"Spade by means of his grip on the Levantine's lapels turned him slowly and pushed him back until he was standing close in front of the chair he had lately occupied.  A puzzled look replaced the look of pain in the lead-colored face.  Then Spade smiled."  (p 46)

“Spade by means of his grip on the Levantine’s lapels turned him slowly and pushed him back until he was standing close in front of the chair he had lately occupied. A puzzled look replaced the look of pain in the lead-colored face. Then Spade smiled.” (p 46)

My Top 10:

  1. The Maltese Falcon
  2. The Little Foxes
  3. Here Comes Mr. Jordan
  4. The Devil and Daniel Webster
  5. High Sierra
  6. How Green Was My Valley
  7. Hold Back the Dawn
  8. Meet John Doe
  9. Suspicion
  10. Pépé le Moko

Note:  I have a Top 10, but unlike 1940, my list doesn’t go any further than that.

Oscar Nominees  (Best Screenplay):

  • Here Comes Mr. Jordan
  • Hold Back the Dawn
  • How Green Was My Valley
  • The Little Foxes
  • The Maltese Falcon

Oscar Nominees  (Best Original Story):

  • Here Comes Mr. Jordan
  • Meet John Doe

note 1:  Here Comes Mr. Jordan is the second of four films to win two Screenplay awards because of the way the categories worked back then.

note 2:  The other three nominees in the Best Original Story category qualified as original screenplays: Ball of Fire, The Lady Eve and Night Train.

note 3:  This post references three very useful book series on film – many of them can be found easily in libraries, which is where I got all the ones I mentioned here.  The first, mentioned in High Sierra, is the Wisconsin / Warner Bros. Screenplay Series, a series that sadly didn’t seem to last all that long.  But it publishes the entire screenplay and a lot of other useful information on the film as well.  The second is Rutgers Films in Print – these also have the screenplay and a lot of information on the film.  I made use of these in The Maltese Falcon (where I didn’t need it as much) and Meet John Doe (where it was really useful).  Then there are the BFI Film Classics books – small little books about various great films.  I have several of the books in this series (the one on The Wizard of Oz is the best, as it was written by Salman Rushdie) and the Pépé le Moko book was quite helpful, especially as I wasn’t able to get the original source novel.

maltese-falcon-posterThe Maltese Falcon

The Film:

I have already reviewed this film three times.  Every time I see it, I love it all the more.  There are few films that I more want to live in than this one.  The first review was in my John Huston piece, the second when I reviewed it as a Best Picture nominee and the third focused on the adaptation, as it was my Top 100 Novels review of the book.

malteseThe Source:

The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammet  (1930)

I have already reviewed the novel (see above).  Like the film, I love the book more and more every time I read it.  There might not be a novel that I so desperately wish I had written.

The Adaptation:

I have already, for the most part, discussed the adaptation of the novel in my third review of the film.  So much of the film is so close to the book that you can actually read the book and hear the characters saying the lines aloud.  Yes, there are parts that are not in the film (Gutman’s daughter, for instance) and the ending has a bit more to it in the book than in the film, but both the book and the film really kind of end where they each need to.

“I came very well prepared to my first directorial assignment.  The Maltese Falcon was a very carefully tailored screenplay, not only scene by scene but set-up by set-up.  I made a sketch of each set-up.  If it was to be a pan or a dolly shot, I’d indicate it.  I didn’t want to ever be at a loss before the actors of the camera crew.”  (An Open Book, John Huston, p 78)

Huston was really part of a new breed in Hollywood.  He joined Preston Sturges from the year before as only the second director to earn an Oscar nomination for writing his own script with no co-writer.

You can also look in the book The Censorship Papers: Movie Censorship Letters from the Hays Office, 1934 to 1968 by Gerald Gardner.  The Maltese Falcon is covered on pages 38 and 39, with such things cut as “We cannot approve the characterization of Cairo as a pansy, indicated by the lavender perfume, high-pitched voice, and other accoutrements.” and “This fade-out of Spade and Bridget is unacceptable because of the definite indication of an illicit sex affair.”  Yes, the second thing was definitely cut (it’s very clear in the book and clear in the 1931 version but definitely not here), but as for the first part, well, there are other ways than lavender perfume to get your point across and Lorre does it with his acting.

