My Top 10:
- Touch of Evil
- Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
- Separate Tables
- The Horse’s Mouth
- Therese Raquin
- The Last Hurrah
- The Bravados
- The Horror of Dracula
- The Brothers Karamazov
Note: There are 13 films on my list. Me and the Colonel is reviewed because its was a WGA nominee and the other two are listed down below.
- Gigi (160 pts)
- Me and the Colonel (80 pts)
- Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (80 pts)
- I Want to Live! (80 pts)
- Separate Tables (80 pts)
- The Horse’s Mouth (80 pts)
Oscar Nominees (Best Screenplay – Adapted):
- Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
- I Want to Live!
- The Horse’s Mouth
- Separate Tables
- Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
- I Want to Live!
- The Long Hot Summer
- Separate Tables
Nominees that are Original: The Defiant Ones
- Me and the Colonel
- The Reluctant Debutante
Nominees that are Original: Houseboat, Teacher’s Pet
- Damn Yankees
- South Pacific
- Tom Thumb
Nominees that are Original: The Girl Most Likely
BAFTA Nominees (Best British Screenplay):
- The Horse’s Mouth
note: I have mentioned before that because the BAFTA only included British Screenplays at this time, I only count it for the Consensus if it nominates a film also nominated by another awards group.
My Top 10
It is one of the greatest films of all-time, of course. It is also proof that Hollywood just never knew what to do with Orson Welles. Yes, they allowed Welles to direct, but only because Heston suggested it, and in the end they took the film away from Welles and buried it. It was the last Hollywood film that Welles would direct and his genius is visible in almost every shot. I already reviewed it here.
Badge of Evil by Whit Masterson (1956)
“I read the novel after the picture was made. There wasn’t a copy around and I never would have had time to read one if there were. I think I didn’t even know it was a book then. But about three or four years later, I happened to see it somewhere and I read it… Anyway, the book is better than the script they gave me – it isn’t that bad a book.” (This is Orson Welles, Peter Bogdanovich, p 297)
Welles is correct – it is not that bad of a book. It’s a decent little thriller about an assistant D.A. who ends up involved in a murder case (a prominent man has been killed by dynamite). The case itself gets subsumed by the realization that the two main cops in town have been framing crooks for years (some of them were guilty, some are much more questionable) and he wants this done right. That runs him afoul of his boss and all the forces begin working together to have him silenced or killed. In the end, he is able to appeal to the heart of a cop inside of the two corrupt ones and work towards an ending in which the guilty are finally punished.
Well, obviously Welles wasn’t sticking too close to the book with his brilliant script if he hadn’t even read it. That’s because Welles came in to a pre-existing situation; he had a script handed to him that he turned upside down, adding depth and nuance and turning a little pulp thriller into one of the great films of all-time. Although, I should point out that in his book Despite the System: Orson Welles Versus the Hollywood Studios, Clinton Heylin points out “In fact, as John Stubbs establishes in his detailed comparison of Welles’s screenplay with both the original novel by Robert Wade and William Miller (under the joint pseudonym Bret Masterson) and the previous screenplay by Paul Monash, the recently assigned director must have at least perused the original novel. Much of the dialogue Welles gave Manolo Sanchez, the Mexican shoe clerk accused of the murder of Rudy Linneker, is taken directly from the book, yet is absent from the Monash screenplay.” (p 282)
Some of the things in the film are the same as in the book – a killing by dynamite that must be solved but turns into bigger things, a corrupt cop, the kidnapping of the protagonist’s wife and setting her up in a drug bust and throwing her in jail. Some of the things in the film are similar, but different in details, like the cop named Quinlan and the corrupt cop who is betrayed by his protege with a tape-recording, except that in the book Quinlan is the protege and the betrayer. Then some of the things are very different, the key one being the protagonist. In the book, he is named Mitchell Holt and he is an assistant D.A.. In the film, of course, he is named Vargas, and he is a Mexican policeman who has just married a beautiful American girl. It is that change which really makes this so much more interesting than just the original crime thriller that was in the book.
Almost every classic scene or line that you can think of in the book (like “Your future’s all used up” or “You really liked him, didn’t you?” “The cop did. The one who killed him. He loved him.”) is a creation of Welles and not from the original novel.
If you have a serious interest in a comparison between the film and the original novel, you have to read the Rutgers Film in Print book for this film. John Stubbs has an excellent 19 page piece that details the book, the original script, the Welles script and the shooting script and the differences between all of them. This book was published before the 1998 re-edit of the film, so the script you read might not be the version of the film you find to watch.
Directed by Orson Welles. Screenplay by Orson Welles. Based on the Novel “Badge of Evil” by Whit Masterson.
The IMDb lists Franklin Coen with uncredited writing for reshoots and Paul Monash with uncredited additional scenes, which is referencing the original script.
I have already reviewed this film once, as one of the Best Picture nominees. I have loved this film from the first time that I saw it (at the time I still hadn’t seen Touch of Evil and it was easily my #1 film of 1958). I have always believed that Taylor should have won the Oscar (not just because of her performance but because the choice of Susan Hayward was such a bad one) and I have always loved what Newman and Ives were able to bring to their roles. This is really the film that Ives should have won the Oscar for, not The Big Country, but an Oscar rules snafu kept him from being nominated.
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof by Tennessee Williams (1955)
Where to start with the play? Should I start with the fact that it won the Pulitzer, that it’s considered one of the masterpieces of a man widely considered to be among the three greatest playwrights this country has ever produced? It was a massive success on Broadway because Williams was able to take the seething Southern drama that had already propelled him to success and marry it to his own personal passions – the disintegration of the family, tied into the secret of homosexuality, especially when it isn’t so secret. This continues to be an intensely powerful play, one that is constantly revived because, like with Streetcar, it has several roles that just cry out for great actors to try their hands at it – Brick, the self-loathing man who can’t decide who he is and is tired of trying to be something he knows he is not, Maggie, that cat on the hot tin roof whose unbridled sensuality melts the stage but can’t even put a thaw in her husband and Big Daddy, the powerhouse patriarch who is going to overwhelm you with life for as long as he has it in his body.
But there’s also another interesting bit to this play that hearkens back to the collaboration that can sometimes happen between playwrights and directors. Novelists have their editors and, in a similar sense, playwrights have their directors. On pages 124-125 of the Signet edition of the play, Tennessee Williams explains why there are two different third acts to the play and how his collaboration with Elia Kazan, a fruitful one for both men, lead to the different third act, the one that actually ended up on stage (and, for the most part, on film) rather than the original one that Williams had written. Both have their merits, but in the end, I think Kazan’s works better for the precise reasons that Kazan wanted it there. But, it’s great to have an edition that allows you to see the two different versions (and both were written by Williams, so it’s not like someone came in and altered the play).
“He accepted the basic premise that Pandro Berman had determined would avoid the homosexual subtext that, whether anyone wanted to admit it, was central to the play, and he repeated the too-convenient contention that the play was really about people who cannot communicate their true feelings. To provide the father-and-son moment Berman had outlined, Richard added a scene and played up the dialogue necessary to support the idea that the emotionally immature Brick needed to grow up. He set the encounter in the basement since it was the lowest point in the story. Drawing inspiration from his own days riding the rails, Richard had Big Daddy reminisce about hopping trains with his father.” (Tough as Nails: The Life and Films of Richard Brooks by Douglass K. Daniel, p 127)
“I read the script and said, ‘Well, I can’t do this script.’ [MGM head Benny Thau] said, ‘I know. Neither can we. There are things in here we can’t do.’ I called Elia Kazan – I didn’t know Tennessee Williams and still haven’t met him, by the way – and asked, ‘What did you do about the third act?’ Kazan said, ‘Well, we had two third acts. Would you like to read the other third act? I think it’s a little better, but it still didn’t solve all the problems.’ So I finally got a script that I thought I could do, and I told Benny Thau I would try.” (Richard Brooks, quoted in Conversations with the Great Moviemakers of Hollywood’s Golden Age at the American Film Institute, ed. George Stevens, Jr, p 551)
Unlike Douglass K. Daniel I do think it works to make the play about people who cannot communicate their true feelings. It’s unfortunate, and it makes me think of Harvey Fierstein talking, in The Celluloid Closet, about how he wrote Torch Song Trilogy because he was tired of watching straights and having to imagine that experience as he would have lived it and he wanted the straights to have to imagine his situation and how they would have lived it. So, to take something specific and make it general, is unfortunate, given that viewpoint. But I do think it works because it does make it universal and it works for the characters. Clearly it required excision of some lines, but not as many as you would think.
In fact, the film differs from the play more in the way it is filmed – the play has three acts which don’t change locations. The film makes much better use of locations, even adding in several scenes outside of the main ones and allowing for more dialogue between the characters, even if it doesn’t actually mean more communication between them.
Directed by Richard Brooks. Screen Play by Richard Brooks and James Poe. Based On the Play “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” by Tennessee Williams.
I have already reviewed this film because it was nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars. I noted when I wrote it that this was one of those films that actually went up when I saw it for a second time, rising from a high *** to a high ***.5. It is a very good drama, especially highlighted by the level of writing and acting.
Separate Tables: Two Plays by Terrence Rattigan (1954)
Though this is published as one work (and listed as “a play” in the credits), it is actually two short plays: “Table by the Window” and “Table Number Seven”. The first play is that of a divorced couple, a politician who drinks and his manipulative ex-wife, dealing with her failure of a remarriage and his affair with the woman who runs the hotel. The second play deals with a repressed young woman who is ruled by her autocratic mother who feels sympathy for a retired Major who has been convicted of sexual impropriety. The two couples in the plays are played by the same actors while the other small roles carry over from one to the other and are played by the same actors (in my original review I wrote that only character carried over but that was clearly incorrect and I don’t know where I originally read that, but I hadn’t actually read the play until now). Both plays are effective but what they mainly are, are dialogues between two people who are struggling to overcome loneliness and find some measure of companionship.
