White Heat (1949)

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Original plot
Jimmy Cagney’s got mommy issues and his criminal empire is being rooted out by a rat before it can reach the “top of the world.”

Big changes
I’m going a bit literal here, if that’s ok. The heat is the police (thanks, Michael Mann) and it’s white. As in Caucasian.

The Random Remake
Hank Fallon (Tom Hiddleston) is a former Marine who, at the behest of his wife and family to get out of harm’s way, works as a bureaucrat in the Department of Justice overseeing federal corrections policy. When he gets wind of a trafficking ring he volunteers to go undercover to bust it. He’s sent to a vaguely Southern federal institution to root out the offending guards. He’s told of the prisoners inside and their resumes but he doesn’t care – he’s only doing his job for the DOJ. But when working in the print shop he saves a fellow inmate, Cody Jarrett (Jamie Foxx), from an attack on his life, Marine fighting skills-style. Jarrett was distracted by a blinding migraine, but Fallon saw the whole thing transpiring. Jarrett, one of the prison’s big shots is impressed (not only for the save but also because Fallon doesn’t really seem to know or care who he is) and grants Fallon (under the prison pseudonym Vic Pardo) some black-market privileges that lead him to bust the offending guards.

Just as Fallon is about to leave the prison after his investigation is finished, Jarrett has a proposition for him: How’d he like to join his unit on the outside – after they break out of prison tomorrow! Fallon is wracked with angst; does he go home to his family or stop the breakout? Neither! He’s told by his superiors to go along with Jarrett. The DEA has been trying to infiltrate Jarrett for years with no success, and now here’s their chance.

Some inside the circle are suspicious of “Pardo,” especially Jarrett’s right-hand man (Isaiah Mustafa), who later thinks the prison break was a little too easy. But during a visit to hash out the plans in code, Jarrett’s mother (Octavia Spencer) tells him to trust his gut.

Turns out Ma is the brains behind the operation, and they have been running a smuggling operation outside of a logistics corporation full of truckers that Ma is friendly with. Ma repeatedly grinds on Jarrett that they have the chance to be the American equivalent of a Mexican cartel and has the skills and ability to lead it all. She treats him to his favorite drink with the family motto/salutation, “Top of the World.”

Fallon gets deep into the operation, getting some intel, screwing up some big jobs to avoid committing serious crimes. Jarrett’s men suspect him of treachery; Jarrett won’t have any of it. Soon, Fallon gets word to the DEA of a big shipment to the warehouse but when he does he’s found out. Big action/chase sequence in the warehouse and Fallon runs after Jarrett, who has climbed to the top of warehouse. “We’re sitting on the single biggest pile of uncut ever assemble on U.S. soil, you know that copper?” Jarrett says, rubbing his temples due to the sudden onset of a migraine. “This it, top of the world for me.” He reaches for his gun but his vision is hazy and he’s dizzy. Fallon rushes at him but Jarrett stumbles and fatally falls off the warehouse.

The pitch
White Heat: It’s a lonely place at the top of the world

Next up: The Philadelphia Story (1940)

*

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To Have and Have Not (1944)

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Original plot
Fisherman Humphrey Bogart reluctantly joins the French Resistance in Martinique, mostly cuz Lauren Bacall gives him the doe-eye treatment.

Big changes
Martinique who? French Resis-what? We’re gonna have to change locales, people – keep up! In a nod to Hemingway, we’re going back to Cuba.

The Random Remake
Harry Morgan (George Clooney) is a laid-back retiree living outside of Cancun, who through his drunk friend Eddie (Diego Luna) we get hints that Morgan might have been involved in some dark stuff to lead him to afford such a lifestyle. Turns out, Morgan smuggles some items to and from Cuba, and one day on his way back from a run discovers a stowaway – a supposed Chinese national, who tells him about his desire to defect to America. Morgan, enraged about the deception, turns him over to the Cuban officials who track him to Cancun.

Soon, Marie Browning (Charlize Theron), a sultry American woman, tracks Morgan down. She’s in a huff. The Chinese national isn’t Chinese – he’s North Korean, and he talked his way into Cuba pretending to be Chinese. He needed to get to America, to reveal what he knew about the North Korean government – and Morgan ruined everything. But there’s an opportunity to set it right. The others that came over, they’re in hiding. Browning pleads with Morgan to help get them over to Mexico.