The Credits:

Directed by John Huston.  Screen Play by John Huston.  Based upon the Novel by Dashiell Hammett.

littlefoxesThe Little Foxes

The Film:

I have already reviewed this film once.  But, like The Letter, the previous year’s Wyler-Davis combination, this is a film that continues to grow on me the more I see it.  Maybe it’s that I so admire the craft of Bette Davis.  Maybe I just look at it as a first-rate translation of a play to the screen.  Or maybe it’s just a great film and I can leave it at that.

foxesThe Source:

The Little Foxes by Lilian Hellman  (1939)

A very good play, centered around the mega-bitch Regina Giddens, a role performed on Broadway by Tallulah Bankhead.  It’s a three act play that revolves around the fading fortunes of a Southern family that consists of three siblings, all of whom are almost equally unlikable.  There is Regina (whose poor husband Horace is dying and is also, when he is in the midst of outmaneuvering Regina, getting out maneuvered by his health) and her brothers Ben and Oscar.  The likable characters come in the form of Horace and Regina’s daughter Alexandra.  The play is not very long, but is quite effective and has an excellent lead role in the part of Regina.

The Adaptation:

It’s interesting to wonder how much of the changes to the play (and there aren’t so much changes as a good number of additions) came from Hellman herself (who wrote the script) or from the other three credited writers who provided additional scenes and dialogue.  Much of what is in the play is also in the film, a lot of it verbatim.  But there are entire scenes that are added to the film, scenes that flesh out the reputation of the family within the town and that really flesh out the character of Alexandra.  Played by Teresa Wright, she’s a great role, but there’s no question that this part is considerably larger than it was on stage and makes it easier to see the decision she comes to at the end of the play.

The Credits:

By Lillian Hellman.  From Her Stage Success as Produced by Herman Shumlin.  Screen Play by Lillian Hellman.  Additional scenes and dialogue by Arthur Kober, Dorothy Parker and Alan Campbell.

here-comes-mr-jordan-movie-poster-1941-1020526421Here Comes Mr. Jordan

The Film:

I have already reviewed this film once.  I will say that this time the film worked a little bit better for me than the last time around – possibly because it’s been a while since I’ve seen Heaven Can Wait and it doesn’t have to suffer from the weight of the remake.  And Claude Rains is so wonderful in it.  It is always a surprise to me to watch Robert Montgomery in this film and actually appreciate him, something I rarely do in other films.

heavenThe Source:

Heaven Can Wait: Comedy-Fantasy in Three Acts by Harry Segall  (1942)

This is a charming play but did it ever really get performed?  The copyright on the copy I was using is 1942 – a year after the film was produced.  I can imagine that maybe some high schools would do it – it has some really great lines (as you might know, if you see the film), but with a fairly faithful classic film and a less faithful but even better film version would people even bother with this?

The Adaptation:

Like happens with so many plays, things from the script follow pretty closely to what was in the play.  Also like many plays, the differences, small as they are, begin with the first shot.  In the film we get five minutes of Joe training and flying off to his next fight before we see him up in the afterlife.  As could be expected, the play begins with the afterlife itself (ironic that the film uses Mr. Jordan in the title when he has the second line in the play but takes several minutes before he shows up in the film).  But most of the film takes its lines straight from the play.  Sometimes the action is changed a bit, but really, this is the play brought to life on screen.

The Credits:

Directed by Alexander Hall.  Screen Play by Sidney Buchman, Seton I. Miller.  From the play “Heaven Can Wait” by Harry Segall.

devilThe Devil and Daniel Webster  (All That Money Can Buy)

The Film:

The Devil and Daniel Webster is a very good film, a low level ***.5 film that earns 4 Nighthawk nominations: Adapted Screenplay, Actor (Walter Huston), Original Score and Costume Design.  Huston himself was nominated for the Oscar and the music won the Oscar.  Going back for the first time since I originally watched it, probably close to 20 years ago, I was surprised by a few things.

The first is that Walter Huston, while fantastic, absolutely shouldn’t be listed as a lead.  I go with the Academy whenever someone is nominated, but Huston isn’t in much of the film – the lead is clearly James Craig, and he’s the primary reason why this film can’t make its way to greatness.  Craig is simply a fairly flat performer, and he is forced to carry far too much of the film before Huston and Edward Arnold (as Webster) come along to make it so lively at the end of the film.  If not for the seductive, vampish performance of Simone Simon, the film might have died there in the middle.  But it does have a lively score and a witty script that expands itself far beyond the original short story and later one-act play.  Once Huston comes along, things pick right up and it really does earn its place as a ***.5 film.

The second is how much of the story is filled in around the original short story.  The script is strong because it does precisely what it needs to do.  It sets things up at the beginning, taking the very notion of the bargain from the original story.  It covers the ending, with the strong oration by Daniel Webster that saves the day.  But in the middle, it creates an actual interesting story to fill in what happens in the years between (and makes some good use of Webster in multiple appearances as opposed to his and only appearance at the end in the story and play).  If not for the lackluster performance from Craig, that could really be what made the film interesting.  It is well-written and it doesn’t just rely on the gimmick of the courtroom scene between Webster and Scratch to make the film interesting.  It succeeds on its own with that.

devilandThe Source:

The Devil and Daniel Webster”  (1936) and The Devil and Daniel Webster: Play in One Act  (1939), both by Stephen Vincent Benét