While some of the lines and certainly the very concept of the two stories come directly from the two plays, there are considerable changes, not the least of which is that the two stories are now happening at the same time as opposed to happening eighteen months apart as they were on stage. Because there are four actors instead of two actors doubling up, we actually get some crossover between the two couples (to the effectiveness of the film, as I mentioned in my original review, as the Lancaster interaction with the Kerr-Niven story is to its benefit) and all of the events make for a very interesting hotel as opposed to two different stories happening at different times. All of this means that instead of getting one drama, followed by another, we can slowly move into both stories at the same time.
There are also a lot of other smaller changes made to the film. In the film, Lancaster’s character is a writer (rather than a politician) and he’s not British. He is also engaged to Miss Cooper, not merely having an affair with her while his ex-wife is claiming to be engaged (when she isn’t).
Directed by Delbert Mann. Screenplay by Terence Rattigan and John Gay. Based on a play by Terence Rattigan.
The IMDb lists John Michael Hayes as an uncredited writer.
I have already reviewed this film as my under-appreciated film of 1958. It’s a departure for Guinness, going back to something like his old Ealing films in terms of tone but not in terms of style. This film isn’t a breakneck laugh-out-loud comedy, but a sly look at a rather disagreeable artist who is determined to have his way. It has one of the most under-appreciated of all the great Guinness performances. With his hair dyed white, just a year after Bridge on the River Kwai, he suddenly looks like he will look 20 years later as Obi-Wan Kenobi.
The Horse’s Mouth by Joyce Carey (1944)
This is a bit of an odd novel. In fact, supposedly Alec Guinness didn’t even get past the first 15 pages the first time he read it, during the war, because of the style. It is also apparently part of a trilogy, though it’s a thematic trilogy, not one of characters carrying over.
It’s the story of Gulley Jimson, a badly behaved painter who is just out of jail and seems pretty desperate to get back in, making harassing phone calls threatening to cut out livers. But when he’s not making everyone’s life miserable, he is a painter of rare genius. Unfortunately, he paints where he wants and sometimes that doesn’t work out so well, for, say, a woman whose blank wall of her flat is now the canvas for Gulley.
The book follows his misadventures with Gulley as a first-person guide who shouldn’t be trusted and absolutely shouldn’t be let in the house. Once you cut through the narrative to find the man himself it’s easy to see why this would be a good subject for an actor to make his only screenplay.
This was suddenly something different. People had been nominated for Oscars for writing before who were also actors, but those were people who were writer / directors, people like Charlie Chaplin and Orson Welles (and John Huston, who wouldn’t earn an Oscar nomination for acting until later). But an actor turning to writing and suddenly earning an Oscar nomination, let alone one who had just won Best Actor at the Oscars the year before? Now that was something different. It would later be repeated in quite similar fashion by Emma Thompson, except there was a three year gap between the Oscar and her script and she would actually win the Oscar for her script (and would go on to write others).
Most of the book comes vividly to life, though there are definitely differences (much of the humor comes more from the film as Cokey’s role is greatly expanded in a very good performance from Kay Walsh and the mason’s block crashing through the floor wasn’t in the book). The ending is very different, however, with the stroke-laden Gulley in the care of the nuns in the book, his physical misadventures, at the least, limited for the future, while Guinness’ Gulley is off in his houseboat and you have no idea what trouble he might eventually cause.
Directed by Ronald Neame. From the novel by Joyce Cary. Screenplay by Alec Guinness.
This is a tricky thing to do. How do you write about a film that you feel is a great film, a **** film, but one which you think is over-rated by most people? Vertigo has many great things about it. It has a suitably obsessive performance from Jimmy Stewart, has great direction from Alfred Hitchcock and anchors itself on its magnificent cinematography and score. None of those things were appreciated by the Oscars, where it received nominations only for Sound and Art Direction. But to so many critics, it is the end-all-be-all. It is hailed by many as the greatest film ever made and I just don’t see that. I can’t even understand it.
So what do I write about? Do I write about the ways that this film, along with Hitchcock’s earlier Rear Window, help us re-imagine who we imagine Jimmy Stewart might be? Is he the kindly man from next door you can trust, a little bit from Mr. Smith, a little bit from Harvey? It’s a Wonderful Life had shown a bit of a darker side to him, but in the end, it was the need to be alive and the Christmas cheer that ends the film that people remembered. In Rear Window, we had a man who was a bit on the edge, spying on his neighbors, getting his beautiful girlfriend involved in something dangerous, but in the end, he was still calmly asleep in the chair at the end, with a smile. There would be no such ending for Vertigo, even if it wasn’t as dark as its source (see below). Jimmy Stewart is asked to watch the wife of an old friend because she’s been acting strangely. But Stewart, after rescuing her from a possible suicide attempt, starts to fall for her. I don’t say fall in love, because his need for her, his obsession about her goes to darker places than that. Then we get to a moment in the mission we watch her fall past the window as he struggles to get past his crippling vertigo and make it up the stairs. Then she is dead on the ground and there is nothing left for him. He falls apart in a way it’s hard to imagine him doing. But that’s part of the greatness of the film, the way in which it plays upon our expectations of this actor and goes to places we don’t expect.
That comes true in the second half as well, when we see him meet another woman who looks like her. Of course it is her, because you’ve seen Vertigo, I assume. I’m not covering the plot for you. I’m trying to explicate what it is about the film that keeps it down in the lower level reaches of **** when it has such magnificent work from both Hitchcock and Stewart and the answer is glaringly obvious, in a couple of ways. It has Kim Novak.
There was nothing so devastating to Hitchcock’s films as the decision of Grace Kelly to retire. She was the epitome of the icy-blonde that Hitchcock so desired and wanted to put on screen in every one of his films. After she left, he had to make do with others and sometimes he got somewhat lucky (Eva Marie Saint in North by Northwest) and some times you end up with Kim Novak. Novak’s performance just doesn’t work. I can’t understand her appeal to Stewart, especially when she re-emerges in the second half of the film and nothing about her performance is able to overcome that. She is supposed to be the focus of the obsession and there’s nothing about her that inspires that. Not all of the blame is on Novak. She is forced to make do with a scene that undermines the tension in the film and which Hitchcock strongly considered cutting (the letter-writing confession) and which the film would do much better without. The film works better at that point if you think that Stewart really has gone a bit bonkers and if he doesn’t know that it really is the same woman.
I get that Vertigo is a great film. It will always be a great film. But, to me, it’s just one of many great Hitchcock films and it’s nowhere near the level of Strangers on a Train, Rebecca, North by Northwest, Shadow of a Doubt or a number of others.
D’Entre les morts by Boileau-Narcejac (1954)
Boileau-Narcejac is the nom de plume for two writers, Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac, who would write mysteries together. They had written the novel Celle qui n était plus that had been adapted into the novel Diabolique, a film that many saw Hitchcock’s influence on. Hitchcock managed to snag their next novel and this one at least has been released in English (the UK imprint Pushkin Vertigo did a translation just last year and re-titled the novel Vertigo just so you would know it was the source). It’s an effective thriller and it would be familiar to anyone who has seen the film (see below). In one way it is more effective than the film because it keeps the secret of the reveal that it is the same woman until almost the very end (easier to do anyway, without an actress to see on screen). But, though we get a darker ending, it doesn’t bring us back to the church in a bit of symmetry like the film does. Instead, the man in love with her has a much more violent reaction: “She no longer moved. Painfully, Flavières removed his fingers from her neck, and with a trembling hand switched on the light. Then he uttered a cry which brought people running out of their rooms into the corridor.” But that’s not the end of it, like in the film. Just before he is taken away by the detective, we get this scene: ” ‘May I kiss her?’ asked Flavières. The detective shrugged his shoulders. Flavières went up to the bed. The dead girl looked so slim lying there, and written on her face was an immense peace. Flavières bent over and kissed her forehead. ‘I shall wait for you,’ he said.” That’s the end. Enjoy!
quotes are taken from the Pushkin Vertigo translation by Geoffrey Sainsbury
When asked by Peter Bogdanovich in Who the Devil Made It why he set Vertigo in San Francisco, Hitchcock replied: “The key factor in the whole story was the church tower, for the purposes of the murder. And the church had to be of some interest – a place with visitors – and also remote so that the murder could be committed, shall we say, with comfort and without interruption. Now in America there are no village churches as there are in France – this was originally a French novel called From Among the Dead – but there are old missions. I knew of San Juan Batista near San Francisco and there was a period when it did have a short tower, though it doesn’t now. So we shot there and matted one on.” (p 530)
“Taylor didn’t yet add a death plunge to the opening rooftop sequence, but what he did add may have been far more important to making the people real: a brand-new character, Midge. The exposition scene among Scottie’s fellow detectives remains, but all of the previous establishing work is now accomplished in conversation between Scottie and Midge in her apartment.” (Vertigo: The Making of a Hitchcock Classic by Dan Auiler, p 51). Auiler is referring to the first draft by Samuel Taylor, who was brought in after Alec Coppel to work on the script (Taylor would later ask for full credit for the script but the WGA determined enough of Coppel’s work remained to grant him credit). Auiler’s book also gives detailed descriptions of the whole script-writing process, which went through numerous drafts from multiple writers. It does look like much of what was changed from the original novel to the film came mostly from Taylor.
