Karin: Hush, hush! The actor is tuning up his lute. The Grave Gentleman bids us dance. He wants us to take each other’s hands and form a chain. He himself will lead us, and the actor will bring up the rear. Away from the dawn we shall go with measured tread, away to the dark lands while the rain caresses our faces. (tr. Randolph Goodman and Leif Sjoberg)

My Top 10:

  1. The Seventh Seal
  2. Some Like It Hot
  3. The Diary of Anne Frank
  4. Anatomy of a Murder
  5. Ordet
  6. Compulsion
  7. Pather Panchali
  8. Sleeping Beauty
  9. Tiger Bay
  10. Aparajito

Note:  There are 16 films on my list.  Two of them are listed below, as they were Consensus nominees (Ben Hur – #11, Room at the Top – #14).  The other four are all the way down at the bottom.

Consensus Nominees:

  1. Anatomy of a Murder  (160 pts)
  2. Some Like It Hot  (120 pts)
  3. The Diary of Anne Frank  (80 pts)
  4. Room at the Top  (80 pts)
  5. Ben Hur  (80 pts)
  6. The Nun’s Story  (80 pts)

Oscar Nominees  (Best Screenplay – Adapted):

  • Room at the Top
  • Anatomy of a Murder
  • Ben Hur
  • The Nun’s Story
  • Some Like It Hot

WGA Awards:

Drama:

  • The Diary of Anne Frank
  • Anatomy of a Murder
  • Ben Hur
  • Compulsion
  • The Nun’s Story

Comedy:

  • Some Like It Hot
  • A Hole in the Head

Nominees that are Original:  North by Northwest, Operation Petticoat, Pillow Talk

Musical:

  • Li’l Abner
  • Never Steal Anything Small
  • Porgy and Bess

Nominees that are Original:  The Five Pennies, A Private’s Affair, Say One for Me

New York Film Critics Award (Best Screenplay):

  • Anatomy of a Murder

note:  The first year of the New York Film Critics Award for Best Screenplay.  It would be awarded again in 1960, 1961, 1963 and 1964 before becoming a regular event starting in 1966, but they only give out one award and do not distinguish between original and adapted.  Through 2016, only 21 times has it been awarded to a screenplay that has been adapted.  In the first 30 years, it would only go to an adapted screenplay seven times, but since 1989, it has been, on average, every other year.

My Top 10

Det sjunde inseglet  (The Seventh Seal)

The Film:

This is, without a doubt, one of the greatest films ever made.  It is the film that makes the argument that Bergman’s writing was worthy of the Nobel Prize.  He was already a distinguished filmmaker before this film (most notably for Sawdust and Tinsel and Smiles of a Summer Night) but this film made him an international sensation and established him as the deep thinker of filmmakers.  Please note that in my review, written two years ago, I commented on how the Academy kept refusing to open up the idea of what literature is and that I noted that Bob Dylan had been considered numerous times for the prize but never had it awarded to him.

The Source:

Tramalning by Ingmar Bergman  (1953)

This play was originally written as a short one-act play.  It was translated into English just once, in 1960, for a journal article and it only ran 14 pages.  While the play (which translates as Wood Painting) was inspired by the painting that inspired the film of a Knight playing chess with Death, Death itself is not listed as a character in the play, although we do have some of the main characters (the Knight, his squire, the Knight’s wife, the Witch).  Death himself is described as the Grave Gentleman, but does not actually appear on stage.  The play itself (which can be read in the book Focus on The Seventh Seal, ed. Birgitta Steene) deals with just a few of the things dealt with in the play (meeting the witch, the affair between the actor and the smith’s wife and the final confrontation with Death) and was much expanded for the film.

The Adaptation:

The film was obviously a large-scale expansion upon the original short play, which was actually written as an exercise because Bergman wanted a really short play to show off the talents of his acting studio.  What began as a short little morality play expanded into one of the great religious and philosophical treatises ever placed on film and one of the greatest films ever made, one which helped turn Bergman into an internationally renowned director.

The Credits:

Un film av Ingmar Bergman.  These are the only credits for writing or directing.

Some Like It Hot

The Film:

I have already reviewed the film.  And really, is this a film that needs a review?  Have you never seen it?  If not, then what the hell is wrong with you?  Go see it right now.

The Source:

Fanfare d’amour, written by Michael Logan and Robert Thoeren  (1935)

This is a 1935 French film. That’s about all I can tell you about it. It’s not available on DVD or on video, no library has a copy and it’s not on the web. It doesn’t have a single external review on the IMDb, only has 7 votes and only one user review (someone who saw it back in the 50’s).

“The genesis of the idea [for Some Like It Hot] was a very low-budget, very third-class German picture [Fanfares of Love, 1932] where two guys who need a job go into blackface to get into a band . . . they also dress up to go into a female band. But there was not one other thing that came from this terrible picture … But that German film was absolutely terrible, absolutely terrible. Deliriously bad.” (Conversations with Wilder by Cameron Crowe, p 160-161).

Now, this is confusing. The Crowe book lists the film as 1932 while the IMDb lists it as 1935. But Wilder (and the Taschen book listed below) list the German film, which was made in 1951 and is a remake of the original French film. The script only credits Thoeren and Logan with a suggested story credit, and they wrote the original and the remake was based on the original film. So who knows which film precisely Wilder was thinking of.

The Adaptation:

The big Taschen book Billy Wilder’s Some Like It Hot: The Funniest Film Ever Made: The Complete Book has this to say on page 17: “They began only with a premise borrowed from an old German film called Fanfaren der Liebe. In the original film, a couple of down-on-their-luck musicians use a number of disguises to get work. Only the film’s last sequence, where the men dress up as women to work in all-girls band, caught their attention. The picture came together when Wilder and Diamond came up with the time and location for the film – the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, Chicago, 1929.”

The Credits:

Produced and Directed by Billy Wilder. Screenplay by Billy Wilder and I. A. L. Diamond. Suggested by a story by R. Thoeren and M. Logan.

The Diary of Anne Frank

The Film:

“For ’tis the sport to have the enginer / Hoist with his own petar”  Hamlet, III, iv.  In both my original review of this film (the longest review I have ever written) and in my piece on the novel The Ghost Writer, I wrote about how I would never revisit this film, either on a screen or in print.  Yet, here I am doing both because of a project that I have no one to blame for except myself.  What I wrote in the original piece ended up far more about me than about the film itself.  Nonetheless, it did address the film, its acting, its power and my inability to objectively discuss it.  I suggest checking out that review because I poured as much into it as I have any non-fiction piece I have ever written, especially the last paragraph.

The Source:

The Diary of Anne Frank dramatized by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett  (1954 / 1956)  /  Het Achterhuis by Anne Frank  (1947)

Most of what I wrote in the original review dealt, not with the film and its effects on me, but what reading the original book did to me.  Indeed, long before I had ever seen the film, the very knowledge of Anne, reading her words and knowing the unbearable weight of history that accompanied it had done their work.  I had gone from a not particularly believing kid ostensibly raised as a Society of Friends member to an atheist who had fallen, irrevocably in love with a girl who had died almost 30 years before I was even born.

Though the book itself altered my life, I had never read the play itself before doing this project.  The play was a massive critical success, winning the Pulitzer and was later revived in 1997 with Natalie Portman.  The play had done the hard work already, adapting the diary into a workable story (see below).

