My Top 9:
- The Wizard of Oz
- Wuthering Heights
- Port of Shadows
- The Lady Vanishes
- Gunga Din
- Of Mice and Men
- Goodbye, Mr. Chips
Note: Again we have a list that isn’t quite reflective of the films as a whole.
Oscar Nominees (Best Screenplay):
- Gone with the Wind
- Goodbye, Mr. Chips
- Wuthering Heights
Analysis: This time we have two films in this category that would qualify as original – Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (which would actually win Best Original Story) and Ninotchka.
I have already reviewed this film twice, once as a Best Picture nominee and once in my Year in Film series. Really, what more do I need to say about it at this point? It is simultaneously the greatest Musical, Fantasy and Kids film ever made with, perhaps, the greatest song ever written for a motion picture and the single most wonderful scene in all of film history. There was an interesting revelation that suddenly occurred to me after 30 years. The first girl I ever fell for bears a resemblance to Judy Garland as she looked back then. Somehow I fail to find this to be a coincidence.
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum (1900)
The original novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (usually shortened to The Wizard of Oz, as in my Del Rey copy, although oddly, called The New Wizard of Oz in our Junior Illustrated Deluxe Edition) is a fantastic children’s book. It follows in the tradition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and that would be continued in The Chronicles of Narnia – the magical trip to a magical land with a lot of wonderful adventures, concluding with the return home.
Does more need to be said? If so, would that mean you’ve never read the original book? One of the great things is that the book and the film, so similar in several ways, are also so very different in so many ways. I have never indulged myself in any of the many sequels but this first book is a classic of children’s literature.
“She’s really too old to be this useless on the farm,” Veronica said as we were watching the film together. “Admittedly,” I replied, “if they had used Shirley Temple as they originally planned that would be much closer to Dorothy’s age in the book. But, it wouldn’t work for the song. And everything in the film hinges on the song.” I believe that, of course. Everything in the film hinges on the song. Dorothy Gale in the book is just a little girl who, like Alice, is a bit overwhelmed and wants to go home after her adventure. On the other hand, Dorothy Gale in the film is a teenager, longing to escape (and, as I pointed out to Veronica, we don’t know in the context of the film how long she’s been on the farm, so we can’t really know if it’s realistic that she’s this useless on the farm), and thus the magnificent song. But she does journey over the rainbow and she needs that journey, into a land of color and magnificence to understand precisely how much she does miss her home and her family. She is exactly as old as she needs to be for the film.
So, yes, Dorothy is much older in the film than she is in the book. But of course that’s not all that’s different between the film and the book. There is so much more in the book of their adventures (there are five chapters between when the Wizard leaves and when Glinda (who isn’t the same witch from the beginning of the story) sends Dorothy home). And of course there are all the songs. Some stories don’t need to be told into musicals but there was never a better adaptive choice than to turn this book into this musical with the best soundtrack ever written for a film.
But at its heart the film is the same as the book. It is the story of a girl, transported to a magical land, who comes through her adventures to find three incredible friends, so amazing that they live in our imaginations forever, and in the end manages to go where she always wanted to be – home.
Directed by Victor Fleming. Screen Play by Noel Langley, Florence Ryerson and Edgar Allan Woolf. Adaptation by Noel Langley. From the Book by L. Frank Baum. Uncredited direction from George Cukor, Mervyn LeRoy, Norman Taurog and King Vidor (the Kansas scenes only). Uncredited contributing writing from Irving Brecher, Herbert Fields, Samuel Hoffenstein, John Lee Mahin, Herman J. Mankiewicz, Jack Mintz, Ogden Nash, Robert Pirosh, George Seaton and Sid Silvers. Uncredited additional dialogue from Jack Haley and Bert Lahr. Uncredited writing from William H. Cannon, Arthur Freed and E.Y. Harburg.
I have already reviewed this film twice. The first was as a Top 100 Novel and the second time was a Best Picture nominee. The first review discusses more of the film as it relates to the novel while the second review covers much of the same ground but focuses a bit more on the film as a film. It’s a great film, the one that really established William Wyler as the darling of the Oscars and the one which made (in his own words) Laurence Olivier into a film actor, perhaps the greatest film actor.
Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë (published under the name Ellis Bell) (1847)
I have already written about the book in my Top 100 post. So, needless to say, I consider it one of the 100 greatest novels ever written.
