“When the drink was set before him, he felt better. He did not drink it immediately. Now that he had it, he did not need to.” (p 11)

My Top 10:

  1. The Lost Weekend
  2. To Have and Have Not
  3. Spellbound
  4. The Body Snatcher
  5. The Man in Grey
  6. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
  7. And Then There Were None
  8. The Picture of Dorian Gray
  9. The Story of G.I. Joe
  10. The Southerner

Note:  A year after only having five on my whole list, I have more than 10.  My #11 is Pride of the Marines, which is covered down below because it was an Oscar nominee.  Next year, I’ll be back to less than a whole list.

Oscar Nominees  (Best Screenplay):

  • The Lost Weekend
  • Mildred Pierce
  • Pride of the Marines
  • The Story of G.I. Joe
  • A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

My Top 10

the-lost-weekend-philip-terry-jane-everettThe Lost Weekend

The Film:

I have reviewed this film once already.  On the one hand, it is unquestionably a great film.  On the other hand, it is the weakest Nighthawk winner for Best Picture between 1937 and 1955.

LostweekendThe Source:

The Lost Weekend by Charles Jackson (1944)

The Lost Weekend is an interesting novel.  It is not nearly as good a novel as Under the Volcano, another novel, being written at the time, that would explore the nature of alcoholism.  But that novel is about a man drinking on his way into darkness.  This novel is specifically about the call of the bottle.  Its importance has faded somewhat because when it first came out it was just about the only novel that dealt with this kind of addiction while in the decades since a number of other novels about drinking, several of them which are stronger in narrative and language, have come out.  Yet, it still works because it is so perceptive about what this kind of addiction does to someone:

Thirst – there was a misnomer.  He could honestly say he had never had a thirst for liquor or a craving for drink as such, no, not even in hangover.  It wasn’t because he was thirsty that he drank, and he didn’t drink because he liked the taste (actually whisky was dreadful to the palate; he swallowed at once to get it down as quickly as possible): he drank for what it did to him.  As for quenching his thirst, liquor did exactly the opposite.  To quench is to slake or to satisfy, to give you enough.  Liquor couldn’t do that.  One drink led inevitably to the next, more demanded more, they became progressively easier and easier, culminating in the desperate need, no longer easy, that shook him on days like these.  His need to breathe was not more urgent.

That, as much as anything I have ever read explains why people drink.  They drink because they need to and it blots out anything else.

This is still very much a novel of its time.  It deals with prejudices of the time (he can’t believe the Jewish pawnshops would be closed on a Saturday when they could do good business until he is informed that it is Yom Kippur) and an old fashioned idea of what would drive someone to drink (repressed homosexuality stemming from college experiences).  But this might be a useful novel to read still, for anyone who drinks, for anyone who knows someone who drinks, for anyone who just wants to try to understand.

lostThe Adaptation:

This film is a good example of being faithful without the presence of fidelity (a very strange sentence to be writing in the wake of the Ashley Madison hack).  It would be easy enough to read the novel and point how so much of what is on film is different – none of the flashback scenes in the film that explain how he met Helen or how she learned about him drinking are in the book.  The college episodes that lend a glimmer of light into why he began drinking in the first place is absent from the film.  When he ends up in the hospital, there is no fuss about giving his address and he is able to leave whenever he is ready in the book while in the film he has to sneak out while they’re dealing with someone else.

But all of that is about the pure fidelity; Wilder and Brackett drop that in adapting the book.  But they read the novel and they brought it magnificently to life on-screen.  We see a life of a man who is stuck deep inside the bottle, who skips out on a weekend away so that he can drink without a care and without any shame, stealing to get the money, hocking what he can at a pawnshop, doing whatever desperate thing comes to mind in order to secure his next drink.  It would be easy enough to have not read the book in a while and then watch the film and think you’re really seeing what you read.  The desperation of alcoholism, the horror of addiction, the despair to which you will sink, it is all right there on the screen.

What is really the major difference between the book and the film is the reason that he becomes a drunk in the first place.  In the book, it is his repressed homosexuality that originally drives him to drink (“He suddenly knew what he hadn’t dreamed of before, Mel was way ahead of him, miles and years – so far ahead that he could certainly never bring himself now to tell Melvin it was his father he had been thinking of.”) while in the film it is inability to commit the words to the page.  That allows for an escape at the end of the film, a chance that there really is a happy ending beyond the final scene while there doesn’t seem to be a chance for that in the book.  But in the end, it doesn’t matter what is the reason.  He drinks, as he says, because he needs to.

The Credits:

Directed by Billy Wilder.  From the Novel by Charles R. Jackson.  Screen Play by Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder.
note:  The Jackson credit is with the title, not with the writing credits.

Poster - To Have and Have Not_02To Have and Have Not

The Film:

I have reviewed this film once already.  Again, this is undeniably a classic.  But it’s the weakest #2 film after 1931 and wouldn’t be a nominee in most years (I rate it four points lower than The Big Sleep, the Bogie-Bacall film from the following year which won’t even make the Top 5 in that year).

haveThe Source:

To Have and Have Not by Ernest Hemingway (1937)

So, as mentioned below, Howard Hawks believed, at least in 1944, that To Have and Have Not was Hemingway’s worst novel.  Well, if you write off The Torrents of Spring (which most people have), there’s no question that this was his worst novel by 1944 – his other novels were The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms and For Whom the Bell Tolls.  He would write for another 15 years and never match up to any of those three again.  Hemingway was not actually a prolific novelist (only 9 novels, two of which were published posthumously).  But I still think I would rate this the weakest of his novels, even lower than the two posthumous ones.

The problem is that this novel wasn’t originally constructed as a novel and it reads as such.  The first part, which is probably the strongest, was a separate short story.  Then, the bulk of the novel came from a second, longer story.  Only then, with the Spanish Civil War breaking out, did Hemingway decide to write the rest and put it all together.  But Harry Morgan as a tough, more mysterious character as he is established in the first part of the book – the character that Bogart would later make come so alive.  Later, we get bogged down in his misery (he’s lost an arm over the course of the book), dealing with his family, and finally his rather pathetic death.

When I first read the novel, over 20 years ago, I hadn’t yet seen the film, and still I was completely disappointed.  Characters get lost in the narrative, you get lost in the narrative and you struggle to figure out what is happening, to who, and why you should even care.  I thought it was his weakest novel even then.  Going back to it now, having seen the film so many times, I’d prefer to just let the film bring the early characters to life and try to leave the rest of the book to be made into more mediocre films like The Breaking Point and The Gun Runners.

havewisThe Adaptation:

The story is so famous by now that I’ll let Howard Hawks tell it in his own words:

“Once when Hemingway and I were hunting together, I told him that I could take his worst story and make a movie out of it.  Hemingway asked me what was his worst story.  ‘To Have and Have Not,’ I said.  Hemingway explained that he had written the story in one sitting when he needed money, and that I couldn’t make a movie out of it.  I said I’d try, and while we hunted, we discussed it.  We decided that the best way to tell the story was not to show the hero growing old, but show how he had met the girl, and in short, show everything that had happened before the beginning of the novel.  After four or five days of discussion I left.  Faulkner and Jules Furthman then wrote a script incorporating the ideas Hemingway and I had evolved in our hunting trip.”  (Howard Hawks Interviews, ed. Scott Breivold, p 11)

In a different interview later in the same book, Hawks notes “We had to have a plot, you know, a secondary plot, but it was just an excuse for some scenes.” (p 29)  All he cared about was the love story.

