Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Recasting 1982 (supporting): "Annie"

Following a string of six dramas to start this supporting recasting project, I thought it was high time for a change of pace. John Huston's 1982 musical comedy Annie seemed the perfect project for a more light-hearted turn. If I'm being truthful, I had this movie in mind from the very beginning of my recasting selections. The first time I remember seeing it, my mom had taken my sister and me to her co-worker's home. They had kids similar in age and were probably the only family we knew in town who had a VCR in the early 80s. After Mom came home one day with the cassette tape of the film's soundtrack, it was over. As someone who's liked to sing from a young age, I did my best to emulate the kids' voices in all their high belts and harmonies. My sister and I basically burned a hole in our parents' silver stereo playing that tape over and over, much to my dad's chagrin. Forty years later, I'm still a huge fan. 

I concede up front that the film isn't a masterpiece. But it's got a pedigree of directing, acting, singing and dancing credentials that anyone would've been hard pressed to surpass at the time. Huston is well-known for The Maltese Falcon, The African Queen, and Prizzi's Honor, and the ensemble cast he assembled included Albert Finney, Carol Burnett, Tim Curry, Bernadette Peters, and Ann Reinking (who starred in the role for which I'm recasting Meryl). Everyone probably knows the story of Little Orphan Annie, who's invited to stay with billionaire Oliver Warbucks (Finney) for a week in Depression-era New York. I rewatched the film recently and I couldn't help but be sort of appalled at the notion of a ten year-old getting to stay in a mansion and then just dumped back at the orphanage without anything being done more long term for or her or her fellow orphans by this seemingly benevolent billionaire. I was too caught up in the music and that fact that the orphans were somehow all acrobats as a kid to really think of it that way. And it's not like it's hard to predict that Annie's going to get adopted at the end anyway. 

Reinking portrays Grace Farrell, Warbucks's private secretary. She's a sort of a prim and proper character with a big heart. More interestingly in the role is that she has some song and dance sequences that I don't think we've ever really seen Meryl do. Meryl has sung plenty of times, but has not really performed the kind of choreographed dance numbers for a stage-to-screen musical like this one. Reinking was Bob Fossey's girlfriend at one point and was a star on the stage (see All That Jazz). Her dance skills no doubt are what made her a natural for the part. 

I watched a Bobbie Wygant interview with Reinking around the time of the film's release in which Reinking talks about the role being a bit beefed up from the stage version. Grace is a woman in her thirties in the Thirties, unmarried and working in a rather important job. That wasn't exactly common at the time. And when she inevitably grows attached to Annie, the "family unit" arc develops, reinforced of course by the romance that buds between her and Warbucks. There's an inherent conflict in that dynamic that adds a bit of heft and potential backstory to work with in the character, along with the fun part of singing and dancing. I bet Meryl would've had a ball in scenes with Carol Burnett (who deserved an Oscar nomination for her performance as the drunken Miss Hannigan). 

The film wasn't a huge blockboster and received mostly mixed reviews from critics. In fact, it was nominated for a handful of Razzie Awards, and poor little Aileen Quinn (Annie) won for Worst Supporting Actress (while simultaneously getting nominated for a New Star of the Year at the Golden Globes). Burnett also scored a Globe nod for Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy. The picture did end up landing a pair of Academy Award nominations, for Cinemotography and Original Song Score or Its Adaptation and Adaptation Score (whatever the hell that is). Despite its somewhat disappointing performance, I maintain that it's a very entertaining movie (particularly for kids around the orphans' age), and an excellently acted one. 


  1. Loved to read about your early experiences Jeff, I must watch this movie. My dad had a similar reaction when I got hold of my sister's cassettes of ABBA Gold and Kylie Minogue!

    For my choice I will say the role of ditzy Norma in "Victor/Victoria". The movie is still 97% fresh on RT and is a classic. It would also be great to see a young Meryl as a glamorous chanteuse alongside Dame Julie, singing and dancing (a little). .

    Assuming this would sit in the same year as "Sophie's Choice" it would also be a terrific opportunity to showcase her range.

    1. I was totally debating between Victor/Victoria and Annie! The main difference was my personal experience with Annie. I love Julie Andrews and Lesley Ann Warren, and had I known that movie at an earlier age, it's very likely I would've chosen it over Annie.

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