But most of what was on the screen originated with the original novel. In the BFI Classics book on Vertigo, there is a long plot description given that applies to both the original novel and the film. The key differences are that the film is set in San Francisco, that there is the new character Midge (that Taylor added) who isn’t in the book, that the time has been updated (the book took place during the war), that we don’t find out about the plot until later in the book because there is no equivalent to the letter-writing scene (which was a source of argument between Hitchcock and his producers and almost didn’t make the film) and, the most important difference that wouldn’t have played as well with using Stewart, that in the book it is actually the Scottie character who kills the woman, strangling her out of his pain and grief rather than having her accidentally fall to her death.
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Screenplay by Alec Coppel & Samuel Taylor. Based upon the novel “D’Entre Les Morts” by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac.
The IMDb lists uncredited writing from Maxwell Anderson, which is mentioned in the Auiler book.
This was apparently the year for Émile Zola adaptations to hit the States, even if none of them had been made in this year. There would be three of them eligible for the Oscars this year, though they had been made in 1953, 1956 and 1957 (and all of them were French). This is the best of the three, perhaps because the director, Marcel Carné is the best of the three (the others are listed down at the bottom).
When this film was released in the States, it was retitled The Adulteress, which gives you a notion of the plot but really isn’t the right title for this story. The title belongs to the woman because it is her story. She has been pushed into an unfulfilling marriage with her cousin by her aunt (the cousin’s mother). He is sickly and can’t do much. Thérèse then meets his friend, Laurent. Laurent is everything her husband is not and she finds a measure of happiness with him, physical and otherwise. That is what makes her take things to the next level. The title seems to place the onus for what happens only on Thérèse while ignoring all the other factors.
Things go horribly wrong when Thérèse and Laurent decide to kill her husband because there is a witness and Thérèse’s aunt suspects things (she has a stroke soon afterwards that limits her physical movement to just her eyes). Things descend into more of a thriller but the quality of Carné’s adaptation, bringing Zola’s story of naturalism into the present time keeps things at a high level and Simone Signoret, long of the greatest of French actresses brings a magnificent performance as Thérèse. If the male actors in the film could have been anywhere near her level, this film might have made the jump from mid ***.5 to **** and this film might not languish with 6 Top 10 finishes at the Nighthawk Awards but not a single nomination (it finishes in 6th in both Adapted Screenplay and Actress).
American filmmakers have never seemed to embrace Zola in spite of his brilliance as a novelist and the numerous successful (both artistically and commercially) films that have been made of his novels in France for over a century now. But thankfully the French did make those films and it’s easy enough for us to see those films.
Thérèse Raquin by Émile Zola (1867)
As I said here, I didn’t actually start reading Zola until 2010. Even with a Masters in English and all those reading lists, there was still nothing that meant I needed to pick him up and check him off the list and sometimes that’s the problem with lists. Things get missed. Like Émile Zola, one of the great all-time novelists.
This was not Zola’s first novel but it was, arguably, his first important novel and it helped set the stage for what would become his great series. With this novel he moved away from the pot-boilers he had been working on and began to become a serious writer. Yet, this novel would also set the stage for a lot of the controversy that would attend him for the rest of his life. It was decried pornography and when Zola published a second edition the next year he wrote an introduction that explained what he was doing with his literary theory of Naturalism.
This book, as I said, sets the stage for the series that would follow, the Rougon-Macquart saga. It is tragic (a sickly youth is married off to his cousin by his mother who has raised both but the cousin becomes miserable and has an affair with the man’s friend and then eventually they hatch a plot to kill him), it has sex (the affair as well as some disturbing scenes later when the mother decides that then those two should get married, not realizing yet that they conspired to kill her son), degradation (there is a horrifying scene when Thérèse, knowing she is pregnant and is horrified (“She dimly feared that she might give birth to a drowned body, and it seemed as though she could feel inside her the cold sensation of a soft, decomposing corpse.”) and provokes her new husband to kick her, forcing a miscarriage) as well as misery and sorrow. Those who go to Zola’s books go because he is a brilliant writer (“They were, so to speak, hanging over each other as though over a chasm, fascinated by its horror; there they were, each peering down into the other, unable to move, unable to speak, while stabbing ecstasies, making their minds whirl and their limbs melt into nothingness, filled them with a mad desire to fall into perdition.”) and because he presented an unfettered view of life as he saw it out on the streets and wanted to present it to the world. His work would set the stage for later great writers like Thomas Hardy and Frank Norris. You should read Zola because he is great and important and vibrant and alive but, good lord, don’t go looking for anything happy.
note: The quotes are from the 1962 translation by L. W. Tancock.
In his book, Child of Paradise: Marcel Carné and the Golden Age of French Cinema, Edward Baron Turk mentions that Carné regretted not being able to film La Bête humaine when it was offered to Renoir and suggests that the director made use of parts of one of Zola’s most famous novels in adapting this one: “In adapting Thérèse Raquin, Carné and Charles Spaak seem to have borrowed key elements from La Bête humaine: the site of the murder is no longer a canoe on the Seine but, as in La Bête humaine, a passenger train heading for Paris; the invention of a witness to the crime, which the original source barely justifies, mirrors La Bête humaine‘s central situation, that of a stranger who observes a murder and then involves himself intimately with its perpetrators.” (p 377)
All of that is fairly accurate. Up to the point of the murder, aside from the updates made to the story that move it almost a century forward in time, the film follows the book. But, once the murder itself happens, the film deviates in a variety of ways and most of the second half of the film, concentrating on the different death scene and the witness to the death (and their involvement with him) is almost entirely different from the book.
Un film de Marcel Carné. Inspiré du Roman d’ Émile Zola. Adaptation de Marcel Carné et Charles Spaak. Dialogue de Charles Spaak.
In 1958, as was so often the case, Spencer Tracy was nominated for Best Actor at the Academy Awards. As is often the case, I don’t think the nomination was merited. But, what made it particularly irritating in this case was that Tracy gave one of the best performances of his career in 1958; it just wasn’t in the film that he was nominated for. He was nominated for his lackluster performance in The Old Man and the Sea while at the same time his performance as the mayor who is reviled by some and revered by others in The Last Hurrah was overlooked. The film itself, while it won Best Actor and Director at the NBR and earned Tracy a BAFTA nom actually lost money and isn’t generally considered to be among the better works of director John Ford.
While it’s not a great film, as so many Ford films are, it is a very good film, an under-appreciated film that moves much more slowly, that is more subtle and interesting in a lot of ways and which, as I said, contains one of the best performances of Tracy’s career.
Tracy plays Frank Seffington, the current mayor of a large New England city (read: Boston) and former governor of his state (the title he has kept, as most people refer to him that way). Skeffington is in many ways an FDR democrat – using big city projects to keep people employed, to keep progress moving forward. He does it at the expense of the richer upper class, entrenched old money population in his city who loathe him and have been doing everything they can to bring him down. The problem that they have is they never have a worthwhile candidate with whom they can take out Skeffington. Now, the mayor has once again announced he will be running for re-election even though he is 72 years old and has been mayor for quite a while (and was mayor before he was governor as well – if this sounds familiar, well maybe you’re from Boston – see below). This time, Skeffington invites his nephew to come along for the ride. The nephew is a newspaper cartoonist who has spent much of his life out of the city and has a wife whose father is part of the group that loathes his uncle.
Tracy does a good job of walking a fine moral line. The people love him and he embraces that love namely through the use of his political power. Look at the wake he goes to for an unlikeable man. His presence brings crowds which cheer up the grieving widow. And he manages to work a deal so the funeral won’t cost her much. Of course, he works that deal by essentially threatening the undertaker with licensing problems. It’s a perfect example of such a mayor – he could use his considerable wealth to pay for the funeral, but he would rather use his political power to badger someone he doesn’t particularly care for.
Ford does a good job with this because he doesn’t frame things either in favor of or against Skeffington. He allows Tracy’s charm to shine through in the performance. Jeffrey Hunter is also quite solid as the nephew along for the ride and they are both surrounded by a number of Ford regulars that keep things interesting no matter what’s going on. The Last Hurrah is a nice study in the way political games are played and the way political campaigns used to be run and it’s a very good film that has been too long over-looked.
The Last Hurrah by Edwin O’Connor (1956)
If the film The Last Hurrah is over-looked and under-appreciated in spite of its quality, what can be said about the original novel that was its source? I listed it among my Top 200 Novels of All-Time, yet apparently today it has just come back into print. It is one of the best novels set in Boston and is almost certainly the best novel about Boston, even if the city is never once mentioned in the book.
The book is about Frank Seffington, the long-time mayor of the city (it’s only ever referred to as “the city”). The city itself vividly comes to life in O’Connor’s prose: “It was from this man’s unskilled and laboriously drawn plans that the present City Hall had arisen, and for generations it had been decried as the prime eyesore of the community. Despite this, the building had its defenders, and intermittent suggestions that it be razed had met with howls of protest from those who had worked long within it and who, with a certain rude poetic vision, saw in this inefficient, tangled warren the perfect symbol for municipal administration.” Oh boy, is it ever, especially in the Skeffington administration. He runs an old boy network, the kind of thing that is dying out. He talks in the book about his last hurrah, about how the world has changed and he rightly places those changes at the feet of FDR. It was FDR who pulled a lot of patronage jobs away from the state and local levels and turned them into federal positions. But Skeffington still manages to give back to the people (even when he is skimming off the top) and they love him for it.