The key differences, of course, as I have already said, is that the film, like so many other later adaptations of the novel, completely cuts out the second generation of characters, where we see hatred and pain passed down among the children.
Then there is the ending. The great notion of Heathcliff as the great romantic lead perhaps comes from this ending. For it can’t really come from the film itself. Surely people can watch the film and get past the Olivier performance and realize that they are interested in him, not the character of Heathcliff who is a brute, a man who has been brutalized by his past and now intends to wreck his vengeance, even across generations. But when they see the Olivier performance coupled with that final shot, of Heathcliff’s ghost walking off with Cathy’s ghost into the snow (though neither Olivier or Oberon are in the shot – producer Samuel Goldwyn insisted on the shot and did after the director and stars were gone), they think of this as eternal love between the two and Heathcliff as the great romantic lead.
Directed by William Wyler. Screen Play by Charles MacArthur and Ben Hecht. From the Novel by Emily Bronté. Uncredited contributing writing from John Huston.
Port of Shadows (Le Quai des brumes)
I first saw The Grand Illusion when I was in college, long after I had already become a big Kenneth Branagh fan. So, from the start, Jean Gabin always reminded me of Branagh – I am hard pressed to think of two great actors who resemble each other as much as these two do. However, in the roles he took, Gabin was nothing like Branagh. He was tough, common, ruthless, sometimes a criminal, sometimes a leader, but always a man who was going to do what he needed to do. He was more in the mold of Jimmy Cagney, the tough guy that might kill you, but that you were rooting for anyway.
Here, Gabin plays Jean, a deserter from the army who ends up in Le Havre and is searching for a way out of France altogether. But I am reminded of something Roger Ebert says about the Keith Carradine character in McCabe & Mrs. Miller: “Some people are just incapable of not getting themselves killed.” For a while, it seems like things might lean towards happiness at the end of the fog. But then we look at these characters again and see that there is nothing there for happiness to hang onto. Look at our cast of characters: the army deserter, a young woman who inspires passions deep enough to drive men to murder, the brutal cockroach of a man who is so low that at one point that Jean says he’s not worth being squashed, the pathetic wanna-be gangster that Jean slaps around and the tragic artist who paints a drowning man when he sees a swimmer because that’s the world that he sees. That Jean connects, first with a stray dog that he keeps a lorry driver from running over, then with the artist, who leaves him some clothes, an identity and the possibility of hope, and with the young woman, reminding himself that there may be a reason for hope.
And yet, none of this will hold. The darkness and fog creep in, through the cinematographic shadows. The beginnings of film noir hang around all the characters, just waiting for all them to die senseless deaths. Indeed, as is started in the Criterion liner notes: “The fatalism was such that a few years later Vichy propagandists accused the film of having prepared the ground for France’s defeat by the Germans – to which Carné replied, ‘Does one blame the weather on the barometer?'” It is this greatness, in all aspects of the film, the smart, fatalistic writing, the strong performances (most especially Gabin, but also Michel Simon as the repulsive Zabel and Raymond Aimos, so perfectly fatalistic as the artist) and the overall film.
I’ve gone back to lots of films over the years. Some have gone up (like this one). Some have gone down. Sometimes I notice things I didn’t notice the first time. Sometimes I got it right the first time. As I have gone back to films for Adapted Screenplay, because I am always paying close attention to the credits (for the credits bit below), I am also paying close attention to the score. And this time I though about how wonderfully perfect the Maurice Jaubert score is in this film. And so I went to change it on my spreadsheet, to move it up. And then I realized I had it at the same level originally as I was about to change it to. I had noticed how good the score was the first time. I’m just glad I noticed it again this time.
Quai des Brumes by Pierre Mac Orlan (1927)
Sadly, it doesn’t look like Quai des Brumes, the original novel that the film was based on, has ever been translated into English.
With no novel to work from, what I can work from is the notes in director Marcel Carné’s autobiography, as reproduced in the booklet of the Criterion DVD. He notes the “the action of Port of Shadows takes place in Montmarte at the turn of the century, more specifically in the cabaret known as the Lapin Agile. How could we recreate old Montmartre, the rue des Saules, and the Lapin Agile in Neubabelsberg, where the film was supposed to be shot? I imagined how the Germans would do it: heavy and theatrical. Jacques shared my misgivings. The title of Mac Orlan’s work gave us an idea: Relocate the story in a port, in this case Hamburg.” Though, production issues intervened and they left Germany and settled on Le Havre (after considering Brest). Not many other changes are noted in the excerpt, though Zabel was supposed to have a package with a severed head that was cut and Carné refused to cut the suicide. But he does finish with this: “Once the film was completed, I asked Mac Orlan to come to a screening. Given the changes I had made in his book, I was a little worried about his reaction. During the lunch that followed, he paid Jacques and me the highest of compliments: ‘It’s amazing,’ he told us. ‘You changed everything: the era, the place, the characters. But the extraordinary thing is that it totally captures the spirit of the book.'”