Hawks wrote the famous line “If you want anything just whistle.”: “I wrote the scene just for the test and it went over so well we had an awful time trying to put it into the picture.  Faulkner was the one who found a place to put it.” (p 66) and he acknowledges that Faulkner wrote the set-up and scenario to fit in the line.

But that’s really what this film is, a set-up for the actual events of the novel.  Hawks looked at the character of Harry Morgan and looked at his relationship with his wife and decided he wanted the story of how they fell in love.  So, that’s what they wrote.  The only part of the novel that really makes it intact on to the screen is the opening part of the novel, which, fairly faithfully, becomes the opening part of the film, with the man who has hired the boat.  A lot of those scenes, complete with the dialogue, comes straight from the book.  As for the rest?  Well, Hawks, Furthman and Faulkner pretty much made it up.  But, hey, it’s still the only instance of two Nobel Prize winning writers combining on one film.

One more key thing to mention that doesn’t get as much play because the plot is changed so much – the book is about Cuba and takes place during the 30’s.  But for the film, the action was moved to Martinique in 1940, with France already at war but not the United States.  This added a much different political element to the film.

As always, with any book available in the Wisconsin Warner Bros Screenplay Series, if you have any serious interest in the script and how it came to be (or are a passionate Faulkner fan like me), you really should get this book.  It has a very long introduction and has copious notes on the book.  The key thing about these books is that they present the actual script, not just a reconstruction of the screenplay from the film, which means it notes the changes from page to screen, as well as discussing the process by which the original source became the screenplay in the first place.

The Credits:

Directed by Howard Hawks.  Screen Play by Jules Furthman and William Faulkner.  The only credit for Hemingway is on the title card: Ernest Hemingway’s “To Have and Have Not”.  The IMDb lists Cleve F. Adams and Whitman Chambers as uncredited writers.  There is a brief discussion of their involvement on p. 28 of Kawin’s book.


The Film:

I have reviewed this film once already.  It doesn’t quite hold up as well as a lot of Hitchcock films, but it still manages to score ****.

TheHouseOfDrEdwardesThe Source:

The House of Dr. Edwardes by Francis Beeding  (1928)

Alfred Hitchcock was the man who long ago taught me that just because a film is good doesn’t mean its source material is worth reading.  Of course, I have plowed ahead with this project anyway.

“Well, the original novel, The House of Dr. Edwardes, was about a madman taking over an insane asylum.  It was melodramatic and quite weird.  In the book even the orderlies were lunatics and they did some very queer things.  But I wanted to do something more sensible, to turn out the first picture on psychoanalysis.”  (Alfred Hitchcock quoted in Hitchcock by Francois Truffaut, p 163)

Yeah, it really is a strange novel and I wonder why Hitchcock didn’t just ditch the idea of using the book and actually create an original scenario for a film that delved deeply into psychoanalysis.  That was why he wanted to bring Dali aboard – to show how we can dive into our dreams and find meaning in our lives.  Instead, they had this mystery novel which isn’t very compelling and I’m surprised hadn’t been completely forgotten by 1945.  Instead, it earned at least a bit of a new life (the copy I have on ILL is a wartime version printed on thin paper and retitled Spellbound).

This novel is a considerable slog – it keeps wanting to get deeper but really it just keeps coming back around to the same idea (that a madman manages to slip places with his psychiatrist when arriving at a new asylum and because of the disappearance of Dr. Edwardes, the man in charge, no one knows about it).  The character of Constance then comes along, although it is hard to tell how properly trained she is and she manages to fall in love with the imposter, but by then everything has gotten so confusing that you want to just give up altogether.

The Adaptation:

As I said, I don’t know why Hitchcock didn’t just give it up and create an original scenario.  Yes, the book does provide a basic framework to the story – the idea that a madman switches places with the doctor upon arrival at an asylum and the female doctor ends up falling for the madman.  But after that, it departs a lot, because, as Hitchcock spells out in his interviews with Truffuat, what he really wanted to do with this film was look at the idea of psychoanalysis.  To that end, we have the magnificent Dali dreamscapes (Dali happens to be my favorite artist and “The Persistence of Memory” is hanging over my head as I write this, so my only regret is that these dreamscapes are in black-and-white as Dali is so glorious with color).  But in the end, we have to work through everything to find out what those horrible lines must mean and by then we’ve left the original novel far behind, which really, having read it finally, is for the best.

The Credits:

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock.  Screen Play by Ben Hecht.  Adaptation by Angus MacPhail.  Suggest by Francis Beeding’s novel “The House of Dr. Edwardes”.

the-body-snatcher-movie-poster-1945-1020143726The Body Snatcher

The Film:

In 1931, Frankenstein made Boris Karloff a star without really allowing him to speak.  In 1935, Bride of Frankenstein showed that he was an exceptional actor and that his mostly non-speaking role in Frankenstein wasn’t a fluke.  But The Body Snatcher is really the best opportunity for viewers to see the full range of Karloff’s acting, to appreciate what he really was capable of doing on-screen when someone was willing to give him the chance.

The Body Snatcher is a story in the same vein as Burke and Hare, the famous Edinburgh men who would kill people, sell the corpses to doctors for study and profit from it.  Karloff plays Gray, an Edinburgh cab driver who is willing to dig up bodies and do the dirty work to provide the studying doctors what they need, but he also shows that he’s willing to provide a few fresher corpses as well.  He’s not meant to literally be Burke or Hare, as they are directly referenced in the film, but he does the same kind of work (and Gray was the name of the person who reported Burke and Hare).  Karloff’s performance is seriously creepy.  He is determined to make a profit, and not to lost that source of revenue, making it clear to the doctor who is hiring him that they are in this together and that if he decides he no longer needs Gray, well then Gary will be happy to inform the authorities.  Karloff has the screen presence, the deep, disturbing voice, the mannerisms to make you truly frightened over what he might do.  As was the case with other films produced by Val Lewton, this was pushing the limits of what the Code would allow.

Karloff isn’t the whole film of course.  He’s not even actually the lead; that’s Henry Darniell (though Karloff is enough of a lead that he earns a Nighthawk nomination for Best Actor).  There is moody cinematography, effective art direction, and from Robert Wise, solid direction that would be unlike almost any film he would ever again make after separating from Val Lewton.  Lewton, like David O. Selznick, is the argument against the “director as auteur” theory, as he clearly was the driving creative force behind his films.  They were moody and horrific.  Yet, for all the zombies that walked through his other films, this film has the most horror of any of Lewton’s films.

