A nice ensemble pic from M*A*S*H that doesn’t really have a corresponding scene in the book.

My Top 10:

  1. M*A*S*H
  2. The Twelve Chairs
  3. Women in Love
  4. Lovers and Other Strangers
  5. Patton
  6. Floating Weeds
  7. The Joke
  8. Mississippi Mermaid
  9. Where’s Poppa?
  10. Catch-22

Note:  Not a strong Top 10, although at least it has 10.  The 2-5 are the weakest as a whole since 1965 and there won’t be a weaker group until 1976.  They look even weaker because they are between two very strong years.  Patton would have been #9 in 1969.

Consensus Nominees:

  1. M*A*S*H  (192 pts)
  2. Patton  (160 pts)
  3. I Never Sang for My Father  (120 pts)
  4. Airport  (80 pts)
  5. Lovers and Other Strangers  (80 pts)
  6. Women in Love  (80 pts)

Oscar Nominees  (Best Screenplay – Based on Material from Another Medium):

  • M*A*S*H
  • Airport
  • I Never Sang for My Father
  • Lovers and Other Strangers
  • Women in Love

Oscar Nominees  (Best Story and Screenplay – Based on Factual Material or Material Not Previously Published):

  • Patton

note:  So this is the Original Screenplay category but Patton, based on “factual material”, was based on two books and thus, today, would be considered Adapted.

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:

  • I Never Sang for My Father
  • Airport
  • Catch-22
  • The Great White Hope
  • Little Big Man

Adapted Comedy:

  • M*A*S*H
  • Lovers and Other Strangers
  • The Owl and the Pussycat
  • The Twelve Chairs
  • Where’s Poppa?

Original Drama:

  • Patton

Original Comedy:

  • The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes

note:  Both would be considered by the Academy today as Adapted though the WGA, which has looser definitions, might still consider them Original.

Golden Globe:

  • M*A*S*H
  • Scrooge

Nominees that are Original:  Love Story, Five Easy Pieces, Husbands
note:  You read that correctly.  The Globes awarded Best Screenplay to Love Story over M*A*S*H.

BAFTA:

  • Women in Love

note:  Women in Love is the only Adapted script eligible in 1970 to be nominated at the BAFTAs and it was actually nominated in 1969.

My Top 10

M*A*S*H

The Film:

I have already reviewed this film.  In fact, I have reviewed it twice, the first time as my example film for Robert Altman in my Top 100 post and then again as a Best Picture nominee though it absolutely should have won.  It is one of the great War films of all-time without ever really showing the war.  It is one of the great Comedies of all-time in spite of mercilessly ridiculing everything about the military and war and authority and anything else that Altman could think of to ridicule.  It is one of the few great films to also inspire a great television show and the two, while the same in concept (comedy set during Korea) with the same characters are also completely different and still both are great.

The Source:

MASH by Richard Hooker  (1968)

This might seem surprising but this was the first book in this post that I ever read.  Yes, years before I ever read Catch-22 or any D.H. Lawrence, I had read this novel.  That’s because, in addition loving the television show (I am just old enough that I have very clear memories of the original airing of the record-obliterating finale) I had loved the film from when I first saw it (probably Freshman or Sophomore year of high school) and what’s more, my mother had a copy of the novel, so it was very easy to get.  I only had to walk in her room and pick it up and read it, so I did.  It was okay, I felt at the time and nothing in the intervening almost 25 years have changed that (I can say 25 without a problem because I distinctly remember where I read it and that definitely would have been 25 years ago).  It’s always surprising to look at the book and see some of the more outlandish plot points from the film (Hawkeye and Trapper going to Tokyo and saving the baby who’s in the combination pediatric hospital / whorehouse, the football game) were actually there in the original novel.  But there’s something lacking in the film that really doesn’t have the sheer level of satire that was present in the film.  It’s a good enough book but I really can’t say that if you have seen the film there’s any need to go read the novel.

note:  A little note about the titles for the sources.  I use what is on the title page.  The front cover of the book lists this as MASH: A Novel About Three Army Doctors but the title page (at least of the edition I read this time, which was the 2001 Harper Perennial edition) only says MASH, without the stars between the letters like in the film.

The Adaptation:

“ELLIOT GOULD: Ring Lardner, Jr. came out and walked up to me and said, ‘How could you do this to me?  There’s not a word that I wrote on screen.'”  (Robert Altman: The Oral Biography, Mitchell Zuckoff, p 185)  The Zuckoff book also includes a quote from Lardner from unused footage for an Altman documentary: “I think Bob should have gotten some kind of cowriting credit since he did add so much, but he didn’t ask for it.”  (p 187)

As I said, the most outlandish plot points in the film were right there in the book.  In fact, almost anything having to do with story was from the original novel but the vast majority of the actual dialogue isn’t.  Just look at the scene where Hawkeye pushes Frank to the point where he gets sent away.  In the book, Hawkeye says “Hey, Frank, is that stuff you’re tappin’ really any good?” then Frank threatens to kill him and Hawkeye says “So kill me.”  In the film we get this:

Hawkeye Pierce: Would you say that she was a moaner, Frank? Seriously Frank. I mean, does she go “ooooh” or does she lie there quiet and not do anything at all?

Frank Burns: Keep your filthy mouth to yourself.

Hawkeye Pierce: Or does she go “uh-uh-uh”?

That’s just an example, of course, but you can go through most of the novel or the film and see where the scenes are so similar but also so very different because the dialogue is so much better in the film.  One of the few actual changes from the book (aside from dialogue) is that in the book, Frank Burns is a captain and some of his actions at the start of the film are from a character named Major Hobson who was simply combined with Frank in the film.

The Credits:

Directed by Robert Altman.  From the novel by Richard Hooker.  Screenplay by Ring Lardner, Jr..

the Twelve Chairs

The Film:

I have already reviewed this film.  There is an error in the review (it turns out Ebert did review it) but that doesn’t take away from the brilliant hilarity of the film.  It gets lost in the shuffle because it was the film that Brooks made between The Producers and Blazing Saddles.  That’s like being the Springsteen album between the 5x Platinum The River and the 15x Platinum Born in the U.S.A., which is the even more brilliant but often over-looked Nebraska.  This film is hilarious and yet, often gets over-looked.

