My Top 10:
- The Killing
- Baby Doll
- The Trouble with Harry
- The Searchers
- Richard III
- Invasion of the Body Snatchers
- Written on the Wind
- Wuthering Heights
Note: The list once again exceeds 10; the rest of the list is down at the bottom except my #11 (Lust for Life), which is reviewed as an Oscar nominee.
- Around the World in 80 Days (160 pts)
- Friendly Persuasion (120 pts)
- The King and I (80 pts)
- Baby Doll (80 pts)
- Giant (80 pts)
Oscar Nominees (Best Screenplay – Adapted):
- Around the World in 80 Days
- Baby Doll
- Friendly Persuasion
- Lust for Life
Note: Thank f’ing god that this is the last year of the stupid and confusing three categories at the Oscars. I could have included The Proud and the Beautiful, a film nominated for Best Motion Picture Story, a nomination given to philosopher and novelist Jean-Paul Sartre. Sartre wrote several scripts for Pathé in the early 40’s and his script Typhus was then turned into the film. But, to take an unproduced script and turn it into a produced script isn’t really adapted. That, plus the film is really hard to find these days. So I’m not including it.
Note: High Society was originally nominated for Best Motion Picture Story as well because of confusion between the Grace Kelly / Bing Crosby film and a Bowery Boys comedy. It was clear that people were voting for the Kelly film but it was the Bowery film that would have been eligible in this category and that earned the nomination. The Bowery film decided to withdraw their nomination.
- Friendly Persuasion
- Baby Doll
- The Rainmaker
- Somebody Up There Likes Me
- Around the World in 80 Days
- Bus Stop
- Full of Life
- The Solid Gold Cadillac
- Teahouse of the August Moon
- The King and I
- High Society
Nominees that are Original: The Eddy Duchin Story, Meet Me in Las Vegas
My Top 10
I have already reviewed this film as one of the Top 5 films of 1956. It’s the third film from Stanley Kubrick, but it’s his first great film and it helps pave the path for what will follow. Kubrick follows the path of John Huston in that he is a writer-director but most of what he writes is adapted from other sources, and yet, he stamps it with a style all his own. This first great film is a crime film (like his previous film) but he will almost never again make two successive films in the same genre.
Clean Break by Lionel White (1955)
Some pulp novels you look back on and you can see the quality shining through. In others, you can see why it was a pulp novel. This thin little novel (with larger than normal print, the cheap reprint of this novel runs only 126 pages) is little more than a good plot. There isn’t much in the way of characterization (there is a little for Johnny, the leader and planner of the heist), so the book really rolls forward on its plot. The plot (the heist of a racetrack during a big race, with the distraction of a sniper shooting the lead horse during the race) is what attracted Stanley Kubrick to it. It’s a very quick read and there’s really not that much to it – certainly not a novel well worth remembering outside of the film.
Most of the plot for the film comes straight from the book. There is one main difference along the way (the girl, who is important in the story, partially as a future for Johnny, is barely in it and certainly doesn’t have the importance that she has in the film), but for the most part, aside from Kubrick giving much more depth and characterization, it follows the original plot. The big difference comes in the end, though. Yes, most of the characters end up dead, like in the book, and no, Johnny doesn’t make it away with the loot. But it’s how the end comes about that is so drastically different, and the violent end of the book is wisely dropped for an ending that is much more poetic and almost tragic in the film.
Directed by Stanley Kubrick. Screenplay by Stanley Kubrick. Dialogue by Jim Thompson. Based on the novel “Clean Break” by Lionel White.
A man goes upstairs in a dilapidated house dressed in pajamas, calling for “baby doll”. He knocks on a door but she doesn’t answer. He goes into the next room and peers through a hole in the wall. She is asleep on the bad, a woman-child, dressed in clothes for a girl, on a bed too small for her and sucking her thumb. But there is an aura of sensuality about her and there is an understanding why this man would be staring at her. We feel his lust and our shame at the same time. We can tell already that this is nowhere near a healthy relationship but we’ve also already seen the writing credit for Tennessee Williams, so there was never going to be anything approaching a healthy relationship.
The man is Archie and he’s played by Karl Malden. Archie is kind of losing his mind. He’s definitely losing his business. What he’s not losing is his massive lust for his young bride. She’s been married to him for two years but he hasn’t been allowed to deflower her thanks to an agreement he made with her father. But in a few days she’ll be 20 and he’ll finally be allowed to take full “possession” of her. Still, he can’t wait that long, which is why he’s peeking in the hole. But he’s got other problems as well. His business is rapidly receding, as his cotton gin is losing out to Silva, the Sicilian. Archie decides to burn Silva out so Silva, no fool, decides to come bring some business to Archie and see if he can nail down the proof of what has happened. But what Silva ends up discovering is Baby Doll and the sexual tension between Carroll Baker (who was 25 when the film was made but looks much younger and is so much better here than she ever was before or after on film with an unbridled sensuality wrapped up in a slow-moving innocence) and Eli Wallach (one of the most under-appreciated actors of all-time, making his screen debut here, two years after he was supposed to be in From Here to Eternity and after a decade of starring in any number of major plays on Broadway) threatens to start yet another inferno. And it’s not just the sexual tension (made more interesting in a scene on a swing where there is a tight focus and we can’t see what Wallach is doing with his hands, and given Baker’s reactions, it leads to all sorts of potentialities), but the film tension as well, as Wallach is determined to twist her around until he can get the information he needs from her.
Elia Kazan and Tennessee Williams had a long working relationship. Kazan had directed many of Williams’ best plays on Broadway. They only made two films together, both times with Williams actually writing the screenplay (though Kazan would claim that most of Baby Doll was actually written by him). The first, of course, was Streetcar, one of the greatest films ever made with perhaps the greatest ensemble acting in film history. This one is the other, and if it gets lost in the shuffle because of Streetcar (and because for a long time it was actually hard to find, unavailable on DVD and not readily available on video when I first saw it in 2005), it doesn’t deserve to be. It’s a great film in its own right, with remarkable performances and a blend of carnality and black comedy that makes it uneasy for some, but just right for others, including me.
27 Wagons Full of Cotton: A Mississippi Delta Comedy by Tennessee Williams (1946)
This is a small little one act about the horrible things we do to each other, yet set in such a way that Williams himself would declare it a comedy. A 60 year old fat man with a very young wife has burned down the competitor’s cotton gin and is now going to gin the neighbor’s cotton for him. What he doesn’t know is that while he’s hard at work, the competitor is also hard at work, not only tricking the young wife into confessing the truth about the fire, but also taking sexual advantage of her. At the end, the wife appears ready to have more dalliances with the neighbor while her husband seems happy with the work he’s going to have coming in.
The original play provided a basis for the film – the rivalry between the two men and the sexual nature of what passes between the rival and the young wife while her husband is off taking care of the cotton. But there is so much more to the film, with the whole concept of the young bride who is still a virgin and the sexual tension in her own marriage, which isn’t present at all in the original play.
Directed by Elia Kazan. Tennessee Williams’ Baby Doll. Original Screenplay: Tennessee Williams.
There are two women. They are both sleeping with the same man. Neither can be called a love affair, because while one of the women is married to the man, there is no evidence of love in either relationship. The two women like each other more than they like the man. In fact, no one likes this man – not his harried wife, not his harassed mistress, not the schoolchildren who make up the student body at this not particularly respectful private school that he runs. So, it’s really to no one’s great loss when they decide to kill him.
The plan is quite simple. They will lure him to an apartment, then they will drown him in a bathtub. After that, they will dump his body in the school pool and since he died from drowning, it will look like an accident. So they go about their plan and wait for the body to be discovered in the pool. Except no body is discovered in the pool.
We have entered squarely upon Hitchcock territory. That, of course, is because Hitchcock himself wanted to make this story into a film. It is a little unfortunate that Hitchcock would become such a master of the thriller that every great film in the category ends up being forced to endure the comparison. Thankfully this is a film that can stand the comparison. Part of that is because Clouzot was a talented filmmaker (his previous film, The Wages of Fear, is one of the most lauded French films ever made). Part of it is because of the other talent involved behind the camera, most notably the great black-and-white cinematography and the first-rate score from Georges Van Parys.
But last of all, we can not forget the work of Simone Signoret. There have been a lot of great foreign actors and actresses who would never get their due from the Oscars but thankfully in 1959, Signoret would make Room at the Top and even in a language not her first she would give such a masterful performance as to win the Oscar. She was one of the great French actresses of all-time and her performance as the mistress who doesn’t love the man she’s sleeping with is one of the best things about the film.
You’ll notice I don’t say anything about what happens after the body doesn’t turn up. That’s because this is a film that should be seen rather than read about and if you have never seen it, well Criterion has released it on DVD and you should watch it now and skip reading anything further in this post.
Celle qui n était plus by Boileau-Narcejac (1952)
Perhaps I should just learn to read French. But given that I can’t even pronounce French, I don’t know that it would help. This is the popular thriller that Alfred Hitchcock wanted to make into a film, but supposedly he was beaten to the punch by Clouzot by just a few hours. It has all the trappings of a Hitchcock film. Unfortunately, I have only been able to find the novel in the original French, and since I don’t read French, that leaves me out of luck. By the way, that’s not an author’s name above – it’s the publishing combination of the two authors last names.
Just from reading a description of the book, it’s clear that changes were made (he’s a salesman in the book, not the head of a private school), but the basic idea remains the same – a murder plotted by a couple that spins out of control with some mysteries behind it.
un film produit ét dirigé par H.G. Clouzot. d’ aprês le roman de Boileau et Narcejac “Celle Qui N’Était Plus”. scênario et dialogues de H.G. Clouzot et Jérôme Geronimi. avec la collaboration de René Masson et Frédéric Grendel.
Back in the days before I discovered the database at oscars.org, I wrote a review of this film as the under-appreciated film of 1955. Just because I have learned that it was Oscar eligible in 1956 doesn’t make it any less under-appreciated.
It’s fun to look back at this film, at the young pixie Shirley MacLaine, to see how delightful and sexy she was and how she could play the mother of a six year old when she was still only 21 and be utterly believable. Her reputation has gone all over the place over the years and she’s certainly been quite odd in her public life but there’s no denying that she’s one of the great comedic actresses to ever work in film and it all begins here.
