PULVER: Captain, this is Ensign Pulver. I just threw your palm trees overboard. Now what's all this crap about no movie tonight? (He throws the door open, banging it against the bulkhead, and is entering the CAPTAIN's cabin) Curtain.

PULVER: Captain, this is Ensign Pulver. I just threw your palm trees overboard. Now what’s all this crap about no movie tonight? (He throws the door open, banging it against the bulkhead, and is entering the CAPTAIN’s cabin) Curtain.

My Top 10:

  1. Mister Roberts
  2. East of Eden
  3. To Catch a Thief
  4. Picnic
  5. Bad Day at Black Rock
  6. The Man with the Golden Arm
  7. The Heart of the Matter
  8. Lady and the Tramp
  9. Samurai I: Musashi Miyamoto
  10. Ugetsu

Note:  This year has one of the longest lists of this era, with several more mentioned down towards the bottom of the post.

Consensus Nominees:

  1. Marty  (160 pts)
  2. Interrupted Melody  (80 pts)
  3. Mister Roberts  (80 pts)
  4. East of Eden  (80 pts)
  5. Bad Day at Black Rock  (80 pts)
  6. The Blackboard Jungle  (80 pts)

Oscar Nominees  (Best Screenplay):

  • The Country Girl
  • The Caine Mutiny
  • Rear Window
  • Sabrina

Note:  Love Me or Leave Me was the fifth nominee, but it also won Best Motion Picture Story, defining it as an original script.  Thankfully we’re almost done with the inane way the Oscars split the writing awards into three categories.

Oscar Nominees  (Best Story and Screenplay):

  • Interrupted Melody

Note:  Yes, the winner of what was essentially the Best Original Screenplay category isn’t original – it’s based on an autobiography.

WGA Awards:


  • Marty
  • Bad Day at Black Rock
  • The Blackboard Jungle
  • East of Eden
  • Picnic


  • Mister Roberts
  • Phffft
  • The Seven Year Itch
  • The Tender Trap
  • To Catch a Thief


  • Daddy Long Legs
  • Guys and Dolls
  • Oklahoma

Nominees that are Original:  Love Me or Leave Me, It’s Always Fair Weather

My Top 10

Mister Roberts

mister-roberts-posterThe Film:

I have already reviewed this film once, during the Best Picture project.  It is a great film, with one of the all-time best endings, one I have loved since high school when I was introduced to it by my mother.

misterrobertsThe Source:

Mister Roberts by Thomas Heggen  (1946)  /  Mister Roberts by Thomas Heggen and Joshua Logan  (1948)

The original novel by Thomas Heggen, published in 1946, though the same in the general outlook of things, and certainly in the major events (notably, the palm trees, the death, and the finale), is much different in the particulars.  That’s because it wasn’t then envisioned with Henry Fonda as Roberts.  In the original novel, Roberts is still in his twenties, a man who interrupted his time at medical school to volunteer for the war.  It also makes much more use of the other officers on the ship (there are a number of them other than Roberts and Pulver, though you would never know that from the film).  Overall, the novel is a far cry inferior to the film.

The play, however, is a different story altogether.  Most of what we get in the film is straight from the play, including a lot of the best lines.  There are a few added scenes for the film (when Doc is actually dealing with the men at the beginning, some particulars of the men returning from liberty) and a few things that are changed (the nurses coming on board, which really irked Joshua Logan), but a lot of the play made it intact from the stage to the screen, although it might not have had John Ford stayed on the film (see below).  It is a great play and it must have been great to see Fonda on stage in the role.  There is one great line that didn’t make the play because of the censors (Logan discusses it in his autobiography) – Doc questions how Pulver got something and Roberts replies “How does Frank get anything?  How did he get the clap last year?”  They used the line once and were warned never to use it again.

The Adaptation:

“After his long stage run in the title role, Fonda had a fiercely protective attitude toward the play.  He resented the tinkering Ford had done with screenwriter and playwright John Patrick, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Teahouse of the August Moon, and with Frank Nugent, whose shooting script incorporated some material Logan had jettisoned from the novel.  Concerned that Ford had lost much of the play’s poignancy by overemphasizing its comedic aspects, Ford resented the way he changed the timing of lines and added bits of comic business.” (Searching for John Ford, Joseph McBride, p 547)

“In looking at the rushes, I didn’t like the way Bill Powell was because they played him as a drunk, and I changed him back to the way it was in the play.” (Mervyn LeRoy, quoted in Conversations with the Great Moviemakers of Hollywood’s Golden Age at the American Film Institute, ed. George Stevens, Jr, p 155)

Joshua Logan was given a partial screenwriter’s credit.  In his book Movie Stars, Real People and Me, Logan explains how he was brought in after filming was done to reshape the film from what LeRoy and Ford had shot and that he didn’t actually write any of it, but it wasn’t felt he could be listed as a third director.  As explained above, most of the film comes direct from the play, while only some of the concept dates back to the original novel.  It was really the play that made all the changes.

The Credits:

Directed by John Ford and Mervyn LeRoy.  Screen Play by Frank Nugent and Joshua Logan.  Based on the play by Thomas Heggen and Joshua Logan.  From the novel by Thomas Heggen as produced on the stage by Leland Hayward.

East of Eden

eastofedenThe Film:

I reviewed this film already, in my Nighthawk Awards, as one of the five best films of the year.  Given its four major Oscar nominations and that the director (who was nominated) had won Best Picture the year before, I still can’t fathom how it got passed over for Love is a Many-Splendored Thing.  It was also the first (and still one of only two) winner of Best Picture – Drama at the Globes to fail to earn an Oscar nomination.  If you have never seen this film, it is essential viewing, not only because it is a great film made from a great book (rare enough) but also because it shows, a bit more than Rebel Without a Cause, the full range of Dean’s emotional acting and is the best evidence that he could have remained a great actor had he lived and not just a young star.

eastofeden-steinbeckThe Source:

East of Eden by John Steinbeck  (1952)

The first time I read this novel, in 2003, I thought it was a very good novel, but something about it didn’t quite work for me.  Perhaps I thought it was trying to do too much?  It is an epic story of a family that begins with the grandfather on a farm in Connecticut and ends with the grandson mourning the father he desperately loves and only wants to receive love from in return in California.  It is a story of a family, but also a story of California itself.  So, several years ago, when I was on a real California book kick (fiction and non-fiction alike), I read it again and I was surprised by how good it was.  At the time, I was in the midst of the Top 100 novels posts.  Had I re-read it before that project began, I would have included it, but I had set the list for the course of the project, so when I put it in my second 100, I noted it as one of three books that really belonged in the Top 100 but were excluded because of my process.

Aside from the characters who spring to life, not only the ones that fans of the film will know like Adam Trask and his twin sons, but also Samuel Hamilton, the crafty old farmer who helps Adam out at key moments (and was John Steinbeck’s grandfather) but is dead before the action of the film takes place, but Adam’s half-brother, his unloving father, the darker moments of the history of Cathy, his wife who leaves him and his sons behind, there is also the story of the land itself.  It takes almost 250 pages for Trask to reach California (though Steinbeck is just as good with the descriptions of life in the East that he provides) but when he does, we really settle into the California land.

A new country seems to follow a pattern.  First come the openers, strong and brave and rather childlike.  They can take care of themselves in a wilderness, but they are naïve and helpless against men, and perhaps this is why they went out in the first place.  When the rough edges are worn off the new land, businessmen and lawyers come in to help with the development – to solve problems of ownership, usually be removing the temptations to themselves.  And finally comes culture, which is entertainment, relaxation, transport out of the pain of living.  And culture can be on any level, and is.

The church and the whorehouse arrived in the Far West simultaneously.  And each would have been horrified to think it was a different facet of the same thing.  But surely they were both intended to accomplish the same thing: the singing, the devotion, the poetry of the churches took a man out of his bleakness for a time, and so did the brothels.

That is Steinbeck writing about the West, and later, he will be more specific when describing the brothels in Salinas.  This novel comes to life so well because it is a perfect mixture in describing the land and the family that comes to the land.  When I was younger, I was big on Of Mice and Men, because its simple allegorical story appealed to the idealist in me.  But, older now, I look at East of Eden as the second Steinbeck masterpiece, behind The Grapes of Wrath.

The Adaptation:

As an adaptation, there is both a negative way and a positive way to think of this film and they are actually opposite views of the same decision.

The positive view hinges around the decision, wisely in my opinion, the discard the first 3/4 of the book.  The book is divided into four parts and the film only covers the last part (and even cuts the first forty pages of it).  The novel runs 778 pages in my Penguin paperback and the film begins on page 587.  Given how much story is encompassed in the first 586 pages, how much characters age, how many years pass, the only way you could possibly do justice to the entire novel is to film it as a television mini-series (like was done in 1981 – that version is worth watching for the performances from Jane Seymour (greatly expanded from this film) and Lloyd Bridges (whose character was completely excised from this film for good reasons)).  So, it was smart to cut down to what they used in the film and they do a rather faithful adaptation of the material that they do use.

The negative way to approach the adaptation is not about the cutting of most of the book.  I doubt anyone would complain about that decision – otherwise the film would have been too unwieldy, too long and too rushed.  But there is an argument to be made about the things we know about the characters that don’t show up in the film because of actions that occur before the film begins, things like how Aron has always been in love with Alma, but she has always actually found Cal more interesting, or the brutal history of Cathy and what she has done to reach the point she is at.  I have talked before about some films are unfaithful to the original source, but true to the characters.  There is an argument to be made that while East of Eden is fairly faithful to the part of the novel that it adapts that it is also unfaithful to the characters as they are developed through the entire novel.

Either way, what it comes down to is that Kazan and Paul Osborn managed to take a great novel, a great long novel and make a great film out of it, and even though they dropped a lot of the book to do it, it remains an achievement that happens all too rarely.  In fact, it’s the first Top 100 Novel to be made into a **** film since 1947.

The Credits:

Directed by Elia Kazan. Screen Play by Paul Osborn. The only mention of the source is the title card: John Steinbeck’s East of Eden.