This is a charming enough short story – the kind of thing you might have found yourself reading in high scho0l (the notes in the Criterion DVD pretty much say that it is standard high school reading).  It tells the story of the man Jabez Stone, beset by problems (not huge problems, but enough problems that he seems like he’s beset) and so declares he’d sell his soul to be done with them.  So, along comes Scratch and the deal is done.  Before long he is rich and important and Scratch wants his soul, so Jabez gets the famous orator Daniel Webster to defend him.  Webster is so eloquent that in spite of the contract, Jabez gets off.  And then Webster sends Scratch flying with a kick (“But they say that whenever the devil comes near Marshfield, even now, he gives it a wide berth.  And he hasn’t been seen in the state of New Hampshire from that day to this.  I’m not talking about Massachusetts or Vermont.”).  Charming enough, even with a moral, but not much more than that.

The Adaptation:

Benét himself turned his story into a one-act play.  But really that actually eliminate most of the early part of the story and actually gives us the speeches that are mostly just hinted at in the narrative of his story, choosing to focus on the trial, and especially on Webster himself.

When turning this into a film, however, it really opened up.  Now, when most people talk about a film that “opens up” a play, that usually means that scenes that were often all set in the same place can be set in a variety of plays, because you aren’t limited by the stage.  But the film really opens up the story and play.  In the story we get a little bit of Jabez’s troubles but then it mostly skips through the good times to get to the trial.  The play pretty much dispenses with all of that and goes almost straight to the trial.  But the trial is the concluding piece of the film, not the whole film.  We get a long history, first of Jabez and why he sees himself as a new Job (that Bible story is mentioned), then his bargain, then all through the good days long before we ever get down to the trial (we even see Webster much earlier in the film).  Much of what was in the play (there isn’t a lot of dialogue in the story) is up on the screen.  It’s just that so little of what is in the film came originally from the play.

The Credits:

Produced and Directed by William Dieterle.  Screen Play by Dan Totheroh and Stephen Vincent Benet.  The opening credits simply have: based on the story by stephen vincent benet.  This picture was originally shown with the title “all that money can buy”.  There are no directing or writing credits in the opening titles.  William Dieterle (director), Dan Totheroh and Stephen Vincent Benet (writers) are listed “in back of the camera . . . all collaborated on the picture”

high-sierra-movie-poster-1941-1020416082High Sierra

The Film:

High Sierra is often viewed as the film that made Humphrey Bogart a star.  This is both inaccurate and irritating.  And because it is inaccurate and irritating, it can skewer the view of this very good film that was a major stepping stone in his career.

It is inaccurate because Bogart is not the listed “star” of the film – that is Ida Lupino.  He would not get star billing until The Maltese Falcon, later in this same year, and that was the film that really catapulted him into the higher echelon of Hollywood from which he never descended.

It is irritating because it took this long for Bogart to find star-footing in the first place.  Bogie had been around for a while – you can see strong performances of his going back almost a decade (look at Three on a Match).  But, having succeeded on stage in The Petrified Forest, Leslie Howard insisted on him having the part on film and he is brilliant.  He should have won the Oscar and he should have become a star.  Instead, he would have to wait another five years, mostly in weak parts, until George Raft (thankfully) passed on two key roles: this and Falcon.

This is a very good film.  It’s not quite a great film, although Bogart is well on his way to stardom in it, finding just the right mix of menace and sentimentality that would become his hallmark in later roles like Rick Blaine and Philip Marlowe.  He is the rough ex-con forced into another job who falls in love with the pretty young girl with the clubfoot but has a destiny that keeps pushing him towards violence.  The job, as such jobs do, eventually leads him to death.  But what visuals to die with – up in the mountains of the Sierra Nevada, a gorgeous sight no matter which direction the camera is pointed.  This is a big break from a lot of Warners films, with the gorgeous shots of the mountains and with Bogart’s intensity you can tell that stardom is just around the corner.  So watch this film and watch him make his war forward.  But it’s Falcon that makes the star.

highThe Source:

High Sierra by W.R. Burnett  (1940)

Having already read Little Caesar for this project months ago, High Sierra, by the same author, was a bit of a surprise.  Now, in some ways it’s a continuation of the first novel – instead of the rising gangster, this is the tale of the falling gangster.  By the time we meet Roy Earle, he is already out of prison (“Early in the twentieth century, when Roy Earle was a happy boy on an Indiana farm, he had no idea that at thirty-seven he’d be a pardoned ex-convict driving alone through the Nevada-California desert towards an ambiguous destiny in the Far West.”).  True, we get a few pages of flashbacks before we progress in the story, but really this is the story of the last days of Roy Earle.

