"I have known her six years and seen her twice in a decent dress. Once was at a funeral of a big producer for whom she had no respect and once when she had to receive a Critics award she didn't want." (The Wisdom of Eve)

“I have known her six years and seen her twice in a decent dress. Once was at a funeral of a big producer for whom she had no respect and once when she had to receive a Critics award she didn’t want.” (“The Wisdom of Eve”)

My Top 8:

  1. All About Eve
  2. Night and the City
  3. Kind Hearts and Coronets
  4. The Asphalt Jungle
  5. Harvey
  6. In a Lonely Place
  7. Cinderella
  8. Broken Arrow

Note:  Yes, only a Top 8.  There are 20 films in this year that I rate ***.5 or better and only seven of them are adapted (Broken Arrow is a high ***).  The Third Man is often thought of as adapted, but the script was actually written first.

Consensus Nominees:

  1. All About Eve  (264 pts)
  2. Broken Arrow  (160 pts)
  3. The Asphalt Jungle  (154 pts)
  4. Annie Get Your Gun  (80 pts)
  5. Born Yesterday  /  Father of the Bride  (80 pts)

Oscar Nominees  (Best Screenplay):

  • All About Eve
  • The Asphalt Jungle
  • Born Yesterday
  • Broken Arrow
  • Father of the Bride

Golden Globe Nominees:

  • All About Eve
  • The Asphalt Jungle

note:  The third nominee was Sunset Blvd., which is original.

WGA Awards:

Drama:

  • All About Eve
  • The Asphalt Jungle

Nominees that are Original:  Sunset Blvd., The Men, Panic in the Streets

Comedy:

  • All About Eve
  • Born Yesterday
  • Father of the Bride
  • Jackpot

Nominees that are Original:  Adam’s Rib
Note:  Yes, All About Eve was nominated as both a Drama and a Comedy.

Musical:

  • Annie Get Your Gun

Nominees that are Original:  My Blue Heaven, Summer Stock, Three Little Words, The West Point Story

Western:

  • Broken Arrow
  • Rio Grande

Nominees that are Original:  Devil’s Doorway, The Gunfighter, A Ticket to Tomahawk, Winchester ’73

Screenplay That Deals Most Ably With the Problems of the American Scene:

  • The Asphalt Jungle
  • Broken Arrow

Nominees that are Original:  The Men, No Way Out, Panic in the Streets

My Top 8

All About Eve

allabouteveThe Film:

I have already reviewed this film once before.  In some ways it is a hard film to write about.  It won Best Picture and five other Oscars and received a record 14 nominations (a record which wouldn’t be matched for 46 years).  I don’t agree with most of its wins, including Picture, because it’s in the same year as Sunset Blvd., a film I have long championed as the greatest ever made, but which, thankfully, is an original script and not eligible here.  So there are those who accuse me of under-appreciating it.  And yet, I love this film.  I love to watch it and listen to the dialogue, to Margo and Addison sparring at each other with their bitter words.  I love to see the performances; it doesn’t win any acting awards from me and yet it earns five nominations.  It has the performance in Best Actress to ever end up in second place and the best performance in Best Supporting Actor to ever end up in third place.  So, if you love this film, be content that I also do and that this script is perhaps the best part of it.

The Source:

“The Wisdom of Eve” by Mary Orr  (1946)

If “The Wisdom of Eve” reads like a story that would appear in Cosmo, that’s because it was a story that appeared in Cosmo.  It’s only ten pages, the story of the poor little girl in a warm red coat with a lot of makeup on a rather plain face.  It tells of how she got cozy with a big stage star, then made a name for herself, under-cutting the star by revealing she was acting the whole time, making up her back story.  Then, in the end, she has run off with the playwright husband of the lesser actress who has been telling us the whole story.  It’s a perfectly fine little story but there’s not much to it.  Orr originally wrote it after hearing a similar story from a friend and it almost seemed custom-made to be adapted into something larger (Orr herself would turn it into a play, but the rights would be sold to Fox and it would become one of the biggest Oscar films of all-time).

The Adaptation:

“After reading ‘The Wisdom of Eve,’ a short story by Mary Orr that had been published in the May 1946 issue of Cosmopolitan, Fox’s associate story editor James Fisher felt it should come to the attention of Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Then on April 29, 1949, Mankiewicz wrote a memo to Zanuck. He recommended purchasing the property and said that ‘it fits in with an original idea [of mine] and can be combined.'” (Memo From Darryl F. Zanuck: The Golden Years at Twentieth-Century Fox by Rudy Behlmer, p 165).

It is easy to see where the original story ends and Mankiewicz’s film begins.  The story provides the basic plot outline – a young wanna-be actress manages to push her way into the life of a major Broadway star, first being a hanger-on, then a secretary, then a rival and in the end, she manages to run away with the husband of another actress.  But Mankiewicz provides a screenplay of cutting dialogue, of bitter irony, of a brilliant exploration of the stage, the people on the stage, the people behind the stage and what those people are like away from their professional lives.  There is very little dialogue in the story, and yet the film is so rich with its dialogue.

The other prominent aspect of the story that likely came from Mankiewicz was the point-of-view.  In the story, we only get one narrative – that of the character played in the film by Celeste Holm, though much of the story itself is told to her by Margo.  But the film’s most brilliant creation is that of Addison DeWitt, one of the most cynical and caustic characters in film history.

One notable difference between the story and the film is that Eve in the story is described as very plain looking.  But Eve, of course, as played by Anne Baxter, is quite good looking and that is part of the reason for her rise through the ranks.

The Credits:

Written for the Screen and Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz.
There is no mention of Orr’s original story in the credits.

Night and the City

Poster - Night and the City (1950)_02The Film:

I have already reviewed this film once, as the most under-appreciated film of 1950 (go all the way to the bottom).  Though it is critically acclaimed now and has been released by Criterion, it didn’t earn so much as a single award nomination from any group upon its original release.

night-kershThe Source:

Night and the City by Gerald Kersh  (1938)

Harry Fabian is good at getting himself in over his head.  He’s a shyster, a young Brit who keeps coming up with schemes but he doesn’t have the money and he often ends up sinking.  Take his latest scheme, which involves wrestling, or it involves a woman, or maybe it just involves pulling some money together any way he can.  In the end, he’s going to sink.  He’s trying to do much, and when the cops come to haul him away at the conclusion, he’ll say, not for the first time, “And some fools say there’s a God!”  Maybe there is one, looking out for Harry, though, because there’s also a black wrestler that Harry didn’t come through for on a promise who’s waiting for him with a razor and that rozzer just saved Harry’s life.

It’s a fascinating little book, an interesting look at a man on the edge, smart enough to set things up, but not enough to succeed.  But in the end, if there was not a successful film version (and an unsuccessful one from 1992), I think this novel would have just been forgotten.  It’s certainly good enough to not have that fate, but I don’t know that it’s good enough to actually be remembered.

Note:  There seems to be general agreement online that this book was published in 1938.  I suspect, perhaps, that it was first published in the United States in 1946, because the copy I am currently holding has a 1946 copyright date in it for Simon & Schuster with no mention of any other date.  [Addendum: the BFI book linked below confirms my notion: “Although Kersh’s third novel was originally published in 1938, the war meant that America was deprived of it until 1946.”]