Morgan isn’t having it. He’s a fisherman, a businessman, not a radical. Browning tells him he’ll get paid just the same. She scoffs at his money obsession, calling him everything short of a Nerf Herder. Morgan and Eddie take Browning with them to Cuba and engage in some covert ops to shuffle the North Korean defectors to their boat. But they’re seen! Big chase ensues, Eddie tells Morgan to let him do his thing. “I owe you,” he says. The Cuban military catches up to the boat Morgan sailed over. But it’s just Eddie, no one else. Safely ensconced in a private plan are Browning and Morgan and the defectors.

“Here’s your money,” Browning throws at Morgan, back at his place in Cancun, where everyone rests. “I didn’t do it for the money, kid,” Morgan answers. “I got plenty. What I don’t have is you.” “Well,” Browning answers, “I was hoping you’d say something like that. You know of any good ways to sneak into the states?” She smiles. He smiles. The End.

The pitch
To Have and Have Not: Below the radar. Under the gun. In each other’s arms.

Next up: White Heat (1949)

*

The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)

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Original plot
A drifter takes a liking to his gas station/highway eatery boss’s wife, and they plot to knock him off and live happily ever after. But conscious and the police get in their way and then fate comes knocking. Or ringing – twice, I guess.

Big changes
OK, so right off the bat we’re introducing the postman as death metaphor. That doesn’t come until the end and I couldn’t have been the only person waiting for a letter carrier to be part of this movie.

This movie is like three in one: The love triangle, a complicated courtroom drama that plays like an episode of “Law & Order,” and then the devolution of two criminals in love. Let’s play with the last part – that’s when the real juice kicks in.

My favorite line, “Give me a kiss before I sock you,” won’t be surviving.

Jack Garfield kept reminding me of Bruno Mars. Must be the hair. Oh yeah, now I got something here…

The Random Remake
Note: There was a remake with Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange in 1986; no reason there can’t be another.

Pre-credit sequence: Cora Smith (Kate Mara) climbs up a cliff near Malibu Beach screaming for help. She tells a passing car that her husband drove their car off the ledge and into the sea!

Three months earlier: A drifter/aspiring singer (you can see where I’m going with this) comes to a highway motel outside of Los Angeles. Frank Chambers (Bruno Mars!) is looking for a gig – any gig – to showcase his talents. He just wants to get on stage, to pay his dues before he hits it big. The hotel manager, Nick Smith (Jeff Daniels) doesn’t need any amateur act. What he needs is a good set of hands to help him fix the joint up. Frank makes him a deal: He’ll work cheap if he can get up on stage and perform at night. (Here’s a chance for an Oscar-nominated original song from Bruno Mars. I read he doesn’t really want to act, but c’mon Bruno I’m teeing this up for you kid!)

Soon Frank meets Cora, Nick’s wife. Cora is mysterious, a little sultry. She always wears white. She’s a little goth, too – when Frank tells her he’s a traveler with “itchy feet” who’s been all over the states, she replies that she’ll die here in this dump of a town. “The Postman will find me and take me away right here, I’m certain of it. He’ll ring twice so I know it’s him.”

(Montage of fixing up the joint/Bruno Mars song).

After a particularly groovy set (see, Bruno, you can do jazzy numbers and Oscar bait – this is perfect!), Cora falls in love with Frank. They tell Nick that they should all go for a drive, swim a bit in Malibu Beach. Cut to the beach – Frank is plying Nick with booze. They start to drive back but Frank starts talking about engine problems. Nick isn’t buying it but pulls over high atop a cliff looking over Malibu Beach. Frank looks in the engine and tells Frank to start up the engine – but when he does, Frank and Cora push the car over the cliff. Frank and Cora jump down to a ledge to act as if the car ran them over. Cora climbs up the hill yelling for help.

Cut to the hospital. Frank is recuperating. The DA insists it was murder. Cora’s lawyer gets her off – not enough evidence. The case is huge news (let’s get a TMZ co-branding thing) and Cora is a celebrity. When she returns to the Twin Oaks motel it’s jumping and people ask for her autograph. Frank sings and the club is packed. Their dreams come true, Frank is a recognized singer and Cora is adored. But there’s trouble. They can’t trust each other. Cora has eyes for her lawyer. Frank has eyes for the groupies. They start plotting each other’s murder. The fame is too much!

Frank suggests they reconcile. Let’s go for a swim in Malibu Beach, he says. Sure, she says, mysteriously. In the car she says they should have died in the car crash, not Nick. “Remember when I told you I’d hear the Postman,” she says. “I hear him every day. Every hour. And he calls for you, too.” She grabs the wheel, jerking it hard – and they sail off a cliff into the sea.