But in other ways it was very much a surprise.  This book is a much more mature novel.  Those pages of flashbacks really give us much more of an insight into Roy Earle than we ever got for Rico.  It’s almost as if, in the decade after writing the earlier book, he had picked up some Dostoevsky and thought to himself, maybe I should give more of a psychological understanding to my lead character this time.

And, to be quite frank, Roy Earle is just more interesting than Rico.  He’s actually somebody who has lived a little and isn’t certain that he wants to do this anymore.  He actually falls in love and he feels the pain of it.  When he dies it’s because he’s okay with dying – he’s run out of other options.

The Adaptation:

For the most part, the film follows the novel fairly closely, using a lot of the dialogue and nearly all of the action (like Little Caesar, the book is not all that long and so works fairly well in the screen time for a feature film).  The Wisconsin / Warner Bros. Screenplay Series edition of the screenplay (this is a fantastic series and is highly recommended for anyone interested in this kind of project) makes the argument that the film is a standard gangster film, although a well-made one: “The screenplay opens with a classic icon of the gangster film, the first-page headlines of a newspaper declaring public protest to gangster Roy Earle’s pardon.  Unlike the novel, there is no interest in Roy’s thought process.  Instead, Roy’s past and present behavior is placed, uncompromisingly, in opposition to society’s view of correct morality.” (p 17).  Except that viewpoint seems to stem from the published script and not the finished film – the film itself, before the newspaper, has Roy being released and the look of joy on his face when he walks across to the park and actually gets to bask in his freedom a bit.

Beyond that, the film really is a fairly straight-forward adaptation of the book, from the early bits (“Roy pulled over to the side of the road and got out his typewritten instructions.  He was up in the mountains now, and although the sun was blazing in a cloudless sky, a chilly wind was whistling down through the draws and ravines.  All about him towered huge rocky peaks, scarred and fissured, their summits covered with snow.  Roy felt very small and helpless.” compared to the script: “CLOSE SHOT ROY IN BUICK  He slowly turns his head, witnessing the world around him.  His gaze climbs to the mountain, up and up to its summit.  He starts, catches his breath.” and of course the actual shot in the film, with its glorious look at the beautiful mountains – I know how beautiful they are because I’ve climbed in them) all the way up through the sudden conclusion of Roy’s story (“There was a short silence, then far off to Roy’s right a rifle cracked.  The gun didn’t even fall out of his hands.  The rifle cracked again and the echoes rolled off sharply, bouncing from rock to rock.  Roy stood up, threw the machine-gun away from him, mumbled inarticulately, then fell forward on his face.” and the script: “LONG SHOT ROY through the telescope sight.  The cross lines in the sight are on his middle.  OVER SCENE the crash of the rifle.  The recoil of the rifle throws Roy out of view.”).

The Credits:

Directed by Raoul Walsh.  Screen Play by John Huston and W.R. Burnett.  From a Novel by W.R. Burnett.

valleyposterHow Green Was My Valley

The Film:

I have already reviewed this film once.  When I first saw it, I already knew of it as the film that beat Citizen Kane.  Some films can overcome such a reputation (Ordinary People seems better every time I see it), but this is not one of those.  It can not overcome the burden of the narration and the compressed timeline and it just never quite works for me.

greenThe Source:

How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn  (1940)

How Green Was My Valley is a well-written novel.  It perfectly captures the mood and tone of growing up in a Welsh village, so far away from the civilization of London.  The language is right (“There is good dripping toast is by the fire in the evening.  Good jelly dripping and crusty, home-baked bread, with the mealy savour of ripe wheat roundly in your mouth and under your teeth, roasted sweet and crisp and deep brown, and covered with little pockets where the dripping will hide and melt and shine in the light, deep down inside, ready to run when your teeth bite in.”), the dialogue is right (“And how many times have the women said there would be trouble before long if he saved his money, instead of buying a ring and the furniture.”), the lay of the land is right (“I have often stood outside the door looking down the Valley, seeing in my mind all the men coming up black with dust, and laughing groups, walking bent-backed because the street is steep and in those days it was not cobbled.”).

So what is it about the novel that never really connects with me?  Is it that I had already seen the film more than once and couldn’t get past the sentimental, yet gruff look back at the world.  Or that I have reached my limit for such novels, about the poor reminscences of growing up in such a poor town and the autobiographical story that so many writers feel the need to write.  Or maybe I just look at a book like Sons and Lovers and say, well this book is solidly written, but when you’ve had something similar that’s genius, why go for solid?