Stevenson.giant.big.1964The Source:

“The Body Snatcher” by Robert Louis Stevenson

This story is really a short story, running only 18 pages in my copy of Selected Writings of Robert Louis Stevenson.  It is a gruesome little tale of the early 19th Century, of the need that doctors have for bodies.  In it we see the doctor who needs the bodies for his study, the student who ends up involved in that scheme and the brutal man who is willing to do their dirty work for them.  It all goes wrong for everyone involved and it does it all with the masterful writing of Stevenson: “A nameless dread was swathed, like a wet sheet about the body and tightened the white skin upon the face of Fettes; a fear that was meaningless, a horror of what could not be, kept mounting to his brain.”

The Adaptation:

“Bela Lugosi was an afterthought.  His character was not in the original script, but the studio felt it would be great if we had the names of Karloff and Lugosi on the marquees.  Val didn’t like the idea.  He tried to talk them out of it, but wasn’t able to.  So he worked him in by creating the role of the porter.”  (Robert Wise on His Films, p 71)

It’s interesting that Lewton, who as I said, was the primary creative force behind his films, was unable to win the battle on Lugosi, or that he would even make the battle in the first place.  Karloff and Lugosi had made several films together and this would be the last.  It is also, by a considerable margin, the best.  Perhaps Lewton didn’t want him because by this time Lugosi was already becoming a joke – after all, he never had quite the acting talent that Karloff had.  But Lugosi is solid in his small role, one, which, as is mentioned, isn’t in the story.

In fact, this film really does a good job of taking the story and providing details.  This is a perfect example of adapting a short story to film because the story provided everything needed for the film except for a real plot while the film provides more of that without ever contradicting anything in the story really and turns it into a feature length.  It is true that it is only the main character who goes crazy thinking he sees Gray as the corpse at the end of the film but that’s hardly a change to the spirit of the original story.

The material for this is basically the same story as The Doctor and the Devils (1985) and Burke and Hare (2011), but this is far superior to either of those films.  Like The Picture of Dorian Gray (see below), ironically, something that seems difficult to make during the Production Code actually makes for a far more satisfying film than the versions made since the Code was abolished.

The Credits:

Directed by Robert Wise.  Based on a short story by Robert Louis Stevenson.  Written for the Screen by Philip MacDonald and Carlos Keith.  The IMDb lists Carlos Keith as a pseudonym for producer Val Lewton.

ManInGrey_US1The Man in Grey

The Film:

Let’s have another round of applause for Criterion Collection, that all wonderful producer of DVDs that expand your film horizons.  Long ago I made the decision that any film put out by Criterion is something I should make certain to watch.  The downside has been that I have seen far more Godard films than I would ever want to.  But the upside is the discovery of a lot of great films that have slipped through my cracks – films that were never nominated for anything, that were not directed by my Top 100 directors, or even by anyone ever nominated for an Oscar.  Films like the three films in the Criterion Eclipse set: Three Wicked Melodramas from Gainsborough Pictures.

“It is worth nothing that, despite their notoriety, not even half the Gainsborough films produced in the 1940s were melodramas and the studio produced many films of other types before, during and after this period.  The popularity of the melodramas was short-lived but is remembered because the ‘Gainsborough Melodrama’, like a Hammer Horror or an Ealing Comedy is a clearly defined and recognisable product in the long history of British film-making.”  (British Film Studios, Kiri Bloom Walden, p 24)

Madonna of the Seven Moons and The Wicked Lady are good films, but The Man in Grey is really the treasure of the set.  Any fan of film has definitely seen the dark side of James Mason, as a murderous villain (North by Northwest), an alcoholic sinker further into failure (A Star is Born) or as a man with an unhealthy fixation on nymphets (Lolita).  But I might have been most disturbed by his performance in this film.

Mason here is the rat, the man in grey, the man who finds himself required to get a wife so that he can beget an heir, but really has no use for one.  In fact, he has no use for almost anyone, at least until he first lays eyes upon a woman his wife knew in childhood (I would say a childhood friend, but really, they were never friends and she just doesn’t know it).  He has a use for her and it has nothing to do with marriage.  He wants her and so he has her.  She also wants him and she is more determined to have him, which works for his wife who would rather be with the poor actor she has met.  All of this is done with glorious black-and-white cinematography, first rate sets and marvelous costumes.  But the real thrill is watching what a bastard Mason can be.  In a way, this also could have been titled “the wicked lady” because of the way the plots move forward, but in the end, she’ll discover that Mason has far more steely determination in him that even she can stand up to.

The Source:

The Man in Grey by Eleanor Smith  (1942)

The Man in Grey came from a school of historical fiction which used the past as a setting for romantic fantasy.  Amid the danger and discomfort of the war, such fiction found an avid readership.”  (Gainsborough Pictures, Pam Cook ed. article by Robert Murphy, p 142)  And there really isn’t much more to it than that.  James Mason’s biographer, Sheridan Morley, would write that it “had lain gathering dust on library shelves until the writer and producer R. J. Minney brought it to the attention of James’s in-laws the Ostrers’.” (as quoted in Gainsborough Pictures, p 142), but Murphy points out that this book had been a best-seller and Minney hadn’t yet become a producer by the time this film was made.

Nonetheless, there is a point to be made there.  This is not only a fairly forgettable book, but is also part of a forgettable genre.  There’s a reason that Murphy made that mistake – it’s hard to remember that this genre flourished so much during the war years.

This is a serviceable novel.  It was made into a melodramatic film because it is melodramatic in the extreme – like a pale shadow of the the Brontes.  I deliberately don’t say Austen because this is designed to be dark and brooding and nothing like the carefree way of Austen.  It is the story of a young woman who marries the man in grey because he offers himself and he is rich and powerful.  It is not long before she realizes it is a mistake and she manages to find an old childhood friend (who has always actually resented her) and the friend becomes a kept woman by her husband while she finds her own dalliance with an actor.  In the end, there is only tragedy, as the woman dies (due to the machinations of her “friend”) and even her lover dies.  In fact, the story is being told with a framework from the modern day (in a similar manner, but different circumstances than the film) and even the narrator dies.  It is so very melodramatic in the ways that the British themselves are not.  And were it not for the fine film made from the novel, it would all be so utterly forgettable as well.

The Adaptation:

Much of what we see in the film comes from the book and it doesn’t skimp on the details.  We get the childhood of the girls and understand the link, if not the bond between them, then we see one of them, the one with a chance for a future, grow up to be the wife of the man in grey (one difference is that we get much more his reputation for being a rat in the film before they are married than we do in the novel), how she reconnects with her old “friend”, how she comes to fall in love with the actor while her “friend” is off sleeping with her husband, and how this will all end up badly for basically everyone involved except for Mason, who will get the heir he desires and never have to worry about caring for anyone else.

The one key difference between the film and the book is the framing device.  There is actually a framing device in the book, but it is set in the last stages of the family and is far more bleak than in the film where we get a hope for reconciliation and some measure of happiness for these families, long after the primary events of the film have faded into history.