The Adaptation:

If you know the film, well, this is not that story.  Oh, there are some surface things about this that are the same.  Harry Fabian is indeed the name of the shyster who is doomed to failure.  He does indeed run a number of schemes and some of them involve characters with names the same (or similar) to those in the film.  But that’s pretty much it.  The Dassin film takes the basic concept and really takes the character of Harry Fabian and changes almost everything else (including making Fabian an American).  Dassin was in a hurry to get the film up and running because the Blacklist was coming for him.  According to Dassin (quoted on p 208 of Tender Comrades: A Backstory of the Hollywood Blacklist by Patrick McGilligan and Paul Buhle), Fox head Darryl F. Zanuck came to him and gave him the novel and said “Get out.  Get out fast  Here’s a book.  You’re going to London.  Get a screenplay as fast as you can and start shooting the expensive scenes.  Then they might let you finish it.”  It turns out he was able to finish it, though it would take over a decade before he would make a film in the States again, but what emerged here is definitely his best film.  The larger role for Gene Tierney was also because of Zanuck, who wanted to give her a good role at a time when she was having some difficulties.  In fact, Dassin hadn’t even read the book before they started shooting the film and Kersh was angry at the changes, but as the film has far outlived the book, he didn’t, in the end, really have a lot to be angry about.

More about the film and the adaptation can be found in the BFI Film Classics book on the film.

The Credits:

Directed by Jules Dassin.  Screen Play by Jo Eisinger.  Based on the Novel by Gerald Kersh.  The IMDb lists Austin Dempster and William E. Watts as uncredited contributing writers.

Kind Hearts and Coronets

Kind_Hearts_and_CoronetsThe Film:

As one of the best of the Ealing Comedies, I have already reviewed this film once.  I have gone back and forth on it over the years between it being a high ***.5 or a low ****.  Between the time that I reviewed it and the time that I watched it again before doing my Nighthawk Awards for 1950, I bumped it back up to ****.

The Source:

Israel Rank: The Autobiography of a Criminal by Roy Horniman  (1907)

“It is as common to read that [Israel Rank] is a long-forgotten, humourless Victorian saga, dross transformed by Hamer into gold, as that Jack Warner dies after twenty minutes of The Blue Lamp, and the information is no less inaccurate.  The book is a Wildean novel of the Edwardian decade which was in print again after World War II and which provides rather more than the ‘germ’ for the film (Balcon’s word); its influence is evident in the overall structure and tone of the work, and in certain happy details.”  (Ealing Studios by Charles Barr, p 119)

I am going to have fall somewhere in between those two views.  It is not humourless dross, that much is clear.  Yes, the humor is a bit subtle and you have to realize that’s what the book is trying to do – Ealing makes that much more clear.  But I wouldn’t call it a Wildean novel and I do think it would have likely stayed forgotten (as if it isn’t forgotten) had Ealing not made the film.  But it is true that the overall structure and tone of the work are evident in the original novel.  It’s precisely what the film is – a tale of a man who watches his mother waste away because she is shut out by her family because of her marriage.  He swears revenge and manages to get his revenge, getting rid of everyone who stands between him and his ultimate goal.  It’s a bit of a drag to get through – there’s no question that 400 pages of this works much less well than a good hour and a half of Ealing fun.

The Adaptation:

As I wrote above, the basic structure of the film, as well as the cynical tone comes straight from the book.  Of course, the tone is easier to grasp from the film than it is from the book – there’s no questioning that the film is a comedy.  Many of the details remain the same as well, though not all of them.

The most important difference between the two is actually the ending.  In the book, he has been freed and is married and, with the possible problem of Sibella, might go on to a happy ending.  But the film has that more humorous ending (possibly a necessary one, as to have him get off free wouldn’t get past the Code in America) of him forgetting his memoirs where he has just detailed all his crimes.

A less important difference, but still a notable one, is that in the film, the main character is Louis D’Ascoyne Mazzini and his father was Italian.  In the book, obviously, the character’s name is Israel Rank and his father was Jewish.  Given that the film stars Alec Guinness and his portrayal of Fagin the year before had all sorts of problems with American censors, perhaps Ealing decided to not even run the risk, but I have no proof of that.

There is also a BFI Film Classics book on this film.

The Credits:

Directed by Robert Hamer.  Based on a novel by Roy Horniman.  Screenplay by Robert Hamer, John Dighton.  The IMDb lists Nancy Mitford with uncredited screenplay revisions.

The Asphalt Jungle

asphalt_jungleThe Film:

“Those are desperate characters. Not one of them looked at my legs.” That’s Jennifer Jones speaking in Beat the Devil, a film still a few years ahead of John Huston at this point. But maybe that’s the theme running through the films of John Huston: desperate men. Certainly the men in The Asphalt Jungle are desperate, desperate for different things and in different ways.

There is Sam Jaffe, the mastermind of the heist that is at the core of the film. He is just out of jail but he has a good heist in mind that should work well (and would, if not for a few problems that arise). He is calm and collected, though older, foreign, and nothing like what we would think of as a cool and collected thieving mastermind. He knows the plan but he doesn’t know this particular city and his necessity in trusting those put before him will be his downfall.

There is Sterling Hayden. He’s a small-time stick-up guy, a big brutal guy who really wants to get away from the city, get away from the dirtiness he feels every time he walks down the street. He wants to get back to the farm, to the family place where he grew up, to grass and green hills. He’ll take this job and he’ll be brutal in all the ways he has to be in the hopes that his road might lead there.

There is Louis Calhern. He was so refined in his Oscar-nominated role this same year in The Magnificent Yankee but here he is just sleaze and desperation, a lawyer that no one trusts, that no one fears, yet, somehow, has managed, even with a wife sick at home, to find the love of a young beautiful girl who only wants to get away on a trip. And it’s to the credit of Marilyn Monroe that she be so believable here as the young beautiful girl who will believe any crap that comes out of this man’s mouth because he’s got a real job and he treated her with respect and clearly adores her.

There are others involved as well, and the cast is first-rate from the top to the bottom, the direction of John Huston (and his adaptation of the novel) are excellent of course. The music is good and the cinematography is great. But it’s the desperation of these men, the ways in which that desperation crosses paths that we know will bring tragedy to all of this.

asphaltThe Source:

The Asphalt Jungle by W.R. Burnett  (1949)

There is a paperback from the British publisher Zomba of 4 Novels by W.R. Burnett. The last, Vanity Row, was made into a low-budget film back in the 50’s and I didn’t bother to read it. The other three are Little Caesar, High Sierra and The Asphalt Jungle. The three novels were written about a decade apart each (1929, 1940, 1949). The three were made into classic crime films, also about a decade apart (1931, 1941, 1950). Each of the latter two films is better than the one before. Part of that has to do with moving up the director’s rank (William Wellman to Raoul Walsh to John Huston). But part of it comes from the novels; each of the latter two novels is better than the one before.

Though each of the three films is a “crime” film, the books, while all dealing with crime, are quite different. Little Caesar is the story of the rise (and quick fall) of a major gangster. High Sierra is the story of the fall of a criminal who is struggling to get out and just can’t manage to do it. The Asphalt Jungle is essentially a heist story, but with a lot more characterization than would normally be expected from such a book. One of the blurbs on the back of the books is a quote from John Huston’s autobiography, calling Burnett “One of the most neglected American writers.” Huston would know; he wrote the screenplay for High Sierra and both wrote and directed The Asphalt Jungle. And Burnett certainly does seem to be neglected. I found it easier to get the screenplay to High Sierra than the original novel and this copy, which I had to get through ILL, is published by a British publishing house, not an American one.

