“If you do not wish to sell perhaps you would consider parting with an entertainer.”  “That’s up to the entertainer.”  Those are the lines in the play.  The lines in the film are much better.

My Top 7:

  1. Casablanca
  2. The Ox-Bow Incident
  3. Watch on the Rhine
  4. For Whom the Bell Tolls
  5. Heaven Can Wait
  6. Five Graves to Cairo
  7. Phantom of the Opera

note:  Yes, there is only a top 7, and not a fantastic Top 7 at that.  1943 just isn’t that great a year for film, especially when you realize that Casablanca is a 1942 film that just didn’t get an Oscar qualifying run until early 1943.

Oscar Nominees  (Best Screenplay):

  • Casablanca
  • Holy Matrimony
  • The Song of Bernadette
  • Watch on the Rhine

note:  The fifth nominee, The More the Merrier, was an original script, also nominated for Best Original Story.

Poster - Casablanca_13Casablanca

The Film:

I have already reviewed this film once.  Given that it is one of the greatest films ever made, given that it may have better dialogue that any film ever made, I am a little surprised that I’ve only reviewed it once.

The Source:

Everybody Comes To Rick’s by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison  (1942)

Everybody Comes To Rick’s is an unproduced play.  I don’t believe it was ever even published originally (and in later years, might have qualified as an original script for that reason).  The only published copies available in libraries were printed by Warner Bros (the copy I got from Rutgers on an ILL has “Theater Arts Library, UCLA” printed on it and also “IMPORTANT – RETURN TO WARNER BROS INC BURBANK, CALIF. STORY LIBRARY”).

In a sense, this play, when read while watching Casablanca reminded me of the original film version of The Maltese Falcon.  It has many of the same lines that are in the film, it has basically the same storyline.  But just as there’s a world of difference between either the novel of The Maltese Falcon or the 1941 film version and the original film version, there’s a world of difference here between this play and Casablanca.  If you were to look at the opening scene of the play – at the conversation between Rick and Ugarte, you would see that Rick is so much darker on the page and there is no charm in the conversation between him and Ugarte.  Yet, the scene as played in the film has so much more life to it and not just because of the performances, but subtle changes to the dialogue and the direction which make it clear that the characters have a bit more friendliness than in the play.

The classic lines, the ones that you remember aren’t there on the page.  In the play, Martinez (Ferrari in the film) says “If you do not wish to sell, perhaps you might consider parting with an entertainer.” and Rick replies “That’s up to the entertainer.”  In the film, Ferrari says “What do you want for Sam?”, Rick replies “I don’t buy or sell human beings.” and Ferrari gives the classic response: “That’s too bad.  That’s Casablanca’s leading commodity.”

But it’s like that throughout the film – almost every great line spoken between Rick and Rinaldo/Renault exists only in the film, not in the play, while much of the other dialogue does actually come straight from the play.  There just isn’t a real sense of romance in the play, and I mean romance between characters, but romance as a concept of language as well (that even goes to names – the female lead in the play is Lois Meredith, and unless you are the world’s biggest Superman fan there is no way you prefer the name Lois to Ilsa).

But the play illustrates the problem the filmmakers had in ending the film.  They, wisely, ended up making the right ending for the film, the one in which the guy doesn’t get the girl, but that was partially forced on them by Bergman cutting her hair for For Whom the Bell Tolls.  In the end, it was in a way, luck that forced the perfect ending on them.  The play has nothing like it – yes, Laszlo and Lois have left and Rick wins his bet, but he’s not walking off into any sunset and there’s still the very real threat of Strasser.  It doesn’t have the charm or romance that the film has.  It’s just another play.

The Adaptation:

The first thing to do was to add some romance to the film, not just in the characters, but in the dialogue.  As mentioned above, the screenplay has so much more interesting dialogue – it has wit, cynicism, romance, suspense.  The play has none of those things, and the Koch and the Epsteins didn’t do this by changing the story – they did it by dropping most of the dialogue and re-writing it anew.

It’s clear if you read Howard Koch’s introduction in Casablanca: Script and Legend, that the Epsteins provided a lot of the witty rejoinders that you hear time and time again when the action is set in the cafe, but that it was Koch, after the Epsteins were called on to do work for the war, that did the bulk of the screenwriting, shaping the story, patching things up where the play doesn’t do much, and focusing the love story in such a way that we could be uncertain of which person Ilsa would end up with and yet be satisfied either way.  The film began without a finished script and even towards the end, no one was really certain who would end up with who.  In the end, in spite of potential problems (see the following paragraph) and in spite of this sense of uncertainty, there’s no question that ended up being crafted was one of the most brilliant scripts that has ever come out of Hollywood.

