DUKE (to those remaining): You'd better stay where you are for a while.  Good night, folks.

DUKE (to those remaining): You’d better stay where you are for a while. Good night, folks.

My Top 7:

  1. The Petrified Forest
  2. Mr. Deeds Goes to Town
  3. My Man Godfrey
  4. A Tale of Two Cities
  5. Dodsworth
  6. After the Thin Man

Note:  The Petrified Forest would have won in 1935 but Deeds would have been in 5th place.  Notice there are also only 6 rather than 10 because there just isn’t as loaded a list of qualities scripts in 1936 (1937 won’t be any better).  I originally had Hitchcock’s Secret Agent here, but after rewatching it, it got bumped off the list.  Though, to be fair, this is a better list than you’ll find in Best Original Screenplay for 1936, where I can’t even manage to find a full slate of nominees.

Oscar Nominees  (Best Screenplay):

  • After the Thin Man
  • Dodsworth
  • Mr. Deeds Goes to Town
  • My Man Godfrey

Note:  Starting in 1935, the Academy changed the writing categories, from Best Original Story and Best Adaptation to Best Original Story and Best Screenplay.  This meant, that while all the nominees in one category would definitely be original, the nominees in the other category could be either original or adapted.  In 1935 that wasn’t a problem – they were all adapted.  But in 1936 only four of the nominees were adapted and it was the winner, The Story of Louis Pasteur, that was the original film in the bunch (in fact it would also win Best Original Story).  This category confusion would continue through 1939 (though at least in those years, while the Best Original Story winner would also be nominated for Best Screenplay at least they wouldn’t win).  In 1940 they would add a new category and make it even more confusing but we’ll deal with that in 1940.

petrifiedThe Petrified Forest

The Film:

I have already reviewed this film once.  It is easily one of the best film of 1936 – it wins the Nighthawk Awards for Best Actress, Supporting Actor and Adapted Screenplay and is kept from winning Picture, Director and Actor by Modern Times.  It is maybe Howard’s best role and the role that made Bogart in Hollywood, not to mention yet another brilliant Bette Davis performance.  And what was the reward for it at the Oscars?  Not a single nomination.

petrifiedscriptThe Source:

The Petrified Forest by Robert Sherwood  (1935)

The Petrified Forest is a great showcase for three types: the thinker, the dreamer and the man of action.  Don’t necessarily believe what Richard Yates has to say in the opening pages of Revolutionary Road (“They all knew, of course, and said so again and again as they filed inside and took their seats, that The Petrified Forest was hardly one of the world’s great plays.  But it was, after all, a fine theater piece with a basic point of view that was every bit as valid today as in the thirties.”).  Yes, the play can be a disaster, if you have the leading man come down sick and the director who is wrong for the part in the lead role and a miscast man as Duke.  It is, perhaps, not a great play for amateurs, because you need so much conviction in the right ways to get those three archetypes right, either on stage or on screen.

We have Squier, the thinker (“It was a novel about the bleak, glacier-stripped hills of my native New England.  I was twenty-two when I wrote it, and it was very, very stark.  It sold slightly over six hundred copies.  It cost the publisher quite a lot of money, and it also cost him his wife.”).  Then there is Gabby, the dreamer, hoping for a chance outside the desert (“But I’m going to spend my part of the money on a trip to Bourges, where there’s something beautiful to look at, and wine, and dancing in the streets.”).  And there is Duke, the man who escapes through dealing out death and finds himself cornered into this little piece of nowhere waiting for the dame that he must know is going to rat him out (“Just keep in mind that I and the boys are candidates for hanging, and the minute anybody makes the wrong move, I’m going to kill the whole lot of you.”).

In the end, Squier and Duke will both end up in the Petrified Forest, that little desolate corner of land in Arizona where my family’s muffler once fell off (true story).  They will both give Gabby the push she needs for her life to get started, to escape this little corner of the world and see what might be out there.  It has some good, sharp dialogue and some believable characters, even when they do come directly from archetypes.  It allows those types to play off each other and work towards their strengths.