The Trouble with Harry by Jack Trevor Story (1949)
This is a rather droll, charming, funny book. It is the story of a man who has turned up dead and that inconveniences several people throughout the course of a day. None of them are particularly bothered that he is dead, but rather but must figure out something to do with the corpse. There are four primary people involved, three of whom think, at various points, that they may have been responsible for his death. He gets buried three times, unburied three times, and finally, after being certain that none of the main people involved actually are responsible for his death, left on a copse to be discovered so that he can be properly identified (one of them is his wife who won’t be able to remarry unless she can prove that her husband is dead). It’s very droll and very British and it’s impressive that Hitchcock was so perfectly able to move it to Vermont without losing the tone of the book. It’s quite short (121 pages) but is very enjoyable. Story knows exactly the right tone to take: “This is Ridiculous” is one of the late chapter titles. You can get an idea of the tone here: “The body the man called Harry came as a complete surprise to Sam Marlow, though not as a tragedy, as the hedgehog had been.” or the final line of the penultimate chapter: “Soon they sat eating supper while Albie lay gently snoring in the next room and Harry lay clean, polished, brushed and dead on the sofa.”
Most of the film comes straight from the book, including a lot of the dialogue (like “He looked exactly the same when he was alive, except that he was vertical.”). One huge change in the film is the addition of Wiggy’s son, the intrepid policeman. He doesn’t exist at all in the book and he’s a good Hitchcock addition because he provides some suspense to the film and a bit more confusing humor as they have to constantly deal with him. If not for him, the film, which isn’t long to begin with, really would have been too short.
While Harry is the step-father to the child in the film as well as in the book, there is more about it in the book than in the film (“I’m going to hang dear Robert over our bed, dear. You are bearing his child, remember. So when I make love to you, Jenny, I want you to imagine that it’s really Robert making love to you.” he tells his young wife in the book), but since the film already had Forsythe telling MacLaine he wanted to paint her nude, this was almost certainly too much to add in.
There is also a little subplot in the book involving two married couples that are each having an affair with the other that is dropped entirely for the film, which was a good idea as it’s simply distracting in the book and adds nothing to it.
One last bit – the final line isn’t in the book. That whole bit about the double bed was added in for the film and provides a nice amusing final line.
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Screenplay by John Michael Hayes. Based on the Novel by Jack Trevor Story.
The film is a classic, as I have written before. If it is not my #1 film of the year, well, in my defense, this is the same year as The Seven Samurai, a film as equally well-regarded (in TSPDT, they finished #7 and 9 back when I did my Year in Film, with The Searchers on top, but at the moment, they are #9 and 10 with Seven Samurai on top). It is certainly one of the greatest Westerns ever made and one of John Ford’s greatest films.
The Searchers by Alan LeMay (1954)
This is a pretty standard Western novel with a strong, dark theme running through the middle of it. It’s really the vision that sustains it, though at 300 pages, it starts to run really thin. At 120 minutes, the film version would just about perfectly make use of its length, with the fight scene thrown in towards the end for a bit of humor before the final push. The book doesn’t really work like that and just starts to wear you down with their endless wandering. Then, comes the unexpected moments at the end for those of us who have seen the film so many times. First, when they come into the camp at last, and Martin goes to protect who he thinks is Debbie, we expect the scene from the film, but instead we get this shocker: “The girl turned upon the rider, and Mart saw the broad brown face of a young Comanche woman, who could never possibly have been Debbie. Her teeth showed as she fired upward at Amos, the mustle of her pistol almost against his jacket. He fell heavily; his body crumpled as it hit, and rolled over once, as shot game rolls, before it lay still.” I have to give LeMay credit for being willing to kill one of the two main characters in the penultimate chapter, so close to the end of the search. But then things go in a different direction. We know that Martin feels protective of Debbie and that she was close to him when young, but there’s a much different twist on their relationship when he finally does catch up to her: ” ‘I remember,’ she said in a strangely mixed tongue of Indian-English: ‘I remember it all. But you the most. I remember how hard I loved you.'” Okay, she was a kid (“pushing ten”) when she was taken (by the way, that chapter is one of the best in the book – the sheer terror of an impending attack), so that’s a whole different look at things.
The following three quotes, from two different books on John Ford and the BFI book on the film itself pretty much sum up all the differences between the book and the film, though, as noted above, the ending (which is mentioned in the final quote) really has a different vibe to it than the film does.
“The primary difference between Alan LeMay’s source novel and John Ford’s film is the protagonist. LeMay’s is Martin Pawley, Ford’s is Ethan Edwards. The film version of the character is far darker than the novel’s Amos Edwards, who makes the idealistic speech about bringing civilization to the frontier that the film gives to Ollie Carey’s Mrs. Jorgenson. Ethan’s secondary motivation, after taking revenge for the killing of his brother’s family is to kill Debbie for becoming the squaw of the Indian Scar. This is entirely the invention of Ford and Nugent, as is Martin Pawley’s Indian blood, and, for that matter, the sexual relationship between the Indian and the white girl – in the novel, Debbie becomes Scar’s adopted daughter.” (Print the Legend: The Life and Times of John Ford by Scott Eyman, p 418)
“Frank Nugent’s screenplay vastly improved on LeMay’s gripping but often lurid and superficial novel, adding layers of psychological depth, humor, and social context.” (Searching for John Ford, Joseph McBride, p 552)
“LeMay’s novel wasn’t holy writ; Nugent made a number of significant changes, and some minor ones. Originally, the hero was named Amos Edwards; his name was changed apparently because of its comic association with the popular radio show Amos ‘n’ Andy. In the novel, though Amos is in love with his brother’s wife neither she nor her husband are aware of this. Marty is not part-Indian. Amos does not have a mysterious or shady past. And instead of bringing Debbie home, Amos is killed by a Comanche woman during an attack on their camp. It’s left to Marty to rescue Debbie, and the implication is that he will eventually marry her; in the book Laurie does not wait for him. There’s some amalgamation of characters: in the book there are two Indian chiefs, Bluebonnet and Scar; there is a character named Mose Harper in the book, but Mose in the film is more like the novel’s character of Lige Powers, an aged buffalo hunter. Clayton is largely an invention of the film.” (The Searchers: BFI Film Classics by Edward Buscombe, p 45)
Directed by John Ford. Screenplay by Frank S. Nugent. From the Novel by Alan LeMay.
I have already reviewed this film as one of the best films of the year. It is unfortunate that Olivier, the premiere Shakespeare film actor and directed prior to Branagh, only directed three Shakespeare films. If this one is the weakest of the three, well that’s hardly a complaint given how good the other two are. And, because he doesn’t face off against Jimmy Stewart in It’s A Wonderful Life or Humphrey Bogart in Treasure of the Sierra Madre, this is the film that wins Olivier the Nighthawk.
Richard III by William Shakespeare
Shakespeare composed 11 history plays but the film versions mainly come down to two of them for very good reasons. One of them provides one of the great screen heroes, young Henry, the king come into his own setting forth to inspire his men and beat the hell out of France. The other provides one of the great screen villains, a man who will seduce his future wife over the corpse of her father-in-law (husband, usually, on screen), who will kill off his brothers, his nephews and any one else who dare stand in his way.
Richard III is a great play, but it becomes a great film because of what it has in it that is so perfectly filmic: a great character at its core that you can root against (or root for, depending on how twisted you are), battles that can be filmed to liven up the action and several smaller roles for great character actors. It begins with one of Shakespeare’s most famous lines (if you need me to tell you what it is then you seriously need to pick up the play) and climaxes with a line that is possibly even more famous. In between, we have a villain of such extremes that it must be a pleasure to play him, whether on stage or on screen. Hell, if you really don’t want to read the play, then just watch the documentary Looking for Richard and see the masterful job that Al Pacino does looking at the play and why people love to be in it.
The film actually begins, first with a brief introduction of the history then the final scene of Henry IV, Part III before we get into the real story of Richard (which means we don’t start with his first soliloquey). But, after that, we settle into the original play. As is almost always the case with Shakespeare films, various scenes are cut in their entirety (the character of Queen Margaret, Henry’s widow, is cut entirely) There are certain other changes, at least one of which is masterful (Richard does his wooing of Anne over her husband’s corpse rather than her brother-in-law’s corpse, adding a much more disturbing aspect to this scene and he cuts the scene in half, moving the second half of it to later). Olivier, in the screen credits, acknowledges the 1700 revision of the play by Colley Cibber and ideas on the character made during the 35 years that David Garrick played the role on stage in the mid 18th century.
Directed by Laurence Olivier. Richard III by William Shakespeare. With some interpolations by David Garrick, Colley Cibber, etc.
Do people look at this film and realize that it’s actually kind of daring? I’m not talking about the return of Ingrid Bergman to stardom (and the Oscars) after years of being ostracized over her affair. I’m talking about the film itself.
In a lot of ways you wouldn’t think about it. It’s a costume drama, set in the late 1920’s, roughly a decade after the Russian Revolution. General Bounine lives in exile in Paris. He tries to put money together, to put plans together, but there’s nothing much to any of it. Then he meets a woman, a young woman who bears a resemblance to the almost mythical Grand Duchess Anastasia, the Czar’s child who was supposedly executed with her family but there were conflicting reports and doubts about a body. This is what he needs, someone that can help propel him back to the top, to help with funds, with an idea to fight for. He enlists her in a scheme, carefully planning how to make use of her in approaching the Dowager Empress. It follows the model of Pygmalion and I wouldn’t be surprised if it helped inspire Lerner and Loewe in their new musical.
Up through here, we’re in fairly standard costume drama fare, allowing for the fact that the film is solidly directed, solidly written, has a magnificent performance from Ingrid Bergman that deserved her Oscar and a solid performance from Yul Brynner as Bounine. The sets and costumes look wonderful, but this was 1956 and there was serious competition if you wanted to get attention just because your sets and costumes looked wonderful.
So now we move to the part that is actually daring. It’s not the idea that this might actually be Anastasia (in real life not possible, but this is film, so it is possible and it is hinted very strongly that it is actually the case). It is a good move and it makes the film more interesting. But here’s the daring part. Anna (as she is called) has actually been falling in love with Bounine without realizing it. And Bounine has been falling in love with her. Circumstances would not allow for that. But the Dowager has realized it and sets things up so that they can go be happy together. That’s the daring aspect – not that they fall in love, but that we don’t see it. We know they have been sent to the same room and the Dowager knows how they feel and then we discover they are both gone. It’s a daring move – no big romantic scene, nothing that lets us know for certain they they are together. But that’s perhaps for the best – they needed their love to be secret and away from the rest of the world and that is what they are given. Good job by the filmmakers for being daring enough to do it.