“The present material contains certain elements that seem to be unacceptable . . . . Specifically, we cannot approve the suggestion that Captain Renault makes a practice of seducing the women to whom he grants visas.  Any such inference of illicit sex could not be approved.”  (The Censorship Papers: Movie Censorship Letters from the Hays Office, 1934 to 1968 by Gerald Gardner, 1987, p 2-3)  That quote illustrates both the problems of working within the Code and the smart way that filmmakers could get around the Code.  Is there any adult who doesn’t think that what the Hays Office tells Warners Renault can’t do is precisely what Renault is doing?  This kind of thing is precisely why people actually argue about the Code – most film buffs feel it did an enormous disservice to the industry, but there are those who argue that the smart screenwriters, like Koch in this instance, or in most Preston Sturges films, were forced to find witty and clever ways around the Code and that films flourished as a result.  It’s true, that some did.  But too many were kept in the dark, away from what actual people do in the twisted notion of protecting people.

The Credits:

Directed by Michael Curtiz.  Screen Play by Julius J. and Philip G. Epstein and Howard Koch.  From a Play by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison.  Uncredited writing by Casey Robinson.

ox-bowThe Ox-Bow Incident

The Film:

I have already reviewed this film once.

oxbowThe Source:

The Ox-Bow Incident by Walter Van Tilburg Clark (1940)

In the introduction to the Readers Club edition of The Ox-Bow Incident, Clifton Fadiman compares the novel to The Maltese Falcon as a “more sophisticated embodiment” of its genre.  That is going a bit too far – The Maltese Falcon is not only one of the greatest mystery novels ever written, if not, in fact, the greatest mystery novel ever written, but one of the great novels of all-time.  The Ox-Bow Incident is certainly a more advanced example of a Western.  It is not only fairly well-written, but it actually has something to say and goes about a fairly good job of saying it without necessarily beating you over the head with it.  We have the lynch mob that wants to call itself a posse at the center of the story and what they do is barbaric.  But they are counter-balanced by some of the things that look so bad – not only at the time, but also in retrospect, in a line that is carried over from the novel to the film – “It’s not a bad price at that, for a husband that don’t know any better than to buy cattle in the spring without a bill of sale.”  The Ox-Bow Incident is a fine Western, not because it wants to show that lynch mobs are a dangerous thing, but because it does such a good job of showing us how this particular lynch mob came to be, what it sought to do, the evidence before them that made them continue to believe in spite of the minority report clearly in front of them, and the repercussions that we lay upon ourselves afterwards.

The Adaptation:

The filmmakers weren’t going to have to do much with this novel other than just lay it out on the screen.  That’s reflected in that many of the best moments in the film come straight from the book, from the opening lines about the painting, and the great line “Now I gotta start all over,” straight on through to the end of the film.  One major change that does come at the end of the film to perhaps make the morality a bit more obvious on film: the “weak” son who is unable to participate ends up killing himself after being locked out of the house in the book.  In the film he simply berates his father through the door until his father kills himself – in the book, the father’ suicide comes after the son’s.

One other thing I will mention here: the film and the novel are both a reflection of the way people behave and an indictment of the choices that people make (or don’t make) when faced with a difficult situation.  That choice can be life or death, and, sadly, it is often not the person making the choice whose life may hang in the balance.  In this film and novel, of course, it is three men, one certainly innocent, one confused, and one likely guilty, though not of what he is being accused of.  Edmund Burke said famously, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

I remember that, of course, because I already went through that choice.  I wrote about it several years ago because of a news story going on at the time, but it has been one of the least read pieces I ever put on the blog, partially because nothing links to it and there are no images.  I made my choice, and I am as certain today, as I was then that I was making the right choice.  Sadly, making the right choice wasn’t enough in that case.  He died and there was nothing I could do about it.  But that doesn’t haunt me – as I said, I made the right choice and I did what I could to save his life.  What is so disturbing was that so many did nothing because they could not be bothered.  That is the lingering lesson from this film and novel, of course.  It’s not whether you made the right choice, but whether you will be able to live with the choice you make, the choice that may mean the life, or death, of another human being.

The Credits:

Directed by William A. Wellman.  Produced and written for the Screen by Lamar Trotti.  From the Novel by Walter Van Tilburg Clark.

watch-on-the-rhineWatch on the Rhine

The Film:

I have already reviewed this film once.

223.1The Source:

Watch on the Rhine: A Play in Three Acts by Lillian Hellman  (1941)

Whatever your view of Lillian Hellman as a person, or your view of her politics, she was a talented playwright.  It is a measure of her talent that as early as 1942, the Modern Library, known much more for publishing non-modern plays, started publishing a collection of her plays.  At a time when a lot of the artistic community was still shying away from tackling the problems in Europe she was writing this play and making it clear that fascism was going to be on the wrong side of history.