The Adaptation:

“In November 1940, Zanuck, having made the key decision for Huw as narrator, made two more critical decisions, writing [then director William] Wyler that Huw ‘should never grow up’ (Tyrone Power was to have played the grown-up Huw) and that ‘now is the time to for us to start talking in terms of drama and audience.  I was bored to death by the repetition of the strike business and of starving babies, etc., etc.  It all seems old hash to me.'”  (John Ford: The Man and His Films.  Tess Gallagher.  p. 184-185).  That was the primary focus of the film – the events as viewed only through a child.  The voiceover carries a good part of the book’s narration with it and keeps the film closer to the original text (certain things had to be pulled out to meet the Production Code) but the decision to keep Huw a child naturally limits some of the action of the book and limits the viewpoint, as Huw is forced to endure all of these events in a close period of time and without the chance for an adult reaction.  And with the de-emphasis on the social themes at play, it weakens a bit the themes of the book for a book that never quite worked for me in the first place.

The Credits:

Directed by John Ford.  Screen Play by Philip Dunne.  Based on the Novel by Richard Llewellyn.

Hold-Back-The-Dawn-posterHold Back the Dawn

The Film:

I have already reviewed this film once.  It is still a difficult film to get hold of, but it is available out there for ILL, so if you have somehow never seen it (very likely), then definitely get hold of it and watch it.  It has good performances and is the last of the Wilder films which he wrote but did not direct.

holdThe Source:

Hold Back the Dawn by Ketti Frings  (1940)

This, to be frank, is a bit of a slog of a novel.  It is about various characters who are desperate to get to the US, fleeing all of the problems then arising in Europe, one in particular, who got married in France, and is trying to be re-united with his American wife.  But due to visa issues and quotas, all of these characters are stuck in Mexico, desperately hoping to get across the border to a land they view as their last chance.  Much of the dialogue is banal and the characters are hard to distinguish from one another.

Note:  In my original review, you’ll note that I credited this story as “Memo to a Movie Producer”.  That’s what the IMDb says.  TCM explains it better, as that was the title of a screen story, which Frings then turned into a novel before the film was released.

The Adaptation:

This is the brilliance of Wilder and Brackett.  There are at least characters in the book who resemble the two characters that Boyer and de Havilland play on screen.  But there really isn’t anyone who corresponds to the Paulette Goddard character.  That makes sense, given how much of her role was beefed up after the famous incident where Wilder got incensed with Boyer and starting slashing his scenes.  The novel can easily be skipped (and has been – I got a copy from a New York library through ILL – while it’s true that at some point they probably stopped stamping the date due slip, the last time it was due according to the slip was 1950).  Watch the film, provided you ever get the chance.

The Credits:

Directed by Mitchell Leisen.  Written by Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder.  From a Story by Ketti Frings.  The IMDb lists Richard Maibaum as an uncredited contributor to screenplay construction and Manuel Reachi as an uncredited contributing writer.

meet-john-doe-movie-poster-1941-1020143619Meet John Doe

The Film:

Frank Capra hoped this was the story that would liberate him from the pigeon-holing that the critics had done to him (this is not speculation or analysis – Capra himself said as much in his autobiography).  Yet, in a lot of ways this film is a natural extension of the films that he had already made.  It is easy to look at this film, at the cynical reporter who hooks on to someone, at the cynical look at the world that is redeemed in the end, and see that it’s from the same director who had already given us Mr. Deeds Goes to Town and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

The core of the film’s story comes from the original short story upon which it was based: a man, feeling that society has become corrupt, decides  that he will kill himself.  Suddenly a movement rallies around the man and he finds himself suddenly becoming important and people are actually listening to him simply because of something he said in an offhand manner.  The film builds around that in a more cynical manner, in that the man himself didn’t say this, but it was the idea of a fired newspaper reporter on her way out the door.  That the reporter is played this time by Barbara Stanwyck rather than Jean Arthur doesn’t really make the character any different than she was in Deeds and Smith.

Maybe that’s part of the reason why this film doesn’t work quite as well as the other two films.  Stanwyck is just as (and probably more) believable as Jean Arthur was in her cynicism.  But she’s not nearly as believable in the more redemptive role required for later in the film.  After all, a man has promised to kill himself, and there’s no way that will work for the ending of the film, especially when the man is played by Gary Cooper (in a performance that, in some ways, actually works better than his Oscar-winning performance in Sergeant York, also from this year, because he gets to be a more believable person rather than just the “aw, shucks” Gary Cooper guy).  So, of course, we will have to work our way to some kind of happy ending, and that’s really why this is a *** film rather than the **** great film that Deeds and Smith were.

The Source:

“A Reputation” by Richard Edward Connell  (1922)

Connell would be nominated for the Oscar for Best Original Story for this 10 page long story that originally appeared in 1922 and that would be used, massively changed, for the basis for Meet John Doe.  It’s the satirical story of one Saunders Rook, a “cab-wit” (“he was one of those unfortunates who think of the bright things they might have said only while on their way home in a taxicab.”).  He’s the “sub-editor of a woman’s magazine – he conducted the etiquette page” and in a lull one day at his club he says “On the Fourth of July I shall commit suicide.”  He says it out of the blue, he has no strong feelings on it and when asked why, incapable of saying he was joking, he decides it’s “a protest against the state of civilization in America.”  Backed into a corner, as the world around him suddenly embraces him and welcomes his thoughts, as he becomes rich and admired, he is determined to go through with it.  Able to slip into Central Park in spite of his destination being known, he goes up to the reservoir, and knowing “after all, a reputation is a reputation,” he jumps.