This is a novel about crime, but it’s also a novel about being beaten down by the city. The first line focuses on the police commisioner and the last line makes the theme clear: “As the door fanned, a chill, numbing blast blew in from the cold, dark streets of the sleeping city.” It’s a well-paced interesting book. It’s a heist book, yes, but the heist itself only takes a few pages and even the preparations for the heist aren’t the main thing. This book focus on its characters: the brutal Southerner who can’t stop losing on the horses, the leader who has a good plan but is forced to rely on those he would prefer not to, the pathetic lawyer hoping to make a big score and run away from his bed-ridden wife with the young redhead: “And it was not only the flaming red hair: she was slenderly but voluptuously made; and there was something about her walk – something lazy, careless, and insolently assured – that it was impossible to ignore.” It is those characters, and the smart sure way in which Burnett pulls into their story that really makes the book work.

The Adaptation:

This really is an excellent job of taking a book and bringing it to the screen. Even Burnett, after watching the film, would admit that any changes between the book and the film were all in character (“I consulted with Burnett several times during the writing of the script, and he approved the final draft, which I wrote with Ben Maddow.” An Open Book by John Huston, p 176). There are some small changes (it feels a bit nit-picky to complain that they didn’t use a redhead but when the character is played by a young, lovely Marilyn Monroe, what can you really say?). There are some bigger changes (each chapter of the book tends to focus on specific characters and the police get far more time spent on them in the book, with whole chapters, than in the film). But nothing is done that is particularly major – yes, in the book Dix is actually dead by the end, reunited (briefly) with his family, but the ending of the film works better. And there was one change that John Huston, in his autobiography notes had to be changed to make the censors happy – the suicide scene: “What made it objectionable to the censors was the fact that the man was in his right mind: no man in his right mind kills himself . . . So I came up with an idea and they agreed. I had him write the note and – like a writer who is dissatisfied with what he’s done – crumple it up. The man is a lawyer, literate and well read, but here he can’t get what he wants to say down on paper. He tries again and crumples another sheet of paper; he’s incapable of lucid thought. He just shoots himself. This was enough to indicate, for the censors’ purposes, that he was not in his right mind. It turned out to be a better scene for the change.” (An Open Book, p. 84)

The Credits:

Directed by John Huston. Screen Play by Ben Maddow and John Huston. From a Novel by W.R. Burnett.

Harvey

Harvey_1950_posterThe Film:

Harvey speaks to people.  It spoke to me the first time I saw it, especially the line, “Well, I’ve wrestled with reality for 35 years, Doctor, and I’m happy to state I finally won out over it.”  Who wouldn’t want that?  If you have a bit of money and you’ve become eccentric enough to believe that your best friend is an invisible 6’3.5″ white rabbit, why shouldn’t you be able to believe that?  After all, that is one of the points of the film – if you aren’t harming anybody (and it’s absolutely clear that Elwood isn’t harming anybody except perhaps the marriage changes of his niece and even those improve dramatically in the course of the film), what does it matter if your reality is skewed from everyone else’s.  I wear a Mythbusters shirt that says “I reject your reality and substitute my own.”

We accept Elwood like this for a few reasons.  The first is that his sister is a bit of a nutter herself, worn down by the stress of trying to provide a social life for her daughter while trying to protect and coddle her brother.  I don’t give Josephine Hull the Nighthawk Award because 1950 is packed to the gills with great acting performances, but I don’t fault the Academy for giving her their award.  She really does a magnificent job of playing someone pushed to the edge, and then pushed over it by what happens when she finally decides to try and have her brother committed.

The second is the performance of Jimmy Stewart.  Like with Hull, he doesn’t get to win my Nighthawk because, after all, this is the same year as Sunset Blvd., but I certainly wouldn’t have faulted the Academy if they had given him the award (it would have been a better choice than Jose Ferrer, who they did give the award to).  In fact, Stewart’s performance is better than his actual Oscar winning performance.  He is so gentle and forthright, he manages to win over everyone he talks to.  You wouldn’t want to lock up Elwood either.

But the third reason is perhaps the most important and it gets back to what I said about Harvey speaking to people.  While the line I quoted above has long been one of my all-time favorite film lines, another line, one which my mother quotes constantly, has become much more important: “Years ago my mother used to say to me, she’d say, ‘In this world, Elwood, you must be’ – she always called me Elwood – ‘In this world, Elwood, you must be oh so smart or oh so pleasant.’ Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant. You may quote me.”  I have always chosen to be smart.  I also, as much as I can, try to choose pleasant.  I also recommend pleasant – it certainly leads to more happiness.  Because he has chosen pleasant is what makes Elwood so charming, winning over everyone he meets.  Yes, he has taken to inviting every random person he meets over for dinner.  Yes, he drinks.  Yes, his best friend is an invisible white rabbit.  But he’s chosen pleasant and that makes him worth having around.

Harvey-FE-1953The Source:

Harvey, a play by Mary Chase  (1944)

Even though the stage was virtually a breeding ground for films in the first half of the century, many of the best plays were failing to become great films.  The Pulitzer Prize for Drama began in 1917, and while several of them had been made into films (some solid, some forgettable), only one film made before 1950 had both won the Pulitzer for Drama and earned **** from me (You Can’t Take It With You).  Harvey is the start of the change for that.  It would be the first of five **** films in the decade made from a Pulitzer winner, and in all of those cases the strength of the film is there in the original play.  These are times when the Pulitzer Committee made good choices.

Harvey is a great play, a good study of a man who has learned such an important lesson about life (see above).  He’s certainly not sane in the traditional sense, but he has reached a meaningful accommodation with reality.  It manages to mix humor with drama in smart and interesting ways, it provides characters who might seem outlandish at times, but are always realistic and who interact with people in understandable ways (even when they have massive misunderstandings that further the plot).

The Adaptation:

The film follows fairly closely to the original play, which is understandable since Mary Chase, the original playwright, was also involved in the screenplay.  There are scenes that open things up, a few extra bits that keep the actions from feeling too confined.  Some lines are re-arranged and the start of the film is slightly different than the start of the play.  But other than that, it is a very close adaptation and those wonderful lines mentioned in my review above are exactly as they were on stage.

The Credits:

Directed by Henry Koster.  From the Pulitzer Prize Play by Mary Chase.  Screenplay by Mary Chase, Oscar Brodney.  The IMDb lists Myles Connolly as an uncredited contributor to the screenplay.

In a Lonely Place

in_a_lonely_placeThe Film:

In a Lonely Place is a very good film in a year filled with a lot of great and very good films.  It is the #12 film on the year.  The year before it would have been #7 and the year before that it would have been #5.  But with so many very good films and so many very excellent scripts, it ends up in sixth place.  It only ends up with two Nighthawk nominations (Actor and Supporting Actress), but I suppose I can be forgiven since the Oscars skipped it entirely.  I think people weren’t quite sure what to make of this film.  It’s a side of Bogie that had surfaced in Treasure of the Sierra Madre but was still very different from the guy they had grown to really love during the war.  It was not a commercial success and I didn’t end up seeing it for the first time until around the time Roger Ebert added it to his Great Movies list.

Director Nicholas Ray is an interesting person.  He is one of those directors who have large swaths of admirers, who think that he was an auteur and that everything he did bore his imprint.  Certainly his best films (In a Lonely Place, Rebel Without a Cause) show a darkness to L.A. that doesn’t shine through in a lot of films.  But others of his films like The Lusty Men and The Big Knife aren’t really as great as their supporters would have you believe.  Ray’s marriage to Gloria Grahame was having problems when he directed her in this and you might think that some of the tension really brought out her performance, but this was in the midst of Grahame’s great performances (Crossfire, The Bad and the Beautiful, The Big Heat), when she was sensuality embodied on legs, so maybe she didn’t need that tension to give the performance.