Watch on the Rhine is not a great play – it is probably too tied up in the political statement that it is trying to make, and lacks some of the subtlety that The Ox-Bow Incident brought to its story.  Because it deals very specifically with this issue it lacks the timelessness that a play like The Crucible would be able to bring to a political subject and really doesn’t bear being revived.  But it is a strong play, one with a very good character at its core – a character who is willing to make the difficult choices and who is willing to live with those choices.  In some ways this is the opposite of The Ox-Bow Incident, which asked you to think about why you might take someone’s life and whether you have made the right choice.  This play asks you to consider the situation when you might know you will have to take a life and you will feel right in your decision and never look back upon it.

The Adaptation:

Watch on the Rhine was always likely to be a fairly faithful adaptation.  Herman Shumlin had directed the original production on Broadway and the published version of the play was dedicated to him.  He also had his original playwright and her lover writing the script and his original stage star, Paul Lukas, again in the starring role.

So, most of what is done here is the typical thing of the time – taking the play and opening it up.  Much of what was on stage ends up on film – the occasional line is dropped, but nothing directly effecting the action (it is easy enough to sit and read the play and follow the film).  Most of what is different are actually the added scenes – many scenes were added to the film, not just to open up the action (the play takes place all in one room, while the film gets out and about the DC area) but also to give us more interaction between some of the characters and non-major characters (there are several scenes on a train of Kurt and Sara and their children coming to DC and it shows their interaction in a land the children are not used to; there is also an added scene in the German embassy that is only hinted at in the original play).

Apparently, the censors tried to impose a different ending on the film – one that would have made it clear the Kurt had died (a necessary response to killing Tech, as required by the Code), but apparently Warners stood up for the ending, and given that we were at war by the time the film was being made (the original play was written and produced on stage before Pearl Harbor, so there was a very different attitude among the censors about anti-Nazi works), that might have made the argument much easier for Warners.

The Credits:

Directed by Herman Shumlin.  Screen Play by Dashiell Hammett.  Additional Scenes and Dialogue by Lillian Hellman.  From the Stage Play by Lillian Hellman.

For Whom the Bell Tolls

00forwhomthebelltolls57rrlc6_largeThe Film:

I have already reviewed this film once.

bellThe Source:

For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway  (1940)

I easily rank this as the third best of Hemingway’s novels, but then I am not so fond of The Old Man and the Sea as many others are.  This novel works so well because while war is rarely a simple thing, there is a simplicity to its actions that lends itself to the sparse, stark style of Hemingway’s prose.

The pack-horse was ahead of him swinging too far to the right and slowing down and Robert Jordan, galloping, his head turned a little toward the bridge, saw the line of trucks halted behind the turn that showed now clearly as he was gaining height, and he saw the bright yellow flash that signalled the instant whish and boom, and the shell fell short, but he heard the metal sailing from where the dirt rose.

Some people might think of this book as a re-tread of A Farewell to Arms, a romance set among the horrors of war, with death managing to win out in the end (happy endings are not Hemingway’s thing).  It even has a film adaptation starring Gary Cooper, as Farewell had.  But, in a sense, Farewell was about the meaninglessness of its war – the romance was the key component and the war simply raged around it.  Here, it is the importance of the fight that comes forward; no one in this book would be blown up while eating cheese.  This war is both about fighting back the tide of fascism (when asked if he is a communist, who indeed were fighting with him in this war, Jordan responds “No I am an anti-fascist.”  “For a long time?”  “Since I have understood fascism.”) and about the dichotomies in Spain:

There is no finer and worse people in the world.  No kinder people and no crueler.  And who understands them?  Not me, because if I did I would forgive it all.  To understand is to forgive.  That’s not true.  Forgiveness has been exaggerated.  Forgiveness is a Christian idea and Spain has never been a Christian country.  It has always had its own special idol worship within the Church.  Otra Virgen más.  I suppose that was why they had to destroy the virgins of their enemies.  Surely it was deeper with them, with the Spanish religion fanatics, than it was with the people.  The people had grown away from the Church because the Church was in the government and the government had always been rotten.  This was the only country that the reformation never reached.  They were paying for the Inquisition now, all right.

There is a romance, though, at the heart of the book, which is what makes the book a tragedy.  For Robert Jordan is a soldier in a war and such soldiers often do not come out alive.  That he is able to find love in the middle of his war, that this love is able to transform him and give him a reason to live is, in the end, not enough to keep him alive.  And only Hemingway could write it in just this way and help us learn something about a war that still seems so oddly distant from the other wars, the ones that did keep fascism at bay, the ones that the anti-fascists actually won.