To Catch a Thief

tocatchathief-quad-smallThe Film:

I reviewed this film as one of the five best films of the year in my Nighthawk Awards.  You should see it if no other reason than because it stars the most beautiful actress who ever lived in the role where she looks the best.  But really, you should watch it because it is not only a great Hitchcock film, but one of the most fun ones at that.

thiefThe Source:

To Catch a Thief by David Dodge (1952)

This is, I would say, a pretty typical source material for a Hitchcock film. It’s a light thriller, with a former cat burglar who is now being hunted for a number of thefts of high profile jewels along the Riviera where he lives. He then decides to hunt down the guilty party himself. There is really not a whole lot more to it than that – it was successful enough for Hitchcock to buy the rights and forgettable enough that it’s basically been forgotten except as source material for the film.

This is definitely a book that deserves to stay in print, as part of some crime series and if you get a chance, it’s definitely worth a read.

The Adaptation:

The basic premise for the film is the same. The eventual culprit is the same. There is even a female who fills a similar role to the one that Grace Kelly plays in the film. But really, most of the details and pretty much every line of dialogue is different in the film. The film takes a light thriller and makes a classic out of it.

The Credits:

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Screenplay by John Michael Hayes. Based on the novel by David Dodge.


picnic-posterThe Film:

I have already reviewed this film as a Best Picture nominee.  It doesn’t have a great reputation today (Roger Ebert wrote a rather negative review of it when it was re-released at one point), but I think it is still a great film.

picnicThe Source:

Picnic by William Inge (1953)

Picnic was part of a short stretch when the quality of Drama was transformed into the quality of film. It won the Pulitzer Prize in 1953 and then was turned into a film that was nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars. That had only happened with one Pulitzer winner from 1939 to 1952 (A Streetcar Named Desire). After 1956, it would take until 1982 before there would be another Pulitzer winner that would eventually spawn an Oscar nominee. But from 1953 to 1956, there were three: Picnic, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and The Diary of Anne Frank.

Picnic is a good drama, a look at what happens in a small town when an outsider, specifically one with sexual appeal (and a sexual appetite) comes in. What does it do to the man’s friend, to suddenly have a rival for his girl? What does it do for his girl, to have this hunk suddenly placed in front of her, working hard, sweating next door. What does it do for her younger sister, who knows that her brains will hopefully be her eventual ticket out of town, but can’t help but look at the man anyway. How will it affect the school teacher, who is lost within her own sexuality? Inge approaches all of these questions. It’s a similar town to the one in Our Town, but that was in the years between the wars and now the country has changed. Trains and buses come from this small town and people long to escape. Who will escape and what will they find outside the comfort of their own homes? The young man doesn’t mean the be the engine of this change, but he can’t help causing trouble wherever he goes. It’s a strong play, with well developed characters that are, in the words of Bruce Springsteen, “livin in their own skin and can’t stand the company.”

The Adaptation:

Like with Elia Kazan in A Streetcar Named Desire, this play belongs somewhat to the director. That’s because in both cases, the director of the film was also the same man who had directed the play originally on Broadway. Plays, much more so than scripts, often are the product more of the original author. But the initial director can also have a lot of input on how it works on stage and sometimes even in the development process, even when working with an experienced playwright. That Joshua Logan would then also direct the film version gives him even more of a hand in the process.

What happens with the film is an opening up of the play, not just of allowing more scenes outside of the original locals (such as having the scene at Alan’s house, really showing how rich he is compared to the rest of the town, but also the way things are filmed. This film was made with Cinemascope and it really shows in the opening scenes when William Holden arrives in town (an arrival that takes place before the play begins, but which we see on film) and at the end, where we can see both his departing train and Kim Novak’s departing bus in the same shot.

It is true that William Holden was really far too old to be starring in this film. He has the requisite looks and physique and he does well considering he is too old, but they never should have put him in the film.

The Credits:

Directed by Joshua Logan. Screen Play by Daniel Taradash. Based upon the play “Picnic” by William Inge. Produced on the stage by Theatre Guild and Joshua Logan.

Bad Day at Black Rock

poster4_bad_day_at_black_rock_609The Film:

I reviewed this film before as one of the five best films of the year.  More importantly, while I have been hard on Spencer Tracy for a lot of his Oscar nominated performances, this is probably my favorite performance of his.

The Source:

“Bad Time at Honda” by Howard Breslin (1947)

This is a short little cross between a morality play and a western. A mysterious man gets off a train in a tiny little western town. He wants to go out to a desolate part of the county, looking for a man. He finds a burned out wreck and he is shot at. Eventually, his very presence will cause the town to turn on itself and he discovers that the man, a Japanese, was killed after Pearl Harbor (the actual killing was accidental, in a bizarre twist). The mysterious man had just wanted to tell the Japanese man that his son had died in Italy during the war. Having done what he could, having seen what he’s seen, he then departs and leaves the town torn apart.

The Adaptation:

The basic idea comes straight from the story, though Honda becomes Bad Rock. Some of the particulars come from the story – the mystery of the man coming off the train, the desolation out at the Japanese man’s house. But the entire second half of the story – the way he is told the truth and the town tears itself apart – is entirely changed. That wouldn’t have been particularly filmable, so they give it something more cinematic.

If you are interested in the process that resulted in the film, there are several pages devoted to it in Spencer Tracy: A Biography by James Curtis (pages 666-670).  It was a project that really only producer Dore Schary believed in, but eventually the results were well worth it.

The Credits:

Directed by John Sturges.  Screen Play by Millard Kaufman.  Adaptation by Don McGuire.  Based On a Story by Howard Breslin.

The Man with the Golden Arm

manwiththegoldenarmThe Film:

A man returns home from prison.  He returns back to the slums of the north side of Chicago.  His wife is in a wheelchair, a chair she ended up in because of a car crash her husband was responsible for.  Pressure builds on him from all over because he is the man with the golden arm.  But why is his arm golden?  It is because he’s a drug addict and his arm is where the drugs go in and provide a sheen of gold that covers over the darkness of his life, darkness of his own making?  Or is his arm golden because he’s a talented drummer who’s trying to find a way back to that life, creating a beat that will allow him to escape without falling back to the drugs that he was able to purge from his system in prison?  Perhaps his arm is golden because his best talent is dealing cards and there are those who want him back in that life because to them it means money.

This was a bold and daring film to make in 1955.  The Production Code was never going to allow the sympathetic story of a drug addict.  It was not going to allow a look into the life that pushed him into drugs and that is threatening even now, when he is clean, to push him back.  But Otto Preminger, for all his faults, was a bold and daring filmmaker.  He was willing to make the film and release it without the Code seal just as he had done two years before with The Moon is Blue.  While much of what was daring about The Moon is Blue now seems tame (even if the film itself still actually holds up because of its wit and performances), The Man with the Golden Arm still stands out, over 60 years after it was first released.  A lot of the credit for that goes with Preminger, first for making the film, second, for bringing to it the best of his directing talent and third, for not putting a sheen of gold over the proceedings, keeping things in the slums, with the tenement buildings, with drug addicts and strip clubs, with sleazy card games.

But part of the success for this film most certainly goes to Frank Sinatra.  In 1953, desperate to prove he was a real actor and not just a singing pretty boy, Sinatra was down on his knees begging for the part of Maggio in From Here to Eternity and he (deservedly) won the Oscar for it.  In this year, the same year where he would play a charming womanizer in The Tender Trap and a more sanitized version of the criminal life in Guys and Dolls, he would reach down into the depths of his soul to pull forth his performance as Frankie Machine.  Desperate not to fall back into addiction after his release from prison, he finds himself in a jail cell after a friend gives him a stolen suit.  He pushes him up against the bars, trying not to hear the screams behind him of another addict going through withdrawal pains.  Frankie knows there’s a way out – his old boss who runs an illegal card game wants Frankie back dealing for him again and is willing to get him out of the jail cell.  But that would mean a step back into that life he just escaped.  But there are those screams behind him and he just has to get away from them.

When compared to a film like Trainspotting, it would be easy to dismiss The Man with the Golden Arm as a more old-fashioned look at a drug addict.  But the combination of Preminger’s direction and Sinatra’s performance make certain it is shouldn’t be forgotten and that it hasn’t aged.  There are also strong performances from Eleanor Parker (as the crippled wife of Frankie who it turns out isn’t so crippled after all) and Kim Novak (amazing that she should be so good as a former flame who encourages him to return to drumming when she was just eye candy in Picnic in this same year).  The film doesn’t follow the novel all the way into the darkness (see below), but this is a story of Frankie and we want to see something better for him than what he has gotten so far because Sinatra’s performance has pulled at our sympathies.  We hope for something better for him.

manwiththegolden-algrenThe Source:

The Man with the Golden Arm by Nelson Algren  (1949)

I had high expectations of this book that it did not meet.  It is not a bad book, far from it.  But I expected something much more, something that would put this book somewhere on the list of great books I have read and it just never got there.  Yes, it does a good job with life on the lower end of the scale in Chicago in the years after the war.  I don’t see the “radical critique of American Society” that Chris Fujiwara describes.  It is a good novel, with a good solid central character of Frankie Machine, a man who is desperately hanging on with everything he’s got only in the end only “To rustle away down the last dark wall of all.”

Part of what I must admit didn’t work for me is the dialogue – so much of it in the language of a lower world (somewhere between what we call civilization and the underworld) that makes it hard to understand.

The Adaptation:

There are a lot of books about Preminger because he was such a daring filmmaker.  Because this was one of his most important (and artistically successful) films, they spend a lot of time on the preparation and execution of the film.  So, I’m just going with the quotes down below as they pretty much summarize things.

