One of film’s most iconic moments and not in the original at all.

My Top 10:

  1. Dr. Strangelove
  2. High and Low
  3. Harakiri
  4. Mary Poppins
  5. The Americanization of Emily
  6. The Best Man
  7. The Night of the Iguana
  8. The Chalk Garden
  9. Goldfinger
  10. My Fair Lady

Note:  There are 20 films on my list.  Only one of the other ten is reviewed below as a WGA nominee (Seven Days in May).  The other nine are all listed towards the bottom of the post.

Consensus Nominees:

  1. Becket  (200 pts)
  2. Dr. Strangelove  (160 pts)
  3. Mary Poppins  (120 pts)
  4. My Fair Lady  (80 pts)
  5. The Servant  (80 pts)

Oscar Nominees  (Best Screenplay – Adapted):

  • Becket
  • Dr. Strangelove
  • Mary Poppins
  • My Fair Lady
  • Zorba the Greek

Note:  The only year in the 5 BP Era (1944-2008) in which the five Picture and Adapted Screenplay nominees lined up.  There were some years where four of them matched up and the fifth Picture nominee was eligible (1957, 1966, 1972) but this is the only year where they perfectly matched.

WGA Awards:


  • Becket
  • The Best Man
  • The Night of the Iguana
  • Seven Days in May

Nominees that are Original:  One Potato Two Potato


  • Dr. Strangelove
  • Topkapi
  • The World of Henry Orient

Nominees that are Original:  Father Goose, The Pink Panther


  • Mary Poppins
  • My Fair Lady
  • The Unsinkable Molly Brown

Nominees that are Original:  Kissin’ Cousins, Robin and the 7 Hoods, Roustabout

BAFTA (Best British Screenplay):

  • Becket
  • Dr. Strangelove


  • The Servant

My Top 10

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

The Film:

How did this film ever get made?  How did it manage to earn Picture, Director, Actor and Screenplay nominations?  At once one of the most critical satires ever made and one of the funniest films ever even conceived, it was the start of a stellar time of critical recognition for Stanley Kubrick (for this and each of his next three films he would earn Oscar nominations).  Yet, think of how daring it was at the time.  It had a British star who had never been nominated for an Oscar (but would for this film) and an American actor who still can’t enough recognition (I just Googled “best actor never nominated for an Oscar” and went through several pages and still never saw Sterling Hayden’s name).  It is widely heralded as one of the greatest films ever made and if somehow, by some bizarre chance, you’re reading this and you have never seen it, you need to stop reading and watch it right now.  Baring that, you can read a much longer review here.  Since this is a year where all five Picture nominees were also nominated for Adapted Screenplay, you’ll also find reviews of the other four nominees as well, but I’ll go ahead and link to it again down below anyway.

The Source:

Two Hours to Doom by Peter Bryant  (1958)

This is a little pulp novel about what would happen if a general managed to subvert the chain of command and send off American bombers to go bomb Russia and help bring about peace (albeit, with the Soviet Union having been destroyed).  It’s a bit of a thriller, with the President trying to stop the bombers and wondering what he will have to do if he fails.  It bounces back and forth between the base where the orders originate, the Pentagon and one of the bombers itself (which is hit by flack and is unable to respond when the recall code is sounded).  At the end, the President is faced with the knowledge that one of the bombers makes it through and then has to quickly decide how things will play out with the Soviets.  It’s a neat little “what-if” story with a mostly happy ending.

note:  The reason the title and author are different than listed in the credits is because that’s how the novel was originally published (and the pseudonym that Peter George used when publishing it).

The Adaptation:

“I started to work on the screenplay with every intention of making the film a serious treatment of the problem of accidental nuclear war.  As I kept trying to imagine the way in which things would really happen, ideas kept coming to me which I would discard because they were so ludicrous …  But after a month or so I began to realize that all the things I was throwing out were the things which were most truthful …  So it occurred to me that I was approaching the project in the wrong way.  The only way to tell the story was as a black comedy, or better, a nightmare comedy, where the things you laugh at most are really the heart of the paradoxical postures that make a nuclear war possible.” (Stanley Kubrick quoted in Stanley Kubrick: Interviews, ed. Gene D. Phillips, p 97)

In fact, Kubrick actually keeps fairly true to the concept of the book, jumping back and forth between the three locations and focusing on the same main characters as in the novel (though the hilarious names come from Kubrick and Southern and weren’t in the original).  While very little dialogue comes straight from the book, what is serious in the book is simply played as humor in the film, especially in the Ripper and Turgidson characters.  You can read the book and totally see the movie even though one is serious and the other isn’t.

The ending, of course, is very different.  The bomber does get the bomb off but it ends up doing very little damage and without its commander going down riding the bomb and it certainly doesn’t herald the end of the world.  Oh, and there’s no equivalent character for Dr. Strangelove – he’s pure Kubrick.

The Credits:

Directed and Produced by Stanley Kubrick.  Screenplay by Stanley Kubrick, Terry Southern & Peter George.  Based on the book Red Alert by Peter George.

High and Low

The Film:

I have already reviewed this film as one of the best films of 1964, even though, technically, it’s a 1963 film that is just now receiving a U.S. release (which is actually much quicker than almost all of Kurosawa’s previous films, a sign of his reputation by this point).  It’s a bit of a change of pace for Kurosawa, a mystery thriller which seems to build up Toshiro Mifune as the lead role but then leaves him out of the majority of the second half of the film when it becomes more of a police procedural.  But it does give us Tatsuya Nakadai in a prominent role.  In fact, with Mifune disappearing and Nakadai ascending in the second half of the film, it’s almost a metaphor for the later Kurosawa career when he would stop working with Mifune but Nakadai would give phenomenal starring performances in Kagemusha and Ran.

The Source:

King’s Ransom: An 87th Precinct Mystery by Ed McBain  (1959)

I used to own this in a pulp mass-market edition that had been my college roommate’s grandmother’s (she used to have an enormous wall of books when we would visit in college and at one point she let me take a bunch).  I read it once and then eventually got rid of it because it just wasn’t very good, a far cry from the fantastic Kurosawa film (which I had already seen by that point – unlike the next film, I had seen most of Kurosawa by the time I was out of college).  It’s a standard police procedural, the story of a kidnapping, except that the kidnappers have kidnapped the wrong child (they wanted the child of a man who runs a shoe company but got his chauffeur’s son instead).  Then, there is the suspense of whether he will pay the ransom, whether the child will be rescued and what will happen with the planned takeover of the company that the man is planning.

The Adaptation:

This is one of those wonderful examples of how to take a pre-existing novel and then use it to tell the story you want to tell.  How, for example, do you take a police procedural from a series of them and make it stand completely on its own?  By only taking the beginning.  Most police procedurals have to establish the new case and King’s Ransom is no exception.  But that’s all that Kurosawa and his co-writers take from the original novel.  The entire 87th Precinct aspect of the novel is dropped – the police characters are created by the screenwriters and nothing about what happens after the initial kidnapping is the same, including the identity of the kidnappers and even what happens to King himself after the kidnapping.  You can read the early parts of the book and everything about it is recognizable but if you were to start after the kidnapping, you’d never realize it was the same story.

The Credits:

Directed by Akira Kurosawa.  Written by Hideo Oguni, Eijiro Hisaita, Ryuzo Kikushima and Akira Kurosawa.
Note:  Credits courtesy of the Criterion DVD.  If the McBain novel is mentioned in the credits, it is not translated by Criterion.


The Film:

I have already reviewed this film as one of the five best films of the year.  It is, to my mind, easily the best Samurai film not made by Akira Kurosawa and by far the best film from Masaki Kobayashi.  Since Harakiri wasn’t nominated for any awards (at least ones that I track), I think I saw it the first time when I was watching my way through all the films ever put out on DVD by Criterion.  That’s a great way to make a film checklist but it also meant that I didn’t see it until I was well into my 30’s (based on the apartment I was living in, I saw it between 2007 and 2009) and that’s really putting off a film that’s this great far too long.

The Source:

Ibun rônin ki by Yasuhiko Takiguchi (1957)

I have been unable to track down the original novel, which wouldn’t probably matter, since it doesn’t appear to have ever been translated into English.

The Adaptation:

There is a dissertation listed online titled Film adaptations of written narrative : Kobayashi’s Seppuku and Takiguchi’s Ibun ronin ki.  I wish I could have read it, but it doesn’t appear to be available from any library.  Interestingly enough, the person who wrote it, Andrew Nakatani, seems to have become famous working in manga, which would certainly be appropriate.

