If your ex-wife gives you this look in these circumstances, odds are that she's not ready for the relationship to end.

If your ex-wife gives you this look in these circumstances, odds are that she’s not ready for the relationship to end.

My Top 6:

  1. The Awful Truth
  2. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
  3. The Lower Depths
  4. Stage Door
  5. Dead End
  6. Night Must Fall

Note:  This list has fluctuated while I was working on it.  It started with 8 films.  Two of them I re-watched and then dropped: Lost Horizon and Sabotage, the latter of which is a bit of a shame given the source material.  I also re-watched three films that weren’t on my list but are considered classics by some, though not by me: Make Way for Tomorrow, Topper and Nothing Sacred.  In the end, they all stayed in the *** range and their scripts didn’t make my list.  And even within the list things fluctuated – The Lower Depths went up enough that I had re-watched it before doing my 1936 Nighthawk Awards it would have gone up a spot in Best Foreign Film and it went up a few spots here.  So, this is my list and I am not sticking to it.

Oscar Nominees  (Best Screenplay):

  • The Awful Truth
  • Captains Courageous
  • Stage Door

Analysis:  Oh boy.  With the writing still split into two not necessarily exclusive categories, we have two films that are nominated for Best Original Story and Best Screenplay.  The Life of Emile Zola loses Story but wins Screenplay.  A Star is Born wins Story but loses Screenplay (which meant that Dorothy Parker, who worked on the screenplay but not the original story, fails to win the Oscar – she will eventually be joined in the illustrious list of famous writers who were nominated but failed to win the Oscar by Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Graham Greene, Tennessee Williams, Vladimir Nabokov, Harold Pinter and Arthur Miller).  So, in the category we have my winner for Original, a good original script, my winner for Adapted, my #4 for Adapted and a film that would be nowhere near any list I would ever make.

the-awful-truth-1937The Awful Truth

The Film:

I have already reviewed this film once.  But something occurred to me as I watched it this time (aside from laughing).  In today’s film world, it’s so common to pair the younger actress with the older actor.  And now look at this film and look at how incredibly sexy Irene Dunne is and notice that she was 38 when this was filmed, as opposed to Cary Grant, who was 33.  And at the end of the film, when she leans back in the bed and she gives him that look (the tail end of which is pictured above), well, age becomes irrelevant.  Except for the fact that she was cast for that role at that age and you never think about it for a second.

The Source:

The Awful Truth by Arthur Richman  (1922)

The Awful Truth is a smart little play about a divorced couple that several years later, in the midst of the woman about to marry another man and enlisting the help of her ex-husband to win over the distrusting aunt of her fiancee, suddenly discovers that they still love each other and that they were always meant to be with each other.  It’s a charming play and it has a very good role, that of Lucy Warriner.  She has to play a lot of different ways, find her romance, find her anger, and most of all get people to believe what she’s saying, no matter how the story shifts.  But it might not be remembered that much as a play if not for the film that was made from it, a film that took this smart little play and made it into a screwball classic.

The Adaptation:

Like so many plays, this one keeps the basic premise, the characters (most of them, anyway) and creates something very different onscreen from what had been onstage.  First, there’s the basic starting point.  In the play, we are introduced to Lucy, the 26 year old who has been divorced for four years from her much older ex-husband.  In the film we meet Lucy and Jerry when they are having some problems and aren’t really believing each other (and aren’t doing much to earn each other’s trust).  We watch as things fall apart and we see their divorce and their fight over the dog (no dog, by the way, in the original play – he was likely added to make use of the brilliant dog Skippy who had been playing Asta in the Thin Man films).  In the play Lucy is ready to marry again and just needs Jerry’s help to get her fiancee and his aunt (not mother, like in the film) to believe her story about their divorce (which is made up, sort-of, maybe).  But we watch all of this unfold onscreen in the film and it works so much better, as we get to watch the way Lucy moves towards someone so unsuitable for her and then quickly moves back away again when things go oh so wrong (probably the funniest scene in the film, when Jerry comes bursting out of the room chasing the music teacher).  But then, after she realizes she really does love Jerry, she has to win him away from his new romance.  And then we have the wonderful ending.  Yeah, almost none of that is in the play.  There are a few lines, the basic premise, the basic characters (although Jerry is  in the play), but really, the brilliant screwball humor in this film comes from the script, not the original play.