Anastasia by Marcelle Maurette, English Adaptation by Guy Bolton (1952)
This is an interesting play about the idea that the Grand Duchess Anastasia survived the assassination of her family and, a decade later, resurfaces in Europe. She is then found by a former Russian General who is anxious to reestablish himself as an important person and looks to use Anastasia to curry favor with the Dowager Empress. Or maybe the Anya that they have found is really just an impostor that they have set up to seem like the real one. The confusion extends to the character herself and in the end, it is her journey of discovery that becomes the important thing, both to her and the Dowager Empress, who may or may not be her grandmother.
It’s a solid play with a very good leading role of Anya and an interesting role for an older, more distinguished actress as the Dowager Empress. Though, whether it was the playwrights or the play, either way the original Broadway cast was not particularly distinguished (it’s rare for me to not recognize a single name in the original cast list in the published version of a play).
Some of the film comes directly from the play, including a lot of the lines. But there are also a considerable number of changes. Some of them are less important to the overall feel of things (the entire play takes place in Berlin and there is much talk of other cities in Europe while the film takes place in Paris). But the important thing is that in the film, there is a love story (subtly told) between Anya and the Russian general Bounine. There is no such subplot in the original play, and while we do end with the Dowager Empress getting the last line in both versions, it is a much more triumphant last line in the film that hearkens to the whole idea of the plot while in the play, a depressed Bounine has watched his scheme fall apart and he sinks into a chair bemoaning the mad Romanovs. As much as it seems like a stereotypical “bad” Hollywood thing to add in the romance, it actually makes for a much more interesting end to the film, partially because Arthur Laurents’ writes it so well and the filmmakers had the daring idea of not actually showing us the couple.
Directed by Anatole Litvak. Screenplay by Arthur Laurents. From the play by Marcelle Maurette as adapted by Guy Bolton.
I wrote about this film as the under-appreciated film of 1956. While it was ignored by awards groups, in some ways it isn’t under-appreciated at all because it’s seen as a pivotal film of its genre (whether you decide the genre is Horror or Sci-Fi). But I wrote about it because it was the first of three films that I wrote about that had to do with the Blacklist. Daniel Mainwaring, the screenwriter of this film, had his career damaged by the Blacklist and, given that this film is often described as a parable against the dangers of Communism, I felt it was important to blow that theory out of the water.
The Body Snatchers by Jack Finney (1954 / 1955)
The Body Snatchers originally appeared in Collier’s Magazine in 1954. It was then expanded and put out in book form in 1955. It is a fascinating and effective thriller, one which combines aspects from Science Fiction (the invasion of an alien race) and Horror (the replacement of humans by their “pod” versions). Its quality is perhaps evident in its initial publication. Like Ray Bradbury and Kurt Vonnegut, it was Science Fiction published in Collier’s, which was a magazine with a national reputation. Though you will pretty much know the story if you have seen the film, it is still a story that is worth reading. Finney would actually become more well-known as a writer for his later Sci-Fi novel Time and Again.
“Jack Finney’s story is a good one. [Danny Mainwaring and I] just translated it into cinematic terms. There was a real effort to make it completely believable – that was the big chore – so that it wouldn’t be just another special-effects picture.” Don Siegel quoted in Who the Devil Made It by Peter Bogdanovich, p 741.
As I mentioned in my original review, there was a key change made from the book to the film. The book takes place in 1976, which, of course, was 20 years into the future. But the film takes place in the present day. That plays into the idea of the film as a parable and a warning, if this is something going on now.
One major difference also, of course, is the framing device: “The studio also insisted on a prologue and an epilogue. [Producer Walter] Wanger was very much against this, as was I. However, he begged me to shoot it to protect the film, and I reluctantly consented.” (A Siegel Film: An Autobiography by Don Siegel, p 185)
Directed by Don Siegel. Screenplay by Daniel Mainwaring. Based on the Collier’s Magazine Serial by Jack Finney. The IMDb lists uncredited writing from Richard Collins.
If Douglas Sirk is an acquired taste, then, in spite of having seen 14 films directed by him, I have not acquired it. It certainly doesn’t help that he insisted on casting Rock Hudson over and over again. Or perhaps they were meant for each other. Hudson’s attempts at emoting perhaps seems perfectly paired with Sirk’s endless penchant for melodrama.
This film, in my opinion, is Sirk’s best. It is the one that rises above the melodrama to become a very good film, although, with a 76 rating, it is the very lowest ***.5. It’s not Hudson’s performance that brings it up to that level, since there isn’t much depth to it. It’s not even Lauren Bacall, because if Jane Wyman couldn’t bring Sirk’s melodrama to a higher level, than Bacall certainly wasn’t going to do it. In some ways, it’s definitely the script that does it – a level of depth to the characters, or at least to the understanding of their characters (most of the characters have no depth at all, but that’s actually a good understanding of their characters) that provides us with a story that’s more interesting than the usual Sirk melodrama. Granted, it almost gets sunk at the end of the film, when we’re forced to endure a trial which we know can only have one ending, because aside from the Production Code, this film just can’t bring itself to commit to total misery for the characters who actually deserve some shred of happiness.
What really makes this film so much better than the other Sirk films is the two supporting performances, the siblings who can not manage to get control over their lives, and played so well by Robert Stack and Dorothy Malone. It is easily the best performance of Stack’s career and likely the best from Malone, although I will always love her little cameo in The Big Sleep. Both of them drink too much, both of them are disappointments to their father and both of them live in the shadow of Hudson. Hudson is Stack’s best friend and the man that Malone has been in love with forever, but he is the man that Malone can never have (made worse when Bacall comes upon the scene and Hudson so clearly falls in love with her even though she ends up marrying Stack against all good judgement, but then again, this is a Sirk melodrama) and the man that does the job that Stack can’t manage to do, and thus, in his father’s eyes, the man that Stack should be but isn’t.
All of this will be wound up in tragedy, for this is a Sirk melodrama after all. But it never gets out of control and Stack’s controlled performance and Malone’s out of control performance both keep things moving, towards the tragic climax, and then, through the anti-climactic ending that, if it isn’t a great way to tie things up, at least doesn’t completely fall apart.
Written on the Wind by Robert Wilder (1946)
Right from the first sentence, this is a surprisingly solid novel: “A latticed moon, caught in the slender line of trees straggling across the ridge, tossed a wavering stencil on the wall; a pattern of curiously humped shapes that danced nervously when the wind tugged at the branches, darting back and forth in a torment of nervous indecision.” It’s a good novel, mostly about two spoiled siblings, cursed with self-destruction, and the path they tread down towards it. The brother in the pair eventually does end up dead, with the circumstances never made quite clear, but no one seems particularly surprised or even that upset once he is gone. The sister manages to sort things out just a little at the very end, breaking out of her hopeless longing for her brother’s best friend in order to lend a voice in support of him, in spite of the fact that he’s going to end up with her sister-in-law and not her (she’s wrong on that, though).
The basic premise for the film and several of the individual moments come straight from the novel. But, aside from the name changes (all the names are changed for some reason), there are a considerable number of changes. A lot of them are detailed in the BFI book about the film. The most crucial, though, is in the ending of the film. The film is very clear what happens to Stack’s character – there is a struggle over the gun and then he is shot. The book has no such clarity. Stack is found dead in the morning by one of the servants. And there is no trial like there is, bringing down the end of the film. Instead, there is a tense scene in the district attorney’s office, where both the Bacall and Malone characters come to the defense of Hudson’s character and manage to prevent charges from ever being brought. The ending might be explained by this quote from screenwriter George Zuckerman: “I ‘authored’ the screenplay of Robert Wilder’s WRITTEN ON THE WIND, because censorship and construction demands necessitated a great deal of invention.” (George Zuckerman in The Hollywood Screenwriters, p 289) Given the doubts involved in what might have happened to Stack’s character in the original novel, it seems that the filmmakers felt they had to make it clear that Hudson didn’t do it and actually have him cleared.
Directed by Douglas Sirk. Screenplay by George Zuckerman. Based on the Novel by Robert Wilder.
As can be seen from the quotes below, Luis Buñuel had long wanted to make a film version of Wuthering Heights. When he finally did, it wasn’t one of his best works – the writing wasn’t at the same level as his late masterpieces and the acting isn’t really up to par, especially when you look at the 1939 version (it’s always rough to remake a film when the original film is a classic). But it was the passion of the story that he wanted and it’s the passion of the story that really brings the film to life.
What is Wuthering Heights to you? Have you read the book? Have you seen the original Wyler film? To Buñuel, it was the passion of two people, people who don’t really belong together, but who are brought together, almost by fate, almost against their wills. They have passion for each other (thus the title of the film) and it sweeps them up, against reason, against class distinctions, against monetary considerations. So they fall in love, or they fall in lust, or they just have unbridled passion. And that’s what we get – the story of a young man who is raised in a household where he does not belong, who falls in love with the girl he is raised with, who hates the world around him, who hates himself, who, sometimes even hates the girl that he loves, and will finally be forced to confront all of that when circumstances arise that mean he no longer has her all to himself. Because life gets in the way.
I could write more about the plot. But, follow the link below, and you can find what I have already written about the novel and about the original film. Or simply watch this film and watch how it all unfolds on the screen. It is not a great film, but it is a powerful film and one that reminds you of how talented a filmmaker Buñuel was.
Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë (1847)
I have already discussed this book when I ranked it at #93 all-time. I remember both that I read the book when I worked at Barnes & Noble even though by then I had owned it for six years and that it was one of Veronica’s favorite books, but I can’t remember if I was already reading it when I discovered that, or if I started reading it deliberately because I discovered it (and maybe was trying to use it to attract her). One of the great works of 19th Century literature. I will never understand why people read Austen so much when there are the novels of the Brontë sisters available to read.
“In adapting Wuthering Heights for the screen, Buñuel had to simplify one of the most complex novels in literature. What is left in Buñuel’s version is precisely what surrealists considered of value in transcending conformity and social dicta.” (Luis Buñuel by Virginia Higginbotham, 84)
“Buñuel’s version of Wuthering Heights (Abismos de pasión was a commercial tag added later) stands as an attempt to record the ferocity, anguish, torment, and hate that, as the surrealists knew, defy reason. They discovered these emotions described in astounding detail in the novel, which distressed the Victorians who were the first to read it. Not only a horror tale, but an account of passion that transcends time, sex and social repression, Buñuel’s Wuthering Heights is stark, repellent, abrasive and thus faithful to surrealist principles.” (Luis Buñuel by Virginia Higginbotham, p 86-87)
Yeah, those two quotes pretty much sum it up right there.
