FALSTAFF: We have heard the chimes at midnight, Master Robert Shallow. (Henry IV Part 2, III. ii. 220)

My Top 10:

  1. Chimes at Midnight
  2. Z
  3. Stolen Kisses
  4. Oh! What a Lovely War
  5. Midnight Cowboy
  6. They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?
  7. Boudu Saved from Drowning
  8. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
  9. Goodbye Columbus
  10. Cactus Flower

Note:  This year’s post is a bit ugly with a number of source materials I was unable to get.  There is also even a film that I am unable to really review because while I have seen it, it was years ago (well over a decade ago) and it is extremely difficult to get hold of and I wasn’t able to do so.

Consensus Nominees:

  1. Midnight Cowboy  (272 pts)
  2. Goodbye Columbus  (160 pts)
  3. Anne of the Thousand Days  (144 pts)
  4. They Shoot Horses Don’t They  (120 pts)
  5. Z  (80 pts)

note:  Midnight Cowboy becomes the first Adapted script to win the Oscar, WGA and the BAFTA (this same year Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid does the same in Original).

Oscar Nominees  (Best Screenplay – Adapted):

  • Midnight Cowboy
  • Anne of the Thousand Days
  • Goodbye Columbus
  • They Shoot Horses Don’t They
  • Z

WGA Awards:

note:  The WGA finally drops their straight Genre categories and creates four categories, dividing things up by Adapted and Original (finally!) and by Drama and Comedy.

Adapted Drama:

  • Midnight Cowboy
  • Anne of the Thousand Days
  • The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
  • They Shoot Horses Don’t They
  • True Grit

Adapted Comedy:

  • Goodbye Columbus
  • Cactus Flower
  • Gaily Gaily
  • John and Mary
  • The Reivers

Original Drama:

  • Alice’s Restaurant

note:  Yes, the category is Original Drama but Alice’s Restaurant is based on the song.  At this point, the WGA seemed to have the Oscars’ loose definition that fact-based scripts were considered Original.  We’ll go through this again the next year with Patton.  I originally had Downhill Racer listed here as well which is supposedly based on the novel but the film only takes the title and doesn’t credit the book so I decided I didn’t need to count it (a decision that was easier to make since I couldn’t get hold of the novel anyway).

Golden Globe:

  • Anne of the Thousand Days
  • John and Mary
  • Midnight Cowboy

Nominees that are Original:  Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, If It’s Tuesday It Must Be Belgium


  • Midnight Cowboy
  • Goodbye Columbus
  • They Shoot Horses Don’t They
  • Z

note:  They Shoot Horses Don’t They would actually be nominated in 1970.  The last nominee, Women in Love, will be on this list in 1970 when it is Oscar eligible.

My Top 10

Chimes at Midnight

The Film:

It’s now been a decade since I originally wrote this review of Chimes at Midnight.  Thankfully, in the time since then, it has become much more readily available, namely because Criterion put it on DVD.  But that doesn’t change a lot of what I wrote in the review.  I knew about the film for years before I was able to see it.  In fact, I bought the screenplay in London in 1996 (it has £ on the price tag still on the back) and didn’t actually see the film until I discovered Movie Madness in the fall of 1998.  It is wonderful though, that it is available from Criterion now, because it looks, not only better than ever, but as good as it possibly could.  They have done a good job of trying to synch the sound up with the picture and cleared up a lot of the negative.  Because of the way that Welles shot the film, it will never look as polished as a major studio production, but that’s also part of the charm of the film and why it endures when so many Shakespeare adaptations with much higher production values have faded into obscurity.

The Source:

Five Kings by Orson Welles, a night of William Shakespeare’s plays adapted into one performance  (1939)

Five Kings was going to be in two evenings. We did only one, using Richard II, Henry IV, Parts I and II, and Henry V. The second night would have included Henry VI, Parts I, II and III, and Richard III. The whole sweep of the English history plays . . . [I didn’t take] scenes [from Merry Wives of Windsor]. Just some dialogue of Falstaff’s. And [I] used Holinshed’s writings for narration in Five Kings, as [I] did in Chimes at Midnight.” (This is Orson Welles, Peter Bogdanovich, p 259)

So, Welles didn’t write anything of his own.  But he brilliantly adapted a lot of different things into one idea.  More on that below.

The idea of doing this as all one continuous narrative would later be used brilliantly by the BBC for The Hollow Crown.

The Adaptation:

“With the focus firmly on Falstaff, Welles was obliged to lose his original opening to the film, the murder of Richard II by Henry IV’s lackeys.” (Despite the System: Orson Welles Versus the Hollywood Studios by Clinton Heylin, p 346)  Welles himself in an interview that is reproduced in the published screenplay says “We shot one day on the assassination, and it didn’t seem to me that the scene was sufficiently clear; instead of explaining the political background, it would tend to obscure it and confuse the audience.”  (p 264)

The actual opening comes from Act III, Scene II of Henry IV Part 2.  I don’t have to compare the film to the original Shakespeare because the screenplay has already done that.  If you have a serious interest in this film, you should absolutely buy it.  The editor, Bridget Gellert Lyons, did a brilliant job annotating every line in the script.  It also perfectly matches the film because it’s a continuity script taken from the soundtrack of the film.  For a long time, as I said above, it was the only thing I had and how I experienced the film.  That does make it a little hard to read at times because it uses every camera shot in the script and that breaks up the dialogue a lot.  But the book is so worth it as it also has an essay by Lyons as well as several reviews and commentaries on the film.

The Credits:

Directed by Orson Welles.  Adapted from plays by William Shakespeare.  Narration based on Holinshed’s Chronicles Spoken by Ralph Richardson.
note:  The direction credit is only at the end of the film.  There is no writing credit.


The Film:

I have already reviewed this film as a Best Picture nominee.  It’s a great film; there is no question of that.  It was the first Foreign film since 1938 to be nominated for Best Picture and the first to win Best Foreign Film and earn a Best Picture nomination.  This is the best praise I can find for it: my mother consistently praises this film in spite of always claiming that she only likes film with happy endings.

The Source:

Z by Vassilis Vassilikos (1966)

To be honest, I was drowning in this book.  I have seen the film several times but this was my first try with the book and it will remain my only try.  Yes, there is a story of a murder and an investigation buried there, but I really couldn’t find it.  Could some of the problem be because of the translation from Greek to English?  I really couldn’t say.  All I know is that I struggled to comprehend what was going on in the book and if it wasn’t for the film, I’m not sure I ever would have really worked it out.

The Adaptation:

The script finds a way to cut through the narrative noise and find the film within.  Part of the brilliance in that is the way the film keeps travelling back, finding the moment of assassination and revisiting it from all these different angles, finding all the connections between all the people involved and cutting to the truth the same way that the prosecutor did.

The Credits:

Film de Costa-Gavras.  d’après le roman de Vassili Vassilikos.  Z.  éditions Gallimard.  Dialogue de Jorge Semprun.
The IMDb lists uncredited writing from Costa-Gavras and Ben Barzman.

Baisers Volés

The Film:

Just last night, Veronica and I were discussing the difference between genre works and literary works.  Genre works focus more on plot while literary works focus on character.  That doesn’t mean there isn’t a story going on in more literary works but the focus is different.  I think about that when I write because there are some things I write more for plot and some things more for character.  It’s the plot driven ones in art that often tend to get sequels because you just find something new for them to do.  But that doesn’t mean that character driven stories can’t be continued as well.  When I have thought about writing further stories that take my characters forward, it is often the Antoine Doinel films that I think of.  Truffaut didn’t need to make a sequel to The 400 Blows; it is one of the great films in history with one of the great endings.  But he was interested in what happened to that character further down the line, especially since so much of Antoine had come from himself.  I am the same.  I like to know where these characters go.

