RICHARD: You’re getting old. One day you’ll have me once too often.
HENRY: When? I’m fifty now. My God, boy, I’m the oldest man I know. I’ve got a decade on the Pope. (p 48-49)

My Top 10:

  1. The Lion in Winter
  2. Rosemary’s Baby
  3. Belle de Jour
  4. Closely Watched Trains
  5. The Odd Couple
  6. Hunger
  7. Rachel Rachel
  8. Pretty Poison
  9. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter
  10. War and Peace

Note:  My list is 14 long this year.  My #13 (The Fixer) and #14 (Oliver) are reviewed below because of award nominations.  The other two are listed down at the bottom.  You could make the case that 2001: A Space Odyssey should be listed but the Oscars treated it as original and I do the same.  You can find plenty of places on-line that explained the complicated history of its script.

Consensus Nominees:

  1. The Lion in Winter  (232 pts)
  2. The Odd Couple  (120 pts)
  3. Rosemary’s Baby  (112 pts)
  4. Funny Girl  (80 pts)
  5. Pretty Poison  (80 pts)
  6. Rachel Rachel  (80 pts)

Oscar Nominees  (Best Screenplay – Adapted):

  • The Lion in Winter
  • The Odd Couple
  • Oliver!
  • Rachel Rachel
  • Rosemary’s Baby

WGA Awards:


  • The Lion in Winter
  • The Heart is a Lonely Hunter
  • Petulia
  • Rachel Rachel
  • Rosemary’s Baby


  • The Odd Couple
  • Yours, Mine and Ours

Nominees that are Original:  Hot Millions, I Love You Alice B. Toklas, The Producers


  • Funny Girl
  • Finian’s Rainbow

Nominees that are Original:  Star

Golden Globe:

  • Charly
  • The Fixer
  • The Lion in Winter
  • Rosemary’s Baby

Nominees that are Original:  The Producers
note:  The Fox was Globe nominated in 1967 but will appear below because it was Oscar eligible in 1968.


  • The Lion in Winter

My Top 10

The Lion in Winter

The Film:

I don’t remember precisely when I first saw this film but I know it was some time after February of 1991 because I know I had already seen Silence of the Lambs.  I remember watching Anthony Hopkins and not even realizing it was the same man who had played Hannibal Lector and just being floored.  Then I realized just how amazing the film was as a whole, with fantastic performances and some of the best writing I had ever seen.  It’s still a great film, still holds up far better than the mediocre Oliver! and it still stuns me that Hopkins wasn’t even nominated and that O’Toole lost to Cliff Robertson.  A more full review of the film can be found here.

The Source:

The Lion in Winter by James Goldman (1966)

“Most everyone who talks to me about The Lion in Winter is totally convinced the play has always been a great success.  Even people who actually saw it during its run on Broadway are apt to mention what a hit it was or that they caught it in its second year.  In point of fact, Lion opened on March 3, 1966 to highly contradictory notices, including a thunderous dismissal in the New York Times.  Eight-three performances later, it closed and sank from sight for what I was convinced would be forever.  Then came the film.” (Introduction to The Lion in Winter, James Goldman).

Very high on the list of plays that, given a time machine, I would go to see on the stage is that original run of The Lion in Winter with Robert Preston in the role of Henry II and a Tony winning performance from Rosemary Harris as Eleanor (with Christopher Walken as Philip, years before his film debut).  Given that cast and given that the play is almost the same as the film (see below), I can not, for the life of me, understand how it was not a success.  Yet, after the success of the film, the play actually ended up being produced several times, something that has not traditionally happened after a film adaptation of an unsuccessful play.  Perhaps it’s because the core of the film is in the brilliant, witty script by James Goldman (older brother of future Oscar winner William Goldman)

The Adaptation:

With the exception of the opening scenes (where the members of the family are gathered), you can pretty much read along with the play as you watch the film (it’s a primary reason I own the play – because the original dialogue is all right there on the page).  Yes, the film opens things up by chopping scenes up, moving them in placement (physically, not temporally) and allowing a greater freedom of movement.  A key example of that is the ending dialogue which, on stage, is just spoken between Henry and Eleanor as they are the last two moving off-stage, as opposed to Eleanor departing on the boat.  It’s among the most faithful play to screen adaptations ever made, which makes sense, since James Goldman wrote both (winning the Oscar for the latter, rightfully so).

The Credits:

directed by Anthony Harvey.  screenplay by James Goldman.  based on the play “The Lion in Winter” by James Goldman, produced on Broadway by Euegene V. Wolsk, Walter A. Hyman & Alan King in association with Emanuel Azenberg.

Rosemary’s Baby

The Film:

I have already reviewed this film once, as one of my Top 5 films of the year.  If you have never seen it because of the genre, I will remind you that this film transcends the genre in multiple ways.  The first is that it is excellent, one of the very best Horror movies ever made and any film that reaches the pinnacle of its genre should be seen.  The second is that it is a film that terrifies and horrifies you in the things that it suggests.  It is not a film trying to make you jump.  It is a film trying to make you feel.  Its success at that level of horror is what makes it so brilliant.

The Source:

Rosemary’s Baby: a novel by Ira Levin (1967)

Ira Levin was not a particularly great writer but he was a very successful writer.  Indeed, if you count the television production of Rosemary’s Baby, Levin has three different novels that were successful enough that they were actually adapted into films multiple times (A Kiss Before Dying and The Stepford Wives are the other two) and Rosemary and Stepford seem to transcend their popularity as books and move to another stage.  He is very good at coming up with concepts that really strike a nerve in people (robots replacing women, Satan’s child, Hitler clones).  The book gives you a palpable sense of horror as Rosemary slowly starts to realize what is going on around her but it is the film that really allows that to sink in.

The Adaptation:

“I realized that I could make the film only if I remained faithful to the novel.”  (Roman Polanski quoted in Roman Polanski Interviews, p 18)  A famously faithful adaptation of a novel, Rosemary’s Baby really kept things close.  In fact, there is a story about Polanski trying to track down the actual New Yorker issue that advertises a shirt to use in the film only to discover that Levin didn’t even read the New Yorker and just assumed you would see a shirt advertised in it.  Almost all of the dialogue comes straight from the book.

The Credits:

Written for the Screen and Directed by Roman Polanski.  From the novel by Ira Levin.

Belle de Jour

The Film:

In the fall of 1995, I went to Cinema 21 in Portland.  It was not only my first time going there, it was also the first time seeing a Luis Buñuel film.  It would not be long before I had devoured a lot of his films.  This particular one, Belle de Jour, had been unavailable for a long time and was circulating in a new print in theaters.  It was a revelation.  Could a film really do this kind of thing?  Could it take a Salvador Dali sense of surrealism and make it come to life on screen?  Could it actually take this strong sense of sexuality and sensuality and place it on the screen without really showing any nudity?

The “belle de jour”, the lady of the day of the title is Severin, played by Catherine Deneuve.  She’s young, she’s very beautiful (in response to this film, when writing a poem called “Arguments for an Against the Existence of God”, a college friend of mine listed Deneuve as the final argument “for”) and she’s very much in love with her wealthy young husband.  But just because she’s in love with him doesn’t mean that she’s able to free herself up to actually be warm to him in a sexual way.  She’s frigid.  But not in her head, not in her dreams, where she plays out scenes of sadomasochism and is freed from any propriety.  To explore more of this, to try to understand what is going on in her head and her heart, she visits a brothel.  It is there that she starts to find freedom within herself.  She becomes that lady of the day, the whore that can only be bought during working hours while her husband is away and she can be back each night where she is still unable to overcome her frigidity.

None of this would work on screen if not for the collaboration of Buñuel and Deneuve.  Buñuel is the only director who could take the more serious scenes of Deneuve and her husband, of her in her place in society and contrast them, not only against the scenes in the brothel where she is able to more come to life and the scenes that play out inside her head (including flashbacks to the events in her life that made her so frigid in the first place) and not have them devolve into farce.  The film is a serious one, designed to entrance us but not make us giggle.  It is sexual and thoughtful all at once.  But in the hands of a different lead actress, it might not have worked.  Deneuve had already shown that she could handle a role of confused sexuality in her star performance in Roman Polanski’s Repulsion.

Belle de Jour remains as much a revelation today as it was then, for me in 1995, and I am sure, as it was in 1967 when audiences first saw it.  Like Rosemary’s Baby, it is a film that understands that you can be much more effective by being suggestive than by being explicit.  You could remake both films today and my guess is that today it would be made explicit because you can show a lot more on film and would be considerably less effective.