The Credits:

Directed by Leslie Arliss.  Based on the Novel by Lady Eleanor Smith.  Adaptation: Doreen Montgomery.  Screenplay: Margaret Kennedy and Leslie Arliss.

tree_grows_in_brooklyn_xlgA Tree Grows in Brooklyn

The Film:

Which is the harder task – taking a book beloved by many in which the primary character ages through the years and adapting it into a fine film or making a film for adults with a child in the key role and making a very good film out of it?  Whichever is the answer, Elia Kazan managed to have it both ways.  Kazan was already a well-established theater director just waiting to become a Hollywood success when he decided to make this his first film.  According to Richard Schickel’s biography of Kazan, at first the book didn’t make much of an impact, but later, once he really started to look at it, the poignancy of growing up poor in New York ended up speaking to Kazan on a very basic personal level and he poured his heart into the film.

This film is not exactly Citizen Kane, but it is a ***.5 film and a very solid debut from a director who would very quickly rise to greatness (he would win an Oscar for Gentleman’s Agreement, his fourth film).  It showed that he had a solid guide for the camera, but more importantly, was great in working with actors.  Though James Dunn, an actor who had been beset with alcoholism and here plays a character who manages to overcome his weakness just long enough to go out and die while trying to find work in the dead of winter to support his family, would fail to win the Nighthawk, he would win the Oscar, and certainly Kazan’s direction is partially responsible for that.  Though Kazan would only make 19 films, they would win 9 acting Oscars (only William Wyler would have more success with his actors at the Oscars and he made a lot more films).  It’s evident even in the performance of Peggy Ann Garner, the teenager who plays the lead, Francie.  She has a graceful style all her own which belies the usual child film performance, especially one that is required to carry the film.  In her love for her father, her passion for the tree, her desire to to do better than where her family has gotten so far, she comes alive on screen.

This film is tricky; it is not really a kid’s film, as there is too much misery, too much darkness around their lives, with death coming before they are ready and poverty always right around the potential corner.  Yet, with a child at the heart of it and so much revolving around her life and her growth, it isn’t really quite a film for adults either.  So it is what it is – a very good start from a truly great director.

TreeGrowsInBrooklynThe Source:

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith  (1943)

It’s a difficult task to do with Smith does with this novel, capturing the story of growing up in the lower class without either making it too squalid or romanticizing it.  She does a fairly good job with it, keeping it from being too unbearable; yet, she also doesn’t spare us from tragedy, with the father of the family rather young, leaving two young children and an unborn baby to make their way.

Perhaps the real narrative choice that keeps this novel from ever veering too much towards sentimentality is the choice not to write it in the first person – it saves it from what, today, would be the inevitable comparison with To Kill a Mockingbird.  But Smith isn’t trying to teach us a moral lesson, and the characters are allowed to grow over the course of the novel (physically, as well as emotionally).  We see a 16 year old girl, pretending to be much older (so that she can go to work and bring in some income after her father has died) who falls in love with a soldier and regrets not sleeping with him before he heads off (something which her mother actually thinks she should have some cause to regret: “I will tell you the truth as a woman.  It would have been a very beautiful thing.  Because there is only once that you love that way.”).

This is certainly a solid novel; not in the realm of first class literature, but more than good enough to be considered the kind of classic that it has been for over 70 years.

The Adaptation:

The primary change in adapting the novel to the screen would be in keeping it all to one time period.  Though the book covers several years in the life of Francie Nolan (and not in chronological order), the decision was made to just use one set of child actors.  This means that we have some of the events that happen over the course of time in the book (the death of the father, the remarriage of the mother) compressed into a much tighter timeframe.  That means, of course, that certain events are simply edited out (no baby, no growing up for Francie and falling in love with the soldier) while the film tries to take as much of the story of the book and see how they can make it fit into the space of about one year.  Given all of that, it’s actually impressive how much of the book they manage to find time for (and manage to move around) to happen in that space.  The film always stays true to the spirit of the book, even when it is forced to change what actually happens on the page.

The Credits:

Directed by Elia Kazan.  Screen Play by Tess Selsinger and Frank Davis.  Adapted from the Novel by Betty Smith.  The IMDb lists Anita Loos as “uncredited contributor to dialogue”.

andthentherewerenoneAnd Then There Were None

The Film:

I have reviewed this film once already.  It is quite an enjoyable film.  It is unfortunately in the public domain; while this means it’s very easy to find, it also means that most of the copies out there are terrible prints, even the ones on DVD.

and-then-there-wereThe Source:

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie  (1940)

First of all, I feel I should mention that I am well aware of the original British title of this book but I feel no need to write it.  It was never called that in the U.S. because use of the word had already evolved in this country.

This book is, quite frankly, Agatha Christie at her most enjoyable.  It’s a bit of “locked room mystery” except it’s not a room, it’s an entire island, and unlike a lot of locked room mysteries, we don’t know yet that it’s a mystery.  We’re presented with 10 different characters (I was going to write “slowly presented” but in only 23 pages Christie does a fantastic job of introducing us to all ten characters and giving hints as to what is going on), all of whom have been gathered together on an island for the sole reason of being killed off.  We know why they’re being killed of because we’re told that (and, for that matter, so are they).  All of them have been responsible for the death of someone else, deaths that have placed them outside the realm of legal recourse, so one person has decided to make them all pay.  How they are made to pay is both inventive and fascinating.  We follow them as they kill each other, kill themselves, find death in a variety of ways, perhaps because, in the end, they know they all deserve it.

Christie doesn’t leave us completely dangling.  She’s gives us a bit of a denouement, explaining precisely how this came to be.  But perhaps we didn’t even really need it; she’s tied everything up so neatly in her of her most enjoyably mysterious books that we can be pulled into the mystery without ever really needing the solution at all.

The Adaptation:

“The novel was adapted to the stage by Christie herself, the major change being that, unlike the novel, two of the play’s (and all the subsequent film versions’) characters survive.  It must be remembered that it was Christie and no one else who was responsible for the altered ending; fans who have read the book and then seen the play or one of the five film versions of the story would do well to keep this in mind.  A popular ending for the rhyme in Christie’s time was ‘He got married and then there were none’, instead of ‘He went and hanged himself and then there were none.'”  (The Films of Agatha Christie, Scott Palmer, p 25-26)

“[Clair] and Dudley Nichols turned out the final screenplay in only four weeks, basing it on a novel by Agatha Christie and her 1944 dramatization of it, Ten Little Indians.  Minor but effective changes in character were made for the screen, the collaborators adding a considerable amount of humor and subtlety to the original, while retaining its intricate plot.”  (René Clair by Celia McGerr, p 150)

Both of those things are true and both of them are the key things when considering the adaptation of the novel to the screen.  The novel, while a fascinating mystery really has almost nothing in the way of humor.  The film brings much more of a sense of humor to these dark proceedings, partially in the performances of Barry Fitzgerald and Walter Huston, and partially in the direction of Clair.  But the massive difference is that first one; the ending itself is completely different from the book.  In the book, after the police are summarily stumped by the bodies they have found in the island with no one available to have killed them, they receive a letter that explains how it was done.  But, deciding to preserve a sort of happy ending, Christie allows the last death to actually be faked, and instead, provide an ending that people could get behind more readily and not leave the theater with a sense of darkness.