The pitch
The Postman Always Rings Twice: Their dreams came true. At the ultimate price.

Next up: To Have and Have Not (1944)

Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)

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Original plot
The charming tale of a woman who runs out on her family, drinks constantly, schemes to marry a rich dude, and has men pay her when goes to pee during their dinner dates. Oh and she calls her crush by her brother’s name and does some low-level work for the mob. And there’s some racism thrown in for good measure.

Big changes
I’m still not sure whether Audrey Hepburn’s character is a prostitute or not, though it’s pretty damned obvious George Peppard’s is. Either way, our main character isn’t gonna be a hooker. But a golddigger, that we can work with. Let’s get the rights to the Kanye song. Oh, and I don’t think I need to point this out, but we’ll NOT be having a racist character portrayal from some dude in yellowface. Know what, let’s just leave the whole landlord out of it just to be safe.

The Random Remake
Holly Golightly (Emilia Clarke) works for a janitorial service, spending late nights and early mornings scrubbing the floors and taking the trash out of offices and stores. She ends her shift at Tiffany, where after she finishes her work she changes into a flirty little black dress (Givenchy!) and has a croissant and coffee from her lunch pail by herself right in the middle of the Tiffany store before walking home at dawn.

Washed-up writer Paul Varjak (Jake Johnson) moves into a new brownstone in New York, courtesy of his patron (who is paying him for sex, not novels). He soon meets and falls madly in love with Holly. They involve themselves in a playful dance of baring their embarrassments and charms and mutual admiration for Holly’s cat, Cat.

But it turns out, Holly is moonlighting as a janitor at hoity-toity shops (like Tiffany) to pilfer contact info for rich people – so she can set up false meet-cutes and get them to fall in love with her. Paul tells Holly that HE loves her and he will change for her – he will get rid of his patron and be only hers from now on. But she tells him that love is an anchor, it holds you down. If you truly love something you have to let it be, let it be free. He doesn’t need to change for her – if he did, he won’t be the person she loves.

Flash forward, Paul is writing again. He doesn’t have (or need) his patron. He sees Holly on a date with a rich man, a set up. It’s the patron’s husband! Paul sabotages the date by telling the husband about his relationship with his wife, the patron. Holly is outraged at Paul’s vengeance and storms back to her apartment while Paul follows her – in the pouring rain. She throws Cat out of her window, saying the cat isn’t hers to own, and she isn’t Paul’s either. Paul storms out of the apartment to look for Cat, and Holly follows later reuniting with Cat Paul and reconciling her love for Paul. “She really needs a name,” Paul says. “Oh, I’m good at names,” she answers, “I’ve had like 10 of them.”

Oh, and “Moon River” is covered by Michael Buble. For sure.

The pitch
Breakfast at Tiffany’s: For Holly Golightly, not everything that shines is gold.

Next up: The Postman Always Rings Twice

*

Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)

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Original plot
Judy Garland belts out show tunes while she and her sister pine for dudes to marry them. But – drama! – their massive tool of a dad wants to move the clan from Technicolor St. Louis to tenement flat NYC.

Big changes
We’d have to axe the world’s fair part – they don’t have those anymore, right? The garish dresses are gone. So is the huge family, and the servant. I like the idea of a dance card, mostly because I didn’t know that was a real thing, but yeah that’s gone.

The big dance is in (prom is still big business). The dad’s move to NYC, that’ll still work. Oh, we probably should keep the singing – damn this is gonna be hard.

We’re putting the Judy Garland character in every scene. No cutaway plots featuring a little sister’s valiant vandalism during Halloween or another sister’s longing for a long-distance phone call.

The Random Remake
Esther Smith (Chloe Moretz Grace if she can sing) is crushing hard on her neighbor but he doesn’t seem terribly interested. Is he gay? That’s a musical number right there. We’ll have the “Book of Mormon” people do a pass on this. Let’s create a part for Anna Kendrick, because she can sing (her rendition of Cam’ron’s “Hey Ma” made “End of Watch” bearable, and that’s saying a lot). She’s a teacher, Esther’s confidante who has a couple of numbers reassuring our hectic heroine (both about the crush and the family’s potential move east).