One last thing about the book.  I read this and then re-read A Farewell to Arms not long afterwards.  Both books deal with a romance in the midst of war, both end in death and both have a large number of short chapters with one final chapter that is much longer than the average chapter in the book.  And yet, they don’t feel similar at all to me for some reason – granted this is a much longer book, but still, for two books with so many similarities, I don’t think of them in the same vein.  Perhaps it’s because one book deals so much with the futility and pointlessness of war and one deals so much with a war being fought for a very specific reason and those reasons sometimes involve dying.  One thing I did notice while reading this book is how well it comes back to itself.  In the first line, we see Jordan in the trees: “He lay flat on the brown, pine-needled floor of the forest, his chin on his folded arms, and high overhead the wind blew in the tops of the pine trees.”  At the start of the last chapter, he is back in the trees: “Robert Jordan lay behind the trunk of a pine tree on the slope of the hill above the road and the bridge and watched it become daylight.”  In the end, we will reach the end together in those trees: “He was witing until the officer reached the sunlit place where the first trees of the pine forest joined the green slope of the meadow.  He could feel his heart beating against the pine needle floor of the forest.”

In college, I had a friend who argued that you can not be a devoted fan of both Hemingway and Faulkner – their styles are too different (and they weren’t particularly fond of each other or each other’s writing).  I disagreed.  At the time, I was still growing in my love for Faulkner, and had only read a handful of his novels.  But I was already most of the way through Hemingway, because it was Hemingway I had found first, reading (and loving) A Farewell to Arms in the summer before AP English and only reading The Sound and the Fury during AP English (I had read short stories from both before that but as a Sophomore in high school I took to “Hills Like White Elephants” more than “Barn Burning”).  Because there is so much more Faulkner, and so much more great Faulkner and because I spent so much time on him when I did my FLOB: Faulkner post, I have had him much more on my mind and it had been a long time since I had read any Hemingway other than The Sun Also Rises.  It was nice to go back to two of Hemingway’s other great novels and be reminded of what made me such a fan of his writing in the first place.

The Adaptation:

As I wrote in my review, I first watched this film in college, after I had read my way through all of Hemingway.  I was immediately struck by the notion of a great film adapted from a great book that is incredibly faithful.

Not everything from this book could make it to the screen.  That much is clear.  Even at almost three hours, a 470 page novel isn’t coming to the screen completely intact.  But much of the action, much of the dialogue, comes straight from the book.  Much of what is cut is the narrative or smaller scenes.

The primary change from the book to the screen is the lack of explicit dialogue as to who is fighting in this war.  Paramount was not as adamantly anti-fascist as Hemingway was and the film, while keeping intact the whole reason that Robert Jordan is up in the mountains and the raid that will be the climax of the film, focuses more on the love story as it develops between Jordan and the lovely young Maria, who has been brutalized by war, and whom Jordan hopes to bring out to a better life.

Given that this is Hollywood and that we were at war, it would have been very understandable if Paramount had decided to go with a different ending.  But, to their credit, they come up with a smack-bang ending that follows the book exactly, gives the characters their emotional climaxes, and makes it clear, that no matter what Jordan is doing, there is no life left at the end of this film.

The Credits:

Produced and Directed by Sam Wood.  Screen Play by Dudley Nichols.  From the celebrated novel by Ernest Hemingway.  Uncredited contract writing by Louis Bromfield and Jeanie Macpherson.

heavencanwaitHeaven Can Wait

The Film:

I have already reviewed this film once.

The Source:

Geburtstag ein Lebensbild in 6 Kapiteln by László Bús Fekete  (1935)

Unfortunately, this play doesn’t appear to be available in translation.  The only copies I could even find were in German, one at UCLA and one in Frankfurt.

The Adaptation:

Even without the original play for comparison, it’s clear that Lubitsch opened it up a lot – some of the scenes are staged as if they come from a play, and it’s easy to see the source there, but much of the play really opens up.  It makes me wonder about the framing device – such devices can work really well on film but would be much harder to feasibly work on stage, so it’s my guess that it was invented for the film.  But if that’s true, then I can’t even imagine what the circumstances are of telling the story in the play – here it’s the story of a “bad man” being told in the afterlife.  If he’s not telling the story, why would we even be hearing the story, because it doesn’t really have much in the way of a plot.