The Adaptation:

The play has been shortened just a little bit.  There are bits and pieces here and there, some of the political references are cut out.  But for the most part, it is the play just like it was on stage.  It’s opened just a little, with some of the off-stage scenes actually shown rather than just described, and it opens with a shot of Squier on the road, letting us know what’s coming along.  And then it makes a good choice at the end – rather than ending with Gabby’s father talking to the sheriff (and adding in that Duke’s been taken out), it takes the Villon poem and moves it just a little bit later, as the final lines of dialogue, a fitting send-off to the thinker.

The Credits:

Directed by Archie L. Mayo.  Screen Play by Charles Kenyon and Delmer Daves.  Play by Robert Emmet Sherwood.

mr-deeds-goes-to-town-poster-2Mr. Deeds Goes to Town

The Film:

I have already reviewed this film once.

The Source:

“Opera Hat” by Clarence Buddington Kelland  (1935)

“Opera Hat” was a story by Clarence Buddington Kelland, a prolific magazine writer from the 20’s through the 40’s (you can read more about him here).  It was published in The American Magazine serially in the June-Sept 1935 issues but does not appear to have been reprinted.  The story has slipped away.  Look for it and what you’ll find is Deeds.  So, I am forced to refer to two other sources.  The second concerns the adaptation of the script and is down below under Adaptation.  Here, I’ll quote from the director, Frank Capra, in his autobiography The Name Above the Title:

“I read and reread Tolstoi’s Anna Karenina, Dostevsky’s Crime and Punishment, Maxwell Anderson’s Valley Forge, and Clarence Buddington Kelland’s Opera Hat.  The two Russian stories fascinated me, but I laid them aside; primarily because, as an American director, I felt incompetent to direct Russian characters.  So I concentrated on the two American subjects: Valley Forge and Opera Hat . . . I felt Valley Forge was beyond my competency.  I wanted a story closer to our times; about people that I knew.  That left Opera Hat, laced with Kelland’s usual theme-line: Country boy out-slicks city slickers.  Longfellow Deeds, a homespun boy from Mandrake Falls, suddenly inherits twenty million dollars and, an Opera House in New York City.  Reluctantly, he goes to the Big City to claim his inheritance, only to get all fouled up in the hyper-frenetics of the opera crowd.  The opera stuff was just “too-too” for me.  But – what would country-boy Deeds do with twenty million dollars?  In the middle of the Great Depression?  And with grouchy distant cousins conspiring for a cut of the kale.  That did interest me.  I wired Cohn to buy Opera Hat and asked for Riskin to write the screenplay. . . I launched my first of a series of social-minded films: Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (née Opera Hat), in which I presumed to “say” something to audiences for two hours, and in the dark.”

Now, that’s what Capra had to say.  But a quick note here.  Clarence Brown (another American director) released his film version of Anna Karenina in August of 1935.  And Josef von Sternberg’s version of Crime and Punishment came out in November.  Capra’s holiday reading frenzy took place, it would seem, sometime in the spring of 1935 (definitely some time after the Oscar wins for It Happened One Night on 27 February).  So, could he really have not known about those films while supposedly considering them, especially since von Sternberg’s film was made at Capra’s own studio, Columbia?  Or is it a swipe at the overrated Brown (at least von Sternberg was Austrian)?  Indeed, on page 121 of The Runaway Bride: Hollywood Romantic Comedy of the 1930’s Elizabeth Kendall suggests “Eventually, Capra decided, or so he says, that Valley Forge was beyond his capabilities.  What probably happened was that Capra and Robert Riskin recognized in Opera Hat a resemblance to It Happened One Night and decided they were on safer territory with a light, cross-class romance than with a historical drama.  So Kelland’s pulp piece of Depressioniana was chosen to bear the weight of the anguished, missionary self-consciousness that had come over Frank Capra.”

And Joseph McBride on page 328 of Frank Capra: The Catastrophe of Success has a different side of things, saying that Capra was ready to start making Lost Horizon but Ronald Colman, who Capra wanted as the lead, wouldn’t be available until the following year, so he decided to wait and do another picture in the meantime and decided on Deeds by July 1 of 1935.  Capra’s own book says that Lost Horizon was decided later and that spending two million on the book rights would have to wait until it was seen how well Deeds would do.