“[Algren] was an amusing, intelligent man but he couldn’t write dialogue or visualize scenes. He was purely a novelist, a storyteller. I had to get another writer, Walter Newman, to prepare the script.” (Preminger: An Autobiography. Otto Preminger. 1977, p 111)

“Preminger looked around for another ‘hard-hitting writer’ to do the script. When Walter Newman (having been sounded out by Ingo about his interest and availability) first met Preminger, the director told him that he saw Golden Arm ‘as a murder mystery.’ Preminger’s remark suggest that he already had in mind some version of a crucial plot twist introduced by the film. In both the novel and the film, Frankie’s wife, Zosh, was injured in a car driven by Frankie and is now wheelchair-bound. In the film, it’s Zosh, not Frankie, who kills the drug pusher Louie – to prevent him from exposing her secret: the she has been feigning paraplegia in order to exploit Frankie’s guilt and keep him from leaving her.” (The World and Its Double: The Life and Work of Otto Preminger. Chris Fujiwara. 2008, p 185)

“Over a series of daylong sessions, the director and the writer worked out a dramatic line for the film. The crucial change from the novel was to make Frankie Machine (who, in Algren’s book, ends up hanging himself while on the run from the police) a protagonist who struggles to change his life and wins. ‘This provided the necessary conflict and I think made it workable as a film,’ said Newman. According to Newman, ‘I worked very hard to use as much of the book as I could, as many of the people, as much of the dialogue, as many of the incidents as I could – except that I turned them upside down.’ In the novel, Frankie is first exposed to morphine in an army field hospital in France while recuperating from a battle wound. Preminger decided to eliminate the war wound and medication as excuses for Frankie’s drug use in order to widen the application of the story and to emphasize the psychological, rather than physical, aspects of addiction.” (Fujiwara, p 186)

“Preminger sought to make Frankie Machine a character whom middle-class audiences could identify with. In doing so, the film eliminates an important dimension of the novel, the radical critique of American society that Algren announces in the first chapter of the book, which describes Frankie and his fellow jail-cell occupants as sharing ‘the great, secret and special American guilt of owning nothing, nothing at all, in the one land where ownership and virtue are one.’ By elevating Frankie in class (and by removing Algren’s important insistence that the police manhunt for Frankie is driven by ward politics), Preminger makes Frankie a hero responsible for his fate instead of a victim of specific social and political forces.” (Fujiwara, p 186-187)

“Preminger’s intention was to wrestle a standard sensation melodrama out of Algren’s literary web. He and his writers give Frankie’s drug addiction far more prominence than it has in the novel, where in fact it was an afterthought, an addition encouraged by the novelist’s agent. And they twist the story in order to conjure a spurious Hollywood ending in which Molly helps Frankie to kick his habit.” (Otto Preminger: The Man Who Would Be King by Foster Hirsch, p 236)

What Hirsch doesn’t mention but alludes to in that quote above is that in the book, Frankie, who is pursued because he accidentally killed Louie (rather than Zosh, as in the book, as mentioned in the first Fujiwara quote), ends up committing suicide, a bleak ending to the book that the film avoids by having Frankie walk away with Molly, trying to find a chance at life.

The Credits:

produced and directed by Otto Preminger.  screenplay by Walter Newman and Lewis Meltzer.  from the novel by Nelson Algren.

The Heart of the Matter

heartofthematterThe Film:

I reviewed this film already as the under-appreciated film of 1954.  Of course, that was before I had oscars.org as a resource to determine definitively that this film would have been Oscar eligible in 1955 and it got moved to that year.

grahamgreene_the_heartofthematterThe Source:

The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene (1948)

One of the best novels from one of the best writers.  That’s not me being hyperbolic.  Graham Greene is one of only seven writers to have three Top 100 novels and one of only four to have five Top 200 novels.  I ranked this novel as #65 all-time, which makes it Greene’s second best book, though there are many who would say it is his best.

The Adaptation:

Unfortunately, while the film is available in a great Graham Greene box set on DVD in the UK (also including Brighton Rock, The Third Man and The Fallen Idol), it is still not available on DVD in the US.  So, while I have seen the film, it was years ago.  I do remember the film mostly being faithful to the book with one whopping exception (because of the Code, most likely).  In the book, Scobie, the main character, ends up committing suicide.  But in the film, he is actually killed (though you could say he was ostensibly committing suicide).

The Credits:

Directed by George More O’Ferrall.  Script by Ian Dalrymple.  Adaptation by Lesley Storm.  From the novel by Graham Greene.  Credits courtesy of the IMDb.

Lady and the Tramp

ladytrampposterThe Film:

I saw the classic Disney films in kind of a random order.  That has to do with Disney’s method of dealing with home video releases of their films and the way they go in and out of the vault.  By the fall of 1997, I had seen the major films with one exception: this one.  That was the case when I moved to Phoenix and discovered a really great video over by campus that I doubt is there anymore.  They had certain videos that were really hard to find that they kept separately.  You either had to be a member in good standing (had rented 50 movies without late problems or lost videos or something like that) or leave a deposit of $200 to rent any of these movies.  By that time, I so wanted to see this film that I actually gave them the deposit so that I could finally see this.  I just hoped it would live up to my hopes.  It did.  It immediately became one of my favorites of the classic Disney films (in my opinion, the best since Bambi) and when, the following year, they pulled it back out of the vault I instantly bought it on video, the same video copy I watched so that I could write this review.

So, what is it that makes this film so good?  I ranked it #7 in my ranked list of the first 50 Disney films, which means I put it above even Aladdin and Snow White.  I think a big part of it is that this film is a romance but without the distraction of a princess.  It’s all very well for the Disney films to have a princess.  But this is more of a class difference romance.  There is the upper-class girl, living a sheltered life, with her well-bred friends who suddenly meets a bit of a bad boy from the wrong side of the tracks and they fall in love.  It doesn’t happen right away, of course.  She has to see that he really has a heart of gold.  He has to see that there’s more to her than just her good looks.  They both have to learn how much the other cares, not just about each other, but about the world around them.  When the big dramatic moment comes, when the horrifying rat threatens the baby, it’s both of them that spring into action, both of them willing to risk everything to do the right thing.  It’s a beautiful romance between two people who really are right for each other, complete with a lovely movie romantic scene, a beautiful song in the background (“Bella Notte”) and a lovely dinner to go with it (when watching this for the review, I joked with Veronica that we would need to have spaghetti and meatballs for dinner).

So the couple at the heart of the film are dogs.  So what?  It doesn’t make the romance any less real.  It doesn’t make the other characters in the film, from the horrid Siamese cats (is horrid redundant once you read the words cats?) to the loyal Jock, to the gruff Trusty who doesn’t want to admit he’s past his prime.  The characters are realistic and they act in all the ways that we might expect.  The film brings vivid characters to life, has a wonderful romance at its core and even has some really fun moments (like when the beaver has to chew off Lady’s muzzle).  It’s a complete story, all in itself and it doesn’t even need a bunch of songs to pad the action like so many Disney films do.  It can just rest on the wonderful writing.

The Source:

“Happy Dan, the Whistling Dog” by Ward Greene  (1937?)

I wish I could find the original story, but it’s hard enough even determining precisely what the original story is and where it appeared.  Some places list variations on that title.  I have seen dates for the original story as 1937, 1939, 1943 and 1945.  Either way, I have been unable to find the original story and compare it to what was done in the film, which is definitely considerably different because of all the other aspects that weren’t from the original story (see below).

The Adaptation:

“The project had been in development since 1937, when Walt bought the story from his friend Ward Greene, the head of the King Features Syndicate, which distributed Walt’s comic strips. It had gone through a series of scripts: Joe Grant and Dick Huemer introduced two calculating Siamese cats, Ted Sears introduced a dog pound, and Greene himself apparently introduced a romance – though Grant and Huemer objected to the idea of two dogs falling in love as ‘distasteful’ and ‘utterly contrary to nature’. (It was Walt who had scratched out the name ‘mutt’ in the script and inserted ‘Tramp.’)” (Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination by Neal Gabler, p 557)

Now, that’s one version.  Look on Wikipedia, and they claim that the 1937 part of this history is when Joe Grant developed an idea based on how his own cocker spaniel was pushed aside when his child was born and that the Greene story wasn’t read until the 1940’s.  In trying to find the story, I also found claims that the original story didn’t run in Cosmopolitan (or an earlier, slightly different titled version of the same magazine) until either 1943 or 1945.  Either way, it looks like the Tramp came from the Greene story while the idea of Lady came from Grant and the various story writers found ways to put the two together.  It’s hard to know, especially since the people mentioned above in the Gabler book, Grant, Huemer and Sears, aren’t given any writing credits in the actual film.

The Credits:

Directors: Hamilton Luske, Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson .  From the Story by Ward Greene.  Story: Erdman Penner, Joe Rinaldi, Ralph Wright, Don Dagradi.

Samurai I: Musashi Miyamoto

samuraiThe Film:

By the time this film was released in Japan, Toshiro Mifune had not only played a samurai in multiple films, but had been one of the stars of the greatest samurai film ever, The Seven Samurai, released five months earlier.  But, because Mifune’s role in that film is as much in the tone of his bandit from Rashomon and because it would not reach the States until 1956, it was this trilogy, where Mifune plays one of the most famous of all Japanese warriors, Miyamoto Musashi, the man who wandered across the country, winning famous duels and writing one of the most famous books in Japanese history, The Book of Five Rings, that established Mifune as the foremost film samurai in the eyes of American filmgoers.

The best way to think of this film is as one part of a larger story.  Don’t think of the other two Samurai films as sequels, but as the rest of the story, since all three films come from the same novel and they are all the story of one man.  There is no better actor than Toshiro Mifune for playing this role.  He begins as a young man, barely surviving a massive historical battle (which took place in 1600) and then, slowly, learning how to be, not only a man, but also a samurai.  While still playing a samurai, this role is actually miles away from his role in The Seven Samurai and even from his later roles in the great samurai films like Throne of Blood and Yojimbo.  This is a man who searches for honor and will not rest until he has found it.

Yet, in this film, you can also see how why American filmmakers would start looking to the Japanese samurai films for their Western ideas.  For what is a samurai but a lone gunslinger without a gun?  And this film shows the way for future Westerns: glorious color cinematography, dusty hills, glorious costumes.  It’s not just the journey, but the way in which we look at the journey on-screen.