The Source:

Belle de Jour by Joseph Kessel (1928)

Kessel’s original novel presages what Buñuel would so brilliantly do with his film: “There is not an obscene word of a graphic sex scene in Kessel’s novel, but its subject almost guaranteed that there would be no American edition for decades and the first English translation of Belle de Jour wasn’t published until 1962.” (introduction to the 2007 edition of the novel).  It’s a short (181 pages) but effective novel.  It doesn’t have the surrealism that makes the film such a triumph though.

The Adaptation:

“The novel is very melodramatic, but well constructed, and it offered me the chance to translate Séverine’s (accented first e) fantasies into pictorial images as well as to draw a serious portrait of a young female bourgeois masochist. I was able to indulge myself in the faithful description of some interesting sexual perversions.”  (My Last Sigh: The Autobiography of Luis Bunuel, p 242)

That is, of course, the biggest difference between the novel and the film.  If you went to the novel expecting the kind of fantasy delusions that run through her mind in the film you won’t find them at all.  But perhaps the even more significant change is the ending.  Buñuel provides a surreal but perhaps happy ending, with Séverine’s husband standing up after her has been paralyzed.  There is nothing even remotely comparable to that in the original novel as not only is the husband still paralyzed but their relationship seems hopelessly broken (the last lines are “Three years have now gone by.  Séverine and Pierre live over a quiet little beach. But since the day Séverine spoke, she has not heard her husband’s voice.”) but Marcel, the gangster is in not only not dead, but is in jail and Séverine can’t seem to let him go (“‘Please tell him,’ she said, ‘that after my husband there’s no one in the world I love more.'”).

The Credits:

un film de Luis Bunuel.  d’après le roman de Joseph Kessel de l’Académie Française.  Adaptation et dialogue Luis Bunuel et Jean-Clause Carriere.

Ostře sledované vlaky

The Film:

It was the turn of the Czechs.  Czechoslovakia existed for just under 75 years but in that time, we had Kafka and Kundera in literature, not to mention The Great Soldier Svejk.  For film, it blossomed in the 60’s with the Czech New Wave films, lead by directors like Milos Forman and Jiri Menzel.  Forman may have been the best director to emerge but it was a Menzel film, Closely Watched Trains, that is the best I’ve seen from the country (and is considerably better than anything that the Czech Republic or Slovakia have made since the split).

This film epitomizes much of what could be seen in the Czech New Wave.  It is made in black and white, with some quick editing between scenes.  There is not nearly as much dialogue as you would find in an American film (or in many European films).  It relies on what the characters do and how they interact rather than their actual words.  It is also finds humor in situations that usually aren’t funny.  In those days before the Soviet crackdown, it showed what could be amusing when things were a bit awry, much like you could find in the great novels from the country.  In this case, we have a young train station guard who is in the midst of a country at war (occupied Czechoslovakia during the war) and eventually becomes seduced into taking a stand against the Nazis.

Is young Milos really ready to die for his country?  Or is he going to die if he can’t get sex right with the sexy young conductor Masa, especially since he botches things quite badly on his first attempt.  Should he trust the advice of the dispatcher, a man who gets in his own trouble when he applies rubber stamps to the amble behind of the telegrapher?  Will madness this way lie?  Or just some humor?

This is a Comedy with, essentially, a tragic ending.  Or is it a tragedy with a truly comic ending?  That’s part of the glory of the New Wave, of these fresh films that came across from Europe, bringing fame and fortune (to a director like Forman who would emigrate and become a major name) or even Oscars (long before Forman would win two Oscars for Best Director this film won Best Foreign Film, rather rightfully.  And even today, 50 years later, it still seems fresh and fun, even if you know, or even perhaps because you might know what is coming.

The Source:

Ostře sledované vlaky by Bohumil Hrabal  (1965)

The success of this novel in the U.S. is almost certainly tied to the film’s release as it was first published in an English translation in 1968.  But the short novel (85 pages and with more realistic margins could have been considerably shorter) was a big success in its home country where its tale of a young train guard and the slow, bizarre path to revolution helped stir up the kind of feeling that would lead to the Prague Spring and then the brutal crackdown that followed.

It is written in the first person and if you have seen the film (especially multiple times like I have), then that might seem a bit odd given what is going to happen.  But somehow it makes things work and you still kind of find yourself laughing, though not nearly as much as when you are watching the film.

The Adaptation:

Most of what we get in the film is straight from the book, though the first person narration is mostly eliminated and most of the dialogue is cut considerably.  The biggest difference is in the end where, yes, in the book, young Milos is able to succeed in his mission, but in a way where he is still able to describe it before the end while there is absolutely no way that Milos in the film would be able to describe what was happening – it’s a much bigger bang of an ending in the film and that’s part of what brings the comedy.

The Credits:

Režie: Jiří Menzel.  Podle Novely: Bohumila Hrabala.  Scénár: Bohumil Hrabal, Jiří Menzel.

The Odd Couple

The Film:

Is Felix Unger the most annoying man who ever lived?  It’s hard to tell but he certainly tries to make a case for it.  Yet, there is also a certain charm inherent in him, especially when played by Jack Lemmon.  He might complain about anything and everything, demanding you move in a diner, describing his every ache and pain.  But he will also leave you with an apartment that is clean down to the molecular level and make you a meal that will make you grateful for life itself.  Things like this balance.  He will call you to explain that he’s making dinner and at the same time make you miss the thrill of a triple play.

They balance the same way with Oscar Madison.  He has a memorable rant about what a pain he is: “Blanche used to say to me, ‘What time do you want dinner’ I’d say ‘I dunno, I’m not hungry’. Then 3 o’clock in the morning, I’d wake her up and say ‘now’. I’ve been one of the highest paid sports writers in the east for the past fourteen years, we saved eight and a half dollars in pennies. I’m never home, I gamble, burn cigar holes in the furniture, drink like a fish, lie to her every chance I get. Then on our tenth wedding anniversary, I took her to the New York Rangers-Detroit Red Wings hockey game where she got hit by a puck! I still can’t figure out why she left me, that’s how impossible I am.”  But he’s the guy who hosts the poker game because he’s relaxed and you can be yourself in his apartment.

In a lot of ways these two men belong together.  And in a sense, they ended up together.  The actions of the film (and the original play) only take about a week but on television, the show lasted for 114 episodes.  Felix needs a bit of a slob to remind him of living, of grasping for something more than just a clean apartment while Oscar needs someone who can bring him enough in line with reality to put away a few dollars for alimony and not having an apartment in danger of being condemned as a health hazard.

Two years before this film, Billy Wilder had the brilliant idea of teaming Walter Matthau with Jack Lemmon in The Fortune Cookie, giving Matthau the best lines and making Lemmon more of the straight man.  The formula worked again here, with Matthau in perfect line with the play (having originated the role on stage) and Lemmon perfectly sliding into the role of a man so uptight that he when he intends to kill himself he sends his wife a telegram (which she then has to tip the delivery boy).  It’s not a perfect film because Gene Saks was a better director for the stage than on film.  But it’s one of Neil Simon’s most successful play-to-film adaptations and would help to cement the idea of Matthau and Lemmon as the eternally feuding comedic team.

The Source:

The Odd Couple by Neil Simon  (1965)

It’s surprising to think of, but Simon still wasn’t a household name when this play came out.  It was only his third play and only one film had been made of his plays by that point.  But it helped cement his status as the premier comedic writer on Broadway at the time.  It was nominated for the Tony (though Walter Matthau won) and ran for two years before being adapted for film.  It has continued to be revived through the years and of course not only was made into a successful television show that ran for five seasons but also an animated show, two more less successful television shows a television movie sequel to the original show and a sequel to the film.  It has resonated through the years because Felix Unger and Oscar Madison are such perfect archetypes of their characters and pretty much everyone knows somebody who is one or the other.

The Adaptation:

Pretty much every line in the original play makes it to the film.  There are also some expanded scenes in the film that weren’t in the original play (including Oscar’s wonderful rant about what a slob he is and not knowing why Blanche left him).  While there are a few lines that are moved outside the apartment, the general rule for this adaptation is that if a scene is set outside of the apartment, then it wasn’t in the original play, including, of course, the memorable triple play scene.  They actually wanted Roberto Clemente to do that scene (it was filmed at an actual Pirates-Mets game, set up for the scene before the game itself) and Clemente, one of the greatest rightfielders in history, refused.  Good for him.  Have the weak hitting Mazeroski do it.

The Credits:

Directed by Gene Saks.  From the play by Neil Simon.  As produced on the stage by Saint-Subber.  Screenplay by Neil Simon.


The Film:

Hunger is a film from a remarkable year of Foreign Films submitted to the Oscars and of course the Academy didn’t do them justice.  Hunger wasn’t nominated, nor was Come Drink with Me nor Persona in spite of being one of the most lauded films of the year.  They even nominated The Battle of Algiers but then gave the Oscar to A Man and a Woman.  There are a lot of years that would have a better group of nominees but no year until 1987 would have a better group of submitted films.