The Adaptation:

McBride covers a good deal of what is different between the original Kelland story and Deeds on pages 333-334 of his book and I don’t want to excessively quote from that book, so at this point, I’ll defer a bit to the introduction to Six Screenplays, a collection of Robert Riskin scripts that were all directed by Capra and which includes Deeds.  “The story was extensively revamped,” the book notes on page xli.  “The murder mystery disappeared, and the opera angle was played down.  (In Kelland’s serial, the inheritance comes to Deeds after his uncle, Victor Semple, is killed in a motor accident in Italy, ‘during his annual hunt for tenors.’)  Riskin focused on the inheritance, which is the jumping-off point, and the characterization of Deeds.”

But the key addition, everyone agrees, was the creation by Riskin of Babe Bennett, the snarky, cynical reporter played to perfection by Jean Arthur, and who many see as a variant of Peter Warne, the reporter played so memorably by Clark Gable in It Happened One Night.  She is nowhere to be found in the original story and the love story that grows up between her and Deeds is a key part of the very real beating heart of the story.

One last bit about what Riskin did in his adaptation, this time from page xlv of the same Introduction: “Clarence Buddington Kelland seems to have been one of the people who did not like what Mr. Deeds appeared to advocate with its potshots and high-priced lawyers, rich people, and inequities of the system . . . His “Opera Hat” had been transformed, his conservative politics vitiated.  Kelland became one of the rare authors to take some umbrage at a Riskin adaptation, and he refused to give his permission for the script, which was nominated for Best Screenplay of 1936, to be anthologized in Twenty Best Film Plays.”

The Credits:

Directed by Frank Capra.  Screen Play: Robert Riskin.  Story: Clarence Buddington Kelland.

My Man Godfrey

The Film:

My Man Godfrey is a singular oddity in the history of the Academy Awards.  It was, in the first year of the Supporting awards, the first film ever nominated in all four acting categories.  It would be three more years before another film earned three acting nominations, five years before another film got nominated in both supporting categories and six years before another film would get nominated in all four categories.  It was also nominated for Director and Screenplay.  But not Picture.  It was the first film in the expanded Best Picture years to get nominated for Director but not Picture (it would happen once more – in 1938).  It was the first film ever nominated for Director and Screenplay, but not Picture – something that wouldn’t happen again for another six years.  It would be 12 years before another film with three acting nominations would fail to get a Picture nomination.  It would be 15 years before a film would get nominated for Director, Screenplay and both acting leads but not Picture.  It would be 27 years before a film would get nominations for Director, Screenplay and three acting categories but not Picture.  But it remains the only one of the 14 films in Oscar history to get nominated for all four acting categories and fail to earn a Best Picture nomination (it is also the only film with nominations in all four acting categories not to get any technical nominations).  This makes it, even more than The African Queen, Hud or They Shoot Horses Don’t They, the single strangest omission from the Best Picture race of all-time.  It makes it even stranger when you consider that there were 10 Best Picture nominees and one of them, Libeled Lady, also starred William Powell and was nominated for Picture but nothing else.  Then, to compound it all, Godfrey didn’t win anything – the only film ever nominated for all four acting categories to lose them all except Sunset Blvd., which at least won Best Original Screenplay.

So, what is Godfrey?  A deserving film, that’s what.  Of the four acting nominations, I rate three of them higher than the actual Oscar winner.  I have it as the #4 film of the year and two of the three films above it weren’t nominated for anything.  So, that means it ranks higher than nine of the ten Best Picture nominees, including the winner.  Most of the actual nominees are no better than ***, while My Man Godfrey is a screwball classic, a **** film of charm, wit and a great deal of humor.

It is one of those films that show exactly how charming and funny William Powell could be (and, of course, coming after The Thin Man, it gives him a great drunk scene as well).  He is a forgotten man, pulled out of a city dump by Carole Lombard as a rich spoiled 5th Avenue brat who thinks she’s doing a good thing.  But Powell has decided he’ll allow himself to be rediscovered, and over the course of the film we’ll start to realize exactly why he allowed himself to be a forgotten man in the first place.  And then we might wonder why he allows himself to be rediscovered when we see the family he has landed himself with, allowing himself to be employed as their butler.

