One of the more poignant relationships in film history and it's nowhere in the original novel.

One of the more poignant relationships in film history and it’s nowhere in the original novel.

My Top 10:

  1. Bicycle Thieves
  2. The Heiress
  3. A Letter to Three Wives
  4. It Always Rains on Sunday
  5. All the King’s Men
  6. Whisky Galore
  7. Thieves’ Highway
  8. Champion
  9. The Window
  10. The Fallen Idol

note:  There are two more on my list: my #11, Yellow Sky, is covered below because it is a Consensus nominee, but my #12 and #13 were not nominated by any group and are listed down at the end of this post.

Consensus Nominees:

  • All the King’s Men  (200 pts)
  • A Letter to Three Wives  (160 pts)
  • The Fallen Idol  (120 pts)
  • Champion  (80 pts)
  • Jolson Sings Again  (80 pts)
  • On the Town  (80 pts)
  • Yellow Sky  (80 pts)
  • Intruder in the Dust  (80 pts)

Oscar Nominees:

Best Screenplay:

  • A Letter to Three Wives
  • All the King’s Men
  • Bicycle Thieves
  • Champion
  • The Fallen Idol

Story and Screenplay:

  • Jolson Sings Again

note:  Since Jolson Sings Again is a sequel that uses “characters” from a previous script, today it would be considered Adapted by the Academy.

WGA Nominees:

note:  The WGA is still divided by genres, so there are still numerous nominees that are irrelevant to this post.  The only two I haven’t seen (You’re My Everything, The Gal Who Took the West) are both original scripts.  But there aren’t as many as the year before, because no category had more than 7 nominees (Drama had 12 nominees in 1948).

Drama:

  • All the King’s Men
  • Champion
  • The Hasty Heart
  • The Heiress
  • Intruder in the Dust
  • The Window

Drama nominees that are Original:  Battleground

Comedy:

  • A Letter to Three Wives
  • I Was a Male War Bride

Comedy nominees that are Original:  Adam’s Rib, Come to the Stable, Every Girl Should Be Married, It Happens Every Spring

Musical:

  • On the Town
  • In the Good Old Summertime
  • Jolson Sings Again

Musical nominees that are Original:  The Barkleys of Broadway, Take Me Out to the Ball Game, You’re My Everything

Western:

  • Yellow Sky
  • She Wore a Yellow Ribbon
  • Streets of Laredo

Western nominees that are Original:  The Gal Who Took the West, Whispering Smith

Screenplay Dealing Most Ably with the Problems of the American Scene:

  • All the King’s Men
  • Home of the Brave
  • Intruder in the Dust
  • Lost Boundaries
  • Pinky

Bicycle Thieves
(Ladri di biciclette)

Bicycle-Thief-VariantThe Film:

I have already reviewed this film once.  I said at that time that I considered it easily the best film of the year and I still might be under-rating it.  There are really few films that are comparable to this one.

btThe Source:

Ladri di biciclette by Luigi Bartolini (1946, tr. 1950)

This is an interesting little novel.  It’s about a painter whose life is uprooted after the war.  His bicycle is stolen and that gives him the motivation (opportunity?) to dive into the lives of the black market in Rome in the years immediately following the war.  It’s a fascinating little novel (just over 150 pages) that gives you glimpses into lives on different scales in Rome in those brutal years after the war.  Unfortunately, it is one of those things that suffers because of what came after.  This would be a decent enough book if it wasn’t for the film that was adapted from it.  Really, the film just uses the idea of the theft of a bicycle as a starting point for a much different film.  And it probably isn’t fair to have to think of the book in terms of the film.  But, hey, people have been judging films for a century based on how disappointing they are compared to their original source.  Why can’t I think of this book (which really is kind of fascinating) as disappointing when you think of it in comparison to the film that followed?  And given that this book wouldn’t have even been available in English if not for the film (I read a First Printing of the book which was copyright 1950, so it wasn’t translated until after the film arrived in the States, two years after the film was made and four years after the book was originally published in Italy), I’m okay with that.

The Adaptation:

If you have seen the film (hopefully anyone reading this post) and have not read the novel (I would imagine most of the people reading this post), you might have just read the description of the original novel and went, wait, what?  That’s all you talk about?  That it’s a painter looking for his bicycle?

Well, yes.  That book is not the movie you know and love.  The wife who is working hard as well, giving up her sheets so that he can get his bicycle back and hopefully bring some income to the desperate household?  Yeah, not in the book.  The son who becomes such an important part of the hunt for the thief, providing a measure of humanity to the whole story and an endless amount of pathos at the heart-wrenching conclusion?  Not in the book.

It’s interesting – all the elements to make this the neorealism classic that it was to become are there.  But it wouldn’t have been such a humanist film if they had simply filmed the book.  Adding the family into it made this a vital document of what life was like in Rome after the war.  It was a reminder of the cost, not only of the war itself, but the Mussolini years before the war.  This was a damaged country and a damaged people struggling to put the pieces back together again.  The novel is an interesting peak into the world after the war.  But the film is a classic because it made us really feel for these people.

The Credits:

Regia: Vittorio de Sica.  Soggetto di Cesare Zavattini.  tratto dall’ omonimo romanzo di Luigi Bartolini.  Sceneggiato da Orests Biancoli, Suso D’Amico, Vittotio de Sica, Adolfo Franci, Gherardo Gherardi, Gerardo Guerrieri, Cesare Zavattini.

The Heiress

heiressThe Film:

I reviewed this film once already.  It is a truly great film.  It is the best American film of the year by a good five points, which is an incredible number.  And even if it wasn’t for that, we should be thankful for it being one of the reasons that Martin Scorsese became a filmmaker.

washingtonsquareThe Source:

Washington Square by Henry James  (1880)

I have long held that Washington Square is the best novel by Henry James.  Perhaps it is fitting, given that this is the book that even those who dislike Henry James have the most appreciation for.  Count me among their number.  I don’t think it is a great book, but it is not yet marred by the psychological obsessions that would prevent narratives arising in his later books.  Or, as T.S. Eliot would say about James: “a mind so fine no idea could violate it.”  This novel, written early in his career, actually manages to keep the narrative and the depth of the characters at the forefront of the tale.  We are not forced to dissect James’ prose to figure out what is actually going on.  It could be countered that I am an unabashed fan of both Faulkner and Joyce, but I argue that their styles serve their stories while James’ inhibits it.  But, moving on to this story itself.

Well, it’s not great.  I mean, it is still Henry James.  Look what the introduction in the Everyman’s Library edition has to say about it:

And yet, it would be difficult to write a first paragraph more likely to repel new readers to Henry James than the opening of Washington Square.  Those first four sentences so purely distill everything that James detractors find off-putting in him that the paragraph could serve – without altering a digression – as a Henry James parody composed by a cackling, dagger-witted enemy: ‘During a portion of the latter part of the first half of the present century, and more particularly during the latter part of it…’  A portion of the latter part of the first half of the present century?  Should it require graph paper for a reader to conclude we are somewhere between 1826 and 1849?

Ironically, I don’t find the first paragraph to be a problem.  It stems from the style of 19th century literature, seeming to derive from Hugo and it provides a setting and a character right from the outset that we can be invested in.  What is actually more likely to repel readers would be the fact that the first paragraph in question runs for nearly three full pages.  But, by the time we are through with it we have learned the essential setting for the story and met the two characters around whom the story will focus: the lonely, cold Dr. Sloper and his poor affection-starved child.

In some ways, I really should hate this book.  It is about someone who has a lot of money and will never have to work for a living.  The real conflict in her life is whether she marries the man that she loves (whether he loves her or just is after her money is a different conflict) and then loses the extra money that she would inherit from her father.  This, in short, is a story of the rich and their personal problems.  Worse yet, it’s a James story, which usually means that these characters will be so vapid that their problems aren’t worth focusing on.  But, in Catherine Sloper, he creates a genuine character, one who has never really quite realized what she has missed out on in the cold childhood she has had.  Who could blame her for reaching out for callous, money-grubbing Morris Townsend?  It’s not that Catherine is plain and has no better hope.  It’s that she’s just never been shown anything remotely resembling love and will strive for anything she can get.

This story is a tragedy, not because the man she loves turns out to be a worthless cad who only wants her money, but because she has turned out to be her father, cold and unloving, with no more hope for any warmth in the future than he had once his wife died.

The Adaptation:

“I’m always amused when people say we simply took everything from the original. It’s not true. The James story doesn’t have the jilt in it. We also found the key to the story: the cruel fact that Catherine is a child her father didn’t love.” playwright / screenwriter Ruth Goetz as quoted on p 307 of A Talent for Trouble: The Life of Hollywood’s Most Acclaimed Director, William Wyler by Jan Herman

Goetz is absolutely right, of course.  The haunting image that meant so much to Scorsese, that of a man banging on the door begging to be let in and a woman cold-heartedly refusing to acknowledge his existence is nowhere to be seen in the book.  Instead, Townsend has returned to see her and Catherine has made it very clear that there is no room in her heart for him.  When her aunt sees him to the door and is hopeful that something might thaw between the two of them on his next visit, Townsend is no fool: “Come back?  Damnation!”  It works as a solid ending in the James novel because we can see how Catherine has grown, although grown to be cold and unloving as her father was, which is not necessarily a good thing.  But there is nothing like the heart-breaking image that ended the play and the film.

But that’s not the only change, of course.  In the book, when the doctor is trying to convince Catherine to give up her man, he takes her to Italy for six months.  He is determined to drive a stake through their love.  They spend months together without ever speaking of it only to return and have the scene where he threatens to disinherit her.  That is also much different – there is nothing like the drama of the film where she thinks he is coming back for her only to keep on waiting.  “[Wyler] had decided to soften Townsend’s image as a fortune hunter and blur his motives, making them more ambiguous in the movie than they had been in the play or the novel. Needing a subtler actor [than Errol Flynn], he agreed to cast Montgomery Clift.” (Herman, p 308)  That works into the jilt – it is telegraphed to Catherine much more obviously in the novel, whereas in the film, Clift is much more believable as a real suitor.

