I HATE REMAKES. That’s my usual point of view, but I’m about to contradict myself. One of my favorite movies from the 1980s is a remake of one of the greatest films ever made and I don’t have a problem with it.
When I first saw Taylor Hackford‘s Against all Odds (1984) I had not yet seen Jacques Tourneur’s Out of the Past, which allowed enjoyment of Hackford’s movie without comparison to the original. A terrific, sexy thriller Against All Odds is really a loose remake of Tourneur’s film that keeps the major plot points in place – the love triangle for one – but doing so with a completely original script that updates the story particulars to reflect 1980s excesses like drugs, sex and money. Before you continue – beware! Spoilers lie ahead!
Against All Odds stars Jeff Bridges as Terry Brogan, an aging football star who is hired to find Jessie Wyler (Rachel Ward) who’s in hiding after fleeing her possessive, shady boyfriend, Jake Wise (James Woods). Wise fronts as a nightclub owner, but in truth he’s made his money by illegal sports betting, which plays a central role in the unraveling of the thriller that results after Brogan and Wyler meet and fall in love. Before long Terry and Jessie are fugitives in Jake’s eyes as he sees the return of neither his woman or the $50,000 she stole from him before running off the Mexico. In the meantime Brogan completely forgets his original mission, which was to find and return Jessie to Jake. His love for Jessie complicating matters to the point of being hunted and eventually blackmailed by those who are really behind the entire sordid mess – Jessie’s rich mother, Grace Wyler (Jane Greer) and her right-hand man, Ben Caxton (Richard Widmark).
The plot of Against All Odds is twisty-turny (an official film term) and therefore complicated not unlike the standard fare of films noir of old like Out of the Past. Also similar and the reason why it’s entertaining is its fast pace even though Odds takes time out to focus on a hot love-making scene in a cave. Odds also manages to stay as true to the noir genre as it can including such genre staples as a flashback, a femme fatale and beautiful, moody cinematography by Donald E. Thorin. Although the latter can’t be compared to Tourneur’s movie, which is one of the most beautiful ever made thanks to the genius of Nicholas Musuraca. But then only a few movies in the entire history of motion pictures can measure up in that regard.
That said, I’m not advocating a comparison between Out of the Past and Against All Odds nor is that my intent with this write-up. A comparison would only yield a hands-down win in every single column for Tourneur’s original. That’s just fact so why bother. But since I’m submitting this entry to Phyllis Loves Classic Movies’ They Remade What?! Blogathon I’ll present a few parallels for argument’s sake – albeit without outrage.
The basic plot of Out of the Past is similar to the one described above for the 1984 movie. In this case you have Jeff Bailey (Robert Mitchum) as an ex private detective trying to forge a new life for himself when his past comes back to bite him. Jane Greer plays Kathie Moffat, the woman from the past, the femme fatale whom Bailey goes after and falls for. Bailey is hired by tough guy, Whit Sterling (Kirk Douglas) to bring Kathie back to him.
Out of the Past is without a doubt one of the best in any genre, a thriller replete with crooked characters, double-crosses and murder. And yes, there is also lots of romance in there as well – a requisite.
The Murky Hero
So… you have Robert Mitchum as Jeff Bailey in Out of the Past, an actor made for noir with his innate man-of-danger thing and rough-around-the-edges sensuality. Mitchum could easily play a hero on the dark side probably because he lived a bit of that in the real world. After meeting up with Ms. Moffat and falling back into the dirty world inhabited by the likes of Whit Sterling Jeff Bailey is caught in the undercurrent of a dangerous, engaging plot fighting for survival in typical, memorable Mitchum style.
In Against All Odds Jeff Bridges plays Mitchum’s counterpart and in a freshly made turn does a great job of it as the hero caught in a web of deceit. Bridges is a sight to behold, an unbelievably handsome man who has never been caught up in that leading man vs. true actor dilemma because he went the character actor route and has never turned in a bad performance. That’s true in Against All Odds where he plays an innocent – albeit gutsy – guy forced to unravel sinister plans at every turn thanks to his falling for Jessie Wyler. I particularly enjoy the fact that this character is designed as a football player, an innocent who gets caught up in the muck of the duplicitous world depicted in the movie. This is in contrast to Mitchum’s Bailey who knows the ropes as an ex-private investigator for gangster, Sterling.
The character of the murky hero works well in both incarnations of the story based on Daniel Mainwaring’s novel, “Out of the Past.” Mainwaring also wrote the script to the 1947 movie with the 1987 story penned for the screen by Eric Hughes. Both the 1947 and 1984 films succeed in keeping to the film noir trademark theme – that of the blurring between good and evil. There are no black and whites in moral or ethical terms, but rather a grey scale on both sides of the murderous aisles.