As I said above, if this sounds familiar, then maybe you live in Boston. No, this isn’t a dig at Marty (though his administration certainly seems to be a tit for tat group) or even Mumbles Menino who spent 20 years as mayor of a city that gladly kept electing him no matter how little he got done (to be fair to Menino, he had many flaws but corruption and skimming off the top wasn’t one). No, this novel is a thinly veiled portrait of James Michael Curley, a mayor who was worshipped by the people he served in spite of the fact that he was a crook. Now, that’s not hyperbole. He was a convicted criminal and in spite of that, was elected alderman while in jail and won re-election to the mayor’s office while under indictment for mail fraud (which he would be convicted of and serve his sentence while mayor). It was the Boston mentality that it was okay that Curley was a crook because he was a crook that served the people. Never mind that he was hardly a Robin Hood, stealing from the rich to give to the poor. Yes, he gave people jobs and attention, but let’s be fair – he was stealing from the rich to give to himself.
O’Connor does a masterful job of portraying this politician, of eliciting our sympathy but also making clear precisely what kind of man he is. It’s a complicated portrait of a complicated man, one who absolutely believes he has done the right thing, rising from his death bed to proclaim that he would do it the same all over again if he had the chance. It’s an under-appreciated novel that should definitely still be in print and if you get the chance, find it at a library or a used bookstore.
In an added little benefit, when Curley was finally voted out of office in 1949 (in favor of his deputy mayor, who had left certain things aside for Curley until Curley was released from prison knowing Curley wanted that, then had to listen to Curley complain about how the deputy mayor didn’t do anything while in charge so the deputy ran against him out of spite and won – the concept was altered for the novel but there were aspects of that race that informed this novel), the best thing was that the fifth place finisher was a Progressive Party candidate named Walter O’Brien who couldn’t afford radio advertisements so he hired folk singers to sing a campaign song; that song is “Charlie on the M.T.A.” and while O’Brien is pretty much forgotten, the song lives on forever, as thousands of people swipe their CharlieCards every day.
“Coyly set in ‘A New England City’ (a slightly transparent legal disclaimer), the film goes even further than the book in presenting Skeffington as an urban Robin Hood. Curley’s popularity was based on forcing the Yankees to subsidize extensive public works programs for the benefit of the working class. The film dramatizes this strategy while taking pains to exonerate the mayor from involvement in the system of kickbacks and patronage that Curley was also well known for practicing.” (Searching for John Ford, Joseph McBride, p 588)
That is definitely true – the Skeffington of the film gets a bit more sympathy than the Skeffington of the novel. There are also some other minor changes that compress some things (like Ditto knowing about the main candidate they will face). But this is a first-rate adaptation, taking most of the action and the dialogue straight from the book and making a very good book into a very good film.
Directed and Produced by John Ford. Screen Play by Frank Nugent. Based Upon the Novel by Edwin O’Connor.
There are two different ways of looking at Gregory Peck. There is the more traditional, popular way of looking at him, as the solid film star, the hero as Atticus Finch, the good man throughout so many films, in some ways similar to the roles that Tom Hanks would later play after he turned from comedy to drama. But there is the other way of thinking of him, the less kind way that many serious students of film think of him. He was the man who wasn’t that complex, who didn’t have enough depth in him for the Hitchcock roles, who was so wrong as Ahab, who was just a surface character. Neither of these views really appreciate what he brought to some of his performances, most notably the few that were directed by Henry King.
The irony is that Henry King wasn’t that much of a director to begin with. He had seven films nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars but was only nominated for Best Director twice. And it was none of those that are among his best films, the two Westerns he made with Gregory Peck: The Gunfighter and The Bravados (after directing Peck to an Oscar nomination in 12 O’Clock High). Here, both the direction and the acting is solid because the script is so solid. Peck plays a man who is chasing down the men who raped and killed his wife. They have been imprisoned for a separate crime, but when they escape, he heads out after them. He is relentless in his quest for vengeance and it’s not something you would ever think to see from Peck.
What makes this film so good is a twist it takes towards the end. We’ve been following Peck in his quest and we know what happened to his wife. But when Peck finally catches up to the last of the men we learn some things at the same time that Peck does and it changes everything. It’s there that Peck really gives his best performance in the film, forced to react to what he is learning and how that changes how he has been living his life. The scene is handled well and it brings the film to a conclusion that makes this so much more interesting than most Westerns. And yet, somehow, this film hasn’t really earned the reputation that other classic Westerns have. That’s a shame because this really is a very good film, a high-level ***.5 film and one of my Top 10 for the year and among the Top 30 Westerns of all-time. In fact, though we are reaching the end of the classic Western era, there are only nine Westerns that came before this one that I rank higher (chronologically, they are Stagecoach, The Ox-Bow Incident, Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Red River, The Gunfighter, Winchester 73, High Noon, The Searchers and The Tin Star).
The Bravados by Frank O’Rourke (1957)
This novel has turned out to be more difficult to find than I would have imagined. O’Rourke was a popular writer for a while and he made his name with Westerns (another of his novels will come up in 1966, made into The Professionals, but that one my local library system has). This was the first of his novels to be made into a film.
Of course, I am unable to compare the film to the original source novel.
Directed by Henry King. Screenplay by Philip Yordan. Based on the Novel by Frank O’Rourke.
This film is more widely known in the States, of course, as Horror of Dracula. But, in the same spirit that I list Foreign films under their original title (and books under their original titles in the original languages), I use the original British title of the film (and that’s a British poster on the right). I have actually reviewed this film twice already. The first time was as one of the numerous films reviewed in my Top 100 Novels post about the novel (see below). The second time was part of my For Love of Film piece on Hammer Horror, one of the great all-time fun film series. More recently, this film has also appeared in my Top 100 Favorite Films. In short, I love to watch the film and I love to read the book, so I keep returning to both. If you have never seen it, then you need to.
Dracula by Bram Stoker (1897)
Ah, Dracula. It pops up so much in the blog that I gave it its own tag. There’s a good reason for that. If you look at that list of my 100 Favorite Films you will see three different film versions on it. It was also one of the very few books to appear both on my list of favorite books and on my Top 100, which means that it’s not only a great novel but that I also love to read it over and over again. Hell, I even read it again for this piece even though I clearly didn’t need to, since I had already written everything I needed to write.
I actually gave this extensive consideration in both reviews of the film, so you can check there for detailed differences.
The alterations which Sangster wrings from the material are primarily ones of detail and emphasis, as much a product of the time of the film’s creation as they are a reevaluation of the myth of the vampire. If Dracula is flawed, it is in its Curse-like rush to a climax (the Count reveals himself to Van Helsing at the appropriate moment and the chase is on) and in the illogicalities that some of these changes were to produce: Harker is aware of the Count’s vampire nature from the start, yet he barely pauses to consider if the same might not be true of the woman in his castle! But it was Sangster’s background in production that ultimately was to bring about one of the most striking attributes of Hammer Horror.
“I do budgets and I knew what a picture cost,” Sangster explains, “so when I’d finished the script, I knew what it would cost to within the nearest penny.” In Dracula’s case, the nearest penny was £82,000, and it had been achieved by compressing the geography of the tale. Castle Dracula is on the outskirts of Klausenburg, a coach ride away from Carlstaat and the home of the Holmwoods. Yet they have never heard of him, and their typically English-Victorian world does not appear to be in any way affected by the fact that it has been transplanted in Bavaria! (A History of Horrors: The Rise and Fall of the House of Hammer, Revised Edition, by Denis Meikle with Christopher T. Koetting, p 53)
Directed by Terence Fisher. Screenplay by Jimmy Sangster. Based on the novel by Bram Stoker.
I have reviewed this film once already. It is a good film and at times it seems to even rise to the level of very good, namely because of the first-rate supporting performances from Maria Schell and Lee J. Cobb. Even the presence of William Shatner as Alyosha isn’t able to sink the film, although the ending does get a bit ridiculous.
Бра́тья Карама́зовы by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1880)
I have already reviewed this book because, of course, it is my #2 novel of all-time. I first read it when I was in college. It is one of my primary examples of countering that a novel can be long and still be the exactly correct length. I would not lose a word of this. I have read it several times, both the original Constance Garnett translation and the Pevear / Volokhonsky translation.
As I mentioned in the original review, the film actually does a fairly good job for most of the way of sticking to the story, even getting in some of the philosophical ideas, either coming from Alexei or Alyosha. But in the end, the film goes in a completely different direction, tacking on a happy ending that has nothing to do with where the novel goes at the end. It’s like the filmmakers wanted to have the spirit of the novel’s ending (between Alyosha and the boys) without going through the pain of the tragedy that precedes that ending. It doesn’t completely betray the spirit of the novel but it does come pretty close.
Screen Play and Direction by Richard Brooks. Adaptation by Julius J. and Philip G. Epstein. From the Novel by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. In Its English Translation by Constance Garnett.
Consensus Nominees That Don’t Make My Top 10
I have already reviewed Gigi, of course, since it won Best Picture. I was hardly kind in the review. Lerner and Loewe, outside of My Fair Lady, have never really been to my taste. So I am stuck with a musical in which, with one exception (“I Remember It Well”, which is quite funny and droll) I don’t like the songs at all. It is hard to overcome that, and that could be a matter of taste. But I don’t find the film to be that well-directed, acted (except for Gingold and Chevalier) or written. It falls flat for me, aside from the distasteful aspects of the plot (the child expected to grow into a courtesan) or the creepiness of Chevalier’s opening number. To me, it ranks as one of the weakest Best Picture winners in Oscar history, certainly the weakest winner between 1952 and 1995.
Gigi by Colette (1944, tr. 1953)
If Colette’s original story brings the idea to life with some wit and charm (if still a bit disquieting), that says something about the way that Colette wrote it, as well as the fact that she was able to write it how she wanted to, and not have to worry about something like the Production Code interfering with what she was trying to say. And, in some ways, the film lives up to the book, because a paragraph like “Lachaille twirled the tips of his moustache between two fingers, and for a moment looked away from a pair of darkened blue eyes, a pink cheek with a single freckle, curved lashes, a mouth unaware of its power, a heavy mass of ash-gold hair, and a neck as straight as a column, strong, hardly feminine, all of a piece, innocent of jewelry.” could be matched by the sumptuous costumes and art direction in the film. But there is still the story – the young girl who is groomed to be a courtesan, but when she falls in love with the man she is supposed to be with, wants to marry instead, and indeed gets that happy ending when he finally agrees to marry her – and it makes me a bit queazy. Ah, the French.