The Source:

Двенадцать стульев by Ilf and Petrov  (1928)

I know I read this book years ago after I first saw the film and was charmed by it.  But I had remembered it being a much shorter book than it is (the edition I read this time ran 395 pages and definitely isn’t the version used by Brooks for the film since he specifically mentions the Hill / Mudie translation and I read an edition translated by John H.C. Richardson).  It’s actually the first of two novels starring Ostap Bender, the smooth operating con-man who is one of several people after a set of twelve chairs that contain hidden jewels from before the revolution that may be worth a small fortune.  It’s amusing that Bender is in the sequel (which was packaged together as one book with this one in the edition I read: Ilf & Petrov’s The Complete Adventures of Ostap Bender) since it doesn’t appear that he even survives this book (see below) but the authors seemed to realize that they had a winning character on their hands.

In brief, a man who has wasted his wife’s money discovers from his dying mother-in-law that she hid her family jewels in a set of chairs.  This information also passes to the family priest and to Bender himself and the race is on to see who can first, find the chairs, then figure out which one has the jewels, since the set has now been split up across the Soviet Union.  Numerous film versions have been made over the years from filmmakers as diverse as Soviet era filmmakers, Nazi filmmakers and 30’s British filmmakers, not to mention, of course, the Brooks version which is, even though it’s one of his least appreciated films, probably the best known film version.

This is a good book and well worth a read if for no other reason than because it’s actually a considerably funny novel and the Soviets (and the Russians before them) aren’t exactly known for their humor, so it’s nice to get a satirical take on the world from them.

The Adaptation:

While a lot of small details are either changed or omitted to get all of the action of the book into a film, most of the film does follow decently closely to the book.  That is, until the ending, when in the book, Bender is actually killed by Vorobyaninov (“He approached the back of the chair and, drawing back his hand with the razor, plunged the blade slantways into Ostap’s throat, pulled it out, and jumped backward toward the wall.”), something which doesn’t actually slow down Ostap when he appears in the sequel sporting a scar on his neck.  That is one hell of a change from the book to the film where Ostap and Vorobyaninov simply go forward into a life of conning together.

The Credits:

Directed by Mel Brooks.  Based on the novel “The Twelve chairs” by Ilf and Petrov as translated by Elizabeth Hill and Doris Mudie and published by Methun & Co. Ltd. under the title “Diamonds to Sit On”.  Screenplay by Mel Brooks.

Women in Love

The Film:

I have already reviewed this film.  I would have reviewed it for my Nighthawk Awards because it was one of the five best films of (this admittedly weak) year but I had already reviewed it from when I reviewed the novel (see the link below).  I don’t consider it a great film (I have it as a high ***.5) but it is a very good one.  It has a magnificent lead performance from Glenda Jackson which wins the Nighthawk by a mile (it is one of four years where there is at least a three point difference between the #1 and #2 for Actress, along with 1955, 1966 and 1992 – I don’t think it’s a coincidence that all of them also won the Oscar and the Consensus) though, and I can’t believe I have to write these words, she lost the Globe to Ali MacGraw for Love Story.  It is the only really good example of adapting Lawrence to the screen as I discuss in the review.  It’s also the best film from Ken Russell, a very uneven but talented director.  This film was nominated for Director, Adapted Screenplay and Cinematography and even won Actress but was passed over for Best Picture by Airport and Love Story.  One of the most inexplicable years in Oscar history.

The Source:

Women in Love by D. H. Lawrence

It it Lawrence’s greatest novel?  Apparently Lawrence thought so, according to the back of my Penguin paperback.  My own preference, as is obvious from the fact that I ranked this at #92 and I ranked Sons and Lovers at #81 is that I prefer the latter.  But that shouldn’t take away from this novel, which, as noted, I did rank as one of the Top 100 Novels of All-Time.  As such, I have already written a full appreciation of this novel which can be read here.  That piece also has my review of the film.  Lawrence is one of the great novelists in the English language.  He was one of only 21 authors with multiple novels on the list and four of them didn’t write in English.  More importantly, he also scored four novels on my Top 200, one of just ten authors to do that and one just four British writers to do that (even if you include Rushdie as British).  If you have never read Lawrence this is actually a great place to start, because even though this novel continues the story of the Brangwen sisters from The Rainbow you can read this without having read that (although I highly recommend that as well).

The Adaptation:

As mentioned in the review, this is the most fully realized film adaptation of a Lawrence novel.  That’s because unlike Sons and Lovers, it was filmed after the dropping of the Production Code, which means the film was able to embrace the sensuality of the novel, both in the language and in the characters.  There are minor scenes that are cut, of course, but this is a surprisingly fully realized adaptation of a 541 page novel into just 131 minutes on film.

The Credits:

directed by ken russell.  from the novel by d.h. lawrence.  written for the screen and produced by larry kramer.

Lovers and Other Strangers

The Film:

Weddings are ripe to exploit for comedy.  Indeed, the very essence of a Shakespearian Comedy is that it ends with a wedding.  But the wedding itself isn’t the scene for the comedy in Shakespeare while it is here.  In fact, the wedding is planned and arriving before the film even begins and we hit the wedding about halfway through the film.  That’s because weddings bring together all sorts of things that are the essence of romantic comedies.  Indeed, Four Weddings and a Funeral, one of the funniest films ever made, has, as one of its funniest scenes, a scene that is so unoriginal in its basic concept, that of someone ending up at a table with all of his exes that I wrote essentially the same scene a few years before that as a teenager.

Think of what you can find at a wedding and you will find it in Lovers and Other Strangers.  The happy couple, who, it turns out, may not be so happy.  They are both lying to their parents about non-existent roommates while living together (“I promise you that you will meet my roommate at the wedding” the young man tells his mother, not untruthfully), they are both getting nervous (the film opens with him explaining why they aren’t getting married, wandering around the room dressing, then changing his mind as he undresses and gets back in bed and the final lines of the film echo the opening scene rather wittily).  There are the parents of the couple, in this case, a WASP couple in which the father is actually having an affair with his wife’s sister and a very Italian couple played to great hilarity by Richard Castellano and Bea Arthur who claim that they’re not happy but they’re content.  That comes up because their older son, at the same time that their younger son is getting married, is announcing that he’s getting divorced and they can’t understand this younger generation’s ridiculous need to find happiness in their marriages.