Dirgida por Luis Buñuel. Argumento: Luis Buñuel. Inspirado en la obra “Cumbres Borrascasas” de Emily Brontë. Adaptación: Luis Buñuel, Julio Alejandro y Dino Maiuri. The IMDb lists Pierre Unik as uncredited with “Story”, but how do you get a story credit for this?
Consensus Nominees That Don’t Make My Top 10
I have already reviewed this film because it won Best Picture. But something I want to note from watching it this time; I want to again stress the fact that this film won the Oscar for Best Editing. Now, this film is entertaining, and it works as a remarkable triptych at a time when a lot of people still couldn’t travel much. But too many shots go on for way, way, way too long. There is no way on earth this film should have even been nominated for its editing, let alone won the Oscar. That’s actually worse than Titanic winning for Editing. It’s even terrible during the credits, which go on forever, interspersing all the actors in the film (and there are a lot) with all the other credits, forcing me to watch until the end because there were no opening credits.
That being said, I want to again defend this film against people who declare it one of the worst winners, or the guy who, in the Best Picture post called it one of the worst Hollywood films of all-time. That’s just silly. Too long? Absolutely. But it looks good enough, it has solid enough acting, it has the fun of all the stars and all the locations to be a decent film. It’s nowhere near being a bad film, so to call it the worst Best Picture winner means you haven’t seen Broadway Melody or Cimarron or you have some irrational hatred of this film.
Le tour du monde en quatre-vingts jours by Jules Verne (1873)
This is one of the most enjoyable novels of the 18th Century. It’s good simple fun. Verne has never gotten his literary due, he’s certainly not held by the French in the same sentence as Hugo and Zola. He’s perhaps more comparable to Dumas because of the adventure aspect of his stories. He has finally started to get more critical attention and his works have been annotated and translated more lately. This is the odd man out among his most famous stories because of the lack of science fiction in the story. It’s simply a good adventure – the story of a man who determines that he can go around the world in 80 days and then does it. What happens along the way, of course, is a serious of adventures, from risking his life to save a young woman in India, to dangerous passage over a bridge in America, from steamers to trains to elephants to sledges, it’s a journey around the world.
I have a fondness for this book that extends back to childhood because of something called Moby Books. I had originally thought of doing a For Love of Books post about those little illustrated editions of classic works of literature but decided against it because I didn’t have a lot of them and because there was a great blog post already available about their history. Unfortunately, that blog seems to no longer exist on the internet. Around the World in 80 Days was one of the two books I had in this series since childhood (The Three Musketeers was the other) and it seems odd because the book itself is so simply and easy to read that you wonder why they bothered. Perhaps because it lends itself well to such a series – you don’t have to cut much and you can include illustrations from around the world.
I must say, this book makes me want to travel. I don’t like to fly, so travel by train, which is a good portion of the book, really appeals to me (of course, I get sick on boats, so maybe not). It reminds me of simpler times. If you have never read the book, you really should give it a read, if for no other reason than because it is a classic that is so easy and quick to read.
If I were to mention this film and ask you what the first mode of transportation comes to mind and you were to say “hot air balloon”, well then, congratulations, you have never read the book. To be fair, that was the answer both my wife and my mother gave, so you’re not alone in that thought.
There is no hot air balloon in the book. If you remember the scene, the hot air balloon is what they get on in Paris and it ends up taking them to Spain, where Passepartout then indulges in some bullfighting. No such scenes like this exist in the book. On page 21, Fogg and his servant board the train for Dover. For the next few pages, we have a short chapter about how the betting turns against Fogg and then a chapter in which we meet Detective Fix, which ends with Passepartout disembarking from the steamer in Suez. The book basically skips continental Europe (on page 33, we see Fogg’s entries, in which they go from Paris to Turin to Brindisi and then board the steamer). But, hey Europe, is a big market and it has interesting stuff, so the filmmakers decided to take almost an hour to get Fogg from London to Suez.
Most of the rest of the book follows decently close to the original. Veronica commented that America doesn’t come off too well, but I noted that it actually comes off better than in the book, with the riot in San Francisco that breaks out during the election of a justice of the peace. But, many of the individual events stay fairly true to the book with some minor details changed (the wind sledge travels over the snow because it’s December rather than traveling on the rails, the captain of the Henrietta is far more amicable in the film than in the book) or added so as to get in more cameos (the bar scene in San Francisco is completely added to get in George Raft, Marlene Dietrich and Frank Sinatra). But, once they actually get to Suez, the film actually does quite a good job of sticking to the original book.
directed by Michael Anderson. screenplay by James Poe, John Farrow, S. J. Perelman. based upon a book by Jules Verne.
I have already reviewed this film as one of the Best Picture nominees of 1956. It really drags, as I mentioned in the review and is too long, which is ironic, since it’s significantly shorter than three of the other four nominees. It really wants to be more than it turns out to be – unlike the book, which really does emphasize the Quaker nature, the film eventually will yield, of course, so that the public can get Gary Cooper as a form of hero.
The Friendly Persuasion by Jessmyn West (1945)
Is this a coherent novel? I suppose it is, and as I am in the midst of putting my own novel, which is made up of separate short stories, up on this blog, I suppose I can’t argue against it. It’s a series of separate short stories about a family of Quakers (known as “the friendly persuasion”, thus the title) during and after the Civil War. There is one stronger piece, called “The Battle of Finney’s Ford” which deals with the older son’s actions during the war, when he first thinks he can be a soldier then decides he can’t. It is by far the longest piece in the book and it is the strongest because it deals with some real issues rather than just the family back and forth that covers most of the book. The book, outside of that story, is a mostly pretty dull read, and I say that having been raised Quaker.
“[Wyler] gave Millar a script called The Friendly Persuasion, which had been written for Capra by Michael Wilson back in 1946 and was based on a collection of short stories about an Indiana Quaker family during and after the Civil War.” (A Talent for Trouble: The Life of Hollywood’s Most Acclaimed Director, William Wyler by Jan Herman, p 366)
Wyler was not pleased with the Wilson script; he thought Wilson had ducked the issue “of what a Quaker farmer who doesn’t believe in fighting does when he’s confronted with violence.” (Herman, p 367) and also thought the issue was ducked in the original stories. Because Wilson was blacklisted, he couldn’t do a rewrite, so Wyler brought in the original author Jessamyn West, who turned the focus back to Jess (the Gary Cooper character), partially in order to get Cooper to play the role. “You will furnish your public with the refreshing picture of a strong man restraining,” West would tell Cooper to get him to play the part (Herman, p 372).
“Capra was pleased enough with Wilson’s work [on It’s a Wonderful Life] to ask him to write a film adaptation of The Friendly Persuasion, Jessamyn West’s 1945 book of short stories about a Quaker family in the Civil War era, which Liberty purchased on April 4, 1946. This was more provocative material: a vehicle for the pacifist convictions Wilson had brought back from the war. His adaptation, based primarily on a story called ‘The Battle of Finney’s Ford,’ dramatized the conflict in a Quaker youth who goes into combat, feeling he has a higher duty to his country, but finds it impossible to kill and decides to become a stretcher bearer instead. In West’s story, the Confederate raiders bypass Finney’s Ford and the boy is able to go home without having to test his convictions, but Wilson’s script, while emphasizing the pressure American society exerts on pacifist citizens, insisted that under the American system a man of principle can choose to remain loyal to his principles.” (Frank Capra: The Catastrophe of Success, Joseph McBride, p 514)
There are several pages (335-338) in the book William Wyler: The Life and Films of Hollywood’s Most Celebrated Director by Gabriel Miller that detail the work done on the script, from the time Capra requested it, all the way through the final shooting script.
Produced and Directed by William Wyler. From The Book by Jessamyn West.
There are no writing credits because of the Blacklist.
As one of the Best Picture nominees, I have already written a review of this film. It barely manages to get into the ***.5 range and thus become eligible for my Best Picture list. That makes it the best of the five nominated films, but in 1956, the fifth worst year in Best Picture history, that’s not saying much.
The King and I, a musical play by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II (1951)
The copy of The King and I that I am holding is from the Modern Library’s Six Plays by Rodgers and Hammerstein. It says, on the title page for this musical, “Based on the book Anna and the King of Siam by Margaret Landon”. But, this is really based more on the original film than on the book. For the most part, things that were changed in the original film from the book (like Anna being present at the king’s death) were kept for the musical.
As for the musical itself? Well, I’m not really a big fan. Like with so many Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals, I don’t much care for the music. Aside from that, the story is so dated, it doesn’t work for me either. The film has always succeeded for me (and at a low-level ***.5 you can decide how much of a success that is) because of its production values and because of the performances from Deborah Kerr and Yul Brynner. So if the play would require those, that doesn’t say a lot about the play itself.
The film follows fairly closely to the original musical. As with many of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals that moved from stage to screen, there were some songs that were cut (three of them in this one), but unlike some of them, there wasn’t a lot of moving around of songs.
Directed by Walter Lang. Screenplay by Ernest Lehman. Music by Richard Rodgers and Book and Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II. From their musical play based on Anna and the King of Siam by Margaret Landon.
I have reviewed this film once already. Which means by now I have seen this film at least three times – the first time I saw it, years and years ago, watching it for the Best Picture project, and then seeing it again for this project. It’s by no means a bad film but I think I would prefer not to have to sit through all of it again. Three plus hours of Rock Hudson emoting is more than enough for me.