The Adaptation:

“When the Hacketts (Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich) submitted their first draft of the screenplay, I was surprised to see that they had taken the camera out of the building. They felt, and perhaps with some merit, that the movie had to have wider scope. In fact, the original idea was to expand the whole story beyond the time covered by the play.” (George Stevens, quoted in George Stevens: Interviews, ed. Paul Cronin, p 15)

In fact, most of what is in the film wasn’t written for the film.  The Hacketts had already done the hard work in writing the play in the first place.  Most of what we see on screen (including that notable kiss that I wrote so much about in my original review) comes from the original play, including the framing device of Otto Frank with the diary.

The Credits:

Produced and Directed by George Stevens.  Screenplay by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett.  From the Play by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett.  Based on the book “Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl”.  Produced on the stage by Kermit Bloomgarden.  Directed on the stage by Garson Kanin.
The IMDb lists uncredited writing from George Stevens.

Anatomy of a Murder

The Film:

This is a film that went up in my estimation when I watched it for the Best Picture project, close to 20 years after having watched it the first time.  It is a first-rate courtroom drama, with phenomenal acting from everyone involved.  It is an interesting drama in that it’s not a question of whether or not the client is guilty, but whether or not the client will be found guilty and how the law works in this case.  It also was a film that really pushed the limits of the Production Code and while Otto Preminger may have had a lot of mixed work in his career, there’s no question that he wasn’t willing to take the Code lying down.  You can find my original review here.

The Source:

Anatomy of a Murder by Robert Traver  (1958)

Traver wrote this novel after actually being the lawyer in a very similar case up in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  The case he writes about in the book (very convincingly, which makes sense, given his legal background) was similar but the main character of Paul Biegler, the defense lawyer, was not.  Traver himself was married, with kids in college when the case happened (as he writes about in the introduction), though he did have some similarities to Biegler (having been a D.A., having run for Congress).

This is a very good legal drama.  It’s not a thriller, because there’s never any question of what happened.  The only question is whether or not Biegler’s excellent work in court will be able to produce a verdict of not guilty.  There are a few suspenseful twists thrown in, though not as many as in the film (see below) and there is a lot more detail to almost all the conversations presaging the trial and the testimony produced during the trial in the book.

The Adaptation:

“In adapting Anatomy of a Murder, Preminger and Mayes followed Voelker’s plot closely and included technical and legal detail in such vast quantities as to ensure for the film an unusually long running time (161 minutes). Perhaps the most significant change to the story involved Mary Pilant, a local woman believed to have been the dead Quill’s mistress. In the novel, Mary tells Biegler that her relationship with Quill was platonic (‘I regarded him as a father’) and that they were drawn together mainly by her attachment to the daughter he had had by his estranged wife. Preminger and Mayes make Mary the illegitimate daughter of Quill, a change that draws Anatomy further into Preminger’s thematic orbit, making Mary another of Preminger’s daughter figures.” (The World and Its Double: The Life and Work of Otto Preminger. Chris Fujiwara. 2008, p 236)  note: Voelker is the real last name of Robert Traver.

Yeah, Fujiwara hit the nail on the head with that one.  There are a few other minor details that are changed (like I said above, almost all of the conversations and testimony in the book are longer, but that makes sense, given what they had to cut just to get it down to 161 minutes) and a few of the characteristics are different (Manion has a mustache in the book, his wife is beautiful, but in her 40’s in the book) but the big difference between the book and the film is the role of Mary Pilant (and the subsequent elimination of Quill’s ex-wife and daughter who are contesting the will and thus placed in roles of antagonist to Pilant).  Thus, the ending is the same (Pilant is the new client after the Manions skip out without paying) but for slightly different reasons (in the book, Pilant needs to fight off the ex-wife for the bar while in the film she just needs the will gone through probate).

The Credits:

Produced and Directed by Otto Preminger.  Screenplay: Wendell Mayes.  Based on the Novel by Robert Traver.

Ordet

The Film:

Is Ingmar Bergman too much for you?  Is the symbolism, the use of Death as a character, the heavy influence of religion upon the film, too much for you?  If so, then maybe Bergman isn’t for you and Dreyer is almost certainly not for you.

The patriarch of a farm family has three sons.  One is married to a nice woman.  One is in love with the daughter of a local religious sectarian leader.  The third believes himself to be Jesus Christ.  None of this is played for laughs.  It is played, in fact, as serious as they come.  Men hold forth on their beliefs with steadfast seriousness.  A woman is believed to be dead and then seems to come back in life, possibly in response to faith.  We deal with faith, life, death, love, everything that matters in life.

All of this could have been badly handled.  But Dreyer had been planning this film for years and years (as far back as 1933, when he first saw the play performed).  Some of Dreyer’s previous films, most notably Day of Wrath, informed his ideas and plans for this film.  He films this with long shots, but they are not static.  The film is alive in its cinematography, whether its the deluded son out in the fields, making proclamations about how everyone has lost their faith or the shots in the house where it seems like everything is still and quiet but there are deep emotions rumbling just below the surface.

Ordet is not a film for everyone.  Indeed, the first time I saw it, I rated it as a *** film and it was only going back to it a couple of years ago that I realized what a strong film it is, with such a deep script that has much to say about how we live our lives.  One does not have to believe to find something in this film, as should be obvious from my praise of it, but it provides interesting questions that we do not have the answers to and it dares not to fully answer them.

The Source:

Ordet by Kaj Munk  (1925)

I have not been able to get hold of the play.  It is well known in Denmark, as Munk was a popular and much heralded playwright and he was murdered by the Nazis in 1944 and became known as a martyr.

The Adaptation:

Dreyer wrote the film script for Ordet himself and put into practice his own theories about the differences between the film and the stage:

One most constantly keep in mind what Kaj Munk wanted to accomplish with his play and bring that forth in the film. But it must also be remembered that Munk wrote for the theater, and the theater has a different set of rules than film. Scenes and dialogue which are effective on the stage are often deadly dangerous on film. A reevaluation and a simplification must take place. In actuality, in the filming of a play we can talk about a process of purification in which everything which does not pertain to the central idea must be taken away. A condensation and a compression must take place. The dialogue which is put into the film would be only about one-third of the original dialogue of the play. That gives an idea of how thorough the simplification process must be. In a film, a speech that cannot be understood immediately in the same fraction of a section that it is heard from the screen is bad because it holds up the material; the viewer must stop and think about what was said. Therefore, words which are difficult to understand must go. As an example, Kaj Munk uses the expression ‘In the name of Christ, releaser from the grave.’ It would be a great mistake to use a phrase as ‘releaser from the grave’ in a film. In the theater there is always time to think things over, but not in film. While the viewer in the film theater takes the time to decide what Kaj Munk meant by the term ‘releaser from the grave,’ the film has gone on to the next scene without the viewer’s having been able to follow along.”

Om Filmen, Carl Th. Dreyer, p. 91, as quoted in My Only Great Passion: The Life and Films of Carl Th. Dreyer by Jean Drum & Dale D. Drum, p 228

The Credits:

Directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer.  Based on the play by Kaj Munk.  Written by Carl Theodor Dreyer.
note:  Those are all from the IMDb.  The only credit in the film at all is the name Kaj Munk before the title Ordet.  There are no other opening credits and no end credits at all.

Compulsion

The Film:

On the one hand, you might think of Compulsion and wonder what Hitchcock might have done with it.  After all, Hitchcock directed Rope, which, like Compulsion, was a fictionalized version of the Leopold and Loeb murders.  But Rope did a better job of actually building fiction around the concept, even though it was hampered by Hitchcock’s decision to use a gimmick when directing it, using long shots edited together to make the film seem like one shot.  Here, we have a much less fictionalized version of the murders, and though Richard Fleischer gives perhaps the best directorial effort of his career, it still doesn’t have that kind of palpable aura that Hitchcock could have given it.  But then again, given that the last third of the film focuses on the trial and trials were never really Hitchcock’s forte (he did make use of them in films like The Paradine Case and I Confess and your bafflement at those titles just show how those are among Hitch’s weakest efforts).  And it’s really in the last third that this film truly comes to life.