As I said, of course, there are two more films that continue the story of Musashi, both of them centered around epic duels.  This is the best of the three films (by quite a ways), but you really need to watch all three to get the complete story (which is easy because Criterion has put them all together in a box set).

musashinovelThe Source:

宮本武蔵 (Miyamoto Musashi) by Eiji Yoshikawa  (1935-39)

“Inagaki’s two Musashi trilogies are based on the wildly popular novel Musashi, by Eiji Yoskihawa (and on a play based on that novel), which appeared in more than a thousand serial newspaper installments from 1935 to 1939.  Yoshikawa studied historical records and Musashi’s own writings but invented characters and changed the sequence of events.  The Samurai Trilogy follows the novel in concentrating on Musashi’s life from his midteens when he left his village of Miyamoto, until his defeat of Kojiro Sasaki in combat on Ganryu Island, when Musashi was twenty-nine.”  (“Musashi Mifune” by Stephen Prince, Criterion DVD)

This novel is often described as Japan’s Gone with the Wind.  However, and I can’t believe that I’m writing this, Gone with the Wind is actually a more coherent novel.  That’s not necessarily because Mitchell’s writing is any better, because it isn’t.  It’s because Gone with the Wind was conceived and written as a single novel.  This story, as mentioned, ran as a serial for several years.  As a result, it’s full of small little vignettes.  While it does move forward continuously, it also is a lot more episodic and thus doesn’t quite work in the same way as a novel.  It is an interesting adventure story and semi-biography of one of Japan’s most famous men, of course, but it just kind of moves forward and starts and stops, which is a reflection of how it was originally published, of course.

The Adaptation:

The film does a very good job of taking various episodes in the story and bringing them to life as a coherent whole, although, of course, with two more films left in the trilogy, this film really only covers the early part of the book.

The Credits:

Directed by Hiroshi Inagaki.  From Hideji Hojo’s Adaptation of the Novel Musashi by Eiji Yoshikawa.  Screenplay by Tokuhei Wakao and Hiroshi Inagaki.
Note:  As with all films in a language that doesn’t use the Latin script, I am forced to rely on DVD subtitles for the credits.  In this case, they come from the Criterion DVD.


ugetsuThe Film:

There are lots of ghost stories.  Yet, somehow, the Japanese ghost stories seem to have a measure of tragedy that exceeds anyone else.  Their ghosts come back for many reasons.  But what is often so tragic about them is that they aren’t designed to be horrific.  They are often not there to frighten anyone.  They return because they must and we don’t even know that they’re dead.

This is the story of two different men, both adapted from short stories in the original Ugetsu Monogatari, a classic work of Japanese short stories from the 18th Century.  What were two different stories in the original book become intertwined here in the stories of two men who both leave their small village to head off to the city during a war.  They cross a fog-covered lake (in a haunting sequence of magnificent cinematography) to get to the city, but, warned of an attack on their village, the men decide to leave their wives behind.  One wife refuses to stay and the other begs her husband not to leave.  Both these decisions will have fateful consequences.

One man is going because of greed.  He wants to be a samurai, he wants to be important.  When his wife comes with him to the city he forgets her and in his quest to become important, she is lost, abused and falls into prostitution.  He will eventually find his way back to her only to discover her pain, something which could have easily been avoided had he simply kept her with him.  for the other man, it is need that drives him.  He must sell his wares, must get the money and return to his wife and child.  But, his journey home is interrupted by a beautiful young woman who seduces him and keeps him close.

This is a ghost story.  There are more than one ghost in the story and they are not there to horrify anyone or to frighten them.  Their tales are of grief and of woe, of love that is incomplete and prevents spirits from finding eternal rest.  They are brought to life in such a way that we don’t know it.  The other characters don’t know it.  They simply go on with life, interacting with the dead.  It works because of the steady direction of Kenji Mizoguchi (long revered as one of the greatest of all Japanese directors), because of the original source that is adapted with great care and consideration and because of the magnificent cinematography that brings the story to life.  Ugetsu was very well received at the time, but I think, in all the consideration of the great Kurosawa films, it has become somewhat over-looked (and I myself am guilty of that).  It is a classic that deserves to be seen, especially in the glorious DVD version that Criterion has released.

talesofmoonlightandrainThe Source:

Ugetsu Monogatari (雨月物語) by Uyeda Akinari  (1776)

These nine stories are each haunting in their own way, though only two of them were the primary basis for the film.  Depending on what version of the book you are reading, they might be the third story (“House Amid the Thickets”) and the seventh story (“Lust of the White Serpent”).  In the version I read, however, the 1971 Kengi Hamada translation published in the U.S. by Columbia University Press, they are actually the first two stories (“Homecoming” and “Bewitched”).  The stories don’t seem to move towards a coherent whole in the way that Dubliners does, for instance, so I wouldn’t say it matters that the stories are in a different order, but since I am not familiar with the work in Japanese, don’t trust me on that.

“Homecoming” is the story of a man who has squandered his family’s money and heads to Kyoto to make some money selling silk, leaving his wife behind, but because of various delays (that stem from Japanese feudal history) he is gone for seven years before finally returning home to what damage has happened at home during his long absence.

“Bewitched” is about a second son who doesn’t get to inherit the family wealth and ends up falling in love with a mystical creature disguised as a beautiful young woman.

Both stories are painful, but also moving.  In fact, that could be said for almost any of the nine stories.  Like the stories in Rashomon, while only a couple of them are the basis for the film, all of them are well worth reading.  The version that I read was also illustrated with beautiful woodcuts that were reproduced from the original 1776 version, so if you get a chance to read it or buy it, I highly recommend it.

The Adaptation:

The film is split between the stories of two men and the stories each take the film in the direction of the two separate short stories that form the basis for the film.  There are considerable liberties that are taken in the adaptations – the stories really give the ideas that spark the film (a man who leaves his wife and then is delayed and only returns years later and a man who falls in love with a mystical creature disguised as a beautiful young woman) with almost all of the particulars changed or created for the film.  But what the film really does so well is take the spirit and emotions of the book and translate them faithfully onto the screen.

The Credits:

Directed by Kenji Mizoguchi.  From Tales of Moonlight and Rain by Akinari Ueda.  Screenplay by Matsutaro Kawaguchi, Yoshitaka Yoda.
Note:  As with all films in a language that doesn’t use the Latin script, I am forced to rely on DVD subtitles for the credits.  In this case, like with Samurai above, they come from the Criterion DVD.

Consensus Nominees That Don’t Make My Top 10


marty-posterThe Film:

When I reviewed this film as part of the Best Picture project I talked about how it was a fine film but that circumstances and emotions worked so that it ended up being a massive critical success – it won at Cannes, won both existing critics groups and won the Oscar.  Which is a bit silly for a film that’s really only about the level of high ***.  But it’s a nice film about two nice, lonely people who finally manage to find some bit of happiness.

chayefskyThe Source:

“Marty” by Paddy Chayefsky  (1953)

This was originally a made for tv movie, or, what at the time was called a television play.  But, like most television plays at the time, it was filmed live, so that limits you to more of what can be done in a stage production than what could be done in what we today think of as a made for television movie.  It is still structured like a play, however, with a three act structure and it ran 51 minutes.

It’s a charming little play, the story of a lonely butcher who sees himself as an ugly man who will never be able to find a girl and settle down and get married.  All his siblings are out of the house now and it’s just him and his mom (and soon, his aunt, who is being forced out of the house she lives in with her married son) and he just wants to stop feeling alone all the time.  He meets a girl (her name is Clara but the script lists her as GIRL) who is in a similar situation and they hit it off and have a nice time walking and talking together.  At the end of the play, it looks like he might not call her the next day as promised, but after enduring grief from his mother (“She don’t look Italian to me.  What kinda family she come from?  There was something about her I don’t like.”) and then more grief from his friends (“Marty, you don’t wanna hang around with dogs.  It gives you a bad reputation.”) he finds his self-respect and his decency and honor and makes the phone call to her that will presumably lead to some happiness.

The Adaptation:

Almost every line in the film comes directly from the original teleplay.  That makes sense, of course, since it was Paddy Chayefsky’s play and its his script.  Things had to be added, of course, because on television it only ran 51 minutes and a film needs to be at least around 90 (it runs exactly 90 – still the shortest running Best Picture).  There are little bits here and there that are added in, but it’s really in the last half hour that things get added in.  In the original play, after Clara leaves, there is only one more act – a shorter version of the aunt arriving the next day, the argument between Marty and his mother, and then the argument with his friends that ends with the phone call.  The film greatly expands this – Marty walks her home, there is a scene with her at her own home, interacting with her parents, there is much more with the aunt arriving the next day and then we have the scene of Marty and his friends.  There is a big difference there, since that is in the evening, which means that by that point, Marty has actually skipped the phone call that he promised to make.  That makes the scene where he tells off his friends and goes to make the phone call that much more of a big deal than it was in the original teleplay.

The Credits:

Directed by Delbert Mann.  Story and Screenplay by Paddy Chayefsky.

Interrupted Melody

interruptedmelody-posterThe Film:

Oh good lord, another opera biopic.  I already went through this with The Great Caruso, and that’s an appropriate reference because as the poster says “the greatest musical drama since ‘The Great Caruso’.”  I don’t know how to react to that.  I do rank The Great Caruso as a better film.  It was a decent film that had a subject that I just didn’t care about.  Interrupted Melody isn’t as good a film – it has poor direction, the writing is substandard and it has the same lack of interest for me in spite of having Glenn Ford.  But this film has one thing going for it, and that’s the performance of Eleanor Parker.  Parker encompasses some of the same things that I write down below about Jean Simmons in Guys and Dolls (because I wrote that review first) – she’s not in the first range of actresses for ability and she’s certainly not in the first range for beauty, but she’s a pretty solid actress and she is quite pretty, so she becomes the solid performer.  Like Simmons, she was nominated for multiple Oscars but never won.  She was actually nominated for this film (she also earns a Nighthawk nomination but that’s because of a real dearth of performances – my whole list is only six long) and she’s the best thing about it.

