"But the moment my eyes locked onto hers in that dark grove, I knew I couldn't leave there until I had killed him."

“But the moment my eyes locked onto hers in that dark grove, I knew I couldn’t leave there until I had killed him.”

My Top 10:

  1. Rashomon
  2. The Bad and the Beautiful
  3. Miss Julie
  4. The Man in the White Suit
  5. The Quiet Man
  6. A Christmas Carol
  7. The Card
  8. Sudden Fear
  9. Moulin Rouge
  10. Carrie

Note:  There is a good argument to include High Noon here, which would win the Consensus if it was included (WGA Award, Oscar and Globe nominee).  I made a decision, however, when I did my 1952 Nighthawk Awards that I would not include High Noon as an Adapted Screenplay. Though it is listed in its credits as being based on the story “The Tin Star”, the real story behind it is that Foreman wrote the script and then it was discovered that a story existed with a similar plot, so they bought the rights to it just so there were no problems. The basic gist of the story, an outlaw returning on a train to face down a marshall, is the same. But almost nothing else is, including the history of the marshall, in regards to being married and the woman his deputy is currently sleeping with. So, High Noon isn’t listed here.

Consensus Nominees:

  1. Five Fingers  (144 pts)
  2. The Bad and the Beautiful  (120 pts)
  3. The Quiet Man  (120 pts)
  4. The Man in the White Suit  /  Moulin Rouge  /  Come Back Little Sheba  /  Room for One More  /  Where’s Charley  /  The Happy Time  (40 pts)

note:  Because only three films earned more than 40 points, we have a big tie for last place among the Consensus nominees, the first of which received an Oscar nom and the rest of which were WGA nominees.

Oscar Nominees  (Best Screenplay):

  • The Bad and the Beautiful
  • Five Fingers
  • The Man in the White Suit
  • The Quiet Man

note:  High Noon, the fifth nominee, is covered above.

Golden Globe Nominees:

  • Five Fingers

note:  The other two nominees, High Noon and The Thief, were original scripts.

WGA Awards:

Drama:

  • The Bad and the Beautiful
  • Come Back Little Sheba
  • Five Fingers
  • Moulin Rouge

Nominees that are Original:  High Noon

Comedy:

  • The Quiet Man
  • The Happy Time
  • Room for One More

Nominees that are Original:  The Marrying Kind, Pat and Mike

Musical:

  • Where’s Charley

Nominees that are Original:  Singin’ in the Rain, Hans Christian Anderson, I’ll See You in My Dreams, With a Song in My Heart

My Top 10

Rashomon
(羅生門)

RASHOMON - American Poster 2The Film:

“Come on Homer.  Japan will be fun.  You liked Rashomon.”  “That’s not how I remember it.”

I have already reviewed this film.  But, I should remind you that if you have never seen this film, it is one of the most important and greatest films ever made.  It is the film that made Kurosawa a name in the West, the film that helped break Japanese cinema into American theaters.  It made the word Rashomon a search for truth that can never be answered.  It made Toshiro Mifune into an international star.  There are few films in the history of cinema which match up to its power, its beauty, its poetry.

rashomon-penguinThe Source:

Rashomon”  (1915) and “In a Bamboo Grove” by Ryunosuke Akutagawa  (1921)

While mainly known to Western readers for these two stories, and those mostly because of their use for this film, Ryunosuke Akutagawa is well-known as one of the most important Japanese authors.  His stories are read at all levels and continue to be widely hailed (in his introduction to the Penguin Classics edition of his stories, Haruki Murakami compares him to Melville or Fitzgerald, but given the description that Murakami has of the way he is read it seems to me the most apt American comparison is Hawthorne).  All of the stories in the Penguin collection are well-written and most of them are moving (a few are even quite funny).  These are the first two in the collection, not because of their fame, but because the collection is done roughly chronologically, based around the eras in which the stories take place.  Both of these stories hearken back to the Heian Period (794-1185).

The first story is that of a lowly servant seeking shelter in the Rashomon gate, “the great southern main entrance to Kyoto during the golden age of the imperial court, the Heian Period … The broad Suzaku Avenue running north from the Rashomon led straight to the gate of the Imperial Palace, where lived the tiny, aesthetically refined fraction of the populace depicted in the country’s greatest literary monument, Murasaki Shikibu’s The Tale of Genji.”  (note from translator Jay Rubin in Rashomon and Seventeen Other Stories, p 237)  He fills himself with self-loathing about the possibility of becoming a thief to prevent himself from starving, then, watching a woman steal hair from a corpse to survive, he robs the woman, feeling he must do what he needs to survive.

“In a Bamboo Grove” is the story that most people today think of when they are thinking about Rashomon.  It is the story of the death of a samurai and we are given several different accounts of how the samurai may have died, with the brilliance that none of them are presented as being definitive.  Did the bandit kill him?  Did the wife kill him?  Did the samurai kill himself?  All admit to it.  Who do you believe?  It makes it one of the all-time great short stories.

The Adaptation:

“The film is based, loosely, upon two of Akutagawa’s hundred-odd short stories: the title story, ‘Rashomon’ and ‘In a Grove’ – which gave the film its plot, or plots. The title story has little in it that Kurosawa used, except the general description of the ruined gate, the conversation about the devastation of Kyoto during the period of civil wars, and the atmosphere of desolation … Kurosawa’s most significant addition (besides that of the abandoned baby in the last scenes) is the introduction of the character of the commoner, a cynical yet inquisitive man, whose questions and disbelief act as a commentary upon all the various versions of the story.” (Rashomon, Donald Richie, ed. (it’s his Introduction that is quoted), p 2-3)

Richie really does sum it up quite well, which makes sense since Richie was the foremost American scholar on anything having to do with Japanese film (he wrote several books on the subject including the great reference book The Films of Akira Kurosawa).  The first story provides the title, the second the plot, and then Kurosawa added some of his own details.

The Credits:

Directed by Akira Kurosawa.  Based on “In a Grove” by Ryunosuke Akutagawa.  Screenplay by Akira Kurosawa and Shinobu Hashimoto.
Note on the Credits:  For foreign language films (like Miss Julie, below) I generally try to enter the credits precisely as they appear on film.  That only works with Latin script.  WordPress doesn’t even have the long vowel sound that appears in the word Rashomon.  So, for Japanese films, and any other film I am forced to rely on subtitles.  In this case, they are the subtitles from the Criterion DVD release of Rashomon.  The IMDb lists “Developed by Sôjirô Motoki” under the writing credits.

The Bad and the Beautiful

bad3The Film:

I reviewed this film previously, as one of the five best films of 1952.  It is, by a long ways, the best film of a director who is often over-rated and it has another of the great Kirk Douglas performances that marked this era of Hollywood cinema.  It is so good that even having Dick Powell in a major role doesn’t mar it.

The Source:

“Memorial to a Bad Man” by George Bradshaw (1951)

This is a smart story about a Broadway producer who has died. It focuses on the way he used people but somehow would create art and money in spite of what a loathsome person he could be. It was based on Jed Harris, the long-time famous producer. In the end, it turns out that the dead man has left a pitch in his will and that pitch is sounded off to three different people that he used but also pushed to bigger and better things and they can’t help but be intrigued by his last wish: “A Gil McBride production of a play by Frank Fistere, directed by Lennie Frost, starring Eleanor Tait. It will happen, and how he will laugh.”