The other key difference from the novel comes also in the casting of Clift rather than Flynn.  Townsend is much older in the book.  When he meets her again, after her father has died, he has not of Clift’s attractive charm left: “He was forty-five years old, and his figure was not that of the straight, slim young man she remembered.  But it was a very fine person, and a fair and lustrous beard, spreading itself upon a well-presented chest, contributed to the effect.  After a moment Catherine recognised the upper half of the face, which, though her visitor’s clustering locks had grown thin, was still remarkably handsome.”

The Credits:

Produced and Directed by William Wyler.  Written for the Screen by Ruth and Augustus Goetz.  From their play “The Heiress”.  Suggested by the Henry James novel “Washington Square.”

A Letter to Three Wives

Letter to 3 wives poster 2The Film:

I reviewed this film when doing my Best Picture project.  I remember the first time I saw it and thinking beforehand that it couldn’t possibly have deserved its Oscars, but this romantic melodrama was quite simply a better film than the political film based on the prize winning novel.  Watching it this time I was surprised that Thelma Ritter has never factored into my Supporting Actress nominations for the Nighthawk Awards – she’s caustic and fun to watch, maybe more so than in any of other roles except All About Eve.

letterThe Source:

A Letter to Five Wives by John Klempner  (1946)

I had forgotten before I went to read this that it had been originally published in Cosmo.  But once I started to read it, it wasn’t hard to see.  This is the kind of cheesy romantic melodrama that I had feared when I first saw the film.  It’s the story of five women, all of them married.  But all of them have something about their marriage that is not quite right (conveniently for the plot, it’s all something different so it helps you to tell the women apart).  It doesn’t help that they all have a mutual friend named Addie Joss.  Or, perhaps it’s more accurate to say that their husbands have a mutual friend in Addie.  And she’s run off with one of them, leaving a letter for the five of them, taunting them with that fact.  So the rest of the novel is a look back at the problems the five women have and wondering who’s the unlucky one to have lost her husband.  I never would have read this and thought that a great film could come out of it.

The Adaptation:

You’ll notice that the novel is a A Letter to Five Wives. When Joseph L. Mankiewicz wrote his original draft of the screenplay, he cut one and titled it A Letter to Four Wives.  Darryl F. Zanuck, the head of Fox, wrote a memo on May 1, 1948 responding to it:

“There is one episode in the story that by comparison bored me. It seemed entirely out of place; compared with the other episodes it was dull, and I found myself impatient when I was reading it. I refer to the entire episode with Martha and Roger . . . I will go on record as saying that if you eliminate Martha and Roger entirely from the script you are going to have a motion picture that is one hundred percent better than if you retain the story of Martha and Roger.” (quoted from Memo from Darryl F. Zanuck: The Golden Years at Twentieth-Century Fox by Rudy Behlmer)

The episode was cut and the title changed again before filming began.  Unfortunately for the film that was the sequence that was going to star Anne Baxter, who definitely would have brought a better level of acting than the main three stars did (they are all fine but none of them stand out),

Aside from that, almost none of the dialogue from the book made it into the film.  We can be thankful for that, as a line like “You wouldn’t shout Ham on Rye to Jeanette MacDonald, would you?  You ought to practice being nice to me,” gets translated into Kirk Douglas’ fantastic speech about the lack of culture in the entertainment industry.  The only real thing from the story that is kept alive is the basic concept – women who have issues in their marriages and Addie (changed to Ross in the film) has run away with one of them.  They even change which husband it is (the husband who did run away is cut from the film), but keep his line about changing his mind, one of the few lines in the film that did make it intact from the book.

The Credits:

Screen Play and Direction: Joseph L. Mankiewicz.  Adapted by Vera Caspary.  From a Cosmopolitan Magazine Novel by John Klempner.

It Always Rains on Sunday

ItAlwaysRainsSunday_MPOTWThe Film:

I reviewed this film once already as one of the best films of the year in my Nighthawk Awards.  It is bleak, and absolutely not what you would expect if you think of Ealing, but it is excellent nonetheless.

italwaysThe Source:

It Always Rains on Sunday by Arthur La Bern  (1945)

This novel is a slice of life, a bit of dreary misery on a rainy Sunday in London.  It’s interesting that it was published in 1945, because the war doesn’t seem to be a part of it.  Life is going on, whatever else may be happening in the world and in this case, life involves a man on the run from the police, having escaped from prison and he decides to hide out at his ex-lover’s house.  When I say dreary misery, I am not referring to reading it – the book is well-written and very effective – but rather to the lives that it depicts.

The Adaptation:

There is a little bit more in the book about lives of people outside the immediate group of characters that the book focuses on (the family, the criminal, the inspector), but other than that, the film follows the book almost exactly.  It is one of the most true book-to-film adaptations ever made.

The Credits:

Directed by Robert Hamer.  From the novel by Arthur La Bern.  Screenplay by Angus MacPhail, Robert Hamer, Henry Cornelius.

All the King’s Men

alltheking'smenThe Film:

I reviewed this film once before.  For reasons that I detailed in the original review, I just can’t seem to bring myself to rate it at ****.  Every time I see it, it falls just that little bit short.

Warren.AllTheKing'sMen.1961.bigThe Source:

All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren  (1946)

If I rated books on a four star scale, however, the book would earn ****.  It is a great book, one that landed in my second Top 100, one that earned the Pulitzer Prize and actually deserved it.  That does not mean that it is an easy book to read – poets who venture into prose aren’t necessarily known for the accessibility.  But it gets deeper down into the process and the lives than the film would and it makes you feel the stain that can mark you when you get involved in the political world, especially when the politics you play is quite dirty.

This book is the story of a man.  In spite of what anything you read might have you believe, that man is not Willie Stark, but ran Jack Burden, a former newspaperman who has been swept up in the wave of Willie’s lively charisma.  Burden is tired of the political game that is rigged in his state and after watching Willie rise from the dead twice (he loses an election he has no chance of winning only to have the issue he warned about – cheap construction of a school – come back to destroy the community, and later, when running for governor, he realizes he’s a patsy to ensure the election of a different candidate and he decides to start speaking his own mind), he is willing to sacrifice anything he has to to work for the man.  He drops his morals (threatening a cop because he can), he drops his integrity (he threatens a judge who has been his friend his whole life and, unknown to Jack, is actually Jack’s father), he even allows himself to drop what used to be his chance for happiness (the woman he has always loved ends up in a sexual affair with Willie).  Stark might be the man who is the center of all of this, but it is Burden’s descent into darkness that is so smartly portrayed.

Aside from the detailed look at the dark underside of politics, there is also Warren’s prose that shines through: “Close to the road a cow would stand knee-deep in the mist, with horns damp enough to have a pearly shine in the starlight, and would look at the black blur we were as went whirring into the blazing corridor of light which we could never quite get into for it would be always splitting the dark just in front of us.”

The Adaptation:

In the novel the narrative opens in 1936, with Willie Stark already governor and Jack Burden riding along with him (and some of the other central characters) in a limousine speeding across one of the new highways Stark’s administration has built throughout the state. In the film the story opens somewhere in the 1920s, in a newspaper office, with Jack Burden (John Ireland) soon receiving an assignment from his editor to cover an obscure rural candidate named Willie Stark (Broderick Crawford). Based on these two different openings, a number of points seem worth making. For one thing, the novel breaks up ordinary chronological sequence by first showing us Stark near the height of his power; the film, on the other hand, presents us with a relatively straightforward account in time of Willie’s rise from obscure beginnings. And from this difference we can see how the novel’s freer handling of time contributes importantly to its shape as Burden’s story, for from the start the emphasis falls on his awareness of events (if Burden does not remember thing they do not exist) rather than on Willie’s active involvement with them. Conversely, Rossen’s film, with its chronologically direct account of Willie’s rise and fall, has much more of a tendency to cast Burden into the role of a secondary participant.

That paragraph, taken from the piece “In Which Humpty Dumpty Becomes King” by William Walling in The Modern American Novel and the Movies, p 172, emphasizes what I wrote above – that the novel itself is not really the story of Willie Stark, but rather the story of the man corrupted by Stark.

“Morever the two different endings Warren and Rossen provide surely reinforce the alternate emphases of the openings. For in the novel there are forty pages which follow Willie’s assassination, pages which center upon Burden’s changing attitude toward life, not to mention his eventual marriage to Anne Stanton. In the film, however, after a brief exchange between Burden and Anne, we close with a final image of Willie Stark slumping into death, as if to make unmistakable Rossen’s shift in intention.” (p 173)

Yes, there’s no question about it.  The book is about Burden.  The film is about Stark.  That perhaps worked for the best – after all, Crawford is the best thing about the film, winning the Oscar, and almost certainly the reason why the film won Best Picture.  It also gives the film more dramatic appeal, focusing on that more interesting “filmic” character rather than the degraded narrator.

The Credits:

Written for the Screen and Directed by Robert Rossen.  Based upon the Pulitzer Prize Novel, “All the King’s Men” by Robert Penn Warren.

Whisky Galore!

whisky-galore-poster-1-1024x770The Film:

I have actually already reviewed this film.  That’s because it’s one of the original Ealing Comedies, one of the great groups of films in film history.  It was one of the first two that swept across England and then came to the States and really established the studio.

whiskyThe Source:

Whisky Galore by Compton Mackenzie  (1947)

Don’t go looking for this book if you live in the States, because you’re unlikely to find it.  For some reason, both the film and the novel were re-titled Tight Little Island when they were released in the States.  Though the film and novel are fairly similar, I greatly enjoy watching the film but I found the novel a slog to struggle through.  Maybe it’s the random bits of Scottish dialogue thrown in?  (There’s a glossary in the back.)  Maybe it’s that the humor really shines through when it’s on film and being spoken whereas it feels kind of flat on the page?  Either way, the novel really didn’t work for me.

The Adaptation:

As I mentioned, the film and novel are actually fairly similar.  Although, the key scene, the way people react to the ringing of the bells marking the onset of the Sabbath, aren’t in the original novel.  Anyway, I think they are pretty close.  I felt so bogged down in the novel that it was hard to figure out precisely how close they were.

The Credits:

Directed by Alexander Mackendrick.  From the novel by Compton Mackenzie.  Screenplay by Compton Mackenzie and Angus MacPhail.

