“We’re disturbed, we’re disturbed / We’re the most disturbed / Like we’re psychologically disturbed” (p 207)

My Top 10:

  1. West Side Story
  2. The Hustler
  3. One, Two, Three
  4. Breakfast at Tiffany’s
  5. The Bridge
  6. Elevator to the Gallows
  7. A Raisin in the Sun
  8. Pocketful of Miracles
  9. The Misfits
  10. Macario

Note:  There are 16 films on my list.  Three of them are listed below, as they were Consensus nominees (The Guns of Navarone – #13, Fanny – #15, Judgment at Nuremberg – #16).  The other three are all the way down at the bottom.
Note:  Unfortunately, this is a year where there were several source materials I was unable to get, so I had to do the best I could.

Consensus Nominees:

  1. The Hustler  (200 pts)
  2. Breakfast at Tiffany’s  (120 pts)
  3. West Side Story  (120 pts)
  4. Judgment at Nuremberg  (120 pts)
  5. The Guns of Navarone  (40 pts)
  6. Fanny  (40 pts)
  7. The Innocents  (40 pts)
  8. A Raisin in the Sun  (40 pts)
  9. The Absent Minded Professor  (40 pts)
  10. A Majority of One  (40 pts)
  11. One, Two, Three  (40 pts)
  12. The Parent Trap  (40 pts)
  13. Babes in Toyland  (40 pts)
  14. Flower Drum Song  (40 pts)
  15. Snow White and the Three Stooges  (40 pts)

Oscar Nominees  (Best Screenplay – Adapted):

  • Judgment at Nuremberg
  • Breakfast at Tiffany’s
  • The Guns of Navarone
  • The Hustler
  • West Side Story

WGA Awards:

Drama:

  • The Hustler
  • Fanny
  • The Innocents
  • Judgment at Nuremberg
  • A Raisin in the Sun

Comedy:

  • Breakfast at Tiffany’s
  • The Absent Minded Professor
  • A Majority of One
  • One, Two, Three
  • The Parent Trap

Musical:

  • West Side Story
  • Babes in Toyland
  • Flower Drum Song
  • Snow White and the Three Stooges

Nominees that are Original:  Blue Hawaii

New York Film Critics Award (Best Screenplay):

  • The Hustler

My Top 10

West Side Story

The Film:

I have already reviewed this film as the Best Picture winner of 1961, an award that I absolutely agree with.  When I first saw La La Land, I proclaimed that La La Land was the best film Musical since West Side Story.  This is, in my opinion, the best ever adaptation of a Broadway Musical and the only reason I qualify it like that and don’t just claim it is the greatest Musical in film history is that, technically, while I classify it primarily as a Kids film, The Wizard of Oz is a Musical.  There is probably no Musical I have seen as many times as this one.

The Source:

West Side Story: A Musical, based on a conception by Jerome Robbins, book by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein, entire production directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins  (1957)

When I first started listening to Hamilton after giving it to Veronica for Christmas in 2015, I proclaimed that it was a contender for the Greatest American Stage Musical.  That began a conversation wherein I said it was going to lose out (in my estimation) to Les Miserables for Greatest Stage Musical, but its major competitor for Greatest American Stage Musical was West Side Story.  Both Hamilton and West Side Story told American stories and they did it was amazing music, lyrical play and stage play.  Ironic, of course, that the play that would contend with West Side Story would be written by a child of Puerto Rican immigrants who grew up on the upper west side.

As a play, I think this takes the major problem in Romeo and Juliet (Romeo’s fickleness and tendency to act without thinking) and negates it.  It is a great romance about two people who are being kept apart by circumstances, though by adding in immigration, it also provides a social story as well.

But where West Side Story really takes things to a new level is in the music by Leonard Bernstein and the choreography from Jerome Robbins.  The music is simply incredible and one of the reasons that Bernstein was so revered for so long and it was a great start for Sondheim before he would finally prove to everyone that he wasn’t just a lyricist.

This isn’t the Musical I have listened to the most; it’s probably third behind Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables.  But I listen to it, I listen to it a lot, because the songs are so much fun (“America”, “Gee, Officer Krupke”), so beautiful (“Tonight”, “One Hand, One Heart”) and so haunting (“A Boy Like That”) and moving (“Somewhere”).  I’m not certain I have ever heard a song written for a stage musical with more beautiful music than “Somewhere”, which is why the music is so perfect for the fade out of the show.  If you ever get a chance to see this on stage, don’t hesitate.  Don’t believe, that just because an absolutely brilliant film has been made out of it that you should miss the chance to see it on stage.  Once you see those gangs dancing around the stage, moving in perfect time, it’s something you’ll never forget.

I actually own three copies of the script.  I have an old Dell mass market from high school that prints it together with Romeo and Juliet, I have the lyrics in Sondheim’s amazing book Finishing the Hat: Collected Lyrics (1954-1981) and there is a copy of the working script that is in the DVD box set I have of the film.  If you have any interest in how the show came to be written, you have to read the Sondheim book, which is not only a great collection of lyrics, but a great book about the theater and about writing as well.  This is the first film adaptation of a Sondheim musical but the book will come up a lot with future films.

The Adaptation:

“When doing an adaptation, a lot of writers throw away as much of the original as they can to make the screenplay more their own. Ernie Lehman is not that way; he respects the original, incorporates all its good values, and only tries to improve the weak areas. He has such a fine sense of construction. One of the first things he said to us on West Side Story was, ‘The Office Krupke number and the Cool number are in the wrong places.’ In the original show, the Cool number was in the first act, before they have the council to set up the rumble. As they got a little nervous, they had the Cool number at the candy store to help settle down. The Krupke number, a comedy number, was done in the second act, after all the tragedy. This was all wrong. We simply switched them. Ernie did some rewriting to put the comedy number in the first act, before all the heavy drama started coming in, and then used Cool in a different and much better setting in the second act, to help pull the gang together when they’re starting to fall apart. It’s so much better dramatically.” (Robert Wise on His Films: From Editing Room to Director’s Chair, ed. Sergio Leeman, p 166-167)

Yeah, except that it wasn’t Lehman’s idea.  Sondheim had always thought those two songs were in the wrong place.  He writes about it in the book and talks about it in the documentary that’s on disc two of the DVD.  It was Sondheim who pushed for that and Robbins finally relented (in fact, he almost relented during the stage show but it was already designed to be the other way and they couldn’t switch it).  That is the biggest change from the show, with the next biggest being the inclusion of the males in the song “America”, which was also something that was originally planned for the show, but Robbins wanted an all-girl number.  There were a couple of lyrical changes, one in the “Quintet” and one in “Gee, Officer Krupke” because the studio wouldn’t allow the original lyrics to be used as they were too risque for films at that point.

The Credits:

Directed by Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins.  Screenplay by Ernest Lehman.  Based Upon the Stage Play Produced by Robert E. Griffith and Harold S. Prince by arrangement with Roger L. Stevens.  Book by Arthur Laurents.  Music by Leonard Bernstein.  Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.  Play Conceived, Directed & Choreographed by Jerome Robbins.
note:  The title of the film is the only opening credit.  These are all from the end credits, which are scrawled like graffiti and are among my favorite end credits of all-time.

The Hustler

The Film:

I have already reviewed this film because it was nominated for Best Picture.  It is a great film.  I always knew that it was a great film.  But when I went back to it for my Best Picture review, I was stunned at just how great a film it was and how great Newman’s performance was, perhaps the best of a career that is among the finest ever in the industry.  It only wins two Nighthawk Awards but it also finishes 2nd place 5 times, all behind West Side Story.

The Source:

The Hustler by Walter Tevis  (1959)

Sometimes libraries astound me.  I spent a long time trying to get this book from a library.  But, in spite of a relatively recent printing (2005), I couldn’t get it from any library in the state of Massachusetts.  I refused to buy it because I’m trying to downsize my book collection and because on principle, I felt a library should have it.  Given the number of crappy, ridiculous books I’ve been able to easily get for this project I was quite frankly stunned that no one had this available.  My hope is that at some future point I will eventually read the novel and go back and fill this in.

The Adaptation:

Obviously there’s nothing to say here.

The Credits:

Produced and Directed by Robert Rossen.  Screenplay by Sydney Carroll and Robert Rossen.  Based on the novel by Walter S. Tevis.

One, Two, Three

The Film:

I have already reviewed this film as my under-appreciated film of 1961.  I declared it as such because in spite of a Globe nomination and a WGA nomination, I felt like the critics at the time under-estimated it and that it hasn’t been held up to be one of Wilder’s classics at it should be.  To me, it is one of the funniest films ever made and there’s a reason that it made my list of 100 Favorite Films.

Aside from what I wrote in my original review, there are also the more subtle things, like the moment when McNamara takes the call from his wife and his secretary feels the need to uncross her legs and pull her skirt a little further down her legs or the idea that Russia would have a “Soft Drink Secretariat”.

The Source:

Ein, zwei, drei by Ferenc Molnar  (@1928)

This play was written by a Hungarian but seems to have at least been produced in German (see the quote below).  It does not, however, appear to have ever been translated into English and that doesn’t seem to much matter, since the quotes below also make it clear that all the dialogue is gone from the original and only the bare bones idea of the story remains.

The Adaptation:

I will just provide you with these two illuminating quotes from a couple of Wilder biographies.  They seem to say enough about the adaptation.

“Wilder’s next film would be derived from a play by another Hungarian playwright, Ferenc Molnar. Wilder had seen Molnar’s one-act play, Ein, zwei, drei (One, two, three) on the stage in Berlin in 1928. Wilder remembered vividly the incredible performance on the Berlin stage of Max Pallenberg as Norrison, a high-strung Parisian banker. Pallenberg was noted for delivering his dialogue in a fast staccato, like the rapid chatter of a machine gun. The whole play takes place in Norrison’s office. Lydia, the daughter of a Swedish tycoon who is one of Norrison’s prize clients, is the banker’s houseguest. During her stay she secretly weds Anton, a rabid Socialist taxi driver, and becomes pregnant with his child. Norrison has to hastily turn Anton into an imitation aristocrat, worthy to be the son-in-law of his wealthy client, before the industrialist meets Anton. Norrison does so with the help of an army of clothiers. What would happen, Wilder wondered if he set Molnar’s farce in Berlin during the cold war?” (Some Like it Wilder: The Life and Controversial Films of Billy Wilder, Gene D. Phillips, p 247-248)

“Wilder and Diamond weren’t constrained by Molnár’s preachy conclusion, nor by any of his lines.  By the time Wilder got through adapting the farce, practically none of the dialogue remained intact, and the moral ending turned absurd.  At one point during the shooting of One, Two, Three, Scarlett (formerly Lydia) whines to MacNamara (formerly Norrison), ‘Why didn’t you take better care of me?’  Pamela Tiffin, playing Scarlett, had some trouble delivering the line with great enough amplitude.  ‘Pamela, dear,’ Billy began.  ‘A little louder, please.  We want to hear this line very clearly.  It’s the only line we’ve kept from the original play, and it’s a very expensive one.'”  (On Sunset Boulevard: The Life and Times of Billy Wilder, Ed Sikov, p 454)

The Credits:

Produced and Directed by Billy Wilder.  Screen Play by Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond.  Based on a play by Ferenc Molnar.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s

The Film:

I have already reviewed this film as one of the five best films of the year.  It is not just a great film but also seems to be a cultural landmark and among the films on this list probably the one that has been the most seen by people other than West Side Story.  It is also one of two films on this list that I have seen on the big screen (the other being West Side Story).

The Source:

Breakfast at Tiffany’s” by Truman Capote (1958)

I have read all of Truman Capote’s work and used to have it all in the days when I had a much larger book collection. But when I jettisoned most books that I wasn’t ever going to read again, most of Capote went, with two exceptions: In Cold Blood and Breakfast at Tiffany’s. They are the best of his published work for very different reasons. In Cold Blood is dark and brooding, yet a masterful work of journalism that cuts to the heart of the story. “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” (it’s in quotes because it’s a long story, not a novel, whereas the book version is italicized as it also has other stories in it), on the other hand, is the masterful creation of a singularly fascinating character.

I should point out that Holly Golightly is a fascinating character and she is brought vividly to life on the page (“She was still on the stairs, now she reached the landing, and the ragbag colors of her boy’s hair, tawny streaks, strands of albino-blond and yellow, caught the hall light. It was a warm evening, nearly summer, and she wore a slim cool black dress, black sandals, a pearl choker. For all her chic thinness, she had an almost breakfast-cereal air of health, a soap and lemon cleanness, a rough pink darkening in the cheeks. Her mouth was large, her nose upturned. A pair of dark glasses blotted out her eyes. It was a face beyond childhood, yet this side of belonging to a woman. I thought her anywhere between sixteen and thirty; as it turned out, she was shy two months of her nineteenth birthday.”) But she is not someone I would ever want to actually know. She lives in a fantasy wild, up in the sky (see my film review) and she can not ground herself. Indeed, we know that from the very beginning where we discover that she is apparently galavanting through Africa.

She is interesting and the poor mucks that she drags poor “Fred” through are rough. But he doesn’t seem to regret knowing her because he has fallen under her spell. When we read the book, we all fall under her spell. That was why they wanted to make a film of it in the first place, so that even more of us could fall under her spell.

The Adaptation:

Now, to be clear, Truman Capote’s Holly Golightly and Blake Edwards’ Holly Golightly are not the same character. To be certain, there are similarities. She is flighty, she is not the type of person you should fall in love with, though there is a good chance you will fall in love with her. But, aside from the dark hair, the film Holly is also, at heart, a more romantic soul, as we see from the end of the film, an ending that is nothing like the ending in the book.

That also gets to the story differences. Yes, there are some things that are the same: the agent, the visiting of the mob boss in prison, the arrival of Holly’s husband who wants to take her home. But the film develops much more the relationship between Fred and Holly. The film adds in a woman who is keeping Fred in his apartment, making him a more similar character to Holly (in the book, Fred is actually supposed to be gay but this is never directly stated while in the film he is absolutely not). This idea came to George Axelrod when trying to come up with something that would prevent the romance from happening immediately: “Where Doris Day struggled with abstinence, Holly would struggle with promiscuity. Thus commitment, not desire, would be at the heart of Holly’s conflict – that much Axelrod could bring over from the novel – but what then would prevent the newly heterosexual male from running away with her? If she slept with everyone, why wouldn’t she sleep with him? The most obvious answer was the one right in front of George: the same thing that prevents her from running away with him. He’s a gigolo too.” (Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M.: Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany’s and the Dawn of the Modern Woman by Sam Wasson, p 84-85) The film moves events to the present (1961 or so) while in the book, the events are told as a flashback to events that happened during the 40’s. The film provides a happy ending where the book has nothing even resembling that ending.

The Credits:

Directed by Blake Edwards. Based on the Novel by Truman Capote. Screenplay by George Axelrod.

Die Brücke

The Film:

“I’ve got your happy ending,” Lewis Milestone told the studio heads who wanted something lighter for his film version of All Quiet on the Western Front, “we’ll have the Germans win the war.”  When you have a story about the losing side of a war, there is rarely ever going to be anything that resembles a happy ending, though such films aren’t usually as bleak as this one.  But then again, circumstances aren’t often as bleak as the ones which inspired this film.

It’s the spring of 1945.  Germany is losing the war.  Hitler is a few days away from dying in his bunker, but his people don’t know that.  They’re still fighting.  So when the Allied forces are getting closer to a small bridge near a village, a number of local schoolboys are drafted into the Army and set as a force to help guard the bridge.  They all have their own reasons that make this job not the worst thing they could have imagined at this point.  Part of it is just national pride.  Part of it is frustration and anger at various people they know in town.  Part of it is just boys wanting to grow up too fast.  But there is no happy ending at the end of this.  We follow the boys through their lives and if they aren’t won over by propaganda in the same way that poor Paul was in All Quiet, well this is also a very different war.

The first half of the film focuses us on getting to know the boys and their varying circumstances.  Then we move into the combat itself with troops and planes moving forward and we start to realize that not only will some of these boys not survive but there’s a good chance that none of the boys will survive.  Things have gone on too far and they’re the only ones who really care about holding the bridge, something that will come up again at the end when one of the remaining boys lashes out at those who gave the orders in the first place.

All of this is a stark, simple reminder that in war there is nothing but darkness and death at the end of it.  It’s easy to make great films about World War I because it was such a colossal waste and there was no point.  Making a great film (and this film is great) that is also an anti-war film and about World War II, one of the very few wars in history that can be reasonably be considered justifiable is much harder.  It makes sense that this film was actually a West German production (though the director was Austrian).

Germany before the war had been one of the havens of brilliant film-making (although that greatly diminished after Hitler’s rise).  I have seen a number of West German films but, even though four of them earned Oscar nominations in the early years of the Best Foreign Film category, until the rise of Herzog and Fassbinder in the 70’s this was the only truly great West German film that I have seen, a true anti-war classic.

The Source:

Die Brücke by Manfred Gregor  (1958)

I was unable to get hold of the original novel and from what I could find it has never been published in English so it wouldn’t have done me much good anyway.  It was an autobiographical novel that Gregor wrote about his experiences as a teenage soldier forced into duty at the end of World War II.  Many of his classmates were killed and it prompted Gregor (which is a pseudonym for German journalist Gregor Dorfmeister) to become a life-long pacifist.

The Adaptation:

It does appear that the film is a faithful rendition of the original novel which was a fairly faithful retelling of Gregor’s actual experiences defending a bridge against the Allied forces at the very end of the war.

The Credits:

Directed by Bernhard Wicki.  From the novel by Manfred Gregor.  Screenplay by Michael Mansfeld and Karl-Wilhelm Viver.
note:  There are almost no opening credits.  These are all from the IMDb.  It also lists uncredited writing by Wicki.

Ascenseur pour l’Echafaud

The Film:

I say French, you say New Wave.  I say New Wave, you say Truffaut and Godard.  I smack you upside the head and point out that Godard is over-rated, that Malle made a film before either of those two and that Malle was a far superior filmmaker to Godard in just about every way and then sit you down to start watching his films, beginning with his first, Elevator to the Gallows.  Now don’t make that mistake again.

So why isn’t this film viewed on the same level as The 400 Blows and Breathless.  Well, there’s a few reasons for that.  The first is that, as Terrence Rafferty says in his essay on the film for The Criterion Collection, “The new wave doesn’t quite get born in Elevator to the Gallows, but it’s clearly in the late term here, more than ready to emerge.”  This film was in a strange release place for history, coming out in France before 1959 when the New Wave really emerged but getting a U.S. release almost two years after The 400 Blows.  The second is that Malle emerges as a fully formed director with his debut film and then never looks back.  In this sense, Truffaut belongs much more with Malle than he does with Godard or Resnais, who seemed to value experimentation more than a fully developed narrative.  This film has things that will echo in the New Wave, from the way it is edited, jumping between scenes, from the natural cinematography and the total lack of makeup for star Jeanne Moreau (I only mention that because it seems to be obligatory for any piece on this film) to the genre to the inventive use of music.  Indeed, while I am not a fan of jazz, the way Miles Davis plays his trumpet in the original music for this film is almost a perfect marriage of music to mood.

This film revolves around two couples, neither of whom would you commonly think of as “criminals” (at least not the way you would think of Belmondo’s character in Breathless) but both of whom commit murder over the course of the film.  They caught up in things around them and get swept away.  Malle, like Truffaut and Godard, follows the notions of American Film Noir and in the darkness of black-and-white loses himself in the dark grays of morality.  The first couple are a wealthy woman and her adulterous lover.  He does a great set-up of killing her husband and making it look like suicide but then gets stuck in the lift when the power is turned off for the weekend.  The problem is that he left his car running and the local flower girl and her lowlife boyfriend steal his car and head out into the country where their own misadventures will also end up in murder.  All of these people get themselves into these messes and we watch as they try to pull themselves out and only sink further.

All of this will come down to a desperate race at the end of the film.  The boyfriend took pictures of the man he killed and left them at the hotel to be developed and realizes it implicates him in the crime. Meanwhile, the rich woman has figured out that the other couple have committed the crime that her lover is arrested for after he escapes from the lift and she desperately wants to prove his innocence.  The final moments of the film, when everything comes full circle is a brilliant moment and we watch people sink under all the mess.

Malle keeps a deft hand over the film.  While not as brilliant as Truffaut’s debut film, it one of the surest hands for a director in his debut.  He clearly has a vision of the film and if it doesn’t have the experimental range of the first Welles or Truffaut films, it is still a good sign that this was a master director. something that would be born out time and time again over the next 30+ years as Malle would continue to surprise audiences with his range and talent.

The Source:

Ascenseur pour L’Echafaud by Noël Calef  (1956)

This is, unfortunately, another novel that I was unable to get hold of.  This follows on Tiger Bay, which was also based on one of Calef’s works and which I also wasn’t able to get hold of.  While Calef was quite popular in France it doesn’t seem like he has much work translated into English.

The Adaptation:

I haven’t seen anything that suggests whether the novel was loosely or closely adapted.  In fact, I didn’t find anything about the novel at all other than a quick dismissal of it in the essay on the film over at Criterion.

The Credits:

un film de Louis Malle.  Adaptation de Roger Nimier et Louis Malle.  Dialogue de Roger Nimier.  d’après le roman de Noël Calef Ascenseur pour L’Echafaud (pré-adaptation de l’auteur).

A Raisin in the Sun

The Film:

Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true?  Bruce Springsteen wouldn’t ask that question until 1979 when he wrote “The River” but the question has its roots back through time, through the very good 1961 film made of the play that took Broadway by storm in 1959 and back to the short poem by Langston Hughes that still stands the test of time for any short poem in any language.  What happens to a dream deferred, he asked and in eleven lines he had opened up all the possibilities.  And yet, Hansberry, in choosing the title of her play, had perhaps already answered the question.

While the play itself is rightly considered a modern classic (see below), the film doesn’t seem to have the same kind of reputation.  It was directed by a little known Canadian director named Daniel Petrie and it is by far his best film and most of the rest of his career was relentlessly mediocre and he eventually went to television.  In spite of having a script and performances (most notably from Sidney Poitier and Ruby Dee) that were better than several of the nominees, the film earned no Oscar nominations.  Today, it is easy to find on DVD but the quality of the prints are not especially good.  It is a very good film adaptation of one of the most vital and powerful plays of the last century and it’s almost like a film version was never made.  What makes it even stranger is that the cast of the film is almost identical to the cast as it was originally performed on Broadway.  That almost never happens with major plays; at least one of the major roles ends up going to a bigger film star than whoever played it on stage.  But, with Sidney Poitier in the lead, that helped provide some star power to the film and it wasn’t necessary to bring in a big film star.  Instead, they went with the cast that had settled into the roles and they bring everything they had on stage.

Perhaps why this film hasn’t been more sought out is because of the direction.  It, unfortunately, never really manages to escape the notion of being a filmed stage play and it never really comes to life in the same way that a lot of major plays do like A Streetcar Named Desire, or, more significantly for this film year, West Side Story.  Yes, we escape the apartment for a few scenes, something which never happens on stage, but it still has that stagey feel to it.  If not for the power of the script and the power of the performances (Poitier earns a Nighthawk nomination and Dee comes in 6th place, just missing out on one), it wouldn’t necessarily be worth remembering.  But we do get those performances, of poor desperate Walter Lee Younger, who wants to get his father’s life insurance money so that he can reach for that bit of American happiness and own something of his own.  He’s tired of being a beaten down man, of the tiny apartment he shares with his wife, son, sister and mother, of feeling like he can’t get ahead in life.  It doesn’t matter to him that his wife is pregnant again and thinking of ending it or that his sister should have some money for school or that his mother just wants them to have a place of their own.  While the cast is solid across the board, it is really Poitier that I take away from this film because when I first read the play, I could feel the pain of Walter and it comes across so powerfully in his performance.  It’s a little embarrassing that, after such a magnificent performance, he would win the Oscar two years later for such a minor performance as Lilies in the Field.  Maybe the Academy was just trying to make amends for missing out on this film.  A lot of people have missed out on it.  It may not be a great film in its own right but it is a solid filmed version of one of the great American plays and you should see it when you get a chance.

The Source:

A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry  (1959)

I have written often about the trio that sits atop the history of American drama: O’Neill, Williams and Miller.  As great as the three of them were, they never did anything like what Lorraine Hansberry did with A Raisin in the Sun, writing a full-fledged realistic human drama that cuts the heart of the American experience before the age of 30.  Hansberry was still two months short of her 29th birthday when Raisin premiered on Broadway in March of 1959.  So why is it, though her play is still widely studied (I read it in college), she doesn’t sit higher on that American drama chart?  Because less than six years after that premiere she had died of cancer.  Who knows what great works might have come from her pen had she lived longer.  But she already earned her place for this play alone.  It’s the story of one African-American family in a cramped apartment in Chicago awaiting the arrival of ten thousand dollars that might change their lives.  Reading the play again this time I was reminded of something that Harvey Feinstein said about his plays: that he had kept imagining straight plays re-imagined in ways that could speak to him of his gay experience and he thought it was time for a gay play and the straights could re-imagine it themselves.  That’s to say that while Raisin has something to say about any poor family that is stuck in its position and is desperately hoping for something that can set them free (a very relevant experience in this country in 2017), there are also specific things about the African-American experience that Hansberry puts in the play.  Some of this play could feel like it could have come from O’Neill or Miller but in the end, it is essentially Hansberry’s play.  It provides pathos and humor and drama and relief.  It is everything you would hope to see in a good night at the theater and it deserves all the accolades it has received.

The Adaptation:

Hansberry herself would adapt the play into the film.  To that extent, she kept most of what she had put in the play in the first place (and really, why would she feel the need to change anything?) but she does put in scenes in a few locations that allow for the action of the film to escape the apartment.  The original play took place entirely inside the apartment.  But really, almost nothing else is different about the film, perhaps because not only had it been such a success, but since the entire cast had moved to the film, it was easier to keep what they were already used to.

The Credits:

Directed by Daniel Petrie.  Based on the play by Lorraine Hansberry.  Screen Play by Lorraine Hansberry.

Pocketful of Miracles

The Film:

When I first began this project, I was doing it alongside the Nighthawk Awards and I was finishing the Screenplay posts first, which meant seeing those films again was reflected when I did the Nighthawk Awards. Eventually that took too much time, so I dropped the Screenplay project for several months and plowed ahead with the Nighthawk Awards. Unfortunately, that means sometimes I go back to a film and find it wasn’t nearly as good as I thought it was the first time I saw it. Case in point, Pocketful of Miracles. Would I still rate it ***.5 and include it on this list? I’m not certain. I’m not even certain if I rate it higher than Lady for a Day, the original film.

There are ways in which this film definitely doesn’t work as well as the original. After all, it takes what is essentially the same story (with one major exception – see below) and adds over 30 minutes of running time to it. One of the thing about 30’s Comedies is that they didn’t outstay their welcome. By the late 50’s and early 60’s, that was a considerable problem. And Glenn Ford, an actor that I never saw much of when I was younger but later grew into a favorite, doesn’t work all that well in the role of Dave the Dude, the gangster with a soft superstitious heart.

But that’s where we get into the ways that this film is an improvement upon the original. Because while Glenn Ford is an iffy proposition in the role, the original was played by Warren William and he’s an actor that I absolutely can’t stand. Also, this film has Bette Davis, Thomas Mitchell and Edward Everett Horton, all towards the end of their careers, all of them reminders of good classic 1930’s films. This film also has Peter Falk in one of his best early roles (it earned him an Oscar nomination) as the right hand man to Dave, which is needed since Ned Sparks in the same role was the best thing about the original.

Capra used to claim that he preferred this film, possibly because he was able to make it his own and not have to owe as much to Riskin. Or maybe he just wanted to believe that he was still doing good work long after his time had passed. Or maybe he also realized how god awful annoying Warren William was and this was preferable.

The Source:

Madame La Gimp” by Damon Runyon (1929) / Lady for a Day, screen play and dialogue by Robert Riskin (1933)

I already covered the original story when I wrote about the original film back in the Best Adapted Screenplay: 1932-33 post. The film itself I had already reviewed back when I wrote about the Best Picture nominees for 1932-33.

The Adaptation:

Most of what is in this film had already been expanded for the original film by Robert Riskin.  The main difference here is the character of Queenie, the woman whose father is buried at the beginning of the film and who becomes Dave’s moll, adding her to a number of scenes (including a big fight that basically destroys their room and Falk’s reaction to it is fantastic).  It’s Queenie in this one who pushed Dave to help out Annie, whereas she wasn’t even a character in the original film.

The Credits:

Produced and Directed by Frank Capra. Screenplay by Hal Kantor and Harry Tugend. Based on a Screenplay by Robert Riskin. And a Story by Damon Runyon.

The Misfits

The Film:

Some films become famous because of what happens in and around the filming rather than for the film itself.  I’m not talking about gossipy films like Cleopatra, but films that are affected by death itself.  Think of The Crow and you probably think of Brandon Lee’s death, which is unfortunate since the film itself is so brilliant.  Similarly, all of James Dean’s film have the shadow of his death hanging over them and sometimes that means people fail to appreciate his brilliance.  Now here we have The Misfits, the film most famous for being the last film of both Clark Gable (who had a massive heart attack the day after filming ended and died a few days later) and Marilyn Monroe (who was filming another film when she died but this was the last completed film).  By focusing on that bit we forget about a film directed by one of the all-time greats (John Huston, #14 on my list), written by one of the great trio of American playwrights that dominated the 20th Century (Arthur Miller) and that aside from Gable and Monroe, we also have Montgomery Clift, Eli Wallach and Thelma Ritter.  Do people forget about all of this because the film, while good (I have it as a high ***) never quite makes the leap or because they just want to focus on the macabre details about Gable and Monroe?  Either way, let’s bring the focus back to the film itself.

A beautiful blonde lives in Reno.  She’s been there for almost six weeks now, which is the limit that she needs to hit so that her divorce will be granted.  After heading down to the courthouse for the final paperwork, she goes out with her friend to celebrate.  While out, she meets a much older man, a fellow divorcee who is living on the edge.  He is drinking, trying to forget the past, trying to find something to keep him moving forward and then, of course, in walks this blonde, and he finds all the direction he needs.  When the two of them leave together, they head to the unfinished house of another friend, a man who has been lost in his own reverie since his wife died (and that’s why the house is unfinished).  These three will latch together and then find a fourth for their group, a want to be rodeo star they want to help them deal with some wild mustangs.

There are layers to this film, some that come from the film itself and some from the actors in the film.  The older man (Gable) wants help with the horses so that he can have them sold for slaughter for dogfood, something the blonde (Monroe) will balk at when she finally learns of it.  The rodeo wanna-be is played by Montgomery Clift and he injures himself badly, something which resonates with his real-life injuries incurred in 1956 that could have destroyed his career (injuries that he survived at least in part thanks to Kevin McCarthy, his lifelong friend who also plays Monroe’s ex-husband in this film).  Gable comes across as a father type figure that Monroe’s character is latching on towards, hoping to find something she didn’t have in her marriage, but that also has resonance with her actual marriage at the time to Arthur Miller.  Thelma Ritter is a supportive friend, just as she had been through so many Rock Hudson – Doris Day films.  Eli Wallach seems a bit off and you might think back to his performance in Baby Doll and wonder at his motivations.

What it comes down to is the title.  All of these people are damaged souls.  They are all misfits.  Yet, they have found something in each other, a measure of companionship, a measure of relief from pain (something that many of them needed in real life as well).

The Source:

The Misfits” by Arthur Miller  (1957)

I think this can be confusing to some people.  First, we have Miller, who is known primarily as a playwright and so many would assume that this had been a play, which it wasn’t.  Second, the actual film makes no mention of the original source material, the short story that Miller published in 1957 (which can be found in The Portable Arthur Miller, where I have it).  Third, to coincide with the release of the film, Miller expanded upon his original story and took the script and wrote something of a novelization (a portion of which is also in the Portable).  Though the practice dates back at least to the 20’s, aside from the original King Kong, novelizations would fairly rare until the 70’s, when they started to really take off.  All of this leads to considerable confusion and people forgetting that there was in fact an original short story for this film to be adapted from.

The original story is a fascinating story and Miller himself provides perhaps the best description of it:  “That afternoon I returned to my desk and The Misfits, a story of three men who cannot locate a home on the earth for themselves and, for something to do, capture wild horses to be butchered for canned dog food; and a woman as homeless as they, but whose intact sense of life’s sacredness suggests a meaning for existence.  It was a story about the indifference I had been feeling not only in Nevada but in the world now.  We were being stunned by our powerlessness to control our lives, and Nevada was simply the perfection of our common loss.  Whatever Marilyn was she was not indifferent; her very pain bespoke life and the wrestling with the angel of death.  She was a living rebuke to anyone who didn’t care.”  (Timebends, Arthur Miller, p 438-439)

The Adaptation:

The original story is only kind of a blueprint for the film.  Miller talks more in Timebends about what he did to make the screenplay suitable for Monroe (in spite of their dying marriage).  Basically, all of the scenes that take place in Reno itself weren’t in the original story.  The story itself only deals with what happens once the characters get on the road and start dealing with the horses.

The Credits:

Directed by John Huston.  Screenplay by Arthur Miller.
note:  There is no mention of Miller’s original story.

Macario

The Film:

This film would be the first film submitted by Mexico for Best Foreign Film at the Oscars to earn a nomination.  It would actually be worthy of that nomination (it’s my #6 but four of the five films above it weren’t submitted) and Mexico wouldn’t submit a film this good (mid ***.5) again until Like Water for Chocolate over 30 years later.  It finds a way to combine realism about the poor in a poor country with the magical idea of physical manifestations of the Devil, God and Death.

Macario is poor.  He is dirt poor and he is tired of it.  He sees the turkeys lined up for others to eat and the hungry mouths that he can not feed with his pitiful earnings as a woodcutter and he declares that he won’t eat again until he can eat an entire roast turkey by himself.  Loving her husband, his wife steals a turkey and prepares it for him and he heads off to the woods to eat his bird in peace.  That’s where things head towards the supernatural.  First we have the Devil trying to bribe his way towards getting a bite.  That’s followed by God pleading to Macario’s sense of mercy and pity.  Neither of those are good enough but when Death comes along, Macario relents.  Death responds to the gift by handing Macario a bottle of water that will heal any who are touched by it with the caveat that if Death appears by their head, then nothing Macario can do will save the person.

That’s when things get even more interesting because Macario now finds fame and fortune through his new healing abilities.  These serve him and his family well until the day when he is forced to helping the most powerful man around and the knowledge that there is nothing he can do because he can see Death and Death is standing where Macario needs him not to be standing.

This could have been a little simple film but Gavaldon’s direction, the smart, realistic writing and the bleakness of the poverty that encompasses Macario’s life through the first half of the film come through so clearly.

The Source:

Macario” by B. Traven  (1949)

This story exists as kind of part folk-tale / parable and part magical realism.  It’s the story of a poor woodcutter whose dream in life is to have an entire turkey to eat for himself.  When his wife finally makes that dream come true and he goes to the woods to eat it, he is approached first by the Devil, then by Our Lord but he refuses both.  He does offer half the turkey to Death and gains the power to heal but also the knowledge to know when that healing will not work.  In the end, as an old man, faced with the knowledge that he can not heal a woman and that he will be burned for it (and, more importantly to him, his children ruined), he is offered a way out by death, which ends with us going back to him and his turkey and he is found by his wife, dead, with only half the turkey eaten.  It’s a very good story by Traven (who’s known best for Treasure of the Sierra Madre).  It’s easy to see how it’s a folk-tale or parable but the way that Traven describes the poverty of Macario’s life and then the way Death comes to life (after the other two) and offers him this power, we can see kind of a predecessor to Garcia Marquez, especially since Traven, though he wrote in German, lived in Latin America and that’s where this story takes place.

The Adaptation:

Gavaldon didn’t actually have to do much in order to bring the story to life on-screen.  Though the story only runs 40 pages, it provides enough of a framework to build the film around.  The little vignettes of Macario doling out his healing power is easily expanded and the film gives a background for how his wife gets the turkey that’s not in the original story (including the one big difference – that in the original story it was always Macario’s dream to eat a whole turkey but in the film he declares he won’t eat again until he can eat a full turkey by himself).  But the film basically follows the original story quite faithfully.

The Credits:

Director: Roberto Gavaldon.  de B. Traven.  Adaptacion Cinematagrafica: Emilio Carballido, Roberto Gavaldon.

Consensus Nominees That Don’t Make My Top 10

Judgment at Nuremberg

The Film:

I have already reviewed this film since it was one of the Best Picture nominees of 1961.  It is a film filled with great actors and many of them give great performances (in fact, no other film less than **** has anywhere close to as many acting points as this film does) but it is overlong, overly talky and gets too distracted by trying to show the cultural and human cost in Nuremberg in the days after the war rather than just focusing on the trial.  It seems to still have quite a high reputation (it’s in the Top 250 over at the IMDb) as I write this but I don’t really think the qualities of the film merit it.

The Source:

“Judgment at Nuremberg” episode of Playhouse 90 by Abby Mann (1959)

The original episode of Playhouse 90, as with most of the show, is not commercially available, so I have never seen it.  It also does not appear to have ever been published as a separate script.  Although, at a considerably shorter length and starring Claude Rains instead of Spencer Tracy, I suspect I would actually like it much more than the film version.  It’s true that we would lose the masterful performances from Montgomery Clift and Judy Garland, but that would probably be more than evened out by the drop of the subplots.

The Adaptation:

The original television episode, as with all episodes of Playhouse 90, ran 90 minutes.  So, that means they almost doubled the length of the script when they turned it into a feature film.  Where does the extra time come from?  Well, Judy Garland’s character isn’t listed for the original episode, so I suspect that some of the trial scenes were shorter (Spencer Tracy: A Biography by James Curtis confirms that the Garland character did exist in the original but with a different name).  But the more important thing is that Marlene Dietrich’s character also isn’t listed.  So I think that all of the scenes that I complained about in my original review, of the need to see all the damage done to the city doing all that location shooting, all the scenes that detract from the actual story itself weren’t in the original.  So, in other words, in the need of writer Abby Mann and director Stanley Kramer to make large statements with their film, they actually made what is likely a lesser work of art.

Add-on: I wrote the above before getting hold of Spencer Tracy: A Biography by James Curtis.  That confirms that I was right that Deitrich’s character didn’t exist in the original.  Writer Abby Mann wanted to put in a love story (he wanted to cast Joanne Woodward as Tracy’s daughter and have her have a love affair with Paul Newman) but it didn’t work.  He then “met a woman who was the widow of a general.  She was talking to me about herself, and she was saying, ‘My husband was a soldier.  I didn’t want him to be hanged, but to be shot.  I wanted a soldier’s death for my husband, and I hated the Americans for not permitting it.'” (Curtis, p 781).  Mann then told Stanley Kramer about the woman and they wondered whether Marlene Dietrich would play the part.  As even Mann says, “That was the major difference between the TV version and the film.” (Curtis, p 782).  In A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World: A Life in Hollywood, Kramer himself writes “[Mann] understood very well that the film would have to be more expansive, that it would have to get out of the courtroom and introduce some new elements to avoid the feeling that the picture was just a filming of the play.” (p 180)

The Credits:

Produced and Directed by Stanley Kramer.   Written by Abby Mann.  Based on his original story.

The Guns of Navarone

The Film:

I have already reviewed this film as one of the Best Picture nominees.  It’s a very good film, a grand War-Adventure film.  I use that phrase specifically because it is not a traditional War film in the sense of something like All Quiet on the Western Front.  It is, essentially an Adventure film (in some ways, it’s even like a Heist film) that happens to be set during a war.  But it is good fun to watch, with of David Niven’s more enjoyable performances, some good thrills and some rousing action and a rather entertaining cameo from Richard Harris at the start.  It kind of sets the stage for The Great Escape, which is a shame because this film was nominated for Best Picture (in a weak year for English language films) while The Great Escape, which I find to be a far superior film had to make do with just a Best Editing nomination.

The Source:

The Guns of Navarone by Alistair MacLean  (1957)

This is a fine example of an Adventure story set during wartime.  It would be a good read for those who like this kind of book, though you can probably guess that I’m not one of those people.  For me, it was just a plot to get through and there’s nothing that sets it apart as a book itself.  Though the island of Navarone is a fictional one, the story itself is inspired by an actual mission during World War II that was considerably less successful than the one in the book.

The Adaptation:

The book simply provides the plot framework for the film.  There is a mission of men who must scale a cliff and make their way across an island to the guns and blow them up so that when the ships come through to rescue the stranded soldiers before they are killed, they aren’t just blown to hell.  But almost all of the rest are different.  I was going to comment above that the original novel doesn’t do much in the way of giving us actual characters but I mention it here because the film does a much better job of creating characters (except for Mallory, who is established in the character as more well-known and is clearly based on Edmund Hillary, though we lose that in the film since he isn’t from New Zealand).  The best example is Corporal Miller, played by David Niven, who is an American in the book, but is given a much more rounded character as the British man in the film who refuses promotion, who is friends with Major Franklin and who discovers the treason.  The two that the team meet up with on Navarone aren’t women (which makes the betrayal much different and much better handled in the film).  Reading the book after watching the film actually gave me more appreciation for what the script does.

The Credits:

Directed by J. Lee Thompson.  From the novel by Alistair MacLean.  Written for the screen and produced by Carl Foreman.

Fanny

The Film:

I have reviewed this film already; that makes it 5 for 5 for Best Picture nominees from this year ending up in this post which doesn’t say much about the Original Screenplay category at the Oscars this year.  It’s a good film but it suffers when compared, not only to the original trilogy from the 30’s but also to the later films made by Daniel Auteuil.  Because those two sets of films really allow the story room to breathe and the characters to develop, they seem like more complete stories.  This film does have solid acting, but Logan wasn’t a very good director and it shows.

The Source:

Fanny by S. N. Behrman and Joshua Logan, music and lyrics by Harold Rome  (1954)  /  The Marseilles Trilogy by Marcel Pagnol  (1931 / 1932 / 1936)

The original Marseilles Trilogy, all written by Marcel Pagnol, and directed by three different directors (including Pagnol himself, for the final one) have all been reviewed in full by me.  You can find those reviews here and here, because they earned Adapted Screenplay Top 10 finishes at the Nighthawk Awards.

In 1954, Behrman and Logan decided to turn it into a stage musical, compressing all three films into one play (by compressing the actions of the first two and leaving out most of the third one).  I have never heard the music, ironically, because of decisions for making the film (see below), so I have no idea how good it was.  The play itself truncates a lot, because not only are they compressing a trilogy into one play, but adding songs throughout.  There’s no question that this greatly reduces the characterization and since that was the thing that Pagnol did best, it’s a wonder they bothered at all.

The Adaptation:

“Let me start at the very beginning. I did a vodka ad, that’s the first important thing. A big vodka company wanted to do a prestige ad, and they wanted to get Noël Coward originally for it. He was not available, he had acquired the rights to My Fair Lady, and he was removing the music and lyrics, make it back into Pygmalion.”  That’s from Woody Allen’s old stand-up act and it’s appropriate for this piece.

Now, as indicated above, this began as a play.  Then came a second play.  Those two plays were made into films and that was followed by a third film (which was then later adapted for the stage).  Then, in 1954, S. N. Behrman and Joshua Logan decided to combine all three stories into one Broadway musical.  Now, we get to 1961 and Logan decides to direct a film adaptation of the musical that he helped write.  Except, for some reason, he decides to then remove all the songs and basically turn it into an abridged version of the original trilogy.

So, in one sense, this movie really owes much more to the original trilogy than to Logan’s stage version.  After all, not only are all of the songs cut from the film, but it also means that a lot of dialogue had to be added back in, most of which comes from the original plays / films themselves.  There are still some considerable changes from the original films (these take place over about a decade of time rather than 25 years and young Cesario isn’t an adult at the end – also, all of the scenes between the main characters that make Cesar the most heartfelt of the films are completely absent), but it still owes more to the original than the musical.  In fact, though I have never been able to see it, it might owe more to James Whale’s Port of Seven Seas, a one film version of the trilogy made in 1938, than to anything else.

The Credits:

Directed by Joshua Logan.  Based upon the play “Fanny”.  Book by S.N. Behrman, Joshua Logan.  Music and Lyrics by Harold Rome.  Produced on the Stage by David Merrick.  From the Marseilles Trilogy by Marcel Pagnol.  Screenplay by Julius J. Epstein.

The Innocents

The Film:

A governess comes to a new house.  I almost wrote “a beautiful, young governess”, but the governess is no longer young and that she is beautiful is because she is played by Deborah Kerr, not because of any overt intention from the filmmakers.  This isn’t one of those types of stories.  This is a ghost story.

This is also a Henry James story and there will be more on that down below.  But that doesn’t mean this story is about the class difference; it’s also not that kind of story.  It’s about a governess who comes to take care of two young children, both of whom are having issues.  The young girl is seeing things and the governess isn’t certain whether to believe in what she is seeing.  The young boy has just been expelled from his school and no one will tell the governess why.  The uncle of these two children doesn’t care about them, just so long as he isn’t bothered (their parents are dead).  So, we focus in on the governess and the children and what might or might not be going on in the house.

Well, it’s going on.  There are ghosts, ghosts of previous caretakers of the children.  So we follow Deborah Kerr down this rabbit hole into what is going on.  Her only goal is to find out and to keep the children safe.  That’s her job, after all.  But this is a gothic house (the cinematography in the film is quite good, as is the art direction) and you never know what you might find around the corner.  And, even though this doesn’t deal with the class struggle, this is a Henry James story after all, and they generally don’t end well.  Kerr is her usually solid self and if we’re confused and frustrated at times, no more so than the poor governess who just wants to protect these children and finds herself unable to do so.  It’s not a great film, but it’s a solid high *** film, well directed and well acted (the little girl is Pamela Franklin, who later give a fantastic, snarky, sexy performance in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie).

The Source:

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James  (1898)

“A mind so fine no idea could violate it.”  That is T.S. Eliot’s opinion of Henry James and I have always held to it.  That’s why I dislike his novels so much.  But, if forced to read something by James, this would be my choice.  That’s because he doesn’t get obsessed with the upper class and how they interact with the lower classes and just simply tells a story.  As a result, the writing is not as fine as it in his later, more important novels, but it is also much easier to read and much less likely to make me hate every character in it.

This is, quite simply, a ghost story.  That’s not the say that we are certain that there are ghosts, though they seem to be real enough to the poor governess who is telling the story (though we get her narration second-hand) and to the children in her care.  But it is a ghost story, nonetheless.  It is haunting, though, and concludes with a really heart-breaking, distressing scene, though, I don’t know how, at that point, it could have ended any other way.  That this is the James work I would most recommend doesn’t mean though that I am actually recommending it.

The Adaptation:

The film’s credits only mention the original novel (whether you want to call it a novel is up to you – I do, but the credits call it a story and it’s in that nebulous novella area).  But the heavy work for making this into a film had already been done in 1951 by William Archibald, who is credited alongside Truman Capote for the script.  Archibald was the one who originally changed the title to The Innocents, when he adapted the novel as a Broadway play.  It was the original play that made the decision that the ghosts were definitely real and the film simply follows that lead.  The film does a pretty good job of staying close to the play and the play itself was a fairly faithful adaptation of the original novel.  The biggest difference, in fact, is that, because of circumstances, the play (and film) name the governess, who was the unnamed narrator in the original book.

The Credits:

Produced and Directed by Jack Clayton.  Based on the story “The Turn of the Screw” by Henry James.  Additional Scenes & Dialogue by John Mortimer.  Script Editor: Jeanie Sims.  Screenplay by William Archibald and Truman Capote.

The Absent-minded Professor

The Film:

This is a perfect example of the kind of wholesome silly family entertainment that Walt Disney was producing in his live action films at this point.  It is miles ahead of Babes in Toyland in terms of quality (see below) and it actually sets in motion a number of things that would lead to, by far, the greatest live action success of Disney’s career.  It is far from a great film itself, it is too silly for that; but without this, we might never have gotten to Mary Poppins.

By the time this film was made, the concept of an “absent-minded professor” was well known, the man who focuses so much on his science that he forgets about actual life.  In this case, he’s played by Fred MacMurray and what he’s done is get so wrapped up in the invention of something he dubs “flubber”, a substance that defies the laws of kinetic and potential energy that he forgets his own wedding.  For the third time.  So poor Nancy Olson (who was already dumped by William Holden in the greatest film ever made) is left alone, though not for long.  Because, this is a Disney film after all, and we know they’ll find some way towards a happy ending.  It will involve, first, a rival professor who wants Olson, the father of the star basketball player who wants to get richer, a basketball game that absolutely would have been stopped, some very silly situations involving a flying car (and, later, the flying father) and a fighter plane chasing down the classic flying car.  It’s something kids can enjoy as everything bounces higher and higher but doesn’t leave a whole lot for adults to enjoy (except for maybe some early visual effects that really should have earned a Nighthawk nomination – my bad on that).

So how does all of this set the stage for Mary Poppins, the one film of Disney’s lifetime from his company that would be nominated for Best Picture and one of the most financially successful films ever made?  Well, we’ve got Robert Stevenson, the director rescued from television work by his contract with Disney starting in 1957, there is the whole concept of flying on screen, done more for fun than seriously (and would look a bit better in Mary Poppins, after they had more time to work on it), we have a small appearance from Ed Wynn, we have the star of a successful television show as the male lead (it would be Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins) and, most importantly, for the fight song of the college that is sung during the opening credits, we have the first Disney use of the Sherman brothers, those two musical marvels who would produce all of those amazing Poppins songs.  What we get here is pure silliness (though harmless and not bad at all) but what we would get later would be pure movie magic.

The Source:

“A Situation of Gravity” by Samuel W. Taylor  (1943)

I wasn’t able to get hold of the original short story that inspired the film.  Of interesting note, Taylor wrote a few stories that were turned into films but was mostly known for being a Mormon historian, which takes up the bulk of his published works.  Don’t confuse him with Samuel A. Taylor, who wrote two plays that were turned into Billy Wilder films (Sabrina Fair, Avanti) and co-wrote the screenplay for Vertigo.

The Adaptation:

I can’t really speak to the adaptation but I suspect much of what we see in the film (the whole marriage plot, the basketball game, the Army) comes from the screenplay.  The original short story ran a whopping two pages.

The Credits:

Directed by Robert Stevenson.  Screenplay by Bill Walsh. Based on a story by Samuel W. Taylor.
a note on the title of the film:  The poster lists it as The Absent-minded Professor.  Wikipedia lists it as The Absent-Minded Professor.  But the IMDb lists it correctly, as it is listed above, because that’s what it says in the credits for the film.

A Majority of One

The Film:

I originally gave a A Majority of One a 68, which is a mid-range *** and I think I was being too generous based on the fact that it stars Alec Guinness and Rosalind Russell.  Their performances are not only not enough to merit that high a rating (it deserves to be more in the low *** range) but are in fact part of the problem with the film in the first place.

This film is about a couple who fall in love over the course of a boat trip.  If only it were that simple.  The couple in question are played by Russell, playing a middle-aged Jewish woman who is accompanying her daughter and son-in-law to his new posting at the American embassy in Japan and Guinness, an important middle-aged Japanese businessman whose approval is needed if the conference that Russell’s son-in-law will be attending is going to succeed.  Standing in the way are the machinations of the author.

I really do mean that.  At first, it seems like it’s the war.  But that’s actually handled quite nicely by Guinness in a few lines when Russell accuses him and Hitler of wanting to run the world: “My wife and I did not so wish, Mrs. Jacoby.  Nor our son, nor our daughter – nor anybody we knew.  All we wished for was a happy and peaceful existence with the flowers, the moon and the sunshine.”  So what is the problem, really?  The problem is that conflict needs to exist so that it can be overcome so that we have a story in the first place.  That would be weak enough if we weren’t dealing with Russell desperately trying to put on a Brooklyn Jewish accent with every line and if Guinness, who does a much better job at seeming Japanese without trying too hard, wasn’t actually English in the first place.

But what is perhaps most disappointing about this film is that in a year when Breakfast at Tiffany’s and One, Two, Three were nominated at the Globes, this film won over both of them and that Russell won over Audrey Hepburn.  This film, even when I ranked it at a 68, was one of the ten worst winners in the history of the Best Comedy / Musical category at the Globes and its average among all the films in relation to the average nominee is the third worst all-time, ahead of only Driving Miss Daisy and Mrs Doubtfire.  It’s not a bad film, but a badly dated one and to have it win multiple Globes is just ridiculous.

The Source:

A Majority of One by Leonard Spigelgass (1959)

This play was a hit and I’m kind of at a loss to explain why.  A widowed Jewish woman and a widowed Japanese man overcome their differences and fall in love but don’t agree to marry for reasons that are never made clear (nor is it clear why they meet on a boat for Japan when they could have flown and in fact they both fly back later in the play).  It has a few nice lines but there really isn’t much to recommend it.

The Adaptation:

Spigelgass adapted his own play which means he pretty much left alone what he had already done and simply found some scenes to add to it, including one on a plane to Washington with Russell and her daughter (she’s described in the play as “a very pretty girl” and she definitely is in the film, played by Madlyn Rhue, who would later be known for playing Lt. McGivers in “Space Seed”, the officer who betrays the Enterprise and joins Khan and then marries him) and one when they first arrive in Japan and have a bit of culture shock.

What he really needed to do was cut a bit, because at 153 minutes, the film is way too long.  However, according to the IMDb, the UK version ran only 121 minutes and it would be interesting to see if that makes an improvement in the film, although not interesting enough to make me want to watch it again, something I rarely say about Alec Guinness films.

The Credits:

Directed by Mervyn LeRoy. Based on the Play by Leonard Spigelgass. As produced on the stage by The Theatre Guild and Dore Schary. Screenplay by Leonard Spigelgass.

The Parent Trap

The Film:

Just my suggestion that we could watch this film together with Thomas put the song “Let’s Get Together” in Veronica’s head and she quickly vetoed the idea.  It wasn’t that she disliked the film.  She just didn’t need the song, which is easy to get stuck in your head, stuck in hers.  This film comes from the stretch in the early sixties when Disney started putting out a lot of kids films and a number of them were quite enjoyable.  They aren’t great films and they don’t exactly deserve to be called classics, but they have certainly endured.

Part of the reason for the endurance of this film is the story itself, which actually began as a German novel (see below) that has been made into over a dozen films, not including the various sequels to this film.  And there are charming moments in the film, not the least of which are the recognition scenes, the moment when a parent realizes they are looking at a child they haven’t seen in years and the actual performance of “Let’s Get Together” which earns a Nighthawk nomination for Best Song because it really is a good song.

But most of the credit, of course, goes to Hayley Mills.  She had ended up in films almost by accident, cast as the young kid in Tiger Bay when her father brought her along for his own casting audition and the director realized that the child could be a girl.  But then she came across the water to star in a handful of films for Disney, starting the year before with Pollyanna (also directed by David Swift).  In this film, she has to carry the film, being the more serious Boston girl (with a British accent) as well as the carefree California girl who is into boys and rock and roll.  The scenes with her opposite herself are really perfect and you can’t ever see how they did it so well.  You almost feel bad for Mills, acting opposite herself, to not actually have a sister she can find to be with her like happens with Susan and Sharon.

Once they have found each other and they have arranged for their parents to be back together in California things take on a more typical plotline and since we know the parents have to end up together, it’s only a question of how (and how long).  But it’s good, charming entertainment, a Disney film that has definitely endured and people still return to this original no matter the sequels or the remake.  It’s a reminder that for a good decade, Hayley Mills was not only one of the most popular actresses at work but also one of the more talented.

The Source:

Das Doppelte Lottchen by Erich Kästner (double dots over the a) (1949)

This is a nice little kids book.  But is definitely a kids book, written at a very easy to read level, about two girls who meet at a summer camp and realize they are twins whose parents divorced when they were infants and have been living separately.  They each return to the wrong parent and find a way to bring the parents together again because the father is about to get remarried and they need to prevent that.

The strange thing for me to discover was that this had a source in the first place.  That’s because I distinctly remember my older sister owning a novelization (seen here) of this film and it’s not the original novel, but most definitely a novelization of the film (of course I read it – I read everything in the house when I was a kid – I read her Sweet Valley High books for god’s sake; actually I drew the line at Flowers in the Attic – I sure as shit wasn’t going to read that).

The Adaptation:

Given the vast differences between the book and the film, the film does a remarkable job of keeping as many details from the original book as possible and doing a good job of adapting what couldn’t be kept.  The major difference in tone is the rivalry between the two girls at camp – in the original novel they notice the resemblance and become friends but what the film does is much more fun and interesting.  But the novel takes place in Europe with the mother living in Munich and the father in Vienna (which, honestly, makes this all the more difficult to believe, since they were living in different countries) while in the film those have been changed to Boston and Carmel.  The resolution, of course, then becomes different, but only in details (how they manage to drive away their father’s fiancee) and of course there is no ranch-hand because there is no ranch (in the book, the father is a composer).

The Credits:

Written for the Screen and Directed by David Swift.  Based on the book “Das doppelte Lottchen” by Erich Kastner.

Babes in Toyland

The Film:

Supposedly Walt Disney wanted to create a film that would have the lasting impact of The Wizard of Oz.  To that end, he got the rights to the famous Victor Herbert operetta Babes in Toyland (which had already been filmed once before, though not in color) and even grabbed one of the stars from Oz (Ray Bolger) and put his money on-screen, complete with the still rising star from one of his television shows, Annette Funicello.  He probably thought this would be one of his lasting achievements, especially since this was the first live action musical from the studio.  Well, he would have the lasting impact of Oz, but he would have to wait three more years and pull in the Sherman brothers for their magical songs for Mary Poppins before that would happen.  In the meantime, he had Babes in Toyland on his hands and good lord is it painful to watch.

The first problem is that the songs really aren’t that good.  Yes, Babes in Toyland was a successful production on stage.  But so were a lot of Rodgers and Hammerstein productions and I don’t think those are any good either.  Besides, even Disney clearly didn’t have full confidence in the songs themselves because he changed them up (see below).  The second is that the film is just ridiculously simplistic.  Look at the opening scenes, after we have been introduced to the story by the talking goose and Mother Goose and we get the little fairy tale village.  It’s painful to watch, with terrible dialogue, horrible performances and the kind of displays that might appeal to really little children but totally lack the appeal that the great Disney films provide for audiences of all ages.

Now we have to get into the main story.  It’s the romance of Mary and Tom, played by Annette Funicello and Tommy Sands but played is really a generous word.  Neither of them does a lick of acting and their characters are so mundane and boring that you can’t possibly root for them to end up happily together.  Yet, Ray Bolger is so hopelessly miscast as the villain that you also can’t be rooting for him to succeed.  The only person in the film who provides a spark of life is Ed Wynn and he doesn’t so much bring any part of the film to life as provide the voice of the Mad Hatter and remind you of a much better Disney film.

Babes in Toyland was nominated for Costume Design at the Oscars and that would have been acceptable if not for the fact that they didn’t nominate El Cid, Splendor in the Grass or King of Kings.  But it was also nominated for Best Musical Score at the Oscars, Best Musical at the Globes and Best Written Musical at the WGA, all of which is proof that none of those categories needed to be in existence at all at this point.  It’s relentlessly mediocre, painful to watch and not exactly a film that Disney wants to trumpet as one of their best.

The Source:

Babes in Toyland, music by Victor Herbert, book and lyrics by Glen MacDonough  (1903)

The original Herbert / MacDonough operetta was a big hit when it was first released in 1903 and has been revived more than once and made into multiple films.  But it’s really just a Kids show with a bunch of Mother Goose characters all thrown together with a silly little romance plot between Mary Mary Quite Contrary and Tom, Tom the Piper’s Son.  It would eventually become a very popular Christmas production because of the latter half of the show when they end up with the Toymaker.

The Adaptation:

The adaptation is quite free.  It takes a lot of the original Herbert music but doesn’t make much use of the MacDonough lyrics, instead adding new lyrics to that original music.  It also even changes the tempo of some of the original Herbert songs.

The Credits:

Directed by Jack Donohue.  Based on the Operetta by Victor Herbert and Glen McDonough.  Lyrics and Introductory Material: Mel Leven.  Screenplay by Ward Kimball & Joe Rinaldi and Lowell S. Hawley.

Flower Drum Song

The Film:

Flower Drum Song is a silly film.  It wants to be more than it is but it can’t really rise above that, especially with the Rodgers and Hammerstein songs that fail to provide it with any seriousness.  It’s the story of a few changing couples.  That happens because of the arrival, on a boat to San Francisco, of a young woman and her father, illegally hidden so that she can fulfill her arranged marriage to a highly successful nightclub owner.

That’s complicated by the fact that the nightclub owner already has a girlfriend and she’s the sexy star of his shows and he’s watching her do her sultry dances across his stage every night.  But now, faced with the arrival of a woman he is contracted to marry, he has to think fast and what he does is dump the young woman and her father on another family, one with a young man who is a thoughtful student and a modern young American man who wants to break away from the Chinese traditions that his father insists on following.  And yet there is another woman, a beautiful young one that the student also ends up involved with.  So there we have it.  Three women, two men and several of an earlier generation who respect tradition while the younger ones just want to find some measure of American happiness.  If you don’t think this mostly works out (one character is left out) then you don’t watch many movies.

The story doesn’t have much to it and neither do the songs.  I can’t really say that this film is any better than low ***.  What the film does have going for it is the decency to actually cast, for the most part, people in the roles who actually belong there.  In 1961, at a time when racial equality on screen was pretty pathetic, the filmmakers actually did fill the roles with actual Asian-Americans.  And these were people who stuck around.  Jack Soo, who plays the nightclub owner, is recognizable to anyone who watched Barney Miller (which I didn’t but I think it came on just after some show I watched in syndication because he was familiar).  James Shigeta, the student, had a voice I instantly knew from watching Die Hard so many times (he’s Bedelia’s boss).  James Hong, the headwaiter at the club is someone Veronica knows from Big Trouble in Little China and millions currently known for being Po’s adoptive father in the Kung Fu Panda films.  The biggest objection is that the star of the film, Miyoshi Umeki, was Japanese and is playing a Chinese, but that’s still better than most films of this era did.  All of this correct casting doesn’t make the film any better but at least it makes it respectable in the same year where Mickey Rooney was in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

The Source:

The Flower Drum Song by C.Y. Lee  (1957)  /  Flower Drum Song: A Musical Play, music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein, 2nd, book by Oscar Hammerstein, 2nd and Joseph Fields  (1958)

The original novel is a decent one, about a family living in Chinatown (in San Francisco).  There are two sons, both of whom are becoming much more Americanized than their father who clings to his old ways of life.  The older of the two engages in three different relationships over the course of the novel, the first of which is a bit of a wreck (it’s with a woman who works in a nightclub that is deceiving him), the second of which is a tragedy (a not very good looking woman that kills herself when the affair ends).  The second half of the book deals with the love that grows between the son and the young woman who arrives in San Francisco off the boat from China that he falls in love with, at the expense of alienating his father.

The novel is fairly well-written.  It paints a vivid picture, not only of the Chinatown section of SF (the opening line of the novel: “To the casual tourists, Grant Avenue is Chinatown, just another colorful street in San Francisco; to the overseas Chinese, Grant Avenue is their showcase, their livelihood; to the refugees from the mainland, Grant Avenue is Canton.” and it is telling that Lee originally planned to name the novel Grant Avenue) but of the characters themselves, especially the father and son who are so very different.

In the musical we lose some of that characterization so that they can focus on the songs.  To that end, they create the character of Sammy Fong, the nightclub owner who didn’t exist at all in the original novel.  The musical also makes the parts of the novel overlap.  In the original novel, we get the first affair and only then do we meet the primary character of Mei Li and her father, while they come on the scene fairly quickly in the musical (they are also given a different dramatic arc, since she is there to marry Sammy).  I much prefer what the original novel does with the characters and I can pretty much do without the Rodgers and Hammerstein songs.

The Adaptation:

The film continues to change things up.  In the novel, we open with the Wang family and it keeps the focus on them through the novel.  In the musical, we open on the Wang family but we are pretty quickly introduced to Sammy, who wants to foist his intended off on the Wangs so that he can keep time with Linda, the nightclub singer that he likes to slug it out with.  In the film, we actually begin with Mei Li and her father on the boat and then their arrival in SF and trying to find Sammy before we ever get to the Wangs.  Again, I much prefer the original novel, as it is the Wang family that is the most interesting and the dramatic arc between the father and son that is really the heart and soul of the story, not the love story.

It was the original musical that made things lighter by just dropping the character of Helen after her love affair with Wang Ta peters out rather than have her commit suicide like in the original novel but it is only in the film where we take the extra step and really lighten things by adding the double wedding at the end, giving an official happy ending to Sammy and Linda as well.  The stage version of the musical simply had Mei Li and Wang Ta pronouncing their love for each other rather than the interrupted wedding that then turns out to be a silly double wedding.  All in all, you are best left sticking with the book unless Rodgers and Hammerstein is your thing and if so then you’re beyond all help anyway.

The Credits:

Directed by Henry Koster.  Music by Richard Rodgers, Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein, 2nd.  Screenplay by Joseph Fields.  Based on the novel “The Flower Drum Song” by C. Y. Lee.

Snow White and the Three Stooges

The Film:

I know, let’s make a Snow White film.  And she can be played by an ice skater (we’ll even throw in some scenes of her ice skating).  And when she heads away from the castle, fearing for her life, rather than find the seven dwarves, she’s find the Three Stooges.  Then we’ll sink a bunch of money into the film, make it in Technicolor.  Who wouldn’t want to see that?

Well, hopefully you can tell that the obvious answer is me.  I don’t want to see this.  It’s stupid and boring and everyone in it does such a horrendous job that it’s no wonder that the ice skater (Olympic champion Carol Heiss) and Prince Charming (Edson Stroll) didn’t do much with their acting careers.  But it turns out that audiences didn’t want to see it either.  The critics apparently thought there wasn’t enough of the Stooges (personally I think any amount of the Stooges is too much), the film was clearly geared towards children and they had ramped up the budget (it over quadrupled once Walter Lang, the Oscar nominated director of The King and I, was brought onto the film) and it couldn’t even come close to making its money back.  I saw this film originally because it was a WGA nominee for Best Written Musical (which shows you the lack of contenders), though it didn’t win in spite of the what the DVD case may say (West Side Story won).  I would have had to see it anyway eventually because Lang directed it.  But either way, it’s a ridiculous and stupid film.

Carol Heiss may have the looks for Snow White (pale skin, dark hair, red lips), but I’ve seen much better Snow Whites (like here or here).  She can’t act and they throw in the ice skating just to give her something she can do (and they’re not subtle about it on the poster, obviously).  The Stooges are just annoying and a distraction.  They spent serious money on the film but the castle in the ice skating scenes is such a ridiculous painted backdrop you wonder where the money went.  The Evil Queen may have been played by a more professional actress (Patricia Medina) but she’s hardly any better than the skater.

This film clearly fails as a Stooges film because they have to aim it too much towards children and get in the romance which feels wrong with the Stooges, yet it also fails as a Kids film because the Stooges take you out of the fairy tale and the romance.  And as a musical?  Well, the less said about the songs, the better.

The Source:

Sneewittchen by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm  (1812)

This is, ostensibly, based on the original Grimm tale but it doesn’t acknowledge that.  You can read a lot more about that tale here.

The Adaptation:

As I wrote, there is no acknowledgement of the original tale, and really, the film doesn’t do much with the original tale.  It takes the general idea (Snow White is a princess who, when her father dies, is wanted dead by her stepmother because she is the fairest of them all and then later has a Prince) and then does its own thing with it, inserting the Stooges where it wants to, dropping the dwarves entirely and bringing in Charming in a much different way.

The Credits:

Directed by Walter Lang.  Screenplay by Noel Langley and Ellwood Ullman.  Based on a story by Charles Wick.

Other Screenplays on My List Outside My Top 10:

  • The Children’s Hour  –  Filled with first-rate acting, this is the second version of Lillian Hellman’s famous play but this one (unlike 1936’s These Three) got to actually use the lesbian subtext.
  • The League of Gentlemen  –  Solid British crime film with a great cast (Jack Hawkins, Roger Livesey, Richard Attenborough) adapted from the novel by John Boland.
  • Three Strange Loves  –  Also known as Thirst, this early Bergman film is one of his first strong films.  It’s adapted from a short story collection by Birgit Tengroth.

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

  • 101 Dalmations  –  The classic Disney film, based on the novel by Dodie Smith (who also wrote I Capture the Castle).  A low ***.5 film.
  • The Human Condition Part II  –  A high ***.  Like the first film, based on the six part novel by Junpei Gomikawa.
  • Purple Noon  –  I am one of those who actually prefer the 1999 film but you have to give credit to this, the original film adaptation of The Talented Mr. Ripley.  Considered by many to be a classic, but it’s just high *** on my list.
  • Testament of Dr. Cordelier  –  Technically a television film, this is Renoir’s take on The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde.
  • The Pit and the Pendulum  –  The second of the Corman / Poe films, also rated by me as the second best of them (and thus the second best film Corman ever made) behind only Masque of the Red Death.
  • The Comancheros  –  The last film from Michael Curtiz (with John Wayne stepping in when Curtiz was too sick to direct), this is a solid Western with Wayne and Stuart Whitman.  Based on the novel by Paul Wellman.
  • Othello  –  Soviet version of the Shakespeare play, originally released in 1955 and just getting a U.S. release with Sergei Bondarchuk as the Moor.
  • Hell is a City  –  Solid Crime film from Hammer based on the first of the Inspector Martineau novels by Maurice Procter.
  • The Fabulous World of Jules Verne  –  Partially animated Czech 1958 film that uses a variety of Verne works (most prominently Facing the Flag) to create a solid Adventure film.
  • Saturday Night and Sunday Morning  –  Alan Sillitoe adapts his own novel and brings Albert Finney into the world of the Angry Young Men.
  • Rocco and His Brothers  –  Italian Crime film from Luchino Visconti.  Inspired by part of the novel Il ponte della Ghisolfa.  Included in Ebert’s Great Movies list.
  • Two Rode Together  –  Late John Ford Western with Jimmy Stewart and Richard Widmark.  Based on the novel Comanche Captives.
  • The Grass is Greener  –  Big stars (Cary Grant, Deborah Kerr, Robert Mitchum, Jean Simmons), big director (Stanley Donen) and a hit play should have been more than mid *** but isn’t.
  • The Deadly Companions  –  Sam Peckinpah’s directorial debut, based on the novel Yellowleg by Sid Fleischman, his last adult novel before he became a Newbury Award winning children’s writer (including By the Great Horn Spoon, which was a prominent part of my childhood).
  • The Mark  –  Disturbing film about a pedophile out of prison with an Oscar nominated performance from Stuart Whitman.  Adapted from the novel by Charles E. Israel.
  • Mysterious Island  –  Ray Harryhausen’s visual effects meet Jules Verne’s adventure story.  The film is mid *** but the effects win the Nighthawk.
  • One-Eyed Jacks  –  It started with Peckinpah as the writer and Kubrick as the director but after dealing with Brando they were both out so Brando directed his only feature.  Adapted from the novel The Authentic Death of Hendry Jones.
  • The Curse of the Werewolf  –  When Hammer revived the Wolfman, they did it by going to the novel The Werewolf of Paris rather than just remake the Universal films.  No Lee or Cushing but it does have Oliver Reed as the lead and is directed by Terence Fisher.
  • Odd Obsession  –  Kon Ichikawa takes on the classic Japanese novel The Key by Junichiro Tanizaki (a book well worth reading).
  • Fathers and Sons  –  A 1959 Soviet version of the novel that ended up in my Top 100.
  • The Millionairess  –  A loose adaptation of the George Bernard Shaw play.  As a plus, it has Peter Sellers, but as a minus, Sophia Loren attempting to act in English.
  • Tintin and the Mystery of the Golden Fleece  –  The first live-action Tintin film.  A full review of it can be found here.
  • Summer and Smoke  –  Not one of Tennessee Williams’ stronger plays and with Laurence Harvey as the lead, not one of the stronger film adaptations either (though not even the weakest of the year).  It earned Geraldine Page her second Oscar nomination.
  • The Pleasure of His Company  –  A Comedy with Fred Astaire and Debbie Reynolds based on the hit play.
  • Paris Blues  –  It’s got Sidney Poitier and Paul Newman but they’re playing jazz.  Based on the novel.
  • Khovanshchina  –  A Soviet film adaptation of the famous opera.  It earned Dimitri Shostakovich an Oscar nomination for adapting the score.
  • Town Without Pity  –  Bleak film based on the novel The Verdict by Manfred Gregor (who is also above).  Stars Kirk Douglas as a lawyer defending four soldiers on a charge of rape.
  • Greyfriars Bobby: The True Story of a Dog  –  Disney adaptation of the novel based on the story of the Scottish dog that guarded his owner’s grave for 14 years.
  • The Two Faces of Dr Jekyll  –  This one does have Christopher Lee and is again directed by Terence Fisher but Hammer’s take on Jekyll and Hyde isn’t one of their best.  Low ***.
  • Goodbye Again  –  May-December romance with Ingrid Bergman and Anthony Perkins adapted from a novel by Francoise Sagan, the author who published Bonjour Tristesse at age 19.
  • The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone  –  Even a young Warren Beatty can’t save this weak adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ novel (yes, novel).
  • Sanctuary  –  We’re into **.5 territory here as Brit Tony Richardson tries to take on Faulkner’s novel (with a good chunk of Requiem for a Nun thrown in) while still under the auspices of the Production Code.  There’s a full review at the novel link.
  • The Savage Innocents  –  Subpar Nicholas Ray Adventure film with Anthony Quinn.  Based on the novel Top of the World by Hans Ruesch.
  • The Marriage-Go-Round  –  The play by Leslie Stevens becomes a forgettable film with Susan Hayward and James Mason.
  • King of Kings  –  Nicholas Ray takes on the Christ story with Jeffrey Hunter in the lead.  It’s got more historical context than the original DeMille version.
  • Posse from Hell  –  Mediocre Audie Murphy Western adapted from the novel by Clair Huffaker.
  • Two Women  –  I don’t think Sophia Loren should have even been nominated, let alone won the Oscar but her performance is better than the film itself which I have as low **.5.  Based on the novel by Alberto Moravia who would also write The Conformist.
  • Battle of Blood Island  –  This is based, seriously, on a story by Philip Roth, even though it’s a World War II story.  A story never read by me, even though I have all of Roth’s books because it’s never been collected as you can read about here.  Sadly, it sets the stage for numerous disappointing Roth adaptations to come.
  • All Hands on Deck  –  Directed by the mediocre Norman Taurog and starring Pat Boone, this is a Musical you can avoid.  Based on the novel Warm Bodies.
  • The Naked Edge  –  Gary Cooper’s last film and not the one you want to remember him by.  Crappy Suspense film based on the novel First Train to Babylon by Max Ehrlich.
  • A Breath of Scandal  –  The second Michael Curtiz film on this list as he was ending his career.  Based on the play Olympia.
  • A Cold Wind in August  –  Weak drama about a stripper and a high school boy.  Based on the novel.
  • Francis of Assisi  –  The third Michael Curtiz film on the list, based on the novel The Joyful Beggar.
  • Blood and Roses  –  Roger Vadim tries to direct Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla (which was made into the brilliant Vampyr) but it turns out he’s a crappy director whose only talent is getting beautiful women to take off their clothes in his films.
  • The Devil at 4 O’Clock  –  A precursor to the disaster films of the 70’s and just as bad (**).  It has Spencer Tracy and Frank Sinatra and is based on the novel by Max Catto.
  • Claudelle Inglish  –  Erskine Caldwell was long on the down end of his career when he wrote the novel.  The film is no better, a mid **, though not quite bad enough to make my bottom 5 of the year, which were all original.

Adaptations of Notable Works I Haven’t Seen:

  • Uncle Vanya  –  Since oscars.org no longer has their database, I can’t confirm this is the 1957 Franchot Tone version of Chekhov’s play but it doesn’t seem like it could be anything else.
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