Giant by Edna Ferber (1952)
According to the little afterward in the current Harper Perennial edition of the novel, the novel did not get a positive response. People in Texas “called for nothing short of Ferber’s hanging” and the reviews were less than glowing, suggesting that Ferber was not writing up to her par. For me, all of that is fraught with considerable irony, as I have suffered through a number of Ferber novels, including Show Boat, Cimarron (both for this project) and So Big (because it won the Pulitzer). This, to me, is her best book. That’s not because of its theme of showing the true heart of Texas, or of the way it attacks the new money in Texas (in Texas, oil is new money, while cattle is old money). It’s certainly not because of its dialogue, which is trite and typical of Ferber. It’s because, whenever she can get away from her story and her dialogue, she can just settle in on her narrative voice and that is stronger here than in any other Ferber novel. Just look at what she is able to do with a description in this book:
“They were approaching another gate – a wooden one, cross-barred – and a line of fence that stretched away endlessly. On the other side of the fence, facing them, were perhaps fifty men on horseback. They sat like bronze equestrian statues. Erect, vital, they made a dazzling frieze against prairie and sky. Their great hats shaded the dark ardent eyes. Their high-heeled boots were polished to a glitter, narrow, pointed, they fitted like a glove. Their saddles, their hatbands, their belts were hand-tooled. Their costumes lacked, perhaps, the silver, the silks, the embroidery, the braid, but in every basic item this was the uniform that the Mexican charro had worn three hundred years before and that every American cowboy all the way from Montana down to Arizona and Texas had copied from the Mexican.” (p 102)
“The original script of Giant was by Ivan Moffat, myself and Fred Guiol. It was based on Edna Ferber’s novel and was 370 pages. I talked with Edna and she liked the script very much, saying ‘You know, I wrote this book twice already and want to write it a third time and fill it out. But I think you’ve done it with the screenplay.’ This was a surprise announcement from a lady whose novel we were massacring. After finishing the script I made a deal with Warner Brothers to make the film there. Then Freddie and I sat down and worked on cutting the script. We cut it from 300 pages to 250 pages. I think we got it down to 204 pages.”(George Stevens, quoted in George Stevens: Interviews, ed. Paul Cronin, p 102)
“The most important change Stevens made to Ferber’s novel was to rearrange this opening and restructure the entire narrative. His film opens twenty-five or so years earlier. … Stevens rearranged the narrative because his story sense told him that audiences needed a great adventure – of course, a big adventure. He changed his focus to Leslie and made her the story’s centerpiece.” (Giant: George Stevens, a Life on Film by Marilyn Ann Moss, p 223)
The Moss quote is an exaggeration. While the novel begins in the present, it quickly, in the second chapter flashes back to the first meeting of Bick and Leslie. After reading the Moss quote, I expected the novel to only take place in the present and to leave aside the history of their relationship, but all the film does there is drop that first chapter and leave it in its chronological place instead of providing an opening setting.
Directed by George Stevens. From the novel by Edna Ferber. Screen Play by Fred Guiol and Ivan Moffat.
The other Oscar Nominees
I first watched this film some 20 or so years ago. At the time, I was not particularly interested in painting (to be fair, I’m still not overly interested in painting – film, music and literature have always been my preferred art forms). I had a passion for Dali and very little beyond that. So I watched this film, and I was moved by Kirk Douglas’ magnificent performance (is it redundant to say Kirk Douglas and then say magnificent performance?), loved the color of the film in its cinematography, art direction and costumes and thought that Anthony Quinn was definitely the best of the Oscar nominated performances for Supporting Actor (it would later take Oscar eligibility to decide that he wouldn’t win the Nighthawk). I knew that Vincent Van Gogh had lived a life of pain and had found a way to express it through art but it didn’t necessarily move me.
But something change in the last 20 years. I don’t know that I have come upon a huge appreciation for painting, though it interests me far more than it did back then, especially as I stare up at one my favorite paintings, just above my desk, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jette. I used to even own a 2000 piece puzzle of Van Gogh’s Starry Night, but had to get rid of it, because to complete it meant taking the dining room table out of commission for a really long time because it’s really damn hard to do a 2000 piece puzzle of Starry Night. Van Gogh will never mean to me what Dali or Renoir or Seurat do, but his paintings and their use of color move me in a way they never used to. So I came back to the film with all of that and what was different?
Well, surprisingly not as much as you would think. I think some of that is because I didn’t need to appreciate Van Gogh’s art and what he has able to do in spite of his constant mental anguish in order to appreciate the film because Kirk Douglas had already found that in his performance. Quinn’s performance didn’t change for me at all because I still don’t much care for Gauguin’s art. Other aspects of the film I already greatly admired – the wonderful use of color in its cinematography, art direction and costumes. Hell, 1956 is one of the best years in film history for great uses of color on screen with sumptuous sets and costumes on display in numerous films.
The film is well-made. It’s a very solid example of an artist biopic. It brings the artist to life, most especially in the performance, but also in the way it captures the various places that Van Gogh would capture so amazingly in his work. It makes it easy to see why his life was filled with so much pain and it makes it a little easier to understand why such an artistic genius would feel the need to take his own life. Was there any greater artist who was filled with more pain? Yet, in Douglas’ performance we get all of that – the genius and the pain.
Lust for Life by Irving Stone (1934)
To be fair, I warned you about this complaint back in my 1952 post when I was complaining about having to read the novel Moulin Rouge. I am not a biography reader for the most part, though there is an irony there which I will mention in a minute. But I am even less of a fan of the “biographical novel”, a book which would be a biography except that the writer either wants to insert fictional conversations or they don’t want to do enough research to label it a biography. But, with an artist, it’s even worse. Now, the irony is that I have just read my way through several musical biographies for different reasons, and with those, it immediately made me seek out the music. But you can’t put music in a book. But you can put art in a book. And there just doesn’t seem to me to be a point to a book about an artist, especially one for whom color was so much a part of his life as Van Gogh, and then not have any of the art except for a bit on the cover. What is the point of that?
So, I struggled through Lust for Life (and, when I get to 1965, if this project hasn’t killed me first, I will struggle through The Agony and the Ecstasy). Yes, Van Gogh lead an interesting life, though tragic is really the correct word. But it’s his painting that I am most interested in, which is why a film was so much a better idea than a book and I am surprised it took over 20 years from the book’s publication to the film. I didn’t much care for the book or the way Stone wanted to use so much melodrama to draw out our emotions about what Van Gogh went through. We could have just looked at examples of his work and we would have understood. Or, really, just listen to Don McLean’s song and that kind of says it all.
“Relying on Van Gogh’s letters to Theo, Corwin stripped away Stone’s character of a seductive young woman who appears in the artist’s hallucinations, opting instead for a more straightforward account of his life. Changing the book’s sentimental conceit, specifically the female figure who brought to the surface Van Gogh’s dark inner demons, Corwin instead adhered more accurately to the historical record of the painter’s life.” (Vincente Minnelli: Hollywood’s Dark Dreamer by Emanuel Levy, p 272)
Well, we also get more of the focus on the painting itself. There is only so much you can do in a novel in describing what a man does when he paints, what he sees, what he creates. But on film, especially in a gloriously color film like this one, it is easy to see it come to life.
Directed by Vincente Minnelli. Screen Play by Norman Corvin. Based on the Novel by Irving Stone.
The other WGA Nominees
Katharine Hepburn was nominated for 12 Oscars over the course of her long and distinguished career and this might be the least of them. It’s not a bad performance and in a weak year like 1956, it’s good enough to rank 9th in Best Actress at the Nighthawk Awards. But it lacks the real passion and humor of her great performances. It’s a standard performance that Hepburn could have pulled off in her sleep.
In the film, Hepburn plays Lizzie Curry, a woman who is starting to feel like a spinster because her family sends her off to some cousins to find a husband and she is unsuccessful. She has an interest in the town sheriff but he doesn’t seem to even notice her. She is feeling like she is just going to be a burden on her brothers, who have their own problems, because it hasn’t rained in a really long time and their animals are starting to die.
Enter Starbuck. He claims that he can make it rain. He also calls Lizzie beautiful and courts her. Shades of The Music Man, before it was even produced on stage? Perhaps, except in that film we get wonderful songs and much better performances and a lot of humor. The Rainmaker doesn’t really have any of that. Oh, we get Burt Lancaster as a huckster, and that’s always a good sight to see. But because of writing changes, we find out about that much earlier in the film than we did in the play (see below) and in this film I don’t think that works as well. I think we need to see more sincerity in Starbuck before we completely doubt him.
This film just never really rises above mediocrity. Hepburn can’t save it because her performance isn’t up to her usual par (which, to be fair, is pretty damn high). Lancaster can’t save it because the writing allows us to see right through him. The directing and the writing can’t save it because they’re not really all that good. So, in the end, we have a film that’s really just kind of blah.
The Rainmaker: A Romantic Comedy in Three Acts by N. Richard Nash (1954)
This is a decent little play about a plain woman starting to enter spinsterhood looking to find some love, or at least a marriage. She ends up caught between the town sheriff that she has been hoping will show her some signs (he is recovering from a bad divorce when his wife ran off and he tells others that he is a widower, not a divorcee) and the huckster who comes to town trying to make a fast buck by convincing the townspeople, who are stuck in a drought, that he can make it rain.
It’s not a bad play, but it’s far from a particularly good one and I would say its most forgettable but it has actually continued to have some success over the years, even in spite of having a film made out of it.
Did N. Richard Nash not really know what he had written? Or is this just the adaptation from the stage to the screen. Because according to the title page, his original play is a “Romantic Comedy”. The Globes didn’t think so (they nominated it for Picture, Actor and Actress as a Drama). I didn’t think so – I list it as a Drama.
It’s interesting that Nash wrote the script because he makes some significant changes from the stage to the screen. Of course, there is the usual opening up, with some scenes broken up into different locations to make the film seemed less like a filmed play and more like a film. But there is a significant change made to the opening. In the original play, the first thing we see is the family, gathered together, eating, after Lizzie has returned, but before they have talked to her. We eventually meet Starbuck, but only after things have been established in the Curry household. But in the film, we start with Starbuck. The things that we only hear about later on (that Starbuck is wanted for his actions in other towns) are actually the first scenes in the play. We know from the start that he’s a huckster and a liar. So why begin the film that way? My guess is because Starbuck is played by Burt Lancaster and you want to get that star power on screen right away instead of waiting until page 38 to see him. The play starred Geraldine Page as Lizzie but Darren McGavin as Starbuck and that’s a considerable difference in star power. So, the film really has to build up Starbuck’s role and it does, perhaps at the expense of the film as a whole.
Other than that, much of the film comes straight from the play, including the ending, which is word for word from the original play. It’s just that there is a lot added at various points to beef up Starbuck’s role.
But there is also a big difference in casting Katharine Hepburn, in her mid 40’s and Geraldine Page at age 30, so that really adds to the feeling of spinsterhood that is coming over Lizzie.
Directed by Joseph Anthony. Screenplay by N. Richard Nash. Based on his Play Produced on the New York Stage.
Biopics aren’t really my thing. I have complained about that before, most notably in a couple of opera biopics that I have been forced to review because the WGA had that Best Musical category for so long, although to be fair, the only person forcing me to review them is me and my OCD. But I don’t much care any more about some boxer just because he was a champion any more than I cared about some opera singer. Yes, if you are a boxer and your biopic is made by Martin Scorsese, one of a handful of directors competing for the title of Greatest Director of All-Time, then I will be interested. But this isn’t Scorsese, this is Robert Wise and in spite of his two Oscars no one is putting him on that shortlist.
So, here we have the story of one Rocky Graziano, a reprobate who cut hit people with enough power to knock them out for a long time. He couldn’t float like a butterfly like Ali. He just had a first like a sledgehammer and a wind-up that delivered it like drinking a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster. He’s played here by Paul Newman and it’s weird. It’s not a terrible performance like Newman’s first starring role (The Silver Chalice, my worst film of 1954). Yet, we’re not anywhere close yet to the Newman that will come on in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and become one of the greatest screen actors of all-time (#4 is what I ranked him in a post I did after he died). His performance is solid and he’s really got the swing down pat (I wouldn’t want to be hit by that punch, that’s for certain), but the accent, well, the accent is I suppose spot-on. The problem is that every time I would hear him speak, I would look up and expect to see Tony Curtis on the screen. So I guess that means he has that accent down pat.
Graziano was a guy who got in a lot of trouble, raised by a father who didn’t care and who would beat him. So Graziano went to jail and then went he got out, was thrown in the Army (just after Pearl Harbor), but he slugs a captain and flees out a window and becomes a professional boxer because he’s got such a powerful swing. He eventually is caught and serves his time and becomes a champion boxer. There you go. There’s his story. This film won Oscars for both Cinematography and Art Direction because, you know, there weren’t any black-and-white films that deserved those Oscars much much more like maybe The Seven Samurai, Baby Doll, Diabolique, La Strada, Sawdust and Tinsel or The Killing.
Somebody Up There Likes Me: The Story of My Life Until Today by Rocky Graziano, written with Rowland Barber (1955)
Because most of the adaptations up to this point have been based on works of fiction, I haven’t really railed too much against autobiographies. I don’t much care for them. Especially please spare me the autobiography of a boxer who seems barely literate, who was a crook and a man who fled from the army after knocking out a superior officer. Yes, Rocky Graziano was a championship boxer. But I don’t care about boxing and the brilliance of Raging Bull and When We Were Kings hasn’t changed that. If you care about this particular boxer, then by all means, track down this book, but if you don’t, you will miss nothing by skipping it.
The film does a fairly good job of sticking close to what is written in the book. I would say that you should take what is in the book with a grain of salt, but Graziano at least is willing to admit his many faults, such as slugging pretty much any person who ever gets in his way for any reason, so maybe he’s pretty much being accurate in telling his story.
Directed by Robert Wise. Screen Play by Ernest Lehman. Based on the Autobiography of Rocky Graziano, Written with Rowland Barber.
Coming back to this film this time, I didn’t remember anything about it from the first time I saw it, well over a decade before. But this time, well, it was disturbing. Is it a Comedy? In that sense, does it have a happy ending? Two people walk off together and it seems determined to make us believe that they can find some happiness. But can they?
The male in the couple is Bo. Bo is a cowboy who is on the way to Phoenix to participate in a rodeo. He’s riding along with his mentor, Virgil and Virgil has been encouraging Bo to start trying to talk to girls. So, when Bo meets a cafe singer named Cherie, he falls for her hard and becomes determined to marry her. He drags her outside and kisses her (which could get her fired) and after the rodeo, drags her on the bus so they can go back to Montana together and be married. He doesn’t understand how people act with other adults and he’s simply decided what he wants and is going to have it.
One on level, we can’t understand what he sees in Cherie. She’s trying for Hollywood but hasn’t made it past Arizona yet (she began in the Ozarks). She’s not very talented. She doesn’t seem all that bright. Or maybe we understand what he sees in her. She’s being played by Marilyn Monroe, after all, and she’s got sexuality in spades. She’s the gorgeous buxom blonde and that’s what he wants because he doesn’t actually know what he wants.
Things come to a head at a bus stop diner on the way back to Montana, the same diner where Bo caused trouble on the way to Phoenix. Cherie wants to escape him but bad weather prevents it. She just wants to be left alone, just wants to find a man who will respect her. Bo, unused to other adult interaction, thinks that what he is providing her. In the end, of course, this is designed as a romantic comedy, so they will end up together and she will realize that Bo is trying to provide her with what she claims she wants.
But is this a Comedy? Is this Romance? The film is decently made. Joshua Logan wasn’t a great film director, but he does a credible job and William Inge creates real human portraits, even when he is creating complete portraits of people who are woefully incomplete. But I left the film this time with the feeling that at some point Cherie will realize that she can’t live with Bo and that he’s going to force her to stay and that it’s just a recipe for a complete disaster.
Bus Stop by William Inge (1955)
If you were to look on Wikipedia, you might see this film as also being adapted from the play People in the Wind by William Inge, but that’s because People in the Wind was the one-act play that takes place in one particular diner and was later revised and expanded into the play Bus Stop.
This was one of the plays that helped make Inge one of the most successful and popular playwrights of the 1950’s. He never quite reached the levels that Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams were at and he is not nearly as well remembered or studied, but between this, Come Back Little Sheba, Picnic and The Dark at the Top of the Stairs (all of which were adapted into hit films), he was a big deal at the time. All of them focus on severely flawed characters, characters who can not adjust properly to adult life.
The main character in this one is Bo Decker, a wanna be cowboy who doesn’t really know how to interact with women. This causes a problem because, when in Kansas city for a rodeo, he meets a young woman named Cherie and ends up deciding that he’s going to marry her. The play gives a well-rounded look at both Bo and Cherie, neither of whom seem capable of real adult interactions, only to find that it draws them together after a fashion. In some sense, it’s all really disturbing, the notion that Cherie would run from Bo and his boorish, demanding ways, only to discover that just because he legitimately cares for her that she should end up with him. It just seems like a relationship that is screaming out to end in domestic abuse.
This is another perfect example of opening a play up. In the original play, all of the action is confined, in three acts, to the bus stop diner (in Kansas City in the play, in the mountains of Northern Arizona in the film). But we get a much earlier look at Bo and his interactions with Virgil in the film and we see him out in the real world attempting to interact with other people. Almost all of the action in the diner is something we see in the film, but we get a much more complete story in the film, not that it’s any less disturbing.
Directed by Joshua Logan. Screenplay by George Axelrod. Based on the play by William Inge.
This was a film that for a long time I couldn’t find. In fact, I still wouldn’t have been able to find it had a friend of mine, who recorded it off TCM years ago hadn’t loaned me a copy (thanks Betsy). It was one of the films that had been been an incredible nuisance, by the time I saw it the only post-1949 WGA nominee I hadn’t seen. Thankfully I finally watched it in plenty of time to include it in this post. Unfortunately, that means I have seen it, and good lord did it irritate me no end.
The first thing was the casting. The story in the film involves a married couple trying to make ends meet (he’s a writer who is struggling a bit and they are living in a pre-fab house in LA that has some serious problems, meanwhile she is pregnant). It’s a comedy based around family foibles and other problems around the house. The husband is played by Richard Conte, who is fine when he’s being asked to play a criminal, but doesn’t work too well for light comedy. The wife is played by Judy Holliday, who is fine for light comedy but I just don’t particularly care for. In a role like Born Yesterday, where she is supposed to be a dumb blonde, her grating voice works well for the character, but when you’re really supposed to care about the character she just grates on my nerves.
When she falls through the floor of the house (thankfully only half-way since she is, as I said, pregnant) and they are unable to afford repairs, he is forced to call in his father, a stone-mason to repair the floor. They have a distant relationship and he is reluctant to call in his father. But all of it will work out of course, because this is a comedy after all.
But that’s where the main source of the irritation grated on me. The father is a devout Catholic, and he doesn’t feel that his son is really married because they were married outside the church (Holliday’s character is not a Catholic). So, while he’s supposed to be repairing the floor, instead he’s meandering, he’s knocking holes in the wall to build a fireplace, he’s enlisting a priest to come lecture his son, he’s nagging his daughter-in-law that she should become a Catholic. All of this will be wrapped up in a happy ending, of course, and that’s what really bothered me, because everything just gets tied up in a neat bow, with everything working out the way the father wants (she converts and they are married in the church just in time for the child to be born a Catholic – which just makes me reflect on Michael Palin singing “You’re a Catholic the moment dad came” because if the mom isn’t but the dad is, is that still true?). Differences in religion and family strife just doesn’t get resolved this easily and there really didn’t seem to be enough here to justify a feature-length film, and certainly not enough to justify a writing nomination.
Full of Life by John Fante (1952)
This is a very thin little book about a man who is a bit distant from his father. When a hole opens up in his kitchen floor, he enlists his father to come repair it and in the course of things, his father manages to convince his wife that she should convert to Catholicism and that then they can be married in the church. The book is really quite forgettable.
Given that Fante himself adapted the book, it’s surprising what a turn there is from the book to the film. Much of the story is the same, with one massive difference. In the film, Conte’s character is extremely reluctant to call in his father to do the work, constantly arguing against his wife’s idea that they should call him because they can’t afford to get the hole repaired otherwise. But in the book, the relationship is not nearly so distant and he suggests calling in his father almost immediately. What is more serious in the book (the father pushing the wife towards Catholicism) is played more for laughs in the film, with the relationship meandering along (and a lot more doubts of his faith for the husband).
Directed by Richard Quine. Screen Play by John Fante. Based on his Novel.
There has always been this suggestion that holding stocks is the hallmark of the middle class. You see it in television commercials, especially that horrid animated one where the guy says something like “I’m an average guy, I own a few stocks, make a few trades.” Fuck you. Average people don’t own any stocks. They don’t have the money to invest in it. Stop selling this bullshit.
This film is a prime example of this. Now, I am probably being too hard on something that’s supposed to be just a silly romantic comedy (which is actually a far cry different than it was on stage, but see below for that). They just want to have a film about the little woman who is able to take on some crooked corporate guys by just asking some questions and listening to the answers. Granted, it is true that things would probably be a lot better if we did have people like Mrs. Partridge, a link between average people and the people at the top of a corporation. But, since average people don’t own stocks, then that kind of makes this meaningless anyway. But, at the moment, I will stick to the film I am reviewing and not how much anger it brings to the surface in me.
The film is just rather silly. It stars Judy Holliday as a woman who wants some answers at a shareholder’s board meeting of a company where the CEO is stepping down and she is leery of the new people in charge of the company (rightfully, as it turns out). When she becomes such a problem (and later befriends and falls in love with the former CEO), the new CEO puts her in charge of stockholder relations, seeking to keep her too busy to be a bother, but in the end, as can be guessed by anyone who has ever seen a Hollywood film, she will end up ousting the new CEO and bringing a happy ending not only to the film, but to the company as well.