First, there is Lombard, so beautiful and flitty, with her emotions all over the place (and giving possibly the best performance of a wonderfully talented comic career).  Then there is Eugene Pallette, with that wonderful low memorable voice, as the patron of the family.  There is Alice Brady as his wife, and we can see where Lombard got her flittiness (when we first see Brady and don’t know she’s Pallette’s wife, one man says “Take a look at the dizzy old gal with the goat.”  “I’ve had to look at her for 20 years,” Pallette replies.  “That’s Mrs. Bullock!”  When the man replies “I’m terribly sorry,” Pallette answers “How do you think I feel?” and that sums it all up).  There is Gail Patrick as the equally spoiled but much more manipulative daughter.  Then there is Carlo, the pathetic hanger-on who Mrs. Bullock dotes upon, played with Oscar-nominated appeal by Mischa Auer.  The snarky maid, Molly, played so well by Jean Dixon, is the only one in the household who wouldn’t make you crazy.  You wonder why Godfrey would stick around.

But of course it’s for Lombard.  She’s so charming and funny and beautiful and she’s in love with him right from the start and of course he eventually has to come around, in true screwball style.  But he never seems to quite realize it, even down the final moments when it becomes clear that she has a much better handle on things than we ever could have expected.

My Man Godfrey isn’t the best screwball comedy – it’s about even with The Awful Truth and not quite up there with Bringing Up Baby, The Philadelphia Story or His Girl Friday.  But it’s a great film – charming, well-acted and quite funny, with an ending that perfectly suits it.

godreyThe Source:

My Man Godfrey by Eric  Hatch  (1935)

Ah, Wikipedia, you bastion of inaccuracy.  Look at the page for My Man Godfrey and it will tell you it is “based on ‘1011 Fifth’, a short novel by Eric Hatch.”  Look at Hatch’s page and it will tell you he is “best known for his book 1101 Park Avenue that became a hit film under the title My Man Godfrey.”  And yet, I sit here and hold a copy in my hands of My Man Godfrey by Eric Hatch, published by Little, Brown, and Company in 1935, a year before the film.  And on the copyright page it says “My Man Godfrey appeared in Liberty under the title of Irene, The Stubborn Girl.”

Well, this is the name of the source and it’s, well, it’s decent, but not much more than that.  All the basic points of the film come from the book – the characters are all there, the basic premise is all there and even some of the scenes are straight from the book.  But the book wants to get bogged down in the plot of what is going on.  It deals a lot more with the financial ruin of the family and then the police get much more involved because of the plot and we also find out that Godfrey himself isn’t just a forgotten man, but also a former convict.  In the end, the book comes to the same basic conclusion that the film does, but it takes a lot longer to do it (at least it feels a lot longer, but the book is only 240 pages with large type and generous margins, so it’s really a fairly quick read).  As a book, it’s really rather forgettable, which perhaps is why it no longer seems to be in print.

The Adaptation:

It took Morrie Ryskind, a veteran of the Marx Brothers films to take this book, which has a bit of comedy and a lot of plot about the failed financial machinations of Mr. Bullock and really make it into a screwball classic.

Just look at one of the key scenes in the film – the one where Godfrey takes a supposedly drunk Irene upstairs.  In the book there is a chapter break after he lifts her up, and then in the next chapter he tosses her in the cold shower and after Irene yells “It took Godfrey some seconds to realize that this was said in a perfectly normal voice.  When he did realize it he set her down and faced her.  He was pretty sore.”  In the film, there is a key difference.  While trying to decide what to do, Godfrey spots Irene in the mirror and realize she’s faking it.  He dumps her in the cold shower deliberately because he knows she’s faking and it’s a key part in the development of their relationship.  He’s much too smart for it to have just been an accident.

Of course, the latter part of the book is also vastly different.  In the book there are some very complicated machinations about how Godfrey will keep the family okay and keeps the cops away.  There is nothing about the club that he begins to help rescue the other forgotten men.  And Irene works so hard to get him to marry her and he finally gives in.  There is nothing like the quiet charm of the perfect ending we see in the film.

The Credits:

Directed by Gregory La Cava.  Screen Play by Morrie Ryskind, Eric Hatch.  Based on the novel by Eric Hatch.

tale_of_two_cities_xlgA Tale of Two Cities

The Film:

I have already reviewed this film once.