Un film de Marcel Carné. Scénario et Dialogue de Jacques Prévert. D’après le Roman de Pierre Mac Orlan.
Alfred Hitchcock had made over 20 feature films in Britain before David O. Selznick brought him to the States. Of all of those films, only 3 of them were classics, on the level of the later films that he would make in Hollywood. The first two were made back to back in 1934 and 35: The Man Who Knew Too Much and The 39 Steps. The other one was The Lady Vanishes, the film that convinced Selznick that he was right in bringing Hitchcock across the pond.
The Lady Vanishes is one of those Hitchcock films where you must not think too hard about what is going on. So much of it is clearly preposterous that you can’t imagine that anyone would get sucked into it: a middle-aged woman is a spy who must get back a key bit of information to Britain, that information being a bit of a tune. To keep that information from getting to Britain, she is kidnapped, then a whole train is kidnapped and the enemy spies try to kill all involved.
And yet, you find yourself riveted to the film (in their famous book together, Francois Truffaut tells Hitchcock “Now let’s talk about The Lady Vanishes. They show it very often in Paris; sometimes I see it twice in one week. Since I know it by heart, I tell myself each time that I’m going to ignore the plot, to examine the train and see if it’s really moving, or to look at the transparencies, or to study the camera movements inside the compartments. But each time I become so absorbed by the characters and the story that I’ve yet to figure out the mechanics of that film.” p 117-118). It’s the story of a young woman (with a head injury) who meets a kindly middle-aged woman on the train only to have her disappear; once this happens everyone on the train denies ever seeing the older woman. She doesn’t yet know she’s part of a spy conspiracy that she has stumbled upon by accident. With a stalwart young British man who finally believes her and helps her figure it out and a bit of comedy from two cricket enthusiasts who just want to get back in time for an important match (who would eventually appear in a number of other British films) we make our way through the mechanics of the plot and suspense builds as the train is sidelined and a firefight breaks out.
As is the case with most Hitchcock films, there is a considerable amount of suspense and some minor characters die, yet at the end, we have the two leads, hand-in-hand, together, headed for a happy ending. It doesn’t flow as well as many of Hitchcock’s later classics but it has the sly humor that is often evident in his films, a strong performance from May Whitty as the older woman and it always keeps you on your toes. Just don’t think about it too hard.
The Wheel Spins by Ethel Lina White (1936)
White had been a writer of thrillers for quite a while before she published The Wheel Spins in 1936. It would turn out to be, by far, his best known book, though it wouldn’t even be known by the title for very long. Hitchcock’s film would follow two years later (though it would take another year to make it to the States) and most printings of the book following would change the name to The Lady Vanishes to match with the more famous film (including the Fontana Books version on the right and the Bloomsbury Film Classics version I read for this).
It’s a charming little thriller, just like so many spy thrillers, but, as with many works made into Hitchcock films, it really doesn’t have a whole lot to recommend it beyond being the basis for the Hitchcock film. It really did deserve to have its name changed, for after all, if Hitchcock had not made his film, would the book even still be read? I suspect not.
The basic premise of the film definitely comes from the book – a young beautiful woman meets a middle-aged woman on a train and when the older woman disappears she tries to figure out why only to end up in a spy story. There are also considerable differences, as is the case with almost every Hitchcock film. In the book, the younger woman’s head problem is due to sunstroke, not an injury (caused by people trying to hit the older woman) and she doesn’t meet the mysterious Miss Froy until after she is already on the train, as opposed to the night before in the hotel. The film also adds a number of minor characters, of course, including the two cricket-obsessed fans. Also, of course, the most ridiculous aspect of the film, the bit of the folk-song that must be remembered, is a creation for the film and didn’t exist in the book (where it would have been much harder to convey anyway).
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Based Upon the Story “The Wheel Spins” by Ethel Lina White. Screen Play: Sidney Gilliatt and Frank Launder. Continuity: Alma Reville.
