Compare the Original Trailers of Classic Films with Their Modern Updates: Casablanca, Dog Day Afternoon & The Exorcist

You must remem­ber this, a kiss is just a kiss and audi­ences’ taste in film trail­ers evolves, just like movies do.

HBO Max is cap­i­tal­iz­ing on these shifts by releas­ing a series of Mod­ern Trail­ers for some of the clas­sic (and not so clas­sic… look­ing at you, Grem­lins) films stream­ing on its plat­form.

Take the recut trail­er for 1944’s Oscar win­ning Best Pic­ture, Casablan­ca, above.

Rather than using a nar­ra­tor to deliv­er expo­si­tion, it’s sup­plied by dia­logue, super­im­posed over moody shots of Humphrey Bog­a­rt’s Rick, smok­ing, lev­el­ing a pis­tol, and sur­vey­ing his bar. We’re giv­en just enough of it to pique our inter­est.

When Ingrid Bergman makes her first entrance, halfway through, the com­pos­er pulls out the Pavlov­ian stops.

At sev­en­ty-five, Casablan­ca is such a part of the canon, even those who haven’t seen it can savor the  mod­ern trailer’s ban­quet of time­less lines, with the most cel­e­brat­ed saved for dessert.

By con­trast, the orig­i­nal the­atri­cal trail­er took a max­i­mal­ist approach, employ­ing an urgent male nar­ra­tor, hyper­bol­ic title cards, and exot­ic trav­el­ogue. There’s heavy empha­sis on dan­ger, romance, and the pres­ence of big name stars. The music is as thun­der­ous as the sales pitch.

As Katie Kilken­ny notes in a 2014 essay on movie trail­er fatigue for The Atlantic:

In the 1940s and ’50s, pre­views tried to per­suade the view­er of the movie’s superla­tive qual­i­ties with caps-locked plac­ards and nar­ra­tion (“A mad adven­ture fraught with bold intrigue!” “The most excit­ing movie ever screened!” “The most mem­o­rable event in the annals of the motion pic­tures!”).

Now images and music do the heavy lift­ing. In an inter­view with Wired, Dan­ish film­mak­er and trail­er guru Nico­las Wind­ing Refn explains:

Direc­tors talk about how it’s all about cast­ing for them—when they get the right actors, their jobs are eas­i­er. For us, that’s true of music. Some­times 70, 80 per­cent of the job can be try­ing to find that per­fect piece. Trail­ers are all about rhythm, pac­ing, and feel­ing… I’ll watch the whole movie with­out sound, just look­ing for visuals—that lit­tle head turn, that glimpse, that spark of some­thing. Then I’ll watch the movie just for dia­log. I can get down to about 10 to 15 min­utes and from there start craft­ing and mak­ing con­nec­tions.

If you had zero pre-exist­ing knowl­edge of Dog Day After­noon and the more rec­og­niz­able mem­bers of its cast — Al Paci­no, the late Charles Durn­ing, and the incom­pa­ra­ble John Caza­le, HBO Max’s trail­er might fool you into think­ing it’s a new release from a direc­tor who wor­shipped at the altar of the great, grit­ty NYC films of the 70s as an alter­na­tive to film school. They cer­tain­ly got the peri­od details right!

The orig­i­nal the­atri­cal trail­er from 1975 fea­tured an info-heavy voiceover, chop­pi­er edit­ing, and a lot more screen time for Judith Mali­na, co-founder of the Liv­ing The­ater, as Paci­no’s moth­er.

The mod­ern trail­er for The Exor­cist, wide­ly con­sid­ered one of the scari­est movies of all time, embraces a 21st-cen­tu­ry pro­mo­tion­al trope of hor­ror films in which chil­dren play a cen­tral role: lean into the inno­cence before unleash­ing the hounds.

Extra points for black and pur­ple text cards in Friz Quadra­ta font, and an extreme­ly zing‑y but­ton.

The dis­turb­ing orig­i­nal the­atri­cal trail­er by edi­tor Bud Smith, below, was banned upon its release. Whether this is because its black-and-white flash­es of a young Lin­da Blair and the demon­ic Pazuzu induced seizures, or because the stu­dio was spooked by its arty sen­si­bil­i­ties is up for debate.

Direc­tor William Fried­kin, who called it “the best trail­er ever made about The Exor­cist,” reck­ons it was the lat­ter.

***Pho­to­sen­si­tive Epilep­sy Warn­ing*** (no joke.)

Smith’s dis­turb­ing vision was quick­ly replaced by the more con­ven­tion­al trail­er, below. It gave away more shocks, but lacks the abil­i­ty to bur­row into your dreams, caus­ing you to recheck the locks and go to bed with all the lights on.

Read­ers, do you have an all-time favorite movie trail­er? Let us know in the com­ments.

Watch a playlist of HBO Max’s Mod­ern Trail­ers here.

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

Watch 25 Alfred Hitch­cock Trail­ers, Excit­ing Films in Their Own Right

Watch the 7 Hour Trail­er for the 720 Hour Film, Ambiancé, the Longest Movie in His­to­ry

Casablanca’s Hilar­i­ous Alter­na­tive Final Scene Fea­tur­ing Sat­ur­day Night Live’s Kate McK­in­non: Prag­ma­tism Car­ries the Day!

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine. She most recent­ly appeared as a French Cana­di­an bear who trav­els to New York City in search of food and mean­ing in Greg Kotis’ short film, L’Ourse.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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