In fact, what does that say about this film that Parker is the best thing about it?  Well, for one thing it says that this film is a magnificent waste of Glenn Ford.  Not a waste of his talent, because he actually doesn’t do much with here.  It’s just a waste – he stands around loving her and then worrying about her (more on that below) and finally having a semi-happy ending with her in spite of all their troubles.

The real star of this is Parker.  She stars as Gertrude Lawrence, an opera singer from Australia who eventually becomes a worldwide sensation, marries a man that she has a bit of tempestuous relationship with, then, in a tour of South America, contracts polio.  Without the polio there wouldn’t be much dramatic arc in the story, but she needs to overcome the disease in order to pull her life together and even perform again, even if she can’t do it in the same way now that she’s confined to a wheelchair.  Parker, whose singing scenes are fine, really comes through in the more emotional scenes between the singing and that’s what really makes her performance so good.  But, the script gives very little for Ford to do, and as a result, the film itself just falls flat.

The Source:

Interrupted Melody: The Story of My Life by Marjorie Lawrence  (1949)

To be fair, I was never going to care about this book because I don’t care about the real person.  I have always liked classical music, although by always, I mean since I was 15 and first saw Fantasia.  In spite of that, though, I have never been able to get into opera.  Something about the singing just doesn’t work for me.  So, the autobiography of an opera singer wasn’t ever going to be something I was going to care about.  Marjorie Lawrence was born and raised in Australia, became famous, had World War II interfere with her career and then contracted polio and that essentially ended her career, at least as a singer in opera, if not as a singer of opera.  But she really lost me at one point in this book:

Besides sharing with the rest of humanity its well-founded loathing and detestation of the Nazis, I have my own special and particular reasons for hating Hitler and his hoodlum pack.  They and the ghastly war they foisted upon the world prevented my attaining the ambition of every Wagnerian singer – to appear in the master’s operas at hallowed Bayreuth.  I went to Germany for the first time to sing at the Zoppot Waldoper and was invited to return, not only for Zoppot but for Berlin and Bayreuth as well the following year: but the following year was 1939!

Oh boo fucking hoo.  Over 60 million people died, including over half of the Jews in Central and Eastern Europe and over 10% of the total populations of Poland, Latvia and Lithuania.  But you didn’t get to sing Wagner at his festival.  At that point, I went from not caring to being disgusted.

The Adaptation:

As far as I can tell, the film follows fairly accurately the life of Lawrence, but so much of the damn book is just about her performances in various operas that I kept tuning it out and it’s hard to remember what’s what when it came time to comparing them.

The Credits:

Directed by Curtis Bernhardt.  Written by William Ludwig and Sonya Levien.  Based On Her Life Story by Marjorie Lawrence.

Blackboard Jungle

blackboardjungleThe Film:

It’s amazing how a film can look so badly dated now, the remnants of what a society once thought about a particular social problem, yet, at the same time, can be a vision into the future, of what might spring forth at an artistic level that never could have been imagined.  In the end, we have a film that holds on to the lower ends of ***.5 because of quality direction, a solid star in the lead role doing the kind of things he’s always done well (and would continually do well) and a budding new star who had been threatening to break through for years and finally would in a real way.

Glenn Ford, always the great stalwart of honesty and decency, plays a hard-working teacher who comes in to an inner-city school that has some severe behavior problems.  Not that the school is about to admit that; they, in fact, adamantly deny that in the opening moments of the film.  Ford is threatened and pushed and eventually his wife is even harassed to the point where she almost miscarries their child (it’s a change from the book that doesn’t – see below).  But he stands firm, no matter how many other teachers want to buckle under the pressure.  At first he suspects the young black in the class of being the leaders of the juvenile delinquents (“Hey, I got a social disease!”), but eventually realizes that the black is a natural leader and a talented musician.  He begins to learn that the what is happening in his class is less a symptom of society than a symptom of a particular person and if you can cut that person down, the followers will find somewhere else to look.

This film worked very well in 1955, becoming a big hit and earning solid reviews and a number of Oscar nominations.  It helped, of course, to have a writer-director as talented as Richard Brooks (who would later win an Oscar for writing) and to have Ford as the teacher.  Ford’s headstrong determination had made him perfect as the cop determined to get his man in The Big Heat a couple of years before, and he’s just as stubborn and determined this time and again, is heedless of the potential consequences.  But the film might not have worked had they not managed to get Sidney Poitier as the black student.  In the long, grand tradition of being far too old to actually play a high school student (five years earlier he had played a doctor in No Way Out) but Poitier is believable in every aspect of the role and helps keep the film from getting derailed by a plot that today seems badly dated.  Too much has been written and discussed about juvenile delinquency in the 60 years since this film for this film to be considerably painful in some of the ways they approach the problem.

Yet, the film continues to work, and it’s not just the direction of Brooks or the performances from Ford and Poitier alone that do it.  It’s the way this film looks to the future, with those opening and closing scenes that seal the deal.  Songs had been used in films before, but nothing like this because there really hadn’t been songs like this before.  When “Rock Around the Clock” comes blaring through, it’s a revolution and it helps us sink into this story and slide out of it with sheer precision.

blackboardThe Source:

The Blackboard Jungle by Evan Hunter  (1954)

This is a decent novel that has not aged well.  It is melodramatic to the extreme, about a new teacher in a vocational school.  He was must deal with violent students (one tries to rape another teacher and some of them send harassing notes to the teacher’s wife that prompts a stillborn child and he is attacked when outside the school) and teachers who have given up caring and are just trying to survive.  It was a big deal at the time, a novel dealing with an issue that was just rising in the news as a social issue but it now feels a bit dated.

The Adaptation:

“He followed the outline of the book closely but with notable exceptions. First, he took an anecdote told by one teacher about another – the teacher had once turned his back on his class and a student threw a baseball, taking a chunk out of the blackboard – and put Dadier in place of the teacher under fire. In the book, Dadier’s wife, Anne, suffers the stillbirth of their son. However, Richard’s script allows the baby to be born alive if prematurely, perhaps trying to keep the overall tone upbeat. He also makes student Artie West more menacing in the film, showing West leading the afterschool assault on Dadier and the other teacher.” (Tough as Nails: The Life and Films of Richard Brooks by Douglass K. Daniel, p 87)

Aside from that, the biggest change in the film is that the word “rape” is never used in relation to the assault on the female teacher while in the original book it is used a lot and emphasized.

The Credits:

Directed by Richard Brooks. Screen Play by Richard Brooks. Based On the Novel by Evan Hunter.


phffftThe Film:

In 1954, Judy Holliday would star in two films: It Should Happen to You and Phffft, the latter film not earning an LA release until a couple of months after it’s New York release and making it eligible in 1955.  Her co-star in both films would be a new young actor named Jack Lemmon in his first two credited film roles.  I’ve never been quite clear why Holliday became such a big star and certainly can’t understand how she managed to win the Oscar in 1950, but there’s no question that she was the star of those two films.  Within a couple of years, Holliday would be back to Broadway (successfully) and would only star in a few more films while Lemmon would be an Oscar winner and would go on to one of the great careers in film history, earning eight Oscar noms.  Though this film is far from great, it’s clear here that Lemmon has an incredible talent, perfect comic timing and a wonderful screen presence and that he was destined to last.

Lemmon and Holliday play Robert and Nina, a married couple whose marriage is at its end after eight years.  They are divorcing and gladly going their separate ways.  He’s going to be a carefree bachelor like his best friend (played by Jack Carson, and poor Carson was always so solid in so many supporting roles during this decade and almost never gets pointed out).  She’s going to do the things he never wanted to do.  The only problem is that they’re clearly still crazy about each other.  He sees an attractive woman and honks at her on the street; it’s his ex-wife.  They end up at the same club to go dancing and end up dancing with each other.  That’s the best scene in the film, because Lemmon dancing is an inspired sight; if it’s not as hilariously horrendous as The Elaine Dance, it’s still great fun to watch.

The Source:

Phfft: Chronicle of a Happy Divorce by George Axelrod (1954)

It was hard for me to determine that this indeed was an adapted screenplay and there could be a case made that it’s not since the play was never produced, but then again, neither was Everybody Comes to Rick’s.  TCM gave me the full name of the play and confirmed the Wikipedia info that it was unproduced.  But, it is also, as far as I can tell, unpublished, so I have no idea what it was like.  To that extent, I also arbitrarily gave it the date of 1954, when this film was made.

The Adaptation:

Which means, of course, that I also can’t tell how closely Axelrod stuck to his original play.  But, given how irritated he was this year at how many changes were made to his The Seven Year-Itch, it’s likely he liked what he had written enough to follow it pretty closely.

The Credits:

Directed by Mark Robson.  Story and Screen Play by George Axelrod.

The Seven Year Itch

sevenyearitchThe Film:

Marilyn Monroe stood on a subway grating and movie magic happened.  It wasn’t an accident, of course.  Billy Wilder had her stand there and there were thousands of people watching (one of whom, Joe DiMaggio, was her husband and got pissed off and left though Monroe loved the attention, but you know what, DiMaggio was a Yankee so the hell with him).  It’s not even an accident in the film; Monroe’s The Girl has been over-heated the whole film.  She’s in New York during the summer without an air conditioner and the new fan she just bought isn’t doing much.  She even keeps her underwear in the refrigerator to cool herself off (imagine what the thought of that did to the men watching the film).  So, when walking back from the movies with her downstairs neighbor (who does have an air conditioner), she stands over the grate so that the train will keep her cool.  She doesn’t know that it will push her dress up but she doesn’t seem to mind when it does.  It’s instant movie magic, perfectly matching a star with an indelible image that works for that star – there might not be a better moment that matches star with image in the history of film.