That, of course, is because that’s when Orson Welles arrives on the scene.  He’s playing Clarence Darrow.  Actually he’s playing “Jonathan Wilk”, but he’s really playing Clarence Darrow and he makes him come to life much more than Spencer Tracy will the next year when he also plays a fictionalized version of Clarence Darrow.  But Welles is also a reminder that this film could have been directed by him (he apparently expected it to be offered to him) and that might have pushed it into the level of a classic instead of a high ***.5.

Compulsion is a fascinating film as it dives into the lives of the two young men who have killed a boy just because they feel like they can.  It looks at the way they have felt alienated and they feel superior and figure that they can get away with it.  It works because Dean Stockwell does a solid job of embodying that sense of moral and intellectual superiority.  But then, in the final third, we get to the trial and the film comes to life.  Welles’ performance is a reminder that he is possibly (with the potential exception of Charlie Chaplin) that most talented person to ever come to Hollywood.  When he first walks into the room and the movie, everyone gets quiet.  It’s not just the character, but the presence that Welles brings with him.  He would never again earn an Oscar nomination after Citizen Kane, but this film is a reminder that he was constantly giving award worthy performances.

The Source:

Compulsion: A Novel by Meyer Levin  (1956)

There are bits in both the Introduction to the copy of the novel that I read and the Preface that would seem to indicate the seriousness and quality of the novel, but, in fact, show what I think are the weaknesses of the novel.  In the Introduction, Marcia Clark claims that this was the original non-fiction novel, years before In Cold Blood and The Executioner’s Song.  In the Preface, Levin himself says that by using an actual criminal case, he is following in the footsteps of Stendhal, Doestoevski (his spelling) and Dreiser.  The two points actually work against each other.  If this is a “non-fiction novel”, then why is it fictionalized?  Clark seems to have missed the point that Capote and Mailer wrote books in the literary tradition of a novel but sticking to non-fiction and following the reporter’s eye.  Levin doesn’t do that.  Nor does he follow in the footsteps of great writers like Stendhal (I don’t even know what crime he’s referring to there), Doestoevsky or Dreiser, because they used the crimes as an opening point to write books that delved into psychology.  Levin barely disguises what he’s writing.  It begs the question: why didn’t he just write a non-fiction account of the crime?  When he visited Leopold in jail to ask him for his cooperation on the book, Leopold asked him instead to help him with his memoirs.

I think the use of fiction makes the book weaker.  In the book, his desperate attempts to delve into the psychology of the two young men just falls flat.  The whole novel is just weighted down by what it is attempting to do and Levin just isn’t a good enough writer to handle it.  His need to write the book through the eyes of a newspaperman just shows that he could have approached this as the actual reporter that he was at the time and that the book would have been better off.

The Adaptation:

The film does a solid job of cutting through the morass of Levin’s prose and finding not just the story, but the script at its heart.  Most of the film does come from the novel, though Wilk’s role is definitely polished and made more clear.

The Credits:

Directed by Richard Fleischer.  Screenplay by Richard Murphy.  Based on the Novel by Meyer Levin.

Pather Panchali

The Film:

What if Jean Renoir had directed Bicycle Thieves?  Or, to modify the question, what if you merged Renoir’s poetic realism with the Italian post-war neorealism?  You would get something like Satyajit Ray, the great Indian director who was inspired both by meeting Renoir while he was in India filming The River and by watching Bicycle Thieves, among other films, while working in London.  Ray would take untrained actors, find actual places, yet bring to them a poetry in their story, a lyricism that would embody something more than just a documentary (though he would later direct several).

This was the first film directed by Ray, an adaptation of most of the famous Bengali novel about a small village and the two siblings who live in it.  It is a tale of poverty and childhood, the way the things can intermix, the way sometimes the latter can overcome the former by finding things that don’t require money, things like the quest for a brief glimpse of a train moving by, of the wonder of technology spreading out to your little village and bringing a new sense of wonder.  It is also a tale of family, of how people struggle to survive and the awful things that sometimes happen (their mother resents having to take care of an elderly, crippled relative while the sister resorts at times to stealing), of what families do to keep themselves going (the father leaves the village to try and earn more money but his absence just causes the family to sink further into poverty).  There are also disasters that happen, the kind of things that mark people forever, like when a sister / daughter dies and a family struggles to overcome that.  It is the kind of thing, of course, that is much more likely to happen when living in brutal poverty and the film does not flinch away from that.

All of these things work together.  Ray has a deft hand with his untrained actors, including the child who plays Apu, the boy in the family, and whose story will travel through this film and two later ones to form one of the most heralded trilogies in all of film history.  Ray both writes and directs, though the film was based less on a screenplay than on Ray’s storyboards, of the visual images that he knew he wanted to see up on the screen.  He was then able to guide some brilliant cinematography and see those images in their stark beauty and despair, all wedded perfectly to the brilliant music of Ravi Shankar.  Shanker was the person involved in the film other than Ray whose international reputation was made by this film.  His brilliant use of the sitar wasn’t like almost anything else the Western world had heard at this time and its influence has travelled down through the ages (indeed, Wes Anderson, rather than be inspired by Shankar, flat out used Shankar’s music in The Darjeeling Limited).  There are few directors who start out their careers with such a vision and fewer still who achieve such success as Ray found with his, yet all of it is earned.

The Source:

Pather Panchali by Bibhutibhushan Banerji  (sr. 1928, pu. 1929)

First a note: I like to present sources in their original language and alphabet, but for some reason, things in Bengali just appear as a bunch of boxes on my computer, so I can’t use the original alphabet.  Now, a second note: I read the most easily accessible English translation of this novel, published in 1968 by Indiana University Press and translated by T. W. Clark and Tarapada Mukherji.  I use the name of the author as it is listed on the book, while below, in the credits, I use the author’s name as it is listed by Criterion in the credits.  Also, Clark and Mukherji use “Opu” as the name of the character instead of Apu, an interesting choice given that they reference the film on the dust jacket (they mention in the introduction that it’s to most closely mimic the pronunciation).

This novel is widely regarded as a Bengali classic.  There are many who actually regard the novel as better than the film, an interesting viewpoint since the film trilogy helped make Ray into one of the most highly regarded directors in the world and the novel itself was not widely translated outside of Bengali until after the films.  But, from what I have read, it is in the original Bengali that this book is so highly regarded.  Honestly, to me, it felt just like any other bildungsroman, a coming of age story of young Opu in his village.  It is well written and I can see why Ray would want to make a film out of the two books (in spite of what you might read on Wikipedia, there are only two books that were made into three films) and it is a good document of what life was like in a village like this but there was nothing in it to me to recommend it as highly as I do the films.

The Adaptation:

“Obviously the trilogy was derived from two novels which I admired immensely. The feeling in the first part of the trilogy, and much of the details, came from the book itself. I think I owe a great deal to the author of the novel . . . My knowledge of the Bengali village came from the book. It was a kind of an encyclopedia.” (Stayajit Ray, quoted in Conversations with the Great Moviemakers of Hollywood’s Golden Age at the American Film Institute, ed. George Stevens, Jr, p 658)

“Even in Pather Panchali, though, I made a number of changes in the order and of course I had to cut down the number of characters throughout.  In the book there are three hundred of them!”  (Satyajit Ray, quoted in Satyajit Ray: Interviews, ed. Bert Cadullo, p 6)

“For Pather Panchali and Aparajto, I wrote only about 15 to 20 percent of the dialogue; the rest came from the original novels.”  (Satyajit Ray, quoted in Satyajit Ray: Interviews, ed. Bert Cadullo, p 180)

There are some significant changes from the novel to the film, most notably that the death of Apu’s sister in the book isn’t described while in the film we see her drowned in the monsoon, but most of the film comes straight from the book.  Wikipedia actually has a decent little bit on the film’s page that explains the differences between the two.