The Credits:

Directed by Ernst Lubitsch.  Screen Play by Samson Raphaelson.  Based upon the Play “Birthday” by Lazlo Bus-Fekete.

five-graves-to-cairo-movie-poster-1943-1020556788Five Graves to Cairo

The Film:

Billy Wilder had been a director before he ever came to Hollywood.  But it still took him a while after he moved back to directing again in 1942 to get up to what would be his speed.  Granted, his learning curve was damn quick.  He began with The Major and the Minor, a silly comedy with a ridiculous premise, but a good film.  Then came this film, a low-level ***.5 that made good use of the war and better use of Erich von Stroheim.  The next year he would make Double Indemnity, the best film of 1944, and he would never look back.

This film is still part of the curve, both in terms of the writing, and the directing.  I would say that it was also part of the curve in terms of the acting, but Wilder’s next two films after this one makes it clear that isn’t the case.

Like Casablanca, this was a very topical film.  It took the plot of an old play (and old film) and transferred it into not only modern day, but modern action.  This was the war, as it was going on – spies and Nazis and death in the desert.  It’s the story of a soldier who survives a tank battle, then wanders into a small town and is saved by the hotel owner and a maid.  However, Rommel, in the person of von Stroheim, arrives and now it becomes a game of cat and mouse because the soldier is pretending to be an employee of the hotel, an employee that was actually a German spy.  The soldier has to figure out what Rommel’s plans are, try to get those plans back to the Allies, and stay alive all at the same time.

Because Wilder and Brackett were very talented writers, like in Casablanca, we are spared the obligatory happy ending.  In fact, that seems to be the theme of 1943 – this is not a list of films with happy endings.  It is well directed and well written, and in von Stroheim, has a strong performance at its center.  Where it is weak is in the performance of Franchot Tone, who never really evolved much as an actor over the years.  Up above I hinted that casting might have been the problem, but if Wilder’s next two films show anything, it’s that Wilder can takes mediocre actors (like say Fred MacMurray and Ray Milland) and get magnificent performances out of them, so here it’s not the casting of Tone that is the real problem, but that Wilder hadn’t yet hit his stride for getting more out of his actors.

The Source:

Színmű négy felvonásban by Lajos Bíró  (1917)

This play is much more readily available than the play that Heaven Can Wait was based on.  However, that availability does not stretch to the English language – there are a number of copies held by U.S. libraries, but all of them are either in Hungarian (the original) or German.  Wilder lived in Germany for years, but he was actually born in the old Austria-Hungary empire, so it’s possible he could have translated it himself.  It also had been made before, in 1927, as a vehicle for Pola Negri.

The newly released diaries of Charles Brackett (“It’s the Pictures That Got Small”: Charles Brackett on Billy Wilder and Hollywood’s Golden Age) seem to indicate that, while the original play is credited, this version seemed to take off from the previous film.

The Adaptation:

Even without the play around as a source, it’s easy to see much of what has been changed, in two ways.  The first is simply by looking at the circumstances of this film.  The original play had been written during World War I and dealt with actions in the war.  Wilder and Brackett would immediately take it and frame it to the current action in North Africa.  It’s clear that they immediately decided to change the time to the present (two days after the idea, Wilder wanted a Vichy French girl as the heroine) and within two weeks they had decided on the name Five Graves to Cairo, which means it was already situated in Africa.  It was clearly a partnership in writing (“Worked at the Hotel Imperial story and found what I think Hitchcock calls the McGuffin – a pretty good one.  Billy has come around to my tart heroine – I insisted on either a tart or a virgin, which left the odds on the tart.” (p. 189) Brackett writes on August 5, 1942, less than a week after Wilder suggests the idea of the film).  This was definitely a change of pace for the writing team (“August 13: A day of actual writing, praise be.  The first three pages of script finished – good, grim pages – and a surprise to Helen, our secretary, who thought she had gone to work for a comedy team.”  (p. 190)).

The second is by comparing it to the original film.  While it’s possible, as I mentioned above, the Wilder could have translated the original play, the Brackett book seems to indicate that the film, Hotel Imperial, made in 1927, was really their primary source.  It’s easy to see where this film follows on the previous one – the soldier trapped behind enemy lines, helped by the maid, falling in love with her, her sacrificing herself to save him and the important information he has.  But it’s also easy to see the touches added for this film.  Look at the tank full of dead soldiers rolling across the desert to open the film, a masterful and haunting shot that is all a product of this film.  Then there is the masterful presence of Rommel.  It’s one thing to have an unnamed Soviet general – quite another to have the awe-inducing presence of the Nazi tactical genius.  And the dialogue in this film is pure Wilder and Brackett, lines like “We shall take that big fat cigar out of Mr. Churchill’s mouth and make him say Heil.” or “We’ve been killing the English like flies! Later, we’ll kill the flies like the English.”  Even from a writing standpoint, this is not yet classic Wilder – that would wait until his next film, which he, ironically wrote without Brackett, but from here on Wilder will be a constant presence in the Adapted Screenplay category.