This isn’t the first continuation of Antoine’s story.  There was the short film “Antoine and Colette” but that was only a half hour and not a full story in and of itself.  Now we have the reached the adult Antoine, being bounced out of the army (and rightfully so, because, having met Antoine, how can we ever imagine him in the army?) and headed back to Paris to meet his girlfriend.  What we have from there is the story of Antoine as he tries to find his place in the world and as he tries to find his place in love as well.

Perhaps Antoine can work as a bellboy?  Working in a small hotel it seems like something he can do that won’t require too much difficulty, but in the end, he has not the attention to detail.  He, much to his girlfriend’s surprise, lands a job working at a detective agency but when he starts to be attracted to the wife of the shoe store where he is working undercover that job sinks as well.  So finally he ends up working as a television repairman.  It’s a far cry away from the lone youth running across the beach at the end of The 400 Blows but what can he do?

But all of this is balanced out because at the same time, there is Christine.  She is pretty, she is charming, she is willing to put up with Antoine and his flights of fancy.  In fact, as she develops over the course of the films in the series, she is a metaphor for the way that young men and women relate to each other even in a relationship that fails.

I was critical of the film Boyhood because I felt that it was an experiment that was interesting but didn’t really hold up as a story.  The adventures of Antoine Doinel are much more interesting to me because he is more fascinating as a character.  We get to watch the character grow as the actor Jean-Pierre Leaud grows.  But the series starts to work really well here (and really becomes a series) because of the addition of Claude Jade as Christine.  Her development and their relationship through the last three films in the series provide an extra balance of maturity that helps make Antoine a realistic character that someone can relate to.  At the end, it seems like there won’t be enough time for them to find each other, but Christine comes up with a great solution and it’s not much of a surprise when we see Antoine’s work, lying on the floor, unfinished, and him lying in bed with her, having finally found something he can do right.

The Source:

characters created by François Truffaut  (1959)

François Truffaut simply set out to make a film in 1959.  He didn’t have any idea that he was creating a story that would extend nearly all the way until his early death.  His character of Antoine Doinel was just a thinly veiled version of himself.  But he had returned to Antoine for his short film “Antoine and Colette” which was part of an anthology film by several prominent European directors.  And so we come to this film which finds Antoine several years older, just coming out of the army and trying to figure out who he is and what he wants to do with the rest of his life.

The Adaptation:

There isn’t really an adaptation, but rather a continuation of a character that had already been created for an earlier film and thus, by Academy definition, this screenplay is adapted.

The Credits:

Mise en scène: François Truffaut.  Scénario et Dialogue: François Truffaut, Calude de Givray, Bernard Revon.

Oh! What a Lovely War

The Film:

I have already reviewed this film once as the under-appreciated film of 1969.  It is true that it was widely acclaimed at the BAFTAs (where it won five awards).  But it was completely blanked at the Oscars and was, until 2006, almost completely unavailable on video or DVD.  It is a remarkable directorial debut from a director who would later be much more lauded for films that aren’t nearly as good as this one is.  It seems like it might have been the model for Joe Wright’s Anna Karenina, a way of limiting the action to a small space and letting movement and dialogue take the place of greater action.  If you have never seen the film, then you definitely need to rectify that.  It just misses out on Picture and Director nominations in this very good year but does earn 8 nominations and wins the Nighthawk for both Art Direction and Makeup.

The Source:

Oh, What a Lovely War! by Joan Littlewood and Theatre Workshop  (1963)

Littlewood refused the original idea of doing a play based on World War I because she didn’t want to put people in uniforms and hated war.  She eventually relented, producing this musical that made use of old 1910’s music hall songs to satirize the war and the way the British population was mobilized into fighting it though she still refused to put the characters in uniform.  I was unable to get hold of the original play.

The Adaptation:

This is the first of the adaptations where I can’t write much here because I was unable to get hold of the original source.  I do know that the film decided to use actual military uniforms (and depict actual events in the war, even if they were then altered to fit into the the stage hill motifs), something which Littlewood had adamantly refused to do on stage.

The Credits:

Directed by Richard Attenborough.  Based on Joan Littlewood’s Theatre Workshop Production by Charles Chilton and the members of the original cast.  After a stage treatment by Ted Allan.
The IMDb lists the Screenplay as being uncredited by Len Deighton.

Midnight Cowboy

The Film:

Midnight Cowboy was a historical film when it was first released, the first film released with an X rating to win Best Picture.  Of course, when it was re-released later it was downgraded to an R and it’s likely that the only reason that it received the X was not because of its depiction of sex but because it dared to be honest about homosexuality (and what I mean by that is that it honest in being clear that it is depicting homosexuality, at least in the cruising scenes, even if there is still more subtext in the relationship between Joe and Rizzo).  What’s more, it has managed to endure, landing in the Top 50 on both of the AFI Top 100 lists.  It is a great film with two magnificent performances but I have never thought it deserved to win best Picture in a year when it was nominated against Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Z.  Nonetheless, it only ranks down at #7 for the year for me (and #5 in Adapted Screenplay) because 1969 is a good year.  In 1970 it would have been in 3rd place in both categories.  A full review of the film can be found here.  Soon after this posts, Criterion will release the film on both dvd and Blu-Ray.

The Source:

Midnight Cowboy: a novel by James Leo Herlihy  (1965)

In 1965, when Herlihy published this novel, could he have imagined it would have been made into a film?  His previous novel, All Fall Down, had already been made into a film before this novel was even published.  But this is the story of Joe Buck, a down-on-his-luck guy who never knows his father, is abandoned by his mother, loves his grandmother but is helpless when she dies while he’s in the army (his overwhelming grief over her death prevents his re-enlistment) and after working as a hustler in a small Texas town eventually heads to New York, intending to make a life of it.  Instead, he’s terrible at it and ends up with the only friend he manages to make, poor crippled Ratso Rizzo and they struggle to get by until they head off to Florida, the dream that Rizzo has hoped for his entire short life.

Given its frank depiction of drug use, sexuality, prostitution, homosexuality and the seedy life of the New York homeless, there was little chance that in 1965 a film could have been made.  But then things opened up with the dropping of the Production Code and the arrival of the ratings system and suddenly the novel found new life as a film.  It’s a solid novel, an interesting one in that it never tries to make more of its protagonist than he deserves.

It would appear at this time that the book may currently be out-of-print.

The Adaptation:

The opening moments of the film, that magical moment when Joe Buck starts strutting through the street with the hat on, with Harry Nilsson singing “Everybody’s Talkin’ come straight from the book.  Then, you pretty much lose the entire first half of the book after that.  As he takes the bus out of town, Joe Buck ruminates on what lead him to his dead-end job in Texas.  You get a little of that in flashbacks, the blondes, the abandonment, the grandmother, the girlfriend, but none of it comes in a straight narrative.  Instead, the film takes the second half of the book and films it quite faithfully (of course the “I’m walkin’ here” isn’t there since it was improvised) and many of the scenes come almost directly from the book.  Just look at how the brilliant scene where Joe sees Rizzo and smiles before remembering that Rizzo ripped him off is depicted in the book: “But Joe, having wandered homeless and a stranger for three weeks, a long time by the clocks of limbo, was thrilled to see a face that was known to him.  His whole being stopped short, accustoming itself to this keen, unexpected pleasure, and it took more than a moment to remember that Ratso Rizzo was an enemy.”

The Credits:

Director: John Schlesinger.  Screenplay: Waldo Salt.  Based on the novel by James Leo Herlihy.

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?