The Credits:

Directed by Leo McCarey.  Screen Play: Viña Delmar.  Based on a Play by Arthur Richman.  Uncredited writing from Sidney Buchman.

1937-snow-white-poster2Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

The Film:

I gave a brief review of this film here when I ranked it #10 of the 50 Disney Animated Films (at the time).  Of course, that’s not really enough of a review so I will say more.

This is a great film.  It’s not at the top of the Disney list for a few reasons – because they would start to get better with the voice actors, because they would get better with the animation, because they would takes the songs to a new level.  But it’s a great film, without question.  Even setting aside the monumental achievement, to bring out this level of film-making over the course of a feature-length animated film, to prove that it not only could be done, but could be done brilliantly, and done profitably, this is a great film.  It does what so many Disney films would do from this time forward; it takes a short little tale (this time from Grimm, but Anderson and Perrault would also be coming down the line), it brings it to life in majestic color, it adds a few songs (one of which would almost instantly become iconic and is still probably recognized by most of the English-speaking world, if not beyond) and it brings life to these archetypal characters from the fairy tales and gives them depths and life.

While actually watching the film this time, with the intention of writing about it, a number of different things occurred to me, any of which could easily be the seminal point for an entire review, or even an entire academic paper, but I’ll try to limit how much I focus on each point.

One thing is how much of the later Disney films is created in a blueprint in this film.  There are the lovable sidekick characters (the dwarfs are not named in the original story but here they are all given individual characteristics) who include one that will become iconic (Dopey) and one who will be the best of the voice performances (Grumpy).  In fact, going through my list of Nighthawk Notables, there’s not really a best voice-over performance from a lead animated character until Puss in Boots.  There are the songs, not dominating the films as they would start to after 1989, but very memorable and used well.  There is the interaction between the lead and the animals, which actually comes straight from the original fairy tale, but not to this extent (“Animals also came to mourn Snow White, first an owl, then a raven, and finally a dove.”).  There is the danger inherent in the film, but not too overly much so as to frighten that were to going to be the core audience (we don’t see Snow White’s actually “death”, nor do we actually see what happens to the queen as she falls or after her fall) and yet, there are things for the grown-ups as well (those vultures headed towards the queen aren’t in there for the kids).  There are the wonderful scenes of animation (just look at the forest, or at the fog surrounding the queen as she pushes her boat away from the castle).  And there are the little moments just for the sidekick characters (just watch Dopey’s struggle with the soap (we had the Fisher Price movie viewer when I was a kid and I remember watching that scene a lot)).

SNOW+WHITEA second thing I thought about was the characterization of Snow White and her outfit.  Now, in the original story, Snow White is clearly described as seven, though because she marries at the end of the tale without any evidence of aging other than she is dead for “a long, long time”, so most illustrations of her depict her as at least a young adult.  But even in this film, she is a young adult, if not still on the edge of childhood, in spite of the prince’s attentions.  She is not drawn in an overtly sexual way like the princesses would start to be.  And yet, the costume has become something more than just the outfit for a fairy tale.  There is a combination of sexuality and innocence in it now, especially when worn in a photo spread by Rachel Weisz (left) or worn by the cosplay artist Riddle (right).  I can’t imagine that Walt would have ever imagined such a thing and I feel I should note that the gradual sexualization of the princesses, with less clothing, with completely ridiculous figures, with more realistic animation, would all come long after he way dead.A Riddle 2

But that all leads into my next thought.  Look at Snow White.  She’s got a prince who is chasing her across the yard even though she is still quite young.  He falls in love with her song (which is actually better than in the original story, where he simply sees her dead and falls in love with her there and then).  She comes to the dwarfs cabin and she immediately things to clean things up and they want to keep her around to mother them.  In the end, she is awoken by the kiss of her true love (in the original story, when the prince takes her coffin away, it is bumped and the poisonous apple dislodges from her throat and she wakes up).  She is the original Disney princess, just waiting for a prince to kiss her and awaken her from the spell and there are some disturbing implications to that.