The Credits:

Directed by Billy Wilder.  Screen Play by Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder.  Based on a Play by Lajos Biro.

Poster - Phantom of the Opera (1943)_08Phantom of the Opera

The Film:

This film was extremely disappointing to me the first time I saw it.  I don’t remember if I had seen the Lon Chaney version by this time, but I had read the novel and listened to the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical more times than you could imagine.  While the sets and costumes worked so well for the brilliant Technicolor, the film itself seemed to lack the darkness and mystery of the original book and the musical.

Part of the problem was in the billing.  To move Nelson Eddy and Susanna Foster to the lead roles and push the Phantom into more of a supporting role was, I thought, a mistake.  It moved too much light into the heart of what should have been darkness.  The darkness had already been dispelled a bit by the decision to make the Phantom someone already known to the other characters – a music teacher who is disfigured, as opposed to the mysterious Erik who haunts the Paris Opera House and whose past we must slowly discover for ourselves.

But, later, when I would return to it, I would watch it for the film that it was and not the film I wanted it to be.  Yes, it is very different from the book; it wants to focus much more on the music and the tragedy of the Phantom rather than the mystery of the Phantom.  It tries to get us to understand a man who has been struck down rather than one brought up in the shadows who has never felt love.  Rains, of course, might be the perfect person to do that (actually, Chaney was the perfect person to do that, but Rains is nearly as good).  He plays the tragedy well, and as we already knew from The Invisible Man, he is more than capable of giving us a solid performance with his voice alone.  And this film really is gorgeous to look at.  It won the color Oscars for both Cinematography (my #2 choice) and Art Direction (my #1 choice).  It wins the Nighthawks for both Costume Design and Makeup (neither of which existed as Oscar categories at the time).  It is a different Phantom than most of the people of my generation are used to, but it is still a strong film.  Is it much better when Rains is on the screen and Nelson Eddy can be forgotten?  Absolutely, and that’s probably what keeps it at a high *** and not any higher.  But, in an era when Universal was churning out low-budget (and low-quality) sequels to its great Horror films, this is one it can still be proud of.

phantomThe Source:

Le Fantôme de l’Opéra by Gaston Leroux  (1910, tr. 1911)

I have reviewed this novel once already.  That doesn’t mean I didn’t read it again, of course.  Though this book, as I mentioned in my original review does not have the reputation (or, indeed the literary quality) of the other great Horror classics (Dracula, Frankenstein, Hunchback, Jekyll), it is still a book I love dearly.  Since I wrote the original review, I bought the new translation pictured on the right and have now read it twice.

The Adaptation:

This film is not only not today’s Phantom, this is not Leroux’s Phantom.  For those not familiar with the original story, go read the book.  Or at least watch a more faithful adaptation.

For those familiar with the story, here’s what is the same: there is a Phantom (whose name, Erique, is a homonym at least for the original) who murders people in the Paris Opera House to further the career of a young beautiful singer named Christine.  Christine loves a man named Raoul.  At one point, a chandelier falls during a performance.  In the end, Christine ends up with Raoul.  Those are the similarities.  Everything else about this film was pretty much made up by the screenwriters.

The Credits:

Directed by Arthur Lubin.  Screenplay by Eric Taylor, Samuel Hoffenstein.  Adaptation . . . John Jacoby.  Based on the composition “Phantom of the Opera” by Gaston Leroux.  Uncredited writing by Hans Jacoby.

The Other Award Nominees:

holy_matrimonyHoly Matrimony

The Film:

Monty Woolley’s film career was prominent but brief.  He earned two Oscar nominations in just three years and neither was for his best performance (which was in The Man Who Came to Dinner).  This came out in the same time period and it embraces Woolley’s gruffness and tendency to think lowly of everyone around him.

Woolley is again, like in Dinner, well served by his material.  Here he plays a world famous painter who, when his valet dies, decides to let it be thought that he has died instead.  Circumstances then arise that a woman who was intending to marry his valet ends up marrying him instead and they settle down happily.  Of course, things can’t end there – indeed, they’ve barely begun.  He continues to paint, the paintings, which have details that post-date his “death” get sold and a trial ensues over his true identity.

buriedaliveThe Source:

Buried Alive: A Tale of These Days by Arnold Bennett  (1908)

Like the book below, I realized when pulling this book off the shelf at the library that I had read the author before – his Old Wives’ Tale was on the Modern Library Top 100.  The copy at Tufts is so old it was rebound in 1941 and someone has written in Monty Woolley and Gracie Fields’ names in pencil inside the cover (misspelling them both).  It seems like a sizable book – it’s thicker than the 700 page mass market fantasy novel it’s sitting next to at the moment, but it’s actually only 253 pages (the paper is quite thick).