The Credits:

Written and Directed Satyajit Ray.  Based on the Novel by Bibhutibhusan Banerjee.
Credits courtesy of the Criterion DVD since the credits don’t use the Latin alphabet.

Sleeping Beauty

The Film:

Since the release of Snow White in late 1937, Disney had never gone more than two and a half years between films and had rarely gone more than two.  But Lady and the Tramp had been released in 1955 and it wasn’t until January of 1959 before the 16th Disney Animated film was released: Sleeping Beauty.  As it turns out, it was worth the wait; it was the best since Bambi had been released in 1942.  Some of the more recent films like Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland had longer stories, easier to fill out a feature release, but for this one, they had gone back to fairy tales, like they had been so successful with in Snow White and Cinderella.  And, surprisingly, they weren’t just padding the time by adding a bunch of songs.  There is only one primary song that carries through the film, the wonderful “Once Upon a Dream” that helps cement the relationship between two young hopeful lovers.  Instead, what the film does is create fascinating original characters, one of the best villains in Disney history (one so magnificent that she would get her own version of this story years later) and a glorious screen filled with color and light.

A young princess is born.  She is blessed by fairies.  But one fairy, Maleficent, the evil one, has been ignored but refuses to be forgotten.  She curses the young princess to die on her 16th birthday.  To help combat that idea, the other three take her to the woods to be raised alone.  That is the set-up and in that set-up we get the humorous way the fairies interact, we get the beauty of the castle and the backgrounds (some of the backgrounds are more conceptual and abstract and are quite beautiful) and we get the power and presence of Maleficent.  Even though they botched the actual film, I can why the filmmakers wanted to make their own film with her; she commands the screen with her voice, with her magic, with her very presence.  She may be the greatest villain in the Disney animated canon.

If we lose track of her for a while, well, we get a beautiful Disney song, we get the magic of animals dancing with a beautiful princess (the most beautiful of all the Disney characters prior to The Little Mermaid), we get the humor of the eggs being folded (you have no idea how much that makes Thomas laugh) and the arguments over the color of the dress (blue!  seriously, blue!!!).  We get a brave prince and a stubborn horse.  We get more glorious color and enchantment.  And then we get down to the serious business at hand, of the enchanted sleep, of the escape from the castle, of the dangerous thorns, of the terrifying dragon.  This is a romance, a musical, a comedy, an adventure, everything we could ever want rolled into one.  In short, it’s one of the best animated films that Walt Disney ever produced.

The Source:

La Belle au bois dormant” by Charles Perrault  (1697)

As with most prominent fairy tales, there have been various versions of this one along the way.  Perrault published his version in 1697 and the Grimms would publish a version of his that had been passed down orally.  But it is specifically the Perrault version that is credited in the film.  It has a fantasy beginning, that moves towards a romantic ending, but as with many fairy tales, it then takes a turn for the grotesque, with the prince who marries Sleeping Beauty having a part-ogre mother who wants to cook and eat his children.

The Adaptation:

Well, as you can see, Disney didn’t go that route.  What Disney took from the original story was the idea that several fairies bless the child, one bitter fairy curses her, but the curse is muted significantly and that a prince will come and wake her with a kiss.  The number of fairies is reduced from seven to three, Maleficent is just a (an unnamed) old, bitter, forgotten fairy, not an evil one, we don’t have a hundred years pass while she is asleep, she isn’t betrothed to the prince who wakes her and there is no grotesque epilogue dealing with the ogre queen mother.  Of all the fairy tale animated films by Disney this might be the most Disney-fied.

The Credits:

Supervising Director: Clyde Geronimi.  Sequence Directors: Eric Larson, Wolfgang Reitherman, Les Clark .  Story Adaptation:  Erdman Penner.  From the Charles Perrault version of Sleeping Beauty.  Additional Story: Joe Rinaldi, Winston Hibler, Bill Peet, Ted Sears, Ralph Wright, Milt Banta.

Tiger Bay

The Film:

I have already reviewed this film as my over-looked film of 1959.  Part of that was because of how good it was but part of it was because when I wrote that post, seven years ago, this film was still extremely difficult to get hold of in the States.  You can at least get it now (my local library has it on a DVD where the primary subtitle option is Korean, which probably says something about it and the English subtitles are terrible).  Either way, it’s a very good film with some very good performances from three stars who were often under-appreciated for their acting ability: John Mills, Horst Buccholz and Hayley Mills.  You should definitely see it if you get the chance.

The Source:

“Rodolphe et le Revolver” by Noel Calef

I don’t know when the story was written nor could I find the story itself.  It was written by a Bulgarian writer but he presumably moved to France as this story (and other stories he wrote that were made into films) was written in France and he died in France.

The Adaptation:

The one thing I was able to determine is that the story was set in France.  That makes for a change, as the film is set in Cardiff.  The role that Hayley Mills plays was originally written for a boy, so I suspect that character (if it existed in the story) was likely that of a boy.

The Credits:

Directed by J. Lee Thompson.  Based on the short story “Rodolphe et le Revolver” by Noel Calef.  Screenplay by John Hawkesworth & Shelley Smith.

Aparajito

The Film:

Pather Panchali had been the introduction to the world, not only of the character Apu on film, but also of Satyajit Ray as a director.  This would be the follow-up to both things: the continuation of Apu as he grows and the second film from Ray (he would make three more films before he would finish the trilogy).

At the end of Pather Panchali, with a sister gone and the family just surviving on the very edge of abject poverty, they departed the small village and left for the city.  This film takes things up after that with the family still struggling to survive.  But tragedy is still not keeping away, as the father suddenly takes ill and dies.  Now we have Apu, still trying to struggle through his childhood, but now with only one parent and becoming more alone all the time.  But then something comes through, the same thing that can often be the salvation for a child in this situation: education.  Apu gets a chance to be educated and he is able to take that chance.  It will lead to a different life from the one that he had been living, from the one that he had imagined.  But that’s not the only thing.  Because of the education, Apu feels different every time he returns to visit his mother and eventually there is a gulf between them that can be not be bridged and it is still there when she dies and he is left irretrievably alone.

Ray would be criticized by some for romanticizing poverty and its affect on people, both in this film and in Pather Panchali.  But what Ray does is find the humanism at the heart of what is going on.  Because he refuses to show those in poverty to also be in misery, because he finds the life and humanity in what they go through, because he follows one boy who is able to escape from this life and who can not reconcile himself to that life whenever he is forced to confront it once again, he endured criticism that really doesn’t belong.  What we see is life.  It is not always pretty, though some may think Ray is presenting it that way simply because of the beautiful cinematography and the incredible music from Ravi Shankar.  It is Ray’s vision that we see on screen and we have to remember that these people do suffer and we can see that, but we can also see the humanity there as well.

The Book:

Pather Panchali by Bibhutibhushan Banerji  (sr. 1928, pu. 1929)  /  Aparajito by Bibhutibhushan Banerji  (sr. 1932)

While I was able to read Pather Panchali (see above), I was not able to get hold of an English language edition of Aparajito.  This film actually covers the last few chapters of Pather Panchali and the first 1/3 of its sequel.  However, the 1968 translation of Pather Panchali actually ends right where the first film does – omitting the scenes that are used in this film (this was a deliberate choice by the translators, to end the book where the original film ends, as they state in their introduction).  So, I haven’t read any of the source material for this film.

The Adaptation:

See the above quotes in Pather Panchali.

“In India, Aparajito has been criticized on occasion because of the number of departures from the book.  People know it so well and expect to see it just as they have read it.”  (Satyajit Ray, quoted in Satyajit Ray: Interviews, ed. Bert Cadullo, p 5-6)

The Credits:

Produced, Written and Directed Satyajit Ray.  Based on the Novel by Bibhutibhusan Banerjee.
Credits courtesy of the Criterion DVD since the credits don’t use the Latin alphabet.

Consensus Nominees That Don’t Make My Top 10

Room at the Top

The Film:

As one of the Best Picture nominees, I have already reviewed this film.  It is a very good film, one of the first of the “angry young man” films to come out of Britain, and as such would give rise to a new generations of writers and actors.  Just as important, it would get released in the United States and even manage to earn the Oscar nomination (and wins for Best Actress and Adapted Screenplay) without Production Code approval, which makes it an important film that everyone should see at least once.

The Source:

Room at the Top by John Braine  (1957)

Like the film, this book was written in the late 50’s but takes place in the late 40’s, in the shadow of the war.  It deals with Joe Lampton, a young man back from the war and determined to rise in a society that wants to keep him down.  But he’s been in war and he’s not going to be kept down any longer.  Joe isn’t particularly pleasant and he would help herald in a new era in British fiction and drama as “kitchen sink realism” and class distinctions would rise to the top.  Joe himself would also rise to the top, though we take some rather unsavory destinations in along the way.  It would have been interesting to see how people reacted at the time to Joe and his eventual rise.  Overall, it’s a fairly solid novel and it’s easy to understand why people would want to make this into a film.

The Adaptation:

For most of the film, it follows fairly closely to the book.  There are some minor deviations along the way (in the book, Joe has the room already set up, for instance) but towards the end there are some much more significant differences.  The main ones are that Alice’s husband doesn’t actually visit Joe in the book, that when Joe has the fight with the girl’s boyfriend after leaving the bar, it’s just the boyfriend and Joe actually gives him a severe beating, and the book ends before the wedding, when Joe is found by his friends and is blaming himself for Alice’s death, rather than have those final couple of scenes.

The Credits:

Directed by Jack Clayton.  Screenplay by Neil Paterson.  Adapted from the novel by John Braine.
The IMDb lists uncredited writing from Mordecai Richler.

Ben-Hur

The Film:

I have already reviewed this film, since it won Best Picture.  It was a massive success on every level, winning Best Picture and a record 11 total Oscars as well as becoming one of the most financially successful films of all-time (it still ranks at #14 all-time when adjusted for inflation).  While it clunks along at bits and gets a bit too heavy-handed, there is no questioning that there are parts of it that are still every bit as entertaining in 2017 as they were in 1959, most especially, of course, the chariot race.  There are other versions of this film but this is really the only one you need to watch.

The Source:

Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ by Lew Wallace (1880)

Would this novel seem any more dense and impenetrable if I cared about the subject matter? By that, I don’t mean Roman races or the politics of a Jew and a Roman friendship that disintegrates amidst the political turmoil of the First Century. Those are the aspects of the film. Yes, they figure into the book, but they are not the centerpoint of the book. I am talking about the relationship between Ben-Hur and Christ. Remember that this novel is subtitled A Tale of the Christ. Wallace didn’t write this book as an adventure. He wrote it as an approach to faith. Just look at the final lines of the book: “If any of my readers, visiting Rome, will make the short journey to the Catacomb of San Calixto, which is more ancient than that of San Sebastiano, he will see what became of the fortune of Ben-Hur, and give him thanks. Out of that vast tomb Christianity issued to supersede the Caesars.”

The problem that makes for the book is that while Wallace writes about some interesting things – the battle on the sea that changes Ben-Hur’s future, or the chariot race that would become the major focus of every film version – he always wants to bring you back to the story of faith. And I just don’t care about that. Much too long is spent on that story and it pulls the novel down. It interferes with the novel as a work of literature and makes it a slog for anyone who isn’t captivated by the rapture of Ben-Hur, and even for those people, I think it’s probably a bit of a slog today which is why the book, so popular in the late 19th Century has never really made much of a comeback in spite of the numerous film versions.

The Adaptation:

In spite of the writing credits in the film itself, Christopher Fry wrote much of it. “Wyler wanted Fry to elevate the language and give it a certain formality by suggesting an archaic tone without making it sound pompous or stilted . . . Heston, who was in just about every scene, maintains that ‘whatever was good in the dialogue was Fry’s.'” (A Talent for Trouble: The Life of Hollywood’s Most Acclaimed Director, William Wyler by Jan Herman, 401)

“Wyler’s film alters Wallace’s narrative in some important ways. In the novel, the Judah-Messala relationship receives only cursory attention, for Wallace is more interested in Judah’s relationship to Christ. Wyler underplays that theme, however, making the relationship between the former friends central to the story, even though they do not interact during a significant portion of the film.” (William Wyler: The Life and Films of Hollywood’s Most Celebrated Director by Gabriel Miller, p 390)

Those two quotes really do sum up much of what was done.  They don’t address the controversy over the purported subtext and how much of what Gore Vidal may or may not have written actually ended up in the film, but for more on that, you can watch or read The Celluloid Closet.

The Credits:

Directed by William Wyler. A Tale of the Christ by Lew Wallace. Screen Play by Karl Tunberg.
The IMDb lists uncredited contributing writing from Maxwell Anderson, S. N. Behrman, Christopher Fry and Gore Vidal

The Nun’s Story

The Film:

I have reviewed this film already as one of the Best Picture nominees of 1959.  I want to re-iterate what I wrote there: this film is boring.  Seriously, this film is boring.  Films about faith aren’t my cup of tea but this one just drags and drags and then you look at the display and realize you still have over an hour to go.  I have watched this film three times now (originally in the 90’s, for the Best Picture project several years ago now and now for this) and (and I seriously hope my comments above on The Diary of Anne Frank don’t come back to bite me again), I plan to never see this film again.

The Source:

The Nun’s Story by Kathryn Hulme  (1956)

And if the film is boring perhaps it’s because the original book was also boring.  I suppose if you have an interest in going into the sisterhood or you went into the sisterhood and left like Sister Luke, the Belgian woman who decided that she just couldn’t do it (partially because of the outbreak of World War II).  I’ve picked a paragraph at random to give you a taste: “On through the years the procession moved and grew in numbers.  The pavilions changed from hasty wood enclosures to buildings of brick and stone.  At some time, perhaps when they had proved their staying power, the nuns were given tropical whites and they ceased perspiring to a degree that had formerly made blisters on the paper over which they bent to record the strange sights of the evangelizing frontier.”  If that paragraph peeks your interest, then have at it.

The Adaptation:

I think the film follows pretty well from the book, although there is a bit more of a sexual undercurrent between Sister Luke and the doctor in the film than there was in the book, but that’s natural when you actually have Audrey Hepburn and Peter Finch on-screen.  But it’s hard for me, to be honest, to be certain how closely they follow each other since both of them just make my eyelids start to grow heavy.

The Credits:

Directed by Fred Zinnemann.  Screenplay by Robert Anderson.  From the book by Kathryn C. Hulme.

The other WGA Nominees

A Hole in the Head

The Film:

By 1959, Frank Capra hadn’t made a feature film in eight years.  His day as a king in Hollywood was long over.  He finally returned with a film that really wasn’t much to think about.  It’s, in some ways, a typical Frank Sinatra 50’s Musical.  Sinatra is a guy who is a bit of a con.  He’s a bit of a cad.  But, he’s also still Sinatra.  You root for him because he’s good looking and he’s charming and you want to believe he has a heart of gold buried beneath being a cad (which, in this case he does, since he has a son to raise on his own because he’s a widower).