Anyway, Esther’s dad (Michael Fassbender!) comes home from losing a case and has a little singing soliloquy about the justice system. And he does so drinking a Budweiser (local product placement!) He’s fed up with small-town St. Louis and the good ol’ boys. He knows he’s destined for bigger lawyery things. Cue the phone call from his old law school buddy. He’s in need of a good lawyer! At his swinging new firm! That’s top-notch and killing every case they take! In New York City (frowny face).

We have to get the Arch in here somewhere, right? Got it – they still have trolleys in St. Louis (according to Google), so we can keep “Clang, Clang, Clang” and it’s part of some ironic double-date fix-up that Esther’s friend puts together with the crush. Boom – nailed that one!

Let’s say that Esther wants to be in a band, hence all the singing. She gets it from her dad, who used to be in a rock band before he sold out (maybe there’s a big group number at the end).

Needless to say, Esther and the crush (maybe Kyle Gallner, I liked him in “Red State) fall for each other (montage to the prom) but the impending move to NYC causes them all kinds of drama. We see that in text messages or something the kids do nowadays. Oooo – let’s have a text message song, like the messages are the lyrics. Or Facebook posts. Man, I’m already excited for this thing!

Ok, so now we need to turn the dad’s head against NYC. He needs to see the value in what he does in the Louis. OK, got it – the crush is a poor dude from the wrong side of the trolley tracks and his mother has gotten into some stuff. Let’s hint at meth or something, keep it PG. The perps are gonna get off scot free, only Fassbender can help. The crush pleads for help, Fassbender pursues the case “Civil Action”-style, and beating the good ol’ boys makes him realize his dream and he turns down the NYC job.

The pitch
Meet Me in St. Louis: Life’s not always fair.

Next up: Breakfast at Tiffany’s

Lady in the Lake (1947)

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Original plot
Another first-person perspective movie! Also from 1947! But this one keeps the theme throughout the movie, even though it gets stale and the lead character is kinda annoying. One of the “Philip Marlowe” movies from novelist Raymond Chandler (“The Big Sleep” with Bogart is another), a hard-talking, hard-fighting, hard-to-understand-how-he-solves-any-crime kind of guy. We never actually see the lake, or the lady in it for that matter.

Big changes
We have to see the lady in the lake, I mean – c’mon. Also, Audrey Totter is awesome as she transforms from business lady to potentially vengeful femme fatale to swooning love interest. I could watch her give me the stink-eye all day long, we’ll have to keep that.

This movie has a Christmas theme, for no reason. That’s gone.

Oh yeah, all of the first-person stuff is gone. It gets old super fast. Maybe we do a first-person thing at the beginning, with the lady in the lake. As she gets pushed into the lake. Yeah, that’ll work.

The Random Remake
First-person scene of the murderer pushing a lady into the lake. She floats, dead body-style. Cut to Philip Marlowe (Michael Fassbender!), a hard-charging FORMER Los Angeles police detective kicked off the force because he’s such a prick. He’s turned to writing up some of his cases into blog entries, which has been pissing the brass at the LAPD off something fierce. Which is why he likes it.

Marlowe gets an email from a book agent to talk about a deal to turn his blog into a memoir. He meets with the agent, Adrienne Fromsett (Emily Blunt if she can do a good stink-eye), but it turns out she’s actually interested in finding a coworker’s estranged wife. So they can divorce. And she can marry him. Marlowe deduces all this in his signature jerk fashion. Because he’s a jerk. He takes the case, only because, “I’m getting as rusty as your grandfather’s nails, plus I need some new crap to blog about.” Man, such a jerk. He’s House MD as a pseudo-private detective.

We get some twists and turns, run-ins with the police (who may or may not be in on the wife’s murder). And Fromsett’s coworker finds out about her scheme and gets all mad at her and wants nothing to do with her.

The big turn comes when Marlowe hits a roadblock and wants off the case. Fromsett gives him a talking to – telling him he’s a failure. He’s failed the LAPD. He’s failed at being a writer. He’s failing at being a private eye. He uses words as a weapon because he’s so vulnerable inside. Big change of heart in Marlowe. He continues the case, “but only for you, Fromsett – you’re the only person who could say that to me and still have all your teeth.” Man, such a lovable jerk.

Marlowe solves the crime, and it turns out a police officer was in on it, his former partner! But now he’s got a new partner. In life. In Adrienne Fromsett. His memoir is published, and we end with a woman reading the book and crying over a newspaper article about her dead husband. She picks up her cell. “Siri, look up the number for Philip Marlow, private detective.” Sequel!

The pitch
The Lady in the Lake: He’s solving a murder and uncovering the truth. About himself.

Next up: Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)