together a couple of songs — alternately of the Romantic and Comedic variety — and some farcical humour with a romance-based thread. That the right people end up together is no surprise — so little surprise, in fact, that the story doesn’t even bother with such trivial things as making the final entanglements come together believably.

No matter. It’s the journey to the inevitable conclusion, through a few comical scenes and a few decent tunes, that makes High Society a perfectly pleasant dose of entertainment.

4 out of 5

High Society is on TCM UK today, Saturday 4th April 2015, at 4:15pm, and on Sunday at 9:35am.

On the Town (1949)

2007 #113
Stanley Donen & Gene Kelly | 94 mins | VHS | U

On the TownGene Kelly and Frank Sinatra lead the cast in this musical comedy about three sailors who have 24 hours of shore leave in New York. The plot is sometimes predictable, but at least it’s not as standardised as many. Equally, none of the songs are truly memorable but most are fun while they last.

The humour may be quite gentle (though be prepared for some sexed-up female characters!), but as a whole it’s never less than entertaining (with the exception of a third act dance almost as incongruous as Oklahoma!’s change of cast). Several of those who watched it with me were surprised to find they actually enjoyed a musical.

4 out of 5