The Credits:

Produced and Directed by René Clair.  From the Novel by Agatha Christie.  Screenplay by Dudley Nichols.
two notes on the credits:  The first is that the Christie credit is on the same screen as the title credit, not with Nichols’.  The second is that this is one of the two films on this list where each screen of credits is washed away by a wave; Mildred Pierce is the other.

the-picture-of-dorian-gray-movie-poster-1945-1020458374The Picture of Dorian Gray

The Film:

I re-watched this film just after re-watching And Then There Were None and it was a welcome relief.  It’s not about the film itself.  It’s about the availability of it.  The DVD copy I watched of And Then There Were None never looks particularly good.  But then comes The Picture of Dorian Gray, which won an Oscar for Cinematography, and in this print you can absolutely see why.  The picture is crisp and clear and in that stunning moment when we finally get a chance to see that horrific portrait it is really stunning.

This film is one of those oddities of the Code Era.  There are aspects of the novel that never had any chance of making it on the screen intact.  The filmmakers were going to have work their way around this problem and still try to make a worthwhile film for us to enjoy.  Yet, in all the years since the Code was done away with, no better film version has ever been made.  Can they not figure out how to do this properly?  Or is it true what some people say, that the Code forced people to think around certain problems and present some interesting solutions.  I would argue no – just look at the pre-Code Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde as opposed to the 1941 Code version.  But for some reason, some Code versions are still the best even when they shouldn’t be.

Perhaps some of that is the quality of this film.  It’s well-structured, giving us a bit of horror, a bit of romance, a bit of drama and wrapping it all in Victorian clothing.  It looks good, and I’m not just talking about the print – the cinematography is well done (it won the Oscar), the art direction is very good and the costumes are solid.  So, then, why isn’t this a classic?  Well, maybe the answer is on the poster.  George Sanders has top billing but he isn’t playing Dorian.  Dorian is played by Hurd Hatfield and while he’s not terrible, there is also something missing there.  Veronica and I are both fans of Penny Dreadful and I mentioned that this Dorian, unlike Reeve Carney, doesn’t make me want to punch him in the face.  But Veronica, who really likes Reeve Carney, pointed out that there is no real sense of palpable menace in Hurd Hatfield’s performance.  He’s too much of a blank canvass, and even if all the horror is going to the actual canvass, there needs to be something more to Dorian’s performance than we are given by Hatfield.

Aside from Hatfield the film is solid.  George Sanders, as always is solid.  Angela Lansbury, the year after she gave the best supporting performance of the year in Gaslight, continues to show that she might have been a better actress in her teens than ever again.  The technical aspects of the film are solid.  But what is most impressive is the very concept of the portrait.  Of course, the filmmakers would have to decide how to present this hideous picture and they do it with great style; not only is it an image of true horror, but in a black-and-white film, suddenly we are overwhelmed with the hideous colors of the portrait.  In a rather brilliant idea, it was decided to tint the frames in which the portrait appears, and we are reminded how much more vivid the portrait is than the life that Dorian himself lead.

wdcutDorianGrayThe Source:

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

This novel is a bit disturbing, but wasn’t Oscar Wilde as well?

It is the story of a man who asks for a wish, gets that wish, and then decides to make every use of that wish that he possibly can.  Unfortunately that includes destroying people, either emotionally, or literally.  It means the utter decay of his soul that can be reflected upon the canvas and not actually touch the man himself, at least until that final moment when everything in his life has become too much to bear:

An exclamation of horror broke from the painter’s lips as he saw in the dim light the hideous face on the canvas grinning at him.  There was something in its expression that filled with him with disgust and loathing.  Good heavens! it was Dorian Gray’s own face that he was looking at!  The horror, whatever it was, had not yet entirely spoiled that marvellous beauty.

Just because this novel delves into macabre horror, doesn’t mean, of course that we are not blessed with Wilde’s wit: “My dear boy, no woman is a genius.  Women are a decorative sex.  They never have anything to say, but they say it charmingly.  Women represent the triumph of matter over mind, just as men represent the triumph of mind over morals.”  There is also “When a woman marries again, it is because she detested her first husband.  When a man marries again, it is because he adored his first wife.  Women try their luck; men risk theirs.”  And Wilde even counter-attacks his critics before they can even condemn this work: “Art has no influence upon action.  It annihilates the desire to act.  It is superbly sterile.  The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame.”

It is, a first-rate novel and it was included in my Top 200.  Wilde is often thought of in terms of his wit, both in real life (“I am so clever that sometimes I don’t understand a single word of what I am saying”) and in his plays (“If I am occasionally a little overdressed, I make up for it by being always immensely overeducated.”).  But in this short novel he finds the depths of horror while never lacking in his undisputed wit.

The Adaptation:

What was that loathsome red dew that gleamed, wet and glistening on one of the hands, as though the canvas had sweated blood?  How horrible it was! – more horrible, it seemed to him for the moment, than the silent thing that he knew was stretched across the table, the thing whose grotesque misshapen shadow on the spotted carpet showed him that it had not stirred, but was still there, as he had left it.

Those are Wilde’s words when Dorian has committed murder and looked upon his portrait.  That paragraph could have been adapted listlessly to the screen, but in the brilliant use of color in the film, we see that red dew upon the canvas and Wilde’s language comes to life far more vividly than perhaps we would even wish.

That is not to imply, of course, that this film is a perfectly faithful adaptation of Wilde’s novel.  There was no way that the Production Code was going to allow for that.  There are a variety of changes from the book to the film, the first, and primary one, being that an Egyptian statue grants Dorian’s wish for the portrait to age instead of him, while in the novel he simply makes the wish and somehow it happens.

The Credits:

Directed by Albert Lewin.  Screen Play by Albert Lewin.  Based Upon the Novel by Oscar Wilde.

GIJOE+movie+B+half+sheet+1945Story of G.I. Joe

The Film:

I have reviewed this film once already.  In a decent year, this wouldn’t make my Top 5.  But this isn’t a decent year and it does.  It’s a very good film, but still the weakest #5 film after 1934.

bravemenThe Source:

Brave Men (1944) and Here is Your War (1945) by Ernie Pyle

Military books are not my thing.  They flowered quite a bit in the 90’s, true (and not-so-true) exploits of men in combat, printed in mass market form.  But that kind of life has never appealed to me.  If you are going to read about combat, I think this is perhaps the best way to do so.  Ernie Pyle was a reporter and he was stationed alongside troops, through Africa, on into the Sicily, through the invasion of Italy and eventually in the Pacific theater where he would die during combat not long after this film was finished.  His columns were put together to form these books and they show what the man were going through.  They are a tribute to the men who Pyle served alongside, the men who were risking their lives every day during the war.

On one level these aren’t the books for me because they’re books about combat.  On another level these aren’t the books for me because they’re human interest.  But just because human interest doesn’t work for me, doesn’t mean these books aren’t well written.  Pyle loved getting to know the man and he makes those details come alive in the story.  He wanted the people who were reading his column back home to remember the people they knew who had gone off to serve.  In Here is Your War, he gets sick in Africa and proceeds, with great care, to tell us about his doctor and the man who brings him his meals as well as almost anyone else he runs into.  He thought it was important to mention these people by name and give their stories.  These were the men who people wanted to remember and that was important to Pyle.

