The Umbrellas of Cherbourg courtesy Koch Lorber Films
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Question: I'm a great fan of your column - I read it religiously every time it comes out. Here's my question: I've never been all that interested in musicals (I don't dislike them on principle, I just never felt very attracted to them), but recently I caught up with Jacques Demy's The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and it completely knocked my socks off. It absolutely blew me away, so much so that I'm ready to call it one of my favorite movies of all time. I was completely hooked on its unusual format: Every single line is sung and there are no big "numbers" like in regular musicals. It made the entire movie feel like one long, beautiful hymn. Is there any other movie that has used this same format? Or, more importantly, is there any other movie that has used this format successfully? - Oskar Sigvardsson (all the way from Stockholm, Sweden)

FlickChick: This is an excellent question, and one I find especially interesting in that I only caught up with The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) - a bittersweet romance starring an exquisite, 19-year-old Catherine Deneuve - a couple of years ago, when I was researching a chapter for my book, Movie Lust, on non-traditional movie musicals. Like you, I was utterly enchanted, though it's a polarizing movie: There are people who just hate it like you wouldn't believe. Interestingly, many of them say they can't bear its pastel-colored sentimentality, which I find bizarre. That last scene at the gas station is heartbreaking.

As to other movie musicals in which every word of dialogue is sung, the only one I can think of is Evita (1996) - even Demy's follow up to Umbrellas - The Young Girls of Rochefort (1968), which starred Gene Kelly, Deneuve and her lovely sister, Francoise Dorleac - and also featured music by Michel Legrand), is a more traditional musical. And even Evita isn't exactly the same, because Legrand's score for Umbrellas is all recitative, whereas in Evita it's a mix of recitative and full-on songs. As to how successful it is, it's not the gigantic disaster you might expect from the dismal box office and vicious reviews, but it's far from a resounding success.

If anyone knows of other films like The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Oskar and I would love to hear from you. Please don't be shy!

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Question: Didn't the movie Hell's Angels on Wheels star Adam Roarke, while Jack Nicholson wasn't yet well-known? But on all the covers of the movie it makes you believe that Jack Nicholson is the star. Do you know? - Bernie

FlickChick: Welcome to the world of marketing. Frankly, at the time Hell's Angels on Wheels (1967) was released, neither Adam Roarke nor Jack Nicholson had any marquee value of which to speak. Roarke was a relative newcomer with some TV credits, and Nicholson had been bumming around Roger Corman exploitation pictures for the better part of 10 years and was, by his own account, starting to think it was time to forget about acting and try to move behind the camera: He was making the transition to writing for Corman with Ride the Whirlwind (1965) and The Trip (1967). If you look at the original poster for Hell's Angels on Wheels, it's all about the bikers - neither actor is featured. And then along came Easy Rider (1969), and Nicholson's career had a new lease on life. By the time VHS and, later, DVD came along, Nicholson was a bona fide star and Roarke was just a cult favorite. So Nicholson's name and face dominate the box art.

At least he's the legitimate second lead. There are far more notorious examples of filmmakers cashing in on a cast member who later became a star. One of the most notorious examples is a film called The Swap/Line of Fire, which started life as a 1969 feature called Sam's Song, about a movie buff (a skinny, unknown Robert de Niro) trying to make a documentary about Richard Nixon. In 1980, the exploitation distributor Cannon Films bought the rights, hired a director to shoot new footage and built a whole new mafia film around de Niro. And you'd better believe his name and face are all over it.

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Question: I rented a movie called Prey, about a family stranded in the wilderness with hunger-crazed lions. It was great and reminded me of a movie that was kind of the same except that some people were on a wildlife preserve - I think - and lions were running out of food. The family got trapped in the house with lions attacking throughout the movie. I think it starred the captain from the first Alien movie and the wife of the guy from The Mamas and the Papas. I can't remember the name and wonder if it has ever come out on DVD. It was at least 20 years ago, maybe more. Love your column. - Albert LaRosa

FlickChick: That could only be Savage Harvest (1981), with Alien's Tom Skerritt and Michelle Phillips who, I should add, was not only married to Papa John Phillips but was also one of the Mamas. The film was actually set in Kenya rather than a wildlife park, but otherwise it's what you remember. Strangely, I can't find evidence that it's ever been available on VHS or DVD - don't be fooled by a 1995 film of the same name that is available. For reasons I can't begin to imagine, 1981 was a bumper year for families-attacked-by-big-cats movies: It also saw the release of Roar, with Tippi Hedren, her then husband and her children, including Melanie Griffith.
Roar is out of print on VHS and, like Savage Harvest, has never been on DVD; it shouldn't be confused with the 1997 TV series starring Heath Ledger.

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Question: While talking with my boyfriend about the upcoming remake of Escape from New York - an astonishingly bad idea, by the way - it made us wonder what the most recent movie to be remade is? I mean U.S. movies: Remakes of foreign films and TV shows don't count. The only remake I can think of with a more recent source than Escape from New York is Red Dragon (2002), which of course was a remake of Michael Mann's wonderful Manhunter (1986). That's only 16 years between the original and the remake. Can you think of one that was faster on the draw than that? - Lauri

FlickChick: How right you are about Escape from New York! And about the virtues of Manhunter versus Red Dragon.

As to your question, not in recent years. But Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was filmed in 1932 and again in 1941: That's a nine year gap. The first version starred Fredric March and the second starred Spencer Tracy. And The Maltese Falcon was filmed in 1931 and then remade in 1941 - the latter being the classic version with Humphrey Bogart. That's only 10 years. Again, I invite readers to send in examples: They don't have to beat the Jekyll and Hyde record for rapidity of remaking, but Lauri's question has made me curious about other examples of this kind of rapid-fire recycling of material.

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