Warning: This review is about the 1981 version, not the 1946 version.
Remaking a great film has always been a mystery to me. Why mess with something that was done so well the first time? And yet Hollywood continues to insist upon it and I continue to see them. I always think that if a remake has a good cast, interesting people behind the camera and a good script why not try to see if they did a good job. However each time after I watch a remake, I vow never to watch a remake again. They always seem to disappoint for me. This is another one of those films.
Both of the adaptations were based on a potboiler book from the early forties. Forced by the production code to cut everything that was overtly sexual, the original still seemed to ooze forbidden love and rough sexual power. Now that the production code was relaxed and movies could more freely show sexual activities, the remake vowed to be truer to the source material and put the sexuality back into the film. However despite the sexual acts not being present in the 1946 version, there was plenty of innuendo which made the film even more sexual than just showing the mere sex act. At least that is what I think. The roughness of the relationship in the 1981 version was a mystery to me. Why would Cora mistake rough sex for love? How am I supposed to know that Frank really loved her and wasn’t just taking advantage of a good situation just like he took advantage of her husband for a job he wasn’t suited for? There seems to be nothing between them. Unlike in the 1946 version where there seems to something so thick between them that you could cut it. I guess this is my main complaint with the remake. The relationship seemed empty, surface, and annoying. If Frank loved her so much why would he have sex with a woman lion tamer? This brings up another question: why the hell was there a circus in town? There was no set up for the circus, no indication that Frank even wanted to go to the circus until he was there and he saw this beautiful woman that he then banged. This woman was meant to put a temporary hurdle in the relationship but there had already by this point been so many hurdles that this one seems so out-of-place.
Sven Nykvist’s cinematography was amazing. Jack Nicholson was good and so was Jessica Lange. The fault lies completely with the script and the direction. Suggestion is more powerful than outright vulgarity. That is the lesson that should be taken from this remake. Just because you show a scene of them getting it on, does not mean that your film will be better than the counterpart.