There’s just one problem.  The film itself isn’t all that great.  It’s likely that many people know the image without the faintest idea what the film is and that’s understandable.  Monroe in the film doesn’t so much exist in reality as exist in an unreachable fantasy.  She’s not even given a name – she’s just The Girl, that unattainable beauty just upstairs, with her naked body just out of the line of sight.  It was the right image for the star but the wrong film for its time.  Even Billy Wilder couldn’t take the play and make it into a first-rate film.  He made nine films in the decade and this is the weakest, yet, in many ways, is the most remembered.

Most of the problems with the film were beyond Wilder’s ability to make better.  The original play really isn’t all that great, a whiny executive is thinking of cheating on his wife because he’s been married seven years (he’s got the “seven year itch”) and because she and their son are away in Maine for the summer.  A bombshell has just moved in upstairs and is way too hot and desperate for air conditioning (in the original Broadway production she wasn’t even blonde, played by Vanessa Brown).  The exec is whiny and indecisive about whether he wants to have an affair and is never quite clear why he wants one unless it’s because the girl is so overwhelming (which, on film, she is).  It just wasn’t that witty.

But the bigger problem is that Wilder was unable to use his first choice for the role (Walter Matthau, and wow, how that would have helped the film), being pushed into using Tom Ewell who had played the role on stage and just doesn’t come across as interesting enough for Marilyn to ever take notice.  He was also hampered by the Code of course, which would never allow them to actually consummate the affair (which they do in the play and which really is the only way to end this properly).  So it’s just kind of a waste – a few funny moments, but not many, a flat performance that is the lead in the film and a waste of Monroe that at least gets one iconic moment to hang its hat on.

7yearitchThe Source:

The Seven Year Itch: A Romantic Comedy by George Axelrod  (1952)

This was a fairly solid hit on Broadway, but I am not quite certain why.  The main character, Richard Sherman, is a whiny man who seems unhappy with his lot with his good job at a publisher, a wife and a son and an air-conditioned apartment in Manhattan.  So, when his wife and child depart for Maine for the summer, he considers having an affair with The Girl upstairs (“The GIRL is standing in the doorway.  She is an extraordinarily beautiful girl in her early twenties.  She wears an extravagantly glamorous evening gown.  There is a wise, half-mocking, half-enticing smile on her face.  She looks like nothing so much as a Tabu perfume ad.”).  It doesn’t have a whole lot of wit and quite frankly if he’s this miserable after only seven years of marriage, then his wife is better off without him.

The Adaptation:

The premise comes from the play as do some of the individual lines.  But much of the film is actually the invention of Billy Wilder, including the iconic subway grating scene.  The original play confines all of the action to the apartment.  The biggest difference, of course, is that in the play the relationship is consummated while there was no way the filmmakers would be allowed to do that because of the Production Code.  So, in the end, Richard Sherman simply fantasizes about what might happen while his wife is away and in the end, runs off to join her in Maine while leaving his air-conditioned apartment for The Girl.

The Credits:

Directed by Billy Wilder.  Screenplay by Billy Wilder and George Axelrod.  Based upon an “Original Play” ‘The Seven Year Itch’ by George Axelrod as presented on the Stage by Courtney Burr & Elliott Nugent.

The Tender Trap

tendertrapThe Film:

Julie is young (twenty-two) and she’s determined to be married within a year.  She wants to find the blue-eyed man of her dreams and then settle down in Scarsdale (the best schools are there – everybody knows that) and start to raise a family.  She’s also a talented singer and quite cute and adorable (she’s played by Debbie Reynolds, who was 23 at the time and got married the year this film was released), even if she does still live with her parents and in kind of a fantasy world that even in 1955 seems kind of silly.  But she does have talent and her agent knows it.  Oh, and her agent, Charlie also happens to be played by Frank Sinatra, and if you’re looking for a man with blue eyes to fall for, well, this is 1955 and Paul Newman isn’t quite that well known yet, so this is as good as it’s gonna get.  There’s only one problem.  Charlie likes women.  He likes having them around and taking them to dinner.  He likes them to come over and neck and do everything for him.  And there are a lot of them in his life.

This situation would normally be enough for a Hollywood romantic comedy, but this film originally came from Broadway, and they like to have at least a little more in their plots, even if it’s a silly and pretty dumb plot like this one.  So, to spice things up, there is Joe, Charlie’s best friend who has the life Charlie kind of longs for, with a wife and kids at home.  But now Joe, who really wants Charlie’s life, has come to the city to try and live a bit of Charlie’s life and he’s left his wife and kids behind.  To this end, he starts trying to score with the various women who keep coming through Charlie’s apartment like it’s Grand Central Station, and he finally manages to start getting somewhere with Sylvia (Celeste Holm).  Joe’s attentions to Sylvia make Charlie wonder if he really does want Julie, who is young and can really try his patience.  Maybe he should just settle down with Sylvia instead?  Or maybe he likes the life he’s living?

What it comes down to is that this a pretty standard romantic comedy and you know where things are going to end up.  There will be a happy ending for Charlie and Joe will go back to his wife.  Things will work out in a way they likely wouldn’t in real life, but, hey, you didn’t watch this film to get a glimpse of real life.  You watched it so you could watch Frank sing the Oscar nominated title song a lot (by himself before the credits, later, showing Reynolds how to sing it during the film, and with the other three main cast members at the end of the film) and be a womanizer and a bit of a cad but also a bit of a romantic.  Well, that’s what you get, and for that, there are a lot worse ways to spend a couple of hours.

The Source:

The Tender Trap: A Comedy by Max Shulman and Robert Paul Smith (1954)

This is just a silly little romantic comedy play.  It’s about a womanizer who can’t seem to settle down, his best friend who comes to town and falls for one of his women (in spite of the fact that he’s married), the woman that his best friend falls in love with, which makes the womanizer want to settle down with her, and the young girl who comes into his life because she’s the assistant to a man the two friends want to get in on a business deal with them.  Much of it works like you would expect a romantic comedy of the time to work – with false starts and retreats, with coming forward and declarations of love for someone you barely know and a kind of muddled happy ending.  In the end, the womanizer settles down with the young girl, the best friend goes home to his wife and the other woman hopes to find some happiness somewhere in the city.  It’s all really rather dumb.

The Adaptation:

Does the film improve upon the play?  Well, in the play, the best friend has left home to quit his job.  Here he’s decided to leave his wife because he wants his best friend’s life.  The womanizer is a talent agent and the young girl is actually a client of his (which allows for use of the title song, which was, rightfully, nominated for an Oscar).  In the end, there’s a year gap before the other woman actually settles down and gets married and it’s only then that we get the happy ending for the womanizer and the young girl, which makes a hell of a lot more sense than how it was down in the original play, even if it’s still not all that great.  But, it’s got Frank Sinatra instead of Ronny Graham in the lead, and if you need a blue-eyed man you can believe in as a womanizer, well, then Frank is your guy.

The Credits:

Directed by Charles Walters.  Screen Play by Julius Epstein.  Based On the Play by Max Shulman and Robert Paul Smith And Presented On the New York Stage by Clinton Wilder.

Daddy Long Legs

daddy_long_legs_movie_posterThe Film:

Early on in Daddy Long Legs, there is a nice gag.  Fred Astaire plays Jervis Pendleton III.  Jervis is a rich man, but he’s also eccentric and he likes to get his own way.  But because he’s good with business, he’s brought along to France with a trade group lead by the president.  When the car breaks down and Jervis decides to go for a walk, a woman asks “Why would the President have appointed him?”  Then Jervis’ right-hand man (Griggs, played by perfect indignation throughout the film by Fred Clark, more beset by problems than usual and giving the best performance in the film) pulls out Jervis’ golf bags.  Suddenly the woman realizes why this particular president has invited Jervis along.  It’s quite amusing and you can easily miss it.  Sadly, it’s the best thing in the film.

This film was always going to be a bit hard to take because of the source material.  In the original novel, a trustee of an orphanage sends a young orphan to college and pays for it, only demanding one letter a month in exchange.  Over the course of her years in college, the orphan falls in love with a rich businessman, the uncle of her roommate, only for her (and the readers) to discover in the end that he’s also the rich trustee.  It’s a bit of a creepy story that seems tailor-made for Maurice Chevalier.  Fred Astaire was 56 when this film was released and Leslie Caron was 24 (and playing 18-22).  Then, of course, there is the Caron factor to begin with.  I will quote my own review of An American in Paris: “‘Why is he so interested in the weird-looking girl?  The blonde sitting next to him is so much better looking.’ That’s my wife speaking, not that I’m going to disagree.  Leslie Caron is decidedly odd-looking and that she should so inspire the fierce passions of Gene Kelly, Louis Jourdan and Horst Buchholz in two Best Picture winners and a Best Picture nominee is outside of my scope of understanding.” To add to that, there is the creepiness factor of the age difference in this film.

What keeps the film from going too overboard is that Astaire plays up the charm, and not in a Chevalier creepy kind of way.  He wants to do right by this girl, who is in a bad position at the orphanage (having aged out, but having no way to succeed out in the world).  He is established as eccentric, so it’s believable.  But none of the songs win me over, the silly ballet scene seems out of place (not that I could tolerate it in An American in Paris, when it wasn’t out of place) and the film as a whole never quite works.

daddylonglegsThe Source:

Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster (1912)

This is a book to give young girls an eye for a romantic story in which a rich man can both provide you with a better life and then also step in and sweep you off your feet.  It’s an epistolary novel about an orphan who is sent to college by a rich trustee with orders to write the trustee.  While at college, she falls in love with the rich uncle of her roommate and at the end of the book, but she and the readers discover that those are the same person.  It’s really a silly, very outdated story.

The Adaptation:

The film takes some of the basic premises of the plot and leaves them intact.  Yes, the orphan is sent off to college by a rich man (but he just happens to come across this orphanage in France while on a trip for a trade commission and he’s not a trustee).  Yes, he is the uncle of the girl who will become the orphan’s roommate at college.  Yes, she does fall in love with him and they end up happily together.  However, since the film focuses on the Daddy-Long-Legs character right from the start, rather than focus on the girl’s life, we know from the very beginning what the story is and we learn much more about him than we ever did in the original novel.  Most of that is invented just for the film. It doesn’t make it any less silly.