But, in the end, it is still a great film, an animated classic that still works for kids, that has charming songs, that has wonderful characters that continue to endure, with wonderful animation, some thrilling moments and some good humor.

fairy_tales_from_the_brothers_grimm_snow-white_3_by_walter_craneThe Source:

Sneewittchen by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm  (1812)

The Grimm Brothers’ tale of Snow White (or “Little Snow White” as the title more literally translates to) is one of the most interesting in their collections.  With the great supporting cast of the dwarves, with the true evil in the heart of the queen (as Maria Tatar puts it: “Disney’s queen, who demands Snow White’s heart from the huntsman who takes her into the woods, seems restrained by comparison with the Grimms’ evil queen, who orders the huntsman to return with the girl’s lungs and liver, both of which she plans to eat after boiling them in salt water.”  (The Annotated Brothers Grimm: The Bicentennial Edition, ed. Maria Tatar, p 247)).  With the amount of pure evil on display, with the different ways the queen tries to kill Snow White (lacing her up too tight and a poisoned comb before she finishes her off with the apple) and with the horrific fate in store for the queen (“She had to put on the red-hot iron shoes and dance in them until she dropped to the ground dead.”) this isn’t really a story for children, unless those children are ready for some dark violence.

The Adaptation:

I’m gonna concede my place for comparing the film to the original source by mostly quoting Maria Tatar, the brilliant Harvard professor who is the editor and annotator for the wonderful Norton edition of The Annotated Brothers Grimm.  She begins with the title: “Disney’s film title, by including the seven dwarfs with Snow White, dilutes the importance of the heroine and shifts the tale’s center of gravity from the relationship between the heroine and her wicked stepmother to the relationship between the heroine and her seven comic sidekicks.” (p 246).  She also discusses what I mentioned above concerning the things we see Snow White do, like cooking and cleaning for the dwarfs: “we find these two components fiercely polarized in a murderously jealous and forbiddingly cold woman on the one hand and an innocently sweet girl accomplished in the art of good housekeeping on the other.  Yet the Disney film also positions the evil queen as the figure of gripping narrative energy and makes Snow White so dull that she requires a supporting cast of seven to enliven her scenes.” (p 248)  I hinted at that in the penultimate chapter of my review.  Of all the Disney princesses, she is perhaps the least interesting as a character, in and of herself.  Though I love the dwarves and the energy that they bring, Tatar makes a good point about the wicked queen, although, to be fair, this is a point that could be made about the villains in not only every Disney film but most films in general: “Ultimately, it is the stepmother’s disruptive, disturbing, and divisive presence that invests the film with a degree of fascination that has facilitated its widespread circulation and allowed it to take such powerful hold in our own culture.”  (p 248-49).

The Credits:

Supervising Director: David Hand.  Adapted from Grimm’s Fairy Tales.  Story Adaptation:  Ted Sears, Richard Creedon, Otto Englander, Dick Richard, Earl Hurd, Merrill DeMaris, Dorothy Ann Blank, Webb Smith.

Les_bas_fondsThe Lower Depths  (Les Bas-Fonds (Na-Dniê))

The Film:

Jean Renoir is, it’s not unreasonable to say, one of the foremost humanists to ever work in the film industry.  His films show the value of a human life and sometimes the ridiculousness with which we fail to place value on human life.  So, it is perhaps no surprise that he would gravitate towards Gorky’s play about those lower rungs of society and the ways in which these people are forgotten and buried by the rest of the world.  And it is probably also no surprise that Renoir would find a way to bring even more humanity to the play, to bring a spark of hope and allow something a bit more humane to come out of Gorky’s dark tale (more on that below).

Renoir was a great director, who ended up ranked #56 on my initial list of Top 100 Directors of All-Time and went up to #35 on the second version of the list.  (Random Digression: His father is one of my favorite painters and his “Luncheon of the Boating Party” is one of my absolute favorites; I even have a 1000 piece puzzle of it).  Here, he takes a very dark play and he embraces some of the darkness and finds a way to move past it, to give it, at the same time, some of the original ending, and something right out of Chaplin.

