The wonderful opening narration of Sabrina has no corresponding scene in the original play.

The wonderful opening narration of Sabrina has no corresponding scene in the original play.

My Top 10:

  1. Sabrina
  2. Forbidden Games
  3. Hobson’s Choice
  4. The Country Girl
  5. A Star is Born
  6. Rear Window
  7. The Caine Mutiny
  8. Gate of Hell
  9. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
  10. Beat the Devil

Note:  After the list topped out at seven last year, it’s back to a full 10 this year (with a few left over down at the bottom).
Note:  On the Waterfront would possibly today be considered adapted.  But I already decided to keep it in Original, if for no other reason then I’m not going to be able to track down the newspaper articles that inspired the film, making its inclusion here rather pointless, since I’ve already reviewed it.
Note:  This is the first year where full records exist at oscars.org.  That means from this year on, there might be a list at the very bottom of adaptations I haven’t seen.  These will be things I choose based on the original source, not by the quality of the film.  I have tried to find any film with a major literary work as a source (or by a major author).

Consensus Nominees:

  1. Sabrina  (184 pts)
  2. The Country Girl  (120 pts)
  3. Seven Brides for Seven Brothers  (120 pts)
  4. Rear Window  (80 pts)
  5. The Caine Mutiny  /  Carmen Jones  /  Executive Suite  /  Forbidden Games  /  The Long Long Trailer  /  A Star is Born  /  Susan Slept Here  (40 pts)

Note:  Though the BAFTAs would institute a Best Screenplay in this year, it will only be sporadically included until 1968.  That’s because it was the Best British Screenplay Award with no corresponding Best Screenplay like they did with Picture, Actor and Actress.  I don’t like that it doesn’t include other scripts, so I only include it if the script was nominated for other awards.  You could make a good argument that this simply counterbalances the WGA, which most British films aren’t eligible for.  But, these are my posts and the BAFTA nominees are a lot harder to track down; I’m lucky to have seen them once, let alone try to track them down to see them again (and their often obscure sources).  There is also the annoying aspect that the eligibility years often don’t overlap, so it really messes with the Consensus Awards.  If any film was nominated for the BAFTA, I will mention it either in the review or in the list down at the bottom.
Note:  The Globes will do away with their Best Screenplay Award after this year and won’t bring it back until 1965.  Combining that with the fact that the major critics awards won’t give a Screenplay award to an adapted script until 1963, it won’t be again until 1963 that any adapted screenplay will have more than 160 Consensus points (winning both the Oscar and WGA).

Oscar Nominees  (Best Screenplay):

  • The Country Girl
  • The Caine Mutiny
  • Rear Window
  • Sabrina
  • Seven Brides for Seven Brothers

Golden Globe Nominees:

  • Sabrina

note:  There were no other announced nominees.

WGA Awards:

Drama:

  • The Country Girl
  • Executive Suite
  • Rear Window

Nominees that are Original:  On the Waterfront, The Barefoot Contessa

Comedy:

  • Sabrina
  • The Long, Long Trailer
  • Susan Slept Here

Nominees that are Original:  It Should Happen to You, Knock on Wood

Musical:

  • Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
  • Carmen Jones
  • A Star is Born

Nominees that are Original:  The Glenn Miller Story, There’s No Business Like Show Business

My Top 10

Sabrina

sabrina-1954-1The Film:

I have already reviewed Sabrina as one of the five best films of the year.  In spite of the oddness of the Bogart casting and the ludicrous idea that anyone could ignore Audrey Hepburn, the film absolutely works.  It works because Holden is so great as a cad, because Hepburn is so wonderful and luminous and because Bogart’s grumpiness exudes a quiet charm and because, of course, Billy Wilder is up on that pedestal with Bergman, Kurosawa, Kubrick, Woody Allen and the Coens as the greatest writer-directors of all-time.

The Source:

Sabrina Fair or A Woman of the World: A Romantic Comedy by Samuel Taylor (1953)

This is a nice enough little play about a woman who grew up as the daughter of the chauffeur for a rich Long Island family. After three years away in Paris, she comes home having grown up into a beautiful woman and now suddenly she is thrown between the two brothers in the family, the younger, more impetuous one, and the older, more responsible one. In the end, the comedy is all about which one she is going to chose and the romance is about what happens between them along the way.

The Adaptation:

See that bare bones description of the play? That’s pretty much what Billy Wilder took from the original play. Almost nothing else. The entire first “act” of the film, where Sabrina watches David and then attempts suicide before going off to Paris? Not in the play at all, which starts the day she arrives back home from Paris. All of the great witty lines, such as the scene with the other servants describing her letter or Bogart dictating a rather caustic memo to his brother? All of that is invented by Wilder or his co-screenwriters. Hell, while Sabrina is the focus of the film, it takes 38 pages before she even shows up in the play.

“Very strange case with Sabrina. It was a play. It was first made into a movie, with all the changes, radical changes, and the play came out a year after the movie and was a complete flop. It did not have the same structure anymore. It just kind of kept the relation – there are two sons of a rich industrialist, and a chauffeur and a daughter.” (Conversations with Wilder by Cameron Crowe, p 93)

The Credits:

Produced and Directed by Billy Wilder. Written for the Screen by Billy Wilder, Samuel Taylor, Ernest Lehman. From the play by Samuel Taylor.

Forbidden Games

forbiddengamesThe Film:

A tragic, strange little film that was a massive worldwide critical hit, it is also a film that I reviewed in my Nighthawk Awards as one of the best films of 1954.

The Source:

secretgameThe Secret Game by Francois Boyer  (1947)

The cover to the right is the current cover of the book, as published by Vanguard Press. It is a terrible cover and it confused Veronica when she saw the book sitting on the counter. “Why are you reading a young adult book?” she asked (caveat: I decided not to include that cover, because it’s terrible but you can find it here). I hadn’t really thought of it like that, but after starting to read the book, it really had that vibe. Perhaps it was the language. Perhaps it was the story, mainly about two young children and the strange friendship and bond between them after she is left orphaned. Or maybe the length – the novel, with generous margins only runs to 150 pages; it very easily could have been printed in 100.

The novel wasn’t originally a novel; it was a screenplay that Boyer was unable to convince anyone to film. So, in 1947 he re-wrote it as a novel and had it published. It is unknown how much of the original screenplay made it into the novel. Most of the novel, certainly, made its way to the screen in the script that was not written by Boyer (though, in the bizarre inanities of the writing categories at the Oscars in the fifties, Boyer was nominated for Best Original Story).

The Adaptation:

The book, unlike the film, though, has a brutal ending. Michel ends up dead, crushed by a cross when they try to steal it.

The Credits:

Un Film de René Clément.  D’APRÈS LE ROMAN DE FRANÇOIS BOYER.  Adaptation cinématographique: Jean Aurenche, Pierre Bost, René Clément.  Dialogue: Pierre Bost, Jean Aurenche, François Boyer.

Hobson’s Choice

hobsonschoice1shhrwsThe Film:

A David Lean Comedy. The very phrase makes you pause and think that you read it wrong. David Lean made a comedy? Actually, he made more than one, with Blithe Spirit being the first. But it’s Hobson’s Choice that is the great one, one of the last films he made before taking off into epic land and never looking back. It’s even been restored by Criterion and released on DVD and looks great. It’s a reminder, that far all the talk of Lean and the way he photographed films, that he was an editor first, that he knows how to tell a story, and that his work with actors is first-rate.