The Credits:

Directed by Jean Negulesco.  Screen Play by Phoebe and Henry Ephron.  From the Novel by Jean Webster.  Words and Music by Johnny Mercer.

Guys and Dolls

guysanddollsThe Film:

Marlon Brando is not a singer.  He was never a singer and he was never going to be a singer.  So, if he was going to play Sky Masterson, he was going to need some support with the songs around him.  So, you give him a co-star, one who really can sing, and you beef up the role of Nathan Detroit.  Why not Frank Sinatra?  Sinatra was quickly becoming one of the best actors around, two years after his Oscar for From Here to Eternity, this film came in the same year as The Man with the Golden Arm, the film that proved his performance in Eternity wasn’t a one-off or a fluke.  Sinatra could easily be Nathan, the man who keeps moving his game so that the cops don’t know where to find it.  That left Brando in the role with the romance, trying to win over a Sister while also essentially running a long-con on her.

It works for three reasons.  The first is Sinatra, of course – he seemed almost born to play Nathan Detroit.  The second is that Brando, who doesn’t quite work whenever he tries to sing, is so sly and devilish when he isn’t singing.  Look at him when he catches Sister Sarah out on a matter of biblical quotation.  It turns out this no-good gambler doesn’t read anything except The Gideon Bible which he finds in every hotel room he stays in.  The third reason it works is Jean Simmons.  Something occurred to me while I was watching her in this film.  Simmons is the perfect acceptable substitute to combine beauty and performance.  She was never as beautiful or as sexy as Elizabeth Taylor or Marilyn Monroe or Grace Kelly.  She was never going to be an actress on the level of Katharine Hepburn or Deborah Kerr.  But she was quite beautiful, especially when given the right role to play.  And she was a very good actress.  If you didn’t need the character to be drop-dead gorgeous and you didn’t need a home run from the acting, well then Jean Simmons was the perfect actress to cast.  So, in films like Hamlet, The Actress, Guys and Dolls and Elmer Gantry, you could put here in there and get exactly what you needed out of her.  She is absolutely believable in the role of the Sister whose ire goes up when she first meets Sky, but is also so taken with him that she will run off to him with Havana, never realizing that the rest of the mission will be tricked into going out on the town to solicit donations, thus leaving the building empty for Nathan’s card game.

The film never really quite works for me, partially because Runyon’s humor works better on the page than it does on the screen (see below), but also because the songs never really work that well for me.  There will be some people who will read that and will scream with indignation but it’s happened with other musicals and will happen again.  Yes, “Luck Be a Lady” is a fantastic song, and “Sit Down You’re Rockin the Boat” would eventually become a song I would really like (when sung by Don Henley, but not as it is performed in the film) but as a whole, the music doesn’t work for me, especially any of the songs that are meant to be romantic.  So, I can enjoy Brando’s performance, I can look at the wonderful sets and costumes and smile at those.  But in the end, it’s still a film that can’t ever really rise above mid-level ***.  But, hey, that’s a hell of a lot better than a lot of the Musicals I’m having to review in the middle 50’s thanks to the Musical category at the WGA.

guysThe Source:

Guys and Dolls by Frank Loesser (1950) /  “The Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown” (1933) and “Blood Pressure” (1930) by Damon Runyon

While the musical Guys and Dolls has some nice moments and some nice songs (“Luck Be A Lady” being the key one), its humor and fun really originate in the stories by Damon Runyon.  While many characters run through Runyon’s stories, some of which are in the musical, the primary story that formed the basis is “The Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown”, which tells the story of Sky Masterson and the Sister that he falls in love with and tries to win over, to the extent of betting for souls.  The musical (and the film) lack the true Runyon humor because that really comes through in the first person narration prevalent in so many of his stories and it’s never really able to come through in the full Runyonesque way.  Yet, it does bring to life many of the characters that exist in a variety of the stories.  If you like the Musical, and even if you don’t, I do recommend seeking out the original stories because Runyon’s style isn’t really like anyone else.  He may not be exactly who you’re looking for, but he is a fairly unique voice in American literature.

The Adaptation:

The Nathan Detroit role was beefed up – expanding from “a supporting part in a comic subplot to a starring role worthy of Sinatra and the equal of Brando’s.” (Pictures Will Talk: The Life and Films of Joseph L. Mankiewicz by Kenneth L. Geist, p 259)  In the original stories, Skye is the star of the one story, but Nathan runs through a lot of stories, complete with his game that keeps getting moved from place to place.

There is more in the Geist book on pages 260-261 about the new songs, which forced the removal of three of the ballads from the original play, as well as the “expanded courtship sequence”.

The Credits:

Written for the Screen and Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz.  Based upon the play Guys and Dolls.  Book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows.  From a Damon Runyon story.  Produced on the Stage by Cy Fever and Ernest H. Martin.  Music and Lyrics by Frank Loesser.


oklahomaThe Film:

As will be said a number of times in later years, while I love Musicals, I am not a particular fan of Rodgers and Hammerstein. Though State Fair (which was written for film) had been the first film with their work, this is where their stage work began to appear on film and they would become mainstays for the next decade, culminating with the film version of The Sound of Music, a film whose box office and cultural standing make it among the most essential films ever made. Oklahoma!, loved by many, though not be me, isn’t quite at the same level but it has some of the same problems that keep it from really being a top-notch Musical (and perhaps kept it from being a Best Picture nominee).

Oklahoma, perhaps because it is directed by Fred Zinnemann, who had already won one Oscar and would late win another one, has some very effective moments. The dance scene and the singing flow rather well, it has an effectively brutish performance from Rod Steiger as Jud and it has a wonderful performance from Shirley Jones, making you realize precisely why she is worth fighting over. The scenes out in the fields are beautifully photographed and the costumes and sets generally look good.

There are a couple of real problems with the film though that prevent it from becoming a classic film musical and though I am not a fan of Rodgers and Hammerstein, the fault is not theirs (or, at least mostly not theirs). The one part where they get some of the blame is the long balletic part of the dream sequence, which is unnecessary and goes on far too long; they only get the blame for the sequence in the first place, not for the directorial decision to place it on what is clearly a stage and make it look forced (that’s why I said the costumes and sets generally look good instead of saying they always look good). There is also a real casting problem in the film and it mars almost every part of the film. In the subplot, Gloria Grahame, so amazingly sensual just a few years before in films like Sudden Fear and The Big Heat, seems to have lost all of it – maybe Zinnemann didn’t work well with her or maybe she just needed to be in black-and-white. She’s also pursued by Eddie Albert, whose performance as Ali Hakim is just painful to watch.

The other problem is bigger and is evident from the very first moment of the film. Gordon MacRae just doesn’t work well enough for Curley. I can believe Shirley Jones’ Laurey falling for Curley, but I can’t believe her for falling for Curley as played by MacRae. His singing just doesn’t work for me and his acting isn’t any better. It doesn’t help that I can picture Hugh Jackman in my head (see below), but there must have been someone better that could have come in and been perfectly cast against Jones and maybe turned this film really into a great one.

oklahoma-bookThe Source:

Oklahoma!, music by Richard Rodgers, book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II (1943)

What a start for this show-writing partnership. Is it any wonder that they would become so phenomenally successful when their first musical begins with such a glorious and optimistic song as “Oh What a Beautiful Mornin'”? Go hear and watch Hugh Jackman at the Cameron MacIntosh celebration sing it, just like he did so many nights on stage and you can feel how happy Curley is, with the first lines preceding his presence on stage.

However, for me at least, the joy doesn’t last that long. Just a few minutes later we get “The Surrey with the Fringe on Top”, one of the silliest songs they ever wrote. There are lots of people who will dive into that song and drink up its sugary syrup, but I draw the line there and it carries over into the rest of the musical. The characters stray into parodies (Jud is too much of a repulsive thug, Aunt Addy is too silly and Ali Hakim is just too much). Some of the scenes are effective and the songs work well, but some of the scenes, like the dream just get a bit too long.

The Adaptation:

The Wikipedia page gives a long detailed description of what is different between the stage and the film and there are some considerable differences, so it’s best to just go there and let them give you the lowdown.

The Credits:

Directed by Fred Zinnemann.  Music by Richard Rodgers.  Book and Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II.  Screen Play by Sonya Levien and William Ludwig.  Adapted from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Musical Play.  Based Upon a Dramatic Play by Lynn Riggs.

Other Screenplays on My List Outside My Top 10:

  • The Rose Tattoo  –  A very good film from a good Tennessee Williams play.  It was a Best Picture nominee, so there’s a full review of it here.
  • Othello  –  The best film not in the Top 10 (my #7).  The script is a bit uneven because of the way that Welles had to make the film, bringing back cast and crew over time to film different scenes as he would make enough movie doing other films.  An essential Shakespeare film.
  • Summertime  –  David Lean’s nice Venice romance.  The lead performance from Katharine Hepburn was Oscar nominated and was #2 on my Best Actress list.  It’s based on the play The Time of the Cuckoo.
  • Trial  –  Based on a novel by Don Mankiewicz (Herman’s son), this quite good film (high ***) is very hard to find and I had to see it on TCM.  It’s got a strong lead performance from Glenn Ford and one of Arthur Kennedy’s numerous Oscar nominated performances.
  • The Desperate Hours  –  Based on the 1954 novel and 1955 play, this William Wyler film is one of his lesser known ones since it wasn’t one of the 12 for which Wyler earned an Oscar nomination.  This effective thriller is a low-level ***.5 film.