This time, Sinatra runs a pathetic hotel down in Miami Beach.  He’s short on money.  He can’t get towels because he hasn’t paid the laundry bill.  His guests keep checking out as soon as they check in.  And he still dreams of making a success of it.  But he has to enlist his brother to bail him out and his brother is tired of it and just wants his younger brother to fall in love and get a job that will earn him money instead of losing it.

What will come of this?  Well, you can probably guess what will come of this.  Sinatra will fall in love.  There will be a happy ending.  And the danger involved in the story (that his son will be taken away by his brother and his wife) won’t come about.

Is this worth seeing?  No, not really.  It’s pretty forgettable.  But, there is at least one reason to see it and it’s why I stopped the film halfway through so that Veronica could watch a bit of it.  It’s the song “High Hopes”, which would become a well known standard for Sinatra and be a campaign song for JFK the next year.  It’s a good, charming song and I’ll bet the song is more well remembered than the film.

The Source:

A Hole in the Head by Arnold Schulman  (1957)

The copyright page might say enough about this play.  It was originally submitted for a copyright in 1955 “as an unpublished work” (under the title The Heart’s a Forgotten Hotel).  Yes, this play was eventually published and a decent actor was even found to play the lead role (Paul Douglas).  It’s an okay play, but would have been completely forgettable if it hadn’t been made into a film.

The Adaptation:

There have been a lot of instances when a play is brought to the screen and the basic plot and characters are kept intact but many of the individual lines are changed and even wholesale changes are made with characters added and some dropped.  That’s certainly the case with this film, where attempting to read the play while watching the film (which I often try to do) doesn’t work very well except for a few scenes (like the early scene with Tony, who is Sidney in the play, and his son).  The character in the film who is a friend who moved to Miami Beach with Tony and who Tony is trying to get money from only to have him realize how desperate he is at the track?  Yeah, that’s created just for the film.

So the strange thing here is that the play and the film were written by the same person.  Capra must have decided he wanted a lot of changes because it would seem strange for a playwright to take his play and make all those changes on his own.

The Credits:

Produced and Directed by Frank Capra.  Screenplay: Arnold Schulman.  Based on the Broadway play A Hole in the Head by Arnold Schulman.

Li’l Abner

The Film:

So, I can’t write a review of this film because it doesn’t seem like I can find it.  I saw it once before, in bits and pieces on YouTube.  But this time, it has eluded me.  Frankly, I’m okay with that.  I have no need to see it again.  It was a mediocre (at best) musical of a strip I never thought much of it in the first place (see below).

The Source:

Li’l Abner by Al Capp  (1934)

I have an odd relationship with the comic pages.  I grew up with the L.A. Times in what was a golden age for such strips: Peanuts was still running, Doonesbury was going well (except for the sabbatical) and three strips that are often held up as the pinnacle of the art form were running: Calvin & Hobbes, Bloom County and The Far Side.  It’s not a coincidence that I have complete runs of all five of those strips (as well as several others).  I have an entire overflowing bookcase of comic strip collections, though a lot of ones that have remained very successful are ones I wouldn’t touch even if they were given to me free, things like Garfield or Family Circus.  But, I would also go down to Coronado, usually on a Sunday and I would read the comics that ran in my grandparents paper, the San Diego Union Tribune.  It was like being in a time warp.  They had cartoons that were clearly well past their sell-by date, comics like Beetle Bailey, Hagar the Horrible, Andy Capp.  Li’l Abner was already gone by then but I think of it in the same vein.  I look at it and I wonder what drew people to it in the first place.  Yet, people were drawn to it.  It ran for over 40 years, making it one of the first incredibly successful comics.  It became a radio series, a Broadway show and then a film (actually, there was also an earlier film as well).  Yet, would people today have any idea what it was?  It doesn’t have the reputation of something like Pogo.  It’s just an old popular strip that isn’t around anymore and that anyone younger than their 50’s probably wouldn’t even know about.  There are books available that collect the strip but the more popular ones tend to be the later ones where Frank Frazetta was working on the strip, years before he reinvigorated the Fantasy art world.

The Adaptation:

The comic strip had first been turned into a Broadway musical in 1958 and that’s what the film is – a film version of the musical.  Oddly enough, while the songs were transported from the show, apparently there was a new score written just for the film, which is extremely rare with a musical that comes from the stage.  Interestingly enough, Paramount Pictures actually arranged for the production of the Broadway show with the intention of then making a film out of it.

The Credits:

Directed by Melvin Frank.  From the comic strip by Al Capp.  Screenplay by Melvin Frank and Norman Panama.
Credits courtesy of the IMDb.  It doesn’t seem like the credits specifically mentioned the 1958 Broadway show that it was adapted from.  It does list Johnny Mercer and Gene de Paul with writing the songs (which had been written for Broadway).

Never Steal Anything Small

The Film:

Not only was I unable to track down this film again to watch it, but I don’t really remember watching it in the first place.  I rate it much higher than Li’l Abner (it’s my #24 film of the year, a high ***) but I at least remember seeing Li’l Abner about 9 or 10 years ago and I don’t remember when or how I first watched this film.  But I did.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get it again, which is too bad since it has both James Cagney singing and a very young Shirley Jones, who has always been a crush of mine thanks to The Music Man.

The Source:

The Devil’s Hornpipe by Maxwell Anderson and Rouben Mamoulian  (1959)

I kind of arbitrarily assigned 1959 as the year for this play.  That’s because it wasn’t ever actually produced.  So, not only can I not find the film to watch again, but you can’t find the original source material at all because it’s never been published (or produced).  What an oddity that someone like Maxwell Anderson, one of the most popular playwrights of the first half of the 20th Century, would even have an unproduced play to begin with, let alone one written with Rouben Mamoulian who was a director and rarely a writer.

The Adaptation:

I can’t really note what the differences were when I can’t see the film again and I can’t read the play at all.

The Credits:

Directed by Charles Lederer.  Screenplay by Charles Lederer.  Based on the play “The Devil’s Hornpipe” by Maxwell Anderson and Rouben Mamoulian.
The credits are courtesy of the IMDb.

Porgy and Bess

The Film:

Is there any more widely rewarded film that is deliberately hard to find? It was nominated for the WGA, was nominated for five Oscars (winning one) and won Best Picture – Musical at the Golden Globes while also earning nominations for both its leads. The reviews may have been mixed, but those are some solid awards. There have been Globe nominees that have been hard to find but actual Best Picture winners? And a film that has been deliberately kept from the public? That’s a true rarity. So why is that? Well, since I’ve been re-reading Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series, I think I’ll borrow an oft-used line from it: “The world has moved on.” Now, in those books, it means the world is coming to an end. But I mean it more like the end of Angels in America when we hear the words “The world only spins forward.” Porgy and Bess is a part of our cultural heritage but, even though it was daring for having a completely black cast, it is anything but positive in its portrayal of its characters. So who says characters have to be sympathetic? Tom Wolfe sure as shit doesn’t think so. Let’s get the film out in the open, where we can see the quality of Preminger’s direction (one of the better films of a mixed career) and the very good performances from Sidney Poitier and Dorothy Dandridge in the leads. The songs might not be what I want from my musical theatre (I’ll take Sondheim rather than Gershwin any day), but they are songs with power and depth.