This film works so well because it finds balance among all of this.  If one couple, a groomsman and a bridesmaid, are hopping into bed with discussing The Prophet a bit ridiculously, well, we also get some very heartfelt speeches from the Castellano with his son and Arthur with her daughter-in-law.  In fact, while the play has some funny moments, the film actually greatly improves on it for reasons that I will mention below.  I first saw this film about 15 years ago because it was nominated for Supporting Actor and Adapted Screenplay and I had liked it quite a bit.  Having not seen it since, I wondered if it would hold up but in the accurate way it shows how couples interact with each other, how family members deal with other family members, how weddings can be both poignant and funny, it feels very true to life and holds up as one of the best films in a very weak year.

The Source:

Lovers and Other Strangers: Five Comedies by Renée Taylor and Joseph Bologna  (1968)

This is a rather short comedy, a small production of five different couples.  Well, sort of.  One of the couples isn’t technically a couple, with the man being married to the woman’s sister but they are having an affair and apparently they weren’t even in the original production because there is a footnote for them that says “Not in original production, but featured in the film version, and added as a ‘fifth’ comedy by popular demand,” which would seem to indicate that the copyright in the book should include the 1970 film but it doesn’t.  Anyway, this play follows the couples (there are actually six because in the final one, it has a pair of parents and their son and his wife) through their loose connections (they are all connected to each other, though that is left vague and might not have really been that intended in the original play).  It’s an okay little play but it works much better as a film for reasons I will mention down below.

The Adaptation:

Like Neil Simon would later do with a couple of his “suite” plays, this film takes five different scenes in the play and intermixes them.  But, much more importantly, it has a lot of added extra scenes which bring the characters together.  The couple getting married has the younger brother of the man getting divorced and the daughter of the man having an affair with his sister-in-law while the last two couples are both connected to the wedding (the sister of the bride and a bridesmaid and a groomsman).  But by bringing the characters together in extra scenes, it really makes this feel like one continuous story and not just a series of scenes.  The best example is the end of the film where the two conversations, the one between the father and his son and the mother and the daughter-in-law are actually juxtaposed against each other instead of one having to follow the other one.  The entire film benefits from being a film and how the screenplay and the editing allows the scenes to work off each other and I can’t imagine that anyone would feel the need to return to it as a play once it has become a continuous whole like in the film.

The Credits:

Directed by Cy Howard.  Based on the play by Joseph Bologna and Renee Taylor.  Screenplay by Renee Taylor, Joseph Bologna and David Zelag Goodman.

Patton

The Film:

I have already reviewed the film.  Like I wrote in my review, this film has been trending downwards whenever I re-watch it.  It is lead by such a magnificent performance by George C. Scott that it makes you realize how little is left of the film aside from that performance.  It is still sitting at the very edge of **** but it seems in danger of tumbling lower.  The ironic thing is that I wish I could see a shorter version, one without the Germans endlessly wondering what Patton will do and focusing even more on Patton.  And yes, by the way, in the U.K. the film really was released as Patton: Lust for Glory like the poster says.

The Source:

Patton: Ordeal and Triumph by Ladislas Farago (1963)  /  A Soldier’s Story by Omar N. Bradley (1951)

This book is a long, heavy slog.  It can only be of use to those who are already firmly interested in Patton.  I thought, at well over 800 pages, it would have much of his early life but that is actually dispensed with in just a couple of chapters.  The bulk of the book is not only his actions in the War but mostly his actions post D-Day.  Even the actions in North Africa and Sicily are done with before the halfway point of the book.  When there were still several hundred pages left and we were already up to late 1944 I wondered if the book would take longer than the rest of the war.

There is no question that Farago was a big, big fan of Patton.  He likes to whitewash over his flaws and basically spends the book reminding us of his feeling that if Patton had simply been allowed to do his thing then the war would have been over by Christmas of 1944.  He gives little credit to Eisenhower, Bradley or Montgomery and mostly describes them in the ways he feels they hold Patton back.

The Bradley book is one of the definitive books on World War II from one of the top generals involved.  Bradley didn’t come into the war until 1943 but the book does a solid job of describing what he went through from the time he entered the war all the way until V-E Day.  It’s easy to find in print because it was re-released in the late 90’s as one of the first batch of books in the Modern Library War series.  Because this was written (or ghost-written) by Bradley and he was a fairly modest man in spite of all of his success it doesn’t have the bombast of the Patton book and is a much easier, more enjoyable read.

I also suspect that the Bradley book was used as research for the Farago book because there are a few scenes of dialogue that are word for word in both books.

The Adaptation:

The script for Patton was written in 1966 before Coppola really became known as a director.  Michael Schumacher’s book says that “Coppola’s major contribution to the movie was his stunning opening scene” (p 42) while Gene D. Phillips’ book Godfather: The Intimate Francis Ford Coppola notes “After devoting six months to the screenplay, which is dated December 27, 1965, Coppola moved on to other projects.  In typical Hollywood fashion, his screenplay was passed on to other writers who altered it substantially.  When the title role was offered to George C. Scott, he remembered having read Coppola’s screenplay earlier.  He stated flatly that he would accept the part only if they used Coppola’s script.  ‘Scott is the one who resurrected my version,’ says Coppola.  Screenwriter Edmund North then made some modifications in the Coppola version, but the shooting script is essentially Coppola’s work.” (p 32)

The odd thing about that bit above is that supposedly Scott was concerned about the opening speech, worrying that if it was the opening of the film (which he was supposedly promised it would not be) then the rest of the film would pale in comparison.  Yet, also supposedly, the opening speech is the whole key to Coppola’s script.  So which is it?  Scott wanted Coppola’s script for what he did in the opening but he also didn’t want it to be the opening?

Now, as for the source material, well, here is another quote: “In knowing nothing about his subject, [Coppola] was not bound to honor the mythology that surrounded the legendary but eccentric war hero. Coppola immersed himself into a study of Patton, and the more he learned, the more convinced he became that Patton needed to be treated as a quixotic figure, complete with heroic and villainous traits.”  (Francis Ford Coppola: A Filmmaker’s Life by Michael Schumacher, p 42)

That quote seems to confirm what I was thinking about when actually reading the source material.  I suspect that the filmmakers had bought the rights to the Farago book and thus used it as the credit because they had paid for it.  But I think that Coppola’s script was one he built himself based on a lot of things he had read.  I don’t think it’s really an adaptation of the book which means it could be considered an Original Screenplay (the award it actually won because of how the categories were divided at the time).  I also suspect that the Bradley book is credited only because Bradley himself was an advisor on the film and so they decided to use his book for some background and give him credit.  I doubt that it was involved at all in the actual writing of the script.  There certainly didn’t seem to be anything in the book involving Patton that wasn’t covered in the Farago book.