I have already reviewed this film once. It is often talked about as one of the great films of all-time, and certainly it was a big influence on Orson Welles, among others. It is not that great of a film. But it was the first great Western, the first one to reach **** and it was the film that set John Ford on the path to great stardom as a Western director. If not for this film would we have My Darling Clementine or The Searchers or The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance? It is also the film that made John Wayne a star. Wayne was never a great actor and he doesn’t give a great performance, but it is a star performance and he captivates the screen every minute he’s on it.
“Stage to Lordsburg” by Ernest Haycox (1937)
“Haycox’s editors at Collier’s allowed him considerable latitude in subject and technique, but they discouraged him from straying from the successful Western formula. ‘Stage to Lordsburg’ is typical for its day. It begins by immediately establishing the Apaches as hostile, a conflict that is not delineated but simply exists as part of the donnée. Likewise, the Indians aren’t characters; they’re a force similar to an act of nature.” (Adaptations: From Short Story to Big Screen, 35 Great Stories That Have Inspired Great Films. ed. Stephanie Harrison. 2005. p 213.)
“Stage to Lordsburg” is a nice little story. It tells the story of several people thrown together on a stagecoach that must get from one town to another with the threat of Apaches out in the wild. There is tension (one woman runs a brothel while another is the pregnant wife of an army officer), there is an Apache attack, there is the violence coming at the end between a man and the debts he intends to repay. And there is the happy ending, when the madame has a chance for a life that she feels slip away with “four swift shots beating furiously along the sultry quiet,” but then we get the ending: “She was thinking of all that when she heard the strike of boots on the street’s packed earth; and turned to see him, high and square in the muddy sunlight, coming toward her with his smile.”
It was called by Life “Grand Hotel on wheels” and that’s fairly accurate. Much of the action in the story comes straight from the original story – the death of Carradine’s character, the professions of key characters, the final outcome of the film. But the 12 page story doesn’t really bring the characters to life as characters (and leaves many of the stage’s occupants as vague shapes in the story). It is the Nichols script which really brings them to life, in a variety of ways. It makes Carradine embody all the aspects of the South, both for good and bad. It has Thomas Mitchell bring the drunken doctor to life. It provides extra motivation for some of the characters being on the stage. But the biggest difference is in the changes from Malpais Bill, the quiet man on the stage who has a mission and the Ringo Kid, the film equivalent who comes vividly to life from his very first shot as we move in closer on that face which was so little known then and so incredibly famous now.
Directed by John Ford. Original Story: Ernest Haycox. Screenplay: Dudley Nichols. Uncredited writing from Ben Hecht.
From 1939, we have lists of “classics” that aren’t really classics. And then we have this French film, released in France in 1937, but arriving in the States in 1939. It is written and directed by Marcel Pagnol, that brilliant French writer and filmmaker who wrote the Marius plays (and directed the third film). It would place in the Top 5 Foreign Films from the National Board of Review and actually win Best Foreign Film from the New York Film Critics. And yet, here it is, not readily available on DVD, with only two external reviews on the IMDb and less than 250 user votes.
In spite of the presence of Fernandel, the famous French comedic actor, both in the film and on the whole of the poster, most of the film is fairly dark. The main character, Arsule, we only meet after we hear that she is being raped by a group of men, who apparently just have nothing better to do on their lunch break. She is rescued by Gedemus (Fernandel) and goes with him, pulling his cart, until they come across Gaubert, the last man left in a village on the brink of non-existence, and she finds life, both with him and in him. And eventually in herself.
Harvest is a very good film, the breeding ground between Pagnol’s sense of hope and life in his previous writings and films and the bleak desolation of Zola’s Naturalism that made such a deep impression on French Literature.
Regain by Jean Giono (1930)
This is a bit of an odd novel. The start of it is very jarring (it actually moves into second person in a manner that throws you off at first). It is quite short (192 pages with woodcut illustrations, not many lines per page and decent margins). And it is, for most of it, very bleak (“She looked up vacantly at the man, then went with them. But instead of giving her something to eat they made her soak up wine and then raped her.”). And yet, there may be something more here. There is a bit of Zola’s Naturalism, except with an ending that may actually border on happiness. There are characters who seem to be nothing more than archetypes, and yet, seem to develop some depth along the way. In the end, it is the film which is the better work, which more clearly outlines the characters and understands that the story is just a way for us to get to know these characters.
