The Name’s the Same, But….

NineMusical 9Animated

Trying to find your way to the right film in today’s 10-, 12-, and 24-and-beyond-screen multiplex cinemas can sometimes turn into a tricky feat of navigation the equal of  Theseus making his way through the Labyrinth. Matters weren’t made any easier for moviegoers late last year, when it was conceivable that some theaters were showing both a film called 9 and one called Nine. Obviously, anyone hoping to watch the vibrant and sexy musical starring Penelope Cruz, Kate Hudson and Fergie probably wasn’t in the mood to instead see an animated tale of doll-like figures in a harsh post-apocalyptic world, and vice versa.

Now, imagine this situation multiplied a few hundred times and you get some idea of what can happen in the madcap world of home video, where tens of thousands of movies from more than a century of filmmaking are constantly bumping up against one another, and where trying to purchase either the 1946 Hitchcock espionage thriller Notorious with Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman or the 2009 Biggie Smalls rap biopic Notorious can lead to a bit of confusion. With this in mind, and knowing that the list I’m about to present just starts to scratch the surface of the dual-title dilemma, I’d like to offer consumers a quick guide to some of the most popular unrelated movies to ever share a nomenclature. Please bear in mind, I’m not talking sequels or remakes here. If you wanted The Day the Earth Stood Still with Keanu Reeves and in its place got some black-and-white 1951 film starring Michael Rennie, that’s your problem (and if you wanted the Reeves version over the original, believe me, you’ve got a whole ‘nother series of problems).

Always – In 1989, director Steven Spielberg needed a title for his remake of  the ’40s aviation fantasy A Guy Named Joe because, let’s face it, audiences today don’t go to see films about guys named Joe. The vaguely romantic/spiritual-sounding Always fit the bill, in spite of its use just four years earlier for a drama of an unhappily married couple and their friends’ Fourth of July party from indie auteur Henry Jaglom.

The Aviator – Both 1985’s The Aviator and 2004’s The Aviator tell stories of men and their airplanes, no doubt about that. However, the former is a rousing adventure where 1920s airmail pilot Christopher Reeve and spunky passenger Rosanna Arquette survive a crash in the wilderness, while the latter is Martin Scorsese’s Oscar-winning biopic of the early days of aviation designer/millionaire/playboy/germophobe Howard Hughes, wonderfully played by Leonardo DiCaprio.

Bad Boys – Bad Boys, Bad Boys, watcha gonna do? Watcha gonna do when they give you the 1983 drama of life in a Chicago detention center for troubled teenage boys, featuring an early starring role for Sean Penn, and you were planning to watch Michael Bay’s chase-filled 1995 shoot-’em-up with Martin Lawrence and Will Smith as Miami cops?

Black Rain – Just as 2009 was the year of 9 and Nine, 1989 saw no less than two pictures debut bearing the name Black Rain. As if that wasn’t confusing enough, both films were set in Japan! Don’t worry, though; there’s little chance of confusing Shohei Imamura’s Black Rain, a sobering drama about the survivors of the Hiroshima A-bombing, with the similarly yclept actioner featuring Michael Douglas and Andy Garcia as American cops caught in the middle of a Yakuza turf war on the streets of Tokyo.

Black Sunday – What could possibly be scarier than 17th-century witch Barbara Steele coming back from the dead to take possession of the body of one of her descendants in Italian shock master Mario Bava’s 1960 horror classic, Black Sunday? How about deranged Vietnam vet Bruce Dern and a terrorist group’s plan to hijack the Goodyear Blimp and use it to kill thousands of fans at the Super Bowl, as in the 1977 suspenser Black Sunday from director John Frankenheimer?

The Brave One – Can you tell the difference between a beloved pet bull, whose young owner tries to save it from dying at a matador’s hand in Mexico, and gun-toting New York radio host-turned-vigilante Jodie Foster? If so, than you’ll have no trouble choosing either the Oscar-winning 1956 drama The Brave One or 2007’s The Brave One, a distaff spin-off of Death Wish.

The Chase – Good luck catching up to the movie you want from the trio that share this not-particularly-original title. Robert Cummings was a mobster’s chauffeur who falls for Michele Morgan, his employer’s wife, in the 1946 noir thriller The Chase. Twenty years later, director Arthur Penn’s The Chase had escaped prisoner Robert Redford trying to evade the clutches of lawman Marlon Brando. And carjacker Charlie Sheen and victim Kristy Swanson wind up teaming up on a high-speed run for the border in 1994’s The Chase.

Crash – Well, each of these twin sons of different mothers certainly has its share of crashes. However, James Spader, Holly Hunter, and the other cast members of David Cronenberg’s 1996 kinkfest Crash, about people who find erotic fulfillment through auto accidents, have little in common with silver screen counterparts Sandra Bullock, Don Cheadle, Matt Dillon and the assorted Los Angeles residents whose lives–and vehicles–collide in the 2005 Best Picture Academy Award-winner Crash.