One key difference between the book (or life) and the film is that there was a second slapping incident.  Actually, that was the first incident and the two aren’t so much combined as the first one, whose repercussions were minimal, is excised.  It works better that way anyway.

The Credits:

Directed by Franklin J. Schaffner.  Screen Story and Screenplay by Francis Ford Coppola and Edmund H. North.  Based on Factual Material from Patton: Ordeal and Triumph by Ladislas Farago and A Soldier’s Story by Omar N. Bradley.

Floating Weeds

The Film:

Much like the film that it was based on, Floating Weeds came at a time of change for director Yasujiro Ozu.  Perhaps that is why he returned to his 1934 silent film and revisited it.  Now, not only would he be making a sound version (which would necessitate a more complete screenplay since there would be spoken dialogue) but he also would be making it in color.  That took the acting troupe that is a major part of the film and allowed its sets, its costumes and its makeup to appear in color and make for a more vibrantly alive film than he was capable of making the first time.  The best way to watch this film is actually to watch it in conjunction with some of the other Ozu films, some of the early Comedies, then the original version, then some of his work in between, then this film.  That really gives you a sense of how far he has come and what the two films mean in his oeuvre.

It’s summer in a seaside town on Japan’s Inland Sea.  It is the late 50’s but some things never change and a troupe of kabuki actors arrive in town on a ship and immediately set about setting things up and promoting their play.  Well, that is, everyone except Komajuro, the leader of the troupe.  He’s got other things on his mind, like visiting his old mistress and the son that doesn’t know who his father is.  But that will bring about a chain of events that will lead to unintended results.  Komajuro has another mistress now, who works with him in the troupe and her jealousy will lead to her asking a young actress in the troupe to seduce Komajuro’s son.  From there, different events in their lives will overlap with the modern day setting.  Traveling kabuki troupes are not in the same position as they were back in the 30’s before the war (when the original film was shot and set) and the troupe has been badly managed.

Without being preachy, the film focuses on a lot of questions that people ask themselves.  What kind of life do I want for myself?  What kind of life do I want for my child?  Is what I do something I want to pass down or am I determined to try and find a better life for them?  That is often the question that passes between generations.  Do you say to your child what was good enough for me is good enough for you or are you determined to give them a better life than you got?  But Ozu frames all of this within changing times in an industry and a land and it is even reflected in the changing aspects of the film.

The troupe arrives by boat rather than by train.  The era of traveling troupes of kabuki actors are ending.  The film is now no longer silent but has both sound and color.  Those even overlap, because with these kinds of films, much more accessible to these kind of isolated towns in 1959 Japan than they had been in 1934 why go see the actors when you get the magic of film?

Ozu was never a massive success but his reputation has continued to grow through the years.  It seems that with each poll, his films climb higher and higher.  A Story of Floating Weeds was his first really good film, the first film of his mature era and this is one of the best films that he would ever make.  They are a fitting pair.

The Source:

A Story of Floating Weeds, Directed by Yasujiro Ozu, Story by James Maki, Screenplay by Tadao Ikeda  (1934)

Yasujiro Ozu, in the mid 30’s had made several Comedies and many of them started with cartoon like credits sequences.  But with this story, the very first shot is of the credits set against a burlap sack, a sign of its pastoral setting (in a small town on Japan’s Inland Sea) and also a sign of the minimalist aspect of directing that Ozu would begin to use with this film.  Of all the great directors in film history, Ozu would perhaps make the least use of camera movement and quick editing and he would allow his film to flow from the characters and the story and even the seasons.  This was the first really mature Ozu film and it was his first one that I rank above *** (and indeed, I rate it as the best film he would make until he would make his greatest film, Tokyo Story, in 1953).

A troupe of kabuki actors have arrived by train.  They are headed by Kihachi, a popular actor and Otaka, his mistress.  But Kihachi has a hidden reason to be in this town that Otaka doesn’t know about: his former mistress and his son (who is unaware of who his father is).  Kihachi is actually thinking of leaving the life on the road and settling down, perhaps here with his former mistress and being a father to a son.  He has been sending them money and he has kept an interest in his son but because his work has him on the road, he has never revealed to his son who he is.  But, driven by jealousy, Otaka hatches a plot that ends up with one of the other actresses in the troupe getting into a relationship with the son.  At the same time that Kihachi is trying to disband the troupe and find a new life, it is completely upended and what we end up with is Kihachi, back on the road, headed into a new version of his old life with his mistress still at his side.  We get a beautiful image of the two of them at the station, her lighting his cigarette before they head back out of town.

It is an interesting transitional film, not just for Ozu, as he moved away from Comedy but also for the country as seven years after The Jazz Singer, it still working in the Silent Era.  It is interesting then, that Ozu would choose this film to remake some 25 years later when more changes had happened in both the country and the industry.  It makes for the rare example of a director not only remaking their own very good film but actually doing a better job with it the second time around.

The Adaptation:

In a sense, the biggest changes are the ones that are only superficial in terms of an adaptation (color film, sound).  There is also the more explicit notion that the son and the young actress sleep together in the second film while it is more implied in the first film but that’s because things were looser in what was allowed to be depicted on film in 1959.  The breakup of the troupe is more complicated in the remake than in the original.  But, for the most part, the two films follow almost exactly the same story.  Don’t be fooled by the writing credits on the first film either, James Maki is a pseudonym for Ozu and he was the main creative force behind both films.  Both films are inspired by the 1928 film The Barker but neither is explicitly based on it.

The Credits:

Directed by Yasujiro Ozu.  Screenplay by Yasujiro Ozu, Kogo Noda.
note:  Credits courtesy of Criterion.  There is no credit for the original film.

Žert

The Film:

The Prague Spring was alive.  Jaromil Jires, a director of the Czech New Wave would team up with Milan Kundera, a hip new author (almost 40, but had just published his first novel the year before) to adapt his novel, The Joke.  The joke of the title is played by Ludvik.  Although there are two jokes.  Or maybe just one joke and it’s a big one and it’s life’s joke on Ludvik.  Either way, things are funny until they are bleak and could not possibly be less funny until they come around and are funny again or maybe it’s all only funny if you look at it from a certain point of view.