Grahame plays a young woman called into a police station to vouch for her neighbor’s whereabouts when the woman he brought home with him turns up dead.  She finds him interesting, a screenwriter who we have already seen has a considerable violent side to him.  The violence can rise up out of him at a moment’s notice and he will unleash it on anyone he might think has wronged him.  It’s a testament to the performance of Humphrey Bogart that we continually believe that he couldn’t possibly be guilty of any crime in spite of having seen the violence he’ll unleash.  It’s a testament to the performance of Grahame that we believe that she really would be interested in him when she’s way too beautiful for him, pretty much too tall for him and she has a decent idea that there’s darkness behind his eyes.

This is a movie you might have missed.  Hell, I missed it for a very long time and you could make the argument that at ***.5, I have it rated it too low.  But, if you want to follow the career of Bogie through the years, this is a vital stop and one you absolutely should see.

loaThe Source:

In a Lonely Place by Dorothy B. Hughes (1947)

There’s an interesting bit part-way through In a Lonely Place that would seem a potentially bad line to have in a book of this type but actually works just fine.  The main character (it’s written in third person limited, so we’re just getting his viewpoint) is working on a detective novel, or so he is telling people.  “So that’s what you’re writing,” his friend tells him, once she finds out, “Who you stealing from, Chandler or Hammett or Gardner.”  “Little of each,” he replies, adding “With a touch of Queen and Carr.”  I’ve never read Erle Stanley Gardner or John Dickson Carr and only limited Ellery Queen stories.  But I have read all of Chandler and Hammett and that’s a dangerous comparison to bring up in a book like this and the Chandler reference is especially tricky as this book is set in LA.  And yet, it’s not a problem for the book because Hughes does such a good job with this book, and it is so very different than either the styles of Hammett or Chandler that it reminds us of other mysteries without making it seem like this book owes anything to them.

I read this book, like her Ride a Pink Horse, long after seeing the film, and I read them in the same collection (I wrote this piece earlier than most of the rest of this post so I could finish it before returning the book).  But I was a little disappointed with Horse, which was the jewel of the collection (it’s called Ride the Pink Horse and Two Other Great Mysteries) and was quite impressed with this one.  Perhaps that’s because that book did seem to owe at least a bit to Chandler and Hammett while this book is all its own.  It establishes that early on, on the second page, as Dix Steele, the main character, is watching a girl get off a bus: “She must be coming from work; that meant she descended from the Brentwood bus at this lonely corner every night at – he glanced at the luminous dial of his watch – seven-twenty.  Possibly she had worked late tonight, but that could be checked easily.  More probably she was employed at a studio, close at six, an hour to get home.”

That is a disturbingly creepy line and the creepiness only grows as we start to watch Dix more and more and learn about his thought process.  That all moves forward until it culminates at the end of the first chapter when he goes out to get the paper: “But as soon as he picked up the paper, unfolding it, he forgot why he’d hurried outdoors.  He saw only the headline: Strangler Strikes Again.”

That is the moment where everything really sinks in.  We’re following a serial killer, a man who strangles women, presumably after raping them.  We follow him as he gets close to an old friend who is now a homicide detective and Hughes’ great work in this book means we are following a character who is repulsing us, yet, since we are limited to his thoughts, we, at least on some level, don’t want him to get caught.

Aside from the fact that anyone coming to this book having already seen the movie will be expecting something quite different, it’s disturbing enough to be following him through his cat-and-mouse game, trying not to get caught, but unable to curb his impulses and stop what he is doing (it’s quite clear from the things we learn from other characters that he is incapable of stopping).  All of it works towards a riveting conclusion that is a reminder that when a writer is doing a good enough job we can be fooled by an unreliable narrator even when the book is being written in the third person.

The Adaptation:

Whether you read the book first or see the film first (my guess is the latter), they will remind me you of each other without ever being quite the same.  Both are about a man named Dix Steele, a man with a violent temper who lives in an apartment complex in L.A. and finds himself entranced by the beautiful young woman in a neighboring apartment while at the same time he is renewing a friendship with a local cop that he served with during the war.  But the similarities really end there.  In the book, this is the story of a serial killer and his eventual path towards self-destruction, determined that he can outsmart everybody while in the end, walking straight into the jaws of death.  The film, on the other hand, is simply about a man unable to curb his violent impulses, who is on a different kind of road towards self-destruction, but whose only connection to the death of the young woman that we have seen in his apartment at the beginning of the film is a bizarre coincidence.  How the two also unfold from each other, I won’t say, simply because I really think you should see the film and how it unfolds and I don’t want to ruin that for you.

There were some differences along the way.  The version that Edmund H. North wrote “preserved Steele as a serial strangler, with Laurel as his last victim before he is arrested, while embedding the story (and Bogart’s character more firmly in the Hollywood milieu.  North’s treatment featured a glamorous, film-colony restaurant (inspired by Romanoff’s) and several ‘Hollywood types,’ including a dissolute aging actor, and the harried talent agent who represents Dix.”  (Nicholas Ray: The Glorious Failure of an American Director by Patrick McGilligan, p 182)  There is also a full page description of all the changes that Solt made when he turned North’s original treatment into a full script that includes what aspects he expanded and altered and what he did to soften Bogart’s character.  I won’t quote it in full because it’s too long and because I think you should see the film, but it takes up all of page 183 in McGilligan’s book.

This also has a BFI Film Classics book, which goes a lot more in-detail on the adaptation process and the differences between the book and the film.

The Credits:

Directed by  Nicholas Ray.  Screen Play by Andrew Solt.  Adaptation by Edmund H. North.  Based upon a story by Dorothy B. Hughes.

Cinderella

cinderellaThe Film:

When I ranked all the official Disney Animated Films five years ago, this came in 13th.  It would be lower today because they have released several great films since then.  This film just can’t quite make the leap into greatness and I always have to ask myself why.  A classic song that enters your brain and you don’t mind?  Check (“Bibbidy-Bobbidi-Boo”).  Great animal characters that aren’t so cutesy as to be annoying?  Check.  A sweet-hearted girl who ends up becoming a princess?  Check.  So why is Cinderella always stuck as a ***.5 film when Snow White and Sleeping Beauty are ****?  I think the answer is this: there just isn’t very much of a story here.

Think about it.  A girl’s mother dies, her father remarries a horrible woman with two horrible daughters and he dies.  She is treated badly.  Then there’s a ball and she goes and dances with the prince, she loses the glass slipper and he finds her and happily ever after.  Not much happens in this film.  There’s a reason that, even with several songs, it only runs 75 minutes, and in a good portion of that, we’re just watching Cinderella’s miserable life or her flight from the ball.

None of that is really meant to be a complaint.  Cinderella was a return towards the greatness that Disney had achieved with its first few feature films and it almost reaches ****.  It’s an acknowledged classic.  It has what is probably the second best song from a pre-1989 Disney film.  In Gus, it has one of the most lovable animal characters from a Disney film.

belleThe Source:

Cendrillon ou la petite pantoufle de verre” by Charles Perrault  (1697)

If the film feels a bit light perhaps it’s because the original story is quite light.  In my Annotated Classic Fairy Tales, it runs 15 pages but, between illustrations there are only about seven pages of text.  It does at least get right down to the story: the ball is announced in only the fourth paragraph.  It is a nice little story, with the magic present and a happy ending.  It’s not just a happy ending for Cinderella, but for everyone: “Cinderella, who was as kind as she was beautiful, let the two sisters live in the palace and had them married, on the very same day, to two noblemen at the court.”

The Adaptation:

It’s very important to note the credits in this film.  They based this tale on the Cinderella story by Perrault, not the one by the Brothers Grimm.  That means we do get actually get a happy ending for all, with the two stepsisters simply unable to get their feet into the slipper.  Maria Tatar, in her introduction, notes the differences between this version and the Grimms: “The Grimms delight in describing the blood in the shoes of the stepsisters, who try to slice off their heels and toes in order to get a perfect fit.  The German version also gives us a far less compassionate Cinderella, one who does not forgive her stepsisters but invites them to her wedding, where doves peck out their eyes.”

Because this is based on the Perrault version, things follow closer to the original tale.  One major difference is that the father is still alive in the tale (“The poor child endured everything with patience.  She didn’t dare complain to her father, who would have scolded her, for he was completely under the thumb of his wife.”) but then pretty much disappears.  There are also, as Tatar notes in one of her annotations, differences in the animals used: “The Disney version of Cinderella substitutes a horse and a dog for the rat and the lizards of Perrault’s story.”  Other than that though, with some extra embellishments of Cinderella’s life before the ball, the Disney film follows the Perrault tale fairly well.

The Credits:

Directors: Wilfred Jackson, Hamilton Luske, Clyde Geronimi.  From the Original Classic by Charles Perrault.  Story: William Peed, Ted Sears, Homer Brightman, Kenneth Anderson, Erdman Penner, Winston Hibler, Harry Reeves, Joe Rinaldi.  The IMDb lists Maurice Rapf as an uncredited writer.

Broken Arrow

broken_arrowThe Film:

Watching Broken Arrow again for the first time in a very long time, I am afraid I greatly under-estimated it.  They talk about movies with a social conscience sometimes being ahead of their time, but this story was ahead of its time just in existing when it happened back in the 1860’s.  The film is a considerably fictionalized account of the relationship between Tom Jeffords, a former Army scout now prospecting in the Arizona Territory, and Cochise, the leader of the Apaches who lead his tribe in making peace with the Americans that were encroaching further and further into his land.

Some of what is portrayed is true, of course, including that Jeffords and Cochise helped pave the way for peace.  Other parts (the romance) was invented for the novel upon which the film is based.  But none of it matters when you sit and watch the film itself.

Jimmy Stewart stars as Jeffords, a man who is tired of killing and seeing people killed, and when he comes upon a wounded Apache boy, he helps nurse him back to health.  This ends up providing him an inroad to the Apache nation and he decides to use that road to make things easier for the mail to get through on its way to California.  He’s an honorable man, determined to do what he can, but not afraid to back down.  His refusal to back down to the prejudices of the white settlers almost sees him at the end of a rope but that does not stop him.  People who look at Stewart as corny, with that voice of his, miss the full range of his acting ability.  Look at 1950, where he can play a goofy guy who ends up in a mess (The Jackpot), a gentle pleasant man who happens to have an invisible large white rabbit for a best friend (Harvey), a man who is determined to find peace, both for the people around him and for his inner soul, no matter the cost (Broken Arrow) and a man hell-bent for revenge (Winchester ’73).  Because that final film is the better film of his two Westerns in the year, I had down-graded this one in my head, but the message of the film doesn’t get in the way of the performances from Stewart or Jeff Chandler (as Cochise).

This film works as well as it does because it doesn’t let the message get in the way of the film itself.  It is well-directed, the script flows smoothly, establishing Jeffords’ character before we watch him work at what he can do, and when we get to the brutal climax, that we can understand why both Jeffords and Cochise respond the way that they do, it is a measure of the intelligence of the script.

bloodbrotherThe Source:

Blood Brother by Elliott Arnold  (1947)

This book is not history.  Arnold is quite clear about that in his introduction, noting that the main details are true, “a number of the smaller details in the book also are true, but they have been woven into the fictitious episodes of the story” and that while the male characters where real and he uses real names, “the women characters were invented.”

This book is not your standard Western.  It is not about a man coming to the West and taming it, or adventures in the west.  It’s a historical novel about the real events that helped produce peace between Cochise and the white settles in the Arizona territory, at least until Geronimo started causing his own problems (touched on at the end of the film).  It is well-written and thoughtfully laid out, even if it is a bit long and definitely could have used some trimming along the way.  It is, thankfully, currently in print, and for anyone who has interest in the history of Arizona or the history of the conflict between Native Americans and white American settlers or the Apaches, it is definitely worth a read.  The copy I read also had some beautiful illustrations.  These aren’t silly illustrations like I mention down below in Father of the Birde, but beautiful painted woodcuts, so if you get a chance, try to find the version illustrated by Dale Nichols.

The Adaptation:

The film takes the basic story idea from the book (the making of peace with Cochise) as well as the primary character of Jeffords, as well as some smaller incidents, and makes use of them.  But most of the film is actually completely invented.  If the book was historical fiction, this film veers much farther away.  The whole story that begins the film (the healing of the Apache boy) never happens and Jeffords isn’t involved in the peace process until much later and his romance with the Apache woman is an add-on to the action rather than something that helps spur his actions.  Even her death scene is completely different, as the racist character who spurs on that action doesn’t exist in the book.  So, while the film is quite good, don’t look for it to be an accurate representation of the book.

The Credits:

Directed by Delmar Daves.  Screen Play by Albert Maltz.  Based on a Novel by Elliott Arnold.  Those are the credits on the current DVD.  They are clearly changed, since Michael Blankfort was the original credited writer and was the person who received the Oscar nomination, but he was a front for Maltz.

Consensus Nominees That Don’t Make My List:

 

Annie Get Your Gun

annie_get_your_gunThe Film:

I have never been a big fan of Ethel Merman.  That being said, watching Annie Get Your Gun, as we build to that great song, by far the best song in the musical, the one that everyone knows to the point where they probably don’t even know what musical it came from, and suddenly Betty Hutton just dies right there on the screen, barely even whispering the words and then somehow bringing it to a very unsatisfying finish, I was almost screaming, “bring me Ethel Merman!”  It’s not 100% Hutton’s fault – some of that blame must be laid on the feet of George Sidney, who clearly decided that a slow start to the song was the way to do it.  But it all depends on how you want to do it.  Nathan Lane, here, gives a slow start to the actual song and it works just great.  Or you can punch it with sheer bombast like Merman does and it becomes a rousing chorus.  But if you do what Hutton does in the film version of Annie Get Your Gun, it sends the film slamming to a halt and is a reminder that this was a terrible casting decision.

It has long been an unfortunate decision to re-cast the female lead of a play when moving it to film while keeping the male lead, because it’s expected in Hollywood for the female lead to be beautiful while on Broadway they appreciate great acting.  Sometimes that’s not a bad thing – with all due respect to Jessica Tandy, I can’t imagine she would have given the performance that Vivian Leigh gives in Streetcar – but sometimes it’s a horrible mistake and this is definitely one of those times.

If it would just be this song it would be bad enough, since it’s by far the best song in the musical, but Hutton’s entire performance is completely flat.  She was never a particularly good actress and you don’t find her any more believable as a hillbilly shooting birds to eat than you do as the performer in the show.  There are other problems as well – “Anything You Can Do” is a great idea but a frankly, really annoying song, and Louis Calhern is even a worse casting mistake as Buffalo Bill than Hutton is as Annie Okaley – but the film has to rise or fall on the strengths of Hutton, and in spite of a Golden Globe nomination for her, it mostly falls.

The sad thing is, this almost didn’t happen.  The original cast included Judy Garland as Annie and her Wizard Frank Morgan as Bill.  But, after filming the first number, Morgan died, and afterwards Garland feuded with musical director Busby Berkeley and ended up getting herself canned.  Ah, if only we could have seen what a Garland / Morgan team could have produced.

The Source:

Annie Get Your Gun by Irving Berlin  (1946)

The idea of doing a Western musical is a mixed one.  On the one hand, it’s a type of story that resists the idea to break into song and express something (American musical theater still wasn’t really grasping the idea of using a song to move the story along), but on the other hand, Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show was all about entertainment, so this kind of thing might work after all.  And, with a show-stopper like “There’s No Business Like Show Business” to light up the middle of the show (and to be reprised to conclude the show) and a real go-getter like “Anything You Can Do”, it’s enough to keep a lot of people happy.  It’s never worked well for me, but it was certainly successful enough on stage – hell, “Business” became the number of Ethel Merman to belt out for the rest of her life.  Not having ever seen it on stage (partially because I don’t really like most of the songs), I would think a strong Annie and Bill would make for a nice night out, which is more than the film gives you.

The Adaptation:

Like so many musicals (get ready to hear this line a lot over the next 20 years of Adapted Screenplay posts), some of the songs from the original musical were cut for the film.  I don’t know if film producers decide the shows are too long, want to get in too many other things or if there are just songs they decide aren’t really good enough to bother with including them in the film.  But most of the rest of the musical made it intact on the screen.

The Credits:

Directed by George Sidney.  Screen Play by Sidney Sheldon.  Music and Lyrics by Irving Berlin.  Book by Herbert Fields and Dorothy Fields.  Based on the Musical Play.  Produced on the Stage by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein, II.

Born Yesterday

bornThe Film:

As a Best Picture nominee (undeservedly), I have already reviewed this film.  As a film, it’s certainly decent.  But it always aggravates me (and most serious film fans) because this is the film that won a Best Actress Oscar for Judy Holliday in the same year as All About Eve and Sunset Blvd.

bornThe Source:

Born Yesterday by Garson Kanin  (1946)

Born Yesterday is a charming enough play, a relic of its time both in the way it presents the romance, but also in the way it presents a view of unsullied democracy.  It’s the story of three people.  The first, Brock, is a bully of a man (“Gross is the word for him” read the stage directions), a crook and businessman who has moved up in business and now wants to cash in with the government as well and has moved himself to Washington for that purpose.  The second is Billie.  “Billie is breathtakingly beautiful and breathtakingly stupid.”  She’s Brock’s girl and over the course of the play she will find independence from him and some romance with Paul.  Paul is the young, idealistic reporter who comes to interview Brock, whom Brock starts to like and pays him to teach Billie not to be so stupid, so she can fit into Washington society.  If that’s the case, then, of course Billie isn’t so much stupid as ignorant, but never mind.  Billie and Paul fall in love, of course and you wonder how long it will last (they walk off together in the play but in the film we actually see that they’ve gotten married) and part of the reason they’re able to walk off is Billie getting the upper hand on Brock in multiple ways.  One of those includes the crooked deal he’s in town to make with a congressman, the proof of which she gives to Paul, who then ends the play with a nice little speech about the importance of our American ideals.  It smacks even more of being preached to in the film, where he doesn’t just talk about them, but drags Billie around to every important sight in Washington.

The Adaptation:

Before I get into the adaptation, there is the matter of credit.  The screen credit for the script goes to Albert Mannheimer, and you would think, from the alterations to the play, that he was the one who made the changes.  You, however, would apparently be wrong:

The first draft of the script for the film was done by Albert Mannheimer, who presumably worked on the assumption that a screenwriter is not exercising his own creativity unless he makes significant alterations in the work that he is adapting to the screen. Cukor recalls taking one look at this version of the screenplay and turning it down flat, since the writer had jettisoned some excellent material in Kanin’s play. (George Cukor by Gene D. Phillips, p 109)

When people talk about the process of adapting a play into a film, the phrase you are most likely to see is “open up” (or, in the quote below, “open out”).  That’s a phrase that I use a lot and it involves adding things on screen that wouldn’t be possible (or would be a real pain) to do on stage.  If you watch the first forty minutes of this film closely, you might admire Cukor’s work, but you would realize it isn’t opened up.  There are a lot of cuts and a lot of camera movement to disguise the fact that forty minutes go by (essentially the first act of the play) and you’ve never left the hotel room.  Some lines are dropped, some are changed, but basically, the first act is there, intact, on screen.

But then we enter the second act and oh boy do things open up.  Suddenly, we are out of the hotel room (the entire play takes place in the hotel room) and heading out among all the most important tourist destinations in Washington, and with reason:

Kanin, who received no screen credit as well as no fee for composing the final shooting script for Born Yesterday, did more than simply restore the goodies that Mannheimer had excised from the play. Taking his cue from references in the original dialogue to several Washington landmarks that Billie mentions visiting, he opened out the play by constructing several scenes that were filmed on locations at these very sites. (Phillips, p 109)

These scenes also served to dramatize more vividly than was feasible within the confines of the stage the way in which Billie’s systematic tour of the city’s historic monuments enables her for the very first time in her life to discover for herself America’s rich and meaningful past, and consequently to see Harry’s crass attempts to manipulate elected government officials for his own aggrandizement as a perversion of the democratic principles on which this country was founded. (Phillips, p 109-110)

Nowhere is that more evident than at the climax of the film.  It’s both the same (Billie and Paul go off together after she gives him the evidence of Brock’s crooked deal) and very different (she isn’t hit in the play and there is no tension to Paul getting out in time with the evidence).  But what Philips is talking about is primarily the scene where Billie, after being hit, goes over to the Jefferson Memorial and is inspired to walk out on Brock.  There’s nothing like that moment in the play.

The Credits:

Directed by George Cukor.  From the play by Garson Kanin.  Screen Play by Albert Mannheimer.  The IMDb lists Kanin with an uncredited screenplay revision, though the Phillips book makes it clear he did more than that.

Father of the Bride

FatheroftheBride1950The Film:

Again, an undeserving nominee.  You can read more about why this is such here.  I disliked it more as I was watching it for that project and it was reflected in the review.  One commenter thought I was too harsh, then when he got through the film, ended up mostly agreeing with me.

father-of-the-bride-9781476799292_hrThe Source:

Father of the Bride by Edward Streeter  (1949)

This book reminded me very much of Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, which I reviewed in the 1948 post.  It’s not just that it’s a comedy about the problems that befall the mostly upper crust of society.  In both books, the people want to not think of themselves as too rich because of some money issues (in Blandings, it’s the cost of all the repairs to the house, in this book, it’s the cost of the wedding and how many people can be invited).  But, and I write this having lived an entire life in the middle class and never having to worry too much about money, these people have a lot of money and the things they worry about are just ridiculous.  They are the type of people who originally read the New Yorker, those who aren’t quite rich enough to be elites in New York, but would be considered pretty damn well off most other places.  The other thing that really reminded me of Blandings were the illustrations.  Yes, the book is illustrated, in that kind of James Thurber style, and the very fact that it is illustrated kept me from taking it too seriously.  Or perhaps that it’s just not very good.  Or maybe it’s supposed to be a satire, but I saw it as an upper-crust comedy and if it was satire, well, it didn’t seem to be digging too much into its subject.  Or, to put it another way, it annoyed me just as much as the film but without the detriment of Spencer Tracy’s least deserving Oscar nomination.