The Lower Depths is the story of those living in the slums of Paris.  It centers around a thief, the woman he loves, her rotten landlord of a husband and her nasty sister.  To counterpoint the lives these characters live we also have the Baron, a once wealthy man who is about to begin a very steep decline that will take him from the kind of magnificent manse where the thief would go to rob down to the very slums from which the thief is trying to escape.

In Renoir’s film, the counterpoint between these two characters, the thief, played so magnificently by Jean Gabin, in his first of a fruitful collaboration with Renoir (he would give great performances as the lead in Grand Illusion and La Bête humaine before returning to Renoir years later for French Cancan) and the Baron, played so tragically, yet poignantly, by Louis Jouvet.  We see their lives apart, the darkness and dregs of the depths for the thief, the high society which is about to disappear from his life for the Baron, then we watch as their lives intersect through one fateful night, and how they meet again one final time on their way to opposite paths.  In the end, the Baron will be tragically sitting at yet another card table, ready to throw away yet more of his money; he no longer cares what class the others at the table are, just so long as he can sit and play.  The thief, however, will be out in the fields, together with his love, escaping from a life of darkness, headed down the open road, much like the tramp and his girl at the end of Modern Times (or, more likely, like the end of À nous la liberté).

lowerdepthsThe Source:

На дне by Maxim Gorky  (1902)

Just last night Veronica was reading a list of eight great films that you’ll never want to watch again (Leaving Las Vegas was my first guess and it was top of the list).  The Lower Depths is the dramatic equivalent of that list.  It is a great play, one of the best plays to ever come out of Russia not written by Anton Chekhov, and yet, I think I could bring myself to see it once, but not more than once.  It’s the bleakness of the life presented, the utter darkness which will envelop us all.

It’s a brilliant play, with sharp, crackling dialogue.  But it’s not just that it’s the story of those who have been beaten down by society and ended up in this little slum along the river.  It’s the utter darkness that is still waiting for them even after they have arrived there at the bottom.  There is the thief, who will end up in jail for murder, with two sisters (one of them his lover) dragged along with him.  It is the story of a brutal landlord and the death he will find before we even get to the final act.  It is the story of an actor who also find death and one that isn’t even as dignified as being murdered.  And there is the Baron, who will still be alive at the end of the play, but to what end?

The Adaptation:

Like with so many plays, the basic structure is there, along with the vast majority of the characters, but there is so much that is different from the play and that lies with Renoir.  Gorky’s dark view contrasts with the optimistic strain in Renoir’s humanism and Renoir brings new light to the play, not only to the ending (which is almost the exact opposite for some of the characters), but also along the way, especially in the settings.

Gorky’s play is entirely set in the slums along the Volga in Nizhny Novgorod.  While Renoir moves the action to Paris, he also moves the action outside of the slums.  In the original play we only meet the Baron after he is reduced to living in the slums with the rest of the characters.  In the film we see the Baron’s opulent lifestyle before his fall – in the clubs he frequents, and in the house where he lives (where the thief also goes to rob).  This provides a much stronger contrast in the class differences and makes the fall all the more visibly painful.

But the biggest difference, by far, is the conclusion.  In the original play the thief kills the landlord (who owes him money and who is married to his lover) and then is hauled off to jail after he is accused of the crime by his lover’s sister.  His ending is dark and there are likely darker things in store.  But Renoir gave a light to the idea that there might be something to crawl out of these depths, that hope could still find a way to exist.  His thief is alive at the end, alive and free and with his love, and headed down the road towards a hopefully brighter tomorrow.

The Credits:

Un film de Jean Renoir.  d’après l’œuvre célèbre de Maxime Gorki.  Scénario de E. Zamiatine et J. Companeez.  Adaptation et dialogues de Jean Renoir et Charles Spaak.


stage-door-adolphe-menjou-ginger-rogers-katharine-hepburn-1937Stage Door

The Film:

I have already reviewed this film once.  At the time I considered it a comedy, but it’s really not.  The main core of the story moving forward is dramatic and almost everything about the ending, except for the very last few minutes, is dramatic in its conclusion.  So, I still consider it a very good film, it’s got good writing, very good acting and is one of the best films in a weak year (though not quite enough to make my top 5 anymore – but that’s because a couple of other films passed it; I still consider it to be as good as I did back in 2009).  But it’s now going in all the drama categories.