The Adaptation:

“[John Houseman] approached me with an idea for a film. Tribute to a Bad Man, a short story by George Bradshaw, traced the rise of a charming heel in the world of the theater. John suggested to studio head Dore Schary that the setting be changed to Hollywood. Charles Schnee was assigned to write the script.” (I Remember It Well by Vincente Minnelli (with Victor Arce), p 252)

“It was a harsh and cynical story, yet strangely romantic. All that one hated and loved about Hollywood was distilled in the screenplay . . . the ambition, the opportunism, and the power . . . the philosophy of ‘get me a talented son-of-a-bitch.’ But it also told of triumphs against great odds, and the respect people in the industry had for other talents.” (p 252)

“Even as we were casting, we were revising the script, incorporating the legends of Hollywood we knew about. The hero would be based on David Selznick and others, the heroine would remind the audience of Diana Barrymore. The director of the cat people film and other small budget pictures would be patterned on Val Lewton.” (p 253)

“It was no secret that Douglas’s character was partly based on, or at least inspired by, Orson Welles.” (Vincente Minnelli: Hollywood’s Darkest Dreamer by Emanuel Levy, p 224)

I don’t so much buy into that one. I have read that in other places, but while the Douglas character does have the larger-than-life aspect of Welles, very little seems to smack of Welles. The key to the Douglas character is knowing what to get out of other people, and finding their talents and pushing them on, not necessarily his own innate genius. That’s why the Selznick analogy works so well for the character.

“Welles’s former associate, John Houseman, who had recently become an M-G-M producer, came across a short story by George Bradshaw, “Memorial to a Bad Man,” which was published in the Ladies’ Home Journal. Based on the life of Jed Harris, the tale concerns the death of an unscrupulous Broadway director. The director’s lawyer invites his former collaborators to the funeral, where each one recalls how they were first seduced and then betrayed by him. Anticipating his colleagues’ hostility, the dead man defends himself in his will, claiming that he had taught them important lessons that helped make them successful. As a last request, he begs them to collaborate on producing a play in his memory. Amused by this presumptuousness, and still fascinated by him, they agree to work on the play. The story ends on an ironic note, with their speculation on the bizarre future project. Bradshaw’s tale was interesting because of its multiple-perspective narration, which recalled Citizen Kane, and the film’s narrative structure was also similar, including the equivalent of a ‘Rosebud’ symbol and Kirk Douglas’s Oedipal confusion. However, instead of adapting the story as a satirical expose, Houseman opted for a glossily made, intensely emotional melodrama.” (p 224-225)

Levy at least gets the title right, whereas Minnelli didn’t (and helped to encourage the confusion that roams the internet about the title of the original story).

The best description of what was to done to foster the production of this film is actually the introduction to the published version of the screenplay. That introduction was written by Houseman himself and explains how he first heard of the story, how he dismissed it, then reconsidered and decided it could be transferred from the stage to the screen and could be used as an insightful look into Hollywood and the rest is history. I highly recommend reading that script, which comes complete with the original short story (and the original ending, which has the same concept, but leans a bit more towards Douglas’ ability to hook people).

The Credits:

Directed by Vincente Minnelli. Screen Play by Charles Schnee. Based On a Story by George Bradshaw.

Miss Julie
(Fröken Julie)

froken_julie_51_iThe Film:

There have been a number of films made from this play, yet this is the only truly successful one.  Why is that?  Is it because the director, Alf Sjöberg, had staged the play before he directed the film and thus was already extremely familiar with the material?  Is it because he lucked into Anita Björk, who gives a remarkable performance, the best of, an admittedly weak year?  It surely can’t be because it’s filmed in Swedish – Strindberg’s naturalism is no more limited to Swedish than Zola’s is to French or Hardy’s is to English.  Perhaps it’s because he made his Julie so alive, that at the end of the play, when she sees death as the only way out, we can really feel it deep in our souls.

Anita Björk really does bring the film to life.  She plays Julie, a pampered little rich girl who finds herself fixating on the valet.  There are a couple of problems with that.  The first is that the valet, Jean, is already engaged to Christine, another servant in the house.  The second is that there is no way any sort of romantic connection between Julie and Jean will be allowable to her father.  She and Jean will move closer to each other, romantically and physically, until she sleeps with him and he convinces her that the only natural end for her is the end of life itself.  Björk’s performance is the best thing in the film – a remarkable performance that really allows us to see inside this spoiled little girl and understand why she thinks she can have anything she wants and why Jean would feel the need to disabuse her of this notion.

This is a rough film to watch.  The naturalism is heavy and I can’t really see any American director at this time being willing to take the risks to tackle this film.  They were willing to tackle Dreiser, but only with changes that would allow a moral aspect to the film.  There’s nothing like that here, and in the end, in spite of the performance, in spite of the beautiful sets and magnificent costumes, the only way out of this film is through death.

missjulieThe Source:

Fröken Julie by August Strindberg  (1888)

This has long been regarded as one of the great works for the stage.  I first read it in a class called Studies in Drama.  Strindberg gives us a great character on stage, Julie, and we are able to fully understand her.  We know why she acts the way she does, what she is hoping to get out of it, and we can see, when she heads towards her ending (she’s still alive at the end of the play but the implication is quite clear that she will be killing herself immediately following the conclusion), we can understand it.  It stands as a great child of the brilliant Ibsen plays (most notably Hedda Gabler and A Doll’s House).  It is one of the plays that you should read, although if naturalism is not for you, then definitely feel free to skip it and head towards a lighter play.

The Adaptation:

Before he developed it into a film, Alf Sjöberg had already had considerable success staging the play in the theatre.  For the move from stage to film, he kept the male lead and some of the set designs.  But, with a new Julie, he also added a considerable number of scenes to the play.  The original play, as mentioned above, is only a three person chamber play and the sets are very limited.  The film is considerably expanded, with a lot more speaking parts, a lot of added scenes and much more development of the character of Julie beyond what we see on stage in Strindberg’s play.

The Credits:

Manus och regi: Alf Sjöberg.  efter August Strinberg pjäs.

The Man in the White Suit

maninthewhitesuitThe Film:

I have already reviewed this film as part of the Ealing Comedies post.  It’s a high level ***.5 Comedy, a great one that is truly brilliant in what we don’t see (you have to read the review to see what I mean by that).  It also has some of the best Comedic work of Alec Guinness.  If you have never seen any of the Ealing Comedies that Guinness starred in, you must do so right away.  Most of them are original, but this and Kind Hearts and Coronets are adapted.

The Source:

The Man in the White Suit by Roger MacDougall  (unpublished)

I had a lot of trouble with this one.  It took me a long time of looking at things online to determine that the play that this film was based on was an unproduced one (for good reasons probably – it would have been hard to do what you need to do with the suit on stage).  As a result, it has never been published either.  Roger MacDougall was a cousin to director Alexander Mackendrick.

The Adaptation:

This is another one of those annoying cases where obviously I can’t do anything here because I haven’t been able to read the original.

The Credits:

Directed by Alexander Mackendrick.  based on a play by Roger MacDougall.  Screenplay by Roger MacDougall, John Dighton, Alexander Mackendrick.

The Quiet Man

the-quiet-manThe Film:

I reviewed this film already as one of the Best Picture nominees of 1952.  In some ways, I think of it as John Ford’s Vertigo.  In that, I mean it’s a great film, but a low-level **** while there are a number of people who view it as a much greater film than I think it is.

The Source:

“The Quiet Man” by Maurice Walsh  (1933)

This is a short little story that I found in an odd collection called “Stories of Our Century by Catholic Authors”.  It didn’t matter what the story was, it had to be by a Catholic author, which is why a collection like this has a story like “The Most Dangerous Game” alongside stories by Evelyn Waugh and Graham Greene.  There is, at least, a little bit of religion in this one, only in the sense that Shawn Kelvin first starts staring at his future wife in church.  The woman is Liam O’Grady’s younger sister.  It is O’Grady who, during the time that Kelvin was in America, took the Kelvin family land.  Now, he is tricked into forcing his sister on Kelvin in order to clear his house out to get married, only to get spurned anyway.  Upset at having lost what was essentially his free domestic labor without getting a wife in the process, in his bitterness, O’Grady refuses to pass along the promised dowry.  Kelvin doesn’t really care (he wanted the girl, not the money), but eventually his wife’s pride spurns him forward and he pounds some sense into his brother-in-law and forces him to pay up the dowry and learn some respect for Shawn.