189.30The Source:

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens (1859)

I gave a very brief look at this book here.  I gave a much more detailed look here when I included it in my Top 100 Novels.

The Adaptation:

The film actually begins with a page of the book, with that famous opening line, although, to be fair, the line is considerably shortened.  And that seems to set the course for the film.  This is a 350 page novel condensed into just over two hours.  There is only so much that can be done to get the true power of this story across on screen in the time-frame for a major motion picture.  And for the most part they do a good job, even bringing in extra sources to add to the authority for the French Revolution scenes (see the credits below).  But they still have to make enough cuts to get it down to a manageable level.

There is really only one choice that damages the film as a whole and that was apparently one chosen by the star, Ronald Colman, rather than the filmmakers.  They cast Colman as Sidney Carton only and not also as Charles Darney.  Since the story relies so much on their amazing resemblance to each other, it doesn’t work nearly as well if they aren’t identical, and they just aren’t identical.  And not only that, but because Colman is so good as Carton and because Donald Woods is not all that good as Darney, it becomes that much more obvious.  It was almost like they decided they could pull it off because it just wasn’t that important.

And they make one final choice, to end with the biblical quote rather than just Carton’s words.  That quote, of course, is there on the penultimate page of the book, just before Carton’s final speech.  But Dickens ended with those brilliant lines for a reason (one of those few novels, of course, that has equally famous opening and ending lines) and the filmmakers should have gone forward with that and ended with those great lines.

The Credits:

Directed by Jack Conway.  Screen Play by W.P. Lipscomb and S.N. Behrman.  Bibliography: The French Revolution . . .Thomas Carlyle.  Journal of the Temple . . . M. Clery.  The Memoirs of Mlle. des Echerolles.  The Memoirs of M. Nicholas.  The only mention of the novel is in the title card: Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities.

dodsworth_posterDodsworth

The Film:

I have already reviewed this film once.  It’s a very good film, the first film that really showed the talent of director William Wyler (he would earn his first of a record 12 Oscar nominations), a dramatic flip side to Deeds, with a strong performance from Walter Huston.

dodsworthsignetThe Source:

Dodsworth by Sinclair Lewis  (1929)

The irony is that while Deeds came from a pulp source and would become a film classic, Dodsworth comes from a much, much better source and wouldn’t quite achieve that level of quality as a film.

Sinclair Lewis was a great writer.  He wasn’t part of the first level of American Literature – I wouldn’t rank him with Faulkner, Morrison, Roth, Fitzgerald and Hemingway.  But I would probably put him the second tier, along with Cheever, O’Connor and Wolfe.  In the space of one decade he had a remarkable run of success, publishing, among other things, Main Street, Babbitt, Arrowsmith, Elmer Gantry and Dodsworth.  The Modern Library would put Main Street in their Top 100.  Arrowsmith would win the Pulitzer.  The last three would all be made into Best Picture nominees.  None of them appear in My Top 100, but four of them are in my Top 200.  And I don’t know which I would pick as the best, but Dodsworth is a strong contender.

Just look:

The smell of London is a foggy smell, a sooty smell, a coalfire smell, yet to certain wanderers it is more exhilirating, more suggestive of greatness and of stirring life, than springtime hillsides or the chill sweetness of autumnal nights; and that unmistakable smell, which men long for in rotting perfumes along the Orinoco, in the greasy reek of South Chicago, in the hot odor of dusty earth among locust-buzzing Alberta wheatfields, that luring breath of the dark giant among cities, reaches halfway to Southampton to greet the traveler.  Sam sniffed at it, uneasily, restlessly, while he considered how strange was the British fashion of having railway compartments instead of an undivided car with a nice long aisle along which you could observe ankles, magazines, Rotary buttons, clerical collars, and all the details that made travel interesting.

That’s the kind of language we get from Lewis, a magnificent description (which makes me think of Sweeney’s song when he first returns to London).  Though very fine films can be made from his novels (witness this and Elmer Gantry), it is nevertheless a reminder that Lewis is an author who should not be ignored.  For a long time he was one of the finest writers this country had ever produced and I hope that more readers will eventually remember that and go back to his novels.

