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Hollywood Remakes

Hollywood Remakes — From ‘The Nutty Professor’ to Alfred Hitchcock’s films, movie classics are getting a new lease on life

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Dial R for Remake … and don’t be surprised if you get a busy signal. It’s been a banner year for ransacking Hollywood’s attic (e.g., Ransom, The Nutty Professor, Mission: Impossible). And there’s no sign that the recycling will stop soon. Next week, Whitney Houston and Denzel Washington will revive The Preacher’s Wife, an update of 1947’s The Bishop’s Wife.

Brad Pitt just signed for a $17.5 million payday to star in Universal’s Meet Joe Black, a remake of 1934’s Death Takes a Holiday. And Jim Carrey is reportedly all fired up to take on 1959’s cross-dressing classic Some Like It Hot.

But no one looms larger (and not just in girth) on the remake horizon than that master of the cinematic psyche, Alfred Hitchcock. There are no fewer than six Hitchcock remakes in the works, and three of the auteur’s other films are being rereleased. This revival is being spurred partly by the unexpected success of a newly restored print of Vertigo (currently in limited release), and partly because of a renewed interest in films about obsession (like The Last Seduction or Shallow Grave), a Hitchcock specialty. Here’s a look at what will soon be playing — again — at a theater near you:

Speed producer Mark Gordon and partner Gary Levinsohn are taking on the daunting (some would say sacrilegious) task of retooling the Cary Grant/Grace Kelly jewel-heist thriller To Catch a Thief (1955) for Paramount.

Producer Arnold Kopelson (Seven) is developing two remakes for Warner Bros.: Dial M for Murder (1954) and Strangers on a Train (1951).

Universal has a new version of Spellbound (1945) being developed by former MCA honcho Sid Sheinberg’s Bubble Factory and producer Walter Mirisch (The Magnificent Seven).

Screenwriter Robert Towne (Chinatown) will write and direct an update of The 39 Steps (1935) for Warner.

Independent producers William Warren Blaylock and Stuart Birnbaum are shopping around their take on Hitch’s first sound film, Blackmail (1929). (The unlucky project had been with Fox and the now-defunct Savoy.)

And Madonna’s production company, Maverick, has reportedly snagged the rights to an unproduced Hitchcock script called No Bail for the Judge.

Talk about a Frenzy. ”From a business point of view it seems smart, because the studios get to market Hitchcock’s name,” says Blaylock. ”Using those classic titles is like getting a big star for your film.” Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Vertigo is clocking the highest per-theater average ($22,407) in the country.

But not everyone is thrilled about the Sir Alfred stampede. Manhattan audiences exiting a recent matinee of Vertigo voiced opinions on the trend ranging from ”They’re out of their minds!” to ”It’s a rotten idea!” A somewhat more qualified critique comes from Martin Landau, who worked with the weighty auteur in 1959’s North by Northwest: ”How is anyone going to make a Hitchcock movie better than Hitchcock?” Landau, who was hardly a fan of this summer’s Mission: Impossible remake, adds, ”It just goes to show that there’s no new ideas out there.”