The Adaptation:

“Maurice Walsh’s ‘The Quiet Man’ first appeared in the February 11, 1933, issue of The Saturday Evening Post.” (Print the Legend: The Life and Times of John Ford by Scott Eyman, p 373)

“Walsh’s story is very small-scale, a three-hander with the background barely sketched in, and a touch of philosophy.” (Eyman, p 374)

“Ford added backstory – a tragic death in the ring motivating Sean’s refusal to fight. He added rich characters – the priest who narrates the story and Michaeleen, the waggish village matchmaker. And he added a sense of life as it has gone on in the village of Innisfree for centuries – the more of the town, the courtship ritual that surrounds the archetypes that are Sean Thornton and Mary Kate Danaher. And he let the brother-in-law give as good as he gets and the fight end in a kind of draw.” (Eyman, p 375)

“Frank Nugent’s screenplay for The Quiet Man is so finely crafted that it’s surprising to learn that it was written in a ten-week rush shortly before shooting began. Ford had earlier commissioned Richard Llewellyn, the author of How Green Was My Valley, to expand Walsh’s story into a novella, and Laurence Stallings also did some work on the project. Llewellyn finished a screenplay adaptation in early 1951, but by then Ford had become concerned about the political aspects of the story, which was still set during the Troubles and had the protagonist taking up arms with the IRA.” (Searching for John Ford by Joseph McBride, p 512)

The premise of the story remains the same – a man returns to Ireland from America, falls in love, marries the girl he loves, but then the dowry is refused out of bitterness and spite.  In the end, Shawn Kelvin (Sean Thornton in the film) is forced to battle his brother-in-law to get the promised dowry.  But, as Eyman points out, most of the details of the story, the things that make it a warm comedy that springs to life and has made it so beloved, are all in the script, but not in the original story.  One paragraph in the story though, really does set the stage for the stormy relationship that we see on the screen: “Shawn Kelvin had got his precious, red-haired woman under his own roof now.  He had no illusions about her feelings for him.  On himself, and on himself only, lay the task of molding her into a wife and lover.  Darkly, deeply, subtly, away out of sight, with gentleness, with restraint, with a consideration beyond kenning, that molding must be done, and she that was being molded must never know.  He hardly knew, himself.”

The Credits:

Directed by John Ford.  Screenplay by Frank S. Nugent.  From the Story by Maurice Walsh.  The IMDb lists John Ford as an uncredited contributing writer, which matches some of the things written in the Ford biographies.

A Christmas Carol

christmascarolThe Film:

It’s a little strange that for the second year in a row, the #6 spot in this category is a Dickens adaptation.  But, let’s be clear.  Having this in the same spot as Oliver Twist in the year before shows how much a stronger year 1951 was than 1952.  A Christmas Carol is a very good film and it’s enjoyable to watch, the best cinematic rendering of a story that has been filmed a lot.  But it is not on the same level as Oliver Twist.

It is, as I said though, the best version of this story.  It’s not that the direction is so great (it isn’t).  It’s not even that the script is so great (it’s very good because it holds so closely to the original), though it does better than several other versions of the film that try to make it into a musical (Scrooge) or a modern day story (Scrooged) or get ridiculous (the animated version).  It’s that, in Aliastair Sim, it really has the right actor for the part.

Sim is one of those great character actors who was well-known in Britain but very little known over here.  Unlike a lot of the great British actors, he never came over to Hollywood and so his best known roles are the ones that made the transition, films like Green for Danger, Alfred Hitchcock’s Stage Fright and this production of A Christmas Carol.  These roles, along with his famous roles in The Belles of St Trinian’s really show his range.  He could be a bumbling detective, a sardonic wit, a bitter miser or a ridiculous woman.  This is the role he was most made for – it allows him to show his sharp wit, but also the bitterness that seemed to be at the core of a lot of his performances.  Yet, there is also the element of humanity buried deep inside (also evident in Green for Danger and Stage Fright) that makes his conversion at the end of the film believable.  It’s not just that Scrooge has been frightened, but that he has found something buried deep inside, buried with memories of his sister, of happier times, of the true joy of Christmas that allow him to reach out to his fellow man.

Later film versions would be able to do more with certain things.  They could bring in color and make the sets and costumes really come to life.  They could use special effects to really heighten the power of the ghosts.  But what they can’t do is replicate the fantastic performance from Alastair Sim that really brings this adaptation to life.

Annotated Christmas CarolThe Source:

A Christmas Carol in Prose, Being a Ghost-Story of Christmas by Charles Dickens  (1843)

When I wrote about my experience at reading all of Dickens in one year, I mentioned that the books of his I found to be the best also happened to be the more cinematic ones.  It was commented that A Christmas Carol didn’t really belong on the list of Dickens novels, that it is too short and doesn’t fit with the other novels.  There is a considerable amount of truth to that.  While A Christmas Carol is an extremely satisfying read, it is less a Dickens novel than a child’s fable.  Look at the way it reads.  The third person narration from a narrator who is not directly involved in the story is reminiscent of what Tolkien would later do with The Hobbit.

That ranking of the Dickens novels was done as a lark based on my reactions to the novels after reading through them (as can be seen in the comments discussion).  I like A Christmas Carol on a personal level more than I admire it on a literary level.  Certainly a novel like Bleak House or Our Mutual Friend has better writing (they also have too much of it – the problem with those books is not the prose but that Dickens can’t seem to cut through to the story).  But Christmas speaks to me on a personal level and it carries through to this book.  Scrooge is one of the great characters in fiction, the miserable miser who finds a sort of redemption when he realizes, with utter clarity, what his end will be if he can not alter his behavior.

The Adaptation:

There are some moderate changes to the novel in bringing it to the screen.  Scrooge’s charwoman has had her role greatly expanded and is a decent size in the film while it barely exists in the book.  There are also some additions to the backstory of Scrooge, of how he managed to become as successful as he did.  For the most part, though, the film follows fairly closely to the book.  This is a book, in fact, where films often follow closely (unless there are deliberate updates), because it is the right length for a feature film adaptation and because everything you need to bring it to life is right there on the page.

The Credits:

Produced and Directed by Brian Desmond-Hurst.  Adaptation and Screenplay by Noel Langley.  The only mention of the source is on the title card: Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

The Card

thecardThe Film:

On first glance, you might find yourself thinking this should be an Ealing Comedy. I even end up thinking to myself that it is an Ealing Comedy. After all, it’s an early 50’s black-and-white British Comedy starring Alec Guinness. But, once you start watching it, it becomes obvious that this is not an Ealing Comedy. It doesn’t have that Ealing energy, the relentless hits of humor that keep coming and keep you laughing through the whole film. And Guinness himself, while the card of the title, isn’t working on the same bizarre manic wavelength that marks his Ealing appearances. That isn’t to say this is a bad film – it’s quite a good film, as is evidenced by its placement on this list. But don’t go into it thinking this is something like The Lavender Hill Mob (the winner of Original Screenplay for this year from both me and the Academy). This is a more genteel film that fits more with its source material. But, it’s still Guinness in his prime and that’s always worth watching. It’s just too bad the film is so damn hard to get hold of. I watched it the first time well over a decade ago, but this time I had to ILL it on VHS, never a good sign for a film’s availability.

Guinness plays Edward Henry Machin, better known as Denry. He manages to succeed in life in spite of being the son of a washer-woman, partially due to luck, partially due to cheating (he cheats at the examination to qualify for a better school, the first step in moving up), and partially through his sheer ingenuity like when he manages to convince the local soccer hero who’s made it big to come back and help out the old hometown and keep them from dropping their soccer team altogether. This doesn’t always get him ahead – when told to send out invitations to the Countess’ ball, he invites himself and manages a dance with her, actions that get him sacked.