For those unfamiliar with the phrase “hobson’s choice”, it is a choice that really is no choice at all. It began with a man named Hobson in 16th century Cambridge who would rent you the horse closest to the door or no horse at all. The added irony in this film, adapted from the play, is that it revolves around a man named Hobson, a man who owns a bootshop and who is also in possession of three grown daughters. Two of those daughters are a bit flighty – they have their young gentleman callers and just wanted to be married and released from the drudgery of the bootshop. The oldest, Maggie, is now 30, is not nearly as good looking as the other two, and basically runs the shop. Not only is she running out of time to find a husband, but her father daren’t let her out of his hands or he won’t know what to do. But Maggie is smart, Maggie is quick-witted and Maggie is very determined to make a future for herself. Part of what makes Maggie so fun to watch on screen is the magnificent performance from Brenda de Banzie, one which can’t get to the top of the Nighthawk Awards list in a year that includes Grace Kelly in The Country Girl, Judy Garland in A Star is Born or Audrey Hepburn in Sabrina, but she has no problem earning a nomination. Any woman who can walk on-screen and handle Charles Laughton in every situation that arises is someone who will amaze you. But de Banzie’s performance wouldn’t be enough if the script didn’t give her such a magnificent character to work with. Maggie sees how well poor Willie Mossop makes boots, how brow-beaten he is and how much she could do with talent like his and determination and wits like hers. She’s going to work the situation and make certain she and Willie, who she will grow to love and who will grow to love her, are put in a situation where they both can succeed. A little bit of luck comes along (there’s a fair bit of the comedy in that) and she manages to get her father over a barrel, and if you enjoy watching Laughton be a tyrant, just watch how enjoyable it is to find him beaten by his own daughter.

All of this works so well because it succeeds at every level. It is entertaining, it is funny, it tells a good story, it has wit and intelligence in the script and it has great performances. Most of all, it has the sure hand of David Lean presiding over what is his most unlikely great film.

The Source:

Hobson’s Choice: A Three-Act Comedy by Harold Brighouse (1915)

At a time when women did not yet have the right to vote in Britain, Harold Brighouse wrote a play about a woman so damn set in what she wants and so smart about how she’s going to get it, that the whole of British government, doing their best to botch the war, would have been best served to just hand over everything to her. To add to the difficulties for her, he moved the play back in time to 1880. “Brighouse chose to set the play in 1880 because that was when the first stirrings of the women’s rights movement were being felt in England. Indeed, Maggie, the play’s heroine, would be portrayed as an early feminist.” (BEYOND THE EPIC: THE LIFE & FILMS OF DAVID LEAN by Gene D. Phillips, p 187)

Maggie is the smartest person in the play. She would be the smartest person in most plays. She might not have the gift for language that Shakespeare’s Rosalind would have in As You Like It, but she is just as smart about how to get at her heart’s desire. There is no gentle woman’s life for her. It makes the play a delight to read, with a character that smart and determined.

The Adaptation:

Lean wouldn’t have to do much to make the play brilliant on film. Everything he needed was right there in the play. But, of course, the play had been filmed twice before and neither had been a success. “Lean was too inventive and skillful a filmmaker to allow his version of Brighouse’s quaint provincial stage play to turn into a dated, dull movie, which was the fate of the two previous film adaptations. So he made some substantial alterations for the screen. Most important, he kept in mind that the play, which took place in the single setting of Hobson’s shop, must be opened out for the screen in much the same way as This Happy Breed. His adaptation of Hobson’s Choice adds several scenes that take place in other locations, providing ‘glimpses of Hobson’s blustering behavior in the Moonraker, the local pub, and of Maggie’s drive and determination.'” (Beyond the Epic, p 190-191) That is all very true, and that is part of the reason why the film is such a rousing success – because Lean’s direction make it vibrant and alive. But, of course, the casting does that as well. Charles Laughton, as mentioned above, was the perfect fit for the part and Brenda de Banzie, whose career was never well known in the States, was given the role of a lifetime and she made damn sure she gave the performance of her career to match it.

One thing that is different because of the opening-up is that Maggie, instead of dealing with Willie’s intended when she comes to bring him his supper in the shop, now gets to travel out to her house and have it out with her and her mother, an enjoyable scene that really livens things up.

The Credits:

Produced and Directed by David Lean. Screenplay by David Lean, Norman Spencer and Wynyard Browne. The title card “Hobson’s Choice by Harold Brighouse” is the only mention of the source.

The Country Girl

country_girl_xlgThe Film:

Every time I see this film, I am reminded of what I wrote in my review in my Best Picture project.  While Judy Garland is absolutely magnificent in A Star is Born, I feel completely fine about giving the Nighthawk Award to Grace Kelly.  It is unfortunate that two actresses who mean so much to me (Kelly, in my mind, is the most beautiful actress who ever lived and her career was cut short by marrying while there might not be a film performance that makes me fall in love more than Garland’s in The Wizard of Oz and her career of course was cut short by drug and personal problems) would both give their career best performances in the same year.

The Source:

countrygirlThe Country Girl by Clifford Odets  (1951)

This is quite a good play that functions almost as a minor kind of O’Neill play.  It certainly doesn’t really have the social heft for an Arthur Miller play or the unforgettable characters of a Tennessee Williams play.  But it’s a heavy drama with good character parts and people who are determined to tear each other apart.  It even revolves around acting, something which O’Neill was known to deal with, having dealt with it in life.  It’s not a great play.  But it is quite a good play.  It’s the story of Frank Elgin, an alcoholic actor struggling to hold on when given another chance at an important part in a big play.  He is driven down by his insecurities.  Or maybe it’s the story of Bernie Dodd, the director of the play, a misogynist whose hatred of his ex-wife blinds him to the situation between Frank and his wife and is just trying to drive Frank to success and get him away from the influence of the wife who is holding him back.  Or maybe it’s really the story of Georgie Elgin, the title character, that “country girl” who is married to Frank and is really trying to hold Frank together while Frank wants to pretend that she is holding him back.  As Georgie points out, Dodd wants to get the performance that she knows Frank is capable of, make him the actor he used to be while she’s trying to push Frank back to life, get him to be the man he used to be.

The Adaptation:

Most of the film comes directly from the play.  There are a few exceptions.  The rehearsal scenes are all added in, most likely catered to Crosby’s strengths as there is nothing in the original play that suggests that Frank is starring in a musical.  Also, for some reason, they decided to change the gender of the child who died.  In doing that, they heightened the responsibility that Frank felt for the child – in the play it’s mentioned that they lost a child but in the film, Frank was watching the child when he died and feels responsible and that guilt weighs him down.  But a lot of the lines and the structure of the film follows quite well.  All in all, it’s a great adaptation of what was already a strong play.

The Credits:

Written for the Screen and Directed by George Seaton.  From the play by Clifford Odets.

A Star is Born

a-star-is-bornThe Film:

I reviewed this film once already as one of the five best films of 1954.  It has what are probably the career best performances from both Judy Garland and James Mason and is one of the best remakes that Hollywood has ever produced.

The Source:

Poster - A Star is Born (1937)_02A Star is Born (1954), Directed by William A. Wellman. Screen Play by Dorothy Parker, Alan Campbell, Robert Carson. From a story by William A. Wellman and Robert Carson.