The Adaptation:

The first thing that the film does is skip the first chapter, and it’s a good choice.  The first chapter details the first beginning of a romance between Sam and Fran, shows where their later lives would spring from, and then quickly takes us through twenty years, through a marriage and the raising of a family, until that moment where Sam is ready to maybe do something else with his life.  The film actually begins with this point, with Sam stepping away from the car company that he has built up so well and moving on to something different in his life.

After that, the film follows fairly closely to the book, with some minor differences (like changing a character’s last name from Israel to Iselin, which makes it at least a little less obvious that he’s Jewish).  But one of the key differences is that a scene that is only described second-hand in the book (from the point of view of Fran) is actually shown to us.  And it’s a big scene, because it’s the one where Fran goes to meet the mother of the man she hopes to marry.  The role is played very well by Maria Ouspenskaya – so well, in fact, that she would earn an Oscar nomination for just this one scene alone.  Putting the scene in the film gives a bit more objectivity to the scene and it provides a good dramatic moment (and some comeuppance to Fran, which a lot of viewers, at this point, are likely to be pleased by).

The filmmakers never shy away from the more unpleasant scenes in the book and they do a good job of dramatizing what might have seemed undramatic on the page.  But that’s because Sidney Howard had already attacked the book once – turning it into a hit play, and it was his own hit play that served as the basis for the screenplay more than the original novel.

The Credits:

Directed by William Wyler.  Based Upon the Novel Written by Sinclair Lewis and Dramatized by Sidney Howard.  Screen Play by Sidney Howard.

after_the_thin_man_xlgAfter the Thin Man

The Film:

After the success of The Thin Man, was there really a question that MGM would try to milk the cow that had produced it?  This was the perfect kind of franchise – there was no worry about exotic settings like Tarzan, no worries about makeup like with Horror films and there was enough comedy to draw in the crowds; you wouldn’t even have to just depend on the mystery fans.  Just keep the witty banter coming from Nick and Nora and give them some sort of mystery to solve and everything would resolve itself.  Well, that would work for MGM for over a decade, though, as with so many franchises, the quality of the returns would be less and less and it would eventually grow stale and tired.

But this is the first sequel, one which isn’t yet burdened by a child to drag around or get it trouble (because we get that first hint at the end of this film).  There’s still a lot of drinking (in fact, there may be more drinking in this film than in the first one).  And the title even makes sense – the title isn’t yet referring to Nick as the thin man, but rather the case that was solved in the first one.

And so, what about the film itself?  Well, there’s a mystery to be solved of course; Nora’s cousin has been caught with a gun and a dead philandering husband and of course Nick has to help establish her innocence.  There’s also a crimelord involved and a dancer and some other figures and then it starts to get confusing.  Basically, the best thing to to do is sit back, listen to Nick and Nora banter back and forth, watch Asta chase a rival dog out of the yard and then wait for the end until Nick manages to piece it all together and explain it to everyone, even you.

It comes down to this – the film is at just the bottom end of ***.5, mostly for the quick-witted dialogue and the wonder of seeing Nick wander through the whole film seemingly drunk, and yet far more in control of what is going on than anything else.  Where the film stumbles is in two ways – one which they could have fixed and one which they never could have figured on.  The first is that most of the acting in the film aside from the two stars is really pretty bad and that drags things down a lot of the time.  The other is that if you want to have a villain (SPOILER), you can’t have it with an actor who is so incredibly likable.  Granted, the filmmakers couldn’t possibly have known what was going to come of Jimmy Stewart, but, well, sometimes the things you can’t know about are the things that can undo you.

The Source:

The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett  (1934)

Ah, the tricky thing of how the Academy classifies material as “adapted” or “original.”  For the purposes of this series, I classify anything that the Academy would currently classify as Adapted as Adapted.  Though they don’t include a specific definition in their rules, their most recent eligibility lists make it clear that any film containing characters not created specifically for that film would be considered as Adapted, no matter if there was not an original source (witness the recent Adapted Screenplay nomination for Toy Story 3).  So, while Dashiell Hammett wrote an original screen story for After the Thin Man, which was then turned into the screenplay by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett (the same two couple who had adapted The Thin Man in 1934), this is technically considered an adapted screenplay.  So, really, there’s no source for the script other than the characters originally created by Hammett, and you can find more on them here, where I reviewed the source for the original film.