The Film:

Jane Fonda debuted on film with a silly film called The Tall Story in 1960.  She was quite cute and adorable on screen but there wasn’t much to her performance.  Through the rest of the decade she continued to get cuter and cuter on screen without a lot of depth to her, even if she was acting in a Tennessee Williams adaptation.  By the middle of the decade she started getting Golden Globe nominations but for light-weight Comedies that she wasn’t really all the good in.  But she was also becoming the sexiest thing on film, with tight outfits in Cat Ballou, dangling her leg while taunting and teasing Robert Redford in Barefoot in the Park and finally, combining everything about her sexuality in Barbarella.  But she still wasn’t doing a whole lot of acting.

Then came They Shoot Horses Don’t They.  She turned down the role initially but then her husband, Roger Vadim, talked her into it.  And when Sydney Pollack asked her opinion on the script “It was a germinal moment [for me] … This was the first time in my life as an actor that I was working on a film about larger societal issues, and instead of my professional work feeling peripheral to life, it felt relevant.”  (My Life So Far, Jane Fonda, p 204-205)  She dug deep down inside and she found a woman who would stop at nothing to succeed, who would carry a dying man across the finish line.  She would put aside the sex kitten and find the actress within.  And it would be noticed.  While no one but the Comedy section of the Globes had noticed her before, this time she was rewarded with the NYFC Award for Best Actress as well as an Oscar, BAFTA and Globe – Drama nom.  And while the 60’s had been all about her kitten phase, by the end of the next decade she would be 7th all-time in Oscar points and would have won two.

But this film is not all about Fonda.  It’s a virtuoso of acting performances and the first real evidence that Sydney Pollack, while he would never be great with the camera, was an actor’s director.  This film would deliver the first three of 12 Oscar nominated acting performances in films directed by Pollack.  First, there is Fonda, there tour-de-force who is trying to escape the horrors outside of the Depression dance marathon where she is competing, hoping desperately to win those 1500 silver dollars.  There is Susannah York, miles away from being the object of desire in Tom Jones, a desperate actress whose breakdown after witnessing the death is the best few moments of her entire career.  There is Gig Young who won the Oscar as the bombastic mc of this entire charade but who can quiet down and do what he needs to when he has to get a woman out of the shower.  There is even Red Buttons who somehow failed to earn a nomination for the poor sailor, just trying to keep up with all the kids around him.

If there’s a weakness in the film it’s Michael Sarrazin, of course, who always seems to fall into that role.  But he’s supposed to be kind of a blank role in the film, being whatever he needs to be so that he can be believable as the kind of boy who will do what he does in the final moments of the film.

This is one of the bleakest films I have ever seen.  There is almost no humor at all in the entire film, nothing amusing about watching a pregnant woman singing to the crowd because she is so exhausted she can barely stand, nothing particularly entertaining about people pushed so far past the edge of desperation that a gun is the best option you can find.  But it is a work of art, certainly the best drama that Pollack was ever able to put together (he would later equal it on the comedic side with Tootsie) and the start of a run of Fonda performances that would be as good as anyone else in film history.

I will also point out that this film is sitting in sixth place here and in ninth place for both Picture and Director.  Part of that is just luck of the draw.  If this film had been released in 1970 instead of 1969 it would have easily earned Nighthawk nominations in all three categories.

The Source:

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? by Horace McCoy  (1935)

For such a short (in the Library of America edition it runs 110 pages) novel that wouldn’t be made into a film for over three decades, this one really seemed to pack a wallop.  It’s the story of two people, a man and a woman, who are the end of the line, competing in a dance contest to push everything else about the Depression away.  But it is also run through with tragedy because, in increasing font size, we also get the sentence being handed down upon the young man for murder (we get the crime before chapter five and his name before chapter seven which gives us six more chapters to read about what lead to it) who will be executed.  So in the end, it really is the end of the line for both characters making this just about the most depressing book you could ever read, even if you include Hardy, Zola, Norris and McEwan.  Apparently it was a battle for McCoy to get that font size specifically set (it mentions it in the LoA edition) set to increase with each every little bit before every chapter.  It makes the ending a bit anti-climactic but it makes for a very powerful short reading experience.

The Adaptation:

The Hollywood Screenwriters contains an interview of over 20 pages where James Poe details all the things he had done in his original script for the film, sticking closely to the book, and precisely the points where Sydney Pollack and his new screenwriter Robert E. Thompson diverge and where Poe thinks it is to the detriment of the film.  I disagree with Poe on anything being to the detriment of the film but there are certainly any number of changes (the main character, for instance, doesn’t just come in to the contest by chance and get matched up with the woman) and all of the scenes with the sailor aren’t in the book but a lot of the key scenes are straight from the book and they kept to the original very depressing ending, so credit the screenwriters for that even if Poe wouldn’t.

The Credits:

directed by Sydney Pollack.  from the novel “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?” by Horace McCoy.  screenplay by James Poe and Robert E. Thompson.

Boudo sauvé des eaux

The Film:

Do people have to be saved?  What if people don’t want to be saved?  Some people aren’t dying because of despair but disgust and boredom.  When they are saved, they are still faced with that same world of disgust and boredom.  That may sound like a horrifying or disturbing opening to a film review, yet if you know the film, and if you are a true lover of film you do know it, you know that the film I am reviewing here is a comedy.  So how does that work?  Well, you have to go back to something my friend John and I used to say, a little routine on commenting on anyone’s height, because by being factual about a reality that is a joke, any description of someone’s height is by definition a height joke.  So laugh while you can, because it’s funny somewhere.

Edouard might not understand that but I think that Boudu does.  Edouard is a bookseller and a bourgeois and when he sees the tramp Boudu suicidally plunging into the Seine, he saves him.  Then he does more, bringing Boudu back to his house, to his life.  That’s when the joke pours in.  Boudu didn’t really want to be saved and now he’s going to unleash hell.  Not as deliberate revenge.  But that’s just the way Boudu’s life kind of works.  So we’ll watch Edouard’s life kind of unravel around him.

All of this actually makes for quite lively comedy that also manages to completely satirize the life of the bourgeois in France in the years between the wars.  In England, there would have been country manners and servants downstairs.  Here we have a tramp who seduces the housemaid, then the lady of the house, then wins the lottery and settles down to marry the housemaid before kind of remembering that he thinks this is all a joke so he heads the hell out of there.

All of this works because of Renoir’s deft touch with his characters, because of the essential humanism at the core of all of Renoir’s work, because the humor of the situation and the humor of the satire never overwhelm you but never quite leave you either.  In short, it’s exactly what we would expect from Renoir.

The Source:

Boudu sauvé des eaux by René Fauchois

I haven’t been able to read the original play and it doesn’t seem like it’s been translated into English.  It makes me wonder if, when the makers of Down and Out in Beverly Hills decided to make their film, they actually went back to the original play or just used Renoir’s film.

The Adaptation:

“Then one day [Michel Simon} said to me, ‘We should do Boudu.’  At first I didn’t understand.  I read the play, which I admired a great deal, it’s a beautiful play.  But I couldn’t see how we could make it into a film.  One day it came to me, it hit me.  I saw Michel Simon dressed as a hobo.” (Renoir on Renoir, p 223-224)

“As usual, I had made great changes in the original story.  Fauchois, the author, took this in very bad part and threatened to have his name removed from the credits.  Thirty years later, upon seeing the film again, he was astonished by its enthusiastic reception.  He was brought on to the stage, and the ovation he received caused him to forget my unfaithfulness to his story.” (My Life and My Films, Jean Renoir, p 116-117)

The biggest change, the one that Fauchois was supposedly so upset about, is the ending, because in the original play, apparently Boudu actually does settle down and get married as opposed to fleeing back to his life of freedom and poverty like in the film.

The Credits:

Réalisation de Jean Renoir.  D’après la pièce de René Fauchois.
note:  The screenwriters (uncredited) are Renoir and Albert Valentin.