The Credits:

Directed by Masaki Kobayashi.  Original Story by Yasuhiko Takiguchi.  Screenplay by Shinobu Hashimoto.
Note: I watched this on TCM and that is where the credits translation is from.

Mary Poppins

The Film:

If you think you are too old for this film, that you have somehow outgrown it, then just wait.  You will come back around to it.  When you watch the film, when you let songs like “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”, “Chim Chim Cher-ee” or “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” back into your life, when you see the wonderful art direction and costumes, when you watch the incredible Oscar winning performance from Julie Andrews, you will remember why you loved this film so much when you were younger.  As I said in my review, the most important thing to take out of the film is that Mary isn’t there to raise the children; she’s there to help the parents find what made them become parents in the first place and find a way to connect to their children again.  I wrote that review in 2010, three years before Saving Mr. Banks, but the idea is similar to one presented in that film: she’s not there to save the children, but to save the father.

The Source:

Mary Poppins by P. L. Travers  (1934)

“If you want to find Cherry-Tree Lane all you have to do is ask the Policeman at the cross-roads.”  That’s the opening line of the first book of the Mary Poppins series.  If it sounds vaguely familiar in tone that’s because it is the predecessor to such books as The Hobbit, The Chronicles of Narnia and Harry Potter.  They all have that particular tone of British fantasy books for children.  It’s a nice book, the story of a stern nanny who comes to stay with the Banks family and watch over the children, at least until the wind changes.  They have a few adventures, but I can’t say that there’s anything specific that liberates Mary to feel like she can leave.  She just leaves and we are left to wait for the next adventure (which will come in the next book, when she returns).  I can’t say there’s much in the book for adult readers without children unless they want to revisit their childhood, but they are nice books for children themselves.  Perhaps I lost a little something by not having read them when I was a child.

The Adaptation:

It’s easy to find references that state that the film is based on parts of the first four Mary Poppins books (all of which had the rights sold to Disney).  But, of the three major parts of the film, two of them (the excursion into the chalk drawing and the tea party on the ceiling) are both taken from the first book.  I haven’t read the other three books, but it doesn’t seem, from descriptions of them, that the third major part (the trip to the bank and the fallout from that) actually occurs in any of the other novels, which seem to focus mostly on Mary and not on the parents.

The most interesting thing about the adaptation from the book to the film is that, like the transformation of Red Alert into Dr. Strangelove, it’s less a question of changing the details than of changing the tone.  Many of Mary’s lines come straight from the book but while in the book she is more stern, here, the subtle intonations that Andrews’ puts into her lines and her expressions make her seem less stern and more caring.

There are a lot of changes of course (the Banks’ actually have four children in the book) and the parents don’t actually bear that much of a resemblance to who we meet in the film.  The film really gives them a lot more personality and if Travers’ goal was for Mary to be there to save Mr. Banks, that actually becomes a lot more apparent in the film than, at least, in the first book.

The Credits:

Directed by  Robert Stevenson.  Music and Lyrics by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman.  Screenplay by Bill Walsh, Don Da Gradi.  Based on the “Mary Poppins” books by P. L. Travers.

The Americanization of Emily

The Film:

I first saw this film sometime in the early 2000’s as I was making my way through the long list of films that earned Tech nominations at the Oscars.  This film was nominated for Best Cinematography and Best Art Direction, and while both of those are solid, it mainly earned the nominations because by 1964 there were a lot fewer black-and-white films being made and it was harder to fill those categories at the Oscars.  But I discovered a hilarious film, a darkly cynical satire on how people act during war.

There are two keys to this film, but to say that is not to minimize a few other things about the film.  The first of those other things is a solid supporting performance from Melvyn Douglas as the Admiral in charge of everything.  The second is a much stronger supporting performance from James Coburn.  Coburn ends up in 6th place at the Nighthawk Awards, for a performance which sees him constantly roused out of bed with a beautiful woman by his best friend.  Those scenes are some of the best of the film, partially for the way they interact, and partially because of everything else going on in those scenes (namely, the way the women react).  There is also Julie Andrews, in might be her sexiest performance.  She plays a war widow who is working as a driver and manages to fall in love with the last man that she should fall in love with.  But, fall in love she does and it’s believable for a couple of reasons, those two keys to the film that I mentioned above.

The first is the script.  The script is smart and cynical and a great satire.  We are presented with a cowardly man, determined to survive the war, and survive it in style, who constantly bursts in on his best friend in bed with women, who is going to be forced to storm the beach at Normandy whether he likes it or not, even if it means his best friend will have to shoot him and who makes us laugh even when we want to cringe.  Yet, even the script wouldn’t be enough if they hadn’t found the perfect person to play this role.  In a year like 1964, it’s hard to get into the Best Actor race, so James Garner, in what might be his finest film performance, lands in 6th place (just like Coburn and Andrews).  We believe him when he talks, his performance brings the film to life and we want him to succeed in his romance and survive the war even when he says things that make us want to just smack our heads.  Yes, he’s a coward, but he fully admits it, because, in the end, he just wants to live, and really, who can argue with that?  This is not the kind of film I expected when I went to first watch it, but it was definitely the kind of film I needed.

The Source:

The Americanization of Emily: A Novel by William Bradford Huie (1959)

This novel was considerably disappointing.  I had expected a brilliant satire, something on the level of the film, which I had seen more than once and really loved.  I didn’t realize that the novel was actually a sequel of sorts (to The Revolt of Mamie Stover, which was made into a rather unmemorable film), so we’re dealing with a character who has already related some of his experiences during the war.  The narrator is Charlie Madison, a “dog robber”, a man who gets all the supplies for the top brass.  He’s in England in the lead up to D-Day and he flaunts that he can get anything he wants while the native English have been pretty much without since the start of the war.  He starts a relationship with an English driver who eventually, against all reason falls in love with him, even as he is caught up in the events surrounding D-Day.  He is sent to make a film about the events and after his return he marries the driver.  It is a mostly serious novel with some comic aspects, a far cry from the satire the film is (and what I was expecting).

The Adaptation:

As mentioned, the novel, while similar in many events, is vastly different in tone.  There are significant differences that are detailed on Wikipedia, but the main thing is that the film is a satire, one which deals with the very concept of cowardice and its place in life and society while the novel is mostly straight forward and is essentially a wartime romance with some comic aspects.  Most of the best scenes in the film revolve around the satire and therefore aren’t in the original novel.

The Credits:

Directed by Arthur Hiller. Screen Play by Paddy Chayefsky. Based on the Novel by William Bradford Hue.

The Best Man

The Film:

I have already reviewed this film as the under-appreciated film of 1964.  That’s actually kind of ironic, because it misses out on a number of Nighthawk nominations, including Adapted Screenplay (obviously).  It has 7 Top 10 finishes at the Nighthawk Awards but only earns 3 nominations.  But it is a great film and should be appreciated as such, with a very smart and witty script.

It was a bit difficult to watch it this time though.  I was watching it in the immediate aftermath of the 2016 election at a time when I just didn’t want to think about politics at all.

The Source:

The Best Man: A Play About Politics by Gore Vidal (1960)

I have never been much of a fan of Vidal’s writing but this play is really first-rate.  It understands politics, understands the kind of men who run for president and what they might try to do to each other in the course of a presidential campaign.  It would be easy, looking at when the play was first written and performed, to look at it as an allegory for the 1960 Democratic nomination, with John Kennedy as the younger, more ruthless Joe Cantwell and Adlai Stevenson as the older, more statesman-esque William Russell who lacks the killer edge necessary to win the office with Harry Truman as the hick of a former president trying to find a worthy candidate.  But Vidal writes the characters well enough on their own that we don’t have to take it as an allegory.  As it turns out, while Stevenson and Truman were in fact inspirations for their characters, it was Richard Nixon that the ruthless young Cantwell was based on.  Vidal, in an essay on the play in United States: Essays, 1952-1992, mentions how one columnist who used to hint at Stevenson being gay claimed that Cantwell would never survive being smeared as gay.

Moreover, Vidal is rather prescient in the way he writes about the characters.  In the introduction, he discusses the two key plot points – the things that Cantwell and Russell would discover about each other to try and knock each other out of the race.  In his introduction to the published version of the play, Vidal talks about the idea of a candidate with a nervous breakdown in the past: “A presidential candidate can have many faults, but even a hint of mental instability is disqualifying.”  What a thing to have written years before the 1972 election in which first Ed Muskie, then Thomas Eagleton had their political aspirations crushed for that very reason (in the essay in United States, Vidal, who was writing the essay in 1973, mentions that very thing).