It’s a charming little book, the story of a famous painter who, when circumstances arise, fakes his death, switching his identity with his dead valet.  Upon meeting a woman that his valet had arranged to meet from a matrimonial agency, he decides to settle down with her instead.  He is happy at first, but of course, his identity ends up being a key plot point (he continues to paint and the paintings are proven to be new) and eventually his identity is confirmed and he is able to settle down and be happily married as well.  It’s got some good warm humor, has a nice character in the painter, Priam Farll and is well written.  That is has been forgotten is not surprising – Bennett himself isn’t particularly well known anymore and this is hardly his masterpiece (that would be Old Wives’ Tale).

The Adaptation:

There some significant changes – in the film the relationship between the artist and his valet is much warmer and more developed – the two of them have been in exile together for a long time.  And there are a few other changes as well – the meeting between the artist and his future wife happens a lot quicker than it does in the book and isn’t as drawn out.  But for the most part, the film is fairly faithful to the book, moving along quickly with the plot and keeping the characters exactly as we had met them in the book.

The Credits:

Directed by John M. Stahl.  Produced and Written for the Screen by Nunnally Johnson.  From the Novel by Arnold Bennett.

bernadette_poster8The Song of Bernadette

The Film:

I have already reviewed this film once.  It is not to my taste, not because it is a movie about faith, but because it is a film that is much longer and much slower than it should be and just really isn’t all that good.

bernadetteThe Source:

Das Lied Von Bernadette by Franz Werfel  (1941, tr. 1942)

It wasn’t until I was standing in the library looking for The Song of Bernadette that I realized I already had read something by the same author.  Werfel’s most famous book is likely The Forty Days of Musa Dagh, which I own and have read because of the Modern Library Giant edition, but I found it a bit impenetrable and I’m not certain I ever finished it.  This was not a good sign for the book I was looking for (and never found – I had to give up on Tufts which had clearly lost it and get it from my local library), as I was already not fond of the film.

That copy turned out to be kind of interesting.  The book is an 8th printing but the dust jacket says 6th printing, so it might be a married dust jacket.  It is stamped 1977 and was clearly checked out several times in the late 70’s, but then either it stopped being checked out or stopped being stamped.  Either way, it is falling apart (though the dust jacket is in fairly good shape), but someone has stuck in it the 2009 Boston Globe obituary of Jennifer Jones, which had a picture of her as Bernadette.

The book itself is exactly what I thought it would be, given the film version and Musa Dagh.  It is a considerable slog of over 500 pages concerning an event that holds absolutely no interest to me.  I am sure Bernadette Soubirous saw something in the hills near Lourdes.  I am sure it meant something deep to her.  But the book (like the film) just drags on and on – she sees the vision, she has to be silenced, she wants to tell the truth of what she saw, the importance of it will win out because faith conquers all.

The irony of all of this is that Werfel was Jewish.  He came upon this story while hiding in Lourdes, waiting for his change to flee the continent in 1940 and swore that if he escaped he would tell the story of poor Bernadette.  He did and he did.  It was a big seller because, well, this kind of thing sells, and the war was on and people look to signs of faith.  But good?  Not so much.

The Adaptation:

In my review I criticized the film for what seemed like an endless amount of time dealing with the disbelief that is thrown at Bernadette – how she is attacked for a vision that has hurt no one.  This, of course, comes straight from the novel (though the events that are documented did happen, Werfel himself calls the book a “novel, but not a fictive work”, noting “I exercised my right of creative freedom only where the work, as a work of art, demanded certain chronological condensations or where there was need of striking the spark of life from the hardened substance.”, though I would argue that he never does strike that spark of life).  In fact, basically all of the film does come straight from the novel.  That, of course, doesn’t mean they needed to put so much of the novel into the film, or that they couldn’t have shortened in a variety of ways.  But if it was fidelity to the source, well then, for turning a 575 page book into a 156 minute film, kudos to them.

The Credits:

Screen Play by George Seaton.  From the Novel by Franz Werfel.  Directed by Henry King.