This is the first time that I have had a film in this project that began life as an original screenplay for a previous version of the film. I have actually already reviewed the original because it was nominated for Best Picture in 1937 (and was the Nighthawk winner for Best Picture in 1937).

The Adaptation:

The major difference between this and the original, of course, is that this is a Musical. It’s not a traditional Musical (where characters randomly break into song), but it is nonetheless, a Musical. But that is merely a function of the difference in the Vicki Lester as originally portrayed by Janet Gaynor (a dramatic actress) and the one played by Judy Garland in this film (a song and dance actress in Musicals).

The main story-telling difference between this and the original is the presence of Vicki Lester’s family. The first film starts in North Dakota, with young Esther Blodgett yearning to be a Hollywood star before escaping to Hollywood. This comes back at the end, where her grandmother, who paid for Esther to go to Hollywood in the first place, comes out and convinces her that she needs to stay in Hollywood and be the star that she has become. In the remake, it is the friend that she makes in the boarding house that convinces her to stick with her acting life.

The Credits:

Directed by George Cukor.  Screen Play by Moss Hart.  Based on the Dorothy Parker, Alan Campbell, Robert Carson Screen Play.  From a story by William A. Wellman and Robert Carson.

Rear Window

rear-window_poster_goldposter_com_32The Film:

I have already reviewed this film once as one of the five best films of the year.  I always end up wondering, every time I watch it, if I consider it Hitchcock’s best film.  It’s certainly, along with Rebecca, Notorious and Strangers on a Train, a major contender for the position.

The Source:

“Rear Window” by Cornell Woolrich (1944)

A nice tight little story from the same author who wrote “The Boy Who Cried Murder” which had been made into an effective film in 1949 as The Window. It’s about a man who keeps looking out his window and becomes convinced that the man across the way has murdered his wife. He ends up enlisting a friend in the police as well as getting a servant (or at least a man who works for him) to get involved as well. Through some slip-ups, he almost manages to get himself killed, but in the end, is saved and it turns out he’s right. It’s not very long (30 pages) and is quite effective.

The Adaptation:

In the original story, you are left to wonder through much of the story why the narrator is getting Sam, the man who works for him, to do the dirty work. It’s not until the humor of the final two lines from the doctor that conclude the story that it’s made explicit: “Guess we can take that cast off your leg now. You must be tired of sitting there all day doing nothing.” In the film, of course, we know this right from the start, but we still get an added bit of humor at the end, with that second cast.

Much of the concept (the killer, what he has done, the insurance scam, the ending) comes straight from the book. The man, Sam, however, who works for the narrator, has been split into two different characters: the Thelma Ritter character who does work for him, and the Grace Kelly lover who he enlists into the scheme to discover what has happened. It’s a brilliant change, and not the least because then we get to enjoy one of the great character actresses of all-time and the most beautiful woman who ever lived.

The Credits:

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock.  Screenplay by John Michael Hayes.  Based on the short story by Cornel Woolrich.

The Caine Mutiny

the-caine-mutiny-poster3The Film:

I already reviewed this film once, during the Best Picture project. When I made the comment about how Dmytryk wanted the film to be longer, it had been years since I had read the book. Having read the book again, I can see why he wanted to make it longer, but some of the choices that he made could have done the characterization better even without added length simply by cutting the romantic subplot, but more on that below.  Anyone with an interest in film should definitely watch it for the Bogart performance alone, but there’s no question that there are flaws in the film.

The Source:

caine mutinyThe Caine Mutiny: A Novel of World War II by Herman Wouk (1951)

I gave the Pulitzer Prize a B for awarding this book in 1952, partially because it’s a good book, but partially because the award deserved more to go to From Here to Eternity or Catcher in the Rye. The comparison to Eternity is more apt because they were best-sellers at the same time. Also, Eternity comes into the war at the end of the novel, yet, in some ways, we see more of the war there than we do here. Wouk called this “A Novel of World War II”, but in his 2003 introduction to the book, he said that he noted in his diary at the time “This is a good book, or I am the more deceived, but it is not yet my War Novel.” He was correct of course. It is a good book, and it was not his War Novel (that would be The Winds of War and War and Remembrance). This book, in fact, in spite of taking place on a Naval boat during the war really has nothing to do with the war, and that might be the point. This is a book about a particular incident that comes about because of the demands on this particular boat and the stress that men undergo during these situations.

This book looks at a particular idea – what would happen if a captain who was particularly unlikeable (and about whose ability there were serious questions) ended up in a situation where his officers decided that they had to take over command from him in order to save the ship? Wouk gives us believable characters and an interesting situation. It does not rise out of nowhere, and when we do see it unfold, I doubt there is anyone who reads it and finds themselves without sympathy for the officers of the Caine.

There is genuine tension in the book, and we wonder right down to the end what is going to happen. But is not a perfect book, perhaps because Wouk, in his determination to give us an angle into the story gives us too much of the story of Willie Keith and his private life. In the end, he might have been better off sticking with the ship more and giving up the romantic subplot that probably increases the book by an unnecessary 100 pages.

The Adaptation:

As I said, Dmytryk wanted a longer film and he wanted to explore the characters more. But in a sense, he stuck too close to the original novel by sticking closely with the love story which he could have dropped entirely (and, by the way, the goof about the Firefall is from the original novel, so that can be blamed on Wouk). There are important character moments that could have been kept in the film (in the book, Willie’s father is in the early parts and he is very sick when he says goodbye to his son but Willie doesn’t know that, so all of the actions of him on the Caine take place under the shadow of his father’s death), which are instead dropped. Aside from that, there are only a few other points that are either dropped (Willie was already familiar with Keefer, as he had roomed with his half-brother at Naval training) or are changed (in the book, Willie is discharged after overseeing the de-comissioning of the Caine after the conclusion of the war rather than ending up back with his original captain). That ending seems put in there specifically to get on the good side of the Navy, ending with a good moment, with a young officer who has learned what it is like to be a sailor and be back with a better captain, rather than having left the Navy behind so he can keep after his girl and finally get her to marry him after he has strung her along through the whole damn war.

The Credits:

Directed by Edward Dmytryk. Screen Play by Stanley Roberts. Additional Dialogue by Michael Blankfort. Based Upon the Pulitzer Prize Winning Novel by Herman Wouk.

Gate of Hell

jigokumon_posterThe Film:

Certain films belong in black-and-white and some of the films that Akira Kurosawa would make in the 50’s and 60’s, films like Ikiru, The Lower Depths, The Bad Sleep Well and High and Low work perfectly in that medium.  But it’s too bad that we never got color for any of his early great samurai epics.  Godzilla might not have looked so great in color (the color certainly wasn’t wonderful in King Kong vs. Godzilla) but the colors of period clothing could have been brought vibrantly to life.  There is no better proof of that than Gate of Hell, the gorgeous 1953 film that would come to the States in 1954 and win Best Foreign Film and Best Color Costume Design at the Oscars.

