Remake Rumble:  Father of the Bride (1950) vs Father of the Bride (1991)

Spencer Tracy and Steve Martin, both as Papa Banks in their respective versions of Father of the Bride
Remake Rumble Opening Banner:  Father of the Bride (1950) vs. Father of the Bride (1991)

When it comes to Father of the Bride, only the names have changed.

In the original, Spencer Tracy and Joan Bennett play Stanley and Ellie Banks, proud parents of Elizabeth Taylor’s about-to-be married Kay Banks.

In the 1991 remake, Steve Martin and Diane Keaton revive the parents as George and Nina Banks, and Kimberly Williams-not-yet-Paisley-at-the-time takes on the role of young and blushing bride Annie.

Other than that, only the addition of color separates the films.

Both open on patriarch Banks, disheveled and collapsed in his easy chair, just after the last guest has left his daughter’s wedding reception.  Papa Banks removes his shoe and rubs his aching foot as he regales the horrific tale of his daughter’s wedding.

Papa Banks has one daughter—a daddy’s girl through and through—and the news of her engagement (to a boy who isn’t worthy of her, naturally) sends him reeling. 

Elizabeth Taylor and Spencer Tracy in Father of the Bride (1950); Steve Martin and Kimberly Williams-Paisley in Father of the Bride (1991)
Elizabeth Taylor, Spencer Tracy, Steve Martin, Kimberly Williams-Paisley

As Papa Banks narrates the events to the audience, he makes a loveable fool of himself throughout the rest of the film.  While his wife and the fiancé’s parents are unequivocally thrilled, Papa Banks howls that his daughter is too young to get married, and dismisses his wife’s reminder that she was the same age when she married him.

Having financial responsibility for the wedding, he demands cuts to the guest list, and blows a gasket at the price of the wedding cake.

Both feature scenes of the father of the bride trying to squeeze his now middle-aged body into a tuxedo that was the peak of fashion—twenty years ago.

Spencer Tracy in Father of the Bride (1950); Steve Martin in Father of the Bride (1991)

And in both scenes, the daughter overacts to a silly fight with her fiancé and threatens to call off the wedding—for about five minutes, until the equally distraught fiancé arrives to apologize.  (In the original the fight is about his desire to go fishing on their honeymoon; in the remake it’s because he buys her a blender as a wedding gift.)

Papa Banks covers his terror of losing his daughter by grousing over the extravagance and cost of every detail, but ultimately bends to his wife and daughter’s wishes down to the last canapé.

And just like any film with a gooey center, he realizes in the end that (just like his wife assured him) it was all worth it, and that, “a son is a son ‘til he finds a wife, but a daughter is a daughter all her life.”

Elizabeth Taylor in Father of the Bride (1950); Kimberly Williams-Paisley in Father of the Bride (1991)
Two young brides…Elizabeth Taylor and Kimberly Williams-Paisley

Father of the Bride is a perennial favorite because even though he is an exaggerated figure, everyone knows a Stanley (or George) Banks.  A loveable curmudgeon who can’t quite grasp that the pigtailed daughter he once bounced on his knee is now a woman.  One who can’t accept that he will no longer be the man in his daughter’s life.  (Driven home in both films in a scene where the daughter dismisses her father’s advice that she wear a coat, then immediately acquiesces when her fiancé suggests the same.)

I prefer the original 1950 version, because I’m partial to old films, Spencer Tracy is more believable as a grumpy old dad, and the newer version veers unnecessarily into the absurd at points (as when Steve Martin falls into his future in-laws swimming pool, or spends the night in jail after causing a scene in a supermarket.)  Also, the over-the-top wedding planner played by Martin Sheen is similarly absurd and hasn’t aged well.

But these are nitpicks.  When it comes to the best version of Father of the Bride, the choice is truly yours.

Elizabeth Taylor and Spencer Tracy in Father of the Bride (1950); Steve Martin and Kimberly Williams-Paisley in Father of the Bride (1991)
Elizabeth Taylor and Spencer Tracy in Father of the Bride (1950); Steve Martin and Kimberly Williams-Paisley in Father of the Bride (1991)

It’s a story so universal and so beloved that it will likely be remade (virtually unchanged) for every generation to enjoy.  As of this writing, there are talks of a remake in development starring Andy Garcia in the title role.  Time will tell if this particular project makes it to the screen, but there’s no doubt that as long as there are daughters getting married, we will see Father of the Bride again.