Guinness manages to keep us going, just like he keeps the women in his life going, including the Countess (Valerie Hobson, who had acted opposite Guinness in both Great Expectations and Kind Hearts and Coronets), the spendthrift he first takes up with but decides not to marry (Glynis Johns – and don’t worry, she’ll find the right man in the end) and the lovely young woman he does end up falling in love with and marrying (Petula Clark – yes, Petula Clark, who I would see on stage in Sunset Blvd. some 44 years after this film). This is a smart film, and Guinness’ performance always pulls us even when things drag a bit in the middle. In the end, you end up believing in him just as much as he does.

One thing more to remember about this film. Alec Guinness is associated with a variety of things – as the star of David Lean films, of course, and the star of Ealing Comedies, and of course as Obi-Wan, much to his dismay. But he also had a very fruitful collaboration with Ronald Neame, a man whose contribution to British Cinema is often overlooked. Neame was the cinematographer for two of Guinness’ early Lean films (Great Expectations and Oliver Twist) and then was the director of four Guinness films, including not only this one, but two of his most important: The Horse’s Mouth, for which Guinness was Oscar nominated as the screenwriter, and Tunes of Glory, in which Guinness gives one of his greatest performances.

cardThe Source:

The Card: A Story of Adventure in the Five Towns by Arnold Bennett (1911)

This was another author that it turned out I had read before. In this case, it was The Old Wives’ Tale, a book that the Modern Library included among their best of the 20th Century. The Card turns out to be a fairly modest novel, a short little thing (186 pages) about a man who is able to keep moving up in life, from the son of a washer-woman to eventually becoming the youngest mayor in the history of his town. He’s a charming man who is willing to do what he has to in order to succeed, and because he is so charming and because what he does is never beyond the pale, we end up rooting for him. This is actually one of a series of books sets among the “five towns”, Bennett’s fictionalized version of Stoke-on-Tent, where he lived.

The Adaptation:

The film is a fairly straight-forward adaptation of the novel. Most of what is in the novel makes it into the film, with a few small incidents dropped (which is pretty easy given the length of the book). What the film does better than the novel is really bring the character of Denry to life, not so much because Bennett couldn’t do it for us, but because Guinness is such a magnificent actor that we really get a feel for the character.

The Credits:

Directed by Ronald Neame. Based on the Novel by Arnold Bennett. Screenplay by Eric Ambler.

Sudden Fear

suddenfearThe Film:

It’s interesting that Joan Crawford, who was so good on-screen as a mega-bitch, would give some of her best performances as a weaker woman, one who is more frightened and beaten down. Her best, of course, came in Mildred Pierce, which won her the Oscar. But Sudden Fear is another of her best, the story of a playwright heiress who marries a man she didn’t give a part to after running into him on a train headed west. She thinks she’s found the right man. What she doesn’t know is that she’s found a man who’s just out for money and he’s going to kill her to get it.

That man is played by Jack Palance, whose villainy in two straight years earned him back-to-back Oscar nominations (Shane was the other one), though he would have to wait for a (slightly) gentler role some 38 years later before he would finally win. There is a wonderful aura of menace that oozes off him. He thinks he’s hit the motherlode, but he finds out that his wife has actually written her will so that most of her money will go to a foundation. So, suddenly he’s got to kill her, and kill her quick, before the will is signed.

Encouring him in his actions are his ex-girlfriend, who has shown up on the doorstep, pretending to his wife that she doesn’t know him, but definitely planning to be in on this action. She’s played by Gloria Grahame, and if she didn’t earn an Oscar nomination for this film like Crawford and Palance did that’s because she won the Oscar for The Bad and the Beautiful in this same year. You would never trust her for a second, but looking at her when she slinks back into Palance’s life and you don’t wonder for a second why he’s going to go back to her. She might be a snake, but she’s one of the most seductive ones you could imagine.

All of the tension that would normally be in this kind of story gets heightened up quite a bit when Crawford, through the coincidence of a dictaphone that starts recording when it hears sound manages to record a conversation between the two of them in their conspiracy. Now, she knows what’s going on and she needs to keep one step ahead of them without letting them know she’s in on the scheme.

There is one fatal flaw in the film that keeps this film down at the lower level of ***.5 and not any higher, which is the question of why she doesn’t just take the recording to the police (yes, it breaks, but that’s because she’s trying to hide it – in the book, it’s different as noted below). It’s more than enough for them to arrest Palance. But, with one of Crawford’s best performances, some very good cinematography and top notch supporting performances from Palance and Grahame (both of them finishing just outside the Nighthawk nominees), you’re willing to overlook that and get sucked into the suspense.

sudden-fearThe Source:

Sudden Fear by Edna Sherry (1948)

Sudden Fear is an effective thriller. It’s about an heiress playwright who turns down a leading man for her play (“I can’t have Rhea and Harwood overshadowed by this – male doll.” she says) and then, after meeting him again later, marries him. Their life seems good until she saves the life of a young woman whose father died under mysterious circumstances and decides that woman would be a good subject for a play. Their lives become intertwined and then, through the accident of her dictaphone picking up a conversation, she discovers that woman and her husband are now in love and planning to murder her before her will goes into effect (having been warned of her younger husband’s good looks, she declares he will get no income from her estate if he marries again after she dies). She then sets in motion plans to murder him and frame her. Those go well (“She had a violent impulse to empty the gun into his prostrate body, like the woman in Maugham’s ‘The Letter,’ but she knew she would not. This was no time for emotional release.”) but part of her plan goes terribly wrong when, having broken her ankle as part of her alibi, an infection sets in and she dies. She gets her revenge, but is no longer around to enjoy it (indeed, she dies before the other woman, who kills herself rather than face life in prison).

As I said, this is an effective thriller. We have an interesting premise and we have fatally flawed characters, the most interesting perhaps, being Myra, and it’s fascinating to see her plan in motion only to be undone by her devotion to it and her delay in seeking help for her ankle.

The Adaptation:

The basic plot of the story stays the same. An heiress playwright runs into and marries the man she turned down for a part. Later, he plans with a beautiful young woman (“The profile was pure and perfect, but saved from marble inanity by the rich human curve of the beautiful mouth. Myra caught the incredible length of the curling eyelashes against the sharp light from the window, and the equally breath-taking beauty of the forward-pushing small breasts” is how she is described in the book, while in the film she’s played by Gloria Grahame during that period where she was the sexiest actress working in Hollywood) to kill his wife. She discovers their plans because of her dictaphone and manages to turn it against them. But there, things go very different.

First of all, in the book, Irma (Grahame) comes into the story when Myra (Crawford) saves her life. In the film, she’s the ex-girlfriend of Lester (Palance). In the book, he mostly ignores her as a ruse until we find out, with Myra, about the scheme. In the film, they are already close and the scheme is less of a surprise. In the film, Myra drops the record, shattering the evidence. But in the book, she is simply determined it never be heard: “Never, under any imaginable circumstances, could she let that damning dialogue become public property. She could never survive being the laughing-stock, the butt of the hidden smirks or the expressed condolences of the world.”

Then we come to the last half of the film and the book. In the book, she kills Lester with cold-blooded ease and then sets up Irma while waiting things out, a wait that will end up being her doom. But in the film, she can’t bring herself to do anything, and it is Lester’s attempt to kill her, and accidentally killing Irma instead, that brings about his own end and she walks away, alive. The Code might have allowed her to kill Lester since she does die in the end, but could Crawford have allowed her to play that part? She did produce the film and heralded its work, including casting and bringing in the crew, so we must think that it was Crawford’s plan to come out alive. It would have been darker and perhaps better, but the film we get is pretty good, so we’ll go with that.

The Credits:

Directed by David Miller. Screenplay by Lenore Coffee and Robert Smith. Based upon Edna Sherry’s story – “Sudden Fear”.  The IMDb lists Joan Crawford as an uncredited contributing writer.