This is a samurai film, but it’s not really one.  It isn’t anything like the action epics that Kurosawa would make or the passionate exploration of honor that was Harakiri.  Yes, this film is about honor, but it’s a different kind of honor – the one that ties together a romantic relationship rather than a familial one.  Morito has fallen for Lady Kesa (played by Machiko Kyo, who was so brilliant as the wife in Rashomon).  I won’t say fallen in love, because it’s more a powerful lust than any deeper attraction, but it’s strong enough that he wants to eliminate her husband.  To that end, he tries to set things up so that he can kill the husband and have the widow.  The film works on the narrative level so well because of the stain on his honor that Morito is committing and attempting to get Kesa to commit.  For a man who is supposed to embody such a trait, he has fallen as far as is possible.  The choice that Kesa makes at the end of the film is the best possible choice for her and makes for a poignant ending.

But if this were simply that story it would be a good film.  But, with the direction of Teinosuke Kinugasa we get something more.  This film is exquisite to look at.  Normally I would try to describe something about what he does with color, how vibrantly it makes the emotions of the film come to life, but I have already been beaten to the punch, so I will just link to the magnificent essay by Stephen Prince that accompanies the Criterion DVD.  I will just finish with this: if you have never seen this film and the Prince essay does not convince you that should absolutely add it to your Netflix queue, then I wonder how much you really care about film.

The Source:

Kesa no otto by Kan Kikuchi  (1935)

This is a story that owes its history to the Heiji rebellion.  A version of it was written as a short story in 1918 by Ryunosuke Akutagawa, the same author who wrote the short stories that were adapted into Rashomon.  In 1923 Kan Kikuchi would turn it into his own short story.  In 1935, Kikuchi would then adapt his story into a play.  I have not, however, been able to find Kikuchi’s play in English and had a hard enough time figuring out the title and what year it was published.

The Adaptation:

Obviously I can’t speak to the adaptation since I haven’t read the original source.

The Credits:

Directed by Teinosuke Kinugasa.  Based on the Play Kesa’s Husband by Kan Kikuchi.  Screenplay by Teinosuke Kinugasa.

As will be the case with any film made in a language that doesn’t use the Roman alphabet, I am forced to rely on the subtitles for the credits, in this case those from the Criterion DVD.

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

1954-20000-leagues-under-the-seaThe Film:

Starting in 1950, Disney starting making live-action films to go along with their animated feature films. They specialized in adventure films, starting with Treasure Island and including Robin Hood before their fifth live-action film, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. It was not only to be easily the best live-action film they would make in their first decade, but all the way up until 2003, it was still the second best live-action film they had made, behind only Mary Poppins.   It sets the tone for what will come to mark success in the Disney films – a big star (in this case, Kirk Douglas), an interesting villain with some charm (James Mason as Captain Nemo, though villain isn’t really the right word), a lot of adventure and some good clean family fun (most notably Kirk Douglas singing “A Whale of a Tale”). It is a success on the artistic level, being a mid-range ***.5 film that is both well-made (it won two Oscars and earned a third nomination; it wins 3 Nighthawk Awards and earns four other nominations) and entertaining, it was a critical hit and it was a commercial success (the second-highest grossing film of the year).

It may surprise people who have only heard about the film and novel second-hand and have never actually seen the film or read the novel that this is not really the story of Captain Nemo, and that not only is he a supporting character, but that he is essentially the villain in the story. The film itself (like the novel) focuses on a professor who, along with his assistant, is on a voyage to discover this monster that has been sinking ships in the Pacific Ocean. Their ship is attacked and the only survivors of the ordeal are the professor, his assistant and the carefree harpoon-master Ned Land, played by Kirk Douglas. The professor is played by Paul Lukas, who, playing it quite stuffy, is the weak link in the film. But that’s okay because he’s surrounded by Douglas, whose charisma is more than enough to make up for Lukas, Peter Lorre as his short, rather wide assistant (in the book his assistant was a boy) and James Mason as Nemo. As I have mentioned before, Mason has that amazing hypnotic voice and that makes him perfect for Nemo. He is a man who has essentially declared war on the human race, but you are still fascinated by him at every turn.

The highlight of the film, as anyone can tell you, is the magnificent battle against the giant squid. Even today this battle is thrilling, and back in 1954, with the best special effects to appear on film since at least The Wizard of Oz, it must have been amazing to watch on the big screen.

This is one of those films that works so well precisely because Disney was involved. At heart, it is still a kids film – a big adventure film with some thrilling moments, a bit of comedy (there is a trained seal who barks when Douglas tries to go after some treasure, prompting Veronica to squeal: “it’s a protective seal!”), a nice fun song and simply a good time to be had by all.

The Source:

20000 LeaguesVingt mille lieues sous les mers: Tour du monde sous-marin by Jules Verne (serialized 1869-1870, published in book form, 1870)

I’ve mentioned before that I love the great pulp writers, in a variety of genres, writers like Dashiell Hammet (mystery), Robert E. Howard (fantasy), H.P. Lovecraft (horror). But there are also those classic writers who write in some of those same genres that pre-date the pulps themselves, writers like H.G. Wells, Arthur Conan Doyle, and of course, Jules Verne.

This is a great science-fiction story, of a professor, his assistant and a harpoonist who are all on a voyage to discover what monster has been sinking ships out in the Pacific Ocean. When they are attacked and end up adrift, they find themselves on the Nautilus, a great magnificent submarine, commanded by the mysterious, forbidding Nemo. Nemo has left human society behind and lives only for his men and his submarine, attacking vessels, raiding underwater stores of sunken gold and building up his research. The sea is his world now, from eating a variety of animals to be found under the sea, to smoking a new form of cigar made from seaweed. We don’t learn about his past (that would come in the sequel novel, Mysterious Island, which contradicts some of the story told in this novel), which makes him all the more mysterious.

There is one thing to beware of, in regards to this novel, and it’s one of my arguments against e-books.  The first, most commonly found translation of this novel into English was made by Lewis Mercier.  But, as can be clearly seen if you read The Annotated Jules Verne: Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, edited and annotated by Walter James Miller, that original translation is wrought with errors and excised text.  However, since the Mercier translation (often listed as Mercier Lewis, since that’s how he signed that translation) is out of copyright protection while the Miller book is still protected, e-readers can get the original version for cheap (or free).  If you have any real interest in the book, I recommend making certain you get either the Miller or the William Butcher translations.  You’ll get a much more true version of the novel.

The Adaptation:

I have to give credit to Disney for not thinking in terms of a sequel right from the start with this film. If they had been, there is no reason why they couldn’t have used the story as it goes in the book and then at some further point made Mysterious Island, again using James Mason as the star. But they clearly weren’t, and it is clear from the choices they made in the adaptation.

Much of the first half of the film stays close to the first half of the book. We are introduced to the story through the professor (who narrates the book), we have the three men who end up adrift together and join the Nautilus, we have the voyages across the ocean. The only major difference between the book and the film in the first half is that the assistant to the professor in the book is a young man while in the film it is an overweight Peter Lorre.

But in the second half, things veer greatly away from the source material. Yes, there is a battle with a giant squid, but the whole fight at the volcano is created for the film and the decision to kill off Captain Nemo, when his fate (and those of the other members of the crew) is unknown in the original book (and indeed, would be dealt with more in The Mysterious Island) really shows that Disney wasn’t interested in continuing the story, which is too bad, because they might have done well with a sequel.

The Credits:

Directed by Richard Fleischer.  Screen Play by Earl Felton.  The only mention of the source is on the title card: Jules Verne’s “20000 Leagues Under the Sea”.