I look forward to the next incarnation.

To see my thoughts on the original sequel, Father’s Little Dividend (1951), head on over to read my guest post this week at B&S About Movies.

Remake Rumble Final Verdict:  Father of the Bride (1950)
Want more?  Click here for an index of all posts in the series, as well as source notes and suggested readings.
Spencer Tracy and Steve Martin, both as Papa Banks in their respective versions of Father of the Bride

Remake Rumble:  The Shop Around the Corner (1940) vs. You’ve Got Mail (1998)

Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan in You've Got Mail (1998); James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan in The Shop Around the Corner (1940)
Remake Rumble: You've Got Mail (1998) vs. The Shop Around the Corner (1940)

In the Remake Rumble, I’ll throw one (or more) versions of the same film into the ring and let them fight it out.  I’ll discuss the good and the bad, and end with the ultimate judgement of the best version.  Judgements can be appealed through well-reasoned arguments in the comments section.


Looking for more films to stoke that Christmas spirit? Check out these reviews from the archives:


For this week’s remake rumble, we begin in 1940 with The Shop Around the Corner, the Ernst Lubitsch directed romantic comedy starring James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan as Alfred Kralik and Klara Novak, a manager and sales clerk at Matuschek and Company in Budapest. 

There’s no love lost between the two—Klara dismisses Alfred as a bowlegged dolt; he resents the way she wormed her way into a job on false pretenses. 

James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan in The Shop Around the Corner (1940)

Alfred answers an advertisement in a newspaper to correspond with an unknown woman about literature and the arts.  By mutual agreement, they eschew the mundane in their letters, forgoing the humdrum details of occupation and hobbies to discuss Tolstoy and Shakespeare.  Alfred is the best version of himself in his letters—articulate, empathetic, and kind.  His pen pal is the same, and soon he is besotted by a woman he’s never met.

Eventually the two decide to meet, and even if you haven’t seen the film (or You’ve Got Mail), I don’t have to tell you who he finds when he arrives at the restaurant:  Klara Novak, the shopgirl he detests.

The film takes an interesting direction after his discovery—Alfred doesn’t reveal himself to Klara, and she is devastated at being stood up by the man she loves.  Yet because Alfred knows that Klara is the one writing the letters he so treasures, he sees her in a new light.  As he softens towards her, she sees a new side of him. 

James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan in The Shop Around the Corner (1940)

Soon, Klara finds herself torn between real-life Alfred and the mystery man of her letters, not realizing they are one in the same.  When Alfred finally confesses, it is a wonderful relief to Klara, and we fade out on the lovers embracing on the floor of the shop in the quiet after the Christmas Eve rush.

The message is clear—the love of your life might be standing next to you in an elevator.  He or she might be annoying you half to death.

Such lovely ideals are the scaffolding on which all romantic comedies are built.

James Stewart is at home as Alfred, playing one of the polite nice guy roles that propelled his fifty year career.  We never doubt the sincerity of Alfred’s growing affection for Klara.  He’s not concealing the truth as a joke at her expense, but trying to work out a way to win her love in the world off the page.

Directed by Ernst Lubitsch, who had a deft touch with comedies, including Ninotchka (Garbo’s first comedy), To Be or Not to Be (Carole Lombardi’s final film), and Heaven Can Wait, The Shop Around the Corner should be on everyone’s holiday wish list.

In 1998, Nora Ephron remade The Shop Around the Corner as You’ve Got Mail, now a classic romantic comedy in its own right.  Budapest is swapped out for New York, and Alfred and Klara are replaced by Joe Fox (Tom Hanks) and Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan), rival booksellers.

Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan in You've Got Mail (1998)

Kathleen Kelly owns the local children’s bookstore The Shop Around the Corner (the name a nod to the original) opened by her deceased mother.  Joe Fox owns the massive chain Fox Books that threatens to put Kathleen out of business.

The Shop Around the Corner in You've Got Mail (1998)

Instead of exchanging letters in a post office box, Kathleen and Joe meet in an internet chat room and correspond via e-mail.

You’ve Got Mail feels more dated than The Shop Around the Corner—perhaps because the way we interact online has changed so dramatically in the past two decades.  In a world where everyone has a dating site headshot and pictures of their last vacation online, the idea that two people could exchange anonymous emails and not realize they know one another IRL is unfathomable in a way that old time letter writing is not.