kaufmanThe Source:

Stage Door by George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber  (1926)

You could perhaps look at Stage Door as one of those plays that make it clear how much more dignified the stage is than the screen.  Or you could look at it as a play that makes some poignant comments about the stage and how difficult it is to succeed on it, how it can sometimes lead to nothing better than the bottom of a bottle of poison and how the lure of Hollywood can pull someone away who is only going to do it to earn a bit of money and then they’ll never want to come back.  It’s a play that is honest about both places, New York and L.A., and knows that both have their pushes and pulls.  In the end, it may have what could be called a happy ending, or it may just be called the right ending, and the person who should heed the stage stays with the stage, rewarded finally for all her hard work.

The Adaptation:

There’s an anecdote that you can find all over the place about Kaufman’s reaction to the film (it’s on Wikipedia, on the IMDb, and I am quoting it directly from the Library of America version of Kaufman’s plays seen to the right): “A much-altered film version, with a screenplay by Morrie Ryskind and starring Katharine Hepburn and Ginger Rogers, is made in 1937; Kaufman dubs it “Screen Door”.

Now, on one hand, this is quite fair – the film is very different from the play.  There are a few things in common – the names of the main characters, the basic premise behind Terry’s story, the suicide; but so much of it is also so very different.  On the other hand, the film is basically true to a lot of the ideas in the play and is certainly true to the characters as they are written in the play.  And if anything the film focuses more on the allure of the stage, more on what would keep someone going in New York when everything seems so hard and the allure of Hollywood is never really present.  So, this is the real “Stage Door”.

And let’s be fair – a lot of the play is really very different.  I would describe the differences really this way: the play is a play about characters while the film has more of a plot.  In the play, Terry is already living in the house (and in fact is good friends with Jean) and at the end she is just getting a part that she really wants and is staying away from the call to Hollywood.  The film is more of the journey of Terry, from her first arrival at the house, through her battles with the others, and how the suicide in the story brings out her innate ability after she was about to doom a play produced with her father’s money with a terrible performance.  Almost none of that is in the play – the father is a country doctor who can’t afford to produce a play, the suicide is completely unrelated to Terry’s stardom and comes much earlier (and she dies in a different manner) and we never actually see Terry’s ability.  Unlike Night Must Fall (see below), this film doesn’t feel confined.  While the entire play took place in the house the film continually opens up to new places and much of the action actually takes place in the theater with Terry’s play.  One of the interesting things about the original play is that we never actually see any of them working – we only get the talk about it.  So, both play and film are very good and they are very different.  And they, both in their own ways, give different takes on the allure of that stage door.

The Credits:

Directed by Gregory La Cava.  Screen Play by Morrie Ryskind and Anthony Veiller.  From the Play by Edna Ferber and George S. Kaufman.  Uncredited contributing writing from S. K. Lauren and William Slavens McNutt.

dead-end-uk-movie-poster-1937Dead End

The Film:

I have already reviewed this film once.  It’s a very good film – a film with a message whose message actually still manages to hold up.  It’s a well-made, gritty film that always feels like it should be a Warners film but isn’t.

deadendThe Source:

Dead End by Sidney Kingsley  (1935)

Dead End is one of the better kind of message plays – one that doesn’t get so overwhelmed in its message that it fails to provide a good play.  It’s a good play that tells a good story that is also entertaining, and at the same time it manages to make a number of poignant points about the way we marginalize those on the lower end (in some ways the play is an American equivalent to the Renoir version of The Lower Depths, with the contrasting views of those on the upper class and that very thin line that divides those from the slums right outside their doors).  It is the kind of play that recognizes the way that people actually talk (“Lay off’im, why doncha?  I’ll kock ‘im innis eye!  Wassamattuh?  Yuh a wise guy er a boy scout?”), that allows young kids who are playing at being something more important and violent than they are to actually be the way they really would be.  We see the only person who seems to have managed to escape from this dead end, and he hasn’t really escaped so far, at least in his head, here he is, back to visit a mother who doesn’t want him, a girl destroyed by the life she has lead after being left behind and there’s nothing left for him in these streets but darkness and death.