The Adaptation:

Well, of course, there isn’t an adaptation.  There’s a continuation of characters that had already been developed, first in the Hammett novel, and later, in the first film.  It’s fairly true to the characters, not only as they were originally written by Hammett, but also how they were adapted in the first film, but since it’s the same writers, same director and same two stars, I suppose that’s not really so surprising.

The Credits:

Directed by W.S. Van Dyke.  Screen Play by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett.  From the Story by Dashiell Hammett.

Other Noteworthy Adaptations (in descending order of how good they are):

  • Secret Agent  –  A good Hitchcock thriller from the novel Ashenden by Somerset Maugham.  Originally on my list, but after watching it again, it really doesn’t rise above the *** level and the script just doesn’t merit inclusion.
  • Liebelei  –  An early Ophuls film from the Schnitzler play.  A high level *** film.
  • Show Boat  –  James Whale’s adaptation of the famous musical.
  • Les Misérables  –  Raymond Bernard’s adaptation of Hugo’s novel – a classic to some, a high *** to me.  The two leads, to me, just pale in comparison to March and Laughton.
  • Carnival in Flanders  –  Winner of Best Foreign Film from the NBR and NYFC (the first year the NYFC gave the award).
  • Come and Get It  –  The first of Walter Brennan’s three Oscars, from the Edna Ferber novel.
  • These Three  –  William Wyler’s first try at Lillian Hellman’s The Children’s Hour, heavily changed in the adaptation to pass the censors.
  • The Garden of Allah  –  Boyer and Dietrich in a desert romance.
  • Romeo and Juliet  –  Shearer and Howard are both good, though way too old.  Solid acting in this Best Picture nominee.  Reviewed here.
  • Dracula’s Daughter  –  Adapted very loosely from “Dracula’s Guest”, the excised first chapter of Dracula, but really just a continuation of Dracula.  Not one of Universal’s better sequels.  Not one of the worst either.
  • Pennies from Heaven  –  An early Bing Crosby film, adapted from the novel The Peacock Feather.
  • The Gorgeous Hussy  –  A low-level *** which is pretty standard for director Clarence Brown.  A bit of historical fiction about Andrew Jackson.
  • The Last of the Mohicans  –  Not the first adaptation of the famous novel and certainly not the best.  It’s kind of hard to take Randolph Scott seriously once you’ve seen Daniel Day-Lewis as Hawkeye.
  • The Plough and the Stars  –  John Ford returns to Ireland with the Sean O’Casey play.
  • As You Like It  –  Olivier would admit that William Wyler taught him how to act on film in Wuthering Heights, which might be why this Shakespeare adaptation is so flat.
  • Tarzan Escapes  –  A serious drop-off in quality from the first two Tarzan films and not using anything other than Burroughs’ character.
  • Things to Come  –  H.G. Wells adapts his own novel to fairly mediocre results.
  • Valiant is the Word for Carrie  –  A hard-to-find film with Gladys George, who was, bizarrely, Oscar-nominated.  Unless you’re an Oscar completist don’t bother.
  • Anthony Adverse  –  Reviewed here.  Now we’re down to **.5 films.  With a cast like this it should be much better.  The novel, at 1224 pages, was a big hit but is mostly forgotten today.
  • The Charge of the Light Brigade  –  With Flynn and de Havilland and direction by Curtiz this should be better but isn’t.  Based on Tennyson’s poem, it’s really kind of a drag.
  • Satan Met a Lady  –  A terrible film, as I pointed out in my review here.  I reviewed it, of course, because it’s based on The Maltese Falcon.  Sort-of.  Badly.
  • Robin Hood of El Dorado  –  A terrible William Wellman film based on a novel by Walter Noble Burns, who also wrote books on Billy the Kid and Wyatt Earp.
  • Strike Me Pink  –  A terrible film from that primo director of terrible films, Norman Taurog.  Ironically, based on a story from Clarence Budington Kelland, the same author who wrote the story that Deeds was based on.
  • General Spanky  –  A simply awful film (the worst I have seen from 1936) with the Our Gang characters that was somehow Oscar-nominated for Best Sound (which is why I’ve seen it).
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