One of his best pieces, and certainly one of his most famous, is the one I shall mention down below under Adaptation.  But it really shows Pyle’s ability to cut to the heart of what was going on and remind people that this wasn’t just a game, wasn’t a movie, that these were real people that were really laying their lives on the line and that a lot of them wouldn’t be coming back.

The Adaptation:

Most of the action in the film comes straight from Pyle’s books.  Some of the action is moved around to form a more coherent story, and many of the characters are blended together, because while we see mostly one group of men, Pyle was stationed with a number of different companies over the course of the war.

It was a good choice to actually put Pyle himself in the film.  Pyle is very much a part of his columns; his interactions with the different people that he met were often the impetus for specific items he would mention in his column.  So watching him there, the small little guy in the very big war, is a reminder that he was in the heart of the action, and that, indeed, he was killed in action, even though he wasn’t a solider himself.

One of the most moving parts of the film they kept for the end, though it derives from a column that appears halfway through the second book, Brave Men.  It is the death of the Robert Mitchum character, the captain.  Called Captain Walker in the film, in real life he was Captain Henry T. Waskow.  His death in life was much as it was shown on the film:

“I was at the foot of the mule trail the night they brought Captain Waskow down.  The moon was nearly full, and you could see far up the trail, and even partway across the valley below.  Dead men had been coming down the mountain all evening lashed onto the backs of mules.  They came lying belly-down across the wooden packsaddles, their heads hanging down on one side, their stiffened legs sticking out awkwardly from the other, bobbing up and down as the mules walked.”  No one really knows how to react to the death of someone who was so well-liked and respected.  But, finally, they do.  “They stood around, and gradually I could sense them moving, one by one, close to Captain Waskow’s body.  Not so much to look, I think as to say something in finality to him and to themselves.”  He describes individual men and their reactions, until ht we get to the final one:

Then the first man squatted down, and he reached down and took the captain’s hand, and he sat there for a full five minutes holding the dead hand in his own and looking intently into the dead face.  And he never uttered a sound all the time he sat there.  Finally he put the hand down.  He reached over and gently straightened the points of the captain’s shirt collar, and then he sort of rearranged the tattered edges of the uniform around the wound, and then he got up and walked away down the road in the moonlight, all alone.

It was this kind of tribute to the individual man that made Pyle’s writing to so important to those back home.  For someone to hear that their son or brother or father was dead was heart-breaking, but this could provide a kind of relief, a beautiful eulogy.  And to have it reprised in the film so movingly is only appropriate.

The Credits:

Directed by William A. Wellman.  Ernie Pyle’s Story of G.I. Joe.  Screen Play by Leopold Atlas, Guy Endore, Philip Stevenson.  The IMDb lists uncredited additional dialogue by Ben Bengal.
note:  There is no credit as to which Pyle writings this comes from – the title credit is his only credit.

the-southerner-movie-poster-1945-1020688303The Southerner

The Film:

What must The Southerner have felt like to someone watching in on the screen back then?  After films like Grand Illusion and This Land is Mine, which had taken stands in defense of humanity, after films like Boudu Saved From Drowning and Rules of the Game (to be fair, neither of which had reached America by this point), which made pointed commentary about class distinctions, here is a film that is simply a pastoral story.  Grapes of Wrath had been about the families pushed out of the Midwest, but here was a story about a family determined to stay just where they are, not matter what the land is doing to them.

In that sense, I suppose, this is still a film in defense of humanity.  Renoir is interested in people, especially good people who are simply trying to make their way in the world, no matter what gets thrown at them.  These are good people, just beaten down quite a bit by the land.

It’s really the land that comes through in this film.  I have seen it more than once now and it’s not the people or what happens to them that I remember.  There is no Tom Joad in this story, who captivates your imagination and becomes a powerful mythical figure.  It is the land itself, the way Renoir photographs it, the way it comes to life, in droughts, in disaster, in floods, in dust, and the way the people continue to struggle against it and struggle with it in order to scratch out their meager living.  And yet, in Renoir’s hands, it is still really a film about the common core of humanity.

holdautumnThe Source:

Hold Autumn in Your Hand by George Sessions Perry  (1941)

“What attracted me in the story was precisely the fact that there was really no story, nothing but a series of strong impressions – the vast landscape, the simple aspiration of the hero, the heat and the hunger . . . what I saw was a story in which every element would brilliantly play its part, in which things and men, animals and Nature, all would come together in an immense act of homage to the divinity.”  (Films in My Life by Jean Renoir, p 234)

Renoir himself has pretty much summed up the book.  The actual writing in the book is fairly solid (“The Texas January day was all blue and gold and barely crisp.  Only the absence of leaves and sap, the presence of straggling bands of awkward crows, the gray-yellow flutter of field larks, and the broad, matter-of-fact hibernation of the earth said it was winter as Sam Tucker walked along the road, his long legs functioning automatically, farmerly.”).

My first instinct was to describe the book as second-rate Steinbeck.  Now, that’s still a compliment, because we’re talking about Steinbeck here.  But I also realized that it wasn’t really fair to the book – Steinbeck’s novels focus more around story and this book isn’t about the story, but rather about those impressions that Renoir mentions (“All the corn was battered.  Some of it in slivers.  Much of the cotton was beaten against the earth, but the plants were so small that it had been hard for the hail to make many direct hits.  Besides, they had possessed so much of the resilience of all young things that it was possible that even those which had been struck down would not die.”).  This is actually a fairly good book (it claims it won the National Book Award, but that’s a much a different award than what we now think of), so long as you remember you read it not for a story, but for something different.

The Adaptation:

As Renoir says, he uses the film to paint a portrait of ideas and concepts that spring from the book, more than the need to try and follow the book itself.  There are some events from the book that pretty much make it intact on-screen (the flood, in particular), but for the most part, the book simply provides a blueprint of characters and the part of Texas that they are in for Renoir to craft a picture around.

The Credits:

Direction and Screenplay by Jean Renoir.  Adapted by Hugo Butler.  From the Novel “Hold Autumn in Your Hand” by George Sessions Perry.  The IMDb lists uncredited writing from William Faulkner and Nunnally Johnson.

Other Award Nominees

admarinesPride of the Marines

The Film:

If you’re looking to watch a vintage World War II film, especially one that documents a true story, as opposed to a random story about the war made up for film, this is one of the better ones.  It’s not a great film, but it’s at the high end of ***, a solidly made film, with a solid screenplay and a good performance from John Garfield at its heart.

Most importantly, it has a heart.  It is not just a story of the random heroism during the war, not just a story of a specific battle and what it means.  It’s the story of one man, the love he manages to find just before the war, his determination to go off and do his part in the war, and what he endures after coming back, a hero, blinded, just as determined to be self-sufficient as he was when he left.  It doesn’t hurt that he has John Garfield’s cagey charisma or is coming back to the beautiful Eleanor Parker (he might not be able to see her now but that does not prevent him from remembering what she looked like before he left).  This is Hollywood casting, of course, as there is a picture of both Al and his wife in the inside of the book and they are much more average looking than Garfield and Parker, but so what, it’s the movie version; when watching Eat Pray Love, I commented that knowing what Elisabeth Gilbert looks like in real life, if she gets to be played by Julia Roberts than in the biography of my life I get to be played by Clive Owen.

This film does give equal measure, or more, really, to the lives outside of the war as to the action in the war.  The war is not the primary part of the film, in spite of the title – it’s just the manner in which Al is blinded so that we can have the tragedy of the story.  But first we get Al falling in love, then, we have all the events after the war, of Al working himself back into society and the finale.  As I said though, this is certainly one of the better films to come out of the war, especially films that were based on real events.

alschmidThe Source:

Al Schmid, Marine by Roger Butterfield  (1944)

This book is a bit hard to read.  By that, I don’t mean its literary quality or any technical problems.  It’s the style.  Remember that when this book was written, we were still at war.  So a paragraph like “The Japs must have got rattled because they started coming over right where the moon was shining on the river; Al could practically see the buttons on their jackets.  He waited till they were only fifty yards away and then he mowed them down like sitting ducks.” might have read just fine in 1944.  But today it smacks of racism and jingoism and it’s just a reminder of a different time.

For a little book designed to bolster the life story of a hero (early on, it says “This is the story of Sergeant Al Schmid, who never intended to be a hero.  If you want to call him one after you read this book, why that is entirely up to you.” but it’s quite clear the book wants you to think of him as a hero), this is quite readable.  But it’s a short little thing (barely 140 pages with short pages and generous margins) and is really only supposed to be just that – a little wartime morale boost, and not a serious book.

The Adaptation

It is actually the middle part of the film, the war scenes, that are the closest to how they are in the book.  How close any of the film is to reality is another thing altogether.

The first part of the film, in which Al falls in love with Ruth, is almost entirely different from the book.  Their little meet cute never happened (she had been hanging around the house for a while and they were a little bit friendly), the bowling scene never happened.  The scaring off the date scene sort of happened, at least, though with some differences.  Then comes the middle part of the film, where Al goes off to war, and starting from his enlistment in the Marines (complete with hearing about some co-workers doing it first), it follows fairly closely to the book, until the end of the film.  Yes, there were some communication issues between Al and Ruth while Al was in the hospital, but it was more mis-communication than anything, and there wasn’t anything like the drama at the end of the film.  All Al needs is to see Ruth again and head off to be married and indeed, the final scene is him just trying to get the ring on her finger, rather than any overt drama about him belonging.  It makes for nice drama, but it is hardly how it happened in the book (again, I can’t speak for reality).

The Credits:

Directed by Delmer Daves.  Screen Play by Albert Maltz.  Adaptation by Marvin Borowsky.  From a Book by Roger Butterfield.  The IMDb lists uncredited writing from director Delmer Daves.

MILDRED PIERCE - American Poster 7Mildred Pierce

The Film:

I have reviewed this film once already.  It’s tricky for me to really judge this film as I don’t particularly like Joan Crawford and here she even plays against the type for what she was so good at.  Perhaps that’s why she wins the Nighthawk, for showing that she had the range to play more than just a bitch.  Still, as much as I think I might raise it, every time I see it, I say to myself no, it’s just a mid-range *** and not any better than that.

mildredThe Source:

Mildred Pierce by James M. Cain  (1941)

You can buy James Cain’s Mildred Pierce in the same style as his Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice: in a nice Vintage paperback.  It’s part of the Vintage Crime series.  Now, if you only know Cain from those other two novels that makes sense.  Or if you know this story but only from the film adaptation (and specifically not the 2011 mini-series), it might also make sense.  But in fact, it doesn’t make sense because this isn’t a crime novel.  In fact, there isn’t any crime in the novel at all.  This is just sheer melodrama, the story of a hard-working woman, of the men who fail her in a variety of ways, and of the utterly loathsome vile daughter that ends up ruling her life in every way possible.

I’m not quite sure what to think of the novel now that I have finally read it.  I’ve known the film for over 20 years and never been able to quite be a fan of it – Crawford’s performance wins the Nighthawk (like it won the Oscar), but that’s more a function of the weakness of this year than it is of the strength of her performance.  And now I don’t know if I can quite be a fan of the novel.  The only other Cain I have read is Double Indemnity; that was made into an absolutely brilliant film, but the novel itself is not particularly good – there’s no question that what Wilder and Chandler managed to do with it was a vast improvement on what Cain had originally written (especially the ridiculous ending).  This novel is without a doubt a better novel – the writing is better, the story has much more thought behind it and because it’s a character piece rather than a plot-driven story, we have no need to wrap up with a forced ending.

But just because the novel is better, I don’t know that I am able to take to it.  Part of my problem with the film, as is evident from my review, is that Mildred is so weak.  Or, let me change that – she is so pathetically weak when it comes to dealing with Veda, which is strange because that weakness doesn’t follow her into almost any other aspect of her life (“Then she remembered that while Veda had kissed her, she still hadn’t kissed Veda.  She tiptoed into the room she had hoped Veda would occupy, knelt beside the bed as she had knelt so many times in Glendale, took the lovely creature in her arms and kissed her, hard, on the mouth.”).  Yet, the relationship with Veda is so poisonous that it colors her entire character and the stark realism of so much of the novel (the novel begins in 1931 and the dark days of the Depression and Mildred’s husband’s inability to get a job when she can make pies and cakes and bring income into the house contains some of the best scenes in the book (“But then came Black Thursday of 1929, and his plunge to ruin was so rapid he could hardly see Pierce Homes disappear on the way down.”) is contrasted against what seems like forced melodrama (“Well, was she angry at him or not?  In spite of the way in which she had followed all instructions, and the way he had justified all predictions, she still didn’t know what she wanted to do about Wally.”).  I am well aware that parents can often be blind to the nastiness of their children, but this takes the notion and projects it to an infinite degree.  How bad does Veda have to be before Mildred will come to her senses?  Well, the answer is, running off to New York with Mildred’s second husband after making Mildred believe that she permanently damaged Veda’s singing career by choking her after finding her in bed with her husband.  Finding her in bed wasn’t enough – it was only after the extra damage, and even then it takes her first husband’s prodding to finally be able to tell off Veda (and even that is a metaphysical telling off as Veda isn’t actually there).  So, it’s a better book, without question (at least to me).  I just wish it had decided on what it was going to be; I much preferred the bleak realism of the first half to the overwrought melodrama of the second half.

mildredwisThe Adaptation:

The novel is currently printed in the Vintage Crime series.  It doesn’t belong there.  But perhaps that comes from the fact that it was made into a film noir film and it’s not really noir.  Film noir is all about crime and darkness, and there’s no crime in the novel.  But that didn’t stop them from making a noir film by adding a crime.  It wasn’t the easiest thing to do, but they certainly couldn’t film the novel as it was written (HBO would eventually do that, but in these Code days, there was no chance of that) – you certainly can’t have a teenage girl sleeping with her mother’s husband.  So they started changing things and, like I said, it wasn’t easy.