The major difference between the film and the novel also adds to the weakest link in the film – the expanded role of Gedemus. Though Arsule is played by Orane Demazis, who had played Fanny in the Marius trilogy, it was Fernandel who was the big box office star. And so, probably to expand his role and make more use of him (after all – he’s there right on the poster), we see Gedemus as the man who rescues Arsule from the rape scene (sort of – they seem mostly done). In the book, it is actually the older woman who sends the men away and ends the scene (I almost wrote brutal scene, but, rather disturbingly it isn’t depicted as being particularly brutal, either in the novel or the film). But it isn’t just that scene – when Arsule first leaves Gedemus we get a much longer scene where he reports her missing and possibly dead and then is mistakenly arrested for the crime (which brings a bit of humor to it since we know he’s innocent).
The problem is, while Fernandel was a big star, the tones of these scenes don’t work as well in terms of the rest of the film. Harvest was not a great film to begin with, but this overuse of Fernandel makes it a lower level ***.5 film than it perhaps otherwise might have been had they stuck closer to the novel.
Film de Marcel Pagnol. d’aprés le cèlébre roman de Jean Giono.
For Christmas in 1989, a friend of mine gave me a book called “You Ain’t Heard Nothin’ Yet!”: 501 Famous Lines from Great (and Not-So Great) Movies. It’s a good book, a very enjoyable book, and one I have been crossing off films in it ever since. One of the films I first noticed that I didn’t know at the time was Gunga Din. It wasn’t because the lines were so great, but because it included four of them – as much as any other film in the book and the same number as The Wizard of Oz, Gone With the Wind and Casablanca, three of the most well-known quotable films of all-time. So, this suddenly became intriguing; after all, this wasn’t one of the 10 films nominated for Best Picture. What exactly was it?
A classic, that’s what. Not a great film, but an enjoyable comic adventure. It’s got wit, it’s got style, it’s fun to watch. It’s the story of three men in the British Royal Engineers played by Cary Grant, Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Victor McLaglen. They set off to find gold, and through the sacrifice of Gunga Din, the water-bearer for the regiment, played by Sam Jaffe, they manage to find themselves.
It works, not just because it’s a great adventure. It works also because it has a bit of romance (Joan Fontaine, in one of her first key film roles), a lot of comedy (most of the scenes with Cary Grant have a considerable amount of humor to them) and a lot of comraderie (the characters work much better together than say the ones in The Lives of a Bengal Lancer, and that chemistry as well as the humor is what makes this so much a better film).
And perhaps there is the element of humanity at the core of the film that also rises it up. Ironically, it is derived from a poem by Rudyard Kipling, the great poet and writer who was an unabashed imperialist who also wrote “The White Man’s Burden”. But, in both Kipling’s poem and the film, the most human character, the most honorable character, is Din himself, the man who is constantly overlooked, but whose sacrifice allows others to live on and remember him. That works partially because of Din’s character, who is never seen as saintly, but simply as hard-working (even if what he wants to do is be British) and partially because of Joffe’s strong performance.
“Gunga Din” by Rudyard Kipling (1892)
“Gunga Din” is one of the best of Kipling’s poems, giving a sense of the adventure and danger in being a British soldier in India at the time (“I shan’t forgit the night / When I dropped be’ind the fight / With a bullet where my belt-plate should ‘a’ been.”). It also gives a sense of what may lay beyond (“So I’ll meet ‘im later on / At the place where ‘e is gone”) while acknowledging that the narrator and Din are headed for the same place beyond this life. And, of course, it ends with the famous line “You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din!”
The idea for the film definitely comes from the poem and the character of Din is fleshed out well enough in the poem that he just about springs to life straight from its lines. The film itself makes use of parts of the first stanza at the opening of the film, and then, at the end, it literally returns to the poem, bringing Kipling himself into the film just to say the final stanza of the poem (which he seems to have just made up in his tent) which he reads as a eulogy. Other than that, the film stays true to the idea of the poem while taking the story from other parts of Kipling and from previous films like The Lives of a Bengal Lancer.
Produced and Directed by George Stevens. Screen Play by Joel Sayre & Fred Guiol. Story by Ben Hecht & Charles MacArthur. From Rudyard Kipling’s Poem Gunga Din. Uncredited contributing writing from Lester Cohen, John Colton, William Faulkner, Vincent Lawrence, Dudley Nichols and Anthony Veiller.