The Adaptation:

The script was adapted by Vidal, so most of the play makes it intact to the screen.  Sometimes things have been changed around (the confrontation between Cantwell and Hockstader, for instance, is moved from Cantwell’s suite to Hockstader’s).  The play has been opened up to allow for a lot more smaller scenes, with some things broken away from the main action and some little side bits added in.  There is also one particular topical change (in the play, the convention takes place in Philadelphia, while in the film, it is Los Angeles, adding to the idea that this is the 1960 campaign, when the Democrats had their convention in LA).  There is also more about Cantwell’s anti-Communism, making him more of a McCarthy-esque character.

The Credits:

Directed by Franklin Schaffner.  Screenplay by Gore Vidal.  The only mention of the source is the title card: “Gore Vidal’s The Best Man”

The Night of the Iguana

The Film:

Sometimes when you think about great actors you can think about them in that sense and not think about what makes them different.  Looking at the big films made from Tennessee Williams plays, you see names like Marlon Brando, Karl Malden, Eli Wallach, Paul Newman, names that stand out for the kind of acting that they brought to the screen.  They were method (and American) and Williams was almost kind of made for that.  But Richard Burton?  Well, he was method if he was playing an alcoholic.  Yet, somehow Burton dives in an inhabits this role in a way that a lot of actors have struggled with on-screen and he seems more made for Williams than others you would think of who weren’t as successful with Williams on-screen like Montgomery Clift or Warren Beatty.  Perhaps it’s because Reverend Shannon, a man who isn’t allowed to preach anymore because of his railing against god and who is now being accused of sleeping with a teenager is a man on the edge and Richard Burton has always been a man on the edge.  When things start to fall apart for Shannon, you can see Burton sitting back, taking hold and saying to John Huston, let me at it, I’ve got this.

Of course, as good as Burton is, railing against the world, tied in a hammock, screaming to be let free, he’s not alone in this film.  The support comes from three very different actresses who all do magnificent jobs.  The first is Ava Gardner as the recently widowed owner of a hotel who wants to sink her hooks in Shannon.  By this time, Gardner’s famous looks had started to slip and she was forced to actually rely on the acting that she didn’t show a lot of evidence for early in her career and she rarely would have better results.  But she’s got to play off the lonely, odd spinster artists who arrives at the hotel and that Shannon lets stay there.  This is Deborah Kerr and if Kerr is playing a spinster, she’s still Deborah Kerr and she brings everything to the role just like she did in every film and you begin to wonder which way Shannon should turn.  But all of that is dependent on what happens with the teacher in charge of the students on the tour, the woman who is accusing Shannon of statutory rape.  She is played by Grayson Hall and her career was nothing like those of Gardner and Kerr, yet she gives what is perhaps the best performance in the film (certainly far better than the Oscar winning performance from Lila Kedrova and indeed Hall wins the Nighthawk).

Which way should Shannon turn?  Should we believe him?  Should we believe in him?  All of these questions that the audience grapples with as we watch the tour de force acting in front of us.  The best thing about Williams plays when they were turned into films, which happened a lot more than for the other two great American dramatists, O’Neill and Miller, is that the acting is always so amazing to watch.  Williams delighted in writing flawed and distressed characters and it allowed actors to sink their teeth into the roles and this is no exception.  Richard Burton might not have seemed like the proper actor for a Williams adaptation but it turns out he’s just what we needed.

The Source:

The Night of the Iguana by Tennessee Williams  (1961)

It’s pretty easy to see where this play ranks among the work of one of the country’s greatest and most important playwrights.  Signet Classic has already done the work for us.  It’s not in the first tier, because if it was, it would have been printed on its own like Streetcar, Menagerie and Cat.  Instead, it’s in the second tier, published in one book with Sweet Bird of Youth and The Rose Tattoo.

It’s a strong play about a man who is still technically a reverend (he has not been de-frocked but has been locked out of his church) but who is in disarray.  He’s not allowed to preach because of what he was preaching and now he’s reduced to running a tour bus.  To top that off, he’s been accused of sleeping with one of the tourists, who is only sixteen.  With that in the background, he is forced to deal with the woman who runs the hotel where he and the tour are now staying (whose husband has recently died), a strange artist who is traveling with her grandfather and then there is the teacher who is accusing Shannon in the first place.  All of this combines to push Shannon to the absolute edge.

It’s easy to see why actors would love this play.  Shannon is a plum role, as is Maxine, the woman who runs the hotel (who was played by Bette Davis in the original Broadway run).  At the end of the play, you don’t how much has really been resolved with any of the characters but while the action is going on you can get a tour de force.

The Adaptation:

“Tennessee and I had several discussions in Vallarta about the ending. He had written the character Maxine with considerable affection, then, at the end, turned her into a spider woman who devoured her mate. This was done to make his point that animalism and brutality will inevitably prevail over sensitivity and breeding. For this point to make sense, it should have been a tragedy that Maxine kept the Reverend Shannon with her. But Maxine was written too well – she was too real – and in fact to be taken in by Maxine was the best thing that could happen to Shannon. I felt Tennessee had perfunctorily changed Maxine’s character for his own dark purposes, as a means of expressing his own prejudice against women, and I called him on it. I argued for a happy ending.” (An Open Book by John Huston (1980) p 311)

“I accused [Tennessee] of hating women and of twisting her to his own devices and purposes. He said maybe there was that, and agreed my changes were permissible. I wanted his approval, as I have too high a regard for him to have just gone blindly in another direction.”(John Huston, quoted in Conversations with the Great Moviemakers of Hollywood’s Golden Age at the American Film Institute, ed. George Stevens, Jr, p 355) – this quote follows him saying something similar to what he says in An Open Book, referring to her as a “great bloated spider”.

Those are not the only changes that Huston made from the original play.  Indeed, we’re a good half hour into the film before we even reach the text of the play.  Since he didn’t need to be constricted by the one setting of the play, Huston expanded and showed us things in the film that were only discussed in the original play.  It allows us to get a much better take on Reverend Shannon that we are able to see what happens along the journey to the hotel instead of him just arriving at the hotel.

The other main difference is that in the play there are Nazis because this is Mexico in 1940.  In the film, they update the time to the present and thus get rid of the Nazi characters and drop any references to them.

The Credits:

Directed by John Huston.  From the Play by Tennessee Williams.  Screenplay by Anthony Veiller and John Huston.

The Chalk Garden

The Film:

This was another film that I came to because of a couple of things.  The first was that there was a quote in my book You Ain’t Heard Nothin Yet from the film and I had been slowly checking off films from that book for years.  The quote though was hard to understand outside the context of the film: “The last time we met I died. It alters the appearance.”  There was a picture as well, with Deborah Kerr staring at Felix Aylmer, but that didn’t help.  I wondered if Kerr was supposed to be playing a ghost, not knowing what the context could be.  I also wanted to see it because it was an Oscar nominee (Best Supporting Actress), and though it was also nominated for several other awards, the Oscars were the original group I was interested in.  In spite of all that, it took me years before I finally saw this film (sometime in the early 00’s, I believe).  I was surprised by what I saw because this was a well-constructed fascinating drama filled with really good performances.

How exactly did Deborah Kerr die the last time the judge saw her?  Simple: he sentenced her to death.  Yet, her appeal won out and she was not executed.  Instead, she got a second chance for life and now, upon her release from prison, has managed to secure a job as a governess to a very troubled girl.  Kerr gives a fascinating performance as a woman determined to hide her past, but also to learn from it and to allow others to learn from it as well.  She sees this girl and she wants to help her.

That’s where the dynamics of the household come in and the logistics of the casting.  The household is ruled by the grandmother, played regally by Edith Evans in one of her really good performances (she was Oscar nominated and she certainly deserved it far more than the actual Oscar winner) as someone who always believes that she is right.  The troubled girl is played by Hayley Mills in one of her best serious roles.  That’s partially because she gets to play against her father John Mills, who gives a solid performance as always, but he’s playing a servant, not her father and their chemistry together brings an added dimension to the film.  They can see through each other and that allows for some of the best scenes in the film.  Deborah Kerr could always be counted on for a good performance of course, but it’s the whole cast that really comes together in this film.

You might not have ever seen The Chalk Garden.  There are currently only two external reviews on the IMDb, an astoundingly low figure for a film that is this good (very high ***.5) and one that has really been overlooked for far too long.

One last thing to note.  I don’t know if I thought about this the first time I saw this film, but this time I definitely noticed the score.  It reminded me of the score to Elmer Gantry, in that, if you heard it outside the context of the film (like on a soundtrack), it wouldn’t be too bad of a score, but it’s terribly used in the film.  It’s got overly dramatic cues that come in any moment that’s the least bit dramatic and it completely undercuts the film.  I had already decided that before I saw this quote from director Ronald Neame on the trivia page of its IMDb listing: “I also hated the music. The play is filled with epigrams. Every time one was uttered that crashing music would swell up.”

The Source:

The Chalk Garden by Enid Bagnold (1962)

This is a solid play about a woman who comes to a nice estate to be the governess for a troubled young girl.  It turns out the governess is hiding her past, but the experiences that she is hiding make her well suited to be governess for the girl, allowing those experiences to help guide the girl to a better life.  In order to do that, she must negotiate the overbearing grandmother that is currently taking care of the girl and find a way to repair the relationship between the girl and her mother.  It’s a good play with solid dialogue but I wouldn’t have imagined it could be as good as it the film without the film performances.

The Adaptation:

The premise of the film is exactly the same.  Many of the lines are exactly the same.  But there are a lot of small changes, from opening up the play (allowing for a lot of small scenes that take place outside the house, while in the original, all the action takes place in the house) and various additional dialogue that really plays up the relationship between the girl and the servant Maitland, for reasons that it’s easy to understand given who was hired to play the roles.

The Credits:

Directed by Ronald Neame.  Screenplay by John Michael Hayes.  From the play by Enid Bagnold.


The Film:

When I wrote about this film for my For Love of Film piece I mentioned that this, until the advent of Daniel Craig as Bond, was the ultimate Bond film (and the best of the Bond films).  It had great quips (“Do you expect me to talk?”  “No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die.”), great gadgets (the car), a great Bond girl (who was also the only Bond girl more than a year older than Bond) and a great Bond villain (complete with great henchman).  In fact, it is more than just a great James Bond film.  It is the first great English language Action film.  That’s not hyperbole.  The only films I classify primarily as Action (as opposed to Adventure or Western, where there is cross-over) that earn **** before this film are all Samurai films.  This helps bring in a new genre, one that would eventually see such films as The French Connection and Die Hard.  But this is the first and the way it manages to blend the comedy with the action actually sets the stage for many stars who would rise in the 70’s and 80’s.

The Source:

Goldfinger by Ian Fleming  (1959)

Though Goldfinger is the third film in the Eon Bond series it was the seventh novel (the novel following Dr. No, in fact).  While all of the Bond books had kind of followed a formula of some early stuff that kind of sets the stage for the book followed by actually getting the assignment and then what happens in the course of the assignment, this book like a couple of the others, actually breaks it into three parts.  Over the course of the book, Bond will first meet, then follow and eventually have to take out the man Goldfinger who is planning to steal all the gold in Fort Knox.  The book introduces the fascinating character of Pussy Galore, the lesbian gang leader.  She’s the most interesting Bond girl since Vesper in the first book in that she actually has some personality and without her Bond wouldn’t have be able to succeed but she’s also problematic in that she’s a lesbian because she was raped by her uncle when she was twelve and being with a real man like Bond allows her to enjoy men again (ugh!).  All in all, it’s an enjoyable Bond book (like all of them) and a very quick read.

The Adaptation:

Goldfinger got moved to the front of the line because Fleming was in court over the screenplay to Thunderball (which had been written as an original script but Fleming would then use the script as the basis for the novel).  As with many of the Bond films, both before and after this one, it takes the basic outlines from the book and changes a lot of the details, including the death of Jill Masterson (only described in the book).  The biggest change from the book is probably the goal of Goldfinger.  In the book he actually manages to steal the gold from Fort Knox.  In the film, Bond points out that it would take twelve days to steal all that gold (a plot hole in the book) and instead Goldfinger is lying about stealing the gold and really wants to irradiate it so that no one can use it and all of his own gold will rise dramatically in value.  Many of the things added into the film (like all the gadgets on the car) were also a result of the vastly increased budget, thus allowing the filmmakers to have more flexibility.

The Credits:

Directed by Guy Hamilton.  Screenplay by Richard Malbaum, Paul Dehn.
note:  The source is only mentioned in the title card: Ian Fleming’s Goldfinger.

My Fair Lady

The Film:

I have discussed this film before, both in the 1964 Best Picture post where I reviewed it and in the 1994 Nighthawk Awards, where it got mentioned because it was a film I saw in the theater that year.  Watching it this time, more than any other time, I really wished Julie Andrews had been in the film.  Aside from that, I actually timed “Get Me to the Church on Time” and it just feels really long and isn’t actually very long, whereas my complaints about the Ascot Gavette are definitely spot on – that scene runs over 10 minutes from start to finish.  It’s nice to think that I originally went to see this film, at least partially, to impress a girl and I ended up loving it enough that I bought it on video.

The Source:

My Fair Lady: A Musical Play in Two Acts based on Shaw’s Pygmalion, Adaptation and Lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner  (1956)

If you want to read what I had to say about the original Pygmalion, you can go here to my Adapted Screenplay 1938 post.  A lot of that carries over to this play and I don’t know if you can really give credit to Lerner for just keeping what Shaw had written in the first place.  The original play is really rather brilliant, one of the very best stage comedies not written by Shakespeare.  What Lerner (and Lowe) did was bring in some truly wonderful songs that fit perfectly into the action without bringing the action of the play to a grinding halt.  While there are songs I am not particularly fond of (once again, I’m looking at you “Get Me to the Church on Time”), there are so many wonderful songs, from “Why Can’t the English” to “The Rain in Spain” to my own personal favorite, “Show Me”, a great song that cuts right to the point.  I own the original Broadway version on cd, that same cover that made every gay child confused about god (go to 3:30 here, but really, watch the whole clip because it’s one of my all-time favorite hilarious film scenes).  It ran on Broadway for six years (a record at the time but not even in the Top 20 today).  One thing I should also point out comes to me courtesy of The Encyclopedia of Stage Plays Into Film: “My Fair Lady broke the mold of romantic musical fable by giving its one love song (“On the Street Where You Live”) to a peripheral character, pointing up the struggle of the main characters to find each other.”  (p 510)

The Adaptation:

There are a few tiny changes and they are rather interesting.  For most of the first two scenes, you can read along with the play with barely a single word being different.  Then, at the end of Scene 2, suddenly there’s an entire song that is pushed until later in the film (“With a Little Bit of Luck”).  There are other moments like that, with some songs pushed to slightly different spots (because you didn’t the stage and could just edit them together) but for the most part, it is a very faithful adaptation.  There is actually one scene, Scene 6 that is completely cut (the one with Pickering and Mrs. Higgins at the racetrack) which makes it even more surprising how damn long the racetrack scene actually is.  One other interesting pacing change – in the play, the division between Act One and Act Two (and thus, the intermission), is after the ballroom scene, instead of just before it.

The Credits:

Directed by George Cukor.  Lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner.  Music by Frederick Loewe.  Based upon the musical play as produced on stage by Herman Levin.  Book and Lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner, Music by Frederick Loewe.  From a play by Bernard Shaw.  Screenplay by Alan Jay Lerner.

Consensus Nominees That Don’t Make My Top 10


The Film:

Just like when a film succeeds you have to look around to see who deserves the credit, if a film doesn’t, you have to wonder where the fault is.  On some levels, this film absolutely succeeds, as it was nominated for 12 Oscars, but as my review makes clear, I don’t think it succeeds on the artistic level.  Given the talent involved and what is done with it (curiously flat performance from Richard Burton and not a much better one from Peter O’Toole, uninspired cinematography from Geoffrey Unsworth and editing by Anne V. Coates that makes the film drag), it would seem the fault must really fall on Peter Glenville.

The Source:

Becket or the Honour of God by Jean Anouilh  (1959)

Would this play (and the film made from it) sit better with me if The Lion in Winter had never been made?  There is much written about how this play is all talk and no action, yet The Lion in Winter is very much the same with some of the same characters.  Like this play, it used the history as a backdrop and kind of made up the story but it is much more historically accurate and much more interesting as well.  It’s because it relies on wit and not historical, political and moral arguments that seem like they go on forever.  The irony, of course, is that The Lion in Winter opened on Broadway and didn’t last long (83 performances) while this play was a success in Paris, London and New York.

The play is about the friendship between Henry II and Thomas Becket that was torn apart when Henry made Becket the Archbishop of Canterbury and it ended, of course, with his death.  It is still relevant in some ways (James Comey) but it really just kind of sags along, at least when reading it.  Perhaps if I had seen Olivier as Becket, I would have a different thought on it.

The major historical inaccuracy in the play I can actually forgive.  Anouilh wrote the play based on the idea that Becket was a Saxon and that it caused problems with his position, which isn’t the real case and Anouilh learned it shortly before the play opened and left it in because it was part of the central conflict of the play and I agree with him.  But to make Eleanor of Aquataine as a dowdy, uninspired character is yet another thing that is undercut by her lively (more historically accurate) persona in The Lion in Winter.

The Adaptation:

Because Glenville had been the play’s director on Broadway, he left a lot of the play intact when he directed the film.  There are a few changes, with scenes opened up because they were making a film while the play had very little in the way of scenery and this time they could use big open cathedrals and outside spaces.  There are also some moments in the film where Glenville allows us to see what is happening (like Becket turning his back on the king) while it was only described on stage.  But mostly, it is a fairly faithful adaptation of the original play.

The Credits:

Directed by Peter Glenville.  Based upon the play BECKET by Jean Anouilh.  As translated by Lucienne Hill and produced upon the New York Stage by David Merrick.  Screenplay by Edward Anhalt.

The Servant

The Film:

As is obvious to anyone who has read much of what I have written on film, my opinion on directors can vary.  There are some where I go completely with the critical consensus (Kurosawa, Kubrick, Scorsese), there are some where I go against it (Godard, Linklater).  Then there is the kind of middle range where people who have built up a solid critical reputation just leave me in the middle.  I think their films are, for the most part, pretty good, but I don’t really see in them what others do.  Ken Loach is an example, as is John Cassavetes.  Our case for this film, of course, is Joseph Losey.  I have seen 19 of Losey’s film and in spite of the critical attention he has received, none has earned higher than a 73 from me.  His films are, for the most part, good (with Boom and The Assassination of Trotsky as notable exceptions) but they don’t ever seem more than that, at least to me.

Perhaps in this case, the issue isn’t Losey but Harold Pinter.  The noted playwright was providing just his second screenplay, an adaptation of a novella by Robin Maugham.  Pinter’s work has always left me cold and, of course, I think it’s supposed to.  Even his most acclaimed plays (some of which I read as an undergraduate) seem designed to leave you cold and disturbed.  In this film, we have a wealthy young Londoner, played by James Fox, who hires a new servant, played by Dirk Bogarde.  The relationship between the two develops as such relationships do, with the class difference always standing between them.  But the addition of, first, Fox’s girlfriend, then Bogarde’s “sister” starts to complicate things and before we know it we’re knee deep into some psychosexualdrama without any clear idea where it’s going.

Perhaps the reason this film never rises above a mid *** for me is the presence of Dirk Bogarde as the servant.  There are a number of British actors who would earn acclaim over the years at the BAFTAs without really achieving the same kind of success in the states (Jack Hawkins, Anthony Quayle) that I really like but Bogarde is a notable exception.  Something about his acting has never worked for me and when we get deep into this film, with the roles slowly being reversed, with Fox increasingly relying on his servant, getting caught up in sexual games with someone who may be a sister and may be a lover and may be somewhere in between with both men, I could never really sink into Bogarde’s performance the way the BAFTAs did (Bogarde won Best Actor over Albert Finney for Tom Jones).  Or perhaps part of the problem is that I’m not British and so this role reversal in the class difference never quite works for me.  Or it’s just Pinter’s inherent coldness.  Or maybe the film is not as great as some would make out.

The Source:

The Servant by Robin Maugham  (1948)

The first novel from Somerset Maugham’s nephew, who would eventually have a very successful writing career, with novels, plays and travel books.  But, unlike his more famous uncle, his books aren’t as widely available and I wasn’t able to get hold of it.

The Adaptation:

“It was Losey who first showed Robin Maugham’s novelette The Servant to Bogarde in 1954.  Originally separately commissioned by director Michael Anderson, Pinter stripped it of its first-person narrator, its yellow book snobbery and the arguably anti-Semitic characterisation of Barrett – oiliness, heavy lids – replacing them with an economical language that implied rather than stated the slippage of power relations away from Tony towards Barrett.”  That’s a quote from a Sight and Sound article that you can find here but it’s the extent of what I know about what they did in adapting the film.

The Credits:

Directed by Joseph Losey.  Screenplay by Harold Pinter.  Based on the novel ‘The Servant’ by Robin Maugham.

Oscar Nominees

Zorba the Greek

The Film:

When I first saw this film, back in the 90’s, I didn’t think much of it.  It certainly didn’t deserve to be nominated in all the major categories at the Oscars.  When I saw it again in 2010 for my Best Picture project, my opinion of it had not improved.  It’s a cliche of a film, not well written or directed and rather boring with some very good music that gets overplayed and thus minimizes its impact.

The Source:

Βίος και Πολιτεία του Αλέξη Ζορμπά by Nikos Kazantzakis  (1946, tr. 1952)

So, when did the cliche begin?  In my review of the film, I talked about now knowing if it was already a cliche in 1964 for the young man to learn about life from the free spirit from another culture.  In the original novel, it’s not quite the same (see below) so it’s less the man from another culture than just meeting the free spirit that will let you into another idea of life and the person that you will never forget.  As I write this, it reminds me of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, except that I much prefer Capote’s prose (and character) to the one I read about here.  To me, the book was just as boring as the film.  I didn’t have particularly high hopes, as I had read Kazantzakis before (I read Last Temptation of Christ years ago) and found him to be a bit dense and boring as a writer, though, it always seems like that could come from the translator.

The Adaptation:

In the film, there is much made over the half-British aspect of the character, the stuffed shirt who is learning from the Cretian that he befriends.  In the book, though, the narrator isn’t half-British (of course, because Kazantzakis was Greek and writing in Greek, unlike the film, made in English) so it’s less the fish out of water routine of learning from a man from another culture and instead just learning from the free spirit whose character stays with you forever.

The other main difference is that the whole thing with the logs, which leads to the climax of the film, doesn’t exist in the book.  It’s in there to provide a more suitable climax to the story (which the book doesn’t really have – he leaves and has some communication with Zorba over the years before Zorba dies).

One thing that did strike me.  I was reading the book while re-watching the film and when I got to the death of the widow, I sat there thinking, I don’t remember that happening.  Then, a few minutes later, I got to that point in the film.  The film is so boring in my memory that the one really dramatic (and tragic) event had totally escaped my memory.  But this is something that is actually done fairly true on-screen as to how it had been done on page.

The Credits:

Produced and Directed by Michael Cacoyannis.  From the novel by Nikos Kazantzakis.  Screenplay by Michael Cacoyannis.
note:  Only the Kazantzakis credit is in the main titles.  The directing and writing credits come from the end credits.

WGA Nominees

Seven Days in May

The Film:

In my Best Adapted Screenplay: 1954, I wrote about Executive Suite, an ensemble film that starred, among others, Fredric March.  I discussed how that film, in spite of March (and William Holden) just felt boring.  This film, also with March, doesn’t have that problem, even though, in some ways, it’s similar, with a lot of people talking about who is going to be in charge.  It’s not a great film, and some of that is the direction from John Frankenheimer, which really doesn’t do a lot with the material.  But the writing is much more solid than in Executive Suite, and of course we have a much more interesting story.

The story itself is about a coup, or really, an attempted coup.  It’s about what happens when a bunch of generals decide that they know better what needs to be done to insure the safety and security for this country.  That it goes against everything that went into the founding of this country doesn’t seem to bother them.  It does bother Colonel Jiggs, played by Kirk Douglas.  They haven’t included him but he has stumbled across it and he feels his most important duty is to his president and his country and he warns the president.  The president is played by Fredric March.  March was always one of the greatest of film actors and he is very solid here as a president whose approval ratings are falling but who believes he is doing the right thing.  The general in charge of the attempted coup is played by Burt Lancaster in of his most domineering self-righteous roles.  The three actors play off each other in great ways, even though they never all appear on the screen at the same time.  The film mostly consists of conversations between two of them or between several of the other talented cast members (Edmond O’Brian as an alcoholic senator, Martin Balsam as March’s aide).

The film works as well as it does partially because of the content, partially because of the sharp, biting dialogue that often has several layers and because of the performances that all work well, especially when they play off each other.  It’s not a great film, but it is a smart, interesting film about an important subject.  So much more interesting than a film about who gets to take over a business after the CEO dies.

The Source:

Seven Days in May by Fletcher Knebel and Charles W. Bailey II (1962)

As I wrote above, this had a much more interesting story to deal with than Executive Suite.  I have never cared about business, but I am fascinated by politics.  But only part of this is politics and a lot has to do with the military, and I’m not that interested in the military.  And that’s kind of where the book doesn’t quite hold me and never quite works for me in the same way that the film does.

The novel is broken down by days (with certain parts of certain days broken down even further into smaller chapters like “Thursday Afternoon”).  It deals with a potential coup lead by a prominent general (who is also head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) who feel the president has become too weak in dealing with the USSR.  The president’s name is Jordan Lyman, which seems like a nod toward Lyndon Johnson, although Johnson was only Vice President when the novel was written and the character of the president is very different than Johnson.

The very notion of the plot could make for an effective thriller, but this novel is written less as a thriller than as a treatise and it gets really bogged down in the details and never really keeps things moving at a crisp pace.  It only runs 330 pages, but that still feels like far too long when looking at effective thrillers from Fleming or le Carre.

The Adaptation:

The film finds the thriller inside the novel, hoping to get out.  It does that in two ways.  The first is in the performances as mentioned above.  The second is in the writing process.  Most of the novel makes it intact to the screen (the ending is altered somewhat, as General Scott pretty much commits suicide at the end of the book), but is in the ways where the novel cuts down on the speeches, on the detailed instruction about how this all could work where the film keeps things moving in a way that the original novel does not.  The best lines in the film, the ones that kind of sum up the characters for both the president and the colonel, come straight from page 67 of the novel:

“So you stand by the Constitution, Jiggs?”

“Well, I never thought about it just that way, Mr. President. That’s what we’ve got, and I guess it’s worked pretty well so far. I sure wouldn’t want to be the one to say we ought to change it.”

The Credits:

Directed by John Frankenheimer.  Based on the novel by Fletcher Knebel & Charles W. Bailey II.  Screenplay by Rod Serling.


The Film:

There are actors whose allure eludes me.  Just yesterday I endured a trailer for a Gerard Butler movie and my first thought was “Who think this person should be acting in movies?”  For today’s lesson, we are Melina Mercouri.  Clearly it wasn’t just that she was married to Jules Dassin because she did earn an Oscar nomination for Never on Sunday.  But, for the most part, I think she’s a terrible actress, I find her annoying and I don’t find her attractive.  But clearly some people do (and not just Dassin), so here we have her as the leader of a group of thieves planning a heist at the Topkapi in Istanbul.

She’s got Maximilian Schell and he’s playing against the type established in Judgment at Nuremberg, so we don’t realize at first what kind of film we’re in.  But then she also has Robert Morley among her crew and when they disembark in Athens they recruit Peter Ustinov (well, not really recruit, but more trick him into working for them) then we start to get the idea.  We’re looking at something like Beat the Devil again and these are definitely desperate characters.  Yes, they have a heist planned and it’s audacious but this is also a Comedy that we’re looking at and things won’t get exactly as they were planned.

That’s actually part of what never really works for me in this film (apart from Mercouri’s performance).  The film wants to be a Comedy and a lot of it is meant to be funny, but the heist scenes are also done with an earnest seriousness and it’s only the last couple of minutes in the film where things revert back to being comedic and things fall apart for our band of thieves.  It earned a WGA nomination but the writing falls flat for me.  Morley is entertaining and Ustinov is good, though the idea that this was an Oscar worthy performance is ridiculous enough to suit this film.

The Source:

The Light of Day by Eric Ambler  (1962)

This is a decent thriller about a semi con-man (he works as an unlicensed guide and a journalist among other things, but he also rips off the people he is guiding) who gets wrapped up in a much bigger plot to rob the Topkapi Museum in Istanbul.  In over his head, trapped both by a man involved in the plot and by the police who discover the guns he’s driving into Turkey without realizing it (as part of the plot), we follow him just desperately trying to extricate himself alive.

The Adaptation:

Dr. Strangelove changed Red Alert to a Comedy with dialogue.  Mary Poppins changed Mary in the film with a performance.  Here, Light of Day, a serious thriller, becomes a heist comedy simply through casting.  After all, with Melina Mercouri and Robert Morley are we supposed to believe this is going to be a serious thriller?  Ustinov could go either way, but once he’s got this other company, it’s clear we’re headed for more comic means of delivery.

A lot of the plot does come straight from the book, though in the book, we’re getting the entire thing as first person narrative from Ustinov’s character, so while in the film we know about the heist planned and we even know Ustinov is barking up the wrong tree in trying to rip off Schell, that information we only learn in the book as Ustinov’s character does.  To that end, all of the book is much more serious.  The ending is also very different, with Ustinov’s character managing to take off at the airport and let the police know (though the gang gets away) and he’s certainly not part of any future heist and no one is in jail.  While I can see someone reading the book and following along with the film for the most part, the ending must have just thrown them.

The Credits:

Produced and Directed by Jules Dassin.  Screenplay by Monja Danischewsky.  Based on the novel “The Light of Day” by Eric Ambler.
The directing credit is only from the end credits.  The opening credits have no credits for director or any of the actors.

The World of Henry Orient

The Film:

John Colapinto, a New Yorker staff writer is obsessed with this film.  That’s not hyperbole, as he basically admitted it in a 2012 piece where he talked about watching it constantly over the last 40 years and set out to find out what happened to the two young actresses that so entranced him.  This reminds me of my RCM series, an idea of revisiting films that I watched a lot as a child and trying to get an idea, as an adult, what I should critically think of them.  I can understand being entranced by a film and being unable to let it go (like here).  But there’s a difference between liking a film and thinking that two rather bad teen acting performances deserve to have the actresses looked up decades later.  Because, let’s face it, this is not a particularly good film and neither of the actresses ended up having particularly long acting careers for a reason.  It gets even more complicated if you read his actual piece and realize that Tippy Walker, who was 16, playing 14, and looking about 12, was actually in a relationship with director George Roy Hill.  Now we’re faced with the idea that a mediocre early comedy made by a man who hadn’t really found himself as a film director yet (that would come later when he would start teaming up with Redford and Newman) is also quite creepy at its core.

But let’s try to focus on the film that we are watching and leave what’s going on behind the scenes alone.  This is the story of two precious girls who are obsessed with a concert pianist by the name of Henry Orient (who is named because author Nora Johnson based him on her crush on Oscar Levant growing up and levant in French means the same as orient in English and has nothing to do with East Asia in spite of the terrible sight gags thrown into the film).  The problem is that Orient, one is kind of nuts (he’s played by Peter Sellers and while Stanley Kubrick knew exactly how to make use of Sellers and Blake Edwards could get him to focus his madness into Poirot, Hill just lacks the control of a polished director and lets Sellers go at it), two is having an affair and three, thinks these two girls he keeps spotting (spying on him in the park, going to his concert) are spies for the husband of his mistress.  So, what we eventually end up with is that Henry instead starts having an affair with the mother of one of the girls after she learns about her daughter’s obsession with him.

Is that enough to melt your brain yet?  I can keep going.  If you were raised in the 80’s like Veronica and I were, there is the extra weirdness of Angela Lansbury having an affair (yes, I can think of her as a great actress divorced from stupid Murder She Wrote but lots of people our age can’t) and that her cuckolded husband is none other than Tom Bosley, who, in spite of everything you would believe about him after all those years of Happy Days, is actually a fairly neglectful parent for most of the film.

So, yes, sadly, I bring baggage to this film while Colapinto probably brings euphoria from seeing it as a kid.  But I also bring a critical eye to two girls who seem to live in an unreal world, to poorly written characters, to direction that can’t hold in the “star” while trying to pass over the fact that the real stars of the film are two young actresses who really don’t know what to do on-screen.  George Roy Hill would go on to direct a lot more films (14 in total, all of which I have seen) and almost all of them are better than this one so go see one of those instead.

The Source:

The World of Henry Orient by Nora Johnson  (1958)

It’s always interesting to see what the local libraries have.  I couldn’t get The Hustler from any library in the system (or even in the state) but this book came straight from the Concord Free Public Library, just two towns over.  They shelve it in regular fiction, perhaps because they’ve had this copy since October of 1958 (there’s a bookplate) and there probably wasn’t a Young Adult section back then.  Johnson was just 25 when the book was published, a book inspired by her own experiences growing up in Manhattan and a crush on pianist Oscar Levant.  It probably didn’t hurt that her father was a film director whose latest film had just won Best Actress (Three Faces of Eve).  It’s not badly written, but it’s a fairly typical example of what today would be considered Young Adult Fiction, with an eighth grade narrator talking about her friendship with another girl and the bizarre crush they develop on a concert pianist named Henry Orient and the hijinks that ensue, especially in regards to the parental relationships in the friend’s household.  Like Little Women, I’ll use the excuse that I was never a 13 year old girl, although Johnson is in no ways close to Alcott as a writer.

The Adaptation:

“The screenplay originally submitted was largely written by Nunnally with the help of Nora . . .  As is his custom, Hill did much of the rewriting of the script himself, though screen credit remains with Nora and Nunnally Johnson.”  (The Films of George Roy Hill, Andrew Norton, p 42)

It would certainly not be surprising if Nora Johnson’s contributions weren’t that much, which isn’t intended as criticism but a reflection of the fact that she never again received credit for a screenplay and, more importantly, because there are a lot of changes, which would be surprising if she was heavily involved.  Indeed, the novel focuses on the two girls and the whole notion of Henry Orient is really a concept and they barely interact with him at all.  In the film itself, Orient is a major part (because his was the star role) and he becomes involved in the girl’s private lives as well.  The bare bones of the original novel survives in the film (two precocious girls become friends, become obsessed with pianist, one girl has family struggles) but almost everything else is different.  One item in particular I found interesting.  They go to the recital and one of the girls looks at the other girl’s legs.  I thought (I wasn’t up to that point in the book and it had been years since I had originally seen the film) she was going to say the other girl had nylons on, which it turns out is what she remarks on in the book, but no, it’s that the other girl has actually shaved her legs.

The Credits:

Directed by George Roy Hill.  Screenplay by Nora Johnson and Nunnally Johnson.  From the novel by Nora Johnson.

The Unsinkable Molly Brown

The Film:

There was an episode of Top Gear when Jeremy Clarkson claims that they don’t have the budget to do certain things, but then he drives around looking for a location and you realize that they’ve flown him all over the world, with shots on front of the Sydney Opera House and the Taj Mahal and such.  It’s very funny.  I thought of that scene during this film when, what is the end of the first Act on stage (with Molly and her husband doing a polka) becomes a polka around the world, with gratuitous shots in front of the Acropolis, Parliament, the Eiffel Tower and a couple of other European places I couldn’t quite place (which is also stupid, because who goes from the Continent then to London, then to Paris?).  This film supposedly had to cut the budget all over the place, but they managed to find the money to go get some shots of people dancing all over the world.

I had seen this film before but didn’t remember it at all.  I remembered that Debbie Reynolds was good but not nearly good enough to have deserved an Oscar nomination (she’s #11 on my list) and of course I knew the Titanic got in there somewhere because that’s how Molly got her nickname, by surviving when so many did not.  But none of the songs had penetrated my head, even a little.  Watching the name Meredith Willson come up on the screen and thinking of how much I love every song in The Music Man, I pondered how that could be.  But then I remembered how much I love My Fair Lady and all the songs and how much I don’t like basically any Lerner and Loewe song that’s not in My Fair Lady and I accepted it and moved on.

There are problems with this film and me not caring about the songs is really only a minor one.  The bigger problem is that a 128 minute Musical only uses a handful of songs from the original Broadway production and didn’t bother to replace them with anything new (well, they did add “He’s My Friend” and then apparently were actually going to cut that as well because MGM was moving all the money over to Doctor Zhivago but instead filmed it and made it last way too long).  This may sound like an odd complaint when I don’t much like the songs, but there is not enough singing in this film.  But I make that complaint because the story itself gets rather trite (Molly wants to escape her humdrum life, marries a man who strikes it rich, they argue, she’s rejected as uncouth), most of the dialogue isn’t very good and aside from Debbie Reynolds, most of the performances are fairly un-notable (it’s nice, I suppose, after a film like 12 Angry Men to see Ed Begley with a smile on his face, but he’s just so out of place).  At least when the songs are going on, even if they’re too long, they bring the film a semblance of life.  “Belly Up to the Bar Boys” is a perfect example because it feels like it lasts forever but at least it’s showing signs of life.  Charles Walters was never much of a director but he at least was used to Musicals and he fails to bring any drama (or comedy) to the rest of the film.  They needed more songs, not extending the few songs they kept so long that you want to start slamming your head on a wall.

The Source:

The Unsinkable Molly Brown, lyrics and music by Meredith Willson, book by Richard Morris (1960)

Though this Musical wasn’t a hit on the same level as The Music Man, it was a hit on Broadway.  Willson’s songs in this play don’t have the same level of playfulness and humor that they had in his first hit and they never really draw me in.  The book itself isn’t very interesting and it lacks the wit and humor that made The Music Man such a great play to watch.

The Adaptation:

The film had to add in more dialogue because they managed to make it last 128 minutes while only keeping five of the original seventeen songs.  Musicals have songs added and dropped all the time when adapted for film, but keeping less than a third of the original stage music is really an astounding change from a successful Broadway production.  As was often the case, a new song was added, the big ensemble number “He’s My Friend” that eventually concludes with an enormous fight and a ridiculous grinning Ed Begley smashing a cream pie in the camera’s face.

The Credits:

Directed by Charles Walters.  Based on the Musical Play “The Unsinkable Molly Brown”.  Music and Lyrics by Meredith Willson.  Book by Richard Morris.  As Presented on the Stage by The Theatre Guild and Dore Schary.  Screen Play by Helen Deutsch.

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

  • The Pumpkin Eater  –  If this had been released in 1963 it would have been #8 and in 1963 it would have been #5 but it’s in 1964 and it comes in 11th.  The script is very strong but it’s really Anne Bancroft’s amazing performance that is the reason to watch it.  Based on the novel by Penelope Mortimer.
  • A Shot in the Dark  –  Adapted in two completely different ways.  First, it’s an adaptation of the play L’Idiote by Marcel Achard.  But then they decided to make it a sequel to The Pink Panther and they inserted Clouseau (a pre-existing character) into it and thus made it an adaptation in a different way.  Either way, it’s the funniest Clouseau film ever made.
  • Zazie in the Subway  –  Louis Malle’s charming surrealistic comedy based on the 1959 novel by Raymond Queneau.
  • Fail Safe  –  Sidney Lumet’s solid thriller is based on the 1962 novel by Eugene Burdick and Harvey Wheeler.  The film (and novel) were so similar to Dr. Strangelove and Red Alert that they were sued and their release was delayed until months after Strangelove.  This is the more serious version of Strangelove.
  • The Idiot  –  Akira Kurosawa’s 1951 film version of Dostoevsky’s classic finally makes it to the States.  You can read a full review of the film and the novel here because I ranked the novel at #54 all-time.
  • From Russia with Love  –  The second James Bond film didn’t make it to the States until early 1964 six months after it played in London (where it was the biggest film of the year).  One of the best Bond films and adapted from one of the most enjoyable books.  A full review can be found here.
  • The Life of Oharu  –  Kenji Mizoguchi’s 1952 film based on the 17th Century novel The Life of an Amorous Woman by Ihara Saikaku.  Very good.
  • Guns at Batasi  –  A BAFTA winner for Best Actor (Richard Attenborough) and not that easy to find but a solid ***.5.  Based on the novel The Siege at Battersea.
  • Billy Liar  –  The story of the undertaker’s clerk who dreams of something more which helped make a star of Tom Courtenay, this is the third of five versions of the story following the original novel and play and preceding the television series and West End musical.

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

  • Séance on a Wet Afternoon  –  Richard Attenborough also won the BAFTA for this film but it was Kim Stanley’s performance that was more acclaimed (NYFC, NBR wins, BAFTA, Oscar noms).  Based on the novel by Mark McShane.
  • The Masque of the Red Death  –  The seventh and best of the Corman-Poe films.  In fact, the best film ever released by AIP.
  • The Long Ships  –  Richard Widmark and Sidney Poitier team up again, this time for a Viking movie very loosely based on the novel by Frans G. Bengtsson.
  • 7 Faces of Dr. Lao  –  The first film to ever win an award for its makeup is an adaptation of the novel The Circus of Dr. Lao.
  • The Killers  –  The Hemingway story gets a second film adaptation, this time directed by Don Siegel and starring Lee Marvin.
  • Cheyenne Autumn  –  John Ford’s last Western is much more enlightened about Native Americans than his earlier films.  Based in part on a historical event but also on Howard Fast’s novel about it, The Last Frontier.
  • My Life to Live  –  One of Godard’s better films is a study on prostitution actually based on a non-fiction book called Où en est la prostitution.
  • The Carpetbaggers  –  Given that it’s based on a Harold Robbins novel, this is actually a fairly solid film.
  • Good Neighbor Sam  –  A Jack Lemmon comedy based on a novel by Jack Finney, the man who wrote the original novel The Body Snatchers?  Can that be right?  Yes, it can.
  • Girl with Green Eyes  –  The rare film to earn appreciation from multiple groups (NBR win, Globe win, BAFTA nom) but nothing from the Oscars.  In fact, it was the first ever film to win a critics award and a Globe and not earn at least one Oscar nom and was only the second film to earn a critics win, a Globe nom and a BAFTA nom and not an Oscar nom (Raisin in the Sun was the first).  For all that, I’m with the Oscars, giving it a 70 (solid ***) but no awards attention.  Based on the novel The Lonely Girl by Edna O’Brien.
  • All the Way Home  –  A film I watched for this project because it was based on the Pulitzer Prize winning novel A Death in the Family (and the Pulitzer Prize winning play All the Way Home adapted from the novel in 1960).  Solid drama with Robert Preston and Jean Simmons.
  • Marriage Italian Style  –  One of the most annoying films in Oscar history because it was nominated for Best Actress in 1964 but for Best Foreign Film in 1965 (the only time a film has earned a Foreign film nomination in a year after earning its other nomination).  It’s also annoying because it stars Sophia Loren.  Adapted from the play Filumena Marturano.
  • Joy House  –  A film I saw not because it was directed by Rene Clement but because it starred young Jane Fonda in her first French film.  Adapted from the novel by Day Keene.
  • Gate of Flesh  –  The second of four adaptations of the novel by Taijiro Tamura and probably the best known at least in part because it was released on DVD by Criterion.
  • Joan of the Angels?  –  A Polish film about demonic possession of nuns that covers similar ground to Ken Russell’s later 1971 film The Devils.  A 1961 film by Jerzy Kawalerowicz earning its US release and based on a novella by Jaroslaw Iwaszkiewicz.
  • The Evil of Frankenstein  –  The third Hammer Frankenstein film with Peter Cushing.
  • Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow  –  I suppose I shouldn’t have complained about Marriage Italian Style because that’s the better of the Vittorio de Sica directed films starring Marcello Mastroianni and Sophia Loren in this year.  This one, which won Best Foreign Film at the Oscars (over Woman in the Dunes and The Umbrellas of Cherbourg) is an anthology film and one of the three parts is based on the novella Troppo Ricca.
  • Nothing But the Best  –  A British black comedy based on “The Best of Everything”, a short story by Stanley Ellin.
  • The Luck of Ginger Coffey  –  Early film from Irvin Kershner who would eventually go on to direct The Empire Strikes Back with a solid performance from Robert Shaw.  Based on the acclaimed Canadian novel by Brian Moore.
  • Behold a Pale Horse  –  A real oddity in that it’s based on Killing a Mouse on Sunday,  a novel by Emeric Pressburger, the noted screenwriter who worked with Michael Powell but this film was directed by Fred Zinnemann and Pressburger wasn’t involved in the film at all.  A lull in Zinnemann’s career as it followed two Best Picture nominees (The Nun’s Story, The Sundowners) and his next film would win Best Picture (A Man for All Seasons).
  • Siberian Lady Macbeth  –  Not based directly on the Shakespeare play but rather Nikolai Leskov’s 1865 novella Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District.  A 1962 film from noted Polish director Andrzej Wajda.
  • Any Number Can Win  –  French crime film based on the novel The Big Grab.  We’re now down to low ***.
  • Family Diary  –  Another Mastroianni film but this one is directed by Valerio Zurlini.  Based on Two Brothers by Vasco Pratolini.
  • Kiss Me, Stupid  –  At a low ***, the worst film ever made by Billy Wilder which tells you how good his films were.  Based on the play L’ora della fantasia which had already been made into a film once in Italy.
  • Man’s Favorite Sport?  –  Another weak outing from a great director, one of the worst films ever made by Howard Hawks.  Based on the story “The Girl Who Almost Got Away” by Pat Frank.
  • Eva  –  Joseph Losey wasn’t nearly as great a director as Wilder or Hawks but this is still a weak effort from him.  Based on the noir thriller Eve by James Hadley Chase.
  • The Avenger  –  The Aeneid gets the sword and sandal treatment.  It could have been worse.
  • Twin Sisters of Kyoto  –  Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Film in 1963, based on the novel The Old Capital.
  • Rio Conchos  –  Weak Western based on the novel Guns of Rio Conchos.  Bizarrely nominated for Best Actor – Drama at the Globes.
  • Sex and the Single Girl  –  The title comes from the famous book by Helen Gurley Brown but the film really just takes the idea and nothing else.
  • Fate is the Hunter  –  This film was killing me for years trying to track it down.  It was Oscar nominated (Cinematography) and won the MPSE.  Ostensibly based on the non-fiction book by Ernest K. Gann about aviation disasters but really an original story created for the film.
  • The 7th Dawn  –  Weak William Holden Drama that was BAFTA nominated for Cinematography.  Based on the novel The Durian Tree.
  • Woman of Straw  –  British thriller with Sean Connery adapted from the novel by Catherine Arley.
  • Lilith  –  The last film from Robert Rossen and the lowest *** film on this list.  Based on a novel by J. R. Salamanca.
  • Tintin and the Blue Oranges  –  Based on the characters and not an actual Herge book.  You can find a full review of it here.  We’re into **.5 range now.
  • Marnie  –  Not the worst Hitchcock film but it’s down there.  Based on the novel by Winston Graham.
  • First Men in the Moon  –  Weak adaptation of the H.G. Wells classic.
  • Mothra vs. Godzilla  –  Released as Godzilla vs. Mothra on video in the US (as it should be – Godzilla deserves top billing) after being released in theaters as Godzilla vs. The Thing, it’s the fourth Godzilla film and the second Mothra film.
  • Sunday in New York  –  A weak film based on a Norman Krasna play but it’s young Jane Fonda again (and this time she’s in color).
  • Goodbye Charlie  –  Adapted from a George Axelrod play, I saw this during the Oscar director completion because it was directed by Vincente Minnelli.
  • Robinson Crusoe on Mars  –  Sci-fi version of Robinson Crusoe which I originally saw because Criterion released it on DVD.
  • Paris When it Sizzles  –  With William Holden and Audrey Hepburn this really should have been better.  Based on a French film (Holiday for Henrietta).
  • Tamahine  –  Another ridiculous BAFTA Cinematography nominee, this one is based on the novel by Thelma Niklaus about a Polynesian woman at a British boys school.
  • Send Me No Flowers  –  This is a Rock Hudson-Doris Day romantic comedy so it shouldn’t be better.  Based on the play.
  • The Thin Red Line  –  Yes, the James Jones novel has been filmed before.  And yes there’s a reason it’s been forgotten.  Mid **.5.
  • Children of the Damned  –  Village of the Damned gets a sequel.
  • Of Human Bondage  –  I don’t like the Maugham novel in spite of its supposed greatness but Leslie Howard and Bette Davis had already done a first-rate job in 1934 so why bother doing it again with Laurence Harvey and Kim Novak?  Weak **.5.
  • The Cool World  –  Preserved in the National Film Registry since 1994 because its “culturally important” and I agree with that, since it’s a film directed by a female African-American in 1963 (though Oscar eligible in 1964) but that doesn’t mean it’s all that good.  Originally a novel by Warren Miller then a play by Miller and Robert Rossen.
  • Flight from Ashiya  –  From director Michael Anderson (Around the World in 80 Days) comes a weak military adventure film.  Based on the novel by Elliot Arnold.
  • Black Sabbath  –  Another culturally important film that’s not actually very good.  In fact, we’re in ** range now.  An anthology film that’s based on a variety of stories and it’s easier to link to the Wikipedia page that details all of them in the “Pre-Production” section than to list them all.
  • Youngblood Hawke  –  The Herman Wouk novel becomes a lame Delmer Daves film.
  • The Outrage  –  Martin Ritt remakes Rashomon and totally botches the job.
  • The Last Man on Earth  –  The first film version of I Am Legend and though it has a strong cult reputation, I am not among its fans.
  • Ensign Pulver  –  Since he didn’t get to film his own play back in 1955, Joshua Logan decided to film a sequel and it just sucks.  Low **.

Adaptations of Notable Works I Haven’t Seen:

  • The Ballet of Othello  –  A 1960 Soviet ballet version of the Shakespeare play by Vakhtang Chabukiani.
  • Night Must Fall  –  Not only a version of the hit Emlyn Williams play (filmed quite well in 1937) but also the only Karel Reisz film I haven’t seen.