Moulin Rouge

Poster - Moulin Rouge (1952)_11The Film:

I have already reviewed this film as part of the Best Picture project.

moulinThe Source:

Moulin Rouge: A Novel based on the Life of Henry de Toulouse-Lautrec by Pierre La Mure (1950)

I read the novel not long after re-watching Disney’s Alice in Wonderland and I was reminded of the opening scenes. Poor little Alice complains that she can’t possibly pay attention to a book without any pictures in it. I was never like that as a kid; after all, I was reading Tolkien in the first grade in editions where there wasn’t a picture to be found (and in the old 60’s Ballatine paperbacks where even the front-cover illustrations have nothing to do with the book). But, struggling through this novel (I’ve never been a big biography reader, let alone novels that are basically biographies without the proper amount of research to call them a non-fiction book), I kept thinking about Alice’s complaint. Because this is a novel about a painter. There absolutely should be pictures in it. Because, really, who cares about the life of a painter. It’s all about the art, especially from someone like Toulouse-Lautrec, whose art was so vibrantly alive (there will be even more of this complain when we get to 1956 and I review Lust for Life). Yes, there was the stuff about his stern father and his poor choices in life, and the physical hardships he dealt with after his accident and growing up without physically growing tall. But, as with any painter, what I want to see is the art and I don’t much care about the life if you can’t show me the art. That’s perhaps why there are so many biopics about artists, and even when they’re not very good, they’re usually at least still watchable because of the art (well, except for Pollock, which is watchable for the powerful performances, not because of the film which isn’t very good and the art which I loathe).

The Adaptation:

For the most part, Huston took the events from the life as detailed in the book and created a film around them.   But, there are a few things that make the film so much more memorable than the book. The first, of course, is that this is a film and one vibrantly alive with color, so we really see the remarkable extent of the art. The second is in the opening, where Huston comes in to the Moulin Rouge itself and we see the vibrancy in the world there that could so inspire the vibrancy in the art before we ever realize the physical handicaps that the artist himself is forced to deal with. Then, we get to that magnificent ending, which is just a deathbed scene in the book, but which Huston once again, brings alive with his direction:

“Jimmy Woolf gave me a copy of Pierre La Mure’s Moulin Rouge, a highly romanticized novel about Toulese-Lautrec. After I read the book, I had an idea for the end that made me want to make a picture of it. I imagined Lautrec on his deathbed in the chateau at Toulouse, his mother and father watching the priest administer extreme unction. He smiles and his eyes open. He is hallucinating: the shades from his beloved Moulin Rouge enter the room, come there to bid farewell to their departing friend. The music of the can-can starts and Lautrec breathes his last. It would be a truly happy ending.” (An Open Book by John Huston (1980), p 205)

The Credits:

Directed by John Huston. From the Novel “Moulin Rouge” by Pierre La Mure. Screenplay by Anthony Veiller and John Huston.

Carrie

carrieThe Film:

I mentioned above that Dickens is in the same place in this year as it was in the previous year.  Well, there is also a Theodore Dreiser adaptation, just like there was in the previous year, but there are some considerable differences here.  The first is that this film, while very good, isn’t nearly on the same level as A Place in the Sun.  The second, as I will discuss more below, is that I think this novel is actually considerably superior to An American Tragedy, even while the film isn’t.

There are a couple of reasons why this film is very good but can’t make the job into greatness.  There are also counterpart reasons why this film is very good and not just a mid-range *** film.  First there are the weaknesses, two of them based around the same issue: the casting of Jennifer Jones.  William Wyler originally wanted to cast Elizabeth Taylor, and that probably wouldn’t have worked, because I don’t think you can make Carrie that good looking.  Jones was a more appropriate looking actress for the part – attractive without being dazzling.  But Jones was never a great actress, in spite of her Oscar, and she was really too old to be playing this part.  She gives one of her better performances, but she can’t really hold her own.  The other problem with her casting is that she was pregnant at the time and so William Wyler had to direct around that, and we get a lot more close-ups of her than we really need.  The other problem is with the source material in the first place.  I’m surprised that no one has tried to go back to this novel because it could be done more justice today with the absence of the Production Code.  A Place in the Sun worked because there was always going to be punishment for the moral transgressions at the end.  But here, there is no such ending, and so things would have to be altered from the book, and they were, to the detriment of the film, preventing it from reaching for greatness.

But it does reach for greatness, even if it never achieves it.  Dreiser’s novel is a great one, the naturalistic element working perfectly in unison with the way society had built itself up at the time.  It is a thorough-going tragedy and moves relentlessly towards its end.  It’s just that, with the title, both of the book and the film, a lot of people don’t realize that it’s the tragedy of George Hurstwood.  Hurstwood had success, he had a wife and a son, he knew people in society.  But he throws it all away for the love of a young girl and because he is trapped in misery in spite of his success.  In the end, it is all for nothing as Carrie will eventually flee from him and he will end up alone, broke and in despair.  With Laurence Olivier cast as Hurstwood we have the perfect person to bring that character to life.  It’s not that Jones is bad – she gives a solid performance.  It’s just that Olivier acts her off the screen.  We can see the misery in his eyes when he deals with his wife (played well by Miriam Hopkins), can see the light in his eyes every time Carrie comes near.  We can understand why he takes the chance he does, and in the final scene, when he is playing with the gas burner in her dressing room, well, they may not have been allowed to show him committing suicide on screen, but they made damn clear to the audience what was in store for him.

The film is very well directed.  The script does a solid job of cutting through to the heart of the novel and putting everything on screen that the Production Code would allow them to and the sets and costumes are first rate (both were Oscar nominated).  But it’s really the performance of Olivier, one of his most under-appreciated performances, that brings the film to life.

scbytdThe Source:

Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser  (1900)

An American Tragedy is often held up as the pinnacle of Dreiser’s literary achievements.  It ended up as 16th on the Modern Library’s list (this one was #31) and it was the novel that brought him his highest level of fame and financial success.  Yet, Sister Carrie, the novel he had to fight to even get published (it was roundly rejected and when it was finally published, was over the objections of the head of the publishing house) and which had mixed reviews and was not a financial success I think is the superior novel (it made my Top 200).  You could say it’s because of the length (this novel is less than half the length of his later work), but I think it’s because it’s tighter and more focused.  If An American Tragedy had cut down a considerable part of the third part, it still would have been a much longer book than Sister Carrie and might have been almost as good.

Sister Carrie is among the great works of naturalism, fitting right in with McTeague and the works of both Thomas Hardy and Emile Zola.  It’s, in some ways, a “A Star is Born” story, with a woman who is rising while the man she is with is falling.  Carrie comes from Wisconsin and on the train to live with her sister in Chicago she meets Druet, a traveling salesman.  Before long, she is his kept woman and she meets Hurstwood, the manager of an upscale bar who is tiring of his social-climbing wife.  They run away together, first to Montreal, and then later to New York where Hurstwood begins to decay and fall into despair and Carrie is eventually able to become a highly successful actress.

It’s not just the story that makes Dreiser’s novel work so well, though it is a good indication of the changing times for people at the end of the 19th Century, as some people are crushed by circumstance and some risen by chance.  It is his mastery of the language that brings this world to life.  Look at his masterful opening line: “When Caroline Meeber boarded the afternoon train for Chicago, her total outfit consisted of a small trunk, a cheap imitation alligator-skin satchel, a small lunch in a paper box, and a yellow leather snap purse, containing her ticket, a scrap of paper with her sister’s address in Van Buren Street, and four dollars in money.”  That gives us so much information right there, and it does in plain, simply language.  It carries right through, until the tragedy of the ending: “It seemed as if he thought for a while, for now he arose and turned the gas out, standing calmly in the blackness, hidden from view.  After a few moments, in which he reviewed nothing, but merely hesitated, he turned the gas on again, but applied no match.  Even then he stood there, hidden wholly in that kindness which is night, while the uprising fumes filled the room.  When the odor reached his nostrils, he quit his attitude and fumbled for the bed.”