The film does do a decent job of building up the romance between the old CEO and the woman. Holliday gives her kind of typical ditzy blonde performance but you can see how she admires the honesty and work ethic of the old CEO, who has gone off to a Washington job. That CEO is played by Paul Douglas. Douglas had a rare ability to both seem like a thug, but also to be very kind and generous. You could understand why someone would fall for him while at the same time being perplexed why it would happen. He plays up more of the gruff charm in this film and it works as well as it can given the silliness of the whole situation.
At the end of the film, once the two are married, they are given a gold cadillac by the shareholders. To emphasize that, the film suddenly goes from black-and-white to color in the final shot, just so they can get in the ridiculous shot of the ridiculous car. What a perfect ending to such a dumb film.
The Solid Gold Cadillac: A Comedy by Howard Teichmann and George S. Kaufman (1953)
We are a far cry from the classic George S. Kaufman plays that seemed to be in every year of my Adapted Screenplay posts in the 1930’s. There are some charming moments in this play about a woman who befuddles the new CEO (and his minions) of a company she owns stock shares in and to keep her busy, they make her in charge of stockholder relations. In the end she manages to oust the new CEO (who’s a crook, basically) and bring back the old CEO that she has come to admire.
There is a massive difference between the original play and the film (as well as a small subtle difference at the end). In the original play, the role of Mrs. Partridge was played by Josephine Hull (Cary Grant’s aunt in Arsenic and Old Lace and Jimmy Stewart’s sister in Harvey). There wasn’t going to be any love story with Josephine Hull and there wasn’t. But, once they had a much younger, more attractive leading lady in the film, they decided that a love story would be a good idea, so in the film, not only does Mrs. Partridge enlist the former CEO to help her out, but she has also fallen in love with him (and he with her). It’s amazing how much of the play is still the same as the film, just with all the love story added to it.
The small difference at the end is much more interesting in the play. In the film, the happy couple run outside and the film turns to color so we can see their completely ridiculous solid gold cadillac. But in the original play, the cadillac simply brings Mrs. Partridge to the next shareholder’s meeting where, presiding over it, someone goes to ask her a question, and, recognizing where she got her start, she immediately cuts the person off: “Oh no! That’s how I got my start! The meeting is adjourned! The meeting is adjourned!” That seems to indicate that Mrs. Partridge may have had a taste of being CEO and doesn’t want to give it up quite yet and that’s a much more interesting ending than the couple riding off the screen in that ridiculously ostentatious car.
Directed by Richard Quine. Screen Play by Abe Burrows. From the Play by George S. Kaufman and Howard Teichman. Produced on the Stage by Max Gordon.
I’m not sure how I’m supposed to think about this. In Breakfast at Tiffany’s, it’s easy. The performance by Mickey Rooney is so awful, so pathetically stereotypical and just so jarring that it almost kills the film dead. But what about this film? Is it because Marlon Brando actually does some acting in this performance that it is so much easier to take? Or is it because it’s on a level of comedy that the rest of the film reacts to – it doesn’t take us out of the film the way Rooney does. Either way, I don’t love it, but it doesn’t kill the film for me the way that Rooney does. Or maybe it’s just because that’s a great film that he’s slaughtering while this is a ridiculous silly comedy, no better than **.5 and Brando’s performance is more in line with the rest of the film.
That is certainly the case. This film is just silly. Paul Ford plays a colonel who is trying to get something built on Okinawa now that the war is over and perhaps the U.S. occupying army should do something for the civilians on the island. To get that done, he enlists Glenn Ford as a captain to be in charge of this. But it turns out that Glenn Ford is terrible at his job – in fact he’s terrible at every job and he gets pushed around from department to department because no one wants him around. It’s a far cry different from most Glenn Ford roles and it is amusing at the start before things just start piling on. Because while Ford tries to get the natives interested in capitalism and find something they can produce that will help the economy, the locals want to build a teahouse and bring in some geishas.
Everything then starts to turn into a screwball comedy, but only in the sense that things keep piling on. Brando is the interpreter, both communicating between Ford and the natives and between the movie and the audience, our guide into the comedy. Things keep coming fast and steady. Everyone wants to travel with Ford. The natives don’t want to embrace his ideas. The army sends in a psychiatrist to work with Ford but he also ends up enthralled by the village.
The problem is none of it is particularly funny and the film isn’t so much directed or written as thrown at us to see what will stick. They want everything to be funny and if it isn’t, well then, they’re already on to the next gag. Ford’s performance can be quite enjoyable, as can Paul Ford as the poor beleaguered colonel. But in the end, it’s just a silly comedy without much staying power.
The Teahouse of the August Moon by Vern Sneider (1951) / The Teahouse of the August Moon by John Patrick (1952)
This is pretty much exactly what the film is. It’s a silly little comedy that deals with a few different subjects (fish out of water / military occupation after the war). It’s not particularly good. It’s not all that funny. It was certainly timely, given the time period (still soon enough after the end of the war that it was of interest but long enough after that a comedy could work for people) but it’s not particularly good or interesting.
The play expands on some of the themes from the book, turning them into more of a narrative and pretty much outlines exactly what the film would do.
Most of the main plot elements come directly from the novel. The constant use of Sagini, though, the narrator, doesn’t come from the novel – he is used much less and he isn’t originally the translator for the colonel as he is in the film. But it does come directly from the play. In fact, most of the film comes directly from the play, which makes sense since John Patrick, the man who adapted the novel into the play is also the same man who write the script.
Directed by Daniel Mann. Screen Play by John Patrick. Based on a Book by Vern J. Sneider and the play by John Patrick presented on the stage by Maurice Evans.
Is this the best of the Rodgers / Hammerstein musicals? Certainly it provides my favorite bit of music that was ever written by Rodgers, the “Carousel Waltz”, though I must admit that part of that love comes from its use at the beginning of the Dire Straits song “Tunnel of Love”. Aside from the music, this has one of the stronger stories of the Rodgers / Hammerstein musicals, with a darkly told tale of romance with a man’s soul in balance between heaven and hell. If it is not the best of the films made from their musicals, part of that must be on Henry King, the director, and part on the casting of Gordon MacRae (sadly, the film was originally set to star Frank Sinatra, and if he had played Billy Bigelow, this probably would have been a much better film).
This is the story of Billy Bigelow, a carnival barker who falls in love almost instantly with Shirley Jones (and really, can you blame him?) and gives up his job for her sake. She also loses her job, staying out too late with him, and they marry and settle on the seaside. While they love each other, they are also cursed with poverty and eventually, in his anger and pain, Billy strikes her, beginning his real downfall. He agrees to commit a robbery to support his wife and unborn child, but when it all goes wrong, he ends up falling on his knife and accidentally killing himself. But, even though this is the bulk of the film, it is still just set-up. Because we began the film in a sort of purgatory where Billy exists and he has been given a chance to return to Earth for a day and do a good deed. That deed involves giving hope and love to his now teenage daughter.
This story had been filmed multiple times before this. Frank Borzage had made a solid version of the original play Liliom in 1930 and Fritz Lang, stopping in Paris between fleeing Germany and coming to the States, made a better version in 1934 with Charles Boyer. Those films had better leads, but the color in this film helps the music come to life and this film has the wide-eyed beauty and innocence of Shirley Jones to help push it along. It is not a great film, but I’ll take this over some of the other Rodgers / Hammerstein films anyday.
Rodgers and Hammerstein did themselves a favor this time by taking a solid original starting point. What was interesting is that they would take such a dark original source, the story of a man in purgatory who killed himself and gets a chance to redeem himself on Earth and actually fails (the film versions change that, as do Rodgers and Hammerstein). They then, as I mention above, give it their best bit of music, with the wonderful “Carousel Waltz”. There are no songs that are as good as the best songs in Oklahoma, but there are still some lively moments. There are also some dark moments, with a lead character who stabs himself rather than face prison and a teenage daughter in despair, but it ends with a moment of pure hope.
This is another one of those musicals where someone on Wikipedia has done a solid job of listing all the changes between the original stage version and the film version. I won’t repeat everything they say and you can see it here, but there is one key thing that I will point out that really changes the nature of the play. In the original Liliom, and in the original stage version of Carousel, when the robbery goes wrong, Billy ends up stabbing himself, yelling “Julie” as he does. But in the film, it’s changed to be an accident, probably because the Production Code wouldn’t have allowed for redemption of the suicide. The other major version is that this film has a set-up around the action. The film begins with Billy in “purgatory” and being told he has a chance to return for a day (it doesn’t specify that this is his chance to go to either heaven or hell), while the play began with the carousel. Supposedly they did this so that audiences wouldn’t leave when Billy died thinking the film was over.
Directed by Henry King. Screenplay by Phoebe and Henry Ephron. Music by Richard Rodgers and Book and Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II. From their musical play based on Ferenc Molnar’s “Liliom” as adapted by Benjamin F. Glazer.
In 1940, Katharine Hepburn as Tracy Lord had three choices. The first was an actor I can’t even remember the name of. He plays a rich, stuffed shirt and though he says he is in love with her, it’s more her status and class that he is in love with. The second choice is Jimmy Stewart in an Oscar-winning performance. He is Mike, a reporter who has crashed her wedding to write a story because he hasn’t been able to hack it as a writer and he also falls for her class and status, but is much more interested in her as a person. However, he is also in love with his photographer and she for him and Hepburn can see that, so she demures. That’s also because she’s still really in love with her ex-husband, who is infuriating, but is also fascinating, and, of course, he’s also Cary Grant. So there’s really no questioning why she chooses him.
Now we look at the character of Tracy Lord again, this time played by an actress who was even more beautiful than Katharine Hepburn. This time it is Grace Kelly who must choose between three men. The first is again an actor that I can’t even remember even though I just saw the film. The third is played by Bing Crosby. Now, in The Country Girl, Grace Kelly had chosen Crosby over William Holden, but part of that is she plays a woman much more beaten down by life and one who has stood by her husband for years after the death of their child. It is understandable why she chooses her husband. But here, there is none of that. There was no child. Her husband doesn’t need her in the same sense. She’s not trying to help him cope with his own failures. Instead, she could just friggin choose Frank Sinatra! So, it’s a bit harder to understand in this version of the film why she goes with the choice that she does. Perhaps because that’s how the story works. I just wish they had chosen an actor with a bit more charm and one who was a bit younger. I think I would have preferred Sinatra in the Crosby role or maybe even Gene Kelly.
The casting of Crosby isn’t the only reason that this film is charming but isn’t the classic that The Philadelphia Story is. First of all, the acting isn’t even remotely on the same level. Stewart won the Oscar. Hepburn was nominated (and should have won). Cary Grant deserved an Oscar for his performance. But while the performances in this film are solid enough, it’s not the same thing. The writing is the same. As I mention below, because this is a musical, they have to make room for the songs and they do so by cutting some of the witty dialogue from the original. Look at one of my favorite scenes from the original film, the one in which a drunken Jimmy Stewart accosts Cary Grant at his house and discovers that Grant has his book. That scene is nowhere to be found, instead replaced by a variety of mostly mediocre and forgettable songs.
There are things to recommend about this film, of course. It is beautifully filmed in lovely locations. It has Grace Kelly in her final film role looking luminous and giving a graceful and charming performance. Even if it doesn’t keep enough of the dialogue it does hold on to the plot of one of the greatest classic comedies. It may not be a classic, but there are definitely things worth watching for in this film. It may just be and my belief that she was the most beautiful woman who ever lived, but the picture on the right definitely qualifies, for me, as one of those reasons.
The Philadelphia Story by Philip Barry (1939)
I already gave a very brief review of this play when I discussed the original film version. It’s a good play, smart, witty, funny, romantic.
There are parts of this film that come from the original play. There are certain lines that spring right from the original pages (like the scene the next morning when Tracy realizes that she didn’t actually do anything with Mike), but there are also lines that spring right from the original film version (such as when Mike picks up the phone and makes his amusing threat and Tracy’s mother announces that one of the servants has been at the sherry again). But much of this film is different simply because of the musical aspect. Having to devote a bunch of time to the songs (or to interactions with Louis Armstrong), they have to cut some of the sparkling dialogue. It’s one of the reasons why this film is charming but isn’t anywhere close to the classic level that the first film is.
Directed by Charles Walters. Screen Play by John Patrick. Based on a Play by Philip Barry.
Other Screenplays on My List Outside My Top 10:
- Monika – Also known as Summer with Monika, this is one of the films that helped establish Ingmar Bergman in America, though at mid-range ***, it’s not really indicative of how great his later work would be. It also helped establish Harriet Andersson as one of the first Bergman stars. Based on the novel by Per Anders Fogelström.
- The Criminal Life of Archibaldo de la Cruz – A very good Luis Buñuel film about a serial killer that was adapted from the crime novel Ensayo de crimen by Rudolfo Usigli.
- The Man Who Never Was – A British World War II film about the plan to deceive the Axis Powers about the impending invasion of Sicily. It’s from a book by Ewen Montagu, who came up with the actual plan and is played by Clifton Webb.
(in descending order of how good the film is)
- The Harder They Fall – Humphrey Bogart’s last film is a boxing drama based on a novel by Budd Schulberg with solid performances from Bogart and Rod Steiger.
- Animal Farm – The 1954 British Animated version of the great Orwell novel is a high *** but not quite good enough to win the Nighthawk for Best Animated Film. There’s a full review of it at the link.
- Samurai II: Duel at Ichijoji Temple – The second of the Samurai trilogy from Hiroshi Inagaki, the first of which was reviewed here. The second and third films are high *** but not any better than that. They are all based on Miyamato Musashi.
- The Prisoner – A film version of the Bridget Boland play that stars Alec Guinness and Jack Hawkins. Not very cinematic but Guinness, of course, is good.
- The Quatermass Xperiment – The 1955 Hammer film based on the British television series (and released in the US in 1956 as The Creeping Unknown). An important early Hammer film that helped pave the way for Hammer Horror.
- While the City Sleeps – Fritz Lang noir starring Dana Andrews, from the novel The Bloody Spur. One of the last Lang films I saw and still a bit hard to find.
- Tea and Sympathy – The film uses the same stars from the hit 1953 stage production but Production Code restrictions keep it from being explicitly about homosexuality. A framing device is added to the start and end that aren’t in the original play. A solid film but Deborah Kerr’s performance is the best thing about it.
- Moby Dick – Ray Bradbury helped co-write the script with John Huston. The novel has always felt too dry to me but my high school Fine Arts teacher said that you shouldn’t read it until you’re over 50, so I’ll go back to it in eight years. The film is solid with Gregory Peck playing against type as Ahab.
- A Kiss Before Dying – Ira Levin was only 24 when this became his first best-seller. This film version is hampered a bit by the Production Code but is still much much better than the 1991 version namely because Joanne Woodward plays the pregnant lover rather than Sean Young.
- Bhowani Junction – Based on the 1954 novel, this is a mid-range *** which is about the best you can expect from an Adventure film set in India starring Stewart Granger and Ava Gardner.
- The Proud Ones – A solid Robert Ryan Western based on the novel by Verne Athanas.
- War and Peace – You can read a full review here of how this is an epic film but the actors are badly handled. A second Top 100 Novel filmed in this year.
- Tribute to a Bad Man – A James Cagney Western based on a short story by Jack Schaefer, the man who wrote the novel Shane.
- The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit – The novel, when it was published in 1955 was a cultural sensation (I never realized how much of one until I read David Halberstam’s wonderful The Fifties). The film was a success but didn’t have the same impact.
- Bigger Than Life – One of those Nicholas Ray films that is supposed to be brilliant but is really no better than mid-range ***. It was based on an article in The New Yorker.
- Between Heaven and Hell – Low-range *** World War II film based on the novel The Day the Century Ended.
- The Lone Ranger – A feature film version of the extremely popular television show, which was based on the original radio program. A simplistic plot and the kind of cliches you would expect from television, but any use of the “William Tell Overture” is, of course, stirring.
- Twelfth Night – Mediocre Russian version of the great Shakespeare play.
- The Mountain – This is based on a French novel (La neige en deuil) and the cinematography is nice but the idea that Robert Wagner and Spencer Tracy could be brothers is just as absurd as the idea of casting the then 56 year old Tracy as a mountain climber.
- There’s Always Tomorrow – Written on the Wind may be the best of Sirk but this is far from it. It’s just more silly Sirk melodrama, in this case based on the novel by Ursula Parrott.
- A Kid for Two Farthings – A 1955 Carol Reed film adapted from the novel by Wolf Mankowitz. Completely forgettable.
- Patterns – Rod Serling might be adapting his own teleplay but don’t expect anything like the quality of The Twilight Zone. It’s just another forgettable film about business.
- Teenage Rebel – Mid 50’s mediocre melodrama about troubled teens starring Ginger Rogers. Rebel without a Cause it is not. Adapted from the play A Roomful of Roses.
- The Last Hunt – One of the weaker films written and directed by Richard Brooks, this Western is adapted from the novel by Milton Lott.
- The Catered Affair – Another Richard Brooks film, but this one was written by Gore Vidal and adapted from a teleplay by Paddy Chayefsky. They were probably hoping for something like Marty (it even starred Ernest Borgnine) but it’s not all that good.
- Doctor at Sea – The last of the *** films. The second of seven Doctor films based on the novels by Richard Gordon.
- The Killer is Loose – This **.5 Budd Boetticher Suspense film is based on a novella by John and Ward Hawkins.
- Bundle of Joy – A remake of the 1939 film Bachelor Mother, which had been a remake of a 1935 Austrian film. It’s got Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher and that’s all you need to know.
- The Man who Knew Too Much – One of Alfred Hitchcock’s worst ideas: let me remake my first great film but I’ll have Doris Day as the star.
- Good-bye, My Lady – Sappy drama from director William Wellman, adapted from the novel by James H. Street.
- D-Day – Based on the novel The Sixth of June, this look at D-Day also tries to be a romance, which is a major reason why it is **.5.
- The Ten Commandments – This epic film is ridiculous, with terrible casting, performances and a stupid script. But is a massive epic with some really good production values. A massive box office hit and a Best Picture nominee, and thus already reviewed in full.
- 1984 – The third Top 100 novel on this list and thus the film is already reviewed here (not kindly).
- Forever, Darling – I’m going with oscars.org here as both the IMDb and Wikipedia list this as an original script. But oscars.org lists this silly comedy with Lucy, Desi and James Mason (yes, you read that correctly) as being based on a short story called “The Woman Who Was Scared” by Marya Mannes.
- Slightly Scarlet – James M. Cain’s novel Love’s Lovely Counterfeit gets a relentlessly mediocre film version from director Allan Dwan.
- Earth vs. The Flying Saucers – This silly early Sci-Fi film got some “non-fiction” research from the book Flying Saucers from Outer Space which was written by a naval aviator who thought the country should investigate UFOs.
- The Opposite Sex – This ridiculous Musical is based on the 1939 film The Women (and thus, on the original play by Clare Booth Luce). The original isn’t exactly a classic but the cast of the original is so, so, so much better than this one.
- 23 Paces to Baker Street – Don’t let the Baker Street bit confuse you. This is not Sherlock Holmes. It’s an adaptation of a Philip MacDonald Mystery and it’s not very good.
- Trapeze – It’s films like this that lend credence to the rumor that Orson Welles directed The Third Man rather than Carol Reed. It’s based on a novel by Max Catto and though it has Burt Lancaster in a circus, it’s really not good.
- The Vagabond King – The bottom **.5 film, this one from an actual Top 100 Director (Michael Curtiz). It’s a film version of the 1925 operetta and you should skip it.
- The Power and the Prize – Now we’re into the dregs. This is a ** film based on the novel by Howard Swiggett which I saw because it was (very stupidly) nominated for an Oscar for Costume Design.
- The Revolt of Mamie Stover – The book by William Bradford Huie was a big hit and the later novel using the same narrator, The Americanization of Emily, was made into a great film. But this film is just terrible, which could be expected with Jane Russell as the star.
- Helen of Troy – Surprisingly, not my lowest ranked film from director Robert Wise (because of how low I rank I Want to Live!) but almost. A very loose adaptation of Homer with someone named Rossana Podesta as Helen who didn’t know English and whose performance makes Diane Kruger’s in Troy look more like Meryl Streep.
- The Bad Seed – Based on the play by Maxwell Anderson, which was based on the novel by William March. I saw this back in college and viciously hated it. I have refused to ever see it again and reconsider it. I rate it at *.5 and can’t believe it was nominated for Best Actress and Supporting Actress (twice). A terrible film about an evil child.
Adaptations of Notable Works I Haven’t Seen: