The late James Dean is back in the movies. Thanks to clever hi-tech cutting and pasting, his signature rebellious angst is pouring from the silver screen, and perhaps giving James Franco career anxiety.
People we last saw in those “In Memoriam” clips during the Oscars and Emmys may be making comebacks. It’s not new. Movie scenes resurrecting Bogart, Brando and even Nixon come to mind. Filmmakers may take greater liberties with the likenesses, voices and personas of those at eternal rest.
The producers will pay for the usage rights, of course. Decades ago the heirs of Bela Lugosi sued Universal Pictures for exploiting Lugosi’s image as Dracula without permission. The California Supreme Court ruled for Lugosi’s widow (Bride of Dracula?) and son, establishing celebrities’ rights to control the commercial use of their personalities — even beyond the grave, apropos to the case.
Imagine a cinematic roll call of deceased performers starring in the biggest genre mashup of all time:
Voice-over Announcer: The greatest stars of the past have come together to save Hollywood, appearing again in their original roles. Here they are in the bar scene:
Bela Lugosi (as Dracula): “I never drink … wine.”
Bette Davis (in “All About Eve”): “I'll admit I may have seen better days, but I'm still not to be had for the price of a cocktail.”
Zero Mostel (in “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum”): “Was 1 a good year?”
Christopher Reeve (as Superman): “Uh, no thanks. I never drink when I fly.”
Clark Gable (as Rhett Butler): “I'm very drunk and I intend on getting still drunker before this evening is over.”
W.C. Fields (as himself): “I cook with wine. Sometimes I even add it to food.”
Philip Seymour Hoffman (in “Rusty”): “Poor me, poor me, pour me another.”
Joan Crawford (in “Dancing Lady”): “You sure drink a good dinner.”
Shirley MacLaine (in “Rumor Has It”): “Come on in, I'll put on a pot of bourbon.”
William Powell (in “The Thin Man”): “The important thing is the rhythm. Always have rhythm in your shaking. Now a Manhattan you shake to fox-trot time, a Bronx to two-step time, a dry martini you always shake to waltz time.”
But, as Spencer Tracy noted (in “Tortilla Flat”): “They say that a little love is like a little wine. Too much of either makes a man sick.” Bar scenes, like chase scenes and love scenes, can advance the plot or reveal a character’s hidden self. If they only serve to chew up screen time they’d be better left on the cutting room floor.
Recycling the departed’s parts is work for Dr. Frankenstein. James Dean already enjoys immortality in his too-few films, as do the other stars in theirs. If you’d like to see their work, please rent one of their original movies.
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