Ludvik is in love with Markéta, but unfortunately she’s not exactly one for humor.  So, trying to lighten her mood, when out of town, he sends her a postcard: “Optimism is the opium of the people!  A ‘healthy spirit’ stinks of stupidity. Long live Trotsky!”  That’s the joke and the novel got away with it because it was 1967 and the filmmakers got away with it because it was 1968 but Ludvik himself doesn’t get away with it, ending up expelled from the Party and sent to a re-education camp that will upend his life.  The film itself also doesn’t get away from it because while it was filmed during the Spring, by the time it was ready for release, the Soviet tanks had arrived in Prague and they weren’t about to let this film reach screens, at least not in its native country.

So there’s a joke, or irony, or what have you.  In the film itself, Ludvik has actually come back to Prague after almost two decades away, being educated, learning a different life and now he’s well-known enough to be interviewed by a reporter that he decides he wants to seduce because she’s married to the supposed friend who pushed for Ludvik’s expulsion all those years ago.  But the film itself is banned and the author would, in 1975, leave for France and not only stay there but would eventually start publishing his books in French instead.

But I haven’t even mentioned the other jokes, what else happens in the film that Ludvik does and the way it comes back at him.  But that’s for you to discover in a film that is worth seeing and that may open your eyes to a different world of film.  It’s not a great film, but it feels like the last hurrah of the Czech New Wave, a startling, fresh group of directors and films that was inspired until it was beaten down.  But this film, hard to see for a long time, can be seen in a box set that Criterion released in its Eclipse Series: Pearls of the Czech New Wave.

The Source:

Žert by Milan Kundera  (1967)

Milan Kundera wasn’t actually that young.  He was almost 40 when he turned to writing novels and The Joke was his first.  Its satirical look at the Communist era in his country, beginning in the early years after the war and dealing with students who were about Kundera’s age and running through to the slightly more open era of the late 60’s (just before the Prague Spring) offers a fascinating view into a country that was semi-closed off to American audiences.  As a result of books like this, Kundera would eventually leave Czechoslovakia and settle in France where he continues to be one of the best novelists that Europe has to offer.  This is a first novel and it has some of the trademarks of a first novel, rambling a bit, lacking a bit of focus, but it has some serious bite to it and you can see the direction that Kundera would move on to for his later novels.

The Adaptation:

For a novel that is not very long (304 pages) there is a surprising amount of details that are cut for the film and easily so.  There is much in the novel in the way of first-person narrative (the novel is told from multiple points-of-view) but the film really focuses on Ludvik’s story and tells it the same way the novel does, by starting in the present with his interview, going back to what happened to him 20 years before and then coming back to what he wants to do to try and get back at the man that he views as responsible.

The Credits:

Rezie Jaromil Jires.  Na motivy románu Milana Kundery.  Scénár Napsali: Milana Kundera, Jaromil Jires.

Mississippi Mermaid

The Film:

A wealthy tobacco plantation owner, Louis, lives on an island in the Indian Ocean.  He searches for a wife long distance and finds one, Julia.  He provides her with the means to come to him but when she arrives, it’s not the woman in the photograph that he saw.  Your first thought might be the catfishing was around long before the internet (indeed, since the film is based on a 1947 novel that was actually set in the late 19th Century) but you wouldn’t be on the right track.  He asks her why she looks different from the picture but she says she was afraid that he would want just for her looks and since she’s played by Catherine Deneuve and everyone wants her for her looks it rings true.  He marries her (he also feels okay since he didn’t tell her how rich he was also because he was worried she would just want his money) and gives her access to his bank accounts and then one day he comes home and discovers that she isn’t there any more and neither is his money.

Again, you’re going to go with catfishing and again, you wouldn’t quite be right.  Because then Julia’s sister arrive and when she and Louis talk it will turn out that the Julia that got on the boat to marry him isn’t the Julia who got off the boat and did.  So what happened to the real Julia, the one in the photo?  Both fear that she is dead and so begins a fascinating mystery where you will wander back and forth between your loyalties, trying to decide who to root for and what you are rooting for them to do.

This film is based on a smart, fascinating thriller by Cornel Woolrich and was later remade as Original Sin, a film I haven’t bothered to see because why would I want to watch Antonio Banderas and Angelina Jolie mess up what has already been done so brilliantly by Jean-Paul Belmondo and Catherine Deneuve.  Why go for the film with a 33 on Metacritic which I can watch, over and over again, one made by Truffaut?

I’m not going to say any more about the plot because it’s best to immerse yourself in the film and discover what happens.  Are you rooting for Belmondo, the man who had his money ripped off by the woman who showed up and claimed to be his intended?  Or is it is his own fault for being taken in by the beautiful blonde in front of him and are you actually rooting for that femme fatale like you might find yourself doing in so many noir films?  This isn’t a noir film, not in color, filled with so much sunlight like it is.  But it takes some of the best elements and blends them together in an entertaining and very good film that rises towards the top in a very weak year.

The Source:

Waltz into Darkness by William Irisih  (1947)

Cornel Woolrich was a solid writer of mystery and suspense fiction (he wrote the original short story “Rear Window” for instance).  This novel, published under one of his pseudonyms (even Woolrich is an abbreviated version of his actual name) is about a man in late 19th Century New Orleans who has managed to find himself a bride in St. Louis (he is unmarried because his love as a young man died suddenly).  When the woman who arrives is not the one in the daguerreotype that he was sent he accepts her explanation for that and marries her.  But when a letter arrives from her sister claiming that there is an imposter writing to her and his wife disappears with most of his fortune we are plunged into a mystery that continues to grow upon itself.  Obviously I won’t give away the plot here if I didn’t up above but it’s well worth reading, a fascinating mystery that really keeps you guessing as to where it will go and a solid example of noir fiction even if it takes place in the 19th Century.

The Adaptation:

Most of the film and even a lot of the small details come straight from the original novel (the ending of the film is more optimistic than the novel, though that depends on how you feel about the characters).  The main differences are simply any changes you would have to make when taking a novel set in 1880 New Orleans and St Louis and moving it to 20th Century Indian Ocean islands and France.

The Credits:

Directed by François Truffaut.  Based on a novel by William Irish.  Screenplay and Dialogue by François Truffaut.
note:  Yes, even though the film is in French, the credits were in English, or at least they were on the DVD I watched.

Where’s Poppa?