The Adaptation:

The changes begin in the very first shot of the film.  As a father buys a ticket for his daughter to leave (a scene that would have taken place before the book begins), he’s in Columbia City, Missouri.  In the book, Carrie is from Waukesha, Wisconsin, which places her a lot closer to Chicago.  But that’s not the only change – not by a long way.  There were a lot of aspects in the story that were not going to pass muster with the Production Code, so things are changed to make people more sympathetic and make actions more explainable (the best example being that in the book Hurstwood simply steals the money and then runs away with Carrie, while in the film, the money is an accident because of a problem with the safe and he tries to give it back before making the decision to leave).  The finale of the film is also quite different, of course, with Hurstwood fiddling with the gas jets and us being able to see what is going to happen:

 ‘Just as we show Hurstwood’s retrogression, we want to show some development in Carrie, her growth from the naive country girl on the train to a mature woman with emotional greatness, the fulfillment of the promise that attracted Drouet and Hurstwood, and which will make her a fine actress later. If her decision to leave Hurstwood is dramatized, then the audience will wonder about, and be fearful of, what will happen to Hurstwood when Carrie does leave him. This builds suspense for the last chapter of our story – the gas jet. (notes from Wyler as quoted on p 320 of A Talent for Trouble: The Life of Hollywood’s Most Acclaimed Director, William Wyler by Jan Herman)

It’s a bit different in the book, of course.  There is no need to hint at what will come for Hurstwood because we have already seen it two pages before the end:

It seemed as if he thought a while, for now he arose and turned the gas out, standing calmly in the blackness, hidden from view.  After a few moments, in which he reviewed nothing, but merely hesitated, he turned the gas on again, but applied no match.  Even then he stood there, hidden wholly in that kindness which is night, while the uprising fumes filled the room.  When the odor reach his nostrils, he quit his attitude and fumbled for the bed.

“What’s the use?” he said, weakly, as he stretched himself to rest.  (p 397-398)

The Credits:

Produced and Directed by William Wyler.  From the American Classic Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser.  Screenplay by Ruth and Augustus Goetz.

Consensus Nominees That Don’t Make My Top 10

5 Fingers

5-fingers-movie-poster-1952-1010679953The Film:

What would Jeremy Irons be without James Mason? I don’t mean to suggest any direct link between them and Irons is really the better actor. What I mean is, where would Irons and his ability to be so charming while also being such a villain be without James Mason to lead the way down that path? Mason was already doing that before this film, of course, as the leading man of the Gainsborough films. But now he was crossing over to American audiences. Here, he plays the valet to the British Embassy in Turkey, which wouldn’t sound like a dastardly role, until you realize that he’s taking pictures of important plans in the safe of the ambassador and selling them to the Nazis during the height of the Second World War.

Five Fingers would help establish Mason among the Hollywood set and he would start to work with some of the best directors around, including Joseph L. Mankiewicz (this film) George Cukor (A Star is Born), Alfred Hitchcock (North by Northwest), Stanley Kubrick (Lolita) and Sidney Lumet (The Verdict). In all of these films, his charm would work in conjunction with a level of disrepute and he would play the kind of complicated characters that cause me to point out to my mother that the world doesn’t break down into “good guys” and “bad guys”. Mason’s actions here are because of money – he wants more – and because of a woman, a countess who is also having money problems, played by Danielle Darrieux. The actions of Mason eventually become a race against time – Mason is trying to get away with it, in spite of the British getting more cautious, and even installing a new security system, while the British are trying to keep their plans safe, including the all-important plans for Project Overlord, the D-Day invasion.

Mankiewicz manages to keep the suspense of the film quite snappy – we know that the plans for D-Day weren’t blown and we also know that this film is based on a true story – a valet working at the British Embassy in Turkey really did become a spy and sell secrets to the Nazis. The real man didn’t nearly have the charm that Mason did and the real story wasn’t nearly as suspenseful (things happened outside the control of Mason that made it so the Nazis no longer trusted him even though he did, in fact, provide them with the legitimate plans for the D-Day invasion). But this film works like so many later Mason films would work, keeping you rooting for him somehow even though he’s a friggin Nazi spy! Then again, that’s just the magic of James Mason and his voice.

operationciceroThe Source:

Operation Cicero by L. C. Moyzisch (1950)

This is not a novel, but a true story. It tells the story of a man code-named “Cicero” by the Nazis, a man who worked at the British Embassy in Ankara, Turkey and who became a spy. Over the course of 1943 and in to 1944, he provided the plans for a number of different operations to the Nazis, all of which were accurate. Moyzisch himself presents himself as a man who was important in the German Embassy, although the post-script in the book by Franz von Papen, the former President of Germany and then ambassador from Germany to Turkey, makes it clear that Moyzisch was actually a member of the Reich Security Department, which is why he was running this spy. Moyzisch is honest about the story, including the fact that he trusted the source but that events conspired to make the Nazi High Command not trust him and thus, when the accurate plans for Operation Overlord were handed over, they were not believed. Moyzisch himself only survived the war because of a useful set of circumstances (which he relates at the end of the book). It’s an interesting little book, and the British publishers kind of sum it up succinctly in a Publishers’ Note: “OPERATION CICERO, as here related, is as accurate as at present can be ascertained but is written from the German standpoint and presents the German side of the affair, Relevant Allied documents may eventually be released which, no doubt will complete the story. We have no hesitation in publishing the manuscript as it stands for its excitement, readability, and historical interest.”

The Adaptation:

“While Five Fingers proclaims itself a factual study by opening with a scene in Britain’s House of Commons depicting the hue and cry that attended the publication of Operation Cicero, many of the best things in it are fictional inventions. Michael Wilson invented the glamorous Countess Staviski to supply the film’s romantic interest . . . Mankiewicz not only changed her name to the feminine Staviska (possibly to avoid confusion with the celebrated French swindler of the thirties), but revised the dialogue of her scenes with Diello (the film’s substitute name for Eliaza), making them a superb distillation of sexual combat and role reversal between master and servant.” (Pictures Will Talk: The Life and Films of Joseph L. Mankiewicz by Kenneth L. Geist, p 214)

Geist has it pretty much right. The book tells the real story of the operation, albiet from the German point of view. But the film really takes the idea of a spy working in the British Embassy and makes it into what I would call a standard spy movie, except that with Mankieiwcz writing and directing and Mason starring, it’s good enough that you can’t call it standard.

I say Mankiewicz doing the writing even though he’s not listed in the credits, namely because of this quote, also from Geist’s book: “Almost none of Wilson’s dialogue was used, though the scene-by-scene continuity of his screenplay was largely retained.” (p 219 – followed by an example from Wilson’s version of the script and the Mankiewicz version)

The Credits:

Direted by Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Screen Play by Michael Wilson. From the Book by L. C. Moyzisch, Former Military Attaché at the German Embassy at Ankara, Turkey.  The IMDb lists Mankiewicz with uncredited writing, which certainly the biography of him describes.

Come Back Little Sheba

comeback_littleshebaThe Film:

This film seems like a good example of why William Inge is not on the same level as the major playwrights.  For some reason, in my head, I tend to think of this film as a Tennessee Williams adaptation but it’s not.  I think the reason my brain wants to lump it in with those better films (and plays) is that it stars Burt Lancaster and that it won Best Actress, two characteristics also shared by The Rose Tattoo, which is a a Tennessee Williams adaptation (and is a better film than this one).  In a sense, I suppose that’s not fair to Inge, but more on that below.