I first saw Hunger long before I was worried about trying to track down the submitted Foreign films.  I saw it because when it made it to the States in 1968 (two years after it was originally released and submitted to the Oscars for Best Foreign Film), it managed to win Best Actor at the National Society of Film Critics (the critics groups most welcoming of foreign films, but still rare to win an acting award at this point).  Per Oscarssen’s powerhouse performance as the writer who wanders around late 19th Century Oslo in a daze of hunger and poverty and sometimes even defeat (in those rare days when he doesn’t fervently believe the newspaper will realize his article is a work of genius and publish him and give him some money) doesn’t actually make my Top 5 because he’s just nudged down into 6th place but it is definitely a reason to see the film.

But I should stress that Oscarssen’s performance is not the only reason to see this film.  This was fascinating film just from a historical performance.  Knut Hamsun, the author of the original novel, was a widely revered Norwegian writer, the second of just three Norwegians to win the Nobel Prize, but one whose reputation suffered badly when he spoke positively of Hitler during and even after the war.  This film was the first Danish film to ever merit serious study outside of Denmark that wasn’t made by Carl Theodor Dreyer and yet in some senses, it really wasn’t a Danish film at all.  After all, though it had a Danish director, it had a Swedish star and it was filmed in Norway (and was Norwegian in origin) and it was the first film that was a co-production of the three countries, a moment for Scandinavian unity.  Aside from Oscarssen, there is Gunnel Lindbloom, a rather higher class woman that he meets on the street and whom, in his own brain, he has made a connection to.  Lindbloom was a veteran of Bergman’s films and added yet another Swedish touch to the film.  The remarkable black-and-white cinematography was from Henning Kristiansen, a Danish cinematographer who would, over 20 years later, earn a BAFTA for Babette’s Feast (the first Danish film to win Best Foreign Film at the Oscars).

I will end with this final note about the country of origin.  Denmark has been a consistent submitter to the Oscars and those films are hard to find, at least in the States.  I have seen just less than half of the 55 Danish submissions while no other country with that many submissions is below 63% (only two other countries below 50% on my list have submitted more than 21 films).  But of the 42 Danish films I have seen over the years, I rank this one as the 5th best (behind, in order, Day of Wrath, Ordet, Babette’s Feast, The Hunt) and it’s actually not that far removed from the top of the list (three points).

The Source:

Sult by Knut Hamsun  (1890)

I have no evidence that John Kennedy Toole ever read Knut Hamsun, though, given his range of literary knowledge, it’s definitely not out of the question.  Indeed, the only reason that the thought even occurs to me is that I recently re-read Confederacy of Dunces and it strikes me that Dunces and Hunger are in a sense, related.  They are not as closely related, certainly as the Hamsun book is to Dostoevsky, both to Notes from Underground (which seems to be the predecessor to this novel) or Crime and Punishment (the unnamed narrator resembles Raskolnikov in some ways), but there are connections.  Our unnamed narrator here is possibly a genius.  Or possibly just a madman.  He wanders through a major city (Kristiania, what is now Oslo) bereft of food and money but in some ways certain that salvation is right around the corner with the publication of his work.  An essay here, an article there, and everything will be fine.  If only the idiots will listen.  It reminds me of Garp’s notion for a writer to leave a suicide note of “I have been misunderstood by you idiots for the last time.”  It’s every writer’s thought, no matter how successful, that they are being misunderstood.  So our unnamed narrator wanders the streets, hoping for food, giving away any money he receives and in the end, taking a chance and signing on for a tour at sea because at least it will give him a meal and hey, if it doesn’t work out, they can always part company in England.

I first read this novel when I was reading my way through the Nobel Prize list back in 2007 or 2008.  Yes, Hamsun’s Prize was specifically given for Growth of the Soil (one of the rare examples when a specific work was cited by the Academy) and I also read that, but I had either just seen the film or was just about to see the film and I thought I should read this as well and I was struck by its power, its darkness of the soul.  This is a darker twist on the same story as Dunces, of the misunderstood genius.  It is, to me, the best proof that Hamsun was worth of the prize.

The Adaptation:

This is a remarkably straight forward adaptation of the novel.  We have the genius or madman writer (you pick) begging food, talking to people who come his way, trying to get assured that his article will be published, then (falsely) assuring his landlady that money will be forthcoming to cover his rent and for some food.  In the end, with nothing left to lose, he signs on for a tour at sea without any idea of what the future might bring him.

The Credits:

en film av Henning Carlsen.  efter Knut Hamsun’s roman.  manuskript: Peter Seeberg.  filmmanuskript: Henning Carlsen.

Rachel, Rachel

The Film:

I have already reviewed this film, since it was one of the Best Picture nominees of 1968.  It was not only a nominee, but it was the second best of the five nominees (by a considerable margin).  It showcased a fantastic performance from Joanne Woodward and a deft directing hand from Paul Newman.  Newman wouldn’t often sit in the director’s chair, but his clear chemistry in working with his wife did shine through.

The Source:

A Jest of God by Margaret Laurence (1966)

This is an interesting little novel about a woman who is lonely, living in the town that she grew up in, dealing with an elderly mother and a close friend who has emotions that she can’t deal with.  Someone comes back to the town and over the course of the novel, we learn that this man had a brother who died and that when Rachel (the woman) was a child, she went with her undertaker father to deal with it when the brother died.  It’s only slowly that we start to get a better idea of the relationship and the past as the story unfolds.  In the end, the novel isn’t nearly as interesting as the film, for reasons explained below.

The Adaptation:

Part of the reason that the novel doesn’t really match up to the film is the very fine performance from Joanne Woodward as Rachel.  But just as important is the way that the film gives us information.  The book is mostly straight forward and it is only much later in the book that we start to find out what happened when the main characters were still young.  The film moves back and forth between adulthood and childhood that adds subtext to what we are already seeing about Rachel’s adult life and her inability to relate much to other adults.  It was a smart move from the filmmakers to make those transitions begin right from the start and continue through rather than the much later revelations we get in the book.

The Credits:

produced and directed by paul newman. screenplay by stewart stern. based on the novel “a jest of god” by margaret laurence.
note: these are from the end credits, as the opening credits only have the film’s title.

Pretty Poison

The Film:

Does the existence of Psycho add something to this film or take away from it?  Do we read something more into the character of Dennis Pitt, the disturbed young man who was put away for arson and has only recently been released because he’s played by Anthony Perkins?  In fact, while this film was made eight years after the great Hitchcock film, this was actually Perkins’ first role in Hollywood since that one.  He had spent the eight years in between doing plays and acting in films in Europe and when he finally returned, it was hardly a return.  This was a small film, directed by a first time director (he had done short films and television), filmed in Massachusetts, far from the glittery lights of tinseltown.  It had trouble getting released and received mixed reviews, with Vincent Canby trashing it but Pauline Kael loving it.  And the film is indeed, mixed.  It has a good script and a strong performance from Perkins but the direction and technical aspects are less than stellar and co-star Tuesday Weld is really pretty bad (though, she hated the director and making the film and that probably played into her performance).

Dennis Pitt is a man who has just been released from prison.  He comes to a small Massachusetts town and when he sees local blonde Sue Ann Stepenek, he falls for her hard and fast.  How to win her over?  Well, apparently in Pitt’s mind the best way to to do it is pretend to be a CIA agent on a mission and enlist her aid.  This will cascade upon both of them until they are in her mother’s house, preparing to kill her and we have to see which one of them is really capable of doing anything.

In the year after Bonnie & Clyde, the reminder in this film is no matter what you might have in the young man looking for a girl, you also have to be careful which girl you suddenly make a play for because she might be much crazier than you.  We are well into the film before we begin to realize that it’s not Pitt who is the dangerous one in this relationship and things have gotten out of his control.

And again, we have to come back to Psycho and Perkins.  Do we think of Pitt as more disturbed and dangerous than he really is because some part of our mind is thinking of Norman Bates?  Or was that perhaps part of the filmmakers intention, to kind of bluff us into thinking that while bringing along Sue Ann as the much more psychotic one of the couple?

Pretty Poison didn’t do a whole lot in spite of critical acclaim in certain quarters (Gene Siskel named it to his Top 10 of the year but Roger Ebert didn’t even seem to have reviewed it) and though it won Best Screenplay at the New York Film Critics, it received no other awards attention from any other group (no other winner has ever done that).  I have it as a high *** but not able to break into ***.5 and join my list of Best Picture contenders.  But it has a cult favorite reputation and is a film you should see at least once.

