, I discussed The Big Clock (1948) and No Way Out (1987)—films in which a man (Ray Milland and Kevin Costner, respectively) is engaged to find a murderer within his place of work, only to discover that he's the prime suspect.
In each case, the man is being framed to allow a powerful figure to get away with the murder of an ex-mistress. What made No Way Out stand on its own was its ability to do the original film one better when the true murderer is apprehended.
The Big Clock was remade again, stealthily, in 2003 as a Denzel Washington vehicle called Out Of Time. Movies can copy premises, and not every film with a man investigating himself is necessarily a remake of The Big Clock. But I saw the film when it came out and noted its similarities to the previous films; then this weekend, I re-watched it to confirm that it’s a remake.
Washington plays a Florida Keys police chief who gives his current flame (and childhood friend) $750,000 to get radical cancer therapy. He takes the money from the evidence lock-up after a DEA bust, believing that it will not be needed for a couple years. (I’m not sure how he expects to pay it back.)
In no time, the woman and her abusive husband are killed in a house fire judged to be arson. The detective investigating the case is Washington’s estranged wife (Eva Mendes), but he is also called in to help. Washington quickly learns that the money has disappeared and knows his name is on the woman’s million-dollar life insurance policy. Simultaneously, the DEA wants the drug money and are sending two men to pick it up.
The next hour of the film works on pure adrenaline as Washington handles all three crises at once: deflecting the DEA, erasing his name from his girlfriend’s cellphone, and delaying the insurance company from getting his information as the dead woman’s beneficiary.
Like the other two movies, much depends on a police sketch (in No Way Out, a Polaroid negative) that is similar in likeness to Washington, just not enough to clinch it. When a hotel worker actually sees him, the authorities can’t get over quickly enough to catch Washington in the act (emulating a scene in the Pentagon with a hotel worker and Costner in No Way Out).
Out of Time eventually comes to a bland, happily-ever-after conclusion similar to the ending of The Big Clock; indeed, things seem to work too well for a man who has had such a severe lapse of judgment. Washington admits his mistakes, and all is forgiven; thus, as neo-noir, Out of Time falls way short of No Way Out.
Dark City (1950) – Five Card Stud (1968)
Here’s a case of a relatively obscure film noir being remade as a western. Dark City’s one distinction is that it marks Charlton Heston’s film debut. Lizabeth Scott is the blond attraction. Jack Webb, Harry Morgan (later teamed in the 1970s version of Dragnet), and Ed Begley are Heston’s lowlife associates who cheat Dom Defore in a poker game. One by one, Heston’s pals are stalked and murdered by an anonymous man. Heston finally stops him; in the final confrontation, the murderous avenger is revealed to be the cheated player’s brother.
Five Card Stud features Dean Martin in the role originated by Heston, as a man who happens to be part of a saloon card game when another player is caught cheating. The other players (not including Martin) take the cheater to the edge of town and lynch him. Subsequently, one by one, the lynchers are themselves strung up. As in Dark City, panic ensues among the survivors of the card game. The greatest deviation between the two films is that the killer is featured throughout Five Card Stud: Robert Mitchum, who ostensibly comes to the town to start a church. Martin finally kills him in a prolonged gun battle outside the town.
Kiss of Death (1947) – The Fiend Who Walked the West (1958)
This remake should remain hidden for the title alone. In actuality, it is a well-made thriller. Its hero, Hugh O’Brian, is caught (sealed in a vault) during a bank robbery, whereas Victure Mature in Kiss of Death failed to get out of the office building after a diamond heist. Kiss of Death ranks among the darkest of noir films, but our memory of its qualities is overshadowed by a single performance: that of Tommy Udo, played by Richard Widmark.
It’s no accident that the remake chooses this type of “fiend” as its focus, the kind of character who laughs while he pushes an old woman in a wheelchair down a flight of steps. Robert Evans reprises the Widmark role. Evans started his career as an actor, playing the matador Romero in The Sun Also Rises (1956) and Irving Thalberg in The Man of a Thousand Faces (1957). Later, he ran Paramount Studios when it produced the two Godfathers (1972; 1974) and Chinatown (1974). He was also briefly married to Ali MacGraw.
In Fiend, he plays a squeaky twerp who befriends O’Brian in prison and who O’Brian realizes is psychotic. Evans is a touchy guy who poisons another prisoner and, upon getting out of jail before O’Brian does (O’Brian refused to befriend the “fiend”), threatens O’Brian’s family.
Curiously, The Fiend Who Walked the West works better than the eventual remake of Kiss of Death (1995). Hiding the remake of the 1947 film had relieved Fiend the burden of replicating Tommy Udo’s indescribable sadism. In the remake, Nicolas Cage plays the Udo role in a sustained hysterical psychosis, a harbinger of the type of role he now plays repeatedly.
The remake is also known as a David Caruso-starring vehicle that flopped and ultimately brought him back to the television screen, much to the delight of many (his flop, I mean, not his return to television).
Collingswood resident Bob Castle is an author, teacher, film critic, and playwright. In town, he is also the founder of the Collingswood Movie Club, which meets monthly in the public library for film showings and discussion.
Castle's writing has appeared in Bright Lights Film Journal, Film Comment, and The Film Journal. His plays have been performed during the Philadelphia New Play Festival, the Philadelphia Fringe Festival, and at the the Gone in 60 Seconds and "In a New York Minute" festivals.