“Wherever there was any doubt, we would revert to the original. The only character not in the book was Honoré Lachaille, the part Maurice Chevalier was to play. Since Colette had introduced him as an actual character in the French picture she worked on, we could say his living embodiment was also based on Colette. Gigi’s mother, who seemed so tiresome to me in the Broadway production, would be treated as an off-stage voice.” (I Remember It Well by Vincente Minnelli (with Victor Arce), p 306)
“[Lerner] demanded that the part of Gaston’s uncle, Honoré Lachaille, be built up and that every effort be made to cast Maurice Chevalier.” (Vincente Minnelli: Hollywood’s Darkest Dreamer by Emanuel Levy, p 297)
Yes, the presence of Chevalier’s character certainly is a change from the original, although, as Minnelli points out, it’s a change that sticks to the spirit of the original and to something Colette herself had added. It’s probably a good idea to dump the mother as well. In fact, given the dumping of the mother and the adding of the Chevalier part, it’s hard to see how I could tolerate the original Broadway production since those are both improvements. Perhaps though, I would have been fine with it, because it would have lacked the songs, and those are what really makes the film just drag on the screen and make me want to shut it off. I have felt that way all three times I have seen the film.
Directed by Vincente Minnelli. Screen Play and Lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner. Based on the novel by Colette.
The IMDb lists uncredited writing from Niven Busch.
Danny Kaye was a talented light entertainer for a long time. He would occasionally get some notice for his comedic work, but there was very little dramatic work. So this was the perfect thing to get him some real notice – a dramatic role in a film that is overall structured as a comedy, but with a deeper, darker tone to it. He plays a Polish Jew who has been moving from country to country, just ahead of the Nazis. From Poland to Germany to Vienna to Prague, and finally to Paris, he has been just ahead of the spectre of death. Now there is a chance that he can catch a submarine that will get him off the continent. The problem is that the person who knows where that submarine is going to be and who also needs to get it because he is carrying classified information, is a Polish officer who also happens to be an anti-Semite.
This is the situation that we have. The overall situation is a comedy – two men who are ill-suited to be travelling companions who are forced to flee in each other’s company and, in the end, trust each other with their lives. There will even be a woman for them to fight over. But there is something much more serious hanging over them and that gives the film a more serious tone that the film never really quite manages to live up to. It’s a solid enough film, namely because Kaye is well-suited for the role; he can play the comic moments with ease and he does a more than serviceable job with the more dramatic moments. In the end, though, it lacks a bit of seriousness perhaps because we know how it’s going to end – it doesn’t have enough dramatic heft to have anything other than a form of happy ending. So, it’s a solid film, a mid-range ***, but nothing more than that.
Jacobowsky and the Colonel: Comedy of a Tragedy in Three Acts by Franz Werfel (1944)
Like the film, this is a comedy in its overall structure, but it has a more serious tone lurking in the background. It doesn’t really have the measure of darkness and danger that the film would have because of the changes (see below) and I’m honestly a little surprised that it was as successful as it must have been, if it actually was a hit in Germany and then was translated and was re-done as a play for the American stage.
Now, there’s a tricky thing here. The book that I was able to read was “Franz Werfel’s original, as distinguished from the version now appearing on Broadway”, although it was translated from German. Which makes me wonder why they bothered to translate the original rather than simply publish the American version of the play (although they might have also done that). But what it means is that the changes to the play, and there are lots (the whole serious pursuit of Jacobowsky and the Colonel, including the capture of them, the charade, and the chase to conclude the film aren’t in the original play) might have been done, at least in part, for the American version of the play. I can tell you that none of those were in the original play, and it focused far more on the relationships between the three main characters rather than the more movie-like tropes that appear in the film.
Directed by Peter Glenville. Screen Play by S. N. Buchman, George Froeschel. From the Original Play “Jacobowsky and the Colonel” by Franz Werfel. American Play by S. N. Behrman. Produced upon the stage by Theatre Guild in assocation with Jack Skirball.
Every now and then I used to come across a film and wonder what the hell the Academy was thinking. I mean, it still happens, but now it’s happening in the present tense. I go back to certain films, films like The Bad Seed and I Want to Live! and I don’t just see films that shouldn’t have nominated for Oscars, but genuinely badly made films.
This film won an Oscar for Susan Hayward for a performance in which she mostly yells or struts about. She’s a hard-luck case, a perpetual convict who has lead a hard life and ends up involved with a couple of men who murdered an elderly woman (see below for the more accurate details). That leads us into the rest of the film – her time in jail and her trial, followed by the wait for death.
The dialogue is stilted, the film asks us to believe things that are ridiculous, even though they claim it’s based on fact (like the idea that she could be convicted of a capital crime based on entrapment), it’s not edited very well, the direction is spotty and the overwhelming jazz score just made me want to watch the film on mute. Even the scene that’s supposed to be serious, with the cops making announcements for them to surrender, just sounded like the Woody Allen routine about the public library demanding their books back.
As I said, Hayward won the Oscar for this film. It was the fifth time she had been nominated and I imagine there was a large group who thought it was about time that she won. They could, of course, have gone for the best performance of the year and given the Oscar to Elizabeth Taylor, but passing her over here just meant they could give her the Oscar two years later when she didn’t deserve it (and had almost died before the ceremony).
newspaper articles by Ed Montgomery and the letters of Barbara Graham
Those are the sources listed in the credits. There is a disclaimer at the beginning of the film that says “You are about to see a FACTUAL STORY. It is based on articles I wrote, other newspaper and magazine articles, court records, legal and private correspondence, investigative reports, personal interviews – and the letters of Barbara Graham. Edward S. Montgomery. Pulitzer Prize Winner. San Francisco Examiner.” I haven’t been able to read the original Montgomery piece, but see below for more.
I can’t compare the original Montgomery pieces to the film but there is something to be aware of, which is that Montgomery was not a reporter at the trial and while the film may claim to follow court records, it is clear from this article that Montgomery’s disclaimer is extremely misleading. It is a tricky thing for me because I am firmly opposed to the death penalty and the article makes clear that the numerous delays at the end of the film are entirely accurate and that makes it even more cruel. But that doesn’t change that this film does not follow accurately the way that the disclaimer claims that it does. The film would have you believe that Barbara Graham wasn’t even at the scene of the crime while it would seem the preponderance of evidence is that she in fact killed the woman.
directed by Robert Wise. Screenplay by Nelson Gidding and Don M. Mankiewicz. based on newspaper articles by Ed Montgomery. and the letters of Barbara Graham.
The other WGA Nominees
I have reviewed this film once already. It’s one of those films that I wish was better than it was. It has Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Orson Welles, a smoldering Lee Remick and it adapts Faulkner and I still have it at the very high end of **.5. It reminds me of the 1935 A Midsummer Night’s Dream which I always want to remember as better than it actually is.
I have also reviewed this novel once already, although the novel that I reviewed was Snopes as a whole, which covers three novels (The Hamlet / The Town / The Mansion) and this film only covers one of the four parts that make up The Hamlet. And, actually, it doesn’t even really do that, but I will discuss that more in the Adaptation section below. It also makes use of the story “Barn Burning”, almost certainly the most famous story that Faulkner ever wrote and definitely one of the best. If you haven’t read it and you grew up in the States, I feel sorry for you because your English teachers didn’t do right by you.
As you can see from the image on the right, Signet published a movie cover copy of the book (as they also did that same year with Pylon and would do the next year with The Sound and the Fury– for more of the same, go here and scroll down to the Movie Covers section). The problem is that for this book, they printed “The Long Summer”, the third section from The Hamlet that gives the book the title (sort of). But, if you were to see the film and then buy the book, you would have been disappointed, or at least confused. That’s because very little of the film actually comes from this book, in spite of the title. The beginning of the book (and a bit of the end) is inspired by what happens in “Barn Burning”. A good chunk of it comes from the first part of The Hamlet, which various places (including Wikipedia and the IMDb) list as coming from “Spotted Horses”, but since “Spotted Horses” (published originally in 1931) was incorporated into the first part of The Hamlet, that seems an odd thing to distinguish. Other aspects of the story come from other parts of the book, including the way that Ben Quick starts wearing the bow-tie and rises from a share-cropper to the clerk to marrying the daughter of Will Varner. But the film is a hodge-podge of all that. Ben Quick is the name of a minor character in the story but in the film he takes aspects of Ab Snopes (the barn burner), Mink Snopes (the story about the hog) and mostly Flem Snopes (bringing in the horses, the bow-tie, marrying the daughter) although the daughter that he marries didn’t exist in the original book.
Directed by Martin Ritt. Screenplay by Irving Ravetch and Harriet Frank, Jr. Directed by Martin Ritt. The only source credit is “William Faulkner’s The Long, Hot Summer” on the title card. That gets around the specifics of which source this is derived from.
Cary Grant pushed off making a decision on whether to star in this film. He agreed to do it for director Stanley Donen (whom he worked with several times late in his career) but only if Donen could get Ingrid Bergman to do it. Donen was convinced he would never be able to sign Bergman, but in the end he did, and so the film was made. This is obviously designed to make you think of Notorious, the other Grant-Bergman pairing. The problem is that this isn’t Notorious and Donen isn’t Hitchcock. The film mostly works because the pairing works (and because Cecil Parker and Phyllis Calvert are entertaining in the supporting roles) but it doesn’t have the same feeling.