The Femme Fatale
Jane Greer’s Kathie Moffat is a femme fatale for the ages. Not only is she deliciously evil, but the script of Out of the Past is so rich and layered that it’s difficult to pinpoint this woman’s true allegiance as the plot unfolds and Greer relishes that seesaw. Kathie would outwit and outmaneuver the best of ’em. And does. From the moment she enters Jeff Bailey’s life – in one of the greatest entrances ever filmed I might add – he’s a goner. She’s so great at the duplicitous game that she plays Jeff like a fiddle – and he allows it because he can’t resist her. She will in the end lead both men who vie for her attention to their ultimate demise.
In Against All Odds you have Jessie Wyler as the femme fatale although Jessie is nowhere near as fatal as Kathie. Jessie is played most affectingly by Rachel Ward, but perhaps her greatest gift to this movie is her fantastic chemistry with Jeff Bridges. The two share steamy sex scenes that are hard to resist and not only because of their physical beauty, but because of the tension created. Their relationship may well be the main reason to watch this, it’s an intriguing mix of love, passion, suspicion and betrayal.
As the femme fatale Jessie is true to form just not as evil as those we so admire from decades gone by. She is the central instigator for the “fight” in the story, the rock against which the good and bad waters break and mix. Unlike Ms. Moffat, however, Jessie is a victim who kills when backed into a corner, but doesn’t relish the act. Again here a comparison is apples to oranges, but both femmes work in their respective worlds. Only one is truly unforgettable though.
The Bad Guys
Kirk Douglas drives the plot of Out of the Past as far as wearing the main bad guy hat and he does a fantastic job of it. As a bad guy Douglas stresses me out just by being and in this supporting role his intense energy serves the character and movie well in contrast to Mitchum’s quiet menace.
Tourneur’s movie also serves up a terrific cast of supporting players including Rhonda Fleming, Richard Webb and Dickie Moore (check out the complete cast list here and for a full commentary on this movie you might want to visit my previous post on the Warner Archive Out of the Past bluray release.)
James Woods plays what would be the equivalent of Kirk Douglas’ role in Against All Odds and he manages a layered depiction of what turns out to be a small-time hood. In fact Woods delivers one of my favorite of his performances in this. Although Woods’ character, Jake Wise, is powerful and pulls the strings for a while it turns out in the end he’s the puppet of those with the real power – enter Widmark and Greer.
A regular and terrific classic film noir actor himself Richard Widmark is fine as the ultimate power in the dirty games played in Against All Odds. It’s funny but I’ve always equated the Widmark on-screen energy to that of Kirk Douglas. Both are always so intense. In any case, the real thrill in Odds for me is seeing Jane Greer who essentially plays the mother of her own character in the original film. Greer’s role in Against All Odds is small, but she plays a powerful, heartless woman who doesn’t give much of a damn for anything or anyone who gets in the way of her plans. And that includes her own daughter. Except for the daughter part does that sound familiar? It’s great fun to see the familiar Greer chilly stare and icy delivery in the relative few scenes she has in this decades after she literally killed ’em in Out of the Past. Although she’s playing a different role I can picture Kathie Moffat turning out as Mrs. Wyler had she made it to a mature age.
There are other supporting players in Against All Odds worthy of mention – several of which meet untimely endings. Ex-footballer of note Alex Karras plays Hank Sully, the football coach who secretly works for Jake and who goes after Terry in Mexico after Jake realizes Terry has betrayed him with Jessie. Swoosie Kurtz supplies some much-needed comic relief in Odds and Saul Rubinek is great as a sleazy, overindulging lawyer. Take a look at the rest of the cast and crew list here. I must give a special shout out to Paul Valentine who has a cameo in Against All Odds, but is – like Greer – an alum of Out of the Past. Those of you who’ve seen Tourneur’s movie know Valentine as Joe Stephanos the hood who tracks down Jeff Bailey for Whit Sterling.
And there you have Out of the Past and Against All Odds with the bottom line being that Taylor Hackford made a compelling movie in dangerous noir waters. Had I read the news today that someone – whoever – was remaking Tourneur’s classic I’d have likely had a social media fit. Instead you got a complimentary commentary on two films I’m fond of. I saw Against All Odds first and I enjoyed it first and when I rewatched it last week I enjoyed it again. Odds is not Out of the Past, which is one of those movies that falls into the “must see before you die” category, but it is good and you should see it.
I’ll depart with a charming anecdote recounted by Jeff Bridges in an interview he did several years ago and again in the Against All Odds DVD commentary…
It turns out that Mr. Bridges made his movie debut at six months of age in John Cromwell’s The Company She keeps starring Lizabeth Scott and Jane Greer. In a scene during which Greer was holding baby Jeff who was supposed to be crying his mother suggested to Jane that she should pinch him. During the making of Against All Odds Jeff recalled joking with Greer that if she ever felt he didn’t emote during a scene she should pinch him.
“Nothing in the world is any good unless you can share it.”
Be sure to visit the They Remade What?! Blogathon hosted by Phyllis Loves Classic Movies. I’m sure there is plenty of outrage about what classics people have dared to remake through the years. I’ll likely jump on that bandwagon myself even after having betrayed the cause.