In some ways, I am reminded in this film of what was done with Singin in the Rain. That film contains what might be the most joyous scene in film history and it’s one of the most obvious scenes to be shot on a stage. There is much the same look about this film – there’s no question that the slums of the town, as presented in this film, don’t exist in reality. But they create a real, breathing environment, one in which the characters seem like they belong. Yes, there are drugs, and there is violence, and there is degradation, but no more so than in any other poor community and these are people who are struggling with their situation, and when those voices break out, glorious voices like Pearl Bailey and Brock Peters, we feel the pain and anguish coming from their very bones.

The film is not perfect, but a lot of those comes from the original source (the stories are over-rated as I mention below and the power of the songs can’t overcome the deficits in story-telling). The performances are strong and this film is heart-felt. It is possible to find it on DVD if you look hard enough and you should see it if you get a chance. I don’t approve of censorship, and if things have changed, well this is a vital cultural document of what things were like before they changed. And hey, Preminger had to fight to get this film made, a cast of blacks at a time when it was still a rarity to see many blacks on screen in the same film. If for no other reason, that is why you should see this film.

The Source:

Porgy and Bess by George Gershwin, libretto by DuBose Heyward and Ira Gershwin  (1934)  /  Porgy by DuBose Heyward  (1925)

The original source for all of this is the novel Porgy by DuBose Heyward. If you find the current edition in print from the University Press of Mississippi, you’ll find this blurb on the back: “Porgy, published in 1925, proved to be on the leading edge of the great southern renaissance, in which works by William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, and others would depict black characters of increasingly emotional and psychological complexity.” That’s an interesting claim. It’s true that this novel does more than most previous Southern works to depict the blacks as characters or their own right, especially since nearly every major character is black. But, with the constant dialect that is hard to pick through to find a language and the depiction of blacks as cripples, lazy, drug addicts and criminals, it hardly does them any service. It’s hard to even figure out what is being said in a paragraph like this: “I hyuh tell there ain’t no such t’ing fuh de w’ite folks; but de nigger need um so bad, I ain’t see no reason why I can’t mek up one wut saty’fy de nigger? He seem tuh work berry well, too, till dat sof’ mout’ gentleman come ‘roun’ an’ onsettle all my client.” (apologies for the racial slurs – it is direct quoting)  Indeed, it’s the novel’s attitudes towards blacks that made it so hard to film and part of why the film has not been widely available. It is also disingenuous to put this novel in the same sentence as Faulkner or even Welty, as the prose from Heyward isn’t in remotely the same class.

The Adaptation:

“Once he had secured the rights to the prized property, Goldwyn, as always, proceeded to approach the best possible collaborators. But he received many rejections. To write the screenplay, his first choice (a sign that he intended to be sensitive to racial issues) had been Langston Hughes, the black poet who was one of the leading figures of the Harlem Renaissance. Hughes spurned the offer, as did a succession of playwrights including Sidney Kingsley, Clifford Odets, and Paul Osborn. Finally N. Richard Nash, most noted as the author of The Rainmaker, had accepted, and by the end of 1957 had turned in an on overlong screenplay.” (Otto Preminger: The Man Who Would Be King by Foster Hirsch, p 286)

“Poitier achieved another victory when, without discussing it with the director, he refused to speak in the exaggerated, ungrammatical dialect that N. Richard Nash had written, following the style of the original novel and libretto.” (Otto Preminger: The Man Who Would Be King by Foster Hirsch, p 293)

It’s hard to tell how close the film follows to the original libretto. The copy I got of the libretto out of the library runs over 500 pages, most of it music, not lyrics. But from everything I have read, it does seem that Preminger intended to stick closely to the original musical as it was presented on stage and the screenplay was mainly intended to help set up the shots and the action and scenes rather than changing any of the songs or the dialogue.

The Credits:

Directed by Otto Preminger. Music by George Gershwin. Libretto by DuBose Heyward. Lyrics by DuBose Heyward and Ira Gershwin. Founded on the play “Porgy” by DuBose and Dorothy Heyward. Originally produced for the stage by the Theatre Guild. Screenplay by N. Richard Nash.
The IMDb points out that Rouben Mamoulian was the original director and he remained uncredited but one scene that he filmed is in the film.

Other Screenplays on My List Outside My Top 10:

  • On the Beach  –  A very good adaptation of Nevil Shute’s famous novel about the aftermath of a nuclear war.
  • The Crucible  –  This was a 1957 French film starring Simone Signoret.  The French adapted Arthur Miller’s play but it took almost 40 more years before a U.S. version would get made.
  • Look Back in Anger  –  The famous play that helped usher in the era of Britain’s angry young man made into a film with Richard Burton and Claire Bloom.  Well acted but kind of unpleasant to watch, there would later be a 1989 version that simply records the stage production with Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson, just as well acted and just as tough to watch.
  • Inspector Maigret  –  Jean Gabin as the famous inspector from the Georges Simenon novels.

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

  • The Hound of the Baskervilles  –  You can find a full review of this film here.  A high *** version of the classic Sherlock Holmes mystery with Peter Cushing as a great Holmes.
  • The Human Condition Part I  –  This film, and the two that will follow it in later years, are all based on a six volume novel by Junpei Gomikawa.  I don’t rate this trilogy as highly as some do, but it is definitely worth watching (a high ***).
  • Rio Bravo  –  A Howard Hawks film that’s based on a short story that some consider a classic, but I consider it just a solid ***.
  • Gates of Paris  –  A 1957 Rene Clair film released in the States in 1959, it’s based on René Fallet’s novel La Grande Ceinture.
  • Odds Against Tomorrow  –  Based on a novel by William P. McGivern (the author who wrote The Big Heat), this solid heist film stars Harry Belafonte.
  • Journey to the Center of the Earth  –  The classic Jules Verne adventure becomes a fun film starring James Mason.
  • That Kind of Woman  –  It stars Sophia Loren, who I don’t like, but it’s directed by Sidney Lumet, who I do.  It’s based on a short story by Robert Lowry.
  • The Young Philadelphians  –  Not a great Paul Newman performance, but it has the career best performance from Robert Vaughn as his friend.  This is based on the novel The Philadelphian.
  • Never So Few  –  A film starring Frank Sinatra and Gina Lollobrigida shouldn’t be particularly good but this is a solid ***.  Based on a novel by Tom T. Chamales.
  • Ask Any Girl  –Anything with a young Shirley MacLaine is always worth a watch.  Based on a novel by Winifred Wolfe.
  • The Horse Soldiers  –  Solid John Ford Western starring his usual star John Wayne and his non-usual star William Holden.
  • The Devil Came at Night  –  A true crime film made by Robert Siodmak, who had been a prominent Hollywood director during the 40’s but had returned to West Germany.  This was an early Best Foreign Film nominee at the Academy.  It was based on either an article or book by Will Berthold (depending on whether you go with Wikipedia or the IMDb).
  • Day of the Outlaw  –  The last Western directed by Andre deToth, adapted from the novel by Lee Wells.
  • Darby O’Gill and the Little People  –  Probably thought of by most people as “that Disney film Sean Connery made before he became Bond”, this charming film is based on a series of stories by Herminie Templeton Kavanagh.
  • Les Miserables  –  Decent French language version with Jean Gabin as Jean Valjean, released in France in 1958.
  • Warlock  –  Not a Fantasy film, but a Richard Widmark / Henry Fonda Western with a future Riddler (Frank Gorshin) and a future Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley).  Adapted from the novel by Oakley Hall.
  • The Lovers  –  Just the second film from future Top 100 Director, Louis Malle, this one helped make a star out of Jeanne Moreau, based on an 18th Century novel.
  • The Sound and the Fury  –  My #1 novel of all-time and as such, already reviewed here.
  • The Last Angry Man  –  Worth tracking down for the fact that it was the last Oscar nomination for Paul Muni rather than anything else.  Based on the novel by Gerald Green.
  • They Came to Cordura  –  Another Western, this one starring Gary Cooper and based on the novel by Glendon Swarthout.
  • Brink of Life  –  The Cannes Film Festival loved this Bergman film but it’s one of his weaker ones (which still makes it a mid-*** film).  It’s not credited, but it’s based on a couple of novels by screenwriter Ulla Isaksson (which also makes it the rare Bergman film he didn’t write).
  • He Who Must Die  –  A 1957 French film from Jules Dassin based on the novel Christ Recrucified by the author of The Last Temptation of Christ and Zorba the Greek.  We’ve now entered low-range *** films.
  • Tarzan’s Greatest Adventure  –  The fifth (and penultimate) film with Gordon Scott as Tarzan and it’s not too bad.  Again, based more on the character than on any specific Burroughs novel.
  • The Devil’s Disciple  –  The powerhouse trio of Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas and Laurence Olivier can’t turn this adaptation of George Bernard Shaw’s play into anything better than a low *** film.
  • Rally ‘Round the Flag, Boys!  –  Well, it’s got Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward but don’t let that fool you into thinking this adaptation of Max Shulman’s novel is all that good.
  • Gidget  –  Yes, this is actually adapted, as Gidget began in a 1957 novel called Gidget, the Little Girl with Big Ideas (yes, seriously).  This film has Sandra Dee as the surfing girl long before Sally Field had the role.
  • The Big Fisherman  –  Lloyd C. Douglas had a massive seller with The Robe in 1942 and he returned to his early Christian elements with his 1948 novel The Big Fisherman.  Frank Borzage turned into a three hour Biblical epic with Howard Keel as Peter.
  • Love is My Profession  –  Jean Gabin has a thing for Brigitte Bardot, in spite of the age difference.  But it was 1959 and everyone on the planet had a thing for Brigitte Bardot.  Based on another novel by Georges Simenon (called In Case of Emergency).
  • Shake Hands with the Devil  –  Mediocre film with James Cagney as an IRA leader.  Based on the novel by Rearden Conner.
  • The Shaggy Dog  –  The Disney film is inspired by the novel The Hound of Florence.  It’s not exactly Disney at its best.
  • Libel  –  A rather odd Oscar nominee (Best Sound), this Olivia de Havilland / Dirk Bogarde drama is based on a play by Edward Wooll.
  • The Wreck of the Mary Deare  –  The second-to-last film of Gary Cooper, it also stars Charlton Heston.  It’s based on the novel by Hammond Innes.
  • Pork Chop Hill  –  Lewis Milestone made one of the best films ever about World War I but his other war films aren’t so great, including this one about one of the most famous battles in the Korean War.  It’s based upon a non-fiction book by a military historian and stars Gregory Peck.
  • The Hangman  –  Director Michael Curtiz and writer Dudley Nichols were long past their primes and Robert Taylor never had a prime.  They combine for this mediocre Western based on a short story.
  • The Man in the Net  –  Another Curtiz film, this one starring Alan Ladd (also long past his pull-by date) in a noir thriller.  Adapted from the novel by Patrick Quentin.
  • But Not for Me  –  This one was a pain to track down, but I needed to because it was nominated for Picture, Actor and Actress – Comedy at the Globes.  It didn’t deserve any of them by any means.  It’s a weak Clark Gable / Carroll Baker comedy adapted from the play by Samson Raphaelson.
  • The Hanging Tree  –  Just as hard to find, though not as important (nominated at the Oscar for Song).  Another Gary Cooper Western.
  • Third Man on the Mountain  –  Another forgettable Disney film, this one adapted from the novel Banner in the Sky.
  • Suddenly, Last Summer  –  We’re into **.5 territory now, which is a bit surprising, since this is a Joseph L. Mankiewicz film (a Top 100 Director) that was double nominated for Best Actress (Katharine Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor) and was adapted from a Tennessee Williams play.  But it’s a mess, not helped with a shaky performance from Montgomery Clift, nor the whole idea of cannibalism as vengeance.  It did have Taylor in a bathing suit, so it made money.
  • Imitation of Life  –  Based on the novel by Fannie Hurst and a remake of the 1934 film, except that film was actually better than this one because it didn’t have the hand of Douglas Sirk turning into it such a soapy melodrama.
  • Middle of the Night  –  Paddy Chayefsky adapts his own play and it stars Fredric March but it’s not all that good.
  • The Scapegoat  –  Alec Guinness re-teams with his Kind Hearts and Coronets director Robert Hamer but the results aren’t all that good.  Adapted from a Daphne du Maurier novel.
  • The Young Land  –  A weak Western with Dennis Hopper and Yvonne Craig (who would later play Batgirl on television).  It was nominated for Best Song at the Oscars and is adapted from a short story called “Frontier Frenzy”.
  • Career  –  It received 3 Oscar noms, was written by Dalton Trumbo and has Shirley MacLaine, but it also stars Dean Martin in a serious film and that’s why it’s a mid range **.5 film.
  • The Gazebo  –  Alec Coppel’s play becomes a dark comedy (with an Oscar nom for Costume Design) starring Glenn Ford and Debbie Reynolds.
  • 1001 Arabian Nights  –  A rare non-Disney animated feature, from the makers of Mr. Magoo and obviously based on the original stories.
  • The Best of Everything  –  Another Oscar nominee (Costume Design, Song) that didn’t remotely deserve its nominations and isn’t very good.  A Joan Crawford drama based on the novel by Rona Jaffe.
  • The FBI Story  –  Based on a book by a journalist, this Jimmy Stewart film follows the career of an early FBI agent.
  • Take a Giant Step  –  The Louis S. Paterson play about racism affecting a teenager stars Johnny Nash (yes, later the singer of “I Can See Clearly Now”).  Low level **.  Nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress.
  • Count Your Blessings  –  Based on a Nancy Mitford novel, this is a very weak Deborah Kerr drama that I only saw because the director (Jean Negulesco) was once an Oscar nominee.
  • Beloved Infidel  –  Another film I’ve only seen because the director was once Oscar nominated (Henry King).  Would you buy Gregory Peck as Scott Fitzgerald?  Neither do I.  Based on the memoir by Sheilah Graham and Gerold Frank.
  • Godzilla Raids Again  –  The second Godzilla film qualifies because of the “character” of Godzilla.  When release in the U.S. in 1959 it was dubbed into English and retitled Gigantis the Fire Monster.  High ** film.
  • Hercules  –  The first time Steve Reeves played the role of the strongest man.  Based on the Greek myths of course, though very loosely.  Low range **.
  • A Summer Place  –  Not the worst film of the year (there are three films that are original that are worse) but pretty bad, at a low **.  Even Arthur Kennedy, one of the greatest of all character actors can’t save this stupid romance, based on the novel by Sloan Wilson.  The title song was a massive hit but it’s also terrible.

Adaptations of Notable Works I Haven’t Seen:

  • Enchanted Island  –  An adaptation of Herman Melville’s Typee.
  • The Most Dangerous Sin  –  Released in the States under this name (and listed at the now defunct oscars.org that way) but really it’s Crime and Punishment (listed that way at the IMDb and Wikipedia), a 1956 French adaptation of the novel starring Jean Gabin (as the detective).
  • Tarzan, the Ape Man  –  At this point, Paramount was making Tarzan films, but MGM must have remake rights for their first Tarzan film, so they remade it as this.  The only film with Denny Miller and now hard to find because it’s supposed to be terrible.  It actually re-uses a lot of footage from the original 1932 film.
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