Beat the Devil

beathedevilThe Film:

“Those are desperate characters,” Jennifer Jones warns her husband.  “How can you tell?” he asks.  “Not one of them looked at my legs.”  It’s a great line (I had read it in my book You Ain’t Heard Nothin Yet long before I had ever seen the film) and a great start to the film (the line is very early in the film).  But, in some ways it’s unnecessary.  Just look at Robert Morley, dressed in white, sweating profusely in the Italian sun, or the platinum-blonde Peter Lorre, so tiny next to him, or the pinched eyes of the Brit on the other side.  If there was ever a group of desperate characters on screen, it’s obvious that these are them.

This film is a Comedy and it’s a character piece in which the plot is essentially irrelevant.  The original novel was a thriller and the plot, while not vital, was important, and it was serious.  But John Huston decided the hell with that and when he realized who he had gathered and what he could do with them, he did what he wanted and he made a rather strange comedy that no one knew what to do with (it completely failed at the box office), certainly not Humphrey Bogart.  Yet, this film works precisely because it is so invested in its characters.  In the end, we don’t care about the plot.  We just want to watch them interact.  Morley is great and fun, with a face you know you can’t trust.  Lorre is a disturbing little character, a German named O’Hara who, hilariously, insists that there are a lot of O’Haras in Chile (where he claims to be from) and when we think about the Nazis who fled to South America we realize it’s probably true.  The squinty little Brit (who had been in David Lean’s Great Expectations and Oliver Twist) laments when he thinks a character has died, comparing him in one breath to other men whose loss he laments: Mussolini and Hitler.  Through it all, Bogart has a smile plastered on his face, maybe because he’s supposed to be married to Gina Lollobrigida and he’s flirting heavily with Jennifer Jones and he is interested in her legs in spite of being a desperate character.

This is an odd little film and it’s unlike almost anything John Huston ever made and it’s certainly unlike anything else that Humphrey Bogart ever made.  But it has wit and humor and it has a strange plot that seems to keep wanting to come to the forefront and then receding when it realizes that the characters are so much more interesting.

One last thing to be aware of – this film fell out of copyright a while ago, and as such, has been released on DVD by whoever wants to release it.  The transfer I watched to review it this time was truly awful, with the sound completely out of synch. Beware of that.

The Source:

beatthedevilBeat the Devil by James Helvick (1951)

This is a small little thriller, set in France, about a bunch of criminals trying to get some interests in vital mineral-rich land in Africa.  It’s really less about the actual plot than about their machinations to get things in motion in the first place.  It’s not a bad novel, but it drags quite a bit, heavy on the dialogue and determined to think it’s dialogue is more clever than it actually is.

The Adaptation:

John Huston decided the hell with the novel.  He didn’t completely throw it out – the basic premise of the plot, as well as the circumstances of the characters are imported from the novel and there are even some lines of dialogue that originated in the novel, including Peter Lorre’s lines about how many O’Haras there are in Chile.  But, after moving the story from France to Italy, after yanking Truman Capote aboard to help write it (disposing of what James Helvick, the original novelist had put in his original version of the screenplay), Huston decided to make it into a Comedy instead of a straight Thriller and things took an interesting left turn.  So, many things in the book come to life on screen, but not in the same way, not with the same inflections and a book that easily could have been forgotten (I feel like I would have forgotten it already if not for the film) stays alive in a different kind of way.

The Credits:

Directed by John Huston. Based on the Novel “Beat the Devil” by James Helvick. Screenplay by Truman Capote and John Huston.

Consensus Nominees That Don’t Make My Top 10

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers

7bridesThe Film:

I reviewed this film for my Best Picture project and got some pushback on how little I think of it. But I have now watched it again, after reading the silly little story it was adapted from and I think no higher of it than I did before. You might love it, but I still think the songs are completely unmemorable and that the performances are simply terrible. Yet, here I am, having to watch it yet again because the Oscars nominated its damn screenplay!

The Source:

“The Sobbin’ Women” by Stephen Vincent Benet (1926)

This short story (by the author of “The Devil and Daniel Webster”, whose story worked much better with Benet’s prose style) is inspired by the old Roman legend “The Rape of the Sabine Women”, and that story is even directly alluded to by one of the characters in the story. There are seven backwoods brothers who feel the need to marry. After one of them does marry, she becomes determined to make the others marry so that she isn’t the only woman around. In the end, they head into town and try to find brides, but are forced to abduct them and a convenient blizzard traps them all together for months, to the point where the women finally feel comfortable around them. The undertones are rather disturbing, just as they were in the original legend.

The Adaptation:

Well, the songs are all thrown in, of course. This is based on a short story, not a Broadway musical (an important point to some of the film’s defenders), so all of the songs in this film were created for the film (interesting that the Academy then didn’t consider any of them worth nominating). There are also a few little points that were changed (the avalanche is an accident in the story, while in the film it’s not only created on purpose, but is telegraphed early in the film). Other than that, the film is just an expanded version of the original story (and to be fair, adding songs in, especially ones that don’t really further the plot, is a great way to pad the time and turn a short story into a feature-length film).

The Credits:

Directed by Stanley Donen. Screen Play by Albert Hackett & Frances Goodrich And Dorothy Kingsley. Based On the Story “The Sobbin’ Women” by Stephen Vincent Benet. Lyrics by Johnny Mercer.

Executive Suite

executive-suite-one-sheet-poster-001The Film:

How could a film that stars both Fredric March and William Holden feel so flat?  It’s not a bad film by any stretch of the imagination – it’s got good solid performances all around.  But for something that it supposed to be all about the drama of who will come out on top of a company after its president falls dead of a heart attack there really isn’t much drama.  It’s kind of boring.  I could say that part of it is the storyline, which I will discuss more down below in the source.  But part of it definitely needs to lie at the feet of director Robert Wise, who may be a two-time Oscar winner but really was a lot of the time making bland films like this one.

The film even starts out awkwardly.  Because the president himself is not that important, but merely his absence is, he is never actually shown and his scenes – leaving a meeting, sending a telegram, having the heart attack and dying – are shown from his point-of-view.  That just makes it feel strange (and makes you wonder if this will be like Lady in the Lake and continue all the way through, though thankfully not) and disjointed.  Then we start to meet the various vice-presidents that have the potential to take over – the more ruthless one played by Fredric March, only concerned about money, the one you don’t quite trust because he’s played by Paul Douglas, the older one who seems like his chance has passed him by played by Walter Pidgeon and the younger one who is smart and innovative but is perhaps too young for this position played by William Holden, who a year after Stalag 17 and in the same year as Sabrina and The Country Girl really is rather flat in this film.  There are also all the women in the film – June Allyson as a young wife who is quite smart, Barbara Stanwyck, who wants to make her own play on what is going to happen and Shelley Winters, who loves her man.  But they all kind of fade into the background, because it’s a business struggle and none of them are allowed inside the boardroom.

That’s just another problem.  The movie is outdated, the movie has a boring premise, the movie is flatly directed and the writing has no snap to it.  It has a lot of actors that make you want to watch this film and then, 20 minutes after it’s over, you have trouble remembering who was who and what they cared about.