The Film:

A film adaptation of one of my most favorite novels sits at #10 and a Comedy with George Segal sits at #9?  So how to explain that?  Perhaps Roger Ebert sums it up best: “There is a certain kind of humor that rises below vulgarity. It isn’t merely in the worst possible taste; it aspires to be in the worst possible taste. “Where’s Poppa?” is the best example of the genre since “The Producers.””  It’s not like this was going to be a surprise.  The original cover of the book describes it as “a tasteless novel”.

This is a movie that spares no one.  Perhaps the scene that best sums that up is early on when Segal is defending a young beatnik protester against the Vietnam War.  The protestor (played by director Carl Reiner’s son, Rob in an early acting role) is obnoxious and rude and as it turns out, cut off the toe of the army colonel he is accused of assaulting.  So you start to think that the film’s sympathies lie with the colonel.  But as he talks about the war, then starts talking about killing men in Vietnam with his bare hands, killing men who had surrendered, getting the brains of one of the dead men and bringing it home to his little boy, you start to realize that there is nothing that this film won’t tear down.

But the entire film is like that.  It doesn’t worry who it offends.  It will attack everyone.  Blacks?  They’re all just muggers.  The Jewish boy?  The one who still lives with his mother threatens to kill her and the one who doesn’t threatens to strangle his own child so he can run to his mother’s defense.  The law or the police?  Just look at the trial or what happens after one brother is arrested.  There is no way in which this film fails to offend and yet, it never fails to be funny.  It takes things to such an outlandish end that you can’t help but laugh.  You can’t root against the poor guy who just wants to shtup the hot nurse he has hired (mainly because everyone she takes care of dies) because he just hopes to be free and you can’t root for him because this is his mother we’re talking about.

In the end, the film even took a completely outlandish step that was so far out there that when the film was re-released a few years later, they actually cut it out because it was just too much for them to take.  But you can read about that online and then you’ll really know how far they were willing to push things.

The Source:

Where’s Poppa? by Robert Klane  (1970)

Want some irony?  I can’t get hold of this book probably because it was originally a mass market original and thus many libraries don’t have it.  But Joseph Heller, the author of the next source, read it, or at least provided a blurb for it, which I know because it’s on the movie version of the book: “A funny, bawdy, nasty book . . . I laughed out loud all the way through.”  The Independent gave a nice bit on the book in a piece on “Forgotten authors” which reads “Klane’s prose is as blunt as a chucked brick. He has no time for niceties, and recognises that the best dark comedy, like life, is painful, mean and short. Where’s Poppa? (1970) may be the ultimate Jewish mother novel. Trapped at home with a senile parent, a dominated and sleep-deprived lawyer continually loses his cases and his girlfriends. His attempts to frighten his ancient mother to death must be nightly defeated by his guilt-laden brother, who runs a gauntlet of Central Park muggers in order to prevent matricide, and to halt the receipt of said mother into his own home. The film version, made with George Segal and Ruth Gordon, suffered a failure of nerve in the final furlong and avoided the novel’s brilliantly ghastly Oedipal outcome.”

The Adaptation:

So I can’t speak much to the book to novel comparison although certainly the book as described in the review is what was on screen.  The big difference, of course, is the ending, and The Independent is correct, at least in terms of the version I saw but isn’t true for the original release.  Originally, the film ended with Segal back at home with his mother, Luise leaving him and him crawling into bed with his mother saying “Here’s poppa.”  But, when the film was re-released in 1975 (as Going Ape) that original ending was dropped and that’s the version that is available on DVD (or at least the version I watched) and is almost certainly the version that the Independent writer saw.

The Credits:

Directed by Carl Reiner.  Screenplay by Robert Klane.  Based on his novel “Where’s Poppa?”

Catch-22

The Film:

I have already reviewed the film once.  That’s because it’s based on one of the greatest novels ever written (see below).  Every time I watch it (which is several times partially because I used to have a taped copy on VHS) I want it to be better than it is.  It suffers a bit because it’s in the same year as M*A*S*H and while the novel M*A*S*H can never hope to be more than a decent entertainment, the film is brilliant and for all-time.  But here, it’s the novel that stands supreme and the film can’t hope to be more than a grasp at that.  It’s a solid grasp, given the casting, but it still can’t rise above a very high *** and thus doesn’t make it to my Best Picture discussion, even in a weak year like 1970.  But it does win both Actor and Supporting Actor in my Comedy awards, even beating out performances in M*A*S*H.

The Source:

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller  (1961)

Easily one of the greatest novels ever written and I discussed in my piece on the book (where I ranked it at #10) about how since it was written, it has not been surpassed (at least in English).  It is definitely the best example of a brilliant book matched with hilarity, even beating out The World According to Garp and Confederacy of Dunces.  There is no book ever written that is both this good and this funny.

Since I did read it again for this project (and will probably read it again next year as I do in a lot of years), I will note a paragraph that wasn’t highlighted or even pencilled in (which I did with some extra lines when I read it for my Top 100 Novels project) but which shows the hilarity of the book:

The soldier who saw everything twice nodded weakly and sank back on his bed.  Yossarian nodded weakly too, eying his talented roommate with great humility and admiration.  He knew he was in the presence of a master.  His talented roommate was obviously a person to be studied and emulated.  During the night, his talented roommate died, and Yossarian decided that he had followed him far enough.  (p 179)

The Adaptation:

In my original review of the book and the film I mentioned my anecdote about this film.  In that anecdote I didn’t mention that I also described the film I had seen the night before was faithful (which does describe both this film and For Whom the Bell Tolls).  But I also said that the film wasn’t coherent and this film is not.  That’s because it is faithful.  Yet, the novel is coherent.  Or is it?  Well, the novel moves around a lot, which is why I have said you can read the first 35 chapters in any order (something my professor actually said first) and sometimes things happen in the book in an order that is not possible.  So almost everything in this film comes straight from the book and if, at times, you are confused, well, that’s the burden of being faithful to such a brilliant book.

The Credits:

Directed by Mike Nichols.  Based on the novel by Joseph Heller.  Screenplay by Buck Henry.

Consensus Nominees

I Never Sang for My Father

The Film:

The first time I saw this film, when I was a lot younger, I was captivated by the acting.  Specifically, I was captivated by the great performance from Gene Hackman and struggled to understand how he could have been listed as a supporting actor when he is clearly the lead. This was still the early days of category fraud.  The idea seemed to be that Melvyn Douglas was established and that Gene Hackman was still a rising character actor, so, of course Douglas was the lead and Hackman was supporting, even though it should be clear to anyone with a brain that Hackman is the lead (he’s even the damn narrator).

