No matter how much potential a movie might have, sometimes a studio just doesn't get it right the first time. Whether it's a matter of the wrong script, weak actors, or subpar directing, sometimes the same story needs to be told a few times on the big screen before it's done justice. Some of the most popular movies of all times have been preceded by earlier versions of the same story—most of which acted like rough drafts for the eventual masterpiece. Check out earlier versions of six iconic films.
1. THE WIZARD OF OZ (1925)
Not only wasn't 1939's The Wizard of Oz the first adaptation of Frank L. Baum's classic children's book, it actually wasn't even close. Before Judy Garland slipped on those ruby red slippers, there were numerous attempts to bring the land of Oz to live-action as both shorts and full-length films.
The most fully realized of these early attempts is 1925's The Wizard of Oz, starring Dorothy Dwan as (appropriately) Dorothy, writer and comedian Larry Semon as the Scarecrow (and the film's director), and a young Oliver Hardy as the Tin Man—this movie would premiere just a few years before the formation of the Laurel and Hardy tandem. Despite a screenplay co-written by Semon and Baum's son, the movie itself bears little resemblance to the book—the Scarecrow and Cowardly Lion are simply farmhands in disguise, and there's no Wicked Witch chasing the group down with winged monkeys.
The movie itself centers on the royal squabbling in Oz, revolving around Dorothy's destiny as princess and the inevitable conflict against the aptly named Prime Minister Kruel. Instead of wishing to go back to Kansas, Dorothy falls in love with Prince Kynd of Oz, who beat out a guy dressed in a scarecrow costume to win her affections. The movie was savaged by critics and was a financial disaster—one from which Semon never quite recovered. Before long, he was back on the vaudeville circuit, soon ending up in a sanitarium before his mysterious death at 39.
2. FRANKENSTEIN (1910)
Before Boris Karloff and director James Whale famously gave life to Frankenstein's monster in 1931, Edison Studios took a crack at the Mary Shelley tale in 1910. In this silent short, Frankenstein's monster is created through an impressive special effects sequence meant to illustrate how the evil lurking in the mind of its creator literally gave birth to this abomination.
Like the Universal movie decades later, the Edison production isn't exactly faithful to the source material, though it manages to pull off some genuinely frightening moments—especially given the state of the horror genre in 1910. The movie itself, which has a runtime of less than 20 minutes, was thought lost for years, until it reemerged several decades after its release. Destroying old films to recycle the silver in them was common practice back then, so the fact that this ever saw the light of day again is a feat unto itself.
3. BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (1946)
Long before Disney turned Beauty and the Beast into the subject of lunch boxes and Halloween costumes the world over, French director Jean Cocteau gave the classic fairytale life for the first time on the big screen. Beauty and the Beast (released as La Belle et la Bête in France) doesn't feature singing clocks or teapots, but the quirky fantasy elements are still there. There are some sentient candelabras, magical mirrors, enchanted gloves, and of course the Beast himself, whose animalistic look is achieved through some superb makeup.
The ideas in Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast were well ahead of their time and have influenced generations of fantasy filmmakers in the years since its release. There's fantasy, romance, tragedy, and even some horror—all of the elements you need for a Beauty and the Beast adaptation, and it's one that any fan of the Mouse House needs to experience.
4. THE MALTESE FALCON (1931)
John Huston's The Maltese Falcon (1941) is seen as the birth of the film noir movement, but it wasn't the first attempt at adapting Dashiell Hammett's pulp crime novel. In 1931, Warner Bros. hired director Roy Del Ruth to bring the novel to life in an era before strict Motion Picture Production Codes sanitized Hammett's original story.
The movie, like the book, delved into the world of crime, violence, and illicit sex. One of the most controversial parts of the original film dealt with the homosexual relationship between Casper Gutman and Wilmer Cook, which was taken straight from the original novel. Unfortunately for the studio, production codes changed drastically when they tried re-releasing the film a few years later, leading to the film being barred from release.
In order to profit off of Hammett's popular tale again, the studio decided to simply remake the movie—twice. First as an ill-fated comedy retitled Satan Met A Lady, and later again as The Maltese Falcon, famously starring Humphrey Bogart and Mary Astor. While the end result of this version was toned down considerably from the source material, the stylish production, impeccable acting, and tighter script made the original adaption nothing but a memory.
5. THE TRAPP FAMILY (1956)
The story of the von Trapp family didn't first come to theaters with The Sound of Music; instead, it was a West German film titled The Trapp Family that originally brought the family's exploits into pop culture. Based on Maria von Trapp's memoir, The Story of the Trapp Family Singers, The Trapp Family covers familiar ground: a nun is brought in to care for the family of a wealthy baron, soon turning them into a famous singing group that flees Austria to escape Nazi oppression.
The movie was actually well received by critics and successful enough to spawn a sequel, titled The Trapp Family in America. That title became much more literal as the von Trapp story was soon adapted by Hollywood in 1965 as The Sound of Music, one of the most beloved movies of all time. The film's musical take on the von Trapp family story—and the fact that it's not a remake of the original—helped it eclipse The Trapp Family, leaving it a mere footnote in film history.
6. VINYL (1965)
Despite the unfamiliar title, Vinyl is actually a very early adaptation of Anthony Burgess's dystopian novel A Clockwork Orange, which, of course, was later masterfully filmed by Stanley Kubrick for a 1971 release. There must be something about Burgess's novel that attracted some of the best artists of the 21st century, because not only did Kubrick give his take on the material, but Vinyl had another genius at the helm: Andy Warhol.
With a cast of novice actors and without the cinematic panache of a Kubrick, Vinyl is more of an experimental oddity than an ideal adaptation of A Clockwork Orange. It's raw and improvisational as it loosely translated Burgess's work to the screen. In fact, if you didn't know it was based on A Clockwork Orange, you'd be hard-pressed to find any shared DNA between the two.