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

  • The Night of the Hunter  –  Based on the novel of the same name, this film is quite unnerving.  But the script is the weakest point, while the direction from Charles Laughton (his only directorial effort) and the lead performance from Robert Mitchum are unforgettable.
  • The Wages of Fear  –  Better directed than it is written, this 1953 French film which came to the U.S. in 1955 is considered a classic.  It’s based on the novel by Georges Arnaud.
  • The Phenix City Story  –  I only list this here because oscars.org lists it as “based on documentation by Crane Wilbur” who is the listed co-writer with Daniel Mainwaring.  Mainwaring was very proud of his work on this film as he actually went to Phenix City, Alabama to do research before writing the script (his daughter told me that).  The ironic bit about this film is that it presents John Patterson as the hero, a few years before he would become an arch-segregationist governor of Alabama, but Patterson would modify his beliefs over time and even endorsed Obama in 2008.  It’s a high level *** and has been shown on TCM numerous times, partially because Martin Scorsese is a big fan of the film.
  • The Purple Plain  –  A multiple BAFTA nominee from 1954 that earned a 1955 US release.  It’s based on the novel by H.E. Bates.
  • Kiss Me Deadly  –  Widely considered a noir classic though it’s no better than mid-range ***, this thriller is based on one of the Mike Hammer novels by Mickey Spillane.  It is most famous for its nihilistic ending with the glowing suitcase that was a massive influence on Pulp Fiction.
  • The Bridges at Toko-Ri  –  The James Michener novel was a big seller.  The Oscar winning film (Best Visual Effects) is solid, if, for no other reason, than having both William Holden and Grace Kelly.
  • The Man from Laramie  –  Jimmy Stewart in another Anthony Mann Western, though not the best work from them.  It’s based on a Saturday Evening Post story.
  • Kismet  –  The fourth version of this story, this one is the first Musical (based on the 1953 Musical rather than the original 1911 play) and is directed by Vincente Minnelli.
  • Not as a Stranger  –  Stanley Kramer was already a very successful producer when he turned to directing with this film.  It’s got a great cast but doesn’t do enough with it, which could be a description of a lot of Kramer films.
  • The Dam Busters  –  Another film loved by an Oscar winning director, in this case Peter Jackson, who keeps saying he’ll remake it.  It’s an enjoyable War film from Michael Anderson, whose Around the World in 80 Days would win Best Picture the next year.
  • I Am a Camera  –  A middle step in a long adaptation process.  Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin Stories would become the play I Am a Camera and then this film, before eventually becoming the musical and film Cabaret.  Julie Harris is good, but if you’ve already seen Cabaret (which is likely), her Sally just can’t compare to Liza’s.
  • The Belles of St Trinian’s  –  Ronald Searle’s cartoon characters would be brought to life in this film, the first of a series in the decade.  Alistair Sim is mildly amusing as the headmistress of a girl’s school and her brother.  This would be remade over 50 years later with Rupert Everett in the Sim roles.
  • Court Martial  –  Known as Carrington V.C. in the UK (and based on the play of the same name), this film was nominated for 5 BAFTAs and eluded me for years and years until I was finally loaned a copy a few months ago.  The action is solid but the film itself is a mid-range ***.
  • Doctor in the House  –  Similar to the above in that it was a big BAFTA film (4 noms, 1 win), was hard for me to find for a while and I finally saw it and was disappointed.
  • Unchained  –  Based on the non-fiction book Prisoners of People, this is a decent film about prison life that would almost certainly be forgotten today (not that it isn’t) if not for the song written for the film which bears its name: “Unchained Melody”, a song I have versions on my iTunes by The Righteous Brothers, U2, Heart, Neil Diamond, Elvis Presley and Harry Belafonte.  The Heart version is my favorite.
  • Man Without a Star  –  We’re getting down into the low-level *** now.  This Western is based on the novel by Dee Linford and stars Kirk Douglas.
  • Moonfleet  –  One of the weakest Fritz Lang films, not least because it has Stewart Granger in the lead.  It’s inspired by the original novel with significant changes in the film version.
  • Battle Cry  –  When I hear the words “battle cry”, I think of the old board game which we had growing up and which I don’t think I ever remember any of us ever playing.  But that was a Civil War game and this was a World War II film based on a Leon Uris novel.
  • My Sister Eileen  –  Oh, another complicated process.  This began as short pieces in The New Yorker, then became a play, then a 1942 film, then this Musical, which isn’t connected to Wonderful Town, a 1953 Broadway Musical also based on the original stories.  And this film was unnecessary since, even with Janet Leigh and Jack Lemmon, this film is inferior to the 1942 film.
  • The Last Frontier  –  Another Anthony Mann Western, but unfortunately this one stars Victor Mature instead of Jimmy Stewart.  It’s based on the novel The Gilded Rooster.
  • The End of the Affair  –  I’ve already reviewed this film when I wrote about the novel as #82 in my Top 100.  Skip it.  Watch the 1999 version instead.  But definitely read the book.
  • The Long Gray Line  –  A weak John Ford film based on the autobiography of the man who was swimming instructor at West Point for 30 years.
  • We’re No Angels  –  A rare Bogart Comedy that’s a reminder of why he didn’t make Comedies.  Based on the play My Three Angels, which had been based on a French play.  Like The End of the Affair, this was later remade by Neil Jordan, but this one isn’t at remotely the same level.
  • Captain Lightfoot  –  How do you take a novel by W.R. Burnett (Little Caesar, High Sierra, The Asphalt Jungle) and make a dull dud?  Let Douglas Sirk and Rock Hudson get their hands on it.
  • The Glass Slipper  –  It’s a forgettable Musical version of Cinderella with Leslie Caron in the lead role.
  • The Rains of Ranchipur  –  The 1939 film The Rains Came wasn’t great, but it was better than this remake (both based on the novel The Rains Came, although this film changes the ending).
  • Tarzan’s Hidden Jungle  –  Gordon Scott takes over the role of Tarzan and that helps the series a little.  Like most previous Tarzan films, it has basically nothing to do with the original Burroughs novels (which is ridiculous, because there were plenty of them to be filmed).
  • The Pickwick Papers  –  This 1952 British version of the first Dickens novel (not one of my favorites as seen here) was Oscar nominated for its costumes but that doesn’t make it any better than low-level ***.
  • The Deep Blue Sea –  Another film that been remade, skip this version of the Terrence Rattigan play and watch the 2011 film instead.
  • The Tall Men  –  Mediocre Clark Gable Western from the novel by Clay Fisher.
  • Tennessee’s Partner  –  Another mediocre Western, this one stars Ronald Reagan and is adapted from a story by Bret Harte (loosely).
  • A Prize of Gold  –  Richard Widmark can’t lift this Crime film above a high **.5.  It’s based on the novel by Max Catto.
  • Good Morning, Miss Dove  –  Sentimental schlock with Jennifer Jones as a school teacher.  Based on the novel by Frances Gray Patton
  • The Racers  –  Kirk Douglas is a race car driver.  Since good movies almost never involve the phrase “is a race car driver” you can tell how good it is.  Based on the novel.
  • Soldier of Fortune  –  More mediocre Clark Gable.  This time he’s helping someone escape from China.  Based on the Ernest K. Gann novel.
  • I’ll Cry Tomorrow  –  Susan Hayward earned an Oscar nom as an alcoholic Broadway star, but she didn’t even make my list.  Based on the autobiography by Lilian Roth.
  • The Left Hand of God  –  We’re in China again, this time with Bogey masquerading as a priest.  It’s even from Edward Dmytryk, who also directed Soldier of Fortune.  It’s based on the novel.
  • Ulysses  –  We’re talking Homer here, not Joyce.  In spite of starring Kirk Douglas as the title star, this film is a low **.5.
  • Tarantula  –  Based on a story that had aired on the television show Science Fiction Theater in May of 1955, this giant monster flick could have been worse, though at a low **.5 it could have been better as well.  Still, at least I like tarantulas.
  • The Big Knife  –  Robert Aldrich directing a Clifford Odets play couldn’t do much with this.
  • This Island Earth  –  Mediocre Sci-Fi film based on the pulp novel.
  • Green Fire  –  Based on a memoir, this is about an emerald mine in South America.  It’s pretty weak (low **.5) but it does have Grace Kelly.
  • The Cobweb  –  Weak melodrama from Vincente Minnelli.  Based on a novel by William Gibson (The Miracle Worker William Gibson, not Neuromancer William Gibson).
  • Blood Alley  –  In China again!  This time it’s John Wayne.  It’s also a waste of time, even though it was directed by William Wellman.  Adapted by Albert Sidney Fleischman from his own novel.
  • A Man Called Peter  –  A biopic about the Chaplin of the U.S. Senate.  Not for me, although I would argue it’s weak enough that it’s not for anyone.  Based on the memoir by his wife.
  • You’re Never Too Young  –  Based on a short story called “Sunny Goes Home”, this is a Martin / Lewis Comedy by crappy director Norman Taurog.
  • Queen Bee  –  Joan Crawford plays a dominating Southern mother.  Based on the novel.
  • Love is a Many-Splendored Thing  –  There’s a full review of the film here because it was (mind-bogglingly) a Best Picture nominee.  It’s based on the autobiography novel by Han Suyin, the woman that Jennifer Jones plays and who I may remind you, was half-Chinese (and half-Belgian).
  • Artists and Models  –  The play Rockabye Baby becomes another crappy Lewis / Martin Comedy (provided you can call it a Comedy when it’s not funny).
  • Svengali  –  Somehow this film earned a BAFTA nomination for Donald Wolfit (the stage actor who is the inspiration for the egotistical oblivious Sir in The Dresser) so I saw it and wished I hadn’t.  It’s mid-range **.
  • The View from Pompey’s Head  –  Not listed in my Nighthawk Awards as one of the 5 Worst Films of the Year because I hadn’t seen it when I did that post, but one of my frequent commenters loaned me a copy so I could finally cross it off my list because it won the NBR for Best Supporting Actress.  Which is ridiculous because the acting in this film is terrible.  In fact, everything in this film is terrible.  So thanks to Mike for loaning it to me and getting that off my list.  But god was it bad.  Low-range **.  It was based on the big-selling novel by Hamilton Brasso.

Adaptations of Notable Works I Haven’t Seen:

  • none