In contrast to Gorky’s original play, there is at least a semblance of hope at the end, with Gimpty and Drina walking off together, hoping to keep Tommy’s life from being worse than what it already is.  It’s not much of a hopeful ending, but there is something at least, and it’s a hell of a lot more than Gorky gave his characters.

By the way, to get a copy of the play of The Awful Truth, I had to request it on ILL and I was sent an actual working copy of the play from the 1930’s that seemed ready to fall apart in my hands.  It clearly is hard to find as a printed play and wasn’t readily published.  Dead End, on the other hand, was printed in 1936 in a beautiful edition by Random House with woodcuts at the beginning of each of the three acts (that version is pictured here to the right).  Though, like all plays, it was written to be performed, it was also clearly intended from the start that it could be read and that it would be read.

The Adaptation:

Much of Dead End would go straight from the stage to the screen, from the opening moments with the boys down to their closing moments.  All of the characters stay true onscreen and many of the lines make it directly intact.  There are a few vital changes, though.  The “hero” of the play, has his name changed from Gimpty to Dave, which would seem a minor change if not for the fact that Gimpty has a cane to get around and Dave moves well enough to chase Martin out onto the rooftops and eventually kill him.  There is also clearly more of a history between Dave and Drina than there was in the play, which leads to an even more hopeful ending, with the possibility that the two of them would end up together and perhaps be able to provide some sort of positive influence on Tommy’s life.

But there’s no question that the biggest change is in Martin’s death scene.  In the play, Gimpty has called in the Feds to get Martin and they’re the ones who end up shooting him.  But in the film, Dave is up on the rooftop, chasing him along and providing the final shot himself.  In one sense, it’s a Hollywood thing, giving him the key moment.  On the other hand, it also works with the theme of the play, with the idea that it’s those who are living in the slums who are going to have to clean out those who are bringing the slums further down.  Either way, it works on screen, partially because Joel McCrea is just the actor to play that role of the reluctant hero.

The Credits:

Directed by William Wyler.  Screen Play by Lillian Hellman.  Based Upon the Play by Sidney Kingsley.  As Produced for the Stage by Norman Bel Geddes.


Night-must-fall-posterNight Must Fall

The Film:

Night Must Fall is a good film, a high level *** film, but it is not a ***.5, not good enough to be considered in my race for Best Picture.  It is also a well-written film and it has good performances from the three main characters, two of whom, Robert Montgomery and May Whitty, were nominated for Oscars (the first for each).  So, when you have a film that is well-written and has good acting and it still can’t manage to make it up to the level of ***.5, you have to ask yourself why.  And in some cases, certainly in this case, that’s because of the director.

It’s the story of a psychopath, a man who is crazed enough to kill people not for any particular reason, but because of the damage in his psyche, buried somewhere below the surface.  But it is also a bit of a mystery, the wonder over precisely who the killer is (though the film gives a bit more of a hint with an opening scene that’s not in the play, showing the actual hiding of the victim).  It’s the story of three people who are lonely in very different ways.  The first is Mrs. Bramson, the rather unpleasant older woman whose house is the setting for all the actions of the film (the film always feels very much like a stage play – the camera rarely moves beyond the main house, and often not even outside the main room).  Mrs. Bramson is played by May Whitty in her first Hollywood role, and she is quite good (she had also played the role on stage).  The second is Olivia, her rather timid niece, who manages to get bolder as the story goes on.  She’s described in the play as “nothing in any way remarkable about her at the moment”, though, played by Rosalind Russell, you can tell that there will be something more remarkable about her before the story’s end, and indeed, the arrival very soon of Dan, the page-boy from the local tavern who will turn this house upside down.  Dan soon shows up, played by Robert Montgomery, in his desperate attempt to break free of the romantic cads he had so often been playing, and it works, as he gives the best performance of his career to date and earns an Oscar nomination.  But while the performance is good, there is something about his placement in so many scenes that makes me think that Richard Thorpe didn’t know quite how to direct him.