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

  • The Last Will of Dr. Mabuse  –  the French version of The Testament of Dr. Mabuse.  Adapted from the character originally created for Dr. Mabuse the Gambler.  Fritz Lang directed two different versions of this film in 1933, the German version (which is better), which wouldn’t reach the States until 1952, and this French one, a solid high-level ***.
  • Mission to Moscow  –  A solid film, based on the memoir of Joseph E. Davies, who was our ambassador to the USSR.  This film was used as an example of pro-Soviet propaganda during the HUAC days.  Of course it was pro-Soviet propaganda – it was made during the war when they were our allies!
  • Journey Into Fear  –  A solid *** film but it should be better given the level of involvement from Orson Welles (starred, produced, co-wrote, may have directed parts).  Adapted from the Eric Ambler novel.
  • Captain Fracasse  –  The second of three film adaptations of the Gautier novel, this one is directed by Abel Gance.  It does not appear to have ever had a U.S. release.
  • Edge of Darkness  –  A World War II film based on the novel by William Woods.  It has a director (Milestone), a writer (Rossen) and a co-star (Walter Huston) would all would win Oscars, but this is no more than a standard war film.
  • Sahara  –  A fun adventure film, the kind of thing Zoltan Korda could do well.  It’s based on a Philip MacDonald story.
  • The Constant Nymph  –  Margaret Kennedy’s novel was published in 1924, and by 1943 it had been made into two different plays and this was the third film version, but it has been basically forgotten since.  Joan Fontaine earned her third (and final) Oscar nomination for it, but her performance isn’t actually all that good.  Until the Warner Archive began issuing DVDs this film was really hard to find.
  • The Hard Way  –  Now we’re hitting mediocre film, the low level ***.  This musical was based on an Irwin Shaw story.  Ida Lupino is good in crime films, but not so much in musicals.
  • Tarzan Triumphs  –  Tarzan fights the Nazis!  The first of the RKO Tarzan films and the last of the Weismuller films to reach ***.
  • Sherlock Holmes in Washington  –  The fifth of the Rathbone Holmes films.  Like with the Tarzan films, they’ve basically abandoned any use of the original source other than the characters.
  • The Moon and Sixpence  –  This has the highest literary pedigree of anything on this lower list, as it is adapted from a novel by Somerset Maugham.  However, I can’t stand Maugham, so I’ve never read the source novel.  The film was released in 1942 but must not have played Los Angeles until 1943, because it was Oscar-nominated (for its score) in 1943.
  • Madame Curie  –  Reviewed here, as it was a nominee for Best Picture.  Adapted from Eve Curie’s autobiography.
  • Girl Crazy  –  A Mickey Rooney / Judy Garland musical based on a play by Guy Bolton and Jack McGowan, with songs by the Gershwins.
  • Guadalcanal Diary  –  A really mediocre World War II film, adapted from the book by Richard Tregaskis.  It shows that quickly produced books aren’t a modern trend – the invasion began 15 months before the film came out, and in that time, the invasion happened, the book was written, the film was written, produced and released.
  • This is the Army  –  Mediocre Warner Bros musical adapted from the stage musical by Irving Berlin.
  • Cabin in the Sky  –  This was a hit on Broadway in 1940 as a musical by Vernon Duke, John La Touche and Lynn Root.  Like so often happens today, an extra song was written for the film and it earned an Oscar nomination.
  • Lassie Come Home  –  The first of seven Lassie films from MGM, this was actually based on a Saturday Evening Post story from 1938 that was expanded into a 1938 novel.  Amazingly, there were no other Lassie books – lots of films and lots of television all came from this one book.
  • Tarzan’s Desert Mystery  –  now we’re into **.5 films, both for the year, and for Tarzan.  The second RKO Tarzan film.  We’re still fighting the Nazis but the series has lost a lot of its fun.
  • Son of Dracula  –  Surprising that it took until 1943 for Universal to make a third Dracula film.  Though it had kicked off the Universal Monsters, it really was falling behind.  This film doesn’t help as it’s not very good.  We’ve abandoned Stoker here, except for the concept of the character.  After this, Universal would start combining their monsters on film.
  • The Leopard Man  –  I really don’t get the people who are big on the Val Lewton produced horror films.  They don’t work for me at all.  This is another one of those, based on the novel Black Alibi.
  • The Kansan  –  Relentlessly mediocre western based on the novel Peace Marshal by Frank Gruber.  Its score earned an Oscar nomination, which is the only reason I’ve seen it.
  • The Falcon Strikes Back  –  Edward Dmytryk directed six films in 1943 and not one of them was better than **.5 (two of them, based on original scripts, were the two worst films of the year).  This is the sixth film in the Falcon series, a character who originally appeared in a short story.
  • Hitler’s Children  –  Another Dmytryk film, and we’re at a low-level **.5 here.  This film, as could be guessed, is about the Hitler Youth.  Based on a book by Gregor Ziemer called Education for Death.