Sunday, January 05, 2014

A Sound Remake

Tracy & Dunne in
 A Guy Named Joe (1943)
     One of my favorite fantasy films not only happens to be a remake but also quite possibly one of the most underrated mainstream films of the 1980s: Steven Spielberg's Always (1989). While not exactly a masterpiece on par with Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Always remains an adult fairy tale for the young at heart of another sort. It's a nearly flawless afterlife love story. Based on the 1943 film A Guy Named Joe starring Spencer Tracy and Irene Dunne, Always takes the high road by remaining faithful to its source material without seeming like a pointless carbon copy. The director of the original, Victor Fleming, is of course more well known for replacing director George Cukor on both Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz (both 1939). It could be argued that this under-seen wartime fantasy is long overdue for a reappraisal.

 Hepburn & Dreyfuss in Always (1989)
Irene Dunne, who never won an Academy Award (she was nominated five times for Best Actress), sang the song Smoke Gets in Your Eyes in the 1935 musical film Roberta, also starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Spielberg chose that song in particular as the love theme for his two main characters (played by Richard Dreyfuss and Holly Hunter) in Always; a fitting tribute to Dunne. He also gave Audrey Hepburn a cameo in what was to be her final film role as an afterlife guide to Dreyfuss' character. Dreyfuss and Spielberg, while working together on Jaws (1974), shared a mutual admiration for A Guy Named Joe and expressed an interest in one day remaking it. A Guy Named Joe is finally available to own on DVD-R from the Warner Archive Collection. Always, on the other hand, is sorely in need of a new anamorphic high-definition transfer (hopefully soon on Blu-ray) but can still be acquired in its original non-anamorphic DVD release from Universal. If you're in the right mood, these two gems would make a wonderful life-after-death double feature.

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