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Posted August 02, 2011 to photo album "Déjà vu"
In adapting the Israeli thriller <em>Ha-Hov</em> into <em>The Debt</em>, John Madden enters the cinematic tradition of remaking foreign language films for English-speaking audiences. We look at some of the best foreign language adaptations, from transforming Kurosawa into a American western to popularizing Japanese horror.
The Wages of Fear (1953) to Sorcerer (1977)
In the 1970s, William Friedkin was one of the darlings of New Hollywood, a director who seemed to have his finger on the pulse of popular taste, making two back-to-back monster hits with The French Connection (1971) and The Exorcist (1973). After these films, Friedkin had carte blanche for his next project and chose to remake Henri-Georges Clouzot's classic 1954 French film The Wages of Fear, a thrilling noir about four men hired to transport nitroglycerine along perilous dirt roads in the South American jungle. Except, as Friedkin insists, his film was not a remake: His intent was to create an “entirely new version [of Clouzot's movie], that would only draw in the theme, but with new characters.” (Friedkin allegedly charmed Clouzot into agreeing to let him do the movie by saying that it would not be as good as the original.) Universal Pictures was unconvinced that Sorcerer, Friedkin's (non-)remake, was a good idea, but was won over when Friedkin said he wanted to make the film so much that he didn't care if they paid him. It was released in 1977 after a troubled and protracted production period, and subsequently was a massive failure both with critics and audiences – bringing Friedkin crashing down to earth. For some reason, the tense, engaging thriller he had slaved over failed to connect with the zeitgeist. “In many ways, it comes as close as any film I've made to fulfilling my intentions for it,” Friedkin said in a recent interview. “It had taken a great deal out of me and everyone else who worked on the film, it was extremely difficult to shoot and it's the most disappointing thing that's ever happened to me that the film was not a success. ...It was a critical and commercial failure, and it hurt me very deeply.” Now, however, the film is enjoying a critical revival. In his essay on Clouzot's and Friedkin's films, Tim Applegate writes in The Film Journal that “in retrospect Sorcerer now seems unfairly maligned – it too is a visually dynamic thrill ride – while Wages Of Fear, for all its admirable qualities, is not without its detractors (Godard, for one, thought it inferior). The flaws in both pictures are impossible to ignore, and yet each succeeds at the most elemental level of cinema: they ratchet up the tension to the snapping point.”