“Det håller tre Wallare upå vår gård, De hafva gjort af med döttrarne vår.” (“There are three highwaymen in our yard, Who have our daughters slain.”)

My Top 10:

  1. The Virgin Spring
  2. The Cranes are Flying
  3. Tunes of Glory
  4. The World of Apu
  5. Elmer Gantry
  6. Our Man in Havana
  7. Sons and Lovers
  8. Inherit the Wind
  9. Psycho
  10. Spartacus

Note:  My full list is 18 films long.  The rest of the list is down at the bottom (in rank order by script).

Consensus Nominees:

  1. Elmer Gantry  (160 pts)
  2. Sons and Lovers  (80 pts)
  3. The Sundowners  (80 pts)
  4. Tunes of Glory  (80 pts)
  5. Bells are Ringing  (80 pts)

Oscar Nominees  (Best Screenplay – Adapted):

  • Elmer Gantry
  • Inherit the Wind
  • Sons and Lovers
  • The Sundowners
  • Tunes of Glory

WGA Awards:

Drama:

  • Elmer Gantry
  • Psycho
  • Sons and Lovers
  • Spartacus
  • The Sundowners

Comedy:

  • North to Alaska
  • Please Don’t Eat the Daisies

Nominees that are Original:  The Apartment, The Facts of Life, Ocean’s Eleven

Musical:

  • Bells are Ringing
  • Can-Can

Nominees that are Original:  G.I. Blues, Let’s Make Love

BAFTA Nominees (Best British Screenplay):

  • Tunes of Glory

Note:  Reminder, that I don’t count the BAFTA nominees because of the requirement that they be British, unless they are also nominated by another awards group.

My Top 10

Jungfrukällan

The Film:

I have already reviewed this film as one of the five best films of 1960.  In fact, this film has, at times, been my #1 film of 1960, a year in which it is difficult to decide between three very different films from three very different but almost equally brilliant writer-directors: Bergman’s The Virgin Spring, Kurosawa’s Ikiru and Wilder’s The Apartment.  This was the first film from Bergman that actually managed to get nominated for Best Foreign Film and it won the award (of course – how could anything else possibly win?).  It’s also the second award in a row for Bergman at the Nighthawks, which is odd since most of his scripts are original.

The Source:

Töres döttrar i Wänge“, traditional  (13th Century)

If you follow the link, you can go to an 1812 version of the ballad.  It is a mournful story of three girls who are killed on the road and where springs come up from where they were beheaded and the vengeance that their father wrecks upon the men who killed them and how to atone for all these sins, he would build a church on the site of the springs.

The Adaptation:

I’m just gonna quote Ulla Isaksson, the screenwriter (this is one of the very few times that Bergman didn’t write his own script), who sums up what she did.  It’s taken from “The Ballad and the Source” by William S. Pechter, reprinted in Renaissance of the Film (ed. Julius Bellone), p 327, but Pechter is quoting from the preface to the published version of Isaksson’s screenplay.

Insofar as possible, the film tries to retain the original story of the song, its simultaneously cruel and beautiful visual nature, the relentless insight into human life, and the Christian message.  But in print the song takes only three pages and leaves out every kind of personal characterization and psychological motivation.  The film must, in quite another way, make this story of young Karin and her parents realistic, comprehensible, coherent, convincing in psychology and milieu.  However, it did not seem possible to reproduce with entire realism the norms and attitudes of such a distant time, and expect modern men to understand them.  The crucial task was to find as much common ground as possible and to build the film on that, so that the song might be both preserved and communicated.  Certain additions to the story were therefore essential.

The Credits:

Regi: Ingmar Bergman.  Manuskript efter en legendvisa frän 1300-talet Ulla Isaksson.

Летят журавли
(The Cranes are Flying)

The Film:

I have already reviewed this film as one of the Top 5 films of the year in the Nighthawk Awards, though it was originally released in the Soviet Union in 1957. But I want to stress again that this film can easily be overlooked – it certainly was so at the time of its release. But it is one of the masterpieces of Soviet cinema, a film that reaches for life in a time and place where people can be forgiven for wanting to look for nothing more than death. It has a first-class script, is expertly directed and has a performance from Tatyana Samojlova that is exquisite in its beauty and its pain.

The Source:

Vechno zhivye by Victor Rozov (1956)

This is a very good play about a young Moscow woman who is left behind during the Second World War when her love goes off to fight in the war.  Tragedy upon tragedy unfolds around her.  Her love’s cousin either seduces or rapes her (it’s never quite made clear) and when she gets pregnant, she marries him.  But his draft deferment was improperly secured and any illusion she has about him falls apart around the same time that she learns that her love has died in the war.  She is forced to deal with life itself and find a way to go on and yet somehow she does, finding a way to survive.

The Adaptation:

The screenplay for the film was written by Victor Rozov, the same writer who wrote the original stage play.  He kept his play completely intact in its adaptation and the writing is a key reason the film is so good.  The direction is another thing that is done very well and it helps what makes the film a classic.  It gives moments to the film that help make it a film and not just a filmed play.  The biggest change between the play and the film is the title (the title of the play translates to Alive Forever while the film is called The Cranes are Flying, which makes sense, because there is a bit of poetry that is repeated in the play: “The long-billed cranes  /  Are flying overhead”).

The Credits:

Director: M Kalatozov. Screenplay: V. Rozov. (credits courtesy of Criterion via TCM)

Tunes of Glory

The Film:

I have never been in the armed services, never had any intention in being in them and have no sense of their mindset.  So I’m not qualified to answer the question that lies at the heart of this film: experience or discipline?  There are advantage and disadvantages to either side and by the end of this film, it hasn’t necessarily helped us to make a decision.  It all depends on what you need and when you need it.

The experience is provided by Alec Guinness, in one of his best performances, as an enlisted man who rose through the ranks and found himself in command of his Scottish battalion when the commander died during the war.  He links to drink (“For those who like whisky, whisky and for those who don’t, whisky.”), he has a woman he keeps on the side (he also has a daughter who is making time with one of the men under his command and that will set in action the tragedy that enfolds the second half of the film) and he’s not exactly a stickler for discipline.  But now that it’s peacetime, he’s being forced out in favor of an actual colonel (Guinness received a wartime promotion but he’s only actually still a major).

That colonel is played by John Mills in what is the best performance of his career (and quite a career it was, as he was my grandmother’s favorite actor of all-time).  He’s an educated man (Oxford), so Guinness expects that he sat out the war.  He did sit out the war – being tortured by the Japanese in a camp.  Now, he’s a strong man for discipline and he wants to return that to the ranks (symbolized by the instruction of proper highland dancing rather than the rowdy drunken leaping about that the men do at the beginning of the film).

These are waves that break against each other.  It’s ironic that Mills and Guinness both rose up with David Lean and that the latter’s film debut was playing the former’s roommate in Great Expectations because here, their every word to each other is wrought with tension.  What ends up happening that breaks both men isn’t even really the point.  The point is the magnificent acting when the two men face off, the way they each bring their roles to life, the glorious piping that we get through the film.  It’s a first class script and we understand both men and we understand their strengths and weaknesses and what both men needed to have done differently and why neither one was capable of doing that.

Ronald Neame wasn’t a great director.  But he had a great career in film, working his way up with David Lean, working as a cinematographer, writer and producer for some of his best films and working alongside Mills and Guinness.  His directing career was mixed, with a series of poor films in the 70’s to close it out, but he did some of his best work working with his old actors, whether it be Guinness (The Horse’s Mouth), Mills (The Chalk Garden) or both of them, in this film.

note:  If you confuse this film with Paths of Glory, then, hi Mom!  The only things they have in common are the words “of Glory” and being about the military.  This film is British, with British stars and deals with a Scottish troop after World War II.  The other is an American film made about a French troop during World War I.  The “Tunes” of the title refer to the bagpipe playing, so this is clearly the Scottish one.  Please stop confusing the two.

The Source:

Tunes of Glory by James Kennaway  (1956)

This is the kind of thing I think a lot of writers would be happy to have.  It’s a short (just over 200 pages), solidly written, successful novel and it was published when the author was only 28 years old.  It deals with the machinations in a Scottish battalion when the man who lead them through the war is replaced in favor of a career educated soldier who has longed to come back to the group that he was with for only a short time in his youth.  It makes the stark difference clear between a man who has lived and died with the men as opposed to one who is imposed upon them from above.  Both characters, while a bit simplistic, are drawn out well and their clash makes for good reading.  Sadly, while Kennaway published several more novels and had a successful career (even earning an Oscar nomination for adapting his own novel), it was a career that was cut short when he died of a heart attack when he was just 40.

The Adaptation:

The notes in the Criterion DVD by Robert Murphy sum up the main differences between the book and the film:

In Kennaway’s novel, Jock Sinclair is presented as bullying, wily, selfish and coarse; but he is undoubtedly the hero.  Barrow, ‘the spry wee gent’ who supersedes him, is treated with considerable sensitivity and attracts our sympathy, but he is never allowed to emerge from Jock’s shadow.  Kennaway’s script for the film simplifies but also intensifies the action of the novel.  By omitting certain sequences – most especially that where Jock plays the pipes, and that where young MacKinnon discovers him on a fog-shrouded bridge dressed in full regalia – Jock becomes more of a egocentric monster and less a fallible but likeable human being.  Kennaway also introduces a new plot twist that raises the stakes between the two men.  In the novel, both men remain locked into their uncompromising positions to the end.  In the film, they both appear to compromise.  But it is the unreality of that compromise that leads to tragedy, and what is lost in subtlety is made up for in emotional intensity.  A fascinating study of conflict and survival centered upon a war hero ill-adjusted to the needs of peacetime society and resentful of an unjust class system becomes the tragedy of two men whose fierce pride and ambition force their conflict inexorably towards madness and death.

Aside from the scenes that Kennaway changes for the film, he does a very straight adaptation of his novel, and the lines, both in the opening and closing scenes of the film mirror directly the actual lines of dialogue from the novel itself.

The Credits:

Directed by Ronald Neame.  Screenplay by James Kennaway based on his novel.

Apur Sansar

The Film:

What happens when you stumble upon happiness by chance and circumstance?  What happens when that happiness is ripped away from you by life?  As in the allegory from The Maltese Falcon, Apu adjusts to beams falling but then no more beams fall and then he has to adjust again and this is simply too hard.  But that is straight from life.  It is too hard for many people and that’s why so many children end up alone, abandoned, raised by others.  Because once that happiness is gone, it’s sometimes so hard to find anything else to sustain it.

Should that have been my closing paragraph?  You’ve met Apu before, when he was a kid (in Pather Panchali) and as an older kid, moving towards young adulthood (in Aparajito).  Here, director Satyajit Ray, with a few more films under his belt after those first two great films, completes his trilogy with the story of the adult Apu and it’s the best of the series.  While, unlike Truffaut’s Antoine Doinel (who was still just getting started at this point, with only one film so far) we don’t get the same actor carrying through the story, we do get a complete story of this young man and the struggles he has faced (the brutal poverty in the first film, the death of his father early in the second film and his mother at the end).  He is an adult now, a bit lost, a bit meandering, when a friend takes him to a cousin’s wedding.  Through a set of circumstances that would pretty much never happen here but could easily happen in this culture in India, Apu ends up the one who is married.  That could derail him, but what derails him in a slightly different way is the enormous measure of happiness that he actually finds with his young wife.  He has been lost and suddenly he is not lost anymore.  He starts to write.  She gets pregnant.  They have found a life together.

But that happiness is not to last.  The child arrives, but his birth takes the life of his mother.  Apu’s sense of loss is complete and it seems that everyone who has truly mattered to him is now gone and he feels nothing for the son who has taken the woman he loves, a woman he never expected to find.  So he runs, he runs out to the greater world, abandoning his son to be raised by his wife’s parents and tries to find something.  But he finds nothing more than loneliness and heartbreak.

It is only at the close of the film that he finds something, anything, that reminds him that he is a human being.  His friend, the same one whose cousin he ended up marrying, finds him, encourages him to come home, reign his child in, be the father he should be.  And we have come full circle in Ray’s magnificent trilogy, to the start of a new relationship.  The film builds through its magnificent cinematography and beautiful Shankar music (both of which had been present in the first two films as well) and we see a complete human being who has found a measure of himself.

The Source:

Aparajito by Bibhutibhushan Banerji  (sr. 1932)

I was never able to get hold of Aparajito.  This film apparently adapted the last 2/3 of the book (the first 1/3 had been made into Aparajito).  The novel itself, while well regarded, does not seem to have the same kind of reputation that the original novel Pather Panchali has.

The Adaptation:

Unfortunately I can’t really tell what changes were made, but since Ray is on the record as saying a lot of changes were made for the film version of Aparajito, I suspect that a number of changes were also made for The World of Apu.

The Credits:

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

Elmer Gantry

The Film:

As one of the Best Picture nominees, I have already reviewed this film.  While some Best Picture nominees drag me down when I have to re-watch them, I have no problem with continuously re-watching Elmer Gantry.  It is a smart, literate film with some interesting (and cynical, but hey, I’m cynical) things to say about religion and faith (not necessarily the same thing, as the film understands), a fantastic performance from Burt Lancaster and one of my favorite performances of all-time from Shirley Jones, a fantastic performance that is also sexy as all-hell.

The Source:

Elmer Gantry by Sinclair Lewis  (1927)

This is a first-rate book.  I have discussed several times in the past about how Sinclair Lewis is a good example of a second-tier author in the American Literary Pantheon.  He didn’t have any books in my Top 100, but he had four in my Top 200, including this one.  Lewis creates a fascinating character in Elmer, a man who continually finds himself pulled back to religion (not necessarily faith), from his time in college, to his multiple stints as a preacher.  It paints a cynical picture of organized religion in this country in the early part of last century.  It is extremely well-written and a fascinating read.  If you have never read Lewis, and there’s a good chance you haven’t (unless you’re one of those people who read It Can’t Happen Here after the election, and if you are, I urge you to read his other novels, because I would rank that one sixth of his novels), it’s time you picked up a major American author (the first to win the Nobel Prize) who has been neglected for too long.

The Adaptation:

Richard Brooks had considered making a film version of Elmer Gantry as early as 1945, when he was still just a screenwriter and not yet a director and Sinclair Lewis himself gave him some advice: ” ‘If you’re going to do it,’ Lewis told him, ‘read all the book reviews that were written about it, and you will find that some of them are pretty good, especially some of those that criticize the book. If you compile all of those and think about them, maybe you will find a way to do it that will make a movie.”  (Tough as Nails: The Life and Films of Richard Brooks, Douglass K. Daniel, p 35)

“A key decision was to narrow the focus to one part of Gantry’s life, his two-year association with Sharon Falconer. In doing so, Richard made the story manageable – the film covers what appears to be a matter of months – and, as important, limited the depth of Gantry’s despicable nature. Thus, Richard’s Gantry has a relatively short period in which to play havoc with Christianity instead of the lifetime Lewis grants his character. Richard’s approach also allowed him to present Gantry as a clever, smooth-talking salesman who moves from selling household goods to pitching religion.” (Daniel, p 134)

“The final break with Lewis’s book came with the ending Richard gave his screenplay. In the novel and the film, fire destroys Falconer’s temple and consumes her along with other victims. Lewis’s Gantry abandons Sharon and pushes his way to safety without concern for others. He later resumes his work as a minister and achieves greatness. However, Richard’s Gantry walks away from the ruins of the temple, and presumably, from evangelism altogether. The film ends with quiet, hopeful reflection instead of the novel’s bitter note of triumph.” (Daniel, p 137)

I don’t know what I could say about the adaptation that Daniel hasn’t already made quite clear.  The one thing I can point out is that the film really only covers about 100 pages of the book.  Now, when that happens, it usually means that it covers either the first or last 100 pages (for instance, see Sons and Lovers, below).  However, in covering the time when Elmer knows Sharon, it covers pages 156 (Sharon first appears at the top of that page) to the last lines of page 221: “It was Elmer himself who at dawn found Sharon’s body lying on a floor-beam.  There were rags of white satin clinging to it, and in her charred hand was still the charred cross.”  As for the relationship with Lulu, the original part of it comes before we meet Sharon and Elmer doesn’t meet her again until well after Sharon is dead while the final part of the relationship with Lulu portrayed in the film is actually with a different character.

Either way, Books does a remarkable job of cutting through the over 400 pages and finding exactly what would work well in a film.

The Credits:

Directed by Richard Brooks.  Screenplay by Richard Brooks.  From the Novel by Sinclair Lewis.

Our Man in Havana

The Film:

I have already reviewed this film as my under-appreciated film of 1960 and in my Nighthawk Awards, I commented on the irony that my under-appreciated film would fail to earn a single Nighthawk nomination.  That’s, of course, because this is a magnificent year for films and it does come in sixth place here in a list of very good scripts.  What fascinated me this time, watching this just days after watching Tunes of Glory (and while writing about it), that Alec Guinness could give two so very different performances in the same year and both of them could be so good.  Well, that’s one reason why he’s my favorite actor of all-time.

The Source:

Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene  (1958)

Can you satirize something that doesn’t yet exist?  Of course you can’t but that sort-of happens here, because it’s an idea that is being satirized and just because the best literary fulmination of that idea hadn’t been written yet, doesn’t mean the idea didn’t exist.  That may seem like a high-handed way of writing about a book that its own author classified as an “entertainment” (as opposed to one of his more serious novels) but it shows what Greene was able to do with this book.

This novel satirizes the very idea of a spy novel.  In it, Wormold, a poor vacuum cleaner salesman who is trying to earn more money to help support the lifestyle of his teenage daughter, is recruited by Hawthorne to be a spy for Her Majesty’s Government in Bautista’s Cuba.  But Wormold doesn’t have the faintest idea what he’s doing.  He uses a book code but lends the book out.  He has a different edition than his secretary.  He doesn’t know who’s trying to kill him.  He doesn’t know who is his friend or his enemy.

All of this would be the perfect satirization of one of John le Carre’s novels if only they had been written yet.  Spy novels existed at this point, though many were more like the Bond novels (which were flourishing at this point) and it’s really le Carre’s novels that so perfectly match the real experience of MI-6.  But Greene worked with them and that’s why he knows how to make such good fun of them (while le Carre, who also worked with them, knows how to make them so realistic).  It’s a fun, enjoyable novel (entertainment!) and a worthy addition to Greene’s oeuvre.

The Adaptation:

Greene adapted the novel himself and that’s probably why it stays so close to the book.  But what Greene had written was already very filmable, so he didn’t have to do much work anyway and it probably would have been a faithful adaptation even if he hadn’t written it (like his later The Comedians, which shares some similarities in theme).  I wonder, if when Greene wrote it, he could have already imagined Alec Guinness as Wormold.  I like to think that he did.

The Credits:

Produced and Directed by Carol Reed.  Novel and Screenplay by Graham Greene.

Sons and Lovers

The Film:

I have already reviewed this film as a Best Picture nominee.  It is a very good film that had the potential to be more (if producer Jerry Wald hadn’t insisted on casting Dean Stockwell in the lead role, which doesn’t work both because he’s an American surrounded by Brits and because he just wasn’t really up to snuff) but also could have been a lot worse.  At a time when the Production Code was still in effect, adapting a 500 page novel by D.H. Lawrence could have been so much worse.

The Source:

Sons and Lovers by D.H. Lawrence  (1913)

I have also already reviewed the novel because it is one of my Top 100 Novels of All-Time.  It landed at #81, his highest novel on my list, though given that he has two novels on the list and another two in my second 100, that easily places Lawrence as one of the great novelists of all-time (though that statement seems to limit him, since he also wrote plays, painted and wrote some of my absolute favorite poems).  This wasn’t his first novel (it was his third) but he was still only 28 when it was published, it was the novel that made him a force to be reckoned with and was his look back at the coal mining town and the parents that had produced him.  My review of the novel also includes my original review of the film though it isn’t very different than the one that followed just a couple of months later.

The Adaptation:

As I mentioned in the review, the main thing that the filmmakers did was toss out the entire first half of the book.  The film really begins after Paul has reached young adulthood, with Part II of the novel (which begins on page 177) after his brother has died.  That wasn’t the only change, as they often took the broad outlines of the novel (his strained relationship with his father, his close relationship with his mother, his rise as a painter, his early love affair with Miriam, his later love affair with Clara) while dropping most of the specifics (for example, that Paul actually met Clara through Miriam long before they worked together).  It is, for the most part, true to the spirit of the novel even though it is rarely true to the printed page, but with a great novel like this at the length that it is, that is probably the best that we could have hoped for.  Casting a young British actor instead of Stockwell would probably have made it a better film but it wouldn’t have made it a better adaptation.

The Credits:

Directed by Jack Cardiff.  Screenplay by Gavin Lambert and T.E.B. Clarke.  Based on the novel by D.H. Lawrence.

Inherit the Wind

The Film:

Three men come to a small town.  The town is about to be launched into the annals of history.  This is a dramatization, not a lesson in history (see below) but that doesn’t mean that we can’t learn from it.  Indeed, it is a socially liberally slanted film, one designed to move the world forward.  That should come as no surprise when you look at those opening credits and see the name “Stanley Kramer”.  By this time, he had already directed a film dealing with racism (The Defiant Ones) and another about the prospect of a post-nuclear world (On the Beach).  In this film, we take a look back at the Scopes Trial and the beginning of a new era in education and law that began to evolve from it.  Yet, it also looks to its own time, like The Crucible, using a past legal story to tell a disguised story of the McCarthyism of the time.  This is easier to forget that it’s a parable for the present and it was also easier for people to swallow and so an American film version hit screens over 30 years before The Crucible and it starred that American everyman of the screen, Spencer Tracy.

We can get an insight into the acting of Spencer Tracy simply by looking at this film in contrast to Compulsion, from the year before.  Both he and Orson Welles, in Compulsion, are playing fictionalized versions of the same man, Clarence Darrow, the esteemed lawyer who might lose a case (like he did in this one) but never allowed a client to be put to death (which he succeeds in avoiding in Compulsion).  Tracy’s Henry Drummond is folksy and tries to be a bit charming and act like a country lawyer who can dance people into a corner and trap them with their own words.  Welles’ Jonathan Wilk walks into the room and sucks all the oxygen away.  He is the smartest man in the room, he knows it, and he makes certain that everyone else knows it as well.  His victory is as much a matter of force of will as it is of knowledge of the law and a plea for justice.  They are very different performances from very different kinds of actors and there’s no question that I prefer Welles over Tracy any day of the week.

But Tracy isn’t the only one carrying this film, even if he does do so with dignity and grace (and was the only one who earned an acting nomination at the Oscars, something the actors seemed to give to Tracy with regularity no matter whether he deserved it or not and usually didn’t).  There is also Fredric March, playing the bombastic, self-confident former Secretary of State who is adamant that every word in The Bible is true to life.  In that argument, there’s no question that I’m on Tracy’s side even if it’s March’s performance that I find more compelling.  But it’s the third man in the equation, one which we are supposed to be a bit repelled by at the end of the film, who really draws my interest and is more my kind of man than anyone else in the film.  That’s Gene Kelly, playing very much against every role he had ever played, as E.K. Hornbeck (really H.L. Mencken), the condescending reporter who has consented to come to the sticks (“Do you need a nice place to stay?” he is asked by one of the people in town and he replies “I had a nice play to stay.  I left it to come here.”) to report on one of the vital questions of the day, whether education and science should be liberated from the yoke of religion.  Kelly gives the best performance in the film, arrogant, obnoxious, and convinced he’s the smartest person, not only in the room, but in the town and possibly the country (and may well be right).  The filmmakers make the right move in taking his first appearance and moving it right up to just a few minutes into the film (it takes 14 pages in the play).

This film is not a representation of history.  Rather it is a courtroom drama about an important question of the day, one, which, sadly, still seems to be debated around this country almost a century after the original trial took place.  It is not a great film, partially because Stanley Kramer was not a great director and it tries too hard to be important, like all Kramer films do.  But it is a very good film, a well acted film with three men going at each other to the best of their ability.  It reminds us that giants once walked the earth and sometimes we can capture a little of their spirit in our art.

The Source:

Inherit the Wind by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee  (1955)

This play, and the film made from it have been criticized at times for their lack of historical accuracy.  Indeed, the Wikipedia page for the film has a section for Historical Inaccuracies.  But that’s just being stupid.  Lawrence and Lee are very clear in their opening introduction to the play: “Inherit the Wind is not history.  The events which took place in Dayton, Tennessee, during the scorching July of 1925 are clearly the genesis of this play.  It has, however, an exodus entirely its own.  Only a handful of phrases have been taken from the actual transcript of the famous Scopes Trial.”  They are clear on that: “The stage directions set the time as ‘Not too long ago.’  It might have been yesterday.  It could be tomorrow.'”  And they are right.  So, to criticize the accuracy when they flat out are saying they have taken the concept and dramatized it (by doing, among other things, giving Scopes a fiancee, making him younger, giving her a preacher father).  They wrote a play which took a real event and make it compelling drama, in much the same way that Arthur Miller did.  This play might not be at the same level of theater as Miller’s work, but given how many times it has been revived over the years and how many times it has been filmed (a feature film and three television productions), there’s no question that it continues to make for powerful theater.

The Adaptation:

As with so many stage plays that are turned into films, a lot of the dialogue is moved around, so as to open it up.  So, a lot of scenes are moved around a little in location and in the setting of the play.  But one of the best changes is right at the beginning where, in the middle of the dialogue between Bert Cates and his fiancee, Hornbeck arrives in town.  We see him first eating an apple and then pull back and we slowly get the measure of who he is.  It pushes us right into the larger scale of what this trial means to the country.

There are other changes, of course.  The charge against Henry Drummond of being in contempt of court is not in the original play and actually is a detail from the original trial that was added in for the film.  The major scenes that take place outside of the court after the trial begins (the talk on the porch between Brady and Drummond, the mob scene) aren’t in the original play either.  The farewell scene for Cates and Rachel is also moved up slightly so that, instead of coming right at the end, they are out of the film so as to open up the final scene to simply be played out between Hornbeck and Drummond, which adds to the drama of it.

The Credits:

Produced and Directed by Stanley Kramer.  Screenplay by Nedrick Young and Harold Jacob Smith.  Based upon the play by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee.  As produced and directed by Herman Shumlin.

Psycho

The Film:

This was not like any film that had come before it.  No film after it would have the same kind of impact although many would try.  It wasn’t intended that way.  It was just supposed to be a lurid tale of sex and murder, shot on the cheap with the crew from his television show.  But, Alfred Hitchcock would do what he had been doing better than anyone else for well over 20 years: he kept the audience in suspense.  That the film is now so famous that it can never again achieve the same kind of level of shock and awe that it did when it first opened in 1960 does not make the film any less a classic and in most years, years that aren’t 1960, it would easily find its way into my Top 5.  Instead, it sits with Olivier’s Henry V, The Hours and A History of Violence as the best #6 films in the history of the Nighthawk Awards.

The film begins slowly.  We follow Marion Crane from her lunch-time tryst, back to work where she impulsively steals $40,000 and then her flight.  Followed by a car, not knowing what she should do she seeks shelter from the rain at a run-down motel out on the old highway.  While there she starts talking to the young proprietor.  He seems like a nice guy, but there is also something definitely off about him.  Like the way he gets so intense when talking about his mother, especially with the suggestion that perhaps she should be put in an institution.  Perhaps he’s too lonely, stuck out here where the traffic doesn’t come anymore.  Perhaps he just needs to escape from that mother that clearly weighs on his mind.  Either way, he’s lonely and desperate, even spying on Marion when she takes a shower.  But he stops spying after she’s in the shower and we get one of the most chilling scenes in film history.

Graphic nudity and extremely graphic violence are no longer taboo in films; they are practically requirements in slasher films, the particular subgenre of Horror that was basically brought into being with Psycho.  They are rarely made with taste or vision or quality in the directing, acting or writing.  This film has all of those things.  Is it lurid?  Yes.  But not a single shot is gratuitous.  Yes, you can talk about how the Production Code kept things under wraps, but Hitchcock was such a master at how to play his audience that it seems like the shower scene might have still been much the same, even after the Code was gone.  We see brief glimpses of a body, we see the knife brought down again and again, we see dark blood going down the shower drain.  All of this is accompanied by one of the most distinctive pieces of music ever written for a film.

We’ve been sucked in with Marion’s story.  Now we leave her behind, the corpse in the shower, and we move into the second half and it’s that half that keeps Psycho from leaping those last few spots into the Top 5 of 1960.  There are still some great moments, from every minute of Anthony Perkins’ disturbing performance to the scene where Arbogast, the detective trying to find Marion, makes his own lethal discovery.  We are reminded, when the knife goes into the air and plunges down again and again that the violence we don’t see but imagine is often far worse than the graphic stabbings that all the imitators have felt the need to fill their films with.

We all have films or books we wish we could go back and discover anew once again, as if we had never seen or read them before.  For Psycho, it’s an entire culture that would be nice to revert, to see this film again without having already heard about the shower scene and to realize, just as the original audiences realized, holy crap, Hitchcock has sucked us in again.  And we wouldn’t have it any other way.

The Source:

Psycho by Robert Bloch  (1959)

Perhaps even more than the film, which is a work of genius that any serious film-lover must watch, the book has been undercut by the cultural pervasiveness of the film.  That’s because the book itself is actually very good.  Is it a lurid thriller?  Absolutely.  But is well-written and interesting and if it weren’t for the film, would we see the moments coming?  If someone were to come to the book with no knowledge about the story, imagine what they would think, on page 41, when they suddenly read: “Mary started to scream, and then the curtains parted further and a hand appeared, holding a butcher’s knife.  It was the knife that, a moment later, cut off her scream.  And her head.”  Holy crap.  How do you prepare for something like that?  Then, after another 80 pages of dealing with Norman and his mother, the killer and the killer’s son dealing with what has happened, we get to the end of Chapter 11 and get one hell of another shock when the sheriff suddenly explains how Mrs. Bates couldn’t possibly be at the motel because she’s dead.  Then you don’t know what the hell to think.

Things move forward quickly and you find yourself gripping the book tighter and tighter until you get to “Lilia closed her mouth, but the scream continued.  It was the insane scream of an hysterical woman, and it came from the throat of Norman Bates.”  Unfortunately, the book still has two more chapters to go and while they work better on the page than they do in the film, they still kind of undercut the horror and terror of the climactic moment.  But it is quite a good book and it won’t take you long (175 pages) so it’s well worth a quick read.

The Adaptation:

In the essay “Psycho: Trust the Tale”, printed in Hitchcock at the Source: The Auteur as Adaptor (ed. R. Barton Palmer and David Boyd), Brian McFarlane points out that Hitchcock was often disingenuous in the way he would push off any credit being due the source or the writers and that various interviewers over the years enabled that approach.

When Peter Bogdanovich asked [Hitchcock] ‘why he had chosen to have Janet Leigh stabbed to death in the shower,’ he answered, ‘reasonably’: ‘Well, that’s what life is like . . . Things happen out of the blue’ (27).  He might easily have replied with something like ‘Well, the film was based on a novel by Robert Bloch, and that’s how it happens at the end of Chapter 3.’  Look at the last paragraphs of that chapter: ‘The roar [of the shower] was deafening, and the room was beginning to steam up.  That’s why she didn’t hear the door open or the sound of footsteps.  And at first, when the shower curtains parted, the steam obscured the face . . . It was the face of a crazy old woman.  Mary started to scream, and then the curtains parted further and a hand appeared, holding a butcher’s knife.  It was the knife that, a moment later, cut off her scream.  And her head’ (31).  (p 256)

All of that is absolutely true.  Hitchcock never gave proper credit to his source, which is interesting not only because the source material is actually much better than the usual source material for Hitchcock’s films, but also because the film follows the original source material more closely than most of his films.  There are changes of course, some really superficial (Mary is changed to Marion), some a little less so (in the book, Lila is confused for Mary by both Sam and Norman because they look so much alike while the sisters in the film don’t like alike at all), some to make it a bit more appealing on film (Norman in the book looks nothing like Perkins: “The light shone down on his plump face, reflected from his rimless glasses, bathed the pinkness of his scalp beneath the thinning sandy hair as he bent his head to resume reading.”) and some to make it flow better and be more tense at the end (the sheriff actually shows up in the book and has more of a presence than in the film).  Unfortunately, the long-winded explanation of Norman’s psychosis (told by Sam in the book) is present in the film, part of the reason that the second half of the film doesn’t quite have the same appeal as the first, not to mention the absence of Janet Leigh and her deservedly Oscar nominated performance is left behind in favor of the much less impressive John Gavin and Vera Miles.

The Credits:

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock.  Screenplay by Joseph Stefano.  Based on the Novel by Robert Bloch.

Spartacus

The Film:

I have already reviewed this film as one of the five best films of the year.  It is a magnificent epic, yet one with solid acting all-around and of course, magnificent technical aspects.  It has a rousing score, great cinematography, solid costumes and sets, an Oscar-winning performance from Peter Ustinov, an even better one from Laurence Olivier and an ending that has resonated in culture from the day it was released.

The Source:

Spartacus by Howard Fast (1951)

This is a bit of a strange novel.  Ostensibly, it’s a novel about the slave revolt that was lead by Spartacus and that ended with his horrific defeat at the Battle of Siler River.  But, really, it’s about the Roman era in which slavery existed.  I originally wrote “thrived”, but the whole point of the novel was that the slavery wasn’t thriving and that they rose up against their masters.  Fast began this novel while still in jail for refusing to testify for HUAC and it’s, in a sense, a parable about what was going on in the U.S. at the time.  It’s kind of a slog of a read, partially because the main character isn’t ever really around.  Spartacus is talked about, described, feared, hated, loved, yet almost never appears in the book, and it makes for strange reading.

The Adaptation:

“Trumbo wrote: ‘The form and concept of the novel, while it dealt with Spartacus as the perpetrator of overwhelming events, concerned itself mainly with the reaction of the characters to what an off-scene Spartacus was doing, and had done to the Roman world. The motion picture must, of course, reverse the emphasis’ – that is, it must show Spartacus acting and the Romans reacting. ‘To this end it is felt we shall have to open up and develop the campaigns of Spartacus, to show the immensity of the forces that were called into action, and to show Spartacus directing them in a way we have not yet achieved.’ In addition, Trumbo wrote, we must ‘extend the struggle in time, lest it seem like merely a heroic skirmish extending over a few months. We must show, or account for, or give the impression of, four years of devastating war in which hundreds of thousands of men were slain on both sides – four years of terror for Rome herself, a terror that can only be measured by the frightfulness of the final punishment she exacted for it.'” Trumbo reacting to the Fast screenplay of Spartacus, in Dalton Trumbo: Blacklisted Hollywood Radical by Larry Ceplair and Christopher Trumbo, p 372

That really sums up what Trumbo did in writing the script for the film. Fast had taken a shot at the script, but it was a disaster and Kirk Douglas (who was producer as well as star) bounced him. So, Trumbo was brought on (secretly at first – while much of the film Trumbo is fictionalized, they do a fairly accurate job of the battle for publicity between Douglas and Preminger – but then later publicly) and he found a way to bring the action to the forefront. There are parts of the novel that do make their way to the screen (most of the stuff in Rome), but so much of what was in the film came from Trumbo and his research rather than Fast and his novel.

Not to say that everything Trumbo wrote made it to the screen either. “Screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, blacklisted for his Communist sympathies and barred from screen credit, estimates he wrote a quarter of a million words on the film. One of Kubrick’s first acts is to cut some of them – specifically all but two liens from the first half-hour of Douglas’s role.” (Stanley Kubrick: A Biography by John Baxter, p 3)

The Credits:

directed by Stanley Kubrick.  screenplay by Dalton Trumbo.  based on the novel by Howard Fast.

Consensus Nominees That Don’t Make My Top 10

The Sundowners

The Film:

I have already reviewed this film as one of the Oscar nominees for Best Picture.  It’s a good film because it’s made under the sure hand of Fred Zinnemann, one of the best of the Hollywood directors, and one who the Oscars appreciated even if later auteur theorists did not.  And, hey, it gives an appreciation for Australia in that not everything you see in this film can kill you.

The Source:

The Sundowners by Jon Cleary (1952)

Having seen the film The Sundowners more than once, I was prepared to enjoy a lively novel about this family of drovers moving across Australia, finding work where they can while learning to come together as a family.  But then, as I started to read it, I began to realize something: the quality of the film rests on the performances from Robert Mitchum, Peter Ustinov, Glynis Johns, and most especially Deborah Kerr.  The characters themselves weren’t necessarily all that memorable.  The big moment in the film – the sheep-shearing competition – was going to come off as far more dramatic and interesting when on-screen than it could on the page.  As a result, I found myself mostly bored by the novel.  It’s not a bad novel, and for anyone interested in Australian history, I imagine it could be quite interesting.  It just never clicked for me and I found myself longing to see the characters on screen rather than reading about them on the page.

The Adaptation:

It’s a pretty faithful adaptation.  There are a few things that have to be changed or cut, for obvious reasons (“She was naked beneath the thin grey blankets: you realized the pointlessness of nightgowns when you had no money to buy one.” That certainly wasn’t going to be carried over into a film being made in 1960.)  But, for the most part, what you see on the screen is what you read on the page, provided you read it, which is unlikely, as the edition I got from the library is a British edition and it doesn’t seem to ever have been in print in the U.S.

The Credits:

Directed by Fred Zinnemann.  Screenplay by Isobel Lennart.  From the novel by Jon Cleary.

Bells are Ringing

The Film:

If you were to see a film in 2017 about two people who meet through an accidental text or Facebook, it would seem a topical film that might someday look strange.  But there have always been such films.  Witness Bells are Ringing, a film that revolves around phone answering services, something that would have to be explained to kids today and then probably explained again because they would give you a look that suggests you were nuts.

In the end, it doesn’t matter what the topical reference is (and it was very topical – the entire first song of the film is all about why you should get an answering service); this is just an excuse for a romantic comedy with a little case of mistaken identity on one side of it.  What you get out of this comedy may depend on what you put into it.  The songs are decent but for the most part (to me) unmemorable.  The two leads are played by Dean Martin and Judy Holliday.  The former isn’t an actor I have ever taken to (and acting isn’t really so much what he does) and the latter I have never been a fan of partially because she won the undeserved Oscar in 1950, but this was her last film role.  It’s nice that Holliday actually got to take the role that she had played onstage since it’s often the female who gets replaced on film rather than the male and it’s a little tragic because Holliday died fairly young of breast cancer and while I may not have been a fan, that kind of thing is always tragic.  But none of that really makes this much of a film.

Holliday plays a one-woman answering service (there are other employees, but it seems like she does everything herself) who gets involved with the lives of the people she answers for.  She falls in love with the voice (and predicament) of a playwright who is struggling with writer’s block now that his partner has left him (but, can you really see Dean Martin as a writer?) and through a set of circumstances gets to meet him and he falls in love with her.  Sparks ensue.  Problems ensue.  There’s a happy ending of course.  Mileage may vary, as it always does with such things.  What keeps this one from rising much isn’t the lack of some memorable songs (although that doesn’t help) but a rather flat supporting cast.  If the Rock Hudson / Doris Day films weren’t all that good, they at least generally had Tony Randall and Thelma Ritter working in the background and keeping things interesting and sadly, there’s nothing here that’s anywhere close.

The Source:

Bells are Ringing, book and lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, music by Jule Styne  (1956)

This is not really my type of musical, a silly romantic comedy with songs that don’t really do much for me.  It was, however, one of the bigger hits of the decade.  It opened in late 1956 with Judy Holliday in the lead role and it lasted for 924 performances and kept Holliday off screens for nearly three years before the show finally closed and she starred in the film version, her last film role.  It was an important step for two vital Broadway people: Jerome Robbins, who directed the show, his last direction before doing West Side Story and Bob Fosse, who co-choreographed the show with Robbins (and earned him his three straight Tony nomination, though he lost this time while winning the first two times).

The Adaptation:

Because Comden and Green were Hollywood veterans (they co-wrote the script for Singin’ in the Rain), they were brought in to adapt their own musical.  Thus, they kept almost completely intact what had already worked on stage.  This is one of the easiest musicals to sit and look at the book and read along with what is happening on the screen.

The Credits:

Directed by Vincente Minnelli.  Screen Play and Lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green.  Based on the Musical Play Bells are Ringing, Book and Lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green.  Music by Jule Styne.  As Presented on the Stage by The Theatre Guild.

The other WGA Nominees

North to Alaska

The Film:

It doesn’t take long for a brawl to break out in this film.  We’re barely five minutes into it and have just met the friends who have struck it rich in Alaska (played by John Wayne, Stewart Granger and Fabian) when the saloon they’re in breaks into a free-for-all.  It lasts a good two minutes and only stops because someone sees women outside and they all run out to see them.  That kind of sets the stage for what is a mostly ridiculous movie, a cross between an adventure and a romantic comedy, a film that makes it into the lower edges of ***, but just barely.  Before the end, the three men will fight amongst themselves, although it will mostly just be Wayne and Granger fighting over one woman.

That woman is played by Capucine, a French model who was involved with the producer and can hardly be called an actress.  Wayne sets out to Seattle to bring back Granger’s fiancee but she’s married someone else while he’s gone and so he brings back Capucine instead because she’s French (like Granger’s fiancee) and beautiful.  But she falls for Wayne.  Then no one seems clear on what to do.  Who should she end up with?  Should the men just fight for her?  Why not?  They can fight with everyone else while they’re at it, protecting their claim and getting very muddy.  There’s one stunt that I’m surprised didn’t get Wayne killed, when he’s knocked into the mud and slides beneath a horse, that then starts bucking.

In the middle of all of this is Ernie Kovacs, with his little mustache, playing a cartoon type villain.  We can tell he’s the villain from the second he appears and if the other characters are too dumb to grasp that, they deserve to be fleeced by him.  But it’s an insult to our intelligence when there’s a climactic fight between Kovacs and Wayne.  I’m not a fan of John Wayne, but there’s no way Kovacs should last more than one punch against him.  This movie is all just too silly and at the end, they basically manage to destroy the whole town with their huge brawl.  It’s hard to believe this is directed by the same man who once directed The Lives of a Bengal Lancer.

The Source:

The Birthday Gift by Laszlo Fodor (1939)

This play was written in 1939, apparently based on an idea from John Kafka, whatever that means.  But it’s a Hungarian play and I can’t find any copy of it, even in Hungarian.  Fodor was an established playwright though, who later came to Hollywood and had several films made from his plays and several more that he wrote himself.

The Adaptation:

Other than the basic premise (a man goes to fetch his brother’s fiancee who has married rather than wait and brings back a prostitute instead but she falls for him), I doubt that much of this film came from the original source (and I don’t even know how much of the plot did).  In his memoir, director Richard Fleischer talks about how he was offered this film without a finished script and he thought the script was a problem and that they didn’t know where to go.  He wanted to turn it down, but then John Wayne would likely have left the project, fearing problems with the script (which he hadn’t read), so Fleischer managed to get himself fired (by refusing to use Capucine, who the producer was involved with) and get away with not making it.  If the script had that many problems (and no way to conclude the film), it’s likely that much of this film was created by the screenwriters and doesn’t come from the original play.

The Credits:

Produced and Directed by Henry Hathaway.  Screenplay by John Lee Mahin, Martin Rackin and Claude Binyon.  Based on the play “The Birthday Gift” by Laszlo Fodor.  From an idea by John Kafka.

Please Don’t Eat the Daisies

The Film:

I sat there watching this film and my first thought was, how did Rock Hudson not end up in this film?  After all, it’s a silly comedy with Doris Day (it’s only sort of a romantic comedy, as the main couple is married and has four children).  But then I thought about how Day’s husband, played by David Niven, is supposed to be a professor and a drama critic.  So that pretty much leaves Rock Hudson out in the cold, because he could play a playboy or an oil tycoon or someone shallow but a professor and drama critic?  That’s way outside his dramatic abilities.

Not that any dramatic abilities are required in this silly little movie.  Here’s the premise in brief: a married couple are moving out of the city and into a house out in the country (because it’s all they can afford) with their four wild kids (who are really annoying) while he trashes a play produced by his close friend and criticizes the leading lady (who slaps him in public to get back at him, which brings forth the tempting idea if Liza Minnelli or Barbra Streisand had ever read any of John Simon’s reviews of their films because they wouldn’t have slapped him but probably would have kicked him in the balls and they would have been right to do so), so to help get back at him, his wife puts on a play for a local drama group in their new town that it turns out was written by her husband when he was young and it’s terrible.  There’s a happy ending, of course, but there’s not a lot of comedy tonight.

This film was nominated by the WGA for Best Written Comedy, which says actually, sadly, more about the state of American film comedies in 1960 than it does about the WGA because there aren’t really any films that were snubbed by the WGA that I can point to and say, wow did they screw up.  No, this film is not well written and it’s not particularly funny and it just barely scrapes the bottom of ***.  There is only one film that I score above a 71 that was even eligible (there were three Foreign films and a British film that wasn’t almost certainly not eligible) and it was the winner in the category, The Apartment.  So, if you want a Doris Day – David Niven comedy with four really obnoxious and annoying children, go ahead but don’t say I didn’t warn you.

The Source:

Please Don’t Eat the Daisies by Jean Kerr  (1957)

Jean Kerr was an established playwright with a drama critic husband who starting writing little slice-of-life columns that were printed in magazines in the 50’s, magazines such as Ladies Home Journal and Saturday Evening Post.  They were bits out of her life about her four annoying kids that she had no chance of handling.  They were eventually published in a collection because this was the 50’s and people wanted to read about things like this and they were somehow considered humorous.  But they aren’t particularly funny and certainly aren’t interesting (as Veronica will tell you, I have no interest in “human interest”), yet someone had the idea to turn them, not only into a film, but after the film’s success, a television series.  The library in the town I live in had a copy of this but I had to actually ILL a copy of Tunes of Glory because no library in my system had it.

The Adaptation:

The film took the basic idea that Kerr writes about (four annoying kids, moving to the country and taking care of getting the house set while her drama critic husband is often in the city) and made a story out of it.  The rest of the film was just created by the filmmakers and the film basically ignores that Kerr herself was a successful playwright (though, to be fair, her columns are really about being a mother and don’t deal with her being a writer).

The Credits:

Directed by Charles Walters.  Screen Play by Isobel Lennart.  Based on the Book by Jean Kerr.

Can-Can

The Film:

Two men come strolling up, singing.  It’s late 19th Century France and they are headed to a club to see someone dance the “Can-Can”, that sexy, enthralling dance that has been forbidden.  One of the men is Frank Sinatra and that will mean he’s gonna be a charming rogue who you probably don’t want to trust, especially if you’re female.  The other is Maurice Chevalier and that just makes me groan, because while he sometimes can do a solid job of acting (Gigi, Fanny), he’s also really annoying and sometimes a bit creepy.  I’ve seen this movie before, so it’s not like I should be surprised, but it’s been over 20 years, so I don’t remember anything about it other than the dance and I really remember the dance because I like classical music and also because the song is used so well in a much better film (Moulin Rouge).

Now we get into the club and things take a big step up because the woman that will be part of the romance in this musical romantic comedy is Shirley MacLaine.  Now, if you grew up in the eighties like I did, you might think of MacLaine and think, she’s that nut who believes she’s lived a gazillion past lives and likes to talk about it.  But if you’re a film buff, like I also am, you might think, young Shirley MacLaine might not be as sexy as young Jane Fonda, but she’s funny (The Trouble with Harry), sultry (Some Come Running), sexy (Irma La Douce) and an amazing actress (The Apartment).  Having young Shirley MacLaine in a film, especially a romantic comedy, is always a good sign.

What’s not as good a sign is that this film doesn’t really have much of a plot.  It’s just a framework to hang the Can-Can dance and a bunch of Cole Porter songs, songs which really don’t match up to his best work.  Oh yes, there is a plot about how MacLaine wants Sinatra (who is her lawyer and boyfriend) to marry her and how Louis Jourdan plays a judge who first throws MacLaine in jail, then tries to woo her, but really it’s just a framework for the songs and dances.  It works all right because Sinatra and MacLaine are quite talented and the sets and costumes looks really good.  It’s nothing great, but there are a lot worse ways to spend two and a half hours, though it didn’t really need to be so long and wouldn’t be if not for the overture and intermission.

The Source:

Can-Can by Cole Porter, book by Abe Burrows  (1953)

If the film is just a framework to hang some Cole Porter songs and the Can-Can dance, than the original play is even less.  It had less of a plot and more songs.  Like I wrote above, it’s not Porter’s best work and I’m not exactly a Porter fan to begin with.

The Adaptation:

The basic concept comes from the play, but they made it into a romantic triangle for the film to at least give it a bit more of a plot (and made the other judge a singing role so that Maurice Chevalier could get some singing in).  They dropped some of the songs from the play (which hadn’t gotten great reviews) and added some more classic Porter standards to give viewers songs that had a better track record.

The Credits:

Directed by Walter Lang.  Screenplay by Dorothy Kingsley and Charles Lederer.  Based on the Musical Comedy by Abe Burrows.  Produced for the Stage by Feuer and Martin.

Other Screenplays on My List Outside My Top 10:
(in descending order of how I rank the script)

  • Lola Montes  –  One of the best films from acclaimed director Max Ophuls.  It’s based on the novel by Cecil Saint-Laurent, a work of historical fiction based on the life of the real Lola Montez.  It’s a 1955 film getting a U.S. release in 1960.
  • I’m All Right, Jack  –  A British satire on unions with Peter Sellers facing off against Terry-Thomas, adapted from the novel Private Life by Alan Hackney (who also co-wrote the script).  Released in the UK in 1959.
  • Home from the Hill  –  Vincente Minnelli drops the Musicals and heads to Texas and makes one of his best films.  Adapted from the novel by William Humphrey.
  • The Dark at the Top of the Stairs  –  The Tony nominated William Inge play comes to film.  Sadly, it’s very hard to find.  But if you do find it, watch it, especially for the performances from Robert Preston and Shirley Knight.
  • Those Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail  –  Early low ***.5 drama from Kurosawa, adapted from the kabuki play Kanjincho.  Made in 1945, banned by occupying American forces until 1952 and finally made to the States in 1960.
  • The Fugitive Kind  –  Despite stellar people involved (Sidney Lumet directing Brando and Joanne Woodward in an adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ Orpheus Descending) this film doesn’t have a great reputation.  I have it as a high ***.
  • The Three Penny Opera  –  Fantastic 1931 screen version of the famous Brecht musical, directed by G.W. Pabst.  When oscars.org existed, it confirmed a 1960 eligibl
  • The Magnificent Seven  –  The kick-ass Western remake of Kurosawa’s brilliant Seven Samurai.  When Steve McQueen became the coolest man in Hollywood.

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

  • Ice Cold in Alex  –  Very good British film that’s not easy to find.  The script by Christopher Landon, based on his novel, isn’t as good as the performances from John Mills, Sylvia Sims and Anthony Quayle.
  • Black Orpheus  –  The hip Brazilian film was only the second film (after Bicycle Thieves) to win the Oscar and Globe for Best Foreign Film.  Based on the play Orfeu da Conceição.
  • The Unforgiven  –  I’m a bigger fan of this film than a lot of people including its director, John Huston.  A low-level ***.5 film, adapted from the novel by Alan Le May (who had also written the novel The Searchers).
  • The Idiot  –  The novel, by Dostoevsky, comes in at #54 all-time.  The film is a 1958 version by Soviet director Ivan Pyryev and it’s a high ***.
  • The Time Machine  –  The classic George Pal version of the novel is the best film version and the effects won the Oscar and the Nighthawk.
  • The Trials of Oscar Wilde  –  BAFTA award winning film about Wilde’s libel trial starring Peter Finch.  Adapted from the play The Stringed Lute by John Furnell.
  • House of Usher  –  The first and one of the better Corman / Poe films (eight films which will run through 1965), this one starring Vincent Price.
  • Crime and Punishment USA  –  There is actually a full review of the film here, in my post for Crime and Punishment.
  • Pollyanna  –  The 1913 Eleanor Porter novel becomes the first Disney film to star Hayley Mills.
  • The Entertainer  –  Olivier’s Oscar nominated performance in this film didn’t make my Top 10 for Best Actor (it was #11) while his Nighthawk winning role in Spartacus went un-nominated.  Based on the play by John Osborne, who had permanently made his mark on British theater with Look Back in Anger.
  • The Battle of the Sexes  –  A James Thurber short story becomes a Peter Sellers comedy directed by Charles Crichton.
  • Murder Inc.  –  The first major film role for Peter Falk and it earns him an Oscar nomination.  Based on the non-fiction book about the real criminal organization.
  • The Tiger of Eschnapur  –  The first-post Hollywood film from Fritz Lang is an interesting one.  It’s based on a novel written by his ex-wife Thea Harbou (who was dead by this time), which had already been filmed twice (both times in two parts, like this one – the other part, The Indian Tomb, I’ve never managed to see).
  • Aren’t We Wonderful  –  A 1959 German Comedy (really!) which won a Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film.  Based on a novel by Hugo Hartung.
  • The Captain’s Daughter  –  A 1958 Soviet version of the Pushkin novel, directed by Vladimir Kaplunovsky.
  • And Quiet Flows the Don  –  More 50’s Soviet film versions of Russian Lit, this one directed by Sergei Gerasimov and adapted from the Sholokhov novel.
  • Cimarron  –  At mid ***, this Anthony Mann version of Edna Ferber’s novel is much better than the one that won Best Picture in 1931, mainly because it stars Glenn Ford and not Richard Dix.
  • The Brides of Dracula  –  On the one hand, it’s Peter Cushing as Van Helsing and it’s a Hammer Horror film.  On the other hand, no Christopher Lee (or actual Dracula).
  • Pepe  –  In spite of 7 Oscar nominations, there has still never been a DVD release.  I saw it on a Spanish language station back in 2007 (it stars Cantinflas, who was a massive star in Mexico) but Netflix does stream it now so others don’t have to see it like I did.  Based on the play Broadway Zabur and not deserving of any nominations but not a bad film either.  Fun, for all the cameos (just like Around the World in 80 Days, which also starred Cantinflas).
  • Flaming Star  –  Another, one the one hand and on the other hand.  On one, a Western from Don Siegel.  On the other, Elvis doing drama.  But he doesn’t embarrass himself.  Based on the novel Flaming Lance by Clair Huffaker.
  • Sink the Bismarck!  –  Based on a World War II non-fiction book (with the much less dramatic title The Last Days of the Bismarck) written by C. S. Forester, much more known for Horatio Hornblower and The African Queen.
  • Kidnapped  –  Peter O’Toole debuts as Disney does Robert Louis Stevenson again.
  • Who Was That Lady?  –  The IMDb lists an April 1960 release date, yet somehow this film was nominated for Best Picture and Actor – Comedy in 1959 at the Golden Globes.
  • Eugene Onegin  –  1959 Soviet adaptation of the Tchaikovsky opera which was based on the Pushkin story.
  • Tarzan the Magnificent  –  The last Gordon Scott appearance as Tarzan shares a name with an actual Burroughs novel but not a plot.  Jock Mahoney, the next Tarzan, appears as the villain.
  • Wild River  –  Elia Kazan starts trending downwards with his adaptation of two novels: Dunbar’s Cove (by Borden Deal) and Mud in the Stars (William Bradford Huie).
  • The World of Suzie Wong  –  Paul Osborn’s romance play becomes a low *** William Holden film.
  • The Day They Robbed the Bank of England  –  An important early Peter O’Toole role but director John Guillermin who would later go on to big budget empty films like The Towering Inferno and King Kong wasn’t much of a director.  Adapted from the novel by John Brophy.
  • Village of the Damned  –  Author John Wyndham was much more well-known for The Day of the Triffids, but another of his Sci-Fi novels, The Midwich Cuckoos, got a much better name for its film adaptation.
  • Visit to a Small Planet  –  This film started as a Gore Vidal teleplay than an actual stage play.  Given that it’s directed by Norman Taurog and stars Jerry Lewis, it’s lucky to end up with low ***.
  • Seven Thieves  –  Directed by Henry Hathaway, his other 1960 film (North to Alaska is the first) and this ranks just below that one.  It’s a heist film starring Edward G. Robinson and is based on the novel The Lions at the Kill.
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn  –  The novel has been filmed a lot and I’m not a fan of any version (nor am I a fan of the book – me going against the grain of Literary Consensus).  This one is directed by Michael Curtiz.
  • The 39 Steps  –  Since Hitchcock’s film is a classic and isn’t faithful to the book why remake his film and not just stick to the book?  Well, one argument is that the book isn’t all that good but then again neither is this film, made in 1959 and hitting the States this year.  It stars Kenneth More.
  • Swiss Family Robinson  –  RKO had already done a 1940 version of the 1812 novel by Johann David Wyss but Disney’s is much more famous, at least partially these days because of the magnificent treehouse at Disneyland (now Tarzan’s).
  • Sunrise at Campobello  –  I remember seeing this film back in 1997 when I lived on my own and thinking, wow, for a multiple Oscar nominee, that was really boring.  Ralph Bellamy is okay and Greer Garson is good (of course) but this film is quite meh.  It was based on the play by Dore Schary, who wrote it after he had left his job as head of MGM.
  • School for Scoundrels  –  The final film of key Hammer director Robert Hamer (who was sacked mid-production when he fell off the wagon), it’s a lackluster British comedy starring Terry-Thomas and Alistair Sim.  It’s based on a series of books by Stephen Potter about how to one-up your opponents in life.
  • Strangers When We Meet  –  Evan Hunter (better known for The Blackboard Jungle or for being Ed McBain) adapted his own novel into a drama with Robert Mitchum and Kim Novak.
  • The Snow Queen  –  A low level *** 1957 Soviet Animated adaptation of the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale.
  • Wake Me When It’s Over  –  We’re into **.5 territory here, with a Mervyn LeRoy film.  It’s based on the novel by Howard Singer and stars Ernie Kovacs and is a fairly lackluster Comedy.
  • Tall Story  –  Howard Nemerov was primarily a poet but he wrote a novel called The Homecoming Game which the play-writing duo of Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse turned into a play called Tall Story.  Joshua Logan directed the film adaptation but the only thing you need to care about is that it’s the film debut of the sexiest thing to hit the big screen in the 60’s and indeed, possibly, ever: Jane Fonda.
  • Exodus  –  The book by Leon Uris, in spite of its size, was the biggest seller since Gone with the Wind.  The film is very long and mostly boring but it has a very good performance from Sal Mineo and a simply outstanding score.  It was also the film Otto Preminger made with Dalton Trumbo writing the script that helped end the Blacklist.
  • Expresso Bongo  –  It was a hit in 1958 as a West End Musical but this 1959 film version (released in the States in 1960) wasn’t very good.  Cliff Richard could sing, but he couldn’t act.
  • Heller in Pink Tights  –  George Cukor and Sophia Loren shouldn’t be anywhere near a Louis L’Amour adaptation, yet here they are and that’s why it’s down here on this list.
  • The Sign of Zorro  –  More Disney!  Technically an adaptation because of the use of the pre-existing character but also because it’s just a re-edited version of the Disney television series that had been released as a feature film overseas in 1958 and in the States in 1960.  Mediocre at best.
  • Midnight Lace  –  Doris Day earned her only Globe – Drama nomination for this but didn’t even remotely deserve it.  It’s a mystery based on the play Matilda Shouted Fire.
  • The 3 Worlds of Gulliver  –  This loose adaptation of Gulliver’s Travels isn’t very good and you can read more here.
  • The Last Days of Pompeii  –  Based on the Bulwer-Lytton novel (the same man who wrote the line “It was a dark and stormy night” which spawned a contest of bad opening lines), this is a sword and sandal remake of the 1913 film, one of the earliest surviving feature-length films.  This one was (mostly) directed by Sergio Leone after the original director fell ill.  It’s a low **.5.
  • The Lost World  –  Bad (**) Irwin Allen film version of Conan Doyle’s novel about dinosaurs surviving to the present day.
  • Where the Boys Are  –  Bad (low **) film that’s viewed as a cult classic.  Amazingly enough, based on a novel by Glendon Swarthout, who would also write The Shootist, the novel made into the very good Western that would be John Wayne’s last film.
  • BUtterfield 8  –  John O’Hara followed up Appointment at Samarra, a brilliant book, with this mediocre one that was made into a simply terrible film that won Elizabeth Taylor the Oscar because she almost died just before the Oscars.  Taylor herself isn’t terrible but the film certainly is, with a horribly stupid ending.

Adaptations of Notable Works I Haven’t Seen:

  • Face of Fire  –  Based on the Stephen Crane story “The Monster”, a 1959 film with a 1960 Oscar eligibility release date, starring James Whitmore.
  • Lucky Jim  –  A Boulting brothers production with Terry-Thomas of the Kingsley Amis novel.  I’m not a huge fan of the novel (although I usually like clever university novels like Wonder Boys or Straight Man) and was unable to ever see the film.
  • Studs Lonigan  –  I first heard of the trilogy when it made the Modern Library list (though I wasn’t a big fan when I read it) and I used to own it when I had a big Modern Library Giant collection.  Wasn’t able to find the movie, which is too bad in a sense because while the star, Christopher Knight, did basically nothing else, it had a writer / producer on the downswing (Philip Yordan, who wrote the brilliant Detective Story and won an Oscar for writing Broken Lance) and early work from a notable editor (Verna Fields, future Oscar winner for Jaws), cinematographer (Haskell Wexler, uncredited, who would later win two Oscars), composer (Jerry Goldsmith, who would win an Oscar for The Omen but would do much better work on Chinatown, Star Trek and L.A. Confidential) and an actor (Jack Nicholson).
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