The excellent Wisconsin / Warner Bros. Screenplay Series has a paragraph that kind of sums up the changes:

The book and the film are similar in broad narrative outline, except that the film adds a murder and omits Veda’s success in a musical career.  The film departs strikingly from its source, however, by tying into different cinematic traditions: the women’s movie, film noir, and murder mysteries.  With the addition of glamorous sets, star treatment, and a contemporary setting, all made lavish by a big budget and producer Jerry Wald’s desire for the grand treatment, Mildred Pierce struck a tone and style far removed from Cain’s novel.  Its highly glossy look and its somewhat lurid subject matter were to become a hallmark of Warners films of the late 1940s, particularly those produced by Wald after his great success with Mildred Pierce.

The entire introduction of the book is devoted to two things: the first is explaining the differences between the film and the novel, pointing out seven primary ones, and to explain the process that the script went through, including all eight drafts, before the shooting script (reproduced in the book) was created for the actual filming process.

The Credits:

Directed by Michael Curtiz.  Screen Play by Ranald MacDougall.  Based on the Novel by James M. Cain.  As noted, there were numerous versions of the script.  The IMDb lists the following as “contract writers”: William Faulkner, Margaret Gruen, Albert Maltz, Louise Randall Pierson, Catherine Turney, Margaret Buell Wilder and Thames Williamson.

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

  • Scarlet Street  –  A solid Fritz Lang film, one of his more effective American films and a high-level *** (my #12 of the year).  Adapted from the novel La Chienne, which had already been made into a film in 1931 by Renoir.  Lang would later film a version of La Bête humaine which had also been made previously by Renoir.
  • The Corn is Green  –  Solidly acted Bette Davis film which earned two Oscar acting nominations and three Nighthawk acting nominations.  Adapted from the play by Emlyn Williams.
  • Hangover Square  –  This rather disturbing film has a magnificent score.  I feel I should mention this since I deliberately sought out this film having read Stephen Sondheim’s description of its score in Finishing the Hat.  It is also quite a good film.  It’s based on the novel by Patrick Hamilton.
  • They Were Expendable  –  John Wayne in a John Ford WWII film that is fairly good.  Based on the book by journalist William Lindsay White.
  • The Way to the Stars  –  The previous film was the U.S. Navy.  This is the R.A.F..  Somewhat adapted from Terence Rattigan’s play Flare Path.
  • The Woman in the Window  –  Another disturbing Fritz Lang film starring Edward G. Robinson.  This one is based on the novel Once Off Guard.
  • National Velvet  –  One of those “classics” that I don’t think really merits the term.  A solid film but not any better than ***.  It’s based on the novel by Enid Bagnold.  It actually won two Oscars though I don’t even give it any nominations.
  • The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry  –  A solid film starring George Sanders (who is always worth watching) in an adaptation of the play by Thomas Job.
  • Leave Her to Heaven  –  I really go against the grain on this one.  Many people consider it a classic and Gene Tierney’s performance to be magnificent.  She is my #2 on the year but the film itself is no better than a mid-range *** for me.  It’s based on the novel by Ben Ames Williams.
  • My Name is Julia Ross  –  Based on the novel The Woman in Red by Anthony Gilbert this is a worthwhile little bit of film-noir.
  • A Walk in the Sun  –  Another WWII film, this one based on a novel by Harry Brown.
  • The Bells of St. Mary’s  –  Only technically qualifies, as it uses the characters created for the film Going My Way.  As a Best Picture nominee, I have already written a full review of this film.
  • A Royal Scandal  –  An Otto Preminger film, based on the play Die zarin.  Not one of Preminger’s better films.
  • State Fair  –  Oh, sure, this version is easy to find.  The original 1933 film I had to actually buy online to be able to see and that’s much better.  This musical version of the novel (full review of the novel here) is a decent film and it looks gorgeous, but the original is far superior.
  • The Keys of the Kingdom  –  Gregory Peck earns his first Oscar nomination (and barely slides into fifth place on my list because it’s a weak year) for this religious melodrama.  It’s based on the novel by A.J. Cronin, who also wrote The Citadel, which was made into a 1938 Best Picture nominee.
  • Love Letters  –  Lackluster romance nominated for 4 Oscars with a screenplay by Ayn Rand.  Based on the novel Pity My Simplicity by Christopher Massie.
  • The Valley of Decision  –  It stars Greer Garson, so of course she earned an Oscar nom (her fifth in a row and her sixth in seven years).  Garson didn’t come close to deserving her nomination.  It’s based on the novel by Marcia Davenport.
  • The Great Flamarion  –  Erich von Stroheim, as always, is fascinating, but everything else about this film, adapted from a short story by Vicki Baum (who wrote the novel Grand Hotel which was made into the Best Picture winner) is fairly lackluster.
  • Tonight and Every Night  –  Rita Hayworth can’t really bring this film (nominated for 2 Oscars) to life.  Based on the play Heart of a City.
  • The Enchanted Cottage  –  We’re at the lower limit of *** films now.  It’s a sappy little love story based on the play.
  • Diamond Horseshoe  –  With this film we begin the **.5 films.  This film and the next four are all at about the same level, a high **.5.  It’s a Betty Grable musical and maybe that says it all.  Based on the play The Barker by Kenyon Nicholson.
  • What Next, Corporal Hargrove?  –  Nominated for Best Original Screenplay, but today would qualify as adapted because the character already existed from the previous film, based on the book by Marion Hargrove.
  • Week-end at the Waldorf  –  Inspired by a Vicki Baum play (see above for more on Baum).  Lackluster film starring Ginger Rogers which I saw because director Robert Z. Leonard was once nominated for an Oscar.
  • Brewster’s Millions  –  Mediocre comedy based on the novel and play that was Oscar nominated for its score.  It was re-made in 1985 with Richard Pryor.
  • Roughly Speaking  –  Weak work from a Top 100 Director (Michael Curtiz).  Based on the autobiography of Louise Randall Pierson.
  • Tarzan and the Amazons  –  The Tarzan films are still dropping in quality.  This is the first film with new Jane (Brenda Joyce) and she’s a disappointment.  Like most of the later Tarzan films, only uses the Burroughs characters and not any Burroughs plot.
  • Adventure  –  Just a quick look at how many writers were involved should be a clue to how boring this Victor Fleming film is.  Based on the novel by Clyde Brion Davis.
  • A Game of Death  –  The Robert Wise version of “The Most Dangerous Game” and it is not worth the effort of watching it.
  • House of Dracula  –  Only adapted in its use of characters, combining Dracula, Frankenstein and the Wolfman (in a sequel to House of Frankenstein).  It wouldn’t be long before films like this are parodied by Abbott and Costello, though sadly, as weak as this film is, I’d rather watch this.
  • Detour  –  A film which some deem to be an underground classic, including Roger Ebert who included it in his list of Great Films.  I, however, only agree with the first two sentences of Ebert’s review.  Adapted by Martin Goldsmith from his own 1939 novel.
  • A Thousand and One Nights  –  Not the worst film of the year (there are two *.5 original scripts below it), but close.  Again, a low-level **.  Adapted from the original tales, of course, but with more of a tongue-in-cheek tone that just doesn’t work at all.