Ephron remained surprisingly faithful to The Shop Around the Corner.  Just as in the original, when Joe realizes that his pen pal is also his professional nemesis, he stands her up and tries to figure out a way to bridge the real-life divide between them.

So how to choose a winner between these set-at-Christmas-but-not-quite-Christmas-movie romantic comedy juggernauts?  Let’s break it down:

Lead Actor – I’m not the first to point out that Tom Hanks is the modern-day James Stewart, but it bears repeating.  They both bring a tenderness to the male lead and show his evolving change of heart.  Winner:  TIE.

Lead Actress – With no disrespect to Margaret Sullavan, there is no more charming person than Meg Ryan in the nineties.  WinnerYou’ve Got Mail

Meg Ryan in You've Got Mail (1998)

Director—When it comes to the romantic comedy, Nora Ephron stands alone.  WinnerYou’ve Got Mail

EndingYou’ve Got Mail wraps things up too quickly—it’s not quite believable that Kathleen would be unequivocally thrilled that the man she’s in love with destroyed her mother’s business.  WinnerThe Shop Around the Corner.

Since the breakdown is too close to call, I’m going with my gut.  Ephron’s classic does a better job of hammering home the point that we have a face that we show to the world, and a face that we wear when we’ve opened our heart.  While a comedy, You’ve Got Mail has some deeply emotional moments—as when Kathleen, who longs for a cutting comeback in conversation, finally comes up with one and feels guilty when she genuinely wounds Joe.  Or after the last day at her shop when she tells Joe (via email, not realizing it’s him) that closing the shop for good felt like her mother dying all over again. 

Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan in You've Got Mail (1998)

There’s a nice push and pull between holding onto the good of the past and embracing the new that shines through in You’ve Got Mail, and that raises it above its outdated technology.

You’ve Got Mail emerges the winner in this week’s rumble, but do yourself a favor this holiday season and make it a double feature with the timeless The Shop Around the Corner.

Remake Rumble Winner:  You've Got Mail (1998)

Want more?  Click here for an index of all posts in the series, as well as source notes and suggested readings.

Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan in You've Got Mail (1998); James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan in The Shop Around the Corner (1940)

Remake Rumble: Waterloo Bridge (1931) vs Waterloo Bridge (1940)

Robert Taylor and Vivien Leigh in Waterloo Bridge (1940); Mae Clark and Kent Douglass in Waterloo Bridge (1931)
Remake Rumble Opening Banner:  Waterloo Bridge (1940) vs. Waterloo Bridge (1931)

In the Remake Rumble, I’ll throw one (or more) versions of the same film into the ring and let them fight it out.  I’ll discuss the good and the bad, and end with the ultimate judgement of the best version.  Judgements can be appealed through well-reasoned arguments in the comments section.


In this inaugural edition of the Remake Rumble, Mae Clark and Vivian Leigh spar for the best portrayal of the doomed dancer-turned-prostitute Myra in their respective adaptations of Robert Sherwood’s World War I play Waterloo Bridge.

I first watched the original 1931 version nearly a year ago when I was writing about the pre-code films.  At the time, the story interested me, but I had my hands full writing about the deliciously remorseless up-to-no-good dames in Baby Face (1933) and Red-Headed Woman (1932).

But over the past eleven months, Waterloo Bridge stayed with me.  It’s the kind of movie Universal (and Warner Brothers) liked to make in the dawning days of sound—cheaply made films about the dregs of society who view the world with a jaundiced eye but somehow manage to hang onto their dignity in an indifferent world.

Such a person is Myra, the American chorus dancer in London who falls on hard times and resorts to prostitution to keep a little food on the table and a little gas in the lamps of her dirty flat.  Her quick fall from grace is symbolized when an admirer who sees her dancing in the chorus sends her a fresh, white mink that is the envy of the other dancers.  Only moments later, we flash forward to her fall from grace—the mink, now tattered and seedy, is her uniform when she walks the streets.

During an air raid on Waterloo Bridge (where Myra is trolling for a client), she meets Roy Cronin, an American soldier on leave.  In her flat after the raid, she and Roy share a loaf of bread.  Roy takes in the squalor of her flat and offers to help her by paying her rent.  He does not realize Myra’s profession despite all the obvious signs.  He’s earnest and naive, and his charity insults Myra.

She throws him out, then invites him back.  Like many soldiers of the time, Roy fears his life may be short and wants to live while he can.  For a man like Roy, that doesn’t mean a romp with a cheap London whore.  He wants to save Myra from her bad luck.