The basic premise of the film is this: Ingrid Bergman is a famous actress who meets Cary Grant, a man the U.N. is trying to convince to take a job with them (through Parker, who is married to Calvert, who is Bergman’s sister – nothing is made of the fact that Calvert and Bergman sound like they’re from different countries and that Grant, clearly English, is supposedly from San Francisco). They are instantly attracted to each other because they supposedly find the other one interesting, although, it’s really because they’re Cray Grant and Ingrid Bergman. They’re beautiful people who are naturally attracted to each other. Grant, however, doesn’t ever want to be married. So, to keep women from pressing him on marriage, he tells them that he’s already married and that he can’t get a divorce.
That, that really is just an astoundingly stupid idea. The character seems to really believe that this is a better plan than telling them he doesn’t want to be married because he believes that any woman who hears that will just try to win him over to being married (which, in fact, of course, is what actually happens – he is won over by the idea of being married to her and anyone who doesn’t see that coming within a few minutes of the start of the film is deluding themselves). So, you can just enjoy the pairing and you can enjoy the slow revenge that Bergman tries on him when she learns that he really isn’t married and you can enjoy the supporting performances and try to overcome what is a completely absurd idea that couldn’t be dropped because the entire film hinges on the notion.
Kind Sir by Norman Krasna (1953)
I have not been able to get hold of the original play to read it. The reason I haven’t been able to find the original is because it was such a notable Broadway flop. It starred Charles Boyer and Mary Martin, but director Joshua Logan was in the midst of a breakdown and it completely bombed on stage. But Stanley Donen liked it (“‘I told Norman his story about this guy who lies was an absolute knockout of a plot,’ said Donen, who was in turn informed by the playwright, ‘Well it’s deader than a doornail in Hollywood. I’ve tried everywhere and nobody will touch it. If you want it, it’s yours.'” (Dancing on the Ceiling: Stanley Donen and His Moves by Stephen M. Silverman, p 267)) and so got Krasna to rewrite parts of it and turn it into a script.
“Despite the stage-bound nature of Krasna’s script, which a bemused Joshua Logan found to differ from the stage version by only a few altered lines,” is what Stephen M. Silverman has to say on page 272 of Dancing on the Ceiling: Stanley Donen and His Moves. So, there’s apparently not much difference between the original play and the film, although the film was a big success while the play was not.
produced and directed by Stanley Donen. screenplay by Norman Krasna. from his play “Kind Sir”.
Do you possibly expect me to give a shit about these people? I know that this film was a financial success, that there are people who really enjoy watching this kind of thing, but I will remind you that there are also people who are obsessed with the royals and with celebrity marriages and I think they’re the same kind of people. It’s bad enough in a Henry James novel to have to try to care about the people, but this is just insipid.
Here’s the deal: Rex Harrison plays the father of a seventeen year old girl who is about to be presented (apparently debutantes used to be presented to the Queen, which isn’t something I knew, but also isn’t something I would have cared about even if I knew). She’s played by Sandra Dee and gives about the performance you would expect from Sandra Dee. She’s supposed to go for one rich young David but instead falls for the other David, the one who plays drums and supposedly is a bit of cad (though that’s just a misunderstanding). In the end, she will fall in love with him and they will end up together and he’ll get some sort of Italian title and so the parents (actually, father and stepmother, with the stepmother played by Harrison’s real life wife Kay Kendall in one of her final film roles before her early death of leukemia). It’s the kind of happy ending you would expect from something so dumb. Really, the one thing that redeems the film at all is that the stepmother’s nosy friend, who tries to sabotage the whole thing, is played by Angela Lansbury and she at least provides a little bit of wit to lighten things up. Other than that, it’s just a lot of people I can’t possibly care about and their ridiculous troubles that are just boring and annoying. The costumes and sets look good and Vincente Minnelli does a solid job of directing, but really, you can’t expect me to care.
The Reluctant Debutante by William Douglas Home (1955)
It’s not that this is badly written. It’s that it’s a drawing room comedy (technically, according to the stage directions, it’s the sitting room) about rich, spoiled people whose lives I can’t possibly be expected to care about. Yes, it does poke some fun at them, but really it’s trying to draw in an audience that cares about these type of people and the lives they lead rather than those who would mock them.
“Pan Berman had sent me a script to read. It was The Reluctant Debutante, an American adaptation of William Douglas Home’s successful London play. The American setting of the screenplay struck me as off kilter. I turned to the original play. It was marvelously British, very uppity, with delicious implications, and very funny. It told of the last group of debutants to be presented to the Queen, before the practice was abolished and a new era of social democracy was ushered in. There were popular elements to the work, and if these could be developed, I informed Pan I’d gladly direct the picture.” (I Remember It Well by Vincente Minnelli (with Victor Arce), p 318)
There is certainly a lot in the film that wasn’t in the original play, as the film really expands things (the play basically takes place in the sitting room while the film makes good use of Minnelli’s talent for making sets look good). But it does keep that British flair that attracted people to the play in the first place and drops that whole ridiculous American idea.
Directed by Vincente Minnelli. Screenplay by William Douglas Home. Based on the Play by William Douglas Home. The IMDb lists Julius J. Epstein as a writer because he wrote that script that Minnelli read and rejected.
There is a completely ridiculous premise at the heart of this film. I’m not talking about the idea that the Devil would appear to a long-suffering Senators fan and offer to turn him into a power hitter so that the Senators could win the pennant; after all, that’s just a film fantasy. I’m also not talking about the idea that the Devil would be rooting against the Yankees, although that idea clearly is ludicrous; if there was ever a major league baseball team that Satan rooted for, it’s the Yankees. I’m talking about the central idea – that this long-suffering fan would take this Faustian bargain to be the power hitter that is all the Senators need to take down the damn Yankees. In 1954, the year the original novel was written, the Senators lost 88 games and finished in 6th place, some 45 games back (although the Yankees didn’t actually win that year; their 103 wins was 8 short of the Indians). That was the best finish the Senators would have through the rest of the decade, which included the 1955 Broadway premiere of the musical and the 1958 release of this film. The Senators had a power hitter; Roy Sievers at the time was one of the best in the game, especially in 1957, the last full season before the release of this film, when he managed to come in third in the MVP voting in spite of playing for a last place team, finishing only behind Mickey Mantle and Ted Williams. The Senators had the worst pitching in the American League in the mid to late 50’s; you could have given them three more power hitters and they still wouldn’t have been able to score enough runs to overcome that pitching.
Putting all of that aside, this film is a bit of a slog to get through, as so many Musicals in this era are. Of course there are people who will disagree with me, who will love these songs and will defend them to the death. But none of the songs move me at all and of the performances in the film, the only one I think that really gives it any life is Ray Walston, and when you find yourself rooting for the Devil, well then, that’s a bad sign.
The premise of the film, as I make clear, is that a long-suffering Senators fan. I would say, were there any other kind, but that suggests that there were Senators fans. While the Senators were not the first team to uproot and move cities, Washington was the first city to lose a franchise entirely (the first five franchises to move were all from cities that had multiple franchises) and they spent over 30 years without a baseball team. Anyway, back to the film. I keep getting distracted because I would rather write about baseball than the film. Anyway, fan gets tempted with Faustian bargain, becomes power hitter, turns Senators into contenders, must turn back at end of season to avoid losing his wife forever. There you go. Oh yeah, and a subplot about how he’s not who he says he is and whether he’ll be able to play in the key game. It’s mostly forgettable, although I am certain that there are people who will talk about Gwen Verdon’s big strip-tease song, the one that is featured so prominently on the poster (and was on the original Broadway posters as well) but even that I don’t find particularly inspiring.
Damn Yankees: A New Musical, book by George Abbott and Douglass Wallop, music and lyrics by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross (1955) / The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant: A Novel by Douglass Wallop (1954)
The original novel was an interesting idea – the merging of the Faust legend with baseball. Because the book was published in 1954 but takes place in 1958, there are a couple of bizarre points to it (at one point, Mickey Mantle seems to have ended up on the Indians and there’s a point where Applegate (The Devil) insists that the Dodgers have to lose the World Series because they have always lost the World Series, the same problem I ran into with my own novel when I made one character in 2005 a long suffering Red Sox fan because I wrote that story in 2000), but it’s mostly just a quick little read that might excite baseball fans (there’s an introduction to the 2004 reprinting by baseball guru Bill James). It’s okay, but not much to get excited over. Yet, clearly some people did get excited and it was turned into a Broadway Musical with, what for me, are extremely forgettable songs. But it was a big hit, there’s no question about it and so a film adaptation was the next obvious move.
I suspect that no one looks for truth in advertising, but that tagline on the poster is either pushing things a bit or making a comment about what “made the show New York’s greatest!” As has often been the case with the musicals that other people care much more about than I do, someone has listed on Wikipedia the various differences between the original stage version and what as put on film and there were definitely some differences.
But, to me, the big difference was not in comparing the stage play to the film, but in comparing the stage play with the original novel. In the film and the play, much is made of Joe wanting to return to his wife. But in the original novel, he’s definitely feeling like he needs a break from his wife and that’s part of why he does it (“So far as he and Bess were concerned, it was true that they had come to the end of something. Not of marriage, necessarily, but of an era.”). I never got that sense in the film, where his love for his wife is part of what holds him back.
Produced and Directed by George Abbott and Stanley Donen. Screenplay by George Abbott. Music and Lyrics by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross. Based upon the play “Damn Yankees”, book by George Abbott and Douglass Wallop. From Douglass Wallop’s novel “The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant”. Music and Lyrics by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross. Produced by Brisson, Griffith and Prince.