There are hints of Blanche DuBois in Lola Delaney.  She’s living in a world of self-delusion.  She remembers what things were like when she was younger, a woman who could get men.  She’s wants to flirt and she wants attention, even though she is middle-aged and has lost her figure and is thought of more by the people she is interacting with as an object of ridicule.  Like DuBois, she is played in an Oscar winning performance, this one from Shirley Booth (she had played the role on stage, where she was well-known but this was her film debut and she only made a handful of films).  But the lead male in this film is a lot different.  Played by Burt Lancaster, Doc Delaney is a chiropractor who is hanging on by his fingernails.  He just passed a year of sobriety at AA, his wife grates at him at times (and at other times he is pleased with her support) and he’s bothered by their new boarder – an attractive young girl.  You would think that the tension would be from Doc finding the young boarder attractive, but the real tension is that in her flirtation with one boy while engaged to another, she reminds him of the mistakes he made when he was young (he married Lola because she was pregnant, which got her thrown out of her house and then when she lost the baby, in his anger he turned to drink and brought misery into their lives).  Neither Lola (played very well by Booth, who comes in second at the Nighthawks) nor the boarder (a solid, Oscar nominated performance from Terry Moore who comes in 7th at the Nighthawks) realize how all of this is affecting Doc and he finds himself pushed back into the bottle.

It’s a good film, but, outside of the acting performances, it’s a bit hard to take today.  The constant AA platitudes, the constructed melodrama, the outdated societal views, all of them help to slow down the film and make a 95 minute film feel like a longer experience than it should.  But one of the best reasons to see it is that this was one of the first solid early Lancaster performances before he really broke through the next year with From Here to Eternity.

comebackThe Source:

Come Back Little Sheba by William Inge  (1950)

This is a perfectly fine play, even if it’s not a very good play (like his Picnic) or a great one (like so many Williams plays).  It gives us two very believable characters in Doc and Lola, even if Lola is a bit much to take a lot of the time and even if Doc’s AA speeches feel a bit preachy.  While it’s Lola that the film really focuses on, the better part of the writing deals with Doc and his eventual descent back into the bottle because he is unable to escape the parts of the past that he has been working so hard to get away from.  But that works perfectly into the finale, when Lola finally comes to realize that her poor little dog, Sheba isn’t ever coming back and that she needs to stop calling for it.  Her little release of the past helps further his larger release of the past and allows them both to move forward.

The Adaptation:

For the most part, the film follows the play, with most of the lines and scenes moving directly from the page to the screen.  There is one huge exception though, and that’s the opening of the film.  The first 18 minutes of the film don’t exist in the play at all.  When the play begins, the boarder, Marie, has already been living with them and they already are familiar with her life (and her seeing Turk).  But the film begins just before that, when Marie first comes to look at the room and it helps gives us some background before we dive straight into the action (and also allows for the scene at the AA meeting which helps drive the themes home).

The Credits:

Directed by Daniel Mann.  Screenplay by Ketti Frings.  Based on the original play by William Inge.  Produced on the stage by The Theatre Guild.

Room for One More

Room for One MoreThe Film:

This is one of the worst films of the year.  Since it had been so long since I had seen the film, I didn’t remember that before I started reading the book, but once I did, I didn’t see how there was any way that a film directed by Norman Taurog with this kind of sentimental schmaltz could possibly be good.  And I was right.  This is a low-level **.5 film and a complete waste of Cary Grant.  It is also one of the few films in which he co-starred with his then wife, Betsy Drake, who wasn’t a particularly good actress and pulls down any energy that Grant provides to the film.

This is the story of a couple who decide to take care of three foster children.  Well, to be more accurate, it’s really the wife, played by Drake, who brings in the children and she does it one at a time.  What the film does with that is make a comedy of circumstances as he tries to continually adjust to all the different aspects of life that keep changing around him.

The first problem with the book is in the source material – a sanctimonious book about how wonderful life is in the Rose family because they have so much love to give that they take care of three children they really can’t afford.  The second problem is in the casting of Drake, who is just lifeless.  The third problem is that it is directed by Norman Taurog, one of the most lifeless of directors, and I know, because, thanks to my “Oscar-nominated directors” project, I have seen 58 films that he directed, not a one of them better than mid-range ***, in spite of multiple Oscar nominations and even an Oscar for Best Director.  No scene is able to build much.  There is no energy in the film.  The closest the film has to coming to life is in a driving scene between Drake and one of the foster children and it’s marred by some of the most unrealistic back projection scenes ever put on film.

roomThe Source:

Room for One More by Anna Perrott Rose  (1949)

If you want to read this book, prepare yourself for some sanctimonious schmaltz.  Anna Perrott Rose was a woman who raised three foster children (in a rather off-putting bit she explains why didn’t adopt them, partially because “an adopted child inherits property exactly as an ‘own’ child and, while we had very little for anyone to inherit, we thought it better not to be involved in this dividing of property in the event that an adopted child might, by chance, turn out to be disappointing.”), one who was abused by her divorced parents, one who had gotten in trouble with the law but was quite young and one who was crippled by polio.  She writes about how much love they had to give in bringing in children they couldn’t really afford (they had three children of their own) and how they found happiness in spite of that.  It’s really way too much to take.

The Adaptation:

This one of those films that takes the premise from a book (a couple taking in foster children) and even provides the details for two of the foster children.  Because they cast Cary Grant as the father (the person who is least mentioned in the book), they decided to make the film more about how the family functions around him and how his wife continues to love him in spite of giving so much love to these children.  Almost nothing in the film other than the premise is accurate to the book.  The fact that Anna Perrott Rose was a teacher plays heavily into the book.  In the film she doesn’t even have a profession.

The Credits:

Directed by Norman Taurog.  Screen Play by Jack Rose and Melville Shavelson.  From the Book by Anna Perrott Rose.

The Happy Time

Happy_TimeThe Film:

On a 100 point scale, I give this film a 68, which is mid-range ***.  That’s actually pretty good when you consider the cast.  First, there is Charles Boyer, who is very good when he is playing a role you should be leery of (Algiers, Hold Back the Dawn, Gaslight), but not so much when he is supposed to be the trustworthy father that a young boy looks up to.  Then there is Louis Jourdan, whose French charm makes me a bit wary, as if he were a younger version of Maurice Chevalier (not helped by their performances together in Gigi).  To cap it off, there is Bobby Driscoll, who was looked on as one of the better child stars at the time but really almost kills anything he is in.  He’s not as bad as Freddie Bartholomew, but he’s a far cry from the child actors of the last 20 years.  What’s worse, is that all three of them are interested in the same woman, an assistant for a stage magician who quits after he keeps making advances and then comes to work for the family as a maid, a family of which Boyer is the father, Jourdan the uncle and Driscoll the son.

So, now, we have to watch all three of them kind of drool over her.  Boyer, the one who gave her the job (he’s the violinist in the theater where she was performing and steps up to her defense) is the least objectionable, but he already does outlandish things that piss off his wife, so it’s clear this won’t go over well.  Driscoll is the most understandable – just as he’s entering puberty (he spends the film wanting to be a man and the film ends with his voice breaking) an attractive young woman moves into his house, so it’s no wonder he’s captivated.  The problem is that the girl next door, Peggy, clearly has a big crush on him and he seems completely oblivious because, well, because he’s a friggin’ idiot.  Then there is Jourdan, who at least is the right age, but is absolutely untrustworthy (his sister-in-law describes him as “the Casanova of Canada”), the traveling salesman who is trying to make his latest pitch.

The film is lightweight entertainment, the kind that would be made by Disney today.  It’s not that well-written, so it’s a wonder that somehow it managed to earn a WGA nomination (actually, it speaks to the lack of good WGA eligible Comedies in this year).  So, the best I can say about it is that it doesn’t screw things up and the worst I can say about it is that it’s ridiculously wholesome.

happytimeThe Source:

The Happy Time by Robert Fontaine   (1945)

Please spare me any more of these books that are nostalgic for growing up in the early part of the 20th Century. You could spare me the films for the most part as well, although at least Meet Me in St. Louis has the benefit of providing the world with one of the most beautiful Christmas songs ever written. I believe this is a novel, though it doesn’t say so explicitly and it certainly feels like the kind of memoir that was often written around the time, warm memories of childhood. This one is about growing up in Ottawa, about living with his close-knit family and about the various things that happen to a young boy around this time. It is imminently forgettable.