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

The Film:

I had my own Jean Brodie, though not reflected in the negative ways that Brodie is.  In fact, she showed us this film, which was daring, given Pamela Franklin’s nude scene.  She became our teacher in my Freshman year and our group of friends stuck with her every year because of Academic Decathlon and then AP English.  We stuck with her because she inspired us.  She inspired us to love what we do, to do what we love, to believe in learning and she believed in us so we believed in her.  It’s not quite the same for the Brodie set, the four young girls who grow as Jean Brodie is in her prime and enjoy her attention and devotion but her weaknesses also reflect on the girls and it eventually leads to a chasm that cannot be crossed.  “Assassin”, Jean Brodie will yell at the girl she feels has betrayed her without any notion of what she might have done wrong or even differently.

People go into teaching for a variety of reasons.  Indeed, we see that just within the scope of this film.  Mr. Lawther, for instance, loves to sing and loves to bring that joy of singing to his students.  Mr. Lloyd is a painter, but not a good enough painter to really make a living, certainly not the kind of genius that Brodie will show off to her set when she treats them to a day at the museum.  He also has is a passionate man and while he ends up sleeping with one girl after being set up to sleep with another, it’s not a surprise either way and you suspect it’s the not the first girl he’s taken as a lover.  Jean Brodie teaches because she enjoys the influence.  She is, in some ways, the template for Horace Slughorn in the Harry Potter series, enjoying the young minds that she molds and what might come of them.

The problem is that Jean has some very bad ideas and because she believes that all of her ideas are brilliant, she does nothing to inhibit them.  They come even more to life in Maggie Smith’s brilliant Oscar-winning portrayal, a woman so full of what she is doing in her life that she is utterly unaware of what she is doing to the people around her in her life.  The most damaged is poor dim Mary McGregor who will run off and die in Spain looking to fight for the wrong side but the one who realizes the damage is Sandy, also played brilliantly by Pamela Franklin.  Sandy comes to slowly understand what Brodie is doing to these minds and how some ideas can no longer be permitted to attach themselves to the unfettered minds of young girls.  If Dead Poets Society is a film about how a teacher can inspire and bring someone closer to art this film is about the dangers that a teacher can also bring to their level of inspiration.

The Source:

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark  (1961)  /  The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie: A Drama in Three Acts by Jay Presson Allen  (1966)

This is a good novel, a fascinating book about what can happen when a teacher with some very bad ideas also is the inspiration for very impressionable young girls.  But I was surprised when it was acclaimed as one of the best novels of our time by both TIME (where it was on their unranked list) and the Modern Library (where it ranked at #76).  I certainly had not thought of it on that level and still don’t.

I think the novel works very well with what it does, giving us this portrait of a teacher and while it is not written in first person, we tend to get the viewpoints of the various characters (usually Sandy).  It doesn’t necessarily move around in time but we do see what the characters are like far in the future while it continually moves forward in the actual narrative.

The play keeps part of the flash-forward with a number of scenes with the older Sandy as a nun parcelling out the story in bits.  While I think the play is effective as a whole and provides certainly a plum role for anyone playing Jean Brodie, I would have done away with the flash-forward scenes.

The Adaptation:

For a film that follows decently closely to the original novel, the two are also remarkably different.  The first change, of course, is that the novel, as mentioned, moves around in time.  From the very first pages we get a sense of what the girls will grow up to be and to do while we are also watching them grow.  There are also six girls in the book who are reduced to four in the film by combining Rose’s sexuality with Jenny and Eunice’s ridiculous death with Mary.  The ending of the book is very different of course, not only because we know very early on which girl “betrayed” Miss Brodie but Miss Brodie herself never actually discovers who it was and indeed talks about with Sandy years after the fact, unaware of what has been done.  Yet, much of the rest of the book and certainly the way the story proceeds follows rather closely to how the story unfolds in the book.

What is most interesting perhaps is that both the film and the book succeed in the different ways they approach the story and it wouldn’t work as well for either to do it the way the other did.  In the book, it works to leap forward and use it to help us understand the characters as they go along but that wouldn’t work very well in the film if it had tried it.  Yet, the book wouldn’t be nearly as interesting if it had just been a straight-forward narrative like the film.  Each succeeds in its own medium.

The play is really the stepping stone between them.  Both the play and the script were written by Jay Presson Allen and most of the work was done the first time around in the play.  With the exception of the flash-forward scenes with Sandy as a nun which were all dropped for the film, the vast majority of the film and its dialogue comes straight from the play.  In the final scene, it is very easy to read completely along with the play while watching the film without a single change in word.

The Credits:

Directed by Ronald Neame.  Adapted from the Novel by Muriel Spark.  Based on the Play by Jay Presson Allen.  Screenplay by Jay Presson Allen.

Goodbye, Columbus

The Film:

Would this be what people were thinking of when a Philip Roth adaptation was released in 1969?  Goodbye, Columbus had made Roth as a writer when he won the National Book Award for it, his first book, in 1959.  But it was the publication of Portnoy’s Complaint in 1969 that made Roth a household name.  So, since this wasn’t the outlandish kind of sex comedy that was making Roth famous, were audiences ready for this?

Well, either way what they got was a nice charming romantic comedy about a young Jewish man in Newark who meets an upper class girl and falls in love with her and the romance they have over the summer.  It was well adapted from the original novella that had been the main part of Roth’s first book.  It helped further the career of Richard Benjamin as a young, fretful man looking for romance, something he would be very good at over the next decade.  It would help establish Ali MacGraw as a star for her looks more than any acting ability, something she would definitely embrace over the next decade (in spite of the Oscar nomination the next year she was most assuredly not a very good actress).  It established the Jewish family dynamic that was already becoming a hallmark of Roth’s writing, but not yet in the kind of satirical overload that so many readers would not be able to ever adapt to.

In short, this is a nice romantic comedy.  It’s well written, with a strong measure of bitterness, because that’s evident in the original novella.  It’s got two rising stars that very much embody their characters.  It doesn’t have great direction and it was never destined to be a classic, but it’s a solid film that, not undeservedly, earned an Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay.

The Source:

Goodbye, Columbus by Philip Roth (1959)

I think this was the second Philip Roth book I ever bought.  I began with Portnoy’s Complaint and laughed so hard that I quickly moved on to other Roth books.  I know I read this the same school year because I had already read it before the spring when we each had to chose a short story to present in my writing class to discuss and dissect and I chose “The Conversion of the Jews”, in my mind the best of the stories in this collection.

But Goodbye, Columbus is the centerpiece of the book, the novella length story that also gives the book its title.  It is funny in its look at Jewish life in Newark and the difference between the lower middle class Jew working in a library and who went to Rutgers and the rich bitch from Short Hills who goes to Radcliffe (when asked if she goes to Bennington, she replies “No. I go to school in Boston.”) and is handed everything on a silver plate.  But it also has a lot of what would become the hallmark Roth bitterness.  Neil, the narrator of the story, is often rather nasty in his relationship with Brenda and it brings a measure of realism to the summer romance between two people in very different social classes.

If this book had been the first Roth book I read, would I have so avidly read them all?  Well, this novella is quite strong, but it doesn’t have the same sort of humor that Roth would later develop.  But the other short stories in the collection probably would have meant I would have at least checked out other Roth.  Either way, he is one of my favorite all-time authors and this is where he began.

The Adaptation:

It’s actually a rather remarkable faithful adaptation of the original novella.  There are some changes that are made to tone down the rating (the young black kid in Newark who keeps looking at the Gaugin book, for instance, doesn’t have the profane tongue that he had in the original book).  But the film does a very good job of sticking to the original text, from the first lines all the way until the final fight that provides the closure for both the story and the film.

The Credits:

directed by larry peerce.  based on the novella by philip roth.  screenplay by arnold schulman.