The Adaptation:

“In Streeter’s book, Stanley’s bad dream is mild and innocuous, amounting to being dressed in clothes that don’t fit. But, significantly, in Minnelli’s film, the nightmare is much harsher, showing a man who’s completely lost, debased, and out of control. ”  (Vincente Minnelli: Hollywood’s Darkest Dreamer by Emanuel Levy, p 203)

That is true.  Also, in the book, Kathy is supposed to be 24, whereas she seems much younger in the film (partially because Elizabeth Taylor was only 17 when it was filmed – I would object to her playing the bride if not for the fact that she got married right around the time of the release of the film).  Most of the film comes straight from the book.

The Credits:

Directed by Vincente Minnelli.  Screenplay by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett.  Based on the Novel by Edward Streeter.

WGA Nominees That Don’t Make My List:

 

The Jackpot

The_Jackpot_-_1950-_PosterThe Film:

Jimmy Stewart gets a phone call asking if he will be home to listen to a radio show because his name has been pulled at random to be a contestant.  He doesn’t believe it at first and accuses his friends of setting him up.  But it’s a real show and he’s got a chance to win a jackpot of $24,000.  Of course he will win it, because if he doesn’t then we don’t have a movie.  But the real drama (and comedy) will come after he wins it and all the problems that will set in.

How good you think this film is may depend on how entertaining (or dramatic) you find all the things that befall Stewart and his family after they win.  I give this film a 67, which is a lower-midrange *** film (it ranks at #66 in the year, just one spot above Born Yesterday if you need a comparison), so that should give you an idea of what I think of it.  Too much of what happens just seems contrived (and when I read the story and saw what happened in the original piece it proves how right I was when I thought it was contrived – it was contrived by the screenwriters).  Yes, there are questions and some humor that will arise when part of your “jackpot” turns out to be 7500 cans of soup.  What the hell do you do with 7500 cans of soup?  But that this kind of thing would eventually lead to him maybe quitting his job and definitely punching his boss in the jaw and knocking him cold, and will lead to a scene where a lawyer shows up and both husband and wife think that the other one has hired a divorce lawyer, well, then we’ve just kind of entered ridiculous land.

All of this is kept from going off the rails by Jimmy Stewart.  Now, this is the same year that Stewart was starring in Harvey, Winchester ’73 and Broken Arrow, so we’re definitely getting lightweight Stewart in this film compared to his other work.  But he’s so darn likable and he manages to keep it grounded in reality, even when it’s getting ridiculous and there is a tendency to root for Stewart no matter what.  Besides, this is Hollywood in 1950 and we know there’s a happy ending coming our way, so it’s hard to get too down when we hear things headed towards divorce court.  In the end, it’s just another lightweight comedy and one that didn’t actually deserve a writing nomination.

Doubleday & Company, Inc. 1957 Tony Palladino

Doubleday & Company, Inc. 1957
Tony Palladino

The Source:

“The Jackpot” by John McNulty  (1949)

It’s hard to tell from reading this piece if it was non-fiction or fiction.  The credit in the film version makes it seem like it’s a slice-of-life non-fiction piece and there is certainly nothing in the piece itself that makes it seem to be either one or the other.  It’s the story of a man who wins a jackpot on a radio show and the problems the ensue afterwards, mostly involving getting rid of all the things (including, among other things, 7500 cans of Campbell’s soup) and actually trying to get some cash out of all of it (it’s a $24,000 jackpot, but almost none of it involves actual money).  There is some humor in the piece but in the end, the poor family does manage to get some advantages out of it: “That drops the total down to fifty-seven hundred and eighty.  Boy!  What a hell of a drop from the twenty-four-thousand-dollar jackpot!  But what am I kicking about?  The television was swell last night.  The station wagon is a honey, and the two kids love it as much as Jane and I do.”

The Adaptation:

This is another of those examples where the basic premise, and even much of the early part of the film comes directly from the original story.  The man wins the jackpot and the family then has to deal with the outcome of it.  However, things get much more complicated in the film, and when divorce lawyers are potentially being called and the job is in jeopardy, things have taken a different turn.  The original piece kept things light, and while they might have had some amusing difficulties, there was never anything particularly serious at stake.  One other thing they decided to change is that the original piece uses real names (Columbia Broadcasting System, Campbell’s soups) which lends credence to the notion that it was a non-fiction piece, and the film changes all of those to fake brands.

The Credits:

Directed by Walter Lang.  Screen Play by Phoebe and Henry Ephron.  Based on an Article in the New Yorker by John McNulty.

Rio Grande

Poster - Rio Grande (1950)_01The Film:

And so we come to the conclusion of the Cavalry Trilogy.  They are solid films, enjoyable films, directed with flair by John Ford because he was so much at home with the the genre and the stories.  They are loved by many but for me they are simply good entertainment – not good enough to merit any Nighthawk Awards discussion but on the high range of ***.

The irony with this film is that John Wayne is the main reason to enjoy it and I’m not a Wayne fan in any way.  Here he gives a smart, assured performance.  You really believe that he is the type of man who would live this kind of life, out on the edge of the wild, yet living his life with honor.  He knew he had no business being a husband and a father, so he wasn’t, but now here comes those roles back into his life.  At the same time, comes a dangerous mission that is not be put in writing because it goes against current standing orders.

Yet, that mission, while occupying much of the last third of the film and providing the dramatic content around which all of the tensions end up getting resolved really takes a back seat to the relationships in this film.  I have written before that Ford meanders a lot in these films, that he is obsessed with showing the life of the cavalry.  Here he perhaps does it the best because the relationships really come through.  It’s held down by the acting (when John Wayne gives your best acting performance you’re not really in the realm of great acting), though lifted up with gorgeous vistas beautifully photographed.  The story does get a bit pedestrian when they want to throw too much into it (there’s a subplot about the nice young Southern boy who is wanted for manslaughter) but for the most part it is what it is – a nice enjoyable Western, nowhere near the classic status of some of Ford’s other Westerns, but well worth your time.

The Source:

“Mission with No Record” by James Warner Bellah  (1947)

Well, this is certainly an improvement over “Massacre”, the story that was the basis for the first of the Cavalry Trilogy, Fort Apache.  There’s less of the racism.  This is actually a solid story, a short thing about an officer whose son has been bounced from West Point and who has enlisted and ended up in his father’s outfit.  On top of that, there is a mission where the troop is sent across the Rio Grande for a mission that is to be off the record.  By the end of the mission, both father and son have been wounded and have managed to find peace with each other.

The Adaptation:

“It was understood that Ford’s first film for Republic would be a Western, so Ford and Cooper plucked another James Warner Bellah cavalry story from their files. The title was ‘Mission with No Record,’ and this time Ford stuck closer to the material than he had with Fort Apache and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, where he had added and extrapolated freely. … Ford made only one major change to the story that ended up as Rio Grande, and it was crucial. He changed the name of the character from Mazzarin to Kirby Yorke – the same character that had served with such distinction under the foolish Owen Thursday in Fort Apache.” (Print the Legend: The Life and Times of John Ford by Scott Eyman, p 366-367)

That comment either proves that Eyman didn’t read the story itself or that he wasn’t paying much attention.  The film, as mentioned above, is really a relationship film more than it is about the actual mission.  The story is all about the mission with the relationship forming almost a framing device for a bit of emotion at the beginning and end.  The main reason that the relationships come to the forefront of the film is because of the presence of the mother / wife, who, by the way, isn’t in the story at all.  Given how vital she is to the growing relationship between father and son, how much she is involved in the other actions that take place before the mission (notably the question of guilt over the soldier accused of manslaughter), she is a key component to the film.  To suggest that her addition to the story isn’t a major change is just ridiculous.  It’s the key thing that transforms the film into something with a similar plot to the original story but a much different tone.