The Adaptation:

The satire of the original story was something that Frank Capra was willing to embrace, eager to move away from the Capra-corn that had become the burden of his reputation.  Still, how was he going to turn this into a film given the ending?  There is a great deal written on this in Meet John Doe, a book in the Rutgers Films in Print series, including a long piece from The Name Above the Title, Frank Capra’s autobiography.  That excerpt is titled “Five Endings in Search of an Audience.”  Capra became known for trying to get the right ending (they began filming without one settled) and filmed five of them in the end, and still it never really feels settled.

In the end, much of the film is different from the original story.  It is the newspaper columnist who creates Doe when she is forced to write a final column after being fired, rather than the man himself who promises to kill himself.  So none of this has the randomness of the original Saunders Rook and, while some of the ideas in the story play out in the film, in some senses it really does have more in common with Deeds and Smith than it does with “A Reputation.”

The Credits:

Directed by Frank Capra.  Based on a story by Richard Connell and Robert Presnell.  Screen Play by Robert Riskin.  There is nothing in the credits that mentions The World is an Eightball, an uncompleted play by Jo Swerling that was the first adaptation of the story and was clearly used at some point in the process given the later lawsuit (for more on this see pages 5-7 of Meet John Doe in the Rutgers Films in Print series).  Likewise, the original Connell story isn’t mentioned, but simply alluded to in the credits, as Connell and Presnell would write a screen treatment called The Life and Death of John Doe that would form the basis for Riskin’s script.  Connell and Presnell would earn the Oscar nomination.  The IMDb lists Myles Connelly as an uncredited contributor to dialogue and screenplay construction.

Suspicion (1941)_02Suspicion

The Film:

I have already reviewed this film once.  It does not hold up quite as well as some of the other Hitchcock classics.  Perhaps I have been infected with the notion that Hitchcock says to Truffaut, that Grant is never really believable as a murderer and that undermines the film somewhat.  Nonetheless, Fontaine gives a fantastic performance.  I am always stunned to watch this and Rebecca, remember that she is supposed to be a bit of a spinster, and see how absolutely beautiful she is.

IlesThe Source:

Before the Fact by Francis Iles  (1932)

I actually started to read this book without any realization of what it was.  I own a copy of this book.  Not because I am a fan of murder mysteries (and it really isn’t a murder mystery – there’s no mystery to it) and not because I feel the need to read the source material for great films (the source material for other Hitchcock films had already cured me of that).  I collect books and one of my collection is the Modern Library Giants (as can be seen in my collection here) and this novel is one third of a Modern Library Giant called Three Famous Murder Novels.

I started to read the book and didn’t particularly like it.  In a sense, the problem begins with the first line, the first line that attracted Modern Library editor Bennett A. Cerf to the book in the first place: “Some women give birth to murderers, some go to bed with them, and some marry them.  Lina Aysgarth had lived with her husband for nearly eight years before she realized that she was married to a murderer.”  This is no longer a murder mystery (as I said above), or even a mystery at all.  It is the attempt of a novel to write a case history of a woman who is such an enabler that she will forgive the man she loves absolutely anything, even her own death.  It very quickly strains the ability to believe in it.  Of course there are people like this in real life, the sad people who can not get out of a relationship that is poisonous (in this case literally, but I mean metaphorically) but this case just seems too ridiculous from the start.  Yes, you can have a cad who spends too much money, money he doesn’t have, especially when you can see he’s a compulsive gambler.  But then there is all the adultery, the fathering of a child.  And then we get down to the actual murders; the book makes clear that he has never directly murdered anyone, but he manages to arrange the death of those for whom it would be convenient if they were dead.  But then we get down to the final, actual murder (we must assume it happens, but it seems to be clear that it does) and it just makes you infuriated, both at the book and at the lead character who would just allow all of this to continue for so long.  It’s the point where you really do begin to blame the victim.

The Adaptation:

Well, the ending is different and that perhaps always had to be the case.  After all, as Hitchcock said to Truffaut in their book, you can’t really buy into the idea of Cary Grant as a murderer.  It’s even hard to buy into some of the other aspects of him.  But Grant as someone who is spending more money than he has, who compulsively gambles and gets into the kind of trouble that always seems to come from that (theft, embezzlement), well those are believable.  And so the truly awful Johnnie from the book is transposed into more of a simple cad who can’t get out of his money problems and all the real dangerous things, well they’re all just in the head of his poor little wife.  The most unsavory elements of the book – the actual “murder” of her father, the other “murder”, the adultery, the impregnation of the maid, her affair, all of that is simply dropped.  This becomes much more about a spender, his enabler and her suspicion that there is much worse going on.  Certainly we couldn’t have him be the murderer.  But thank goodness she also doesn’t drink that glass of milk given what she believes.  They may have made him much less of an awful person but they’ve also at least given her a stronger persona.  And all of that works to the film’s advantage; after all, the novel is simply a story of how a pathetic woman realized she was married to a murderer and then enabled him.  This film, because of her suspicions, at least gives us a very strong element of suspense, and that, after all, is what Hitchcock does best.

Francois Truffaut had this to say about the film (p 142):

The film version, showing a woman who believes her husband in a killer, is less farfetched than the novel, which is about a woman who accepts the fact that her husband is a murderer.  It seems to me that the film, in terms of its psychological values, has an edge over the novel because it allows for subtler nuances in the characterizations.  One might even say that Hollywood’s unwritten laws and taboos helped to purify Suspicion by dedramatizing it, in contrast with routine screen adaptations, which tend to magnify the melodramatic elements.

The Credits:

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock.  Screen Play by Samson Raphaelson, Joan Harrison, Alma Reville.  From the Novel “BEFORE THE FACT” by Francis Iles.

Pepe_le_mokoPépé le Moko

The Film:

In my review of Port of Shadows, I mentioned Roger Ebert’s comment from McCabe and Mrs. Miller:  “Some people are just incapable of not getting themselves killed”.  That was relevant for the character that Gabin played in that film and it is relevant again here.  And it works so well because of the naturalistic manner in which Gabin plays his characters.  Here is a man who, in a way, is always headed towards his death.

Gabin here is playing Pépé, a criminal who has been hiding out in the Casbah section of Algiers and longs to be able to return to Paris.  At the same time, a local inspector is desperate to get Pépé out of the Casbah so he can arrest him.  The two forces coincide in the woman Gaby, the young lover of a rich businessman that Pépé ends up meeting (in a wonderful scene where they trade street names in Paris that they are both familiar with).  He loves her, but he also knows who he is, what the dangers of being around him are, and what the dangers for him are.  He years for Paris, but really, he knows he will never reach it.

Look at the films of Jean Gabin in the late 30’s.  In just a few years he made, in order, The Lower DepthsPépé le Moko, The Grand Illusion, Port of Shadows, La Bête humaine and Le Jour se lève.  In all of them he is brilliant (he earns 4 Nighthawk nominations for Best Actor).  You could watch all of them and be fooled into thinking that they all came from the same director, and it would be difficult, not knowing, to say which film came from which of three directors: Renoir, Carné, Duvivier.  What they have in common is Gabin and the poetic realism movement and the two things in some ways seem to be interchangeable.  You could try to say that the films are works of art (and they are) and that they could have worked just as well if someone else had played the part.  But look at the American remakes of several of those films.  Charles Boyer, Glenn Ford and Henry Fonda are all great actors, but none of them bring the same sense of poetry and fatalism that Gabin brings to these roles.  The American gangster films had made stars of Robinson and Cagney, tough guy roles that made them idols.  But Gabin brought a sense of romance and fatalism to those roles – he is rushing towards death for different reasons than Rico and Tom Powers.  Most of those films listed above were after Pépé but reached the States earlier because of Algiers, the American remake.  But the iconic aspect of Gabin really begins to take hold right here.

The Source:

Pépé le Moko by Detective Ashelbé  (1931)

The original novel by “Detective Ashelbé” does not appear to have ever been printed in English.  Certainly if it has than no library has it and I was not able to find a copy anywhere.  But, the introduction in the BFI Film Classics book on this film seems to indicate that’s because it never found a lasting audience:

The same year [1931], Pépé le Moko, a thriller written by ‘Détective Ashelbé’ (a pseudonym for Henri La Barthe – Ashelbé is an homophone for the initials H. L. B.) was published.  The book, a tale of French petty criminals sheltering in the Casbah at Algiers, belongs to the colonialist mentality pervasive in French culture at the time.  Primarily, though, it aimed to thrill its readers with a vicarious dive into an exotic underworld, spiced with eroticism.  Ashelbé wrote at a time when the thriller was undergoing a spectacular boom in France.  Yet, unlike his contemporary Georges Simenon, who published his first Maigret books also in 1931, he did not leave a great mark on French popular culture.  The film of Pépé le Moko, on the other hand, did.  p. 7.

