There are certain rules, known only to a select few, by which it is possible to predict the quality of movies. The origin of these rules is often obscure and difficult to explain. One of the less well known is Rule 47: Never remake a movie which previously starred Michael York. The veracity of this can be demonstrated with reference to some key examples.
Michael York has been a feature of television, theatre and film in Britain and the United States since the mid-60s. He was born in 1942 and is perhaps best known, or at least most recently known, for playing Basil Exposition in the trilogy of Austin Powers movies (1997 to 2002). He has had a wide and varied career which has ranged from stage productions of Shakespeare to lavishly produced movies, from Babylon 5 to The Simpsons, and from comedic support to romantic leading man. He is always a solid, reliable and charming presence in a film. His characters are frequently dynamic and resourceful but also realistic, flawed and vulnerable. For the sheer quality of material in his back catalogue it is easy to forgive the voice of Prime # 1 in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009). After all, even Orson Wells played a Transformer.
In 1973 and 1974 the definitive adaption of Alexandre Dumas’s The Three Musketeers was produced by Alexander Salkind and directed by Richard Lester. The story exists in two parts, The Three Musketeers (1973) and The Four Musketeers (1974), making, when watched together a four-hour adaption of Dumas’s work. In 1989 Richard Lester completed the trilogy by directing The Return of the Musketeers, based on notes by Dumas and the novel Twenty Years After. Production of the third movie was marred by the tragic death of Roy Kinnear. Return ends up as a kind of Godfather Part III next to the quality of the first two. The first two, originally conceived as a single epic, deserve to be revisited with reverence.
The Three/Four Musketeers has a stellar cast. York as d’Artagnan is supported by Oliver Reed, Frank Finlay, Richard Chamberlain, Geraldine Chaplin, Faye Dunaway and Christopher Lee. Various well-known faces appear in cameos. Charlton Heston gives depth, style and a Machiavellian sophistication to the portrayal of Cardinal Richelieu. The film captures the spirit of Dumas playful story by portraying d’Artagnan as a well-meaning prospective soldier who falls in with three disgraced noblemen caught on the periphery of court intrigue between England and France. The production design captures the obscene luxury of the aristocracy alongside the obscene treatment of peasants but the tone is tempered with comedic moments. The brawling action consists of elaborately choreographed duels filmed in inventive locations like a laundry or a frozen lake.
Film enthusiasts may prefer the athletic stunts of Douglas Fairbanks in The Three Musketeers (1921) or the colourful choreography of Gene Kelly and Lana Turner in The Three Musketeers (1948). There are French productions which slavishly recreate the plot of the book. However, since York played d’Artagnan, Disney attempted an adaption in 1993 which achieved at the box office but received in a generally negative response. Tim Curry played Richelieu as a pantomime villain and Chris O’Donnell got a Razzie Award nomination. The story made little sense but everyone dressed well and had nice hair. The Musketeer (2001) proved that the bad editing and poor acting can’t be saved by the slow-motion choreography of an Asian martial arts movie. Paul W.S. Anderson reinvented the story in 2011 with 3D special effects, a zeppelin battle and the Musketeers portrayed as steampunk ninja. The film was rightfully panned. Clearly it they should all have stopped when Michael York put down the rapier.
Logan’s Run was made in 1976 by Michael Anderson starring York in the title role alongside Jenny Agutter, Richard Jordan and Peter Ustinov, based on the novel of the same name by William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson. It is science fiction in the time before Star Wars (1977), a film which portrays futuristic policemen in a dystopian city in the time before Blade Runner (1982) and a post-apocalyptic world in the time before Mad Max (1979). The setting is a futuristic city where everyone leads idyllic lives with the one rule being that they have to give themselves up for execution, called Carousel, on their 30th birthday. Logan (York) is a Sandman, whose job it is to enforce the 30-year lifetime. The film deals with themes of social control, freedom, aging and rebellion. The Island (2005) took a shallower look at similar themes. The similarity of the model-work and sets to a modern shopping mall could be taken for clever satire rather than simply dated effects. However, often the effects stand up to similar movies of today. Some scenes are still spectacular such as an ivy covered and overgrown Washington DC. The film won a Special Achievement Academy Award for visual effects.
A TV series, inspired by and using props and sets from the Logan’s Run movie, ran for one 14-episode season in 1977. The series differed from the film in several key aspects and was not renewed. A movie remake of Logan’s Run has been planned since the mid-90s but the intended release date has been pushed back and back with various names attached. In 2004 Joel Silver and Brian Singer planned a Logan’s Run remake to follow Superman’s Return. In 2005 Christopher McQuarrie was hired to rewrite the script. The planned remake has since been through several directors including, Joseph Kosinski, Carl Erik Rinsch and Nicolas Winding Refn. By 2005 plans for the remake were still alive amid various contradictory promises: more action, closer to the story of the book, a female lead. It has been 41 years since Michael York starred as Logan 5, the life clock is red and it is long past time for Carousel. Is there any reason that the story should not be renewed? Of course there is. Rule 47.
In 1896 one of the fathers of science fiction, H. G. Wells, wrote The Island of Doctor Moreau. Referencing themes of human identity, the act of creation, scientific experimentation, moral responsibility and the imposition of law. Wells told the story of a shipwrecked sailor who comes to a remote island. The island is inhabited by half-human animal hybrids created by vivisection by the scientist Dr Moreau. The 1977 film of The Island of Doctor Moreau stars Michael York as the shipwrecked sailor and Burt Lancaster as Dr Moreau. The film faithfully follows the plot of the book fleshing out some characters and plotlines and adding hints of the potential discovery of DNA. The earliest research into DNA coincided with the writing of Wells’ book and in the double-helix structure was proven less than 20 years before the film was made. Both York and Lancaster are charismatic as they wrestle with the morality of the story. A morality something like Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein but in a more claustrophobic setting. Even the makeup and prosthetics look undated. The film isn’t perfect. It seems to take a very neutral tone. Moreau is neither fully sympathetic nor fully the villain. The threatening scenes are chilling but never fully embrace the horror of the story.
Dr Moreau has been influential in a variety of media from comics to films. The 1932 film The Island of Lost Souls, was made before the imposition of the Hays Code and was refused a certificate in the UK due to the horror of the vivisection scenes. However, the real tragedy of Dr Moreau doesn’t arrive until 1996 when Richard Stanley attempted to bring his vision of the book to screen. The metaphorical plane crash which resulted has been chronicled in the documentary Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau (2014). For more information on this documentary see a previous post, Dreams and Madness: 6 Great Documentaries about Making Film.
By way of the briefest of summaries: Stanley clashed repeatedly with New Line Cinema over casting and script rewrites until he was forcibly removed from the project. The situation was made worse by Val Kilmer’s unpleasant behaviour and his poor relationship with the erratic Marlon Brando. Stanley’s replacement by John Frankenheimer did not save the project which eventually bombed at the box office and was critically hammered. Clearly something, or perhaps many things, went wrong in the creation of The Island of Doctor Moreau (1996). Stanley’s vision was mutilated into something which was not quite fully formed. And so, “back to the House of Pain,” and we had the Director’s Cut released on DVD. Not much of an improvement. They should have remembered the rules and stopped at the version with York.
Is Rule 47 defensible? I would say that for the moment the evidence speaks for itself. The repeated failed attempts to revive The Three Musketeers and the tragedy of Dr Moreau should be enough to convince anyone to let York’s movies remain un-remade. At least it should persuade the producers that any remake of Logan’s Run should strive hard to be worthy of the name.