Having received the 2007 version of this film on DVD for my birthday I thought it would be worthwhile to watch old and new on the same day.
The problem with this is always, of course, that any remake will inevitably be judged against the original rather than as a stand alone film but, trying to put this aside as much as possible, I must say I came away with mixed feelings. Not really mixed in a bad way, rather that I haven’t made up my mind whether the changes made in the new version add or detract from the story and themes of the piece.
I have to say at the outset that I am a big fan of the westerns of Delmer Daves and believe him to be one of the most important directors of westerns full stop. Consequently I have always felt a great fondness for the original 1950s version of this film. However, I have always had some reservations over the completely happy ending and felt that this was always the one failing I would hold against it. The new version changes this ending quite drastically but, I’m afraid to say, I’m not sure it actually helps improve things.
The other main feature that stood out in the new version was that despite holding on very firmly to the core pyschological struggle at the centre of the story they seem to have decided that it needed a lot more action and pizazz than the original and I’m not convinced this was a good idea either. Characters are added in a way that seemed to offer nothing other than the possiblity of a greater body count and regular bouts of violent action. For some this will be an improvement, as the original is very low on action and centres almost exclusively on the pyschological battle of wits between Evans and Wade. Apart from the opening and closing scenes there is very little gunplay in Daves’ film. Mangold’s, on the other hand, has a prodigious body count and also includes multiple explosions and even a stagecoach crash complete with CGI effects. To be fair, the extended role played by Evans’ teenage son is clearly designed to add drama not just action and this helps keep Evans’ need to impress his family at the centre of attention.
At the end of the day I would have to say that the 2007 version is a perfectly fine western made for a modern audience. The actors all do a solid job, the characters are kept interesting and are well developed. Visually it looks good and it seems to me that Mangold has a solid grip on what westerns should be all about. My wife watched this one with me and (having not seen the original) enjoyed it thoroughly. She is not a big action and violence fan so the fact she wasn’t put off says something for the balance Mangold found with this piece. I also enjoyed it but, overall, would say I prefer the original whose slower pace I found more gripping. Horses for courses I guess and I’m sure there will plenty who feel the opposite. What I would say is that despite prefering the original I still thought Mangold’s film was a good addition to the genre and, considering how few westerns actually get made these days, he is to be applauded for the effort.
Just my thoughts. Anyone else want to add their two cents worth?