I have only listed the original book by Robert Fontaine, as I was unable to get hold of the play that Samuel A. Taylor adapted from the book, which was the basis for the film.

The Adaptation:

For the most part things follow the book, although the book really focuses more on the boy and his process of growing up and less on the whole plot premise of the woman moving in.  There is also a second uncle in the book who is pretty much dropped out of the film.

The Credits:

Directed by Richard Fleischer. Screen Play by Earl Felton. Based on the Play by Samuel A. Taylor. And the Book by Robert Fontaine. Produced on the stage by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein

Where’s Charley

wheres charleyThe Film:

I can confirm that at some point I was able to see this film.  I don’t remember anything about it, don’t remember when I saw it or how I saw it.  At this point, I can’t seem to get hold of it again to watch it and review it.  So, all I can say about it is that when I saw it, I gave it a 69, a mid-range *** and it ranked at #49 for the year and that I gave it no points for awards considerations in any category.  Sadly, that’s all I’ve got for this film at this point.

The Source:

Where’s Charley? by Frank Loesser and George Abbott  (1948)

I was able to get the musical score out of the library, which wasn’t a whole lot of help, especially since I was never able to get hold of the film.

The Adaptation:

Without having seen the film in a long time (I’d say it’s been at least five years if not considerably more), there’s not much I can do here.

The Credits:

Directed by David Butler.  Written by John Monks Jr.  From the play by George Abbott and the play “Charley’s Aunt” by Brandon Thomas.  Credits from the IMDb.

Other Screenplays on My List Outside My Top 10:

  • The Testament of Dr. Mabuse  –  A high-level ***.5 film and my #13 film of the year.  It’s a sequel to Dr. Mabuse the Gambler.  It’s an important film in the work of one cinema’s greatest directors: Fritz Lang.  There’s also a French language version with different actors, also directed by Lang, which I covered in 1943.
  • Outcast of the Islands  –  Low-range ***.5 film from Carol Reed.  It’s an adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s second novel.  Worth seeing (if you can find it) and worth reading.
  • The Small Back Room  –  A 1949 Powell / Pressburger film that made it to the States in 1952.  High-level ***.  Adapted from the novel by Nigel Balchin.
  • The Member of the Wedding  –  The first adaptation of a Carson McCullers novel and I think still the best.  It’s a high-level *** with an Oscar (and Nighthawk) nominated performance from Julie Harris.

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

  • The Big Sky  –  Fun Howard Hawks western, based on the novel.
  • The Ballad of Berlin  –  A German Comedy (yes, you’re reading that right) from 1948 that hit the States in 1952.  It was adapted from a cabaret show.
  • Clash by Night  –  It’s got Robert Ryan being despicable, a young Marilyn Monroe being sexy, a Clifford Odets play as a source and Fritz Lang as a director.  A good time.
  • Cry the Beloved Country  –  Based on the classic Paton novel and like the novel, seems better with time but isn’t as great as you remember it being.
  • The Turning Point  –  A William Holden film adapted from the novel Storm in the City (a better title).
  • My Cousin Rachel  –  This one is still hard to find, so if you get a chance, watch it on TCM.  It’s got a very good young Richard Burton (his first Oscar nomination) in this adaptation of a du Maurier novel.
  • What Price Glory  –  A John Ford film starring James Cagney, based on the Max Anderson play, though all the original dialogue is dumped.
  • A Woman Without Love  –  A Buñuel film based on a de Maupassant short story.  Not one of the director’s best, but still worth watching.
  • Cloudburst  –  This is interesting both because it’s an early Hammer film (although Crime, not Horror) and it has Robert Preston as the lead.  Based on a play by Leo Marks.
  • Face to Face  –  An anthology film that adapts both Conrad’s “The Secret Sharer” and Stephen Crane’s “The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky”.
  • Les Enfants Terribles  –  Cocteau’s novel is adapted to the screen, but sadly not by Cocteau himself, and that might have been why it’s a mid-range *** and not better.
  • American Guerilla in the Philippines  –  Another Fritz Lang film, this one based on the real life experiences of a marine.  One of his weaker films.
  • The Prisoner of Zenda  –  The fourth film version of the classic novel, with a script almost identical to the 1937 version except with Stewart Granger instead of Ronald Colman, a big let-down, even if it does have Deborah Kerr.
  • Scaramouche  –  Based on a Sabatini novel (who had also written the superior Captain Blood), it had already been adapted as a silent film.  It’s another Stewart Granger film, but without the benefit of Kerr.
  • The World in His Arms  –  One of a number of films adapted from Rex Beach novels, almost none of them memorable, including this one.  It does star Gregory Peck and is directed by Raoul Walsh.
  • Son of Paleface  –  Bob Hope stars in a comedic sequel to The Paleface, his 1948 hit.
  • The Jazz Singer  –  The original is important because of its use of sound, not its story and didn’t need to be remade.  Never-the-less, Danny Thomas starred in this version.
  • Stars and Stripes Forever  –  Clifton Webb stars as John Philip Sousa in this biopic based on his autobiography.  We’re in the lowest level of *** now.
  • The Lusty Men  –  Vastly over-rated Nicholas Ray film based on the novel by Claude Stanush.
  • The Merry Widow  –  Yet another version of this opera on film, this one starring Fernando Lamas and Lana Turner.
  • Ivanhoe  –  Now we’re down to **.5.  I had fond memories of the novel from high school, even though my siblings hated it, but going back to it recently, I couldn’t get very far into it.  The film is very lackluster, but if you want to know more, there’s a full review of it here because it was a surprise Best Picture nominee.
  • My Six Convicts  –  Subpar prison film that somehow managed to win Best Supporting Actor at the Golden Globes.  Adapted from the book by a former Fort Leavenworth psychologist.
  • The Snows of Kilimanjaro  –  Like The Macomber Affair, a lackluster Gregory Peck film made from a first-rate Hemingway story.
  • Androcles and the Lion  –  Watching Victor Mature attempt to emote is always painful.  Watching him try to do Shaw is especially bad.  If you want to watch this lackluster film, it was released on DVD by Criterion in the George Bernard Show on Film Eclipse box.
  • Lure of the Wilderness  –  We’ve hit ** now.  Jean Renoir adapted the novel Swamp Water in 1941.  That’s a good high-level *** film that wasn’t in my AS: 1941 post because I had to ILL a copy (and it was a region 2 disc even then).  Yet, I had no trouble finding this crapy version directed by Jean Negulesco during my Oscar-nominated Director project.
  • Les Miserables  –  Lewis Milestone directed this crappy version of the classic novel, with Michael Rennie as Jean Valjean.  Don’t waste your time.  There are way too many better adaptations you could watch.
  • Red Planet Mars  –  This is a * film and the worst I’ve seen from this year.  You’d think from my review (down towards the bottom) that this film is too stupid not to be an original script.  Yet, it was based on a play called Red Planet by John L. Balderston, who is much more famous for revising the Hamilton Dean stage version of Dracula into the more well-known version that millions have seen on stage (including me).

Note:  One film originally listed here was Manon of the Spring, directed by Marcel Pagnol.  Since I have the novel that Pagnol wrote, I worked under the assumption that he adapted his own novel.  But, in fact, he would write the novel based on his own film and the novel wouldn’t follow until a decade later.  The film is okay, a far cry below the later remake, but it’s worth seeing and the two novels, Jean de Florette and Manon of the Spring, are well worth reading.  Pagnol wasn’t a great director, but he was a great writer.

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