The Source:

executivesuiteExecutive Suite by Cameron Hawley  (1952)

Are you a better writer than Susan Orlean?  That is my standard question when it comes to a writer who is embarked upon a book about a subject that I don’t give a crap about.  She is my barometer because of The Orchid Thief.  It is a book that is beautifully written with some amazing prose and I have never finished it because it’s about flowers and I just don’t care.  Even the glorious writing of Orlean is not enough to get me through the book.  So, if you’re gonna write about say horses (I’ll eventually, someday get to 2003 and write about Seabiscuit) or wine (Sideways will follow the next year) you’d best be a damn sight better than Orlean (neither is).  Which brings me back to this year, 1954, and the goings on among the executives at a furniture company.  They are the main characters in a book by Cameron Hawley and I don’t give a crap about business or about machinations to take over a company after its president dies.  So you need to have a writer who is better than Orlean.  Cameron Hawley is nowhere near as good as Orlean.

That’s a roundabout way of saying that I struggled to even get through half of this book and then I simply gave up.  I just couldn’t really care.  There are far too many vice presidents in this company and I can’t really be bothered to remember which is which, let alone care which one will come out on top.  Hawley wants to make it dramatic – we are constantly interrupted by the insertion of the time.  Astoundingly this book is only a little over 350 pages, but I had given it up long before I got anywhere near that.

The Adaptation:

As far as I could tell, the film follows decently close to the book.  But it’s hard to tell because both the book and the film made my eyes start to go blurry and tune out and no longer care what was going on.  If you have to choose one, go with the film, but that’s not much of a recommendation.

The Credits:

Directed by Robert Wise.  Screen Play by Ernest Lehman.  Based on the Novel by Cameron Hawley.

The Long, Long Trailer

the_long_long_trailer_posterThe Film:

In 1954, MGM was apparently reticent to make this film. Lucille Ball and her husband Desi Arnez could be seen on televisions across the nation for free. Would crowds really go pay to see them in a film? True, the films would be in color and they would get an hour and a half without commercials, but was it a viable financial choice? Absolutely, turned out to be the answer, with the film being one of the biggest of the year. Did it deserve that kind of success? Well, I suppose in part that will depend on your opinion of I Love Lucy. See, I don’t love Lucy. I don’t dislike her either.  I just don’t care about her. I have seen parts of a couple of episodes (one clip on a Superman retrospective when Superman appears on the show and insults Lucy and parts from the episode where Lucy gives birth that they showed us in childbirth class) but have never had any interest in watching the show. Likewise, the film just kind of sits there for me. Watching Lucy browbeat Desi (I keep wanting to call him Ricky) into buying a long trailer they can’t possibly hope to afford, and then all the other highjinks that go along with it, including trying to cook while he’s driving (which at least leads to some lines in a great They Might Be Giants song) and them backing up into a friend’s house and pretty much demolishing it might play for big laughs with some people. To me, they were just kind of there. I didn’t particularly laugh at the film, but Ball and Arnez are talented enough and have such good chemistry together that it wasn’t that much of a drag either. It is what it is, essentially an hour and a half long sitcom about a couple that buys a trailer and then goes driving around and all the problems that creates. If that sounds like the movie for you, then go to it.

One thing I will say in defense of this film. It has a minute where it shows them traveling through Yosemite. I may think this film is silly and rather pointless but any film with beautiful panoramic views of one of my favorite places on earth has at least some redeeming qualities.

The Source:

longlongtrailerThe Long, Long Trailer by Clinton Twiss (1951)

Both Wikipedia and TCM call this a novel and I think perhaps it is the credits of this film to blame for that. This is not a novel, it’s a memoir (more travel writing than anything else) about Twiss buying a trailer and travelling around the country in it with his wife. At the end, stuck with a lot of debt because of the trailer, she demands he write a book about it so they can earn some money and still keep the trailer. In a bit of strange luck, he ends up a trailer next to James Jones, who was writing From Here to Eternity at the same time and they both share scenes with each other towards the end of the book. This could all be considered amusing enough, if you care about travelling in a trailer or care about this kind of lightly humorous travel writing, but I didn’t really much care.

A really strange note to this book – the copy I received from ILL was from the U.S. Naval Academy Library. Why on earth do they own a copy of this book?

The Adaptation:

The film really takes the basic idea of buying a trailer and then living in it and the problems that can occur with that and the strain it can put on a marriage and created a story to go along with it. Almost nothing in the film, from the destroying of the neighbor’s house, to the disaster of trying to cook while driving, to the treacherous drive over a mountain pass is actually in the book.

The Credits:

Directed by Vincente Minnelli. Screen Play by Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich. Based on the Novel by Clinton Twiss.

Susan Slept Here

The Film:

susan-slept-here-movie-poster1989174This film is uncomfortable in 2016. I can’t imagine how it played in 1954. Well, I know that the Legion of Decency opposed it, but apparently that was simply in response to the title. The thought of a 35 year old screenwriter who takes in a 17 year old juvenile delinquent because 1- he wants to write a script about juvenile delinquency and he’s been suffering from writer’s block since he won an Oscar, 2 – a cop he knows brought him the delinquent because he knows about the script and 3 – it’s Christmas Eve, and if he doesn’t take her in, this adorable girl (adorable is the only word for her – it’s Debbie Reynolds, after all) will spend the holiday in the slammer before she can be arraigned – didn’t seem to be as much of a problem, possibly because the film is played as a comedy. The girl, of course, falls in love with the writer, which causes extreme problems between the writer and his fiancee, a shrill blonde who has him on a pretty short leash and would like to remove some of his lead, and the writer’s best friend, a snarky guy whose main purpose in the film (and the original play) is to stand around and give out snarky lines while pining away for his time in the Navy, even though he doesn’t seem at all like he ever could have been in the Navy, let alone enjoyed it.

All of this would be uncomfortable enough – the girl falls for him almost immediately and then, when he finds out she’ll probably spend the next six months in juvy until she turns 18, he decides to take her to Vegas and marry her. He only does it to keep her safe, and he refuses to consummate the marriage, and that gets into the real issue with this film. The girl is supposed to be 17, and even though this is two years after Singin’ in the Rain, Reynolds was still only 22 and she easily looks like she could be 17. But she’s starring opposite Dick Powell. Time hasn’t made me want to punch him in his smug face any less and it hadn’t been particularly kind to him either. There’s no way on earth you can believe that he’s supposed to be 35. He was 50 in real life and he was not aging well. This would be his last film as an actor, though, tragically (and I mean that word seriously – I always wanted to punch him, but this is tragic) he would become a director, including the director of The Conqueror, the most cursed film in history, and one that would end up with numerous members of the cast and crew dying of cancer, with Powell one of the earliest to go, not even reaching 60. Yes, you can’t blame Powell for eventually choosing Reynolds over his fiancee, partially because she’s cute as a button, and partially because his fiancee is the kind of woman no man really wants to marry. But you can blame the filmmakers for not finding a better choice as a leading man.

There are a lot of people who view Susan Slept Here as a minor Christmas classic. It is, in the end, a light romantic comedy (with a bizarre surreal dream sequence), complete with ridiculous Hollywood happy ending, and Reynolds is a breath of fresh air. But, in the end, it’s just too disturbing to see Powell paired with Reynolds, the dialogue isn’t good enough, the premise is ridiculous and it just really isn’t very good.