As the news of a murder breaks, it will soon come out that Dan is actually psychotic, his mind long broken somewhere inside.  He will fascinate Mrs. Bramson, to her eventual fall, will begin to be the obsessive focus of Olivia and destroy the watchful peace that had settled over the house.  It doesn’t take us long to learn exactly who Dan is.  The suspense is not in the question of who the killer is but in precisely how things will play out in the relationships, between Dan and Mrs. Bramson and between Dan and Olivia.

night_must_fall_300The Source:

Night Must Fall by Emlyn Williams  (1935)

Night Must Fall was a hit in London, the first big hit of Emlyn Williams’ career as a playwright (he also starred as Dan) and provided a plum role for May Whitty and her entrance into Hollywood and a career that would see her win an Oscar before long.  But, as sometimes can be the case, it is an excessively talky play, especially during the early scenes, as everything must be provided for the audience to get a clue as to what is going on.  It’s really the arrival of Dan that sets the action of the play going and that takes 27 pages.

The Adaptation:

John Van Druten managed to make some very good changes to the play when bringing it to the screen.  The first was in speeding up the arrival of Dan (and, indeed, of having Dan be seen in the opening of the film, providing something for us to be interested in before we even get to the house).  The second is in the use of characters.  There are actually quite a few more speaking roles in the film than there were in the play, but there are far fewer actual lines for characters outside the main three.  The main cut is the character of Hubert, the local man who is interested in Olivia, but who really doesn’t serve any purpose in the play.  It’s a good use of how to adapt a play when bringing it to the screen.  It’s just too bad that Richard Thorpe didn’t have the same ability.

The Credits:

Directed by Richard Thorpe.  Screen Play by John Van Druten.  The only mention of the source material is in the title card: The Astonishing London and New York Stage Success “Night Must Fall” by Emlyn Williams.

Poster - Captains Courageous_02Captains Courageous

The Film:

I have already reviewed this film once.  I saw it once, years and years ago, when I was first crossing off awards films.  Then I saw it again in 2009 for my Best Picture project and I hated it just as much as I had before.  And now I dived into it for a third time to write this piece.  It’s just ridiculous, both the film (because Freddie Bartholomew is so f’ing annoying) and the Best Actor (I think I have now settled on this performance as the worst Best Actor in history).  See there on the poster, where it says “As Great as Mutiny on the Bounty”?  Don’t believe it for a second.

captainsThe Source:

Captains Courageous by Rudyard Kipling (1897)

Captains Courageous is a good adventure yarn, a book of its times, something good for a young boy to read about what it was like to be out and about at sea.  It’s a coming of age story of a spoiled boy who slowly learns, through hard work, to become a man and to find his place in the world.  Written by anyone other than Kipling and it likely would have been forgotten long ago.  But it still has some charm today, precisely because it was written by Kipling.

The Adaptation:

The filmmakers clearly decided that if they wanted a full-length feature film that they would need to add a lot to Kipling’s original story.  So, first of all, we get a good look at what has been going on with Harvey’s life before he takes the trip that ends up with him lost in the ocean.  There is nothing like this in the book – Harvey is spoiled, but he’s nothing like the awful child who gets booted from school and who has no mother and a father who doesn’t pay much attention.  Kipling doesn’t feel the need to bludgeon us over the head with how annoying Harvey is and how much he desperately needs this.  Which is also why the book is still readable but the film is annoying – because of how annoying Harvey is, both in his character, and in the awful performance of Freddie Bartholomew.

But the other key addition from the filmmakers is the close relationship with Manuel, the Portuguese sailor played to full hamminess by Spencer Tracy, who is a minor character in the novel, and who, by the way, never dies.  They apparently decided that learning to grow up through some hard work wasn’t enough and that Harvey really needed a transformative experience to grow into adulthood, and so, of course, losing his best friend to an accident that never really makes sense (every time I’ve seen the film, I can’t quite fathom why it’s so determined that he will die).  I think I would have liked the film a lot better if they had just made the novel and not felt the need to add so much.  And, of course, I know I would have liked it a lot more if it didn’t have Bartholomew.

The Credits:

Directed by Victor Fleming.  Screen Play by John Lee Makin, Marc Connelly and Dale Van Every.  Rudyard Kipling’s Captains Courageous is the only mention of the source material.

