A feature in which Sun writers and critics sound off about the movies.
Daily Variety's John Dempsey reports that when Hallmark Hall of Fame Productions issued press material for the Jan. 29 CBS presentation of Pat Conroy's The Water is Wide, Hallmark never referred to Conrack (1974) - the first adaptation of Conroy's literary debut, still the best adaptation of a Conroy book, and the most engaging and penetrating American movie about teaching.
Based on Conroy's 1972 memoir of instructing impoverished schoolkids on South Carolina's remote Yamacraw Island, Conrack featured Jon Voight's zingiest star acting in the title role (the kids called Conroy "Conrack"). The movie didn't win the fervent support it needed 32 years ago: in that overpoliticized era, critics reacted against black children treating a white pedagogue as their savior. But the movie's sensibility was color-blind. Towering African-American actor Madge Sinclair was formidable as Conroy's adversary, a rote disciplinarian, and director Martin Ritt and Voight led the kids to exhilarating live-wire performances. Few who've seen it over the last three decades have failed to respond to its vision of teaching as an art.
Hallmark's spokesman told Variety that because the company acquired rights to the book, not the script, "We don't consider The Water is Wide as a remake of the movie." But if it is a fresh take on the story, why hide the earlier version?
Last Holiday, the new Queen Latifah vehicle, derives from the script for a classic British comedy-drama of the same name from 1950. The filmmakers have done nothing to hide that fact. On the other hand, whoever owns the original film has done nothing to publicize the connection. In the 1950 Last Holiday, Alec Guinness is nonpareil as an English Everyman who learns that a rare disease will kill him painlessly, in weeks. If there's such a thing as a tour de force of empathy, it's Guinness' enactment of the hero's movement from meekness to manhood.
In a decade when the buzz of the new threatens to obstruct movie heritage - and when video, cable and downloads have turned genuine fans into completists - ignoring Conrack from one end of the film chain and Last Holiday from the other is at worst mean, at best myopic. With current movies wheezing for inspiration, movie lovers would benefit from the shock of the old.