The Source:

She Let Him Continue by Stephen Geller (1966)

The first novel by a young writer (he was 26, which you bizarrely can’t find out from either Wikipedia or the IMDb, but his papers are at Dartmouth and they list his birth date), it’s not widely available and thus I wasn’t able to get hold of it.

The Adaptation:

The quote from Noel Black about the book (“a Walter Mitty type who comes up against a teenybopper Lady Macbeth”) certainly seems to indicate that at least the basic premise of the film was there in the original novel.

The Credits:

directed by Noel Black.  based on a novel by Stephen Geller.  screenplay by Lorenzo Semple, Jr.

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter

The Film:

What did audiences in the late 60’s make of Alan Arkin?  In his film debut, he earned a Best Actor nomination for playing a poor Russian sailor whose submarine gets stuck on a sand bar on a Massachusetts island.  Here he earned a second Oscar nomination for playing a deaf-mute.  In between he played a nasty bit of action, sometimes with sunglasses in the dark, sometimes with makeup in Wait Until Dark.  Unfortunately, after these two nominations, he would have to wait another 38 years before earning a surprise Oscar win.

It’s interesting that it took almost 30 years for McCullers’ most famous novel to make it to film.  All the elements were there: the problems of race in the south, a man with a disability, the story of a young girl coming into womanhood and McCullers had a lesser novel (Reflections in a Golden Eye) filmed the year before.  Perhaps it was the right thing to wait so long because in the 40’s, the role of the deaf-mute Singer might have been pushed too much until it was almost like pantomime.  Arkin was the right actor for the role, a gentle man whose best friend is put away and so he moves to a new town so he can be closer to the institution.  Watching it this time, over 20 years after I originally watched it, I was reminded a little of The Station Agent, in which another person who doesn’t meet society’s norm faces a life changing situation and moves to a new town, but that was a warm comedy and this is straight drama.

It’s a warm, caring film.  It gives us three main characters that have their own issues: Singer, the deaf-mute who wants to live his simple life and be close to his friend, Mick, the budding young woman of the house where Singer boards and forms a bond with him and Dr. Copeland, a black doctor in a Southern town (even though the film is updated from the 30’s to the 60’s, the racism inherent in the novel is presented the same way in the book and I don’t think anybody blinked an eye).  Arkin had already established himself as a talented actor and this did nothing to diminish that and he’s definitely the right man for the role.  What’s more surprising is remembering that Sondra Locke (at age 24, very much looking like she’s 15 or so) once could act before she started getting dragged through the mud in Eastwood films and then thrown to the side.

The Source:

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers (1940)

The novel is quite good, even if it doesn’t remotely belong at #17 on the Modern Library list.  What’s most remarkable about it, and what I think people really remember about it, is that McCullers was only 23 when the novel was published.  It has a quiet grace and determination that belies the young age of the author.  The scene, towards the end of the book, when Singer learns what has happened to his friend and decides on his own destiny is moving and extraordinary.  And yet, there is also something to be said that she doesn’t end the book there, but gives one final look at the other lives in the book.

The Adaptation:

Perhaps the reason the book was never made before the time that it was is because of the ending.  How would that have stood up in the era of the Production Code?  Yet, it is necessary for the tragedy of the book to come full circle and for Mick to move beyond and take her own steps towards adulthood.  Though that final conversation between Mick and Copeland might not be from the book, we can still see her moving forward (there is more on that on the book).  But the film does a good job of sticking to the novel and making the characters come alive.

The Credits:

Directed by Robert Ellis Miller.  From the Novel by Carson McCullers.  Screenplay by Thomas C. Ryan.

Война и мир

The Film:

I have already reviewed this film here.  But is it fair to call it a film?  It is really four films, filmed together and released separately.  It was, however, released around the world as one film and that was how it won Best Foreign Film at the Oscars (among other places) so I have always considered it a single film.  At over seven hours in length that would certainly make it one of the longest films on record.  The length begins to strain and by the end of the film you wonder if it could have been shorter.  Of course it could have been, but Bondarchuk wanted to make an epic length film that wouldn’t have to cut massive parts of the story.  It is a very good film but I don’t quite put it into the **** category.  It is currently available on DVD though the prints are far from great.  Still, you get the epic scope of the film.  Unlike Vidor’s version of the film, it doesn’t skimp on the peace just so that it can make the war more epic.

The Source:

Война́ и миръ by Leo Tolstoy  (1869)

I have reviewed this novel once already.  You could look at my review in one of two ways.  On the one hand, I disagree with those who try to argue that it is the greatest novel ever written or anyway near that very top.  Indeed, I don’t even think it’s close to the greatest novel written by Tolstoy, as I rank Anna Karenina considerably higher.  Or you could look at it this way: I rank this novel at #61 all-time among the hundreds and hundreds (probably thousands) of novels I have read in my life.  It is a great novel, not just for its epic scope, but in the way that it does so many things, bringing in history and philosophy and morality without every skimping on the story and the characters.  If you have never read it, if you have perhaps been daunted by its length, you really need to cross this one off your list before you die.  Your best bet is the Pevear / Volokhonsky translation.

The Adaptation:

Because Bondarchuk (and his co-writer Solovyev) didn’t skimp on the length of the film, they are able to get a considerable amount of the film’s story and characters onscreen.  Not everything makes it to the screen, of course, because even in a film this length that just isn’t happening.  There are a few subplots and minor characters that are pretty much excised.  Excised, as well, of course, are the bits of philosophy and history that make reading the book such a wonderful experience.  You can’t really find a way to put this onscreen.

One thing the filmmakers did to keep things faithful to Tolstoy’s novel is diving the film up into four parts.  The parts aren’t arbitrary but are in fact the four sections of the novel which is why the films are of such uneven length (the first film is almost an hour longer than any of the others and close to twice the length of the third film).

The Credits:

Directed by Sergei Bondarchuk.  Scenario by Sergei Bondarchuk and Vasili Solovyev.
note:  The source is only listed in the title: Leo Tolstoy War and Peace.  I also am unable to type in cyrillic, so I can’t capture the exact credit phrasing.  I worked backwards from the subtitled credits and what I got below on a reverse translation app online was close but not exact to what was on the screen.

Режиссер Сергей Бондарчук. Лев Толстой. Сценарий Сергея Бондарчука и Василия Соловьева

Consensus Nominees

Funny Girl

The Film:

I have already reviewed this film once, as a Best Picture nominee.  I was not very kind to the film and that’s because it doesn’t deserve kindness.  It is way too long, it is not particularly well made and if it weren’t for the debut film performance of Barbra Streisand it wouldn’t even be worth remembering.  She is funny and she can sing (if you like the songs, which I don’t) and she is charming and adorable (though not gorgeous); she is pretty much everything that the rest of the film isn’t.

The Source:

Funny Girl: A New Musical, book by Isobel Lennart, from an original story by Miss Lennart, music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Bob Merrill (1964)

Funny Girl was an extremely successful Broadway show, one that made such a star out of Streisand that she was already well known before she ever made it to film.  Indeed, she became such an instant success with it that one of the songs that was considered for being cut (“People”) had already been recorded by her as a single so they kept it in the show just because of that.  The show gave Streisand a chance to show off her gifts for comedy and singing.  What it doesn’t do is give us a very interesting show.  On some levels, this is a re-hash of Gypsy, which Styne had written a few years before: a show about a famous performer working her way up, complete with “Don’t Rain on My Parade” filling the same role that “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” had.  What’s more, unlike Gypsy, which had a more natural arc (and had Sondheim doing the lyrics), Funny Girl only really gives us half the story of Fanny Brice, which is why when it was made into a film (which was always the plan, as the musical had begun as a screenplay – thus the “from an original story by Miss Lennart” credit) they ended up having to make yet another two and a half hour movie to give us the rest of the story and that one’s even more boring than this one.

The Adaptation:

The film actually does a pretty good job of sticking the original book, perhaps because the book and the script were written by the same writer.  What was changed considerably were the songs.  Eight of the original songs from the Broadway show were dropped (including any that didn’t involve Fanny herself) and a few new ones were written (including the title song, which received an undeserved Oscar nomination and might be the only case in Broadway film adaptation when a title song wasn’t written for the original show but then was written for the film adaptation).

The Credits:

Directed by William Wyler.  Based upon the play with Music by Jule Styne, Lyrics by Bob Merrill, Book by Isobel Lennart, from the original story by Miss Lennart and produced by Rastar Productions.  Screenplay by Isobel Lennart.

Golden Globe Winner


The Film:

I have mentioned in previous posts my tendency, when younger, to give films more credit for what they were trying to say than I do now, with a prime example being Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.  Interesting then, that I never gave much credit to Charly.  Oh, I knew what it was trying to say, talking about the way we treat those with less intelligence, both in life and as subjects for us to study, but since it always seemed to be about as subtle as slamming my head with a sledgehammer, its intentions never made the slightest bit of difference.  Did it matter that I had already seen The Lion in Winter long before I ever saw Charly and I just sat there in stunned disbelief that this was the performance than won the Oscar over Peter O’Toole?

Poor Charly Gordon is not blessed with much in the way of brains.  He goes through life working as a janitor at a bakery and goes to classes to try and improve himself.  He is then given the chance to take part in an experiment, one that has already been successful with a mouse, an experiment designed to greatly increase Charly’s intelligence.  It works, of course, because if it didn’t work would we even bother to have a movie?  And of course it won’t hold because, again, then would we even have a movie?

The problem isn’t that Robertson is only okay and he won the Oscar (although for me, personally, that’s a problem).  It’s that the film is not well made at all.  It is badly edited and filmed and at times you wonder who was in charge of this project.  Director Ralph Nelson had directed a Best Picture nominee (the much better but also unsubtle Lilies of the Field) but Robertson was the one who had moved the project along.  There are far too many montages of Charly’s life once he gains the intelligence and then we have to watch Robertson trying to emote too much when it all starts to slip away.  Really, this is just a glorified Afterschool Special about what it is like to be developmentally delayed and how we should treat such people better than we do but with the science-fiction motif that he is able to gain intelligence and realize for himself what his life has been like.

I would say that I can not, for the life of me, believe that this film won the Golden Globe for Best Screenplay over The Lion in Winter given how brilliant that script is and how trite this one is but I do believe it because this is the same group that two years later will give Love Story the Best Screenplay award over M*A*S*H.

The Source:

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes  (1966)

Flowers for Algernon began life as a short story and I think I would have liked it much better if it had stayed that way.  It’s the first person narrative of Charlie Gordon, a mentally deficient janitor who is trying to improve himself (though, if he his I.Q. is as low as the book claims, I wonder at his ability to read and write at all) and then gets the chance to undergo an experiment that will greatly increase his intelligence.  Of course, being science-fiction, it all goes wrong and eventually his new intelligence starts to fade.

The book has been much beloved and I was given it as a gift years and years ago and put off reading it for a really long time.  The first person narration, complete with spelling and grammar that improves when Charlie gets smarter and devolves again later in the book really doesn’t work for me.  If I could have had the shorter burst of a short story that would have been better, I am certain, than 300 pages of this.  It has been adapted a number of times since this film and was satirized rather deftly in a 2001 Simpsons episode.

The Adaptation:

This was still just a short story when it was originally produced on television with Robertson in the lead role as “The Two Worlds of Charlie Gordon”.  Robertson had already lost the film role in The Hustler and The Days of Wine and Roses after playing the leads on television (that the latter wouldn’t be released until a year and a half later I presume doesn’t mean that Robertson hadn’t already lost the role to Jack Lemmon) so he bought the property to this one himself and pushed it for seven years before it made it to the screen.  In that time, Keyes had expanded his original story to a full-length novel and that’s what we get.  Thankfully, some of the things that presumably weren’t in the original story (the constant tiresome repetitious bad dreams that Charlie endures) got cut from the film.  Also, there is much less focus on Algernon and more focus on the romance, which is also, presumably, why they decided to change the title.

The Credits:

directed and produced by ralph nelson.  from the novel ‘flowers for algernon’ by daniel keyes.  screenplay by stirling silliphant.

Oscar Nominee


The Film:

This film has already been written about as the winner of Best Picture, something which always irritates me out of proportion to the quality of the film.  It comes down to this: Oliver is not a bad film by any means.  It’s a fairly good film, a high *** with strong performances from Ron Moody, Jack Wild and Oliver Reed.  But, unfortunately, it had absolutely no business winning Best Picture when The Lion in Winter was sitting right there and 2001 wasn’t even nominated.  It doesn’t help that the songs have never really worked for me.

The Source:

Oliver Twist; or, The Parish Boy’s Progress by Boz  [Charles Dickens]  (serialized Feb 1837-March 1839, book form 1838) / Oliver! by Lionel Bart (1960)

I have already written a small review of the original novel when I ranked it at at #5 among all the Dickens novels (#4 if you don’t want to count A Christmas Carol).  I wrote a longer piece on it when I reviewed it for the David Lean film version.

As for the Musical, well, I’m not a fan.  It’s not just that I don’t particularly care for the songs (which I don’t).  I am also somewhat bothered by the dark tone of Oliver Twist, which has a penultimate chapter which is one of the best and darkest things Dickens ever wrote, being turned into such a light-hearted affair.  It’s one thing to have Fagin survive rather than the darkness of that final paragraph (“Day was dawning when they again emerged.  A great multitude had already assembled; the windows were filled with people, smoking and playing cards to beguile the time; the crowd were pushing, quarrelling, joking.  Everything told of life and animation, but one dark cluster of objects in the centre of all – the black stage, the cross-beam, the rope, and all the hideous apparatus of death.”) but to have him literally walking off into the sunset?  It just belies the story and places all the darkness in the hands of Bill Sykes.

The Adaptation:

So, do I compare this to the original novel, talking about the way that Fagin survives the film when he doesn’t survive in the book?  Or about the other aspects of the film that are cut (how do you not have time for the character Monks? – well, because you spend so much damn time with all your elaborate staging of musical numbers that go on forever)?  Well, as you can see from the credits below, they fully admit this is “freely adapted” from the original novel so I can’t begrudge them too much for changing things that had already been changed by the musical itself.

Or do I compare this film to the musical as it played on stage?  That would certainly be much more faithful.  There are the typical changes that come with moving a stage musical to the screen.  To that effect, “I Shall Scream” and “My Name” are both eliminated (though the music from “My Name” is used when Bill Sykes first appears) and some of the reprises later in the show of various songs are cut.  Unlike a lot of big musicals, there were no original songs added for the film although even if there had been it still would have probably lost to “The Windmills of Your Mind”.

The Credits:

Directed by Carol Reed.  Book, Music and Lyrics by Lionel Bart.  Screenplay by Vernon Harris.  Freely Adapted from Charles Dickens’ “Oliver Twist”.

WGA Nominees


The Film:

A beautiful young woman comes over to a handsome older doctor at a party and explains that she’s been married for six months and hasn’t yet had an affair.  Or maybe this already happened.  Or maybe it hasn’t happened yet.  At some point in their lives, these two will intersect.  He’s a bit lonely, as he’s dealing with a divorce and the way his two sons are already finding a substitute for him in their mother’s new boyfriend.  She’s put off by the abusive manner of her stand-offish husband.  So they find something in each other.  I think.

See, that’s part of the problem.  It’s not that I can’t tell what the film is trying to do.  I’m not sure the film can tell what it is trying to do.  In directing a film like A Hard Day’s Night, Richard Lester’s style of jumping all around seemed like the Beatles manic energy let loose into the editing room.  But Petulia is something else.  We jump back and forth in time, never quite knowing where in the story we are.  That bleeds over into the film’s concept.  It’s the story of a free spirit (an annoying free spirit and if she wasn’t played by Julie Christie, I might feel the urge to reach into the film and strangle her) and the more stolid doctor (George C. Scott) that she sets off to have the affair with.  But because of all the jump cuts, because of her personality, because of something in the film, I always viewed it as a Comedy while most people (including the Globes) saw it as a Drama.

But it doesn’t really matter what the film is.  Or maybe it matters a lot.  The film can’t see its way clear to being something.  The movements back and forth in time don’t help the film at all (if you want to see the opposite effect in a Julie Christie film watch Don’t Look Now which is brilliant with the technique).  It’s just an annoying film that somehow managed a WGA nomination as one of the Best Written American Dramas and I would suggest they had lost their minds but they also gave the WGA award to Funny Girl in this year so I don’t think I have to make that point.

The Source:

Me and the Arch Kook Petulia by John Haase (1966)

I read a book like this and I wonder.  The first thing I wonder is that this book managed to be published in the first place.  It’s not very long (191 pages) and there isn’t much to it.  It’s the story of a doctor and the woman that he ends up having an affair with because she’s been married six months and wants to have an affair.  All of the characters are annoying and you read the book and think, good lord, why did I read this.  But then I wonder about who read this book and thought, I know, I’ll make a movie out of this book.  Because who wouldn’t want to see that?

The Adaptation:

I wouldn’t necessarily say that the characters are less annoying on the screen then they are in the film.  Well, the doctor is at least, though that may come more from Scott’s performance than from the writing.  The performance from Julie Christie helps overcome the feeling of her as an “Auntie Mame” type character just flitting from thing to thing for whatever whim comes into her mind.

The most aggravating thing about the film, the random editing that doesn’t really work, is in no way present in the original book.  The book is written in a straightforward manner and I can’t imagine what happened that the filmmakers thought that the jump editing from time to time would actually improve this story.