But, the great performance from Hackman and the very good one from Douglas (Hackman was nominated for an Oscar and wins the Nighthawk while Douglas is nominated for both) helped me to buy into the schmaltz story (a son who doesn’t get along with his father deals, first with his mother’s death, then with what to do about his father since the son wants to move to California).  I didn’t really think about how badly the film was directed, how badly it was paced, or how agonizingly bad the score was.  I was just so focused on the acting and the lines, which seemed deep and meaningful when I was a teenager, (“Death ends a life, but it does not end a relationship.”) now just seem trite to me.

The reason that the film just doesn’t fall apart is because the relationship between Hackman and Douglas plays out both realistically (two men just talking past each other while trying to overcome the years that have made their relationship difficult) and because the performances are so good.  But watching it again, oh boy, was it difficult to get through it without rolling my eyes.  But then again, Hackman has always been one of the greatest of film actors and he’s enough to get you through any film.

The Source:

I Never Sang for My Father by Robert Anderson (1968)

All the triteness and pain in the writing (both the good pain, in the realistic depiction of the relationships and the bad pain of some of the obvious over-writing) comes straight from the play.  The play must have been awkward to watch as the main character keeps stepping away from the action to give us long monologues.  What was strangest for me was that Hal Holbrook was once young enough to play the son in this; I was surprised, when watching / reading this at the end of 2016 that he had managed to survive the year that seemed to take everyone else.

The Adaptation:

Most of the dialogue in the film comes straight from the original play.  Even the voiceovers came from the play, though in the play the character would simply step away from the action and deliver a monologue direct to the audience, which must have been really jarring.  It works much better as a film voiceover.  The big difference between the two is that the character of Peggy, the woman that the son is going to marry and go off to California with never actually makes an appearance in the play.

The Credits:

Produced and Directed by Gilbert Cates. Written by Robert Anderson.

Airport

The Film:

In my original review, I took this film to task on any number of accounts (actually, it was ten, but who’s counting, aside from me, obviously).  It is a ridiculous, badly acted and even more badly written film that somehow managed to not only become one of the biggest films ever released (#6 at the time and adjusted for inflation it is still in the Top 50 and isn’t that far behind The Last Jedi, to give a current example) but also a Best Picture nominee with an astounding 10 total Oscar nominations.  I can’t necessarily say that the screenplay’s Oscar nomination was the most inexplicable of the 10 nominations given that its costumes were nominated over Women in Love and Patton but it is pretty high up there.  Of all the films ever nominated in this category at the Oscars, only two of them are worse than this one (I Want to Live, Fatal Attraction).

The Source:

Airport by Arthur Hailey  (1968)

Well, here’s the good news.  The filmmakers didn’t take a good, readable novel and make a terrible film out of it.  In spite of its popularity, this book, just like the popular film made out of it, is really pretty bad.  Much of the dialogue and almost all of the story came straight from the book and it’s just as ridiculous as you would imagine when watching the film.

The Adaptation:

Other than trying to convince us that Dean Martin is a pilot, the film doesn’t depart too much from the original novel.  Most of the stupid things about the film that I have mentioned before were there and just as stupid in the original novel, though they seemed less obviously stupid on the page.  The big difference is that in the book there is actually a brother to Burt Lancaster’s character, an air traffic controller who is planning to commit suicide (he decides not to at the end of the film) who adds yet another subplot of melodrama to the book which thankfully the filmmakers cut because there’s only so much melodrama you can fit in one film, even this one.

The Credits:

Written for the Screen and Directed by George Seaton.  From the novel by Arthur Hailey.

WGA Nominees

The Great White Hope

The Film:

We hear about him first.  A bunch of men argue about the powerful black boxer who went to Australia to fight for the crown because in America he wasn’t being allowed to.  Now the newspapermen and powers that be have to talk the reigning champ into going in the ring against him, Jack Jefferson, who demolishes anyone who comes close.  Then we see the man himself and we get that booming voice and yes, this is a young James Earl Jones, vital, powerful, alive.  We remember that he didn’t just become famous for his voice, which must have been a hell of a thing on stage when he first played the role of Jefferson and for which he won his first Tony.

But the problem for many of the whites is not just that Jefferson is powerful and brash and outspoken and has an intensity that they just can’t match.  But he also likes his women and this one particular woman that he is with now happens to be white.  That’s one step too far for many of them and they want to knock him down any way they can.  It turns out it won’t be for years that any great white hope will be found that can knock him down in the ring so they are forced to knock him down through the law, through business, through money, through anything they can think of to knock back his pride and none of them ever work.

This film, with a decent script, a very good performance from Jane Alexander as the woman that Jefferson loves (she had also played the role on stage) and a powerhouse performance from Jones that, remarkably, brought him his only Oscar nomination is a solid film but is never able to do more than that.  Parts of the script are just too hackneyed, too glaringly obvious in what they want to say and how they want to say it.  The direction from Martin Ritt, who was never really a director with a deft hand or a great eye is rather stolid and the fight scenes are nothing like you would see in later boxing films.  You could say that the boxing in this film is beside the point and it mostly is which is why there is so little of it but like with everything else, it just isn’t done well enough to carry the film.  But that’s okay because the film has Jones to rely upon and he more than carries his own and everyone else’s as well.  This film while not as unsubtle as Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner is also not as deft as In the Heat of the Night but any time you can watch Jones and that intense gleam in his eyes and that bounce to his voice you know it’s worth watching.

The Source:

The Great White Hope by Howard Sackler  (1967)

This play won both the Tony Award and the Pulitzer.  The first I can understand given that the original version on stage had both James Earl Jones and Jane Alexander but the latter is a bit of a surprise because this is a blank verse play that starts to drag after a while with scene after scene of men trying to keep Jack Jefferson (a stand-in for Jack Johnson, the first black heavyweight champion who was recently pardoned) down and him defying them at every turn from sleeping with a white woman to fleeing from the law.

The Adaptation:

Sackler, who adapted the play for the screen himself, definitely felt that he had done the job right the first time (and since he won both the Tony and the Pulitzer) because he changes very little of his play.  Perhaps that is part of what lead to the static directing in that the film is broken up into all of the scenes as they took place on stage and there isn’t much that opens things up.