I have already reviewed this film once. When I went back that time, I found myself dropping the film from ***.5 to ***. Some of that may have been the film. And I thought perhaps that some of that was because of the novel, but for more on that, read below.
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck (1937)
When I first saw Of Mice and Men I thought it was a very good film, a low level ***.5 film. But when I went back to it for the Best Picture project, I dropped it to ***. At the time, it had been years (probably at least 15) since I had read the novel. When I first read the novel in high school (I had a whole summer reading list to get through in less than 48 hours and I chose books by length) I was greatly moved by the story of Lenny and George. So, had time made me see that Steinbeck’s short novel wasn’t really that great a novel, not nearly at the same level as Grapes of Wrath?
And then I read the novel again and I found myself just as moved as I had been over 20 years ago. From those first lines that evoke the lush land (“A few miles south of Soledad, the Salinas River drops in close to the hillside bank and runs deep and green. The water is warm too, for it has slipped twinkling over the yellow sands in the sunlight before reaching the narrow pool.”) all the way through the sparse simple narrative (most of the story comes through the dialogue) and the ending that still packs the same emotional punch as it has for over 75 years (“The crash of the shot rolled up the hills and rolled down again. Lennie jarred, and then settled slowly forward to the sand, and he lay without quivering.”).
The film follows almost exactly from the book, so I’m not certain what it is that keeps it in the *** level for me. Certainly both leads are effective – Burgess Meredith in one of his best leading roles and Lon Chaney Jr. in the difficult task of Lennie (he’s got the perfect look and size to play him). And there is Charles Bickford as Slim (Bickford I think was incapable of giving a bad performance). The only things that really change much from the book are little details – like the actual showing of George and Lennie being chased by the mob at the start of the film instead of it simply being described later. Though the very final scene has some different undertones to it and what might happen afterwards. Still, it is a more than capable adaptation of the novel and it is done with a great deal of fidelity.
Produced and Directed by Lewis Milestone. “Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck. Screen Play by Eugene Solow. From the Stage Play Produced by Sam H. Harris and Staged by George S. Kaufman.
I have already reviewed this film once. I didn’t actually describe it as weepy and maudlin but that’s exactly what it is. It’s a good film with a strong performance from Robert Donat that didn’t even remotely deserve the Oscar it won (it also has a strong performance from Greer Garson that was inexplicably nominated for Best Actress though she is only in half the film while Donat is in all of it).
Goodbye, Mr. Chips by James Hilton (1934)
It took less time to actually read the book than it did to watch the film. This story is 126 pages at 20 lines a page and generous margins – it easily could fit in 50 or 60 pages. It’s a little charming story about a teacher and the devotion he has to his job and all the boys he has churned out, with a bit about the wife and son he lost when he was much younger that most people don’t know about. It doesn’t have the same appeal as Hilton’s Lost Horizon and has none of the literary quality of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie – it just talks about the teacher through the years rather than really allowing us to feel the teacher’s influence.
The film accurately covers the book, from the way we slowly learn about the wife and child who died, to the way he met his wife, straight on down to the final key line “Thousands of ’em . . . thousands of ’em . . . and all boys.” It is just as weepy and maudlin as the book is, from the first page, straight to the last line.
Directed by Sam Wood. Screen Play by R.C. Sheriff, Claudine West and Eric Maschwitz. From the Book “Goodbye, Mr Chips!” by James Hilton. Uncredited direction from Sidney Franklin.
I have already reviewed this film once. That was one of the longer reviews I wrote during the course of the Best Picture project because I wanted to make several points. The key point is that this film is not one of the all-time classics. It is extremely well-made, it has mostly top notch acting and it is well directed. But it is the writing, the story at the heart of the film that brings it down, whether it be the ridiculous dialogue or the pathetic romantic notion of the glory of the Antebellum South.
Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell (1936)
Oh, and all of that stuff comes straight from the source. When I did my grades for the Pulitzer Prize winners, I gave this one a C+. Part of that is the quality of the book – I personally find Mitchell’s story to be both condescending and annoying. Yes, the two main characters are utterly memorable, but they are also really irritating. But the other part of the grade had to do with the competition. Remember that this novel was published in 1936, the same year as Absalom, Absalom. Not only is Absalom one of the greatest books ever written (#12 on my list) but one that manages to encompass the weight of all the history that Mitchell simply wants to glorify. Absalom, with it’s brilliant ending the question: “Why do you hate the South?” deals with all the inherent contradictions of the Southern gentleman who values honor and yet walks over an entire race of people. After all, how could a novel with a line like “But the army was in Pennsylvania – that was all that mattered. One more victory and the war would be over, and then Darcy Meade could have all the boots he wanted, and the would come marching home and everybody would be happy again.” (p 254) ever match up with Absalom’s “It seemed to Quentin that he could actually see them: the ragged and starving troops without shoes, the gaunt powder-blackened faces looking backward over tattered shoulders, the glaring eyes in which burned some indomitable desperation of undefeat watching that dark interdict ocean across which a grim lightless solitary ship fled with in its hold two thousand previous pounds-space containing not bullets, not even something to eat.” If “In spite of war, fire and Reconstruction, Atlanta had become a boom town. In many ways, the place resembled the busy young city of the Confederacy’s early days. The only trouble was that the soldiers crowding the streets wore the wrong kind of uniforms, the money was in the hands of the wrong people, and the negroes were living in leisure while their former masters struggled and starved.” is your kind of paragraph, then by all means, go with Mitchell. I’ll stick to Faulkner.
Is the first line of the book the one that is perhaps least accurately portrayed on-screen? “Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were.” And yet, down further on the same page is a line that is perhaps perfectly put on-screen: “But for all the modesty of her spreading skirts, the demureness of hair netted smoothly into a chignon and the quietness of small white hands folded in her lap, her true self was poorly concealed. The green eyes in the carefully sweet face were turbulent, willful, lusty with life, distinctly at variance with her decorous demeanor.” The film does a fairly good job of following the book, straight through from that opening scene, of Scarlett sitting with the Tarletons, right down through “I don’t give a damn” to “Tomorrow is another day.”
Directed by Victor Fleming. Margaret Mitchell’s Story of the Old South: Gone With the Wind. Screen Play by Sidney Howard. Uncredited direction from George Cukor, Sam Wood and David O. Selznick. Uncredited contributing writing from Oliver H.P. Garrett, Ben Hecht, Jo Swerling and John Van Druten. It is widely believed that David O. Selznick wrote much of the actual shooting script.
Other Adaptations (in descending order of how good they are):
- Drums Along the Mohawk – Based on the Walter D. Edmonds novel about the American Revolution. Wondering if it maybe deserved a place on the list, I rewatched it. Good, but not good enough, though, if you have never seen it, watch the Ford at Fox DVD version because it looks gorgeous.
- Each Dawn I Die – Another strong Warners film with James Cagney, this one with him as a reporter framed by a corrupt administration. It also has George Raft as a gangster. Based on the novel.
- Another Thin Man – More diminishing returns from the series, now with a baby added to Nick and Nora. Stick to the first two.
- Drole de Drame – A 1937 Carné film adapted from the novel by J. Storer Clouston.
- The Four Feathers – Another “classic” that doesn’t get beyond ***. A good adventure, but already the fourth film version of the Mason novel.
- Beau Geste – Yet another adventure film. Adapted from the novel.
- The Spy in Black – An early solid Michael Powell film. From a different novel by J. Storer Clouston.
- Andy Hardy Gets Spring Fever – The seventh and one of the best Andy Hardy films as he falls in love with his teacher.
- Union Pacific – One of the better Cecil B. DeMille films adapted (uncredited) from the novel Trouble Shooters.
- Son of Frankenstein – The success of this film would revive Universal’s Horror franchise, though artistically it would never again reach the 1931-35 period. The last film with Karloff as the Monster and the first with Lugosi as Ygor. A surprisingly solid film with marvelous new sets.
- The Hound of the Baskervilles – The first of the Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes films and still the best. Yet, it’s a mid-level ***. Perhaps because I wasn’t raised on this version of Holmes it doesn’t hold up for me like it does for others who love the series.
- The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – The second of the Rathbone films and the last in several ways. After this, there would be a gap in three years and a change in studios. The change would mean a big drop in budgets, three films getting released per year and a change from Victorian settings to World War II settings and Holmes would battle Nazis. Almost on a par with Hound and significantly better than the later films in the series.
- The Cat and the Canary – It’s got Bob Hope and some good one-liners (“Don’t big empty house scare you?” “Not me, I used to be in vaudeville.”) but is a far cry from the 1927 film.