Cactus Flower

The Film:

I can’t stand Goldie Hawn.  I never could.  So how would I react to her Oscar winning performance?  I wondered that before seeing Cactus Flower the first time, some time around 2004 (I remember where I saw it and it must have been in 04 or 05).  But as it turned out I was able to tolerate her and recognize that with the possible exception of Private Benjamin, this was miles above any other performance she had ever or would ever give.  But part of her performance simply comes from the film itself, a charming, fun comedy that slots two actors perfectly into their precise ranges and takes another one and gives her a character almost unlike anything she had played in her over three decades on film.

Goldie Hawn plays Toni and if she’s only a supporting role, she is still the first person we see, a ditzy young blonde who has been dating Julian, a married dentist and decides to kill herself over him.  However, first, her suicide attempt is undone by the handsome young aspiring playwright next door (Rick Lenz, who is charming and funny, such as when he starts to leave the apartment so two people can talk in private only to object “Hey, I live here!”).  Second, it turns out the dentist isn’t married after all.  He just didn’t want to be pushed into marriage so he made up a marriage.  Now, knowing he has pushed her towards suicide, he decides to marry her after all.  But first he must undo his non-existent marriage.  The dentist is played by Walter Matthau in that gruff, yet somehow lovable way that Matthau has of bringing characters to life.  But he can’t tell her the truth because she hates liars.  So now comes the next problem.  How to divorce the wife who doesn’t exist, especially when Toni demands a chance to meet the wife.

Enter Miss Dickinson, the very prim and formal secretary to Julian.  This is the role that offers some fun because Miss Dickinson is played by Ingrid Bergman and once she starts to play the part of the wife several things happen.  First, it becomes obvious that she harbors feelings for Julian herself and this will only complicate them.  Second, she will start to loosen up and not only will Julian notice this but so will the young playwright and Toni won’t know who she is supposed to feel jealous over.  All of this works so well because Bergman allows herself to slowly come out of her cocoon.

The film isn’t perfect.  It’s directed by Gene Saks, who is too much the stage director to really bring the film to life properly (the same problem The Odd Couple, also directed by Saks, had the year before).  There is also far too much time spent in a nightclub scene where everyone starts getting jealous of everyone else and it kind of kills the momentum of the film before we get to the final act and things start to be resolved.  But for a film with such a key role played by Hawn, I really enjoyed it, both the first time and this time.  It still only ends up as a high *** but it’s definitely worth seeing even if you don’t like Hawn.

The Source:

Cactus Flower: A Comedy in Two Acts by Abe Burrows  (1965)

A fun comedy about a dentist whose young lover tries to kill herself over him, thus causing him to divorce the wife he has told her he has but really doesn’t.  I imagine that part of the charm of the original stage run (which lasted over two years) was Lauren Bacall in the part of Miss Dickinson.  In the role of Julian, you had the relentlessly bland Barry Nelson.  But it is a charming play.  It is based on the play Fleur de cactus by Pierre Barillet and Jean-Pierre Gredy (which both the book of the play and the film credits acknowledge).  I have not been able to get hold of the original and it almost certainly isn’t available in English.  In the play and the film, the title hits you over the head a bit with Miss Dickinson being directly compared to the cactus she keeps on her desk.  I imagine it was the same in the original.

The Adaptation:

Almost everything from the actual play makes it to the screen intact.  There are a few short scenes and some added lines that weren’t in the original play (including the line “I live here!”).  Like so many plays, it does open things up, with a few extra scenes not in the original stage locations but the original play actually had four different locations, so not as much as in a lot of plays.

The Credits:

Directed by Gene Saks.  Stage Play by Abe Burrows.  Based upon a French Play by Barillet and Gredy.  Screenplay by I.A.L. Diamond.

Consensus Nominees

Anne of the Thousand Days

The Film:

I have already reviewed this film as a Best Picture nominee.  It wasn’t a particularly good choice – a slow and stolid film that should be interesting given the subject matter but isn’t able to overcome weak direction and a not particularly strong script.  It has two very good performances in the main two roles and some solid supporting performances but at almost two and a half hours, you expect something more than you get.  Honestly, if you want this story, watch Wolf Hall, though that one is much more sympathetic to Cromwell while this one is much more sympathetic to Anne.

The Source:

Anne of the Thousand Days by Maxwell Anderson (1948)

Some writers fall out of fashion.  I quite like Sinclair Lewis, but he has definitely fallen out of fashion (as evidenced by me not having to read him as either an undergraduate or graduate student), though It Can’t Happen Here has definitely seen a revival.  Maxwell Anderson is a writer like that.  Watch Bullets Over Broadway and see how the characters talk about him, how important a playwright he was, and yet today, while O’Neill, Williams and Miller live on, Anderson is all but forgotten.  There’s a reason why people don’t make films out of his plays anymore.  The biggest problem is the four historical plays that he wrote, three of them dealing with British History in the 16th Century (of which this is one), all written in blank verse.  The play doesn’t read very well because of the style of blank verse and it undercuts the natural way that people talk.  Writing in verse worked for Shakespeare but in Modern English it just sounds stilted.  What’s more, many of the scenes aren’t complete scenes – there are constant little scenes within the scenes and it just seems like it would be strange to see on-stage.  It’s like Anderson decided on the subject matter but wasn’t able to really write the play in a style that worked for the subject.

The Adaptation:

Maybe that’s why the filmmakers ditched most of the original play.  Oh, there are definitely scenes that come direct from the play and sometimes even whole stretches of lines that come from the play.  But, for the most part, the filmmakers took the basic idea and some of the structure and dumped the rest.  Nowhere is that more obvious than in the opening and closing of the film.  The play opens with Anne speaking by herself on stage, in 1530, before she is married and ends with Henry alone on stage just after Anne has been executed (the previous scene had Anne still alive an on-stage talking with Henry).  In the film, we open with Henry deciding whether or not to have Anne executed and it ends with a shot of Elizabeth and a reprise of Anne’s dialogue about how Elizabeth will be queen.  Pauline Kael, in her typical style of trying to seem like she knew about everything, wrote “at the end we’re left with Maxwell Anderson’s glowing, fatuous hindsight: a final shot of Anne’s posthumous triumph-the baby Elizabeth wandering about, deserted, as her foolish father, who doesn’t know what we know, goes off to beget a male heir” which just goes to show that she didn’t read the play like I did.

The Credits:

Directed by Charles Jarrott.  Screenplay by Bridget Boland and John Hale.  Adaptation by Richard Sokolove.  Based on the Play by Maxwell Anderson.

Multiple Nominations

John and Mary

The Film:

Boy meets girl.  It’s not exactly a meet cute, more like a meet annoying.  She’s talking about a film with some friends in a bar (the film is Godard’s Weekend but it is not named) and she claims that her friend is missing the point of the movie and he chimes in that he saw the film at a festival and it’s about “the materialistic basis of our society” and we are off to the pretentious races.

So boy meets girl.  His name is John and her name is Mary because hey, why put thought into the names.  Or actually, that’s probably the point, at least of the film (I haven’t read the novel) because much of the film avoids use of names and descriptions (you can read Roger Ebert’s review of the film here and it really annoyed the hell out of him).  But back to the names.  His name is John and her name is Mary.  We know that because that’s the rather unoriginal title of the film (and the novel) but the characters themselves don’t know that in spite of getting drinks, sleeping together, spending most of the next day together and considering living together.  In fact, it’s the point of the film that the last lines of the film are them actually introducing themselves to each other.

All of this could make for a terrible film and in some ways it makes for an obnoxious film and one that I actually kind of made fun of both without knowing it and without ever having seen it.  Back in 1997, I wrote a script in which two college friends sleep together and consider making a go out of it (they are graduating the next morning) but realize all the reasons they couldn’t really survive as a couple and manage, over the course of just a few minutes, to talk themselves out of it because they are more mature characters than John and Mary in this film and, I suppose, because my film was a Comedy.