The Source:

Susan Slept Here: A Comedy in Two Acts by Steve Fisher and Alex Gottlieb (1956)

Now, I wrote 1956 there, because that’s what it says on the book. The TCM database also gives the same date. That’s the copy printed by Samuel French, a British publisher, and it appears to be the only published version of the play. So, it could be that it wasn’t published in Britain until later. But it also doesn’t have a listing on the IBDB. So, I suspect that this was an unproduced play and it was only the success of the film that managed to get it published in the first place. So I wonder if it has ever been performed. Which would make sense, since the whole premise is quite ridiculous.

The Adaptation:

The film immediately feels the need to provide us with background. So we start with a ridiculous narrative about how Mark won an Oscar but now has writer’s block, even though his rich fiancee would just prefer he stop writing altogether and just marry her. Yet, some of the film is an improvement upon the play. In the play, the action takes place over the course of almost a year and Susan actually leaves to go star in a play and then comes back to him because she loves him. In a sense, the Hollywood ending of the film, which in some ways is the same as the play, is less ridiculous than the ending of the play. As for the dialogue, even though Alex Gottlieb co-wrote the play and wrote the film, much of the dialogue has been changed, with some scenes being almost entirely different, while some scenes hardly change at all.

The Credits:

Directed by Frank Tashlin. Screen Play by Alex Gottlieb. Based on a Play by Steve Fisher and Alex Gottlieb.

Carmen Jones

carmenjonesThe Film:

I watched this film again for this project the same day I watched Carousel again. Both are Hammerstein productions (he didn’t need Rodgers to do the music for this one, since he was using Bizet’s). In Carousel, the ending of the original play was changed by Rodgers and Hammerstein to provide something more hopeful for the audiences. But here, Hammerstein keeps the original Bizet ending, the darkness of the story carrying all the way through to the ending. Opera is tragic, after all, and this was opera, not just a Broadway Musical.

This is the story of Carmen Jones, who makes parachutes in an army factory for the war but is fired after being tattled on. She manages to seduce the man taking her to prison and leaves for Louisiana. Working in a club, she spurns a chance to go to Chicago until the man she seduced returns and she goes to Chicago to spite him. In the end, he kills her when she spurns him.

Or maybe this is the story of Joe, the soldier who has a nice, innocent sweetheart and a good future in front of him. But when ordered to deliver Carmen to prison, he is seduced and he can’t escape her wiles. He ignores what she had sung to him in the big song “Dat Love” (Bizet’s “Habanera”) and finds himself sucked into her web. He strikes a superior officer, flees the army and in the end, strangles her when he realizes he can’t have her.

We have two characters, both of them headed for tragic ends. We have a film that is almost entirely made up of black characters being filmed at a time when the Civil Rights struggle was just about the kick into high gear. We have a director who was always determined to make his films his way without bothering to listen to whatever anyone had to say against it. This is not a great film, or even a very good one. But it is a solid film, lead by a solid performance from Dorothy Dandridge as Carmen, a seductive force of nature who powers the film through from start to finish. If the film isn’t higher than ***, perhaps it’s because whenever she’s not onscreen, the film can’t really match the energy level she provides.

The Source:

Carmen Jones by Oscar Hammerstein II, based on Meilhac and Halévy’s adaptation of Prosper Merimée’s Carmen (1945)

Perhaps it says all it needs to say what I think of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals that by far the two best songs ever written with lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II are both from Carmen Jones. And I don’t even care that much about the lyrics. Granted, Hammerstein comes up with perfect lyrics that fit the existing cadence, but it’s really the Bizet music that does so much here.

This is a dark play. Nothing good is going to happen any of the characters. But, hey isn’t that partially the point of opera? As a play, it’s okay – it doesn’t have much character development because it has to follow the trail of darkness.

The Adaptation:

“I was fascinated by the idea of transposing the story of Carmen into present-day American life with an all-black cast. I engaged Harry Kleiner, who had been one of my students at Yale, and started to work with him on the screenplay. Except for the lyrics we did not use the text of Hammerstein’s revue or the libretto of the original opera by Meilhac and Halevy but went back to the original story by Prosper Merimee. For I had decided to make a dramatic film with music rather than a conventional film musical.” (Preminger: An Autobiography. Otto Preminger. 1977, p 133)

Preminger really says all that needs to be said. The songs make it on to the screen, but the rest of the play is dropped. And Preminger is accurate – this really is a dramatic film with songs interspersed than a more traditional Rodgers / Hammerstein Musical.

The Credits:

Produced and Directed by Otto Preminger. Book & Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein 2nd. Based on Billy Rose’s Broadway production of the musical play Carmen Jones. Screenplay by Harry Kleiner.

Other Screenplays on My List Outside My Top 10:

  • Le Plaisir  –  A very good Max Ophüls comedy from 1952.  It adapts three Guy de Maupassant stories.
  • The Earrings of Madame De…  –  Actually a better Ophüls film, this one from 1953, but listed lower because I rank the script for Le Plaisir higher.  This is my #9 film of the year.  It’s adapted from a novel by Louise Lévêque de Vilmorin.
  • Human Desire  –  Both the film and the original novel it’s based on (La Bête humaine by Émile Zola) have already been reviewed in my Great Read post.  To sum it up, it’s interesting that the only Zola adaptation made by Hollywood was made a German emigre.