Thieves’ Highway

thieves-highway.34764The Film:

Nick has just returned home.  He’s played by Richard Conte, who had already shown his range of tough guys the year before playing a hardened criminal in Cry of the City and a wrongly imprisoned man in Call Northside 777.  This time, as Nick, he’s a tough guy who’s come home from wandering the world to discover that his father has lost his truck (he’s a produce driver) and his legs.  Nick won’t let this stand and he’s determined to take revenge.  This plan involves several steps, including being rough with the man who now has the truck, driving through the night, trying not to get too lured in by a prostitute and ultimately trying to take his tough guy act up against Lee J. Cobb as the crooked produce dealer.

Thieves’ Highway is an effective thriller from Jules Dassin, one of his best, and the last he would be able to finish in America before the Blacklist ruined his career here and he fled to Europe to make his best film, Night and the City.  It brings a noir atmosphere to things that we don’t expect to have them – the world of groceries, of bright California sun (we keep hearing the words “golden delicious” because of the apples that are a key part of the plot), of orchards and truck driving.  It’s not 100% successful because while Conte is effective as a tough guy, his acting is not all that great and when things have to be toned down a notch for more human drama, he’s not really up to it.  In the scenes with Valentina Cortese, as a prostitute, he is acted off the screen.  It also makes us wonder how much we should be cheering for him.  We know his father was cheated and he’s trying to get his revenge, but he’s way too interested in her given that he just proposed to his girlfriend at the beginning of the film.

What Thieves’ Highway has, and in spades, is atmosphere.  It has glorious dark shadows in the San Francisco streets.  It has first-rate editing that keeps the film moving at a good pace.  The sounds of the city come vibrantly alive, as do the sounds of the road when Conte is desperately tired and just trying to get the load of apples to the city.  In the end, this is a solid thriller – not a great film, but a very good noir film.

thievesmarketThe Source:

Thieves’ Market by A.I. Bezzerides  (1949)

A short (233 pages) novel that deals with corruption and crime in the produce world of California, Thieves’ Market is a decent book.  It does a good job of diving into the world itself, at what a driver needs to do to try and break into that world, the desperate chances they might sometimes have to take to succeed and the cost on your soul.  It is a distinctively California book, written by a California boy (born in Turkey, but raised in California), and thus, naturally, is currently in print from the University of California Press (the Bancroft Library at Cal has a dedicated mission to help preserve books written by Californians).

Unfortunately, what the book doesn’t do particularly well, is really give us characters.  Nick, the main character, whose father has just died and who is hoping that his mother will just die as well, is too broadly drawn.  Bezzerides is far too invested in telling the story he wants to tell about how you can produce to a market and then what it takes to actually get to sell than actually tell a story about the humans involved in it.  It would classify more as a genre tale (where plot is more important than character) if not for the fact that it is too well-written and doesn’t seem to use any other aspects of the crime genre.  So what that makes this book, is an oddity that is at once both successful and not so very successful.

The Adaptation:

Though there are some surface similarities (a man trying to deal with the corrupt produce market) and a couple of scenes that come directly from the book (most notably the scene where they go to leave with the apples and the orchard owner protests the amount he has been paid), you could actually easily believe that the film is unrelated to the source material.  The novel is about a man who is on the edge trying to hold things together and this just happens to be the direction he has turned.  But the film is about a man desperate for revenge, making a plan to get revenge on a corrupt produce dealer who was responsible for the crippling of his father.  The family, which is so important in the film, is very different in the book – the father already dead and the mother so awful that Nick just wants her to die.  That Nick is a big difference from the man who’s willing to do so much just to avenge his father.

The Credits:

Directed by Jules Dassin.  Screen Play by A. I. Bezzerides.  Based on his novel “Thieves’ Market”.

Champion

championThe Film:

Kirk Douglas would go his entire career without winning an Academy Award.  He suffers no such indignities at the Nighthawk Awards, where in 1949 he wins both Best Actor (here) and Best Supporting Actor (A Letter to Three Wives).  The two different films also provide Douglas swith two very different roles that show off his range.  In Letter, he is probably the nicest of the husbands, one who is cultured and smart and funny and who genuinely loves his wife, but just doesn’t want her wasting her talent on something he thinks is beneath her.  Here, he is a world-class cad, a thug who becomes a prize boxer because he’s such a brute, but is just as brutal outside of the ring, whether it’s with his brother, his manager or his wife or mistress.

But while Douglas’ performance is the best thing about this film, it is far from the only good thing about it.  Mark Robson and Carl Foreman would team up in this same year to direct and write Home of the Brave, but while that effort falls flat in spite of its implied importance, they both come through here.  Foreman gives solid characterization to both the boxer and his brother (much more so than in the original story, especially for the brother who doesn’t appear again after the second page) while Robson’s sure hand works as well for the character moments as it does for the fight scenes.  The fight scenes also show the sure hands at the technical reigns, in terms of the editing, cinematography and sound mixing.

But the other thing this film really has going for it is Arthur Kennedy.  This was year that really kicked things off right for Kennedy, with this film earning him his first (deserved) Oscar nomination.  He would soon become one of the best supporting players in the business, often in roles as thankless as this one.  He is the brother of the boxer, crippled in body, but whole in spirit in a way his brother could never conceive.  He is the other side of the story, a reminder of a moral human being in contrast to the worthless man his brother is, in spite of all his fame.

In the end, though, it does come down to Douglas.  He works so well because he can present sheer brutality, not as a mask for other pain, but because he can.  Douglas would actually go on to give better performances (Detective Story, The Bad and the Beautiful, Lust for Life), but here he’s the best of the year, not just once, but twice.

portableThe Source:

Champion” by Ring Lardner  (1916)

Ring Lardner would eventually be hailed as the greatest writer about sports.  By that, I don’t just mean a sportswriter, although he was famous as one (he is played by John Sayles in Eight Men Out as the writer who would realize the series was fixed).  He also wrote fiction about sports.  “Champion” is one of his more effective stories, a brutal story about Midge Kelly, an utterly unlikeable brute.  We first meet him when he’s beating up his crippled little brother just so he can steal the brother’s money:

Midge Kelly scored his first knockout when he was seventeen.  The knockee was his brother Connie, three years his junior and a cripple.  The purse was a half dollar given to the younger Kelly by a lady whose electric had just missed bumping his soul from his frail little body.

He doesn’t get any more likable after that, fleeing the city (after beating his mother as well) and he eventually ends up a prize boxer.  He takes a dive for money, he marries a woman and then immediately abandons her, he moves from city to city, all the time piling up his own money and complaining about the pithy amounts that his mother and wife continue to ask for.  In the end, in spite of all the awful things we know about him he is hailed, with Lardner taking a shot at his own profession: “The people don’t want to see him knocked.  He’s champion.”

It’s an effective story about the brutality of such a man and the world that he belongs in.  It’s also a measure of what fame is like and how people don’t necessarily want to see that tarnished, in some ways as relevant today as it was when he first published it a century ago.

The Adaptation:

What the film does is take the basic character of Midge Kelly, and then present him just as unlikeable on the screen as he was on the page.

The Credits:

Directed by Mark Robson.  Screenplay by Carl Foreman.  Based on the story “Champion” by Ring Lardner.

The Window

windowThe Film:

There is a little boy who likes to make up stories.  He isn’t sure why he does and his parents are damned if they know why he does it.  Yes, they both work, but he doesn’t seem to be that much in need of attention from them.  They both clearly love him very much and are doing their best.  All of this is a set-up for the boy to witness a murder and not be believed by anyone.

This makes for a short (73 minutes) little effective film.  I didn’t say a tight film because the film, even at 73 minutes, feels stretched a bit, and given that it’s based on a short story, it’s small wonder why.  Most of what is on the screen is straight from the book (more on that below) and the filmmakers, except for the opening scenes, didn’t seem interested in adding any more to it.  Yet, it’s effective, because of the smart writing that keeps it moving and because it stars Arthur Kennedy as the father.  Unfortunately, it also has Bobby Driscoll as the boy and that almost counter-acts Kennedy’s effective performance.

Bobby Driscoll was a Disney star (he gets his own screen credit about being loaned out).  His performance has been judged in different ways – the Oscars gave him a special juvenile Oscar, but they also gave one of those to Claude Jarman, Jr.  And on the flip side, Howard Hughes, who owned RKO at this point, thought Driscoll’s performance so poor that he deliberately delayed the release of the film.  I am more inclined to agree with Hughes, partially because I often don’t like such performances and a lot of child stars of the past I find really grating.  The success of the film (and it was successful – it’s quite a good film, at the highest level of *** and earned an Oscar nomination for its Editing as well as a WGA nomination – and earned good money at the box office with solid reviews) seemed to be more from the effective editing and cinematography, as well as the writing and the performance from Kennedy.

This would be a big year for Kennedy; as I mentioned above he earned his first Oscar nomination in this year.  He and Thelma Ritter (also solid in supporting roles this year) had not yet started becoming the biggest pair of Oscar losers that the 50’s would see in the two supporting categories.  Kennedy plays the father quite straight and solid, as a man who loves his son and feels that something must be done about the son’s lies but loves his son too much to be brutal about it.

All of this makes for, like I said, an effective thriller.  The kid really did see a murder and because of his reputation no one believes him.  Until, of course, the murderers themselves have been apologized to once the boy complains to the police and they plot to get rid of the kid rather than be grateful that no one believes him.  The fear is ramped up when they actually get hold of the boy, but in a Code approved film you can’t imagine anything too bad will happen to him.  The film might have been able to take a bigger leap up into the realm of the very good if they had been willing to add a bit more to the script than had been in the original story, but also if they had cast a boy that I possibly could have cared about once he ends up in danger.

The Source:

“The Boy Cried Murder” by Cornell Woolrich  (1947)

This is, for a stretch, a really unnerving story, partially because of the child who oversees a murder and then can’t get anyone to believe him because he has a history of telling lies, partially because he is then trapped by the murderers themselves, and partially because in the time since it was written, notions of child rearing have changed and the father would seem much more of a beast today and just a rather stern father who is doing what he needs to do to sort out his boy at the time of its publication.