He wants to marry her the next day, before his leave is over and he has to head back to the front.

Much of the rest of the film is Roy’s almost pathetic insistence that Myra marry him.

Roy comes from a wealthy family.  He can take care of her financially, she can live with his family while he is at war.  Myra’s friend Kitty gleefully points out that if he dies in the war, she will receive his pension.

And she genuinely cares for Roy.

It’s her way out.

And yet Myra refuses.

Again and again she refuses, quite violently.  

I will admit, I didn’t quite understand why the first time I watched the film.  It struck me that she hated him, that she wanted him to leave her alone.  But this time, it sunk in.

It’s not pride:  Myra despises herself.  

If a good man like Roy married a soiled woman, it would humiliate him and his family.  Even if he can’t see it, Myra can.

I also think—though it’s not directly spelled out in the film—that Myra can see that in the long run, they would never work.  He would grow to hate her.

She’s a fallen woman, lower than dirt.  But to trap Roy into a marriage?

That’s a line of self-respect she cannot cross.  And she cannot bear to tell him the truth about her, to lose the love she sees in his eyes.

If he was a mark, she would take him for all she could.

She can’t marry him because she loves him.

And turning down her own happiness, her own salvation, is a kind of torture.

Marrying Roy is the ultimate poisoned apple, and Myra, already fallen, refuses to take the bite.

The last twenty minutes of the film is brisk and searing.

Roy has taken Myra to visit his family, and to press his marriage suit.  Roy’s mother is kind to Myra, but makes it clear that she does not approve of the marriage.  In the middle of the night, Myra goes to see his mother and admits to her what she cannot admit to Roy:  she is a prostitute.

The mother is kind but in full agreement that Myra must leave immediately.  

Before she goes, she tells his mother, not in defiance, but as a way of making his mother bear witness to her sacrifice, “I could marry him, if I wanted to.”

“I know, my dear.”

“I just wanted you to know that.”

“Yes, I know , Myra.  You see I happen to know you’re rather a fine girl.”

“Fine?  I’m not.”

Roy tracks her down one last time, and having promised both herself and his mother to push him away, she tells him she hates him, that she is laughing at him.  At this, she throws her head back, anchors her joined hands on her forehead, and lets out a maniacal laugh.

The first time I watched, I thought it was a bit ridiculous, overacting on Clark’s part.  But I see it differently now—as a primal scream of agony, a plea to god to quit tempting her.

Mae Clark and Kent Douglass in Waterloo Bridge (1931)

She ultimately agrees to marry Roy before she sends him back to war—a promise I don’t believe she ever intended to keep.

But we will never know, as Myra is killed in an air raid on Waterloo Bridge, a crowd surrounding her unseen body and the mink sprawled across the ground.

A scant nine years later, MGM remade the film with Vivien Leigh and Robert Taylor, perhaps the hottest stars in Hollywood in 1940.

Though key aspects of the story remain the same, MGM and the strictly enforced production code wash away much of the grime of Myra’s tale.  

Universal and Warner Brothers were the studios that made cheap films showcasing society’s underbelly, but MGM was filled with big budgets, glamour, and fairy tales.

Waterloo Bridge (1940) spends nearly three-quarters of the film laying the groundwork to make sure Myra doesn’t lose our sympathy when she descends into prostitution. 

Vivien Leigh’s Myra is a ballerina, not a chorus girl.  She meets and falls in love with Robert Taylor’s significantly more dashing and charismatic Roy Cronin.  

Taylor’s Cronin takes her out to a romantic dinner, where the orchestra plays with candles burning.  They dance to Auld Lang Syne, and as each section of the orchestra drops out, they extinguish their candles until Taylor and Leigh are waltzing in the dark.

It’s an enchanting scene, establishing the love between them in a way the original film never does.  The two have a chemistry that Clark and Douglass simply lack.

Taylor’s Cronin comes across as romantic and in charge.  His marriage proposal is one from a man who knows what he wants and is confident he will get it, where the original Cronin often comes across as desperate.

Because the MGM version insists that Taylor and Leigh fell in love before her fall into prostitution, the plot then has several contrivances as to why they cannot marry before he must go back to the front—first, the reverend tells him there can be no marriages after 3 pm, and then the next day Taylor is called unexpectedly—and immediately—back to the front before the wedding.

Robert Taylor and Vivien Leigh in Waterloo Bridge (1940)

Thus, when Taylor’s Cronin is killed in the war, there’s no pension for poor Myra, who was fired from her job as a ballerina for missing a performance to be with Cronin.