Down to Earth – Okay, now this one may get a little confusing. The 1947 fantasy/musical Down to Earth starred Rita Hayworth as Terpsichore, the Greek muse of dance, who visits the mortal world and tries to inspire Broadway producer Larry Parks.The 2001 comedy Down to Earth finds stand-up comic Chris Rock dying before his time and being returned to life in the body of a middle-aged white millionaire. If these stories sound familiar, it’s because the former was the basis for 1980’s Olivia Newton-John’s musical Xanadu and the latter was a remake of the 1978 Warren Beatty hit Heaven Can Wait. Oh, and Heaven Can Wait, which revamped 1941’s Here Comes Mr. Jordan, shared its title with a devilish 1943 fantasy starring Don Ameche. Whew!

Dressed to Kill – One Dressed to Kill is a 1946 Sherlock Holmes programmer with Holmes (Basil Rathbone) and Watson (Nigel Bruce) searching for missing Bank of England printing plates.  The 1980 Dressed to Kill, from director Brian De Palma, is a sexual thriller that manages to rip off Hitchcock’s Rear Window and Psycho and De Palma’s own Carrie, but features Angie Dickinson (well, Angie’s body double, at least)  in a “steamy” shower sequence. Nuff said.

Fire Down Below – Sadly, neither of the films sharing this moniker is a documentary about the dangers of  venereal disease or a biodrama about the inventor of the hotfoot. 1957’s Fire Down Below is an adventure yarn set in the Caribbean, where tramp steamer operators and pals Jack Lemmon and Robert Mitchum vie for the affections of Rita Hayworth. Four decades later, federal agent Steven Segal had to put out a Fire Down Below and stop corrupt industrialists from dumping toxic waste in the hills of Kentucky.

FreshmanLloydFreshmanBrandoThe Freshman – Both of these collegiate comedies get A’s in laughter, but Harold Lloyd’s 1925 The Freshman, about a hapless nebbish who sets out to make a name for himself on campus by joining the football team, and writer/director Andrew Bergman’s The Freshman, a 1990 gem with film student Matthew Broderick getting mixed up with “businessman”  Marlon Brando (gamely spoofing his Godfather persona), are each in a class by themselves.

The General – Another silent masterpiece, Buster Keaton’s 1927 The General cast the stone-faced funnyman as a Southern train engineer in the Civil War. A different sort of civil war–in Northern Ireland–helped propel the action in the 1998 crime drama The General, with Brendan Gleeson as Dublin bank robber-turned-folk hero Martin Cahill.

Gung Ho – How is it that two films with very unsimilar plots and very unsimilar takes on U.S.-Japanese relations would both use as their title a phrase derived from the Chinese words for “work together” or “work in harmony”? Well, a USMC officer used it to inspire the men of the 2nd Marine Raider Battalion, whose Pacific exploits were the basis for the 1943 war drama Gung Ho!, with Randoplph Scott and Rod Cameron. And in 1986 Japan’s business acumen and opening of factories in America would inspire director Ron Howard’s culture-clash comedy Gung Ho, starring Michael Keaton.

Heat – This is a rather oft-used title, so I’m going to mention the three most requested. First is 1972’s Heat, a Warhol Factory romp from director Paul Morrissey with Joe Dallesandro as an ex-TV child star who becoming the ‘boy toy” of a whacked-out Sylvia Miles. Burt Reynolds played a Las Vegas chaperone/bodyguard with a gambling problem in the 1987 actioner Heat. Lastly, and perhaps most famously, Godfather series alums Robert De Niro and Al Pacino finally appeared on the screen together as foes in Michael Mann’s Heat, a 1995 cat-and-mouse crime thriller.

The Island- No man is an island, but here’s two adventure flicks that are. Michael Caine played a father stranded with his son on an isle that’s home to modern-day pirates in 1980’s The Island, based on a novel by Jaws author Peter Benchley. Jump ahead a quarter-century, and action maestro Michael Bay’s The Island is a futuristic “paradise” that residents Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson try to escape from after learning its sinister secret.

Kicking and Screaming – Using both “&” and “and” at various times in their titles doesn’t help trying to differentiate between writer/director Noah Baumbach’s 1995 debut feature Kicking and Screaming, in which twentysomethings Josh Hamilton, Parker Posey and Eric Stoltz try to cope with life in the adult world, and the 2005 comedy Kicking and Screaming, starring Will Ferrell as a suburban dad who tries to cope with becoming the new coach of his son’s soccer team.

Mad Love1Mad Love2Mad Love – It would certainly be maddening to get the wrong film out of this trio. Peter Lorre made his Hollywood debut in the twisted 1935 shocker Mad Love, playing a demented surgeon who replaces concert pianist Colin Clive’s damaged hands with those of a dead serial killer so that he can pursue Clive wife, Grand Guignol actress Frances Drake. In 1995 Drew Barrymore and Chris O’Donnell hit the road as high school lovebirds, with Barrymore’s suicidal spells threatening their happiness, in the drama Mad Love.  And the life of 16th-century Spanish queen “Juana la Loca” was the focus of a 2001 import biopic entitled…you guessed it…Mad Love.

Well, that’s half the alphabet covered. Please come back next week for the concluding chapter, as I continue to show that what’s in a name may often be two very different things.