The Credits:

Directed by Martin Ritt.  Screenplay by Howard Sackler.  Based on his play.

Little Big Man

The Film:

Is this a great film?  Roger Ebert certainly thought so when it was released, giving it four stars, and Vincent Canby called it Penn’s “most extravagant and ambitious film” which is saying something given that Penn had already directed Bonnie and Clyde.  But the Oscars and Globes only nominated it for Chief Dan George’s performance as the chief, Old Lodge Skins, with the Academy even passing over its costumes in favor of Airport.  And I myself have seen it twice now, once years ago, and again for this project and both times I have found myself wanting to think it better than I do but in the end, settling down and rating it at a mid ***.

Is the problem one of tone?  I classified it as a Drama but is it really?  The WGA also classified it as a Drama but then again, it was nominated opposite Catch-22 and if the WGA didn’t get that Catch-22 is a Comedy then what is going on with them?  This is a bit of a picaresque tale, the story of one man who doesn’t seem to know who he is.  There’s good reason for that, because while we’re getting the tale from him as a 121 year old, we see him age, in the course of the film, from ten to 27 and in that time he goes from being a white kid, to being raised by Cheyenne to escaping back to the white world (“God bless George Washington!” he yells to a soldier to keep from being bayonetted) to embracing the Cheyenne again when he is about to be knifed to going back to the white men yet again and working for Custer to managing to survive the Battle of Little Big Horn (where Custer is slaughtered because he believes that everything this man, Jack Crabb, tells him is a lie and moving in when he is told that if he will he will be slaughtered).  Yet, the tale is not told all that seriously at times.  He is tarred and feathered only to have his long lost sister discover him at that moment.  He is sent to bring money to a woman that Wild Bill Hickok wanted taken care of after his death and it’s a woman who once tried to seduce him.  He comes back to the Cheyenne to discover that his Swedish wife has not only survived an attack he thought had killed her but has come into the Cheyenne world, learned their language and is dominating their camp.

So much happens and in some ways so little happens, that I wonder if the film just tries to do too much.  Or maybe I expect the weight of such history to be told a bit more seriously but every time the film seems to get too serious it pulls back and almost looks at us with a wink.  Or maybe the problem is just Hoffman.  Maybe I never really found him convincing in the role, a bit too jokey of a performance and that just never sat right with me?  It’s hard to know.  The performance from Chief Dan George is quite good (he is just outside my Top 5), the costumes are good and the film isn’t boring.  It’s just something that never quite clicks for me.  If only it had made the impression on me that it made with Ebert it could have easily made the Top 5 in such a weak year.

The Source:

Little Big Man: A Novel by Thomas Berger  (1964)

A rather humorous, picaresque novel, almost Don Quixote like, which perhaps explains why I don’t take to it all that much.  It’s kind of a satire of American history, or at least that period of American history, the conquering of the West and the wiping out of the Native Americans but it just doesn’t work for me.  I can see the humor but I just don’t respond to it.

The Adaptation:

The first change was altering the age and timing of the character so he is now 121 and telling the story in 1970 so that he was born in 1849 instead of being 10 in 1849.  Aside from that, the film bounces back and forth between being true to the book, with a lot of the Native characters and Jack’s back and forth in his life between the Natives and the whites and totally doing its own thing.  So, the Battle of Little Big Horn plays out like in the book but in the film, Jack’s there when Wild Bill is killed and it brings him back to an earlier character while in the book, he isn’t even there when Wild Bill is killed.  There’s a lot of that, with back and forth in its fidelity to the book.  In the end, I would say it really veers away, especially in the ending where Old Lodge Skins actually dies in the book but in the film, the fact that he doesn’t die is perhaps the funniest scene in the film.

The Credits:

Directed by Arthur Penn.  Based on the novel by Thomas Berger.  Screenplay by Calder Willingham.

The Owl and the Pussycat

The Film:

If I had to take a guess as to who has the largest role in this film, I would go with Barbra Streisand over George Segal for while she is not in as many scenes, she more than makes up for it with never-ending dialogue.  Her Doris, an actress, or maybe a model, but perhaps definitely a whore, can’t ever seem to stop talking and often gets in several lines to Segal’s Felix, a poor struggling writer who is lucky to string two sentences together on screen or on the page.  But if I had to say who has the most screen time in the film, well that award definitely goes to Streisand’s cleavage.

I have mentioned, in regards to Funny Girl, that the “hello gorgeous” line is a bit ironic because gorgeous is definitely not a word I would apply to Streisand.  This is probably the film in which she looks the best, which is appropriate because she spends the vast majority of the film in a state of considerable undress, including wearing a bra with handprints on each breast (which you can clearly see on the poster to the right).  She even filmed her only nude scene for this film but she ended up getting them to cut it (it was later published in an issue of High Society and she sued).  She looks really good and you can understand it when Felix finally gives in and hops into bed with her.  But of course what you can’t understand is how no one has killed either of these two people long before this point.

Doris complains about Felix’s typing (his apartment is close to hers).  So he complains about the men in her apartment and she gets evicted.  Pissed off, she comes to his apartment, demanding to stay since he got her kicked out.  You would think he might respond to her given her state of undress, but he’s such a prig and a dimwit that he can barely get a sentence out, though eventually they fight so loudly that he gets evicted as well.  So they go crash at the apartment of a friend of his and they are so loud the friend leaves.  All of this and they still haven’t slept together and he still hasn’t told her he has a fiancee (which won’t come up until much later).

This is a romantic comedy, so you know that in the end these two people will end up together.  That they will end up together kind of homeless in Central Park because no one else will have them around won’t be surprising.  What will be surprising is if you can stand these two long enough to even get to the end of the film to find that out.

The Source:

The Owl and the Pussycat: A Comedy in Three Acts by Bill Manhoff  (1964)

A writer, annoyed at having his typing being complained about, complains about the complainer (she is a whore) and gets her evicted so she shows up in his apartment and basically moves herself in with him (which only lasts a few hours until he gets evicted as well).  It’s the story of two people who are so annoying to everyone else that eventually they will realize they should just annoy each other.  One of the reasons it was such a bold success on stage is that, even though the play doesn’t call for it, the male was white and the female was black (it was Alan Alda and Diana Sands in the original production).

The Adaptation:

While the premise is exactly the same and there are some lines that are the same (especially in the first scene), once the film really gets going, it departs considerably from the source