The Great Recasting: Mr. Brooks, by Alfred Hithcock

Rianna’s blog Frankly, My Dear and Natalie’s In The Mood have been part of my daily read for quite some time (if you love the classics you should definitely add them to yours!). So I immediately heard of this great blogathon they’re both hosting, The Great Recasting. The idea is to choose a post-1965 film and recast it with actors (and a director) active prior than 1965. As soon as I started thinking about my entry it became clear to me that I wasn’t picking a film – I had already chosen a classic actor and was trying to get him the role I always wanted to see him play. In a way, this blogathon turned out to be the opportunity to fulfil my classic hollywood dream. And I’m going to gladly share it with you. 
As with any good dream, this is will seem to good to be true. Weighting on this utopia is the fact that I don’t know many supporting actors from that time, and I really didn’t want to cast someone with whose work I’m not familiar with. So yes, there are quite a few A-list actors on this recast of mine. But you know what? It’s my dream, with unlimited fundings and non-existent studio contracts, so I can do whatever I want. Shall we begin?
I’m recasting Bruce A. Evans‘ psychological thriller, Mr. Brooks. When I watched it in a theatre five years ago I was blown away, thinking that ought to be the best thriller I’ve ever seen. I was fifteen years old. It instantly became one of my favorite films – I’ve always been a fan of the twisted ones. Since then I’ve watched Funny Games, American Psycho, Se7enThe Shining, and Psycho, just to name a few. And so the memories of Mr. Brooks gradually faded away with each new thriller I saw. I’ve considered some of those I mentioned, but I needed the recast to be set in the 50s, and most of them would never see the light of day (or the dark of a theatre) back then. So I needed something softer, and Mr. Brooks came to mind. I re-watched it, and boy, did its cracks start to show. Not only it stopped being one of my favorite films, I couldn’t wait for it to end. And precisely because of that, Mr. Brooks was the perfect film to recast. “Why remake a film that is already perfect?”, I thought. I would likely just end up ruining it. Isn’t it much better to give a second chance to a film that has its weaknesses? Mr. Brooks it is, then.
Earl Brooks (Kevin Costner) is a successful family man (and by successful I mean Man of the Year) who is sometimes possessed by his serial-killer alter-ego, Marshall (William Hurt). He swears the dance couple will be his last killing, but an enthusiastic young man (Dane Cook), who goes by the name of Mr. Smith, witnesses the murder, and begins to blackmail him. What does Mr. Smith want? To accompany Mr. Brooks on his next killing. Yeah, the kid is a nutcase, too. To cover the rest of the cast, Mrs. Brooks is played by Marg Helgenberger, his daughter by Danielle Panabaker, and the police detective by Demi Moore

I chose the year 1953, and for directing Alfred Hitchcock. Partially due to the fact that he’s the only director I know from that period that can effortlessly make the nape of our neck prickle, but also because while re-watching the film I kept thinking “If only Hitch had made this, this or that would never happen”. A simple but illustrative example of this, is a scene where Mr. Smith is confronted by the detective while exiting his apartment, and he is holding in his hands an envelope with evidence that incriminates Mr. Brooks. This reminded me of Hitchcock’s use of key objects that create suspense for the eminent danger they represent – like the letter on the floor in Spellbound. But under the direction of Bruce A. Evans, that situation provokes little to none anxiety.

Choosing Hitchcock is also connected with my pick for leading actor, Cary Grant. He was the classic actor I was keeping in mind while researching possible films to recast. Grant is quite possibly my favorite actor of all time, and surely that weighted on this decision, but more than that, I had always wished he had played a more extreme character – like a vicious murderer. I relish at the ideia of having the immaculate Cary Grant impersonate someone like Patrick Bateman. It may sound ludicrous to you, but if we take a closer look at his career we can see he had it in him. Few directors dared to tear the Cary Grant persona, but a couple of them took the risk: Frank Capra made him look like a ridiculous fool in the black comedy Arsenic and Old Lace, and Alfred Hitchcock handed him roles that were anything but flattering (even if along the way the characters find redemption), like a criminal in To Catch a Thief; a petty and coward little ad man in North by Northwest; a cruel, frightened and somewhat incompetent agent in Notorious; and, finally, a possible murderer in Suspicion
It is in the role of Johnnie I find the evidence for Grant’s ability to interpret a serial-killer. It is a deliciously dubious game he plays in Suspicion, one he could at last fully embrace as Mr. Brooks: an awarded and impossibly rich business man, intelligent,  disarmingly handsome, secretive, rigid, evil. Man of the Year and cold-blooded killer – and don’t we love that. I originally planned this film to be released in 1954 because there’s something very alluring about Cary in his fifties, but Hitch already had Rear Window and Dial M for Murder coming out that year, and we wouldn’t want to play all of our best cards in just one move. 

  

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For the role of Marshall, I chose Claude Rains. There was man who could shift from loveable to fearful with the ease that only a great actor can achieve. His role in the adaptation of Charles Dickens’ novel, Mystery of Edwin Drood, is shady enough to convince me that Marshall wouldn’t be a challenge. Granted, he’d be older than William Hurt, but Rains aged so well that I bet no one would mind.
Mr. Smith would be interpreted by Anthony Perkins. I thought about Robert Mitchum, but he looked way to cool for this. Plus, I always thought that Mr. Smith should be much younger than thirty-five, more innocent looking, and certainly much creepier. I’m afraid Dane Cook was miscast here, and his character poorly used: Mr. Smith was never a real threat, just some stupid guy with a fetish. That surely would not happen with Hitch behind the wheel, and Perkins somewhere else in this car analogy. He would be around 21 years old in 1953, so this would be his breakout role, as he only did TV back then. Lucky Perkins.

For the part of Mrs. Brooks, no one would be more suitable (in my mind) than Ginger Rogers. More than looking exquisite in her 40s, she had the capacity to fully portray the depth of a relationship in just a couple of scenes. She did it marvellously with Cary Grant in Monkey Business: in that first scene, where she is trying to get him out of house, one can feel her deep affection for her husband, and the kind of understanding that comes with years of marriage. For the role of his daughter, I honestly don’t know. I can’t find a sweet looking actress capable of also being a killer who is the right age… maybe one of you can help me, here. 
And finally, the hardest one to recast: the role of police detective Tracy Atwood. This would probably be an odd role for an old hollywood film, to have a badass woman chasing criminals with a loaded gun. And, going through a divorce. I placed this fierce role in the hands of Rosalind Russell. She wanted to be more that just a beautiful woman on screen, and she was –  she played a judge in Tell it to the Judge and, of course, a journalist in His Girl Friday. Though unquestionably feminine, there was something manly about her as Hildy Johnson, no doubt a product of her forward thinking and wit. Maybe this detective would have to be like one of Hitch’s ladies, more seductive and mysterious (and certainly blonder), but nonetheless a strong and intelligent woman who affirms her independence. And I think Russell had the guts for it.
would you cast a part differently?

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