- Babes in Arms – The third film with Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland but really the start of their series of films, the first “let’s put on the show right here” film. Notable for introducing the song “Good Morning”. Rooney was nominated for Best Actor over Henry Fonda in Young Mr. Lincoln, which is ridiculous.
- The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex – Since Bette Davis and Errol Flynn weren’t in Gone With the Wind, they ended up in this instead. It’s an adaptation of the Maxwell Anderson play and it looks good but neither Flynn nor Davis is all that great.
- Golden Boy – The film that almost made William Holden a star, though it would really take another decade. Good but another non-classic. Based on the play.
- The Women – Do you love camp? If so, this is for you. It’s not for me. Another over-rated “classic. But, kudos to the original play and the film for not having any male speaking parts. That doesn’t make it a classic, but it does make it memorable. Solidly acted but the dialogue and story are preposterous and for a film to only have speaking female parts but still, essentially, fail the Bechdel test, is pathetic.
- The Hunchback of Notre Dame – Charles Laughton is solid. The rest of the cast and production, not so much. Skip this and stick with Chaney.
- Intermezzo: A Love Story – Ingrid Bergman reprises the role that made her internationally famous in a film adapted from the original Swedish film.
- The Mikado – Gilbert and Sullivan’s famous operetta gets the film treatment. You can skip this and go straight to Topsy-Turvy.
- The Old Maid – Bette Davis and Miriam Hopkins square off in an adaptation of Zoë Akins’ Pulitzer winning play.
- The Saint Strikes Back – The second Saint film but the first with George Sanders in the role.
- Confessions of a Nazi Spy – One of the first anti-Nazi films, based on articles by an FBI agent. Known more for being hard-to-find for a long time (it’s available now through Warner Archives) and for winning Best Picture at the NBR.
- Dark Victory – This film is reviewed here. It’s based on the play and is one of the more over-rated “classics” of 1939.
- Dust Be My Destiny – Adapted from another novel by Jerome Odlum whose Each Dawn I Die made a much better film. It’s almost a remake of You Only Live Once in the West.
- My Apprenticeship – The second in Mark Donsky’s Gorky Trilogy.
- Mr. Moto’s Last Warning – The sixth of the Moto films and no longer based on the novels but on original stories using the character.
- Topper Takes a Trip – This sequel to Topper was adapted from a second novel by the original author but without Cary Grant it suffers badly.
- Daughters Courageous – Not part of the Four Daughters films, though it has the same director and cast. Adapted from the play “Fly Away Home”.
- Susannah of the Mounties – Less annoying than some of the previous Shirley Temple films but still not all that good. Adapted from the first of a series of children’s books.
- Tarzan Finds a Son – Barely making it into the *** level, this, like The Thin Man series takes a big drop with the addition of another generation. They make a little bow to the books by making Boy the heir to the Greystoke fortune.
- The Man in the Iron Mask – James Whale does a mediocre job with the Dumas novel, perhaps because the terrible Warren William is D’Artagnan.
- The Little Princess – The classic children’s book becomes a **.5 Shirley Temple film.
- Juarez – A play and a novel become weak melodramatic bad history.
- Three Smart Girls Grow Up – More painful Deanna Durbin. A sequel to Three Smart Girls.
- The Rains Came – Adapted from a Louis Bromfield novel. This is mediocre and yet was nominated for 6 Oscars and it won Best Special Effects over The Wizard of Oz and Gone With the Wind.
- Gulliver’s Travels – The Fleischers try to compete with Disney by doing an animated Gulliver. I reviewed it here and I wasn’t nice about it.
- Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street – Like Gulliver, a low-level **.5 film. Adapted from a play and the old penny dreadfuls. Very low budget and very very mediocre.
- The Three Musketeers – This musical version of the Dumas novel with Don Ameche as D’Artagnan would be the worst version if not for the horrid 1993 film and (I assume as I won’t see it) horrid 2011 film.
- Jamaica Inn – Alfred Hitchcock’s worst film, adapted from the du Maurier novel. He would follow it up by coming to America, adapting a different du Maurier novel and winning Best Picture.
- The Return of Doctor X – A terrible film (*.5) and the worst I’ve seen from 1939 with the worst Bogart performance ever. This quasi-vampire film was marketed as a sequel to the 1932 Doctor X (which wasn’t great but was much better than this) but in actuality there is no connection. Based on the short story “The Doctor’s Secret” by William J. Makin.