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

  • Johnny Guitar  –  This Nicholas Ray Western has become a cult classic and it’s quite a good film, coming in as a top *** film.  It’s based on the novel by Roy Chanslor.
  • El  –  A 1953 Buñuel film, it’s based on a novel by Mercedes Pinto.  It was actually made after Buñuel’s mediocre Robinson Crusoe, but released before it, though both ended up with 1954 U.S. releases.
  • The Overcoat  –  Italian director Alberto Lattuada adapts the famous Gogol story into a pretty good film.  This is a good example of a film I saw because of looking at the list on oscars.org of source material for 1954 films.  Star Renato Rascel ends up at #10 on my Best Actor list.
  • Angels One Five  –  A 1952 British film, nominated for Best Picture and Best British Film at the BAFTAs, this is one of those solid Jack Hawkins films that I sought out because of BAFTA nominations (Hawkins ended up at #9 on my Best Actor list).
  • The Lady Without Camelias  –  I saw this one during my Oscar-nominated director project, as its directed by Michelangelo Antonioni.  It’s not listed at oscars.org and the IMDb lists it as being based on a story by Antonioni, but that might be a screen story and thus this might really be an original screenplay.
  • Track of the Cat  –  Director William A. Wellman again directs a novel from Walter Van Tilburg Clark, but it doesn’t bring quite the same results as The Ox-Bow Incident.  Still, it is a solid Western.
  • The Golden Coach  –  A solid Renoir film based on the play Le Carrosse du Saint-Sacrement by Prosper Mérimée.
  • Twenty-Four Eyes  –  A 1952 film by Keisuke Kinoshita that I first saw because it was one of four winners of Best Foreign Film at the 1954 Golden Globes.  It used to be hard to find but it’s now available on DVD from Criterion.
  • Folly to Be Wise  –  An enjoyable British Comedy with Alistair Sim in the lead as an army chaplain trying to recruit entertainment acts for the troops.  It’s based on a play by James Birdie.
  • Brigadoon  –  The MGM Musical is based on the original Lerner / Loewe Broadway production.  It’s okay, but isn’t really a classic.  I also would have a hard time taking it seriously now, after years of watching the Troughton Doctor and seeing Jamie run forward yelling “Brigadoon!”
  • Crime Wave  –  An Andre de Toth noir film that was adapted from a story in “Saturday Evening Post” of all places.
  • L’Air de Paris  –  A minor Marcel Carne film adapted from La Choute by Jacques Viot.
  • The High and the Mighty  –  A big budget disaster film adapted from the Ernest K. Gann novel.  It was nominated for 6 Oscars including Best Director but was really hard to find for quite a while and I finally found it on TCM and had to go up to my parents house to watch it.  It was disappointing given the level of Oscar support.
  • The Holly and the Ivy  –  Adapted from a play by Wynyard Browne, this is a 1952 film that stars Celia Johnson and Ralph Richardson.
  • River of No Return  –  Another film that’s hard to tell if it’s an original film story or an original story.  Either way, it’s an Otto Preminger Western starring Robert Mitchum and Marilyn Monroe, but in spite of that is kind of forgettable.
  • Drive a Crooked Road  –  If I told you it had a script by Blake Edwards and starred Mickey Rooney would you guess this is a noir film?  Well it is.  Based on a story by James Benson Nablo.
  • Dial M for Murder  –  Based on the play, this Hitchcock film is apparently rated highly (it’s in the top 250 at the IMDb) which makes no sense because it’s one of his most disappointing films.  How could it have Grace Kelly and be directed by Hitchcock and still feel so flat?
  • Anatahan  –  It’s a Japanese film, but it’s directed by Josef von Sternberg.  It’s based on the Japanese novel.
  • Suddenly  –  Frank Sinatra’s out to assassinate the president and Sterling Hayden has to stop him.  Sounds good, but it’s kind of mediocre.  It’s based on a story from Blue Book magazine.
  • Malta Story  –  A 1953 British film about the defense of Malta based on a book about it.  It stars Alec Guinness and Jack Hawkins, but in spite of that, is pretty forgettable.
  • The Naked Jungle  –  We’re definitely into the lower levels of *** now.  This is based on a short story called “Leinengen Versus the Ants” which actually appeared in Esquire of all places.  Charlton Heston is a South American plantation owner taking on, you guessed it, ants.
  • His Majesty O’Keefe  –  Based on the first novel by Gerald Green (who would later become more famous for The Last Angry Man and Holocaust), this is a South Pacific adventure film starring Burt Lancaster.
  • The Detective  –  A Father Brown film, with Robert Hamer directing and Alec Guinness starring, but they don’t bring the magic they each had at Ealing.
  • The Kidnappers  –  Nominated for three BAFTAs, this 1953 British film was based on a short story by Neil Paterson.
  • The Red Inn  –  A 1951 French Comedy that’s supposedly based on the Balzac novel (which oscars.org lists) but is actually not.
  • King of the Khyber Rifles  –  Tyrone Power stars in this Adventure film based on the 1916 novel.
  • Rogue Cop –  Based on a novel by William P. McGivern (who wrote The Big Heat), this noir film is really only notable for a young, sexy Janet Leigh.
  • Pushover  –  Yet more noir, this one the first credited role for Kim Novak.  It’s adapted from two different novels: The Night Watch by Thomas Walsh and Rafferty by William S. Ballinger.
  • Apache  –  Burt Lancaster, who was Irish, plays an Apache.  Thank god that kind of thing doesn’t happen anymore.  Based on one of Paul Wellman’s numerous westerns.
  • Blackout  –  Before Terence Fisher started making Horror films at Hammer, he made a noir film at Hammer.  It’s mostly forgettable.
  • Hell Below Zero  –  Now we’re into **.5.  I’ve seen this because its director Mark Robson was once Oscar-nominated.  Based on the novel The White South.
  • Young at Heart  –  Frank Sinatra stars in a remake of The Four Daughters.  Wikipedia claims a January 1, 1955 release date but oscars.org says December 22, 1954.
  • Magnificent Obsession  –  Before he sold millions of copies of The Robe, Lloyd C. Douglas wrote this 1929 novel that became this 1954 Douglas Sirk film.  This melodrama earned Jane Wyman an Oscar nomination but it shouldn’t have.
  • Desiree  –  If you want to watch Marlon Brando romance Jean Simmons wait a year and watch Guys and Dolls.  He’s playing Napoleon here, and director Henry Koster isn’t up to the task.
  • About Mrs. Leslie  –  Wyman was far more deserving of her nomination than Shirley Booth was of her BAFTA nom for this film based on the novel by Viña Delmar.
  • Rose Marie  –  The 1924 operetta gets made into a mediocre Mervyn LeRoy film.
  • The Unholy Four  –  Another Terence Fisher / Hammer noir film, this one with a way-past-her-prime Paulette Goddard.  Based on the novel A Stranger Came Home, apparently ghost-written by Leigh Brackett (of The Big Sleep and The Empire Strikes Back fame) for actor George Sanders.
  • The Adventures of Hajji Baba  –  Based on the early 19th century adventure novels by James Justinian Morier but is entirely forgettable.
  • The Sun Shines Bright  –  One of the weakest John Ford films, taken from Irvin S. Cobb stories which makes this a quasi-sequel to Judge Priest.
  • The Elusive Pimpernel  –  A 1950 Powell / Pressburger film that finally made it to the States.  One of their weakest films, a new version of The Scarlet Pimpernel with David Niven in the lead.
  • Elephant Walk  –  This was supposed to be an Olivier / Leigh film but ended up with Liz Taylor and Peter Finch.  Based on the novel by Robert Standish.  Low-level **.5.
  • Romeo and Juliet  –  BAFTA nominated for Best British Screenplay which baffles me.  But it was also nominated for Best Film and Best British Film, so they clearly liked it a lot more than I did.  It really is very sub-par in spite of having Laurence Harvey as Romeo.  High-level **.
  • The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe  –  Even Luis Buñuel can make a bad film.  Bizarrely, this was nominated for Best Actor at the Oscars.
  • Three Coins in the Fountain  –  Ridiculous romance based on the novel Coins in the Fountain that somehow managed to earn a Best Picture nomination at the Oscars.  Fully reviewed here and I am not kind to it.
  • Living it Up  –  A Martin and Lewis comedy based on a Ben Hecht musical.  I suppose you might like it if you like Martin and Lewis but I don’t.
  • The Last Time I Saw Paris  –  More weak films from good directors, this is Richard Brooks doing an adaptation of Scott Fitzgerald’s story “Babylon Revisited.”
  • Prince Valiant  –  I have always been a comic strip guy.  I have an entire bookcase overflowing with comic strip collections.  But I never read much Prince Valiant, even in collected form, because it’s just too long of a story.  The film version has talented stars (James Mason, Janet Leigh) and a notable director (Henry Hathaway) but just never really comes to life.
  • The Egyptian  –  Based on the novel by Mika Waltari, this is one of Michael Curtiz’ later films and I think it’s his worst.  It stars Victor Mature and that should tell you all you need to know.
  • The Silver Chalice  –  The worst film of the year, in spite of Paul Newman’s film debut.  Based on one of the best-selling novels of 1953, you should do what Paul Newman implored people to do and not watch it.  I wrote a full review of it here.

Adaptations of Notable Works I Haven’t Seen:

  • Julius Caesar  –  A 1950 version of the play made by a graduate student in Chicago with a very young Charlton Heston as Mark Antony.  Received an LA release in 1950 and is listed at oscars.org but I haven’t been able to find it.
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