The Adaptation:

Most of the basic plot in the film seems to have come straight from the book.  But, as the BFI book makes clear, there are several aspects of the film that were either altered (a subplot involving a criminal coming to Algiers that opened the book was dropped in favor of dropping us right into the action with the map), enhanced (the scene where Pépé and Gaby compare Paris streets wasn’t in the book) or adapted to fits the film’s strengths (“A comparison between Ashelbé’s and Duvivier’s Pépé reveals the film-makers desire to conform to Gabin’s image.  As already mentioned, Pépé’s singing in Pépé le Moko is a direct reference to his stage and film career and, needless to say, it does not appear in the book.  Through Gabin, Pépé le Moko transforms Pépé from a prosaic hoodlum-in-hiding to the towering prince of the Casbah, and from a rather nasty petty criminal to a sympathetic ‘good-bad boy’.”)  (p 28-29)

The Credits:

un film de Julien Duvivier.  tiré du roman d’ Ashelbé.  Scénario:  Détective Ashelbé, Julien Duvivier.  Adaptation cinématographique:  J. Constant.  Dialogues:  Henri Jeanson.

Other Adaptations (in descending order of how good the film is):

  • Major Barbara  – adapted from the George Bernard Shaw play, with a good performance from Wendy Hiller.  Available as part of the GBS Criterion Eclipse set.
  • Man Hunt  –  a good Fritz Lang film, based on the novel Rogue Male.  It hinged on Lang’s willingness to attack the Nazis on film when so many others weren’t.
  • Shadow of the Thin Man  –  the fourth Thin Man film and they’re starting to slide in quality.  Not based on anything other than the original characters by Dash Hammett.
  • The Strawberry Blonde  –  adapted from the play.  In spite of being directed by Raoul Walsh, it’s really a charming romantic film for Jimmy Cagney and Olivia de Havilland.
  • One Foot in Heaven  –  nominated for Best Picture, so already reviewed here.  Adapted from the memoir by Hartzell Prince about his father.
  • The Great Lie  –  based on the novel January Heights by Polan Banks.  Known mainly for the Oscar-winning performance by Mary Astor, which is the primary reason to see it.
  • Blues in the Night  –  fairly standard Warners musical based on the play Hot Nocturne.
  • Back Street  –  romantic melodrama based on the novel by Fannie Hurst that had already been filmed in 1932.
  • The Sea Wolf  –  based on the Jack London novel that had already been filmed several times during the Silent Era.
  • Ladies in Retirement – based on the play.  No limits on tech categories at the Academy Awards lead to films like this being nominated for two Oscars.
  • The Shepherd of the Hills  –  John Wayne drama based on the novel by Harold Bell Wright.
  • My Universities  –  the finale of Mark Donskoi’s Gorky Trilogy, adapted from Gorky’s autobiography.
  • H.M. Pulham Esq.  –  based on the novel by John Marquand, this is one of King Vidor’s least memorable films.
  • Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde – now we’re into the mediocre (**.5) films on the list.  Based on the Stevenson novel, of course (reviewed here), which had already been filmed several times.  This version stars Spencer Tracy in a performance memorably mocked by Somerset Maugham (“Which one is he playing now?”).  Ingrid Bergman, though, is good as Ivy.
  • Tarzan’s Secret Treasure  –  the fifth Weissmuller Tarzan film and the quality is slipping.  Based on the characters created by Burroughs rather than any specific Tarzan novel.
  • Tobacco Road  –  a year after hitting pure cinematic gold with Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, John Ford takes on Erskine Caldwell’s classic novel, but a lot of the book was changed and what came to the screen is frankly not very good.
  • Men of Boys Town  –  mediocre sequel to an over-rated film.  Based on the characters from Boys Town, who, since they were real people, can hardly be called characters.
  • Smilin’ Through  –  this film had been acceptable in 1932 as a melodrama because of the star power of Norma Shearer, Fredric March and Leslie Howard.  As a musical with Jeanette MacDonald, it is best forgotten.  I’ve only seen it as part of my “watch all films ever directed by any director ever nominated for an Oscar”.  Directed by Frank Borzage.
  • A Woman’s Face  –  Ingrid Bergman had starred in a 1938 version of the play Il Etait Une Fois and she was good.  Joan Crawford is not.  George Cukor wouldn’t direct another film this bad until 1962.
  • Skylark  –  nominated for Best Sound at the Oscars, this is a mediocre comedy adapted from the novel by Samson Raphaelson.
  • That Night in Rio  –  if Carmen Miranda is your thing, then enjoy.  If not, skip it.  Adapted from the play.
  • Rage in Heaven  –  the rare flop based on a James Hilton novel.  The novel is also known as Dawn of Reckoning.
  • Blood and Sand  –  the only bad (**) film on this list.  The third film version of the novel by Vicente Blasco Ibáñez (better known as author of Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse).  Winner of the Oscar for Best Cinematography (Color).  It stars Tyrone Power in all his blandness.