The Credits:

Directed by Richard Lester.  Screenplay by Lawrence B. Marcus.  Based on a novel by John Haase.  Adaptation by Barbara Turner.

Yours, Mine and Ours

The Film:

If I were to start this review by saying “It’s the story of a man named Fonda,” that might give you an idea, not only of the content of this film, but of its seriousness as well.  This is a silly little film that just happens to be inspired by a true story (see below for how inspired).  A widower with ten children manages to meet, by accident, a widow with eight children.  They fall in love with each other and marry and have to figure out how to make everything work with all of those children (and then manage to have yet more children after they are married – this is why Griswold v Connecticut is such an important case).

All of this just makes for a silly romantic comedy.  I imagine that the makers of The Brady Bunch must have gotten the idea from this story and decided that it was too ridiculous to try and make that work with so many people to keep track of and it would be enough to just have six and parcel them out appropriately.  We get some shenanigans of how to deal with boys and dating and groceries and what happens when your wife is in labor and you’re in the Navy and aboard ship.  I would like to say that it’s saved somewhat by the presence of Henry Fonda as the father and Lucille Ball, but it’s not.  Fonda is just ridiculous miscast while Ball kind of tries to fall into her role as Lucy and it doesn’t really work.  They try to make the film too much about little things that come up to cause problems.  Yet, the worst thing about it is the really awful title song that plays over both the opening and end credits.

The Source:

Who Gets the Drumstick?: The Story of the Beardsley Family by Helen Beardsley (1965)

Helen Beardsley was Helen North, a happily married woman with seven kids (and one on the way) when her Navy husband died in an accident.  She managed to meet, through correspondence, another Navy man, whose wife had died, leaving him with ten children.  They began to correspond more and then fell in love and married.  It’s an abnormal story but it doesn’t make it extraordinary and it’s incredibly boring reading.  You have a lot of kids, he has a lot, you make it work, the end.  Definitely not my thing.  If this happened today it would almost certainly be a reality show rather than a book.

The Adaptation:

According to the statements on Wikipedia (which are unsourced and had at least one error that I corrected), Ball was interested in this story very early on, well before Beardsley actually wrote her book.  Whether that’s true or not, there are only a few things from the book that make it to the film accurately: that there are these two sets of kids belonging to the two parents and that they marry and that he eventually adopts her kids as well.  Almost everything else about how they met is fictionalized and all of the little details in the film to make it a comedy are created for the film.

The Credits:

Directed by Melville Shavelson.  Screenplay by Melville Shavelson and Mort Lachman.  Story by Madelyn Davis and Bob Carroll, Jr.
note:  There is no mention of the source book in the opening credits.

Finian’s Rainbow

The Film:

The year before had been the first sounding of the death knell for the big roadshow Musical.  That was the year of Doctor Dolittle and Star!, two films that nearly combined to sink an entire studio, not to mention Camelot.  So then came 1968 and bizarrely, it brought people back, with over-rated films like Oliver! and Funny Girl.  This was also the year that brought Finian’s Rainbow to the screen after almost two decades.  The original Broadway show had been a big hit, running for two years and people had been trying to bring it to the screen ever since.  But the issue of racism that is dealt with satirically in the show had helped to elude people.  So Warner Bros decided to take a chance on a young director who had brought forth the bizarrely engaging You’re a Big Boy Now, an egotistical but talented young man named Francis Ford Coppola.

This was an odd choice and it wasn’t really the right one.  By a lot of measures of success, Finian’s Rainbow worked: it got some very good reviews (including from a young Roger Ebert), it got awards attention (four Globe nominations) and it did solidly at the box office.  But is it good?  Well, when I originally watched it, I gave it a 74, which is a high *** and that also means I ranked it above the Oscar winning Oliver.  Looking back on it now, I think it’s more in the high 60’s and I don’t think there’s any way that it’s better than Oliver.  No, I don’t like the music in Oliver (see above), but I don’t much like the music in Finian’s Rainbow either.  No, Carol Reed is not as good a director as Coppola, but this was Coppola working for hire, and in fact the process was kind of what made Coppola turn personal and crank out The Rain People and take his own ride towards making Zoetrope and becoming one of the most important people in the film industry for the next decade.  I think I overrated this film precisely because it is directed by Coppola.  Looking at it now, with its desperate attempts for humor (like when the young botanist ends up working as a servant for the racist senator), with its long stretches that helped kill the roadshow Musical, the long overture, the intermission, the dance numbers that go on and on and on and might still be going on.

This film does have Fred Astaire going for it, in his last singing and dancing role as the man who stole gold from a leprechaun and wants to plant it near Fort Knox so that it will breed more gold.  He is charming and it reminds me of the roles he would play in the 30’s, when there always seemed to be something sneaky behind his smile.  But no one else in the film is particularly good (Petula Clark could definitely sing, but I don’t think much of her acting and she’s singing songs I don’t much care for).

There were a lot of musicals in the 50’s that I didn’t much care for but had to watch again for this project because the WGA for almost 20 years had a Best Written Musical category.  This is the last year of that category and this is the last film that I had to re-watch because of that category.  A lot of those films would have been fine to watch if I had liked the music (which I usually didn’t) but with this film, with Coppola wanting to make more of a new Hollywood film while the studio (and the star) just wanted an old fashioned show made on soundstages, combined with out-of-date humor is something different than me just not caring for the songs.

The Source:

Finian’s Rainbow: A Musical Satire by E. Y. Harburg & Fred Saidy (1947)

This must have been a risky thing in 1947, a Musical in which a racist senator from Missitucky (yes, two combined states) ends up becoming black because of a wish near a leprechaun’s pot of gold.  And, though I might not think much of the songs, it was choreographed by Michael Kidd, so I imagine that the dancing was a sight to see in that original production.

Of course, none of that changes the songs or the silliness of the two romantic plots (the young man and the daughter of Finian, the Irish dreamer who stole the gold in the first place, as well as the leprechaun himself and the deaf sister of the young man).  So, the strengths of this come from the satire and even that includes some lame attempts at humor – it’s the basic idea that really does something there.

The Adaptation:

There are a few things that were updated, since the original Broadway show came out in 1947 and the film was released in 1968.  Those include the changing of a couple of occupations and changing a couple of cultural references in the songs.  Other than that, the play comes fairly untouched to the screen as it was on the stage.

The Credits:

Directed by Francis Ford Coppola.  From the Broadway Play. Book by E. Y. Harburg and Fred Saidy.  Lyrics by E. Y. Harburg.  Music by Burton Lane.  Screenplay by E. Y. Harburg & Fred Saidy.

Golden Globe Nominees

The Fixer

The Film:

Yakov Bok doesn’t want your friendship.  He doesn’t want your love.  He doesn’t even want your pity.  He just wants a chance to do his job in peace (he is a carpenter and can do odd jobs, or a fixer, have you will).  He has driven his wife away from him and left the town where he felt unwelcome to come to Kiev.  Unfortunately, it is 1911 and Bok is a Jew and Kiev in 1911 is not a safe place and time for him.  It becomes even more unsafe when two young boys, boys who Yakov had yelled at once, turn up dead and severely drained of blood.  In a country where pogroms have happened before, it is the widespread belief that this must be the work of some Jew to collect blood for passover matzohs (especially since it is now Passover).  Never mind that this belief is absurd and never had any resemblance to the truth.  Never mind that Yakov barely can even be considered a Jew, does not worship as one, does not live as one.  Never mind that Yakov did not kill the boy.  He is the one who is arrested, he is the one who is persecuted and pushed to the edge of madness.

The Fixer is a fascinating, though fairly relentlessly bleak, film.  It had been a Pulitzer and National Book winning novel from Bernard Malamud.  It was directed by John Frankenheimer, a prominent director of such Oscar nominated films as The Manchurian Candidate, The Birdman of Alcatraz and The Train.  It starred Alan Bates, who had been a rising British star, earning a BAFTA nom for A Kind of Loving, Globe noms for Georgy Girl and Far from the Madding Crowd and would clearly be an Oscar nominee soon (in fact, he earned a nomination for this film).  But now, it’s almost forgotten.  It has just 1000 votes on the IMDb (a third of any of the other Oscar nominees for Best Actor from that year and 1/25th of Oliver or The Lion in Winter).  It is not available on DVD and is hard to find on video (I actually, for the this viewing, watched the film on YouTube with Greek subtitles) and the book itself seems to be not in demand.

So what are we to make of the film?  Well, there is a very good performance from Alan Bates, though, hidden under the beard like he is and with such intensity at times, I kept thinking I was watching Oliver Reed instead.  It has a solid early nasty performance from Ian Holm as the prosecuting magistrate determined to see Bok hanged just for being a Jew.  It is a literate, well-written film, even if it wears on you because you know that nothing good can come of this (although, in real life you would have been wrong, as I note below).  You should find it and watch it at least once, for Bates’ performance if for no other reason.  But I can certainly understand why there would be no call for a DVD release in that who would want to own it and watch it again and again?

The Source:

The Fixer by Bernard Malamud  (1966)

This was the Pulitzer winner for 1967, an award I gave a grade of B+.  It was a very good choice (I think it’s Malamud’s best novel and one of the best of the year though my own choice would have been The Crying of Lot 49) and was the rare winner of both the Pulitzer and the National Book Award.  It’s the (depressing) story of a Jewish carpenter who is arrested for the murder of two young boys under the absurd (but at the time widely believed in Tsarist Russia) theory that Jews killed young boys to use their blood to make matzoh.  It’s based on a real trial that took place in 1913 although Malamud’s version is actually far bleaker than what actually happened (the evidence was so flimsy that the man was actually acquitted) and a stark reminder a generation after the Holocaust and some 50 years after Tsarist Russia was gone of the power and ridiculous beliefs of anti-Semitism.  Aside from a bleaker version of what happened, Malamud’s version is different than real life in that his character, Yakov Bok, is a loner, a man who has alienated his family (his wife has committed adultery and left him) and has no friends, a far different cry from the actual man and one that makes the book more complicated in that he is less sympathetic as a character even while his conditions are even worse.  A very good read from a solid American author who has been neglected more of late and is no longer thought of as highly as he once was.

The Adaptation:

“To have reduced the overt action of the Malamud novel would have been to make a movie that was unendurably grim and brutal: an audience tends to back off, to withhold empathy, when things get too rough.  Trumbo knew all this and carefully constructed his screenplay so that the psychological and physical brutality to the defenseless Yakov is relieved by episodes – little victories – in which the fixer fashions a device for keeping time, or fantasizes an assassination of the czar.  He added a couple of others, too, not involving Yakov directly, in which a scene is shifted from his cell, and the audience is given at least temporary liberation from the claustrophobic restriction of the jail setting.  These sequences are all important to the dramatic pacing of the script, and that is why they are there – ultimately to keep a hold on the audience.  They were in the final draft of the script, and they were shot by director John Frankenheimer.  But these were precisely the bits that were edited when the film was trimmed down to final cut.”  (Dalton Trumbo by Bruce Cook, p 290)

I should note that Cook has a much lower opinion of this film than I do, which is quite clear in his further discussions of the film.  He is correct though, that the film is quite dark and there isn’t much in there to keep things lighter.  But I don’t know that he’s right about those sequences because they might have felt too much like flights of fantasy.

The book is actually quite faithfully adapted.  As happens quite a lot, the scenes at the beginning of the film aren’t actually at the beginning of the book (they are flashbacks in the back) but do occur over the course of the book.

The Credits:

Directed by John Frankenheimer.  Based on the Novel by Bernard Malamud.  Screen Play by Dalton Trumbo.

The Fox

The Film:

This is still a surprisingly difficult film to get hold of.  I looked for it for years because it was an Oscar nominee (Score), and a Golden Globe winner (Best English Language Foreign Film) as well as earning three major Globe noms (Director, Screenplay, Actress – Drama).  Those awards actually lead to some confusion (it was released in Canada, where it was made, in December of 1967, possibly why it earned the Globe noms in 1967 but wasn’t released in the US until February of 1968 and earned its Oscar noms in 1968) and, for me, some consternation.  This film doesn’t remotely deserve its nominations, and yet, I think I am more bothered by the Oscar nom than the Globe noms.

This is the story of two women who live way out in rural Canada on a farm that is haunted by a fox that keeps killing their hens.  The fox will eventually be shot by a young man who comes and stays at their farm, a man who claims his grandfather used to live there and will replace the physical fox with his own metaphorical fox, set loose among these two hens to bring mischief and even death.  Some of the scenes are well-done but they are not written particularly well and at times it feels like the film was directed with a sledgehammer.  It has a lesbian love scene that was remarkable at the time (remember that the Production Code was just disappearing) and is actually filmed with some tenderness, but the relationships aren’t handled well and it stuns me that the Globes could think the Screenplay worthy of a nomination.  The Actress nomination isn’t so bad, because it was for Ann Heywood and not Sandy Dennis (who goes beyond her histrionics in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf because she’s not reigned in by a capable director).

But as I said, it’s really the Best Score nomination that is the most annoying.  If the script bludgeons you over the head at times, that’s nothing compared to what the score does.  I’ve always been a big believer that the score must be good in and of itself (listening to it out of context always helps to determine that) but it also must work within the film and this time it really doesn’t.

The Source:

The Fox by D.H. Lawrence (1923)

This is a very minor work by Lawrence, a novella published in 1923, by which time almost all of his best work was behind him.  It can be misleading for those who see the film first (at this point, probably not many, given the difficulties of getting the film), because the film has, at the least, a lesbian love scene, and at the most, a portrayal of a lesbian couple (see below) while there is no sexuality in the book at all, something you would actually look for in a Lawrence work.

The central conceit of the story is the title – the physical fox that has been killing the hens on the farm where two women who have passed beyond marriageable age are living together and the metaphorical fox, the man who comes to the farm because his grandfather once lived there, and sticks around, doing some work and basically winning over one of the women, causing a rift that ends in death (physical, not metaphorical).  It’s not bad, because this is Lawrence, one of the great writers of all-time and he has such a gift for language (“But at the end of the rainbow is a bottomless gulf down which you can fall forever without arriving, and the blue distance is a void pit which can swallow you and all your efforts into its emptiness, and still be no emptier.”).

The Adaptation:

For the most part, the film follows the novella: the two women have been trying to kill the fox, the man comes to the farm, starts enticing one woman, kills the fox, goes away, comes back, gets her to agree to marry him, is cutting down a tree, kills the other woman.  The superficial difference is that the book takes place in England during and just after the Great War while the film moves the action to modern day Canada (although, way out in the rural landscape, it’s hardly modern).  The main difference is the lesbian love scene – the novella doesn’t ever give any idea of sexuality between the two.  Depending on your interpretation, you can say the love scene was a one-time thing because of the shock they have been through (Roger Ebert’s original review says as much) or you can believe that we have just seen one scene in their love life.  Either way, it is a change from the source.

That change is discussed in one of the most vital and useful film books ever written, The Celluloid Closet: Homosexuality in the Movies (in fact, it was the film version of the book where I first saw clips from The Fox): “By making the relationship between Jill (Sandy Dennis) and Ellen (Anne Heywood) explicit in their adaptation of D. H. Lawrence’s The Fox (1968), director Mark Rydell and screenwriter Lewis John Carlino exaggerated the results of that lesbian passion. A subtle, almost unconsciously lesbian affair between Jill and Ellen became on film a hotly explicit obsession that is broken up by the arrival of Paul (Keir Dullea), the ‘fox’ for whom Ellen has an inexplicable attraction. The overstated sexuality in the film makes it a ‘will she or won’t she choose normalcy?’ tug-of-war between lesbianism and heterosexuality.” (p 164)

The Credits

Directed by Mark Rydell.  Screenplay by Lewis John Carlino and Howard Koch.  From the Novella “The Fox” by D. H. Lawrence.

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

  • The Music Room  –  Very good 1958 Satyajit Ray film finally earning a U.S. release.  Based on the short story by Tarasankar Bandyopadhyay.
  • The Charge of the Light Brigade  –  Mostly original but it also used research from the book The Reason Why by British historian Cecil Woodham-Smith.  Very good British film about the famous charge.

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

  • Bullitt  –  Low-level ***.5 is great for its action, not necessarily its script, which was based on the novel Mute Witness by Robert L. Fish (writing as Robert L. Pike, so not much of a pseudonym).
  • Capricious Summer  –  A Czech New Wave Comedy based on the novel by Vladislav Vancura.
  • The Bride Wore Black  –  High level *** from Francois Truffaut, based on the novel by Cornel Woolrich.  Truffaut will make the Top 10 in 1970 for another Woolrich adaptation, Mississippi Mermaid.
  • Planet of the Apes  –  I came to this film late (late 90’s) and already knew all the surprises before I had ever seen it.  Solid but not great.  The ending is brilliant, of course, even if it’s the much derided ending of the 2001 Burton version that is almost word for word the ending from the original Pierre Boule novel (the same writer who wrote Bridge on the River Kwai).
  • The Boston Strangler  –  Highly fictionalized version of Gerrold Frank’s book on the famous serial killer but it has one of Tony Curtis’ best performances (the title role, but really supporting to Henry Fonda’s detective).
  • The Killing of Sister George  –  Featured even more prominently than The Fox in The Celluloid Closet (and the two films together merit a chapter in The Lavender Screen), an early, important film with a lesbian lead even if the supposed black comedy on stage became a serious drama on film.
  • Weekend  –  One of the few Godard adaptations and, to me, one of his better films.  A comedy based on the short story “La autopista del Sur” by Julio Cortázar.
  • Chitty Chitty Bang Bang  –  Unfortunately, just seeing the title puts the title song in my head, making me want to bang it against the desk.  The second of two very different films that were written originally by Ian Fleming (seriously) and adapted to the screen by Roald Dahl.
  • Reconstruction  –  Romanian satire based on a novel by Horia Pătraşcu.  Made one appearance in TPSDT’s expanded Top 2000 just two years ago way down at #1701.
  • Pierrot Le Fou  –  Another adapted Godard film, this one originally from 1965.  Based on the novel Obsession by Lionel White (whose novel Clean Break was made into The Killing).
  • Madigan  –  Don Siegel cop film.  Based on the novel The Commissioner.
  • Countdown  –  Early Robert Altman film, a Sci-Fi film no less.  Based on The Pilgrim Project by Hank Searls.  We’re into mid-*** range at this point.
  • The Night They Raided Minsky’s  –  Another early film from a seminal 70’s director, this time William Friedkin.  Based on the novel by Rowland Barber.
  • How I Won the War  –  Satirical anti-war film that stars, if you can believe it, both Michael Crawford and John Lennon.  This is the film being filmed in Spain in Living is Easy with Eyes Closed.
  • The Subject Was Roses  –  This was a Pulitzer Prize winning play by Frank D. Gilroy (who has three sons in the industry, two of whom have earned Oscar noms) before it became an Oscar winning film.  I definitely don’t agree with the Oscar (Best Supporting Actor for Jack Albertson).
  • The Birthday Party  –  Friedkin again, but this time he’s directing a Harold Pinter adaptation of his own play.
  • Half a Sixpence  –  Before this was a BAFTA nominated film (Best Colour Costume Design) it was a stage musical and before that it was actually an H.G. Wells novel called Kipps: The Story of a Lost Soul.
  • Asterix and Cleopatra  –  The second animated Asterix film, which was later remade in live action in 2002.
  • Poor Cow  –  Now we enter low ***.  Ken Loach’s feature debut.  I don’t much like his films but the BAFTAs love them.  This is before his BAFTA love but it was nominated at the Globes for Best English Language Foreign Film.  Adapted from the novel by Neil Dunn.
  • The Shoes of the Fisherman  –  Bizarre quasi-alternate history film from Michael Anderson (who directed Around the World in 80 Days).  Oscar nominated for Score and Art Direction.  Based on the novel by Morris West.
  • Romeo and Juliet  –  Once again, five adapted nominees for Best Picture, which means I already reviewed this here although obviously, given how far down this list it is, I am not a fan.  The only one of the five to receive no plaudits for its writing partially because its Shakespeare and partially because it really isn’t all that good.
  • The Sailor from Gibraltar  –  From director Tony Richardson, this film is actually really hard to find in the States and I had to borrow it from a friend.  Based on a novel by Marguerite Duras.
  • Inadmissible Evidence  –  John Osborne adapts his own play.  BAFTA nominated for Best Actor (Nicol Williamson).
  • The Swimmer  –  Fascinating John Cheever story about ennui in modern suburbia becomes a listless film from director Frank Perry (the worst director ever nominated for an Oscar).
  • Yellow Submarine  –  Fun Beatles song becomes mediocre animated film.
  • Asterix the Gaul  –  My brothers grew up with Asterix because they lived in France with my parents in 1969.  The first Asterix animated film based fairly closely on the first book.
  • The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band  –  In trying to get in as many Oscar eligible songs as possible I saw this film which had 9 eligible songs (one of which was long-listed).  Don’t bother.  Sub-par Disney film based on the book about the Bower family by Laura Bower Van Nuys.
  • Shalako  –  Sean Connery wasn’t exactly made for Westerns.  Based on a novel by Louis L’Amour.
  • The Sea Gull  –  It’s directed by Sidney Lumet, it’s a Chekhov adaptation and it has a strong cast but it just never gels.  We’re now into **.5 films.
  • The Ugly Ones  –  A 1966 Spaghetti Western getting a U.S. release.  Based on the novel The Bounty Killer by Marvin H. Albert.
  • Blackbeard’s Ghost  –  A silly Disney film from Robert Stevenson (Mary Poppins) based on the novel by Ben Stahl.
  • Quatermass and the Pit  –  Released in the U.S. as Five Million Years to Earth, this is the third Quatermass film from Hammer.
  • The Stalking Moon  –  Director Robert Mulligan and star Gregory Peck did better with To Kill a Mockingbird.  They really shouldn’t have tried their luck with a Western.  Based on a novel by T.V. Olsen.
  • Isadora  –  Low **.5 film that’s only worth watching for Vanessa Redgrave’s Oscar nominated performance.  Based on Isadora Duncan’s autobiography and a biography about her.
  • Wild in the Streets  –  Oscar nominated for Best Editing but not very good.  Based on a story from Esquire.
  • Dark of the Sun  –  Former Oscar nominated director Jack Cardiff (Sons and Lovers) directs a mediocre action film based on the novel by Wilbur Smith.
  • Live a Little, Love a Little  –  One of several weak Elvis films directed by Norman Taurog.  This one gave us “A Little Less Conversation”.  Based on the novel Kiss My Firm But Pliant Lips.
  • Les Carabiniers  –  This was apparently the year for Godard’s adaptations getting U.S. releases.  Originally released in 1963 this one is based on the play I Caribinieri.
  • Ice Station Zebra  –  Another Alistair MacLean (The Guns of Navarone) novel becomes a film though with considerably less success this time.  That’s what happens when your star is Rock Hudson instead of Gregory Peck.
  • Inspector Clouseau  –  No Peter Sellers, no Blake Edwards, no Henry Mancini.  Just a crappy sequel with Alan Arkin taking on the role.
  • Doctor Faustus  –  Richard Burton directs himself and Liz makes an appearance as Helen (“Was this the face that launch’d a thousand ships”) written originally by Kit Marlowe of course.  They were better off being directed by Mike Nichols.
  • The Vengeance of She  –  Hammer films makes a loose sequel to their 1965 version of She based loosely on Haggard’s actual sequel Ayesha: The Return of She.
  • What’s So Bad About Feeling Good?  –  Weak George Seaton Comedy with Mary Tyler Moore and George Peppard based on I Am Thinking of My Darling by Vincent McHugh.
  • The Double Man  –  Now we’ve reached the ** films.  Crappy spy film with Yul Brynner based on the novel Legacy of a Spy.  This was actually a 1967 film from Franklin J. Schaffner who would follow this film up with his next three films being a blockbuster (Planet of the Apes) a Best Picture / Director winner (Patton) and one of the worst Best Picture nominees in Oscar history (Nicholas and Alexandra).
  • The Shuttered Room  –  H.P. Lovecraft was a fantastic writer and you should definitely get the Annotated Lovecraft.  But films based on his works, like this one should mostly be skipped.
  • The Wacky World of Mother Goose  –  Terrible Rankin/Bass film based on several nursery rhymes.  I only saw it to try and see as many animated films as possible and you should skip it.
  • Secret Ceremony  –  Joseph Losey is another British director that I think is over-rated.  Based on the novel by Marco Denevi.
  • Anzio  –  We’re even into low ** now and they get really bad.  Crappy film about the famous World War battle from former Oscar nominee Edward Dmytryk based on the book by Wynford Vaughan-Thomas who was the BBC correspondent during the battle.
  • Bye Bye Braverman  –  Sidney Lumet’s worst film until 1999.  Based on the novel To an Early Grave by Wallace Markfield.
  • No Way to Treat a Lady  –  William Goldman adapts his own novel which shows even he’s not always great.  BAFTA nominated for Supporting Actor (George Segal).
  • Barbarella  –  I am the first to admit that this film, adapted from the French comic is terrible, the bottom end of **.  But Jane Fonda in it is just about the sexiest thing ever put on film so it’s got that.  And it gave us the name for Duran Duran and the title of one of their best songs.  So it has that going for it.
  • The Legend of Lylah Clare  –  Kim Novak in multiple roles?  Spare me.  Directed by Robert Aldrich, it had been a 1962 television production originally.  It should have stayed that way.  This film earns a 22, which is high *.
  • The Girl on a Motorcycle  –  This film, however, earns an 18, which is mid *.  Another film from Jack Cardiff, which is why I’ve seen it.  Based on the novel by André Pieyre de Mandiargues.

Adaptations of Notable Works I Haven’t Seen:

  • none