The film documents Myra’s descent—she and roommate Kitty grow hungry, then Myra grows sick when she learns of Cronin’s death.  Unbeknownst to Myra, Kitty begins hitting the streets.  

When she learns the truth, Myra is aghast:

Myra:  “You did it for me.”

Kitty:  “No, I didn’t.  I’d have done it anyhow.  No jobs.  No boys who want to marry you.  Only men who want to kill a few hours because they know it may be their last.”

Myra:  “Kitty, you did it for me to buy me food and medicine.  I’d sooner have died.”

Kitty:  “No, no you wouldn’t.  You think you would, but you wouldn’t.  I thought of that…but I wasn’t brave enough.  I wanted to go on living.  Heaven knows why, but I did, and so would you.  We’re young and it’s good to live.  Even the life I’m leading, though, God knows it–I’ve heard them call it the easiest way.  I wonder who ever thought up that little phrase.  I know one thing–it couldn’t have been a woman.  I suppose you think…I’m dirt.”

And Kitty is right, at first.  Myra does turn to prostitution.  

Vivien Leigh in Waterloo Bridge (1940)

Until Cronin shows up alive, after a year in a German prison camp.

And thus Leigh’s Myra is finally at the predicament that Clark’s Myra faced almost immediately—should she marry a man knowing what she is?

Like Clark, Leigh tells Roy’s mother the truth.  This mother is more shocked than the original mother and wants to take the night to think things over.

Leigh cuts right to the heart of things when she says, “I could make you understand.  But it wouldn’t help me.”

And in the end, she too dies on Waterloo Bridge, but this time she isn’t a casualty of fate.  She could pursue a life of prostitution when she thought Roy was dead, but now that he’s alive she can’t live with or without him.

She steps deliberately in front of a convoy of Red Cross trucks and lets them run her down.  Instead of the mink, we see her good luck charm on the street beyond the crowd surrounding her unseen body.

So which version wins the rumble?

In many ways, these two films can be seen as a study in pre and post code film, similar to Red Dust (1932) and Mogambo (1953).  

The 1940 version seems like it should be the better film.  It has bigger stars with better chemistry.  Leigh’s greatest accomplishment is that while this film was made only a year after Gone With the Wind, she doesn’t once make you think of Scarlett O’Hara in her portrayal of Myra, a feat I would’ve believed impossible.

There’s no doubt it’s the better romance.

And yet….

Waterloo Bridge is a gritty story, and the 1931 version allows more of the grime to show.  You can practically feel how dirty Myra’s flat is, how desperate and low class she is as she strikes matches across the wall to light her cigarette and pinches money from Roy to run the gas lamps for a few more minutes.

She’s a desperate, cynical girl.  She’s a prostitute through and through, and her selfless moment with Roy is her salvation.

In the 1940 version, Vivien Leigh’s Myra is never allowed to become a prostitute, not in her bones.  She’s a woman who works as a prostitute, but the script keeps reminding us that she’s “not really” this woman.  They’re so worried about keeping the censors off the case and the audience’s sympathy with Myra that the plot is filled with contrivances.  Her suicide at the end is as much about herself as it is her love for Roy.

Through no fault of Leigh, her Myra is just not allowed to be as interesting as Mae Clark’s version.

In the 1940 version, we never see Leigh engaging in acts of prostitution.  In her first time, we see only the back of her head, and hear the man’s voice without seeing him at all.  

In the freewheeling 1931 version, when a john asks Clark’s Myra what she’s doing, she gets right to business and says, “Oh, just looking for a good time and wondering where the rent’s coming from.”

You could never get away with a line like that in 1940.

The 1931 story is briskly paced, jaded, and rough around the edges.

Just like the heroine of its story.

And so to my surprise, and perhaps yours, I am awarding the 1931 Waterloo Bridge the victor over its better remembered (and more beloved) 1940 remake.

Also, Robert Taylor broke Barbara Stawnyck’s heart when he cheated on her with a younger woman and is thus dead to me.

Not that I would let a thing like that cloud my judgement.

Final Verdict Winner:  Mae Clark and Kent Douglass in Waterloo Bridge (1931)

Want more?  Click here for an index of all posts in this series, as well as source notes and suggested reading.

Robert Taylor and Vivien Leigh in Waterloo Bridge (1940); Mae Clark and Kent Douglass in Waterloo Bridge (1931)