Aside from the addition of the mother, there are the other parts of the story that take place between the initial discovery of the colonel’s son being part of the unit and the actual mission.  All of those are additions to the film that weren’t part of the original story; the story pretty much involves them leaving almost immediately after the discovery of the son’s presence – indeed the colonel has actually already been told of the mission before he knows about his son, something that doesn’t happen until much later in the film.

Ford’s Cavalry Trilogy doesn’t work as well for me as it does for big fans of Westerns because he’s so determined to dive into the life of the cavalry unit.  But there’s no question that Ford brings much more of a human element than was ever available in the original Bellah stories.

The Credits:

Directed by John Ford.  Screen Play by James Kevin McGuinness.  Based on a Saturday Evening Post Story by James Warner Bellah.

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

  • Crisis  –  Richard Brooks, who was already a successful writer, for the screen and not, makes his directorial debut with this story adapted from the short story “The Doubters” by George Tabori.  It’s a high level *** film.
  • The Furies  –  Not Anthony Mann’s best Western of 1950 (that would be Winchester ’73, which was my #7 on my list for Original Screenplay), but still quite good.  Based on the novel.
  • Pink String and Sealing Wax  –  An early Ealing Drama, this was the solo directorial debut of Robert Hamer, anticipating some of his work on It Always Rains on Sunday.  This was from 1945, but was just now getting a U.S. release.
  • House by the River  –  It’s Fritz Lang and it’s noir, but the cast is a far cry from his other films and so it’s only ***.  Based on the novel.
  • Gun Crazy  –  A rather unique script, in that it was written by a former National Book Award winner (Dalton Trumbo) and a future Pulitzer Prize winner (MacKinlay Kantor), based on a story Kantor had written for the Saturday Evening Post.  In the film Trumbo, this is one of the scripts written for Frank King.
  • Young Man with a Horn  –  Kirk Douglas shines in this Michael Curtiz film based on the novel.
  • Where the Sidewalk Ends  –  Not the Shel Silverstein classic, but an Otto Preminger noir film based on the novel Night Cry.
  • Mister 880  –  Edmund Gwenn won the Globe and earned an Oscar nomination for this film and I spent years trying to find it before TCM finally showed it at one point.  Based on the true story of an elderly counterfeiter (played by Gwenn).
  • Morning Departure  –  Sold British naval drama, based on the stage play and known in the States as Operation Disaster.
  • Cyrano de Bergerac  –  Jose Ferrer won the Oscar over Holden and Stewart for this version of the Rostand play.  He’s good, but no way should he have won over those two.
  • The Breaking Point  –  The more faithful version of To Have and Have Not that proves that Hawks and Faulkner were right to jettison most of the book.
  • The Rocking Horse Winner  –  Film adaptation of what might be D.H. Lawrence’s best short story and is certainly his most famous.  This was released in the U.K. in 1949.
  • King Solomon’s Mines  –  A Best Picture nominee, and thus already reviewed by me here.  Deborah Kerr and the shots of Africa look gorgeous but it lacks the real adventure of Haggard’s original novel.
  • Destination Moon  –  Solid early George Pal sci-fi film from the Heinlein novel Rocketship Galileo.  Deservedly, the Oscar winner for Visual Effects.
  • Les Parents Terribles  –  Jean Cocteau’s weakest film, adapted from his own stage play.
  • No Man of Her Own  –  Barbara Stanwyck melodrama based on the novel I Married a Dead Man by Cornell Woolrich.
  • The Red Danube  –  Based on the novel Vespers in Vienna, this is about yanking Soviet ex-pats back to the USSR from Vienna.
  • The Lawless  –  Daniel Mainwaring wrote the script for this Joseph Losey film, based on his own short story “The Voice of Stephen Wilder”.
  • Riding High  –  You’ll look at this silly racetrack musical and wonder how it could be directed and written by the multiple Oscar winning team of Frank Capra and Robert Riskin.  It’s based on a story by Mark Hellinger, but he was a film producer, so that might just mean a screen story, in which case this would count as original.
  • Trio  –  The second of three British anthology films, all of which were based on Somerset Maugham short stories.
  • Three Came Home  –  Based on the memoir of a woman who was interned by the Japanese in Borneo during World War II.
  • Bright Leaf  –  With Michael Curtiz directing Gary Cooper and Lauren Bacall you would expect something more than this dreary tale about tobacco based on the novel but you would be wrong.
  • Captain Carey, U.S.A.  –  Based on the novel No Surrender, this Alan Ladd thriller takes place in post-war Italy.  Low-level ***.
  • Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye  –  Now we’re into **.5 range, which is surprising since this crime film, based on the novel, stars James Cagney.  One of the most forgettable films he ever made.
  • The Black Rose  –  This 13th Century adventure has Orson Welles so you’d be suckered into thinking it’s worth it, but Tyrone Power is the star, so it’s not.  Based on the novel by Thomas B. Costain.
  • Nancy Goes to Rio  –  This remake of the 1940 film It’s a Date was written by Sidney Sheldon years before he became one of the better selling novelists on the planet.  It has Carmen Miranda and not much else to recommend it.
  • The Magnificent Yankee  –  I can’t complain too much about Ferrer’s Oscar when at least he was good.  Luis Calhern is not particularly good in this biopic of Oliver Wendell Holmes, based on the play, and he was nominated over Richard Widmark, Sterling Hayden and Humphrey Bogart (all in films in my Top 8).  I can’t believe it’s from the same director who would later make Bad Day at Black Rock, The Magnificent Seven and The Great Escape.
  • The Sound of Fury  –  Adapted from the novel The Condemned, this was inspired by the same story that inspired Fritz Lang’s Fury but that film was really good and this is really mediocre.
  • Edge of Doom  –  God help us, it’s Dana Andrews as a priest in this lurid film based on the novel.  You can skip it.
  • Gone to Earth  –  Powell and Pressburger adapting the novel by Mary Webb should have been solid, but David O. Selznick was involved and it starred his wife, Jennifer Jones, so this is one of their most forgettable productions.
  • Cheaper by the Dozen  –  Ridiculously silly film based on the book by two siblings about growing up with 10 other siblings.
  • Samson and Delilah  –  Somewhat based on the Book of Judges from the Bible and somewhat on the historical novel Samson the Nazirite by Ze’ev Jabotinsky, this DeMille film was famously derided by Groucho Marx (“No picture can hold my interest where the leading man’s tits are bigger than the leading lady’s.”) and Victor Mature is about as good as always.
  • Wabash Avenue  –  Betty Grable and Victor Mature in a musical.  It’s a remake of Coney Island, from 1943.  We’re down to low-level **.5 now.
  • Stars in My Crown  –  Based on the preachy novel, it’s a Western about a preacher who tames an unruly town.
  • For Heaven’s Sake  –  Adapted from the play May We Come In?, Clifton Webb stars as an angel trying to save a marriage.  If you want to watch that plot, go watch The Bishop’s Wife.
  • Dark City  –  Charlton Heston’s screen debut, this is a ** film.  It might also be original, because the “story” was written by the screenwriter and was the original title of the film.
  • No Orchids for Miss Blandish  –  Actually a 1948 British film, but released in the U.S. in 1950, and, at a low **, the worst film I’ve seen from the year, and thus reviewed in full in the Nighthawk Awards.  It’s based on the novel by James Hadley Chase, supposedly influenced by James M. Cain, which makes sense, because the film is written like a very bad Cain novel.

 

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