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

  • Nothing Sacred  –  An enjoyable screwball comedy (in color) from a story by James H. Street.
  • Make Way for Tomorrow  –  Too weepy for me to put the script on the list and most of the acting is too weak for me to consider it the kind of classic that others do.  Adapted from the novel by Josephine Lawrence.  Leo McCarey thought his Oscar should have been for this, but I’m more with the Academy, who didn’t give it any nominations, on this one.
  • Stand-In  –  Leslie Howard is charming in the adaptation of a novel by the same writer (Clarence Buddington Kelland) who gave us Mr. Deeds Goes to Town.  A fun film that’s not easy to find and that also has Bogie.
  • Lost Horizon  –  Frank Capra’s Best Picture nominee, already reviewed here, adapted from the James Hilton novel.
  • Sabotage  –  It’s almost a bummer that this got knocked off the list because I was more than willing to write about Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent, a great novel.  There’s some very good direction, especially in the bomb scene, but the film and the script don’t rise high enough.
  • A Damsel in Distress  –  Wodehouse adapted his own play into this Astaire / Rogers musical.
  • The Prisoner of Zenda  –  Ronald Colman stars in two roles (unlike A Tale of Two Cities) in the first version of the Anthony Hope novel.
  • Topper  –  Though Cary Grant and Constance Bennett are the stars, it’s Roland Young who is the title character from Thorne Smith’s novel that would spawn sequels and an early television series.
  • Camille  –  George Cukor directs Greta Garbo (who was Oscar-nominated) in the Dumas adaptation.
  • Conquest  –  Charles Boyer was Oscar-nominated for his performance in this adaptation of the novel Pani Walewska.
  • Mayerling  –  Winner of the New York Film Critics for Best Foreign Film, but not really that great.  Adapted from the novel.
  • Seventh Heaven  –  A remake of the film that won Janet Gaynor the first Best Actress Oscar but Simone Simon is no Janet Gaynor.
  • The Hurricane  –  In 1935, John Ford won Best Director for The Informer and a Nordhoff / Hall novel was adapted into Best Picture (Mutiny on the Bounty).  This time, they are together, but the results aren’t all that great.
  • Quality Street  –  Future Oscar winner George Stevens directing Katharine Hepburn in an adaptation of a J.M. Barrie play should be better, but it’s not.
  • The Great Garrick  –  Hard to find James Whale film, adapted from the play about the famous actor.
  • Maytime  –  One of the least annoying of the Eddy / MacDonald musicals, based on the opera.
  • Think Fast, Mr. Moto  –  The first, and probably the best of the Moto films, based on the novel.
  • Fire Over England  –  The Olivier / Leigh film, not all that good and not showing the great film acting in store from each of them.  Based on the novel.
  • The Prince and the Pauper  –  It’s got Errol Flynn and Claude Rains, but it’s definitely not Robin Hood.  It’s Twain, sort of, but not all that good.
  • Kid Galahad  –  Directed by Curtiz, starring Davis, Bogart and Robinson, but not much worth it.  It’s based on a Saturday Evening Post story.
  • Thank You, Mr. Moto  –  The second Moto film, more loosely based on the novel.
  • True Confession  –  A silly Lombard / MacMurray comedy adapted from the play Mon Crime.  This is the lowest of the *** films.  After this, we’re in **.5 range.
  • The Road Back  –  James Whale’s adaptation of Remarque’s sequel to All Quiet on the Western Front.  It doesn’t work all that well, partially because the acting isn’t very good.  Very hard to find.
  • King Solomon’s Mines  –  The first film version of Haggard’s famous adventure novel.  This was remade, to better effect, in 1950.
  • Stella Dallas  –  The first version of the famous weepie, with Barbara Stanwyck earning an Oscar nomination in the title role.
  • Wee Willie Winkie  –  John Ford doing a Kipling story would sound like a good match until you get Shirley Temple in there.
  • The Good Earth  –  A Best Picture nominee and therefore already reviewed here.  It won the Pulitzer, helped Pearl S. Buck win the Nobel Prize and the film won Luise Rainer a second Oscar.  None of these things were deserved.
  • Madame X  –  Sam Wood was nominated for an Oscar once so I saw this film for my directors project.  You shouldn’t bother.
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