“I suspect this is something we disagree on, but if you hear me over at the computer retching it’s because someone is washing that man right out of her hair,” I told Veronica. She assured me that it was, in fact, something we disagreed on. “I think I may even remember the choreography,” she replied, since she was in the musical in high school. I am a big fan of musicals, but Rodgers and Hammerstein aren’t my thing. Most of them have at least one song I really like, but aside from that I can pass on them. This one struggles even to find one song.
Having a musical where you don’t like any of the songs makes it difficult to like the film. But liking a musical and thinking it is good can be separated in my mind. The problem is that I don’t think this musical is all that good either. Part of the problem with it is the leads. There are different ways you can approach the casting of a musical. You can find good actors and get the singing dubbed (enter Marni Nixon). You can find actors and trust them to their singing (Russell Crowe in Les Miserables). Or you can find singers who can really belt out the roles but perhaps struggle with the acting part. Enter Rossano Brazzi and Mitzi Gaynor. Do they do a good job with the songs? Yes. There’s no question that Brazzi belting out “Some Enchanted Evening” wins over a lot of people and though the song and the singing aren’t to my taste, I won’t argue with the talent involved there. But Brazzi and Gaynor completely drop the ball when it comes to acting, and with their romance at the center of the film, it just can’t hold together. You keep wanting to get to the other bits of the film, and the problem is those aren’t all that interesting either.
Aside from that, there is also the problem of the filters. Joshua Logan, best known for directing on stage, though he had done some solid film work (Picnic), wanted to use filters to produce a dream-like effect for some of the most important songs (like “Some Enchanted Evening” and “I’m in Love with a Wonderful Guy”). Unfortunately, the studio used more powerful filters than Logan wanted and there wasn’t enough time in post-production to fix it. So, the big moments of the film just look bizarre and they’re completely distracting. For a film that was already working uphill with the acting, this just was something it couldn’t overcome.
Do people love this film? There are definitely those people who do. But I suspect what they really love is the songs and what this film does is just provide them a way to enjoy those songs. It’s harder to defend the film itself as a work of art.
South Pacific by Rodgers and Hammerstein (1949) / Tales of the South Pacific by James Michener (1948)
Well, in some ways I can’t just blame the film. Some of the blame has to go on the original music. As I mentioned, Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals just don’t work for me. They’re cheezy and they really play up the romance, sometimes even when the romance is just silly. When there is a song that can win me over (think “Oh What a Beautiful Mornin” in Oklahoma), then at least I can enjoy myself for a while. But I don’t think South Pacific works any better on stage than it does on film, though at least if you got the right actors you could do something more with it than the film did.
Michener’s book is rather disappointing. It was a huge success at the time and won the Pulitzer (I gave that win a C) and, with the switch from the Pulitzer being awarded to a Novel to changing it to Fiction, it was the first collection of short stories to win. It could be argued that this is a novel, but it work less as a coherent whole than as a collection of stories that all happen to share a setting. That’s why it was so easy to adapt into the musical, because you didn’t have to worry about the story – you could mix and match with some characters and some of the little bits in various stories without upsetting any larger story.
Most of the musical appears on stage, but like with many musicals, they feel the need to move some songs around, I guess just to make certain that people who saw it on stage don’t get too bored. It’s obvious right from the start, as we kick right in (after an overture and credits and a little opening dialogue) into “Bloody Mary is the Girl I Love”, which was the fourth song on stage. I think some of this was to push back “Some Enchanted Evening”. It was the third song in the musical on stage, coming really early on. But, perhaps partially to allow the romance more time to build, and partially because they knew it was the big hit song and wanted to not use it right away, it’s pushed back until 40 minutes into the film. But that also means, instead of having three songs in between, less than 10 minutes after “Some Enchanted Evening” is over, Nellie is singing “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair”, which seems awfully quick.
Directed by Joshua Logan. Screenplay by Paul Osborn. Adapted from the Play “South Pacific” by Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II and Joshua Logan. Based on “Tales of the South Pacific” by James A. Michener. Originally Produced on the Stage by Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II, Leland Hayward and Joshua Logan.
George Pal was an interesting film-maker. He began with Puppetoons (which are also used in this film), moved on to producing early 50’s Sci-Fi films (three of which won Oscars for Visual Effects) and then moved on to directing with this film. His films are fun and visually interesting. Even this one, which on one level is a typical MGM musical with bland songs comes to life much more with what Pal has to offer.
It’s the traditional fairy tale story of a childless couple who wish to have a child, even if he’s the size of a thumb and are gifted with Tom Thumb, the thumb-sized boy. In this story, his adventures include getting involved with a couple of thieves (played by British comedians Terry-Thomas and Peter Sellers) by accident and then having to help his parents after they are arrested for the crime. But the plot isn’t really the point. Hell, even the songs aren’t really the point. The point is George Pal.
While the special effects in this film might not look like much today, they were quite advanced for 1958 (and won the Oscar while earning a nomination at the Nighthawks), with the tiny Tom acting on the same screen as the full-sized world. And it’s not just Tom – there are dancing puppets, there is a forest queen who disappears and there are people who fly. Pal knew how to make a fantasy world come to life and he would take that to the next level with his next film, an adaptation of The Time Machine. So, you might come looking to this film for the music, but what you really want to do is enjoy the visuals.
“Daumdick” by The Brothers Grimm (1819)
The credits get this kind of right. The story is from the pen of the Brothers Grimm, though, they, of course, got it from another source (an unknown source from a town near Cologne). It is a typical Grimm story, a little fairy tale with some magic and a few adventures. A childless couple prays for a child, even if he was no bigger than their thumb and they are rewarded with Thumbling, their new son. He allows his father to sell him so that he can sneak back home and they can enjoy the money together but has several adventures on his return and eventually his father has to cut him out of the belly of a wolf.
While I often use the Norton Annotated Brothers Grimm for the cover (and the link), this story is not actually in that collection, so I went with the Bantam, which is where I read it for this project. The Bantam version actually has the complete tales in two volumes and I have had my copies now for over 20 years.
This is actually one of those films where they didn’t follow the original story but they kept to the spirit. Tom Thumb is granted to the childless couple by the forest queen, different than the original, but in the same spirit. He ends up helping a couple of criminals by accident (in the original story he helps a thief but only so that the thief will get caught). That, combined with the songs, manages to pad the length of the film to feature length.
Directed by George Pal. Screenplay by Ladislas Fodor. Based on a story from the pen of the Brothers Grimm.
Other Screenplays on My List Outside My Top 10:
- Parash Pathar – Satyajit Ray expands beyond his Apu Trilogy with this Comedy which I have as a high ***.
- Some Came Running – James Jones gets the Rat Pack treatment. Perhaps proof that every film in the late 50’s could have benefited from Shirley MacLaine and Arthur Kennedy.
(in descending order of how good the film is)
- Gervaise – Adapted from the seventh of the Rougon-Macquart novels by Zola (a great novel), this Rene Clement film has a strong performance from Maria Schell. Released in France in 1956.
- Samurai III: Duel at Ganryu Island – The third of the trilogy adapted from the famous novel Musashi. Released in Japan in 1956.
- Lonelyhearts – Nathaniel West’s novel Miss Lonelyhearts had been adapted back in 1933, but this time it’s got Montgomery Clift and an Oscar nominated performance from Maureen Stapleton as well as a really good supporting performance from Robert Ryan.
- The Fly – Based on the short story, this is a highly effective Horror (or Sci-Fi) film that still works today. Not nearly as grotesque as the Cronenberg remake.
- Lovers of Paris – This Julien Duvivier film is adapted from the 10th novel in Zola’s series (which I haven’t read yet). It is a high ***, though it doesn’t have a performance as good as Signoret’s or Schell’s.
- Stage Struck – Sidney Lumet’s second film, which doesn’t have a great reputation. It stars Susan Strasberg and she’s quite good. It’s based on the play Morning Glory which had a 1933 film version that won Katharine Hepburn her first Oscar.
- Law and Disorder – A British Comedy from Charles Crichton (who directed The Lavender Hill Mob) baed on the novel Smugglers’ Circuit.
- A Night to Remember – Based on Walter Lord’s book about the sinking of the Titanic, this film doesn’t have the epic scope and production values of Cameron’s but also doesn’t have his stupid Jack and Rose love story.
- Run Silent, Run Deep – Clark Gable and Burt Lancaster in a submarine during World War II. The first of three straight solid World War II films. Based on the novel.
- A Time to Love and a Time to Die – Because everyone focuses on All Quiet on the Western Front, people forget that Remarque also ended up writing about World War II. This film, a Douglas Sirk film I actually tolerate, is based on his novel.
- The Young Lions – Irwin Shaw’s famous novel is made into a film with Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift and Dean Martin.
- Windom’s Way – A British thriller starring Peter Finch from director Ronald Neame, based on the novel.
- The Good Soldier Svejk: Beg to Report, Sir – In my 1957 post, I mentioned that Svejk had a sequel. The sequel isn’t quite as good as the original, but it does finish adapting the rest of the lengthy novel (which was really only 2/3 completed at the time of the author’s death).
- The Tarnished Angels – Faulkner at the movies twice in one year. As mentioned up above in the The Long Hot Summer review, there is a movie cover version of this book published by Signet. It’s based on Pylon, one of Faulkner’s lesser read novels. The same director and main cast as Written on the Wind, but not as good.
- The Red and the Black – Another great novel getting a film treatment. I watched this specifically for this project, when I noticed that on oscars.org that there was a film adaptation eligible in this year (even though it came out in France in 1954). Solid adaptation of the great Stendhal novel.
- The Captain of Kopenick – This 1956 West German film was based on the play and was a Best Foreign Film nominee at the Oscars.