For the most part, the story is quite effective – the boy is out on the fire escape of his building because it is so blasted hot and sees the murder upstairs.  Then comes the terrifying prospect of trying to convince people of something he knows is true when he has no believability left because of his history of lies.  Unfortunately, all of this is marred by a rather sudden and not very effective ending where everything happens to come out all right, partially thanks to a stroke of luck having to do with the radio.  It doesn’t take away from how effective the early parts are, but it leaves it a bit unsatisfying as a complete story.

The Adaptation:

Most of what is in the film comes straight from the story, which is why it feels thin at only 73 minutes.  There just isn’t enough in the original story to keep the action going for that long.  To even make it that long, they added some early scenes that establish the lies that the boy has been telling so that we can see him earn his reputation rather than just hear about it.

The one change that was made to the film is in the character of the father.  In the original story the father is stern and it is made clear what lengths he will go through to make his child behave (“It didn’t hurt very much.  Well, it did, but just for a minute.  It didn’t last.  His father wasn’t a man with a vicious temper; he was just a man with a strong sense of what was wrong.  His father just used half-strength on him; just enough to make him holler out satisfactorily, not enough to really bruise him badly.”)  That is very different from the father as he is played by Arthur Kennedy, one who is more loving and concerned for his son and what can be done than determined to punish his son.  In the end, when this father is reunited with his son, it is a much more believable happy scene than the one in the original story.

The Credits:

Directed by Ted Tetzlaff.  Screen Play by Mel Dinelli.  Based on a Story by Cornell Woolrich.

The Fallen Idol

Fallen-Idol-Poster-1948The Film:

Should I begin with the problems with this film or its strengths?  Or maybe the part that looks like it will be a problem but turns out not to be?  I guess I can start there.

The lead role in this film is played by Bobby Henrey.  Looking at him and listening to him, in the beginning of the film, you start to think that the film won’t hold up around him, the way so many films in this era were taken down by horrible child performances at their heart.  But, he’s partially French and his accent helps to prevent his performance from falling too far.  He’s a child who is alienated from the world, seeing it through the role of the embassy where his father is the ambassador.  He connects only through the butler and his wife.  So his off-beat performance, complete with language issues actually helps the film.

The butler, played by Ralph Richardson, on the other hand, is one of the two true strengths of the film.  He’s torn by two loyalties: he is clearly the child’s one friend, his link to the world, but he’s also fallen in love with a much younger woman and wants his wife out of the way (and he makes the child complicit in that).  Those things give him shades of ambiguity, and though we know the truth of what happens when his wife ends up dead, the way he has been played makes the child think something different and we can understand why.  It wouldn’t work if it wasn’t for Richardson’s wonderful performance.  And that is all set up by the script, which is the other strength of the film.  Greene turns his story into something different from what it was on the page (see below) and it makes for some wonderful suspense.

The problem is that the rest of the film doesn’t hold up to the same level.  Oh, it’s a good film, a high-level ***, but it’s not a classic, and that’s unfortunate, because with the director and writer (and the way the story was published), it’s often lumped together with The Third Man and it’s not doing this film any favors to be compared to what is genuinely a classic (and one of the greatest films ever made).  Reed’s direction is not that great, the cinematography is okay but never stands out and the other acting performances don’t really do the film any favors.  Let’s just say, that while this film is good, there are reasons that there were always those (untrue) rumors that Orson Welles did some of the directing on The Third Man.

greeneThe Source:

The Basement Room” by Graham Greene  (1935)

This is a smart, tight story.  It’s the story of a young boy, being cared after by his parents’ butler and the butler’s wife in a large house in England.  The butler has been having an affair (the child doesn’t understand, being introduced to the butler’s “niece”) and that affair becomes known to the wife.  In fact, the two major events that bring down the butler – the knowledge of his affair and then the information that he killed his wife – are both provided, unwittingly, by the young boy himself.

The Adaptation:

I really can’t explain the differences any better than Graham Greene himself did in the reprinted of the story, this time under the movie title, in a book with The Third Man:

In the conferences that ensured the story was quietly changed, so that the subject no longer concerned a small boy who unwittingly betrayed his best friend to the police, but dealt instead with a small boy who believed that his friend was a murderer and nearly procured his arrest by telling lies in his defence.  I think this, especially with Reed’s handling, was a good subject, but the reader must not be surprised by not finding it the subject of the original story.

Why was the scene changed to an Embassy?  This was Reed’s idea since we both felt that the large Belgravia house was already in these post-war years a period piece, and we did not want to make an historical film.  I fought the solution for a while and then wholeheartedly concurred.

It is always difficult to remember which of us made which change in the original story except in certain details.  For example the cross-examination of the girl beside the bed that she had used with Baines was mine: the witty interruption of the man who came to wind the clock was Reed’s.  The snake was mine (I have always liked snakes) and for a short while it met with Reed’s sympathetic opposition.

The Credits:

Produced and Directed by Carol Reed.  Based upon a Short Story by Graham Greene.  Screen Play by Graham Greene.  Additional Dialogue by Lesley Storm and William Templeton.

Consensus Nominees That Don’t Make My Top 10

 

Jolson Sings Again

Jolson-Sings-Again-1949The Film:

Way too many people get biopics made about them as it is.  Did Al Jolson really need a biopic?  He was the star of The Jazz Singer, the first all-talking film, and he was a huge star at the time.  But does that merit a film?  Perhaps.  But that film had already been made – it was a mediocre **.5 1946 film called The Jolson Story.  Did we really need a second film to continue his story?  How many people really justify two full films to tell the story of their life?

So what to say about the fact that this film is actually slightly better than the original.  The original was nominated for several Oscars, including Best Actor, which it didn’t remotely deserve.  This one was also nominated for Oscars it didn’t deserve, including for its writing.  But, while the film might be a little better than the previous one, the writing is even more pedestrian.  Now that Jolson has already become a big success and lost his wife by going back to what he loves at the end of the first film, there’s not much left to do that will create any sort of dramatic arc.  Jolson works, he wastes his life, his manager gets him work.  Eventually they decide to make a biopic about him.  There’s no question why this film was made – because the original was a big box-office hit and this was a surefire way to make more use of Larry Parks.

Larry Parks is a tragic story.  He desperately didn’t want to testify before HUAC but was bullied into it and named names, but then afterwards, he was blacklisted anyway.  But it reminds me of Billy Wilder’s comment about the Hollywood 10: “Of the ten, two had talent, and the rest were just unfriendly”.  Parks didn’t deserve what happened to him, but that doesn’t mean we should think of him as more talented than he was.  This film is a decent use of his talent – at least he wasn’t Oscar nominated this time.

The Source:

The Jolson Story, screenplay by Stephen Livingston  (1946)

As mentioned above, this is a biopic film that was made in 1946.  It’s a fairly pedestrian biopic that was a big money-making success and was nominated for several Oscars, neither of which do I really understand.  It’s ironic, in that The Jazz Singer, the film which is the primary reason why Jolson is remembered today, is also not that great a film.

The Adaptation:

By the standards of 1949, this wouldn’t be considered an adaptation, of course, as is evidenced by the fact that Jolson Sings Again was nominated by the Academy for Best Story and Screenplay, a category more analogous to the Original Screenplay category of today.  However,  by today’s rules, they would consider these pre-existing characters, even though they were real people, and this would probably fall under the heading of Adapted Screenplay.  So, here it is.  There’s not really an adaptation – just a continuation of the original story and the characters are fairly true to what they were like in the original film.

The Credits:

Directed by Harry Levin.  Written and Produced by Sidney Buchman.

On the Town

on-the-town.29384The Film:

I started watching On the Town (yes, I had seen it before, but not for a very long time), watching Sinatra and Kelly sing their way through New York as a couple of sailors on leave and was confused.  Wait, I thought to myself, I reviewed this film when I did the Best Picture nominees.  But this film wasn’t nominated.  I finally realized that I was confusing the action of this film with Anchors Aweigh.

The films aren’t really all that different in quality either.  Kelly doesn’t give as good a performance as he did in the earlier film and it doesn’t have a scene anything like the sheer joy of him dancing with Jerry.  But I give this a 74, which is a very high *** and I gave Anchors Aweigh a 76, which is a very low ***.5.  But that, in one sense, is a big difference, in that the earlier film makes my Best Picture consideration list and this one doesn’t.

This film certainly has its charms.  The first, and best, of course, is the sailors singing “New York, New York”, which is a great number to kick off a film.  Probably the next best is the amorous cab driver who is so desperate to get Frank Sinatra up to her place.  It’s great to see skinny little Frank being chased all over the place.  What I could do less with are the dances that have no singing whatsoever.  It points the way, of course, for what Gene Kelly would eventually do in An American in Paris, but since I am not a fan of that, it doesn’t really excite me like it would others.

In the end, On the Town is an enjoyable musical with some charming performances.  But it doesn’t have particularly strong acting, it has a third star (Jules Munshin) who can’t dance like Kelly and can’t sing like Sinatra.  So, it’s exactly what I say above: a solid, very-high level *** film that can’t quite make it into the next range of very good.

onthetownThe Source:

On the Town by Adolph Green and Betty Comden  (1944)

This began as a Jerome Robbins ballet, which helps explain some of the ballet numbers in the film.  It was the first musical from the partnership of Green and Comden, who would later write Singin’ in the Rain and have another smash hit on Broadway with The Band Wagon.  It’s charming enough, and the parts that remind me of Anchors Aweigh aren’t the fault of the play, which came out the year before that film.  One other thing: looking at the eight musicals collected in the book on the right, while many of them are beloved, there are not many songs in them that I remember, let alone that I truly enjoy.  Hell, though I have seen films versions of all eight, four of them don’t have a single song that I could list by name.  But this one has “New York New York” and that’s a helluva song even if I don’t like the actual town.

The Adaptation:

A lot of the original play was actually dropped from the film.  Well, not so much the play, but the specific musical numbers.  Apparently it was decided that Bernstein’s orchestrations were a bit too much to attempt on film, so while some songs were kept intact (“New York New York”) and some songs were modified and cut down (“I Feel Like I’m Not Out of Bed Yet”), others were dropped entirely, with new songs written specifically for the film.

The Credits:

Directed by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen.  Screen Play by Adolph Green and Betty Comden.  Based Upon the Musical Play Whose Book Was By Adolph Green and Betty Comden.  From an Idea by Jerome Robbins.  With Music by Leonard Bernstein.  Lyrics by Adolph Green, Betty Comden and Leonard Bernstein.  Directed on the Stage by George Abbott.

Yellow Sky

yellow-sky-movie-poster-1948-1020199971The Film:

Well, maybe Hitchcock was wrong after all.  Maybe Gregory Peck really does have some moral ambiguity to him.  In this film he plays Stretch Dawson, a bank robber who leads his outlaw gang to a ghost town on the edge of Death Valley only to find a beautiful young woman and her grandfather, alone.  First, there’s the woman.  But there’s also the gold that her grandfather has been mining.  Those are both sore temptations to Peck and we begin to wonder what he is willing to do to acquire either of them.

It is to Peck’s credit that we wonder which way he will turn.  On the other hand, Richard Widmark is also in the gang, and while Widmark can also play ambiguity, it’s clear in this film that he’s embracing what he was so good at early in his career: playing the sheer villain.  After all, Widmark exploded on screen with his performance as one of film’s most notorious villains in Kiss of Death.  We look at him and we know what he’s doing: he wants the gold, and maybe he wants the girl as well.  So what is Peck going to do?

What follows is quite a good Western.  Yellow Sky doesn’t quite make it into my Best Picture consideration, but it’s at the very highest end of ***, almost making that leap into very good.  Partially that’s the performances from Peck and Widmark.  Partially it’s the cinematography, with the gang struggling their way across Death Valley.  Partially it’s the script, with the way Peck interacts with the girl, with the grandfather, with the gang.  Yellow Sky doesn’t have nearly the reputation that She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (below) does, but it’s actually the better film.  If you haven’t seen it, you should definitely take a look.  Peck might surprise you.  He wasn’t always Atticus Finch.

Stretch Dawson FThe Source:

Stretch Dawson by W. R. Burnett  (1950)

Yes, that’s right, 1950.  I considered eliminating this film from the Adapted Screenplay post entirely (partially because I didn’t actually get the book through ILL until Friday) because the screenplay was adapted from an unpublished novel.  It’s a bit surprising, since W. R. Burnett, the author, was already well established.  His Little Caesar was made into a hit movie, as was his High Sierra.  This novel would remain unpublished until 1950, a year after the film was released, even though his best book, The Asphalt Jungle, would be released in 1949.  This novel was actually a paperback original (more on that can be read here – I don’t want to take credit for what he wrote).

For all of that (Western, paperback original, took a long time to be published), this book is actually pretty solid.  Indeed, almost the entire script comes straight from the book (although there is the possibility that some of the book was re-written to correspond to the screenplay given that the film came out first, but since they kept the original title of the book, maybe not).

The Adaptation:

The beginning of the film doesn’t come from the book.  Those scenes of the bank robbery only get described a bit later and in less detail.  When the book begins, they’re already crossing the desert (complete with the amusing scene of Walrus only having brought whiskey in his canteen and then trying to barter with the others for some water).  Also, the end of the book is different.  It still has Peck turning to the side of law and order, but instead of returning the money from the robbery, he’s actually become the marshall of a now more thriving town.  But other than those, almost the entire film comes straight from the book, including most of the dialogue.

The Credits:

Directed by William A. Wellman.  Screen Play by Lamar Trotti.  Based on a Story by W. R. Burnett.

Intruder in the Dust

intruder-in-the-dust-movie-poster-1949-1020551544The Film:

As will be seen down below, this was the year of race relations on film.  This is the best of the lot, both in terms of the film and in terms of the original source.  Yet, I wish it was better.  Faulkner is a passion of mine, as is obvious, but film versions of his novels have generally been disappointing.  This film is good precisely when it sticks to its real genre – a murder mystery.  It has good cinematography as young Chick Mallison is sneaking around at night, digging up a grave and trying to free an imprisoned black man he owes a debt to.  It creates a genuine mystery (a man with a fired gun is found standing over a dead man and we have to figure out how he didn’t do it) and then proceeds methodically to solve it, with race relations in the South all the time hanging over the fate of everyone.  In some ways, it presents many of the same concepts that will be brought up again a decade later in To Kill a Mockingbird, except this one has a happy ending.

Well, it also isn’t nearly as good.  I could say the problem is that Faulkner’s prose doesn’t lend itself to film while Harper Lee’s was almost perfectly designed for a film, but that’s not really the problem.  I could blame Clarence Brown, the under-whelming director who was nonetheless a favorite of the Academy, but it’s not like Richard Mulligan, the director of Mockingbird is all that much better (although he certainly is with that film).  Part of it is actually the writing – there is never any subtlety in this film and sometimes you feel like you’re being hit with a hammer.  It’s amazing how two such similar scenes – Mrs. Habersham shaming the crowd in this film and Scout shaming them in Mockingbird – feel so different.  The former feels forced and subtle as a hammer to the head, while the scene with Scout is done so well.

But the real problem with this film lies in the two lead roles.  I don’t mean Juano Hernandez, who does quite well in the role of the accused murderer Lucas Beauchamp (I’ve seen the film twice but I still think of Woody Strode every time I read the book).  I mean David Brian, who is incredibly flat as John Stevens (why on earth did they bother to change the name?) and especially Claude Jarman, who was such a misery to watch in The Yearling (also directed by Brown) and though isn’t quite as painful here, he’s still quite bad.  What’s most painful is their final scene together.  If the film had just ended where the book ended, we would have a nice amusing line for their happy ending, but instead there’s that lack of subtlety again, with a final speech just to hammer it into our skulls that we’ve been watching a film about race relations.

intruderThe Source:

Intruder in the Dust by William Faulkner  (1948)

This novel was important in a variety of ways, so it is perhaps ironic that I don’t think nearly as highly of it as I do of many of Faulkner’s novels.  I do think it is a very good novel, merging together Faulkner’s stream-of-consciousness style with a murder mystery and a look at race relations in the South.  It can be looked at from any of those points of view.  It can be looked at as a novel that most fully embraced Faulkner’s humanism and was primarily responsible for him winning the Nobel Prize (though it wasn’t mentioned by name in his award).  It can be looked at as either Faulkner’s apology for the South:

That’s why we must resist the North: not just to preserve ourselves nor even the two of us as one to remain one nation because that will be the inescapable by-product of what we will preserve: which is the very thing that three generations ago we lost a bloody war in our own back yards so that it remain intact: the postulate that Sambo is a human being living in a free country and hence must be free.  That’s what we are really defending: the privilege of setting him free ourselves: which we will have to do for the reason that nobody else can since going on a century ago now the North tried it and have been admitting for seventy-five years now that they failed.

Or, this can be looked at as Faulkner’s realistic approach to race relations in the South:

Some things you must always be unable to bear.  Some things you must never stop refusing to bear.  Injustice and outrage and dishonor and shame.  No matter how young you are or how old you have got.  Not for kudos and not for cash: your picture in the paper nor money in the bank either.  Just refuse to bear them.

To do either, of course, though, you have to believe that Gavin Stevens, the character, is the same man as William Faulkner, the writer.  What Faulkner really does is explain what people are thinking in the South, explain how this kind of thing could happen, how “Lucas Beauchamp once the slave of any white man within range of whose notice he happened to come, now tyrant over the whole country’s white conscience.”  Most of all, this is a good book that does several things at once, not the least of which was the new direction that would rule most of the remaining Faulkner novels: the narrative presence of Gavin Stevens.

The Adaptation:

This is another example where there isn’t much that I can say that hasn’t already been said.  Regina K. Fadiman published Intruder in the Dust: Novel into Film, which includes the full screenplay.  She has an in-depth look at the novel, the film and the screenplay.  The section “The Scripts” looks at the differences between the novel and the film.

“In the act of simplifying the novel’s complex murder plot, Maddow has reduced the number of corpses to one.  He explained that it would have been ludicrous, and perhaps even confusing, to have filmed first a strange body in the grave and then an empty grave.  He solved the problem by eliminating entirely the character of Jake Montgomery, whose body in the novel in found in Vinson Gowrie’s grave.”  (Fadiman, p 46)  She also discusses the finale: “Although Maddow has eliminated some minor characters, he has invented a climactic scene that dramatizes the capture of Crawford Gowrie and increases the role of both Lucas Beauchamp and Nub Gowrie.” (Fadmina, p 47)  What she doesn’t discuss is the very end of the film, which seems to undermine the subtlety of the film a bit.  The book ends so perfectly with Lucas asking for his receipt, a scene which is included in the film, but the humor of that is undermined by the unnecessary speech that Stevens gives to conclude the film so that we can get a bit of moralizing to close things out.

One thing that struck me as a difference between the novel and the film is the level of subtlety.  The book has a lot – it has different shades of grey and race relations are presented through differing perspectives.  But the film just feels too often like it is hitting you over the head, trying to get a moral across.

The Credits:

Produced and Directed by Clarence Brown.  Screen Play by Ben Maddow.  Based on the Novel by William Faulkner.

WGA Nominees That Don’t Make My Top 10

 

The Hasty Heart

hastyThe Film:

The Hasty Heart is a solid film.  It’s certainly better than the two World War II films that were nominated for Best Picture in this year, 12 O’Clock High and Battleground.  That’s not necessarily due to its script, even though the script was WGA nominated.  It is everything to do with the performance of Richard Todd in the lead role of Lachie.

Lachie is an unlikeable Scotsman.  He doesn’t have anything to do with anyone.  He doesn’t like to read, he doesn’t like to talk and he’s not good at making friends.  What he does is play his bagpipe and learn to hate anything he can’t have.  He explains the last part late in the film when he finally understands what has been going on around him.  He’s in a hospital in Burma just after the end of the war and he wants to go home to the house he’s bought in Scotland.  He doesn’t know why the mishmash of other men in his tent (an American called Yank, a New Zealander called Kiwi, an African called Blossom) continue to try to push friendship upon him when he just wants to be left alone.  He’s even resistant to the charms of the friendly nurse until he starts to fall in love with her.

He’s dying.  They all know that and he doesn’t.  Oh, he’s not obviously dying.  But he’s got only one kidney left and it doesn’t quite work right.  One day he’s just going to drop dead and it’ll be soon.  The men (and the nurse) know that and they’ve been told to try to make the rest of his life pleasant, not knowing how damn hard the job would be.

This would easily be an unbearable film depending on the lead performance.  But Todd has just the right measure of pride, the exact amount of disdain to push people away and still let them keep coming.  It’s his performance that makes the film work, a performance that earned him Oscar and Globe nominations.  His stubborn pride, holding everything together, also allows for some pathos when it finally breaks down at the end, first when he thinks he has found a measure of happiness, and then, afterwards, when he learns what his situation is and realizes the utter hopelessness of it all.  It’s not a great film and it wasn’t ever going to be.  But Todd makes it a solid film.

hastyheartThe Source:

The Hasty Heart by John Patrick  (1945)

Unlike so many other works of literature that came out of the war, this one is a bit different.  It’s not about the war itself.  It’s not even really about the men who fought in the war.  It’s about one particular man, a hard-headed Scotsman who was injured right at the end of the war.  Unfortunately, though he appears to be in fine health throughout, he’s not long for this world.  His injury caused the removal of one kidney and the other one doesn’t function properly; today something could be done about this, but in Burma, just after the war, he’s pretty much going to be a goner as soon as that other one stops working and that’ll be soon.  So, a group of mismatched men (one way in which this play isn’t different from other works about the war is that the men are a collage of different ethnicities) give him friendship, against their better judgment and against his obstinate stubbornness.  Things will work out enough that there’s a sort-of happy ending, or as much of one as you can have when you know the main character will drop dead sometime soon after the end of the play.

The Adaptation:

This is one of the closer adaptations of a play to a film that I’ve seen.  Yes, there’s a bit at the beginning that sets thing up that a film can do but a play can’t.  But the film follows fairly faithfully, with most of the dialogue, and certainly the key lines all coming directly from the play.

The Credits:

Directed by Vincent Sherman.  Screen Play by Ranald MacDougall.  From the Stage Play by John Patrick; produced by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse.

I Was a Male War Bride

Poster - I Was a Male War Bride_01The Film:

There is no other way to put this: this is a completely ridiculous film.  It’s not ridiculous through all of it, but then you get to the most famous scene, with Cary Grant dressed in drag so that he can pretend to be a war-bride and get on the ship and get to America and his new life with his new wife.

It’s not so ridiculous all the way through.  The beginning is just a standard romantic comedy, beginning with two people who don’t seem to like each other, which of course means that they will end up falling in love.  (I’ll point out right here that I fell in love with Veronica pretty much right from the start and there was no tension between us in which we thought we didn’t like each other, so these kind of forced cliches just drive me nuts for the most part.)  Cary Grant is a French officer who is forced to work with a female American officer (played by Ann Sheridan).  They’ve already clashed before the film even opens, they are forced to work together, she has to drive the motorcycle because of regulations with him in the sidecar and at one point he has to spend the night in her hotel room because of a broken doorknob.  All of this just feels too forced, made more silly by the fact that the “French” Grant talks with his regular British accent.  It takes a half hour just to get to the hotel room and another ten minutes before we’re done with it.  It’s only then that they are starting to fall in love and we can move on with the main part of the story.

After they finally get married, they have to navigate the red tape and manage to get themselves back to America (she’s just been reassigned there).  That is where we finally get the famous (but ridiculous) scene of Grant in drag.  It’s by far what people remember most about the film even though it doesn’t even start until there’s less than 10 minutes left in the film.

All of this together makes for a decent, if rather unmemorable (other than Grant in drag) romantic comedy.  Grant and Sheridan don’t have a whole lot of spark together and this is not exactly one of Hawks’ most memorable directing jobs.  I would have probably forgotten about it altogether and never bothered to look at it again had the WGA not given it a nomination as one of the “best written Comedies”, though I don’t know where they got that notion.

The Source:

I Was a Male War Bride by Henri Rochard  (1947)

The title of this book is a bit confusing.  According to several places online, the original source is called I was an Alien Spouse of Female Military Personnel Enroute to the United States Under Public Law 271 of the Congress.  But nothing by that title exists in Worldcat and there is nothing at Google Books by that title.  On the other hand, I am holding in my hand a printed copy of I Was a Male War Bride.  Granted, this is a reprint from 1955, but there is nothing in the book to suggest that it was previously printed under a different title.

Whatever the title, this book is just a little fun true story about a Belgian man who was in the resistance during the war.  After the war, he works at the Nuremberg Trials as a representative from Belgium and one day is hit by a car.  In the hospital, he meets an American army nurse and they fall in love and marry.  The rest of the book involves their trials and tribulations in trying to stay in the same bed and then eventually getting him transported to America.  It is a bit silly and a bit funny, but mostly what it is, is a book that highlights how ridiculous bureaucracy can be when it is confronted by something that can’t be fit into a simple box on a form.

The Adaptation:

At about the 80 minutes mark of a 105 minute film, the couple has finally gotten married and we have moved on to the confusing red tape portion of their lives.  This is the only part of the film that resembles the original book.  There was no long love-hate romance.  The couple met when he was hit by a car and she worked in the hospital.  They were married almost right away.  And of course the end is completely different – clearly the filmmakers decided that a title like this must involve a scene in drag, but that never happens in the book (nor do they end up in the brig).  There was simply a lot of confusing red tape that they had to struggle against.  That part came directly from the book.  As for the rest?  Well, that all came from the imagination of the filmmakers.

The Credits:

Directed by Howard Hawks.  Screen Play by Charles Lederer, Leonard Spigelgass and Hagar Wilde.  From a Story by Henri Rochard.

In the Good Old Summertime

inthegoodoldThe Film:

There are certain things you might want to do when casting a film.  For instance, if you casting for the lead male role in a romantic musical, perhaps you should consider casting someone who can both act and sing.  Van Johnson is not that person.  He’s passable in the first category, but not by a whole lot.  When you consider that this role was originally played on film by Jimmy Stewart, well, it’s a long way to fall.  Yes, this is a remake of The Shop Around the Corner, one of the best, if not the best Lubitsch film.  This time they’ve made it into a musical with a few decent songs, although they weren’t ones that I could remember more than a few minutes after I stopped watching it either time I have seen it.

The tragedy of this is that MGM never really knew how to make the best use of Judy Garland and Garland was having so many of her own personal problems that a lot of her films ended up like this one – a solid enough film, but not enough use of her talents.  If this was just its own film, it would be solid.  But unfortunately, as is often the case with remakes, it’s so inferior to the original version that it’s hard to watch this and not think of what the original did better.

On the whole, though, I can’t fault it too much.  It does have Judy Garland and she is charming, as ever, and when she sings the screen does light up.  It is a far sight better than You’ve Got Mail, the inferior remake that would follow in a few decades.  But it’s far from great and it really does seem to rush right into the ending as if they were running out of time and just had to get it done.

One last thing that definitely bears being mentioned.  There is the famous story about the violin that needed to end up broken in a way that was both funny and realistic.  It was Buster Keaton who came up with the gag and that ended up with him in the film as the only person who could do the gag properly.  It’s nice to see an older Keaton get a nice role and the violin scene is definitely the funniest scene in the film and well worth seeing.

The Source:

Illatszertar by Nikolaus Laszlo  (1937)

I have already written about this play once, when it was adapted into The Shop Around the Corner.

The Adaptation:

As is made clear in the credits, this film actually takes The Shop Around the Corner as its origin point rather than the original play.  There are no changes from the play to this film that wasn’t in the first film version.  But this film departs even farther, sometimes because it just wants to do things a bit differently (adding to the antagonism between the main characters, they actually have a horrible first meeting before she even appears in the shop), but mainly in order to make it into a musical and keep it from being too long.  If they were going to add in those songs, they weren’t going to be able to keep the whole story, so the entire subplot of the affair that the shop owner’s wife is having is dropped.  Instead, the trouble that arises and gets the main character fired has to do with the misuse of a prize violin (which also allows for a further misunderstanding about the affections of the leads) and there is no slimy other clerk working in the store.  Aside from that, they keep pretty close to the original (although they do change it from Budapest to Chicago).  One thing that does it really allow them to bring in the weather to make things more stark, as you get a whole lot more snow in Chicago than you do in Budapest.

The Credits:

Directed by Robert Z. Leonard.  Written for the Screen by Albert Hackett, Frances Goodrich and Ivan Tors.  From a Screen Play by Samson Raphaelson.  And a play by Miklos Laszlo.  The IMDb lists uncredited writing from Buster Keaton, presumably because of the violin gag.

She Wore a Yellow Ribbon

She-Wore-a-Yellow-Ribbon-PosterThe Film:

Each of John Ford’s Calvary Trilogy has something to recommend it, something different than the other two.  The first has Henry Fonda, even if he’s in a role I don’t enjoy him in.  The third has the family relationship for the John Wayne character that adds some depth.  This one has the gorgeous color cinematography.  While the other two, in black-and-white, looked nice, this one really makes Monument Valley come alive.  With so many of Ford’s films being made in black-and-white, there are few of them that have such a vibrant color to them.

There’s more to recommend than just that, of course.  This is a John Ford film.  It’s not a great film.  I wouldn’t define any of the films in the trilogy as classics.  But all of them are quite good, with good direction and first-rate technical aspects.  This one even has a rather fine performance from John Wayne.  The performance is important because Wayne plays an older soldier, about ready to retire.  Ford originally wasn’t going to cast Wayne because of the age of the character, but after seeing Wayne’s performance for Howard Hawks in Red River, he realized that maybe the big lug could act after all.  Wayne comes through with flying colors in one of the best performances of his career, definitely an improvement over the performance he actually won the Oscar for.

There are some cliches about the film and that’s part of what prevents it from reaching classic status.  Like the other two films in the trilogy, it is far too much invested in the life of the cavalry and as a result, there things can drag at bits.  It had been a long time since I had seen the film and I was afraid Wayne would die in the end; that wouldn’t have concerned me so much except that Wayne retires and is given a watch and that would definitely have been a painful cliche, but thankfully it doesn’t happen.  For once, the more happy Hollywood ending isn’t the wrong choice.

In the end, this, like the other two films, is a good time at the movies.  If you’re a Western fan or a Wayne fan, then of course these three films are absolute musts.  If you’re not, well, these don’t reach the heights that Ford had reached before with Wayne (Stagecoach) or would later (The Searchers, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance), but they’re still a good time.

The Source:

“The Big Hunt” (1946) and “The War Party” (1947) by James Warner Bellah

Here we go again, with more Bellah stories serving as the basis for John Ford.  Though these stories are not connected with the story “Massacre”, they form the basis for this film, which is the second in the trilogy.  Bellah will have another story that will form the basis for Rio Grande, the final film in the trilogy, but again, it will actually be unconnected to these stories.  The only link in the original stories, aside from the author, is that they all deal with life in the United States Cavalry.  These stories lack the overt racism of “Massacre”, but they also lack its effectiveness (and aren’t as effective as the story that will form the basis for Rio Grande either).  They are decent little stories that will interest you if you have an interest in the Cavalry or are fond of Western stories, and if not, like me, you’ll probably whip through them and then forget them almost instantly.

The Adaptation:

Like with the other two films in the trilogy, the stories provide a basic story framework for Ford to hang his film upon.  Most of the characterization, and indeed, many of the details of the story, come from the screenwriters.  The basic ideas in each story (both involved with hunting Native Americans) are all that really enter into the film.

One major difference, and this is the same in all three films in the trilogy, is the use of women.  Bellah’s stories don’t have them.  Ford’s films are obsessed with the women on the posts, usually, unfortunately, to the detriment of the overall flow of the film.

The Credits:

Directed by John Ford.  Story by James Warner Bellah.  Screen Play by Frank Nugent and Laurence Stallings.

Streets of Laredo

Streets_of_LaredoThe Film:

William Holden wandered in the wilderness for a long time, and that’s not a joke about this film being a Western.  In 1939, he made a big impression with Golden Boy, and while he continued to make films through the 40’s, he wasn’t a star and his acting wasn’t much to look at.  Then, Billy Wilder got hold of him in 1950, they made Sunset Blvd. together and suddenly Holden was one of the biggest stars and best actors in Hollywood.  Sadly, we’re still in 1949, with him here as the star of Streets of Laredo.  That wouldn’t be such a bad thing (it’s not like he’s a bad actor – he just hasn’t found himself quite yet) if there was more in the film to work with other than Holden’s lead performance.

This is the story of three outlaws working together (one drives a stagecoach and pretends to try and fight them while the other two rob the coach) until circumstances arise and two of them (Holden and William Bendix, the man who’s so effective as a big lug in films like The Glass Key, but doesn’t really do much acting) become Texas Rangers.  This will eventually pit them into a showdown against the third, played by MacDonald Carey (yes, he had a career before he starting spending the rest of his life counting the sands through the hourglass).

It’s a fairly standard Western.  There’s nothing much to recommend it.  It’s shot in color, so some of it looks nice, or would look nice if it had a more talented director or cinematographer.  There’s a girl involved but she’s extremely forgettable.  There are some shoot-outs, but they aren’t that well staged.  So what does this film have going for it?  Well, at *** (very low), it’s still better than The Texas Rangers, the 1936 film that this is a remake of.

texasrangersThe Source:

The Texas Rangers by Walter Prescott Webb  (1935) / The Texas Rangers, written by Louis Stevens, Elizabeth Hill and King Vidor  (1936)

The Texas Rangers, the book by Walter Prescott Webb, is a long, detailed history of the Rangers and covers the first century of their history.  The Texas Rangers, the King Vidor film, is a mediocre Western about three outlaws.  Two of them become Rangers and eventually must hunt down the third.  The book is good for those interested in such things (Texas, Westerns) but is going to be a bore for almost anyone else.  The original film isn’t much good for almost anything.

The Adaptation:

There’s some trickiness with the source of this film.  Yes, it is a remake of the 1936 film The Texas Rangers.  It’s a low-level *** but that still makes it better than the original by several points.  It uses much of the original film, adapting some, but staying fairly close.

But where does the original film come from?  The IMDb simply lists it as being based on a short story by Walter Prescott Webb.  The TCM database says that it is based on The Texas Rangers, the 1935 non-fiction book by Webb.  If that’s really the case, I would compare it to The Lives of a Bengal Lancer, which took a non-fiction book about the life of a lancer and gave it a plot that wasn’t in the original story.  It’s certainly believable that the original filmmakers would buy the rights to the original book, use the title and then come up with an original story just using the book for background – that’s certainly how Lancer worked.

The Credits:

Directed by Leslie Fenton.  Screenplay by Charles Marquis Warren.  Based on a Story by Louis Stevens and Elizabeth Hill.  King Vidor’s writing on the original film is uncredited.

Home of the Brave

Home_of_the_Brave_1949_posterThe Film:

Now we get into the other films about race relations, with the last three films all falling into that.  This one combines it with being a World War II drama.  That would make you think that it has added weight to its story, that it’s a big important film about multiple subjects.  You would be wrong.  Oh, it tries to be a big, important film.  It wants to deal not only with race relations in the army, with that kind of thing at war, with the kind of things that fester in the hearts of people, but also be a psychological drama about returning soldiers and what might be wrong with them.  Unfortunately, it falls completely flat.  Some of it is the acting.  Some of it is the directing.  But most of it is the writing.  That might seem strange, considering that this is the same writer and director who made Champion, which is one of the best films of 1949.  But maybe that’s the difference between having Kirk Douglas and Arthur Kennedy in one film and not in the other.

The star of this film is James Edwards, playing a black private assigned to a white advance group doing surveying of an island that is soon to be invaded in the lead up to the invasion of Japan that never had to happen.  Or is Edwards the star?  He’s talked about a lot – the man who at the beginning of the film has a psychosomatic paralysis preventing him from walking.  But it takes a while before we actually see him and learn the issue at stake and he doesn’t actually get to do much in the film.  Of course one of the people he’s assigned to work with is a bigot.  Another is a childhood friend, who of course, it will turn out, is a bigot at heart.

The problem with the film (more on this below) is that the original play wasn’t written about a black man feeling like an outsider but a Jew.  The screenplay never makes the change quite work.  Lloyd Bridges plays the best friend – we get flashback scenes that show them growing up and playing basketball together.  It’s clear that he’s not prejudiced – that they are simply good friends.  So when we get to a moment in danger on the island when Bridges repeats a racial epithet that the bigot uses, a slur that tarnishes their friendship and leads to the psychological torture that will imprison Edwards within his body, it’s not believable for a minute.  Yet, even worse, the doctor will resort to that same word in order to finally break Edwards out of his paralysis, because of course, nothing works on psychosomatic illnesses like being insulted.

The film isn’t terrible.  It’s well made, on a very low budget.  It just strains so very hard to be important and it never particularly succeeds at it.  And in a year filled with films that want to be important when it comes to race relations, it’s just a poor showing.

9781399963480-us-300The Source:

Home of the Brave by Arthur Laurents  (1945)

This is a decent play but far from a great one.  It tries too hard to be important (although not nearly as hard as the film tries).  Perhaps that’s why it earned solid reviews but only ran for 69 performances.  It’s the story of a Jewish man who is unable to walk after his actions during the war, in spite of a lack of injury.  It turns out he was entrusted with completing a mission and leaving a man to die alone, a man who had almost insulted him with a slur.  As a result, the guilt is eating away at him and he can’t seem to allow himself to be healthy.  He manages to recover, in the end, of course, because what would a play like this be without a little catharsis?

The Adaptation:

Well, as I said, the film tries really hard to be important and that’s not really the fault of playwright Arthur Laurents.  According to Laurents, he was told, after the film rights sold, that Jews had been done, so his play would be changed so that the alienated outsider recovering from his psychological injuries would be black instead.  Never mind the fact that the troops weren’t integrated yet during the war.  That’s not the real problem that bogs down the script.  It’s that the play doesn’t so much change the circumstances as add the black character entirely.  Coney, the Jewish character, is still in the film – he’s just not to person being made to feel an outsider.  Aside from shoe-horning in the black character, they also decide to make Finch, the man who dies, a childhood friend, the one who fights against the casual racism of the time.  That makes the betrayal all the more painful, but it also makes it all the less plausible.  You can almost see the film straining, far too often, to try and fit its new message in around the original actions of the play.

The Credits:

Directed by Mark Robson.  Based Upon an Original Play by Arthur Laurents.  Screenplay by Carl Foreman.

Lost Boundaries

lostThe Film:

This is a film that couldn’t be made today.  I don’t mean that in a good way, like they do when they talk about films from the 70’s.  Perhaps I should say this is a film that wouldn’t be made today.  Only part of it has to do with the racial elements as they existed at that time and that it’s not the same today.  Sadly, racism is still very strong.  But the kind of rules that are explicit at this time no longer exist.  The U.S. Navy no longer limits positions by race and that’s relevant to mention because it’s a key plot point in this film.

This is a film about a couple that is passing.  They’re black by background (and by law) but they look white.  (I’ll note here that I first saw this film in the same class about race where I read The Clansman and where I also read Passing, which is a book that deals with this same social issue but much more artfully).  But that’s only part of the story.  The other part is that their children don’t know the family background.  They are living in New Hampshire where there just aren’t a whole lot of blacks and it makes for a unique experience.  When the secret is revealed it changes the lives of the entire family.

As I said, it isn’t the social issue that made me say that this film wouldn’t be made today.  It’s the way that’s it made.  It has a solemn voiceover narration, making this seem like a documentary.  It wants desperately to make the social issue clear from the start of the film, all the way through to the end.  It is a VERY IMPORTANT FILM and it wants you to know it.

It’s not a badly made film.  It is decently acted by Mel Ferrer in the lead performance as the father (though none of the rest of the cast really does much to help him out).  It was nominated by the Writers Guild for their category about films that ably deal with problems of the American scene, and it can rightly be said to do that, even if it doesn’t actually do it all that artfully.  But somehow it also won the Best Screenplay award at the Cannes Film Festival and I just can’t account for that.

The Source:

Lost Boundaries by W. L. White  (1948)

This short little book (91 pages with generous margins) began life as a story in Reader’s Digest and it’s probably the exact kind of thing you would expect from there.  It’s the story of a family in New Hampshire that has been “passing”.  The drama of the piece comes when this information is handed down from the father to the 16 year old son and the voyage of self-discovery that the son then embarks upon.  He has grown up thinking that he is one thing, only to discover that he is something quite different.  It’s badly dated today, of course, not just because of the subject matter (can finding out your parents are black by descent rather than white really be that big of a deal today?), but because of the style in which it is written.  Much like the film it spawned, it just feels like a relic from the past.

The Adaptation:

The film and the original book tell mostly the same story but really with a completely different point of emphasis.  The film gives us the chronological story of the family, showing us how the parents meet, how they end up in a small town in New Hampshire, and how they continue to “pass” and don’t tell the kids their true history.  The book begins with the story being told to the son and shows what he does after he learns with only some background information providing the story up to that point.

Most of the story isn’t particularly different, though a good portion of the son’s journey of self-discovery is excised.  The film sees the need to fictionalize both the name of the family and the town name, although why they did that, since they were being clear that this was based on a true story, seems kind of odd.  The one really big change is that the son is a lot older when he is told in the film; in fact, it is his thought of joining the navy to serve in the war that provides the impetus to tell him while in the original book he is still only 16 when he learns the truth.

The Credits:

Directed by Alfred L. Werker.  Based on William L. White’s Document of a New Hampshire Family.  Screen Adaptation: Charles Palmer.  Screenplay: Virginia Shaler and Eugene Livy.  Additional Dialogue: Maxime Furlaud and Ormonde de Kay.

Pinky

Pinky_1949_posterThe Film:

“After his anti-Semitism drama Gentleman’s Agreement won Best Picture at the 1947 Academy Awards, Darryl F. Zanuck reportedly turned to an associate and cried, ‘Let’s do it with a Negro!'”  (Inside Oscar, p 193)  Whether true or not, the result is Pinky, which has none of the solid writing and outstanding acting that marked Agreement.  It also doesn’t really hold up in the same way – in Agreement, you had a man pretending to be Jewish to make a point about prejudice.  But he could pretend, partially because he wasn’t Jewish and partially because there was nothing to distinguish him one way or the other.  Pinky, on the other hand, has a woman of African-American descent pretending that she isn’t.  It works because she is so light-skinned that no one thinks twice that she might not be white.  That’s because she’s played by Jeanne Crain in one of the more bizarre casting choices.

Agreement worked because it was a heartfelt drama and, because, like I said above, it had really impressive acting.  Now, this film isn’t a heartfelt drama, it’s a ridiculous weepy melodrama about a woman who is passing in the north and returns home to the south to tend her (clearly) black grandmother and also ends up caring for an elderly white woman.  Of course it’s a chance to teach everybody about the problems of race relations without even in the slightest approaching the actual issues of racism, which is probably why this film seems so wishy-washy.  There is decent acting in the supporting roles, but nothing like in Agreement.  Of course, all of this is relevant because, aside from being at the same studio and using roughly the same idea, both films were directed by Elia Kazan.

To add pain to the melodrama, there is even a trial at the end of the film.  Pinky has inherited the estate of the elderly white woman but it is challenged.  She wins, of course, because this is Hollywood, and even if this would never have happened in the South at the time, that’s not gonna stop a movie’s happy ending.

Look, Pinky is not a bad film.  Kazan is too good a director for that.  Crain gives a decent performance in the lead and Ethel Barrymore (white) and Ethel Waters (black) are both solid as the two old women (all three were Oscar nominated).  But going back to it this time, it all seems so cliched that it was hard to muster up the energy to care about anything going on in the film.

qualityThe Source:

Quality by Cyd Ricketts Summer  (1946)

This book was better than I expected it to be.  Oh, it’s not that good a book.  It has a complete cliche plot that deals with race relations in a very superficial way.  But it is not painful to read, is not written for the readers of Cosmo or Reader’s Digest.  You would never look at A Letter to Five Wives or Lost Boundaries and expect to find sentences like this: “First there was feeling – all the hills and hummocks of the mattress pressed into her ribs and against her thigh.  Then hearing – she caught the musical postscript of the rain, high and low notes played on earth and puddle by the drip from the eaves; she heard the diminishing song of water running from gutter to the well.”

But, as I said, the fact that this novel is decently written doesn’t let it get away with such a simpering story: a woman who is considered a Negro in the South but “passes” in the North has come back home to take care of her grandmother.  While there, since she is trained as a nurse, she also takes care of the wealthy old white women nearby and when that woman dies, she inherits her house in thanks.  The end result is a trial, of course, because this is the South.  Well, if you don’t know what will happen and haven’t seen the movie, you can take a wild guess.

The Adaptation:

This is really a pretty straightforward adaptation.  If Zanuck really did say the quote above, then it wasn’t very hard to find a source that could do what he wanted to do.  As far as I noticed, the biggest change is actually changing the title, and let’s face it, Quality is a pretty damn uninteresting title and Pinky at least gives us some sense of what is going on.  It did require a little spelling change though, as it her name is spelled Pinkey throughout the book.

The Credits:

Directed by Elia Kazan.  Based on a Novel by Cid Ricketts Sumner.  Screen Play by Philip Dunne and Dudley Nichols.  The IMDb lists uncredited contributions to the screenplay from Elia Kazan and Jane White.  It also lists John Ford as an uncredited director.

Other Screenplays on My List Outside My Top 10:

  • They Live By Night  –  Based on the novel Thieves Like Us.  A very good early Nicholas Ray film.
  • House of Strangers  –  Based on the novel by Jerome Weidman.  A solid high-level *** from Joseph L. Mankiewicz.

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

  • Criss Cross  –  Based on the novel by Don Tracy, this is a solid crime film.
  • Christ in Concrete  –  Also known as Give Us This Day.  This film was heavily protested at the time and eventually pulled from theaters.
  • The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad  –  Disney’s Animated film is quite enjoyable.  It adapts a great short story (“The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”) and possibly the greatest children’s book ever written (The Wind in the Willows).  There is a full review under the Wind in the Willows link.
  • My Foolish Heart  –  Susan Hayward earned a Best Actress nomination for her performance in this film, which is based, surprisingly on a Salinger Story (“Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut”).
  • The Reckless Moment  –  Ophuls doing a story that first appeared in Ladies Home Journal.  Not one of his best.
  • The Set-Up  –  This solid Robert Wise boxing film (with a good performance from Robert Ryan) is actually based on a poem.
  • The Big Steal  –  Written by Daniel Mainwaring, this is an early directorial effort from Don Siegel (the two would later team up on Invasion of the Body Snatchers).  Adapted from a short story called “The Road to Carmicheal’s”.  Stars the same the two stars in Mainwaring’s Out of the Past.
  • Flamingo Road  –  Solid Michael Curtiz film, adapted from the play.
  • The Passionate Friends  –  What would be a solid film from many directors is one of the weakest from David Lean.  Based, surprisingly, on a novel by H. G. Wells.
  • Twelve O’Clock High  –  Based on the novel, this was nominated for Best Picture.
  • The Inspector General  –  Yet, another surprising source, as this fun Danny Kaye film is inspired by a Gogol play.
  • Beyond the Forest  –  Based on the novel, this is the film where Bette Davis says “What a dump.”
  • Edward, My Son  –  Based on the play.  Like My Foolish Heart, nominated for Best Actress at the Oscars and the Nighthawks, though it wouldn’t have earned the latter in a good year.
  • Devil in the Flesh  –  A 1947 French film, based on the novel.
  • Colorado Territory  –  A Raoul Walsh Western, based on a W. R. Burnett novel, this film is mainly memorable for its score.
  • Knock on Any Door  –  Definitely the weaker Nicholas Ray film of the year in spite of having Bogart.  Based on the novel.
  • The Red Pony  –  Not that memorable a film, but I don’t think Steinbeck’s novel is all that memorable either.
  • The Crooked Way  –  Decent noir film, based on a radio play.
  • The Secret Garden  –  Notable mainly for its use of color, this is based on the famous children’s novel.
  • East Side, West Side  –  Getting into the low-range *** with this drama from director Mervyn LeRoy, based on the novel.
  • The Queen of Spades  –  Based on a Pushkin story, this film was surprisingly nominated for a BAFTA for Best British Film.
  • Prince of Foxes  –  Orson Welles as a Borgia can’t save this Tyrone Power adventure film based on the novel by Samuel Shellabarger.
  • Caught  –  Another Ophuls film and its one of his weakest.  Based on the novel Wild Calendar.
  • We Were Strangers  –  Based on the novel Rough Sketch, this is one of John Huston’s weaker films.
  • Any Number Can Play  –  Based on the novel and directed by Mervyn LeRoy, this is one of the last films Richard Brooks wrote before he became a director.
  • Down to the Sea in Ships  –  A remake of a (better) 1922 silent film.  We’re now into **.5 films.
  • The Bribe  –  Robert Taylor in a Robert Z. Leonard film?  Even Charles Laughton can’t save this adaptation of a short story by Frederick Nebel.
  • Madame Bovary  –  I’m not a huge fan of the novel, but it deserved better than this adaptation.
  • Little Women  –  These last five films are the five worst films I’ve seen from 1949.  Rex Reed is known for being a big fan of this film but everyone else, including me, thinks it’s a mediocre mess.
  • Under Capricorn  –  In spite of Hitchcock and Ingrid Bergman, this is not a good film.  It’s not even really a mediocre film, as we’re now down to the ** films.  Based on the novel by Helen Simpson.
  • Whirlpool  –  Based on the Guy Endore novel, this is one of Otto Preminger’s worst films.
  • The Great Gatsby  –  Just terrible, both as a film, and as adaptation of one of the greatest novels ever written.  I wrote a full review of it in my Gatsby piece.
  • The Fountainhead  –  A bad, and repulsive novel, becomes the worst film of 1949.  I wrote a full review of it in my Nighthawk Awards, close to the bottom.
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