So why doesn’t this film just suck?  It easily could have and Ebert certainly was no fan but I ranked this film as a mid-range ***.  It’s because of the performances of Dustin Hoffman and Mia Farrow as the couple.  They are both young, both coming off hit films and they really bring the characters to life.  You might not to meet these characters and you might not need them brought to life but there is enough in their performances that it keeps the film from sinking under the morass of its script.

The Source:

John and Mary by Mervyn Jones  (1966)

I haven’t been able to track down a copy of the original novel.  It was originally published in 1966 and was republished in 1969 with a movie cover copy.  But it doesn’t appear to still be in print.

The Adaptation:

Obviously, I can’t make the comparison.  But god, I hope the novel is less annoying, but somehow I doubt it.

The Credits:

Directed by Peter Yates.  Screenplay by John Mortimer.  Based on the novel by Mervyn Jones.

WGA Nominees

True Grit

The Film:

In all fairness to this film, I first saw it well over 20 years ago, long before the Coen Brothers decided to take another try at filming the novel.  That means when I first saw it I decided that it sucked based on watching the film I was watching, not in comparison to a future film version that would show how good this could have been.

I’ve never been much for John Wayne.  Oh, when he’s on, he can be the perfect person for a role, whether it requires just a presence rather than acting (Stagecoach), some serious acting (Red River, The Searchers) or relying on a lifetime of playing a role (The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance).  But in this film, he was rewarded for his acting, in the same year that Orson Welles (Chimes at Midnight) and William Holden (The Wild Bunch) went un-nominated for the two best performances of the year, the next two were nominated but probably split the vote (Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight in Midnight Cowboy) and the other two nominees were the two eternal groomsmen at the Oscars and never the grooms (Richard Burton in Anne of the Thousand Days and Peter O’Toole in Goodbye Mr Chips).  The Oscar went to the one-eyed fat man even though he’s not all that good in the film and that he pushes himself forward mostly on bluster than on an actual performance.  You don’t have to compare him to the masterful performance from Jeff Bridges in the remake to see that.  Yet, he is far and away the best thing about this film.

This film is a mediocre mess all across the board.  It’s rather ineptly directed by Henry Hathaway, who was years past his days of directing solid films.  The score, from Elmer Bernstein, is totally inappropriate at almost every moment, going for light-hearted jangling music and is constantly distracting.  The script knows to use some of the great lines from the original book, but then departs at some bizarre moments (see below).  But I don’t know if the worst mistakes were done in the performances of Kim Darby and Glen Campbell or by the casting director who thought to put them both in the film in the first place.

If you don’t know the story because you haven’t seen either this or the remake (then, seriously, see the remake), a 14 year old girl (which Darby isn’t close to being) enlists the help of an aging marshall to track down the man who murdered her father.  A Texas Ranger also comes along, after the man for a separate reward (and who thought Glen Campbell was a good choice as a Texas Ranger?).  They will eventually track down the man, with the bad guys dying.  What was a story of a very brave, resourceful, remarkable girl instead just becomes another standard John Wayne Western.  Darby just doesn’t cut it as the girl and Campbell is such a disaster that it’s almost as much of a distraction as the awful music.  What’s more, this film was released in 1969, the same year that Westerns were being re-vitalized with directorial vision (and extreme violence) and this is just a reminder of the old, lackluster films that were being passed by.

The Source:

True Grit: a novel by Charles Portis (1968)

When I first saw the film, back in the 90’s, I don’t think I even paid attention to the fact that it was adapted from a novel and certainly nothing about the film made me go seek out that novel.  But, once the Coen Brothers got their hands on it, I got a copy of it and read it and was astounded to discover how good it was.  How good was it?  Good enough that I included it among my Top 200 Novels of All-Time.  It’s a first person narrative from the girl herself, told when she is an old woman, alone, one-armed, with the rest of the world having kind of passed her by.  Yet, Portis finds a remarkable style of narration for her (“He was in tears and I am not ashamed to own that I was too.  The man Maledon covered his head with the hood and went to his lever.  Yarnell put a hand over my face but I pushed it aside.  I would see it all.” she writes, about witnessing a hanging).  It is through her eyes that we meet Rooster Cogburn, Ranger LaBoeuf (“He called it LaBeef but spelled it something like LaBoeuf.”) and the members of Ned Pepper’s gang.  It’s a short novel (just over 200 pages) but memorable and quite probably the best Western I have ever read.

One last note.  I didn’t want to use a movie cover copy of the book for the image on the right.  Often I use either a popular mass market cover (which didn’t really happen since the film followed just a year after the original novel) or the original 1st Edition cover.  But the illustration on the cover of the 1st Edition is, and I can not stress this word enough, horrible.  So instead I went with a relatively recent edition.  My own copy of the novel is a movie cover from the 2010 version but it doesn’t feature any characters from the film on the cover so I’m okay with it.

The Adaptation:

It’s remarkable, given how weak the script is, how closely it follows the novel in a lot of points, including the exact dialogue.  But then, inexplicably, it cuts away from the novel and changes things for reasons that I can’t fathom.  I’m not talking about things like the setting (supposedly in Arkansas and Oklahoma, yet so clearly filmed in California and Colorado, which has mountains the likes of which Arkansas and Oklahoma have never seen) or things that make sense because of the time period (it’s a lot easier to show Mattie as having a wounded arm rather than an amputated one at the end because of technology at the time).  I’m talking about things like the inexplicable decision to change the hopeful ambush of Ned Pepper to daylight when it wouldn’t have made any sense for Cogburn to accuse LaBoeuf of being asleep or the bizarre choice to have LaBoeuf die at the end when it’s completely unnecessary.  The remake of the film is partially better because it sticks so closely to the original novel throughout.

The Credits:

Directed by Henry Hathaway.  From the novel by Charles Portis.  Screenplay by Margeuerite Roberts.

Gaily, Gaily

The Film:

What can I say about this film?  I can say that I saw it years ago and remember almost nothing.  As a film by a prominent director from 1969 that was hard to find at the time, my brain thinks of it as starring Shirley MacLaine and being an adaptation of Nights of Cabiria and then I remind my brain that it’s thinking of Sweet Charity.  I can tell you that it’s actually about Ben Hecht moving to Chicago in 1910 (it’s based on his autobiographical novel) and that it’s directed by Norman Jewison.  I can also say that I gave it a 52, which is a low **.5 and that it sits at #107 out of 145 films for the year.  But, unfortunately, it has proven extremely difficult to find and I was unable to re-watch it again for this project.  Perhaps someday I’ll be able to correct that and write a full review, although at a 52 and directed by Jewison, I’m not about to knock myself out trying.

The Source:

Gaily, Gaily by Ben Hecht  (1963)

I might have gone ahead and gotten the book even though I wasn’t able to get the film but even the book turned out to be difficult to get hold of, so I wasn’t able to do that either.

The Adaptation:

There’s not much that I can do here.

The Credits:

Directed by Norman Jewison.  Screenplay by Abram S. Ginnes.  Based on the novel by Ben Hecht.
note:  Not the on-screen credits, as I wasn’t able to watch the film.

The Reivers

The Film:

If you were to watch this film in a bubble what would you think would be the source?  This is the story of a young boy who goes along with two older men, both of whom work for his family and one of whom, who happens to be black, is also distantly related to him.  Being black is not insignificant because this story is set in rural Mississippi and Memphis in the early part of the 20th Century when a car was a new-fangled device that some people couldn’t keep away from and it could get them in a lot of trouble.  In this case, that trouble involves stealing the car and driving to Memphis and getting into all kinds of shenanigans.  So, other than the rural Mississippi setting, is there anything that would make you think this originated from the pen of William Faulkner?

Faulkner first began thinking about this book in the early 40’s though it wouldn’t actually be written and released until 1962.  Though Faulkner was getting on in years by this point (he was 64), he had no reason to believe that this nostalgic look back at a time when he would have been a child would be his last book, but less than two weeks after it was published, he fell from a horse, the complications of which lead to his fatal heart attack just two weeks after that.  So, instead of the depths of Yoknapatawpha County, these three take off for Memphis, a city where there are much more lively things going on.

Just as this film doesn’t seem like it came from the pen of the most modernist of American writers, the starring role ended up going to person that you wouldn’t expect to see starring in a Faulkner adaptation.  Yet, here we have Steve McQueen as Boon, the rambunctious man with the decision making of an impatient child.  As soon as Boss, the grandfather of the eleven year old that Boon is supposed to be watching, heads out of town with his son and daughter-in-law for a funeral, Boon is off, taking his charge with him.  What he doesn’t know is that stowed away is Ned, who Boon already took some shots at for taking off in the car once already.  But that’s nothing compared to what happens when they get to Memphis which involves no less than putting an eleven year old up in a whorehouse where he will get into a fistfight over one woman’s honor and Ned trading the car for a horse which means they will have to use this bizarre horse with a passion for sardines to win back the car before they go back to Mississippi or they shouldn’t even bother going back in the first place.

Faulkner was often thought of as a difficult author (true) and rather humorless (untrue).  Because of the style of his books, they have often resisted adaptation and even the better attempts haven’t always worked.  But here, with something so different than most of he wrote, we get a charming film with a fun role for McQueen and simply a good time.  At the time when films were turning towards sex and violence because they finally could this was a look back, not just to another time for the characters but to another time at the movies.

The Source:

The Reivers: A Reminiscence by William Faulkner  (1962)

As noted above, this is a comic novel, which is something that is rare for Faulkner.  As also said above, this was Faulkner’s last novel and he died just over a month after it was published.  Did this influence the judges the following spring when the novel won the Pulitzer, making Faulkner just the second novelist to win two prizes?  (Booth Tarkington had already done it and John Updike would also later do it).  I could point out that it’s actually one of his weaker novels and that the judges were making up for all this brilliant books in the 20’s and 30’s that they had continually ignored.  But the Pulitzers also smiled on A Fable, a bizarre book that is also unlike Faulkner’s other work and is also, in my opinion, one of his weaker novels.  On my Pulitzer post I graded this award a B because they could have gone with Mother Night, Wise Blood or One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, all of them better choices.

So, the better question is not how good a book this is, because Faulkner didn’t write bad books, but how readable a book is this?  Because what Faulkner didn’t write was novels that were easy to read.  Well, if you just want to be able to say you’ve read one Faulkner book, this would be a good choice because it’s easier to get into, it has some comic value and you don’t need to understand all the underlying stories around it to enjoy it.

The Adaptation:

The adaptation follows the book fairly well.  There is a bit more going on between Boon and Ned before they leave for Memphis (and he is discovered in a different way) and the very end of the book doesn’t happen in the film because there is no time jump (though the narration of the story by a grown Lucius is carried through in the film with Burgess Meredith narrating the film).  But most of the book carries through faithfully.  The filmmakers wisely cut the extraneous parts of the book that mention other Faulkner characters that don’t actually appear in the book.

Interestingly, though this film is not directed by Martin Ritt, who had directed both The Long Hot Summer and The Sound and the Fury in 1958 and 1959, it is written by the same screenwriters, Irving Ravetch and Harriet Frank jr who wrote those films (Frank and Ravetch were a married couple).

The Credits:

Directed by Mark Rydell.  Based on the novel by William Faulkner.  Screenplay by Irving Ravetch, Harriet Frank, jr..

Alice’s Restaurant

The Film:

I suppose I can’t complain that Clint Eastwood is taking real-life “heroes” and having them play themselves on screen even though they can’t act when Arthur Penn was doing the same damn thing back in 1969.  Arlo Guthrie had an interesting and funny song but he wasn’t an actor.  So, what had been an entertaining story about a bizarre Thanksgiving weekend becomes a film that feels like it will never end, not only because of Guthrie’s meandering style but also because Guthrie really can’t act and it’s painful to watch him on the screen.

This story was already famous before it was made into a film, of course, because Arlo Guthrie’s song had been a big hit (or as big as you can be when you’re an 18 minute song that doesn’t actually get played on the radio).  It’s about the Thanksgiving weekend where Arlo and his friends rehabilitated an old church and made it into a restaurant and then threw all their trash off a cliff because the dump was closed which ended up with Arlo’s arrest and how that arrest would eventually keep him out of the army during Vietnam.

So what is this film really about, though?  Is it an embrace of the hippie lifestyle, of not having a job and drifting around with your friends and having a good time?  Is it a moral stand against an immoral war where someone who pleads guilty to littering is considered too immoral to go to a foreign country and kill other people?  Is it a laconic comedy about what it’s like to life in such an age?  What it mostly is, is a pointless meander that never really goes anywhere, doesn’t have much acting to it and just keeps rambling on and on until it finally ends.  It tries to give us more depth with the relationship between Alice and Ray (with the added irony that they divorced the day the film was released) but there just isn’t really anything there.

The Source:

“The Alice’s Restaurant Massacree” by Arlo Guthrie  (1967)

I remember the first time I heard this song, sometime in the summer of 1993.  At the time, I was listening mostly to a classic rock station and they used to do this game where you had to guess the connection between three songs.  This one was pretty easy (the other two songs were Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” and “All the Young Girls Love Alice” by Elton John) but I remember the dj commenting that this was the first time, as far as he was aware, that they had ever played the song in its entirety other than on Thanksgiving.  That’s because the song runs a whopping 18 minutes if “song” is even the right word to label it.  It’s more of a story with some guitar and a small refrain (“You can get anything you want at Alice’s Restaurant”) that tells two loosely connected stories, the first about Arlo Guthrie and his friend dumping some garbage (they dumped it because the town dump was closed for Thanksgiving) and eventually getting arrested for littering which then morphs into the bit about Guthrie’s draft status and eventually getting rejected by the army because of his arrest.  It is an amusing song but not one you want to play often (which is why radio stations rarely play it except on Thanksgiving).  It’s all a true story, of course and all of this really did happen to Guthrie over Thanksgiving in 1965.

I used to own the lp but, like my most of my vinyl, I gave it to my college roommate before I left Oregon back in 2005.

The Adaptation:

What the film does is take a song that is already at the straining point for most people’s attention span and turn into an almost two hour long film.  The film itself, like the song before it, is pretty true to life and all the film does it continually expand on things that he already told us of in the song.

The Credits:

Directed by Arthur Penn.  Screenplay by Venable Herndon and Arthur Penn.  Based on the “The Alice’s Restaurant Massacree” by Arlo Guthrie.

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

  • On Her Majesty’s Secret Service  –  One of the most under-rated of the Bond films because Lazenby was such a lackluster Bond.  But the film is well worth watching.  A full review here from Bond series.
  • The Bofors Gun  –  One of those BAFTA winners (Supporting Actor for Ian Holm) that seemed to be ignored in the States.  Solid film based on the play Events While Guarding the Bofors Gun.  Also stars Nicol Williamson (see below).

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

  • Hamlet  –  Nicol Williamson as the gloomy Dane, Anthony Hopkins as his uncle but the rest of the cast is weak and the direction from Tony Richardson is also weak.  As high as it is just because of Richardson and Hopkins.
  • The Boys of Paul Street  –  Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Film from Hungary is based on the 1906 kids book The Paul Street Boys.
  • Sweet Charity  –  Now this is the big name director (Bob Fosse) directing the musical remake of Nights of Cabiria (after it had been a Broadway hit) with Shirley MacLaine.  Much better than Gaily Gaily.
  • The Sterile Cuckoo  –  A young Liza goes serious and earns her first Oscar nom in this adaptation of the novel by John Nichols.
  • The Fire Within  –  A 1963 Louis Malle film getting a U.S. release.  Based on the novel Will O’ the Wisp by Pierre Drieu La Rochelle.
  • Topaz  –  Flawed and overlong Hitchcock thriller but with a worthwhile lead performance from John Forsythe.  Based on the novel by Leon Uris.
  • The Secret of Santa Vittoria  –  It was a best-selling novel and it won the Globe for Comedy / Musical but it’s still just a silly film about hiding wine from the Germans after the fall of Mussolini.
  • Under the Banner of Samurai  –  Based on the novel of the same name, although it apparently literally translates to Fudan Volcano.  Decent samurai film made better by the presence of Toshiro Mifune.
  • Baby Love  –  Disturbing British Drama based on the book by Tina Chad Christian.
  • Dr Who and the Daleks  –  The first theatrical Dr Who film with Peter Cushing as the Doctor.  Not great, but Cushing makes it worthwhile.  Basically an adaptation of “The Daleks”, the serial that introduced the classic Who villains.
  • Mayerling  –  A British romance / tragedy based on two different novels about the actual Mayerling incident of murder-suicide involving the Crown Prince of Austria and his lover.
  • Doulos – The Finger Man  –  Generally known as Le Doulus or The Finger Man this is the title that the old oscars.org database used.  Whatever title you prefer, it’s a 1963 French Crime film by Melville based on the novel by Pierre V. Lesou.
  • Black Lizard  –  A Japanese Crime film directed by Kinji Fukasaku based on a play by acclaimed Japanese writer Yukio Mishima.
  • The Learning Tree  –  The rare kind of film, directed and written by Gordon Parks based on his own autobiographical novel.  Talk about being the auteur of the project.
  • Marooned  –  We’re down to low level ***.  A G rated Sci-Fi film usually means it’s boring and that’s the case here.  It deserves its Oscar for Special Effects but it’s not very interesting.  Based on the novel by Martin Caidin.
  • Goodbye, Mr. Chips  –  Peter O’Toole’s Oscar nominated performance keeps this musical version of the Hilton novel from sinking too deeply into schmaltz.
  • Castle Keep  –  Sydney Pollack directs Burt Lancaster in a World War II film based on the novel by Donald Eastlake.
  • One Thousand and One Nights  –  Before Fritz the Cat there was this adult Japanese animated version of the classic tales.
  • The Quare Fellow  –  This film version of Brendan Behan’s play was actually made in 1962 but took until 1969 to reach LA.
  • Black Rose  –  The second Fukasaku film based on a Mishima play released in this year.
  • Last Summer  –  Would you believe this coming of age story was based on a novel by Evan Hunter who also wrote The Blackboard Jungle and was also Ed McBain?
  • Puss in Boots  –  Animated Japanese version of the classic Perrault tale which has early work from Hayao Miyazaki (animating, not directing).
  • Spirits of the Dead  –  We’re into the **.5 films now.  An anthology film of Poe stories that has both Jane and Peter Fonda but who cares about Peter.
  • Hello, Dolly!  –  I’ve already lambasted this film here in a full review because it was nominated for Best Picture.
  • The Arrangement  –  A second example this year of a director writing and directing his own source novel, in this case, Elia Kazan.  One of his weakest films with Kirk Douglas an ad executive.
  • Ring of Bright Water  –  Somebody brought an otter from Iraq to Scotland, wrote a book about it and they made a movie about it.
  • Decline and Fall… of a Birdwatcher  –  Evelyn Waugh’s classic novel Decline and Fall has the title stupidly altered in this mediocre film version.
  • Tintin and the Temple of the Sun  –  A mediocre version of two of the Tintin books.  There is a full review here way down the page.
  • Dracula Has Risen from the Grave  –  The beginning of the dip in quality of the Hammer Dracula films.  This is the fourth Dracula film in the series and we’re already way beyond any actual Dracula source material for the films.
  • Battle of Britain  –  Guy Hamilton gives us an all-star packed film but there’s not much there.  Based on the book The Narrow Margin.
  • The Oblong Box  –  Another Poe adaptation.  It’s got Christopher Lee and Vincent Price but still isn’t all that good.
  • 100 Rifles  –  Early Burt Reynolds starring role in a Western based on the novel by Robert McLeod.
  • The Gypsy Moths  –  Perhaps best known for having Deborah Kerr’s one nude scene.  A movie about skydivers starring Burt Lancaster.  Based on the novel by James Drought.
  • Mackenna’s Gold  –  A Will Henry novel becomes a Gregory Peck Western.
  • Don’t Drink the Water  –  Maybe if Woody Allen had been more involved (he wrote the play the film was based on) it wouldn’t be so bad.  Low **.5.
  • The Magus  –  Low **.5 is probably generous. Woody Allen once said “If I had to live my life again, I’d do everything the same, except that I wouldn’t see The Magus.”  A full review is here because the book is brilliant and made my Top 100.
  • The Night of the Following Day  –  Not sure why I’ve even seen this one.  Suspense film based on the novel by Lionel White.
  • The Southern Star  –  Just finally saw this one but not worth it.  It’s got Orson Welles and it’s based on a Jules Verne novel (The Vanished Diamond) but it’s not good.
  • Danger: Diabolik  –  We’re into the ** films now.  A Mario Bava film based on an Italian comic book series.
  • Laughter in the Dark  –  Finally saw this one as well.  Terrible Tony Richardson adaptation of the Nabokov novel.
  • That Cold Day in the Park  –  Robert Altman pre-M*A*S*H directs this film based on a novel by Peter Miles.
  • Bloody Pit of Horror  –  Apparently when it was released in America (this was a 1965 Italian Horror film), they claimed it was based on writing be de Sade and the old oscars.org database also said that which is why I saw it and why it’s here.
  • The Chairman  –  Terrible (low **) spy film from J. Lee Thompson.  Based on a novel by Jay Richard Kennedy.
  • Justine  –  It’s the Durrell novel not the de Sade.  But it’s proof (along with Beyond the Valley of the Dolls) that film critics shouldn’t write films because Andrew Sarris worked on the screenplay.
  • Camille 2000  –  The Dumas novel (and play) becomes a crappy film.
  • The Illustrated Man  –  “Kiss me you illustrated man.”  I’ve never read the Bradbury book but I’ve heard the Rachel Bloom song (a lot).  You should skip the film.
  • Paint Your Wagon  –  “Here comes Lee Marvin, thank god.  He’s always drunk and violent.”  Oh, Homer, you are so wrong as you are about to discover, prompting you to eject this movie straight into the trash.  The Lerner and Loewe musical was a hit on Broadway but a complete dud as a film.
  • Staircase  –  An appallingly bad film with Rex Harrison and Richard Burton playing a campy gay couple.  Based on the play by Charles Dyer.
  • Blood of Dracula’s Castle  –  Only nominally an adaptation in that it uses Dracula.  The worst film of the year and reviewed way down here.

Adaptations of Notable Works I Haven’t Seen:

  • Marlowe  –  James Garner plays the famous detective in this adaptation of The Little Sister.  I can’t bring myself to pay the money to watch this from Warners On Demand on YouTube.  Ebert gave it **.5.
  • Once You Kiss a Stranger  –  Hard to find for a long time, with fewer than 150 votes on the IMDb but clearly people can find it now if they are willing to pay $2.99 to see it from WOD on YouTube.  An uncredited loose version of Strangers on a Train.