- Man of the West – Gary Cooper in an Anthony Mann Western based on the novel The Border Jumpers.
- The Confessions of Felix Krull – I don’t like Thomas Mann so I haven’t read the book. But I do like Horst Buccholz so I have seen the film and his performance makes it worth seeing. He comes in #2 in Best Actor – Comedy / Musical at the Nighthawks.
- Bell, Book and Candle – Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak reunite in a romantic comedy. The play was a big hit but the movie is just a mid range ***.
- The Buccaneer – A remake that’s better than the original. Cecil B. DeMille had made the original in 1938 but was too sick to direct this one. Instead, his son-in-law Anthony Quinn, who had played a small role in the first, made this his only film as a director. It’s got an effective Charlton Heston as Andrew Jackson.
- Cowboy – Based on the semi-autobiographical novel My Reminiscences as a Cowboy by Frank Harris, this is the rare Jack Lemmon Western.
- The Proud Rebel – One of the later Alan Ladd films, with him playing a Confederate veteran with a mute son. Based on a 1947 short story.
- Hell Drivers – 1957 British Drama that’s based on a short story by John Kruse.
- Buchanan Rides Alone – One of a number of Budd Boetticher Westerns that I think are over-rated. This one stars Randolph Scott and is based on the novel The Name’s Buchanan.
- Night Ambush – A Powell / Pressburger film that’s not one of their stronger outings. Based on the non-fiction book Ill Met by Moonlight about trying to capture a German general on Crete during World War II.
- The Law and Jake Wade – I could do without any more Robert Taylor films. Based on the novel, this Western is mediocre.
- Home Before Dark – Mediocre Mervyn LeRoy film starring Jean Simmons and based on the novel.
- The Lineup – Film noir from Don Siegel adapted from a radio series that ran from 1950 to 1953.
- A Man Escaped – A 1956 French film from Robert Bresson (who has never been to my taste) adapted from the memoir of a member of the Resistance who was jailed by the Nazis.
- Crazed Fruit – A Japanese Drama adapted from the novel by Shintaro Ishihara. It was controversial on its release in Japan in 1956 and is currently available from Criterion.
- Torpedo Run – Oscar winning (for Visual Effects) World War II film adapted from stories by Richard Sale. One of a number of 1958 films with Glenn Ford.
- Marjorie Morningstar – Natalie Wood transitions into adult roles in this adaptation of Herman Wouk’s novel.
- Tarzan’s Fight for Life – The third film with Gordon Scott in the loincloth and the last produced by Sol Lesser. We’re into low *** by this point. This is actually the last film with Tarzan speaking broken English until 1981.
- King Creole – Michael Curtiz, the great director of Yankee Doodle Dandy and Casablanca makes an Elvis film. It’s based on the novel A Stone for Danny Fisher but like most Elvis films got a title that could have a song.
- From the Earth to the Moon – Mediocre version of the Jules Verne Sci-Fi classic that stars Joseph Cotten.
- The Revenge of Frankenstein – The second of the Hammer Frankenstein films doesn’t have Cristopher Lee and it falls way short of the first one as a result.
- The Lone Ranger and the Lost City of Gold – The second of the two Lone Ranger films made with Clayton Moore after the success of the television show has all the hokiness of the show but it also has that stirring music and that always works.
- Tonka – One of those Disney films that I knew for over 30 years before I actually saw it because of this book series. It’s based on the book Comanche: Story of America’s Most Heroic Horse. When this film came out, Tonka Trucks still weren’t that big, otherwise I think they might have given it a different title.
- The Key – Carl Foreman wrote this British film for Carol Reed, based on the novel Stella by Jan de Hartog. In theory, Foreman was still blacklisted at this time, but Wikipedia, the IMDb, and TCM don’t say anything about that.
- Bitter Victory – It’s directed by Nicholas Ray and has both Richard Burton and Christopher Lee but this film set in World War II North Africa is no better than mediocre. Based on the novel by René Hardy.
- Across the Bridge – Rod Steiger stars in a drama based on a short story by Graham Greene.
- The Tunnel of Love – A romantic comedy with Richard Widmark and Doris Day. Who wouldn’t want to watch that? It’s based on the play, which was a hit on Broadway.
- The Inn of the Sixth Happiness – A year after earning an Oscar nomination for Peyton Place, Mark Robson is again undeservingly nominated for this drama that stars Ingrid Bergman. When I look on TCM every weekend at the upcoming week for films to record so I can rewatch them for this project, I also look at Fox Movie Channel because it’s only two spots down on my cable and during the early part of the day it often plays classics. It plays this movie something like every week and I always have to remind myself it wasn’t nominated for its writing and that I don’t need to see it again. Thankfully I will now be done with 1958 and won’t have to think about it anymore. It’s based on the novel The Small Woman by Alan Burgess.
- Darby’s Rangers – Yet another World War II film (the seventh on this list so far), this one is based on a group of real rangers and based on the book written by one of them. I saw it because director William Wellman is a former Oscar nominee.
- The Old Man and the Sea – This film was what Spencer Tracy earned his Oscar nomination for when it should have been for The Last Hurrah. I actually don’t think the book is among Hemingway’s better work and it’s a bone of contention between my mother and I because she always feels the need to mention that she doesn’t like it and I don’t feel like defending it. I also have to point out that while it’s mentioned in the Nobel commendation for Hemingway, the Nobel Prize is not given for a specific work and that Hemingway earned his Nobel Prize with his early novels and his magnificent short stories.
- Frankenstein–1970 – Now we’ve hit **.5 films. Boris Karloff returns to Frankenstein but as the Baron and not the monster. Apparently it ran on a double bill with Queen of Outer Space, which is reviewed in my Nighthawk Awards as the worst film of the year.
- The Big Country – This is the film that Burl Ives actually won his Oscar for (it should have been for Cat), a mediocre Western from the novel by Donald Hamilton and directed by William Wyler.
- God’s Little Acre – The Erskine Caldwell novel was considered scandalous when it was published in 1933 and even this film was considered a bit scandalous. It was not considered to be very good (but the book isn’t all the good either).
- A Certain Smile – Former Oscar nominee Jean Negulesco directs yet another mediocre film, this one adapted from a novel by Francoise Sagan written when she was just 20.
- Night of the Demon – A British Horror film from a French director based on the M.R. James story “Casting the Runes”.
- Auntie Mame – You can read a full review here because this film, based on the original novel and the hit play by the same playwrights who wrote Inherit the Wind was a Best Picture nominee. It’s lower here than the *** I originally gave it. Rosalind Russell is quite good but the film is not.
- The Quiet American – Joseph L. Mankiewicz made many great films but this isn’t one of them. It’s a Top 100 novel though, so you can go here and read more about the book (which is brilliant) and the film (which is not).
- Fear – Loosely based on a Stefan Zweig novel, this film is one of the ones made while Rossellini and Bergman were still married and he directs and she stars and you shouldn’t bother.
- Onionhead – A year after showing his dramatic chops, Andy Griffith is in a goofy comedy based on the novel by Weldon Hill.
- Ten North Frederick – A lot of the later John O’Hara novels aren’t very good but they were still made into not very good films in this era. It stars Gary Cooper.
- From Hell to Texas – A forgettable Western from classic director Henry Hathaway, adapted from the novel The Hell-Bent Kid.
- A Tale of Two Cities – I gave this film a tepid, not very long review when I wrote about the novel for my Top 100.
- The Naked and the Dead – The book, by Norman Mailer, didn’t make my Top 100 but it is a very good, very well regarded and very popular book. The film is none of those and it was hard to find. You shouldn’t bother finding it.
- China Doll – Yet another film set in World War II but this is one is a romance starring Victor Mature and it’s about as good as that description would lead you to believe. Directed by Frank Borzage, long after he won his Oscars.
- No Time for Sergeants – The second dumb comedy in seven films that star Andy Griffith and that I saw because the director was once nominated for an Oscar (in this case, Mervyn LeRoy). It was originally a best-selling novel by Mac Hyman, then became a teleplay then a Broadway play before this film and in 1964 would even become a television series.
- Desire Under the Elms – Eugene O’Neill died in 1953 so he didn’t have to live to see Sophia Loren butchering one of his best known plays.
- Tarzan and the Trappers – The last of the **.5 films. This was not intended to be a feature film (which is why it’s in black-and-white, not color like the other Tarzan films at this point). It was an intended as three pilot episodes for a new television series (which wasn’t picked up) but then were packaged together for the film.
- Bonjour Tristesse – A fairly bad film from Otto Preminger which has Jean Seberg, which shows that Preminger didn’t learn his lesson after Saint Joan. Like A Certain Smile, it’s based on a novel by Francoise Sagan, but this one was published when she was just 18.
- The Gun Runners – Don Siegel directs a much more faithful adaptation of Hemingway’s To Have and Have Not than the Hawks film but, with Audie Murphy in the lead, it’s also much, much, much worse. This is a mid-range ** film.
- Rock-a-bye Baby – Now we’re into low-range ** films. A crappy Jerry Lewis remake of the brilliant The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek.
- Fiend Without a Face – A low budget British Horror film based on a story that originally appeared in Weird Tales (of Conan fame, among other things).
- The Left Handed Gun – Not the worst film of the year by far (this is #132 of 144) as most of the worst films are original. Not even the worst film from an adapted screenplay as I Want to Live! ranks at #136 but that was up above because of its Oscar and WGA noms. But it is the worst film on this list. It’s an Arthur Penn film with Paul Newman as Billy the Kid, based on a Gore Vidal teleplay. It was a huge flop in the States but it actually helped Penn’s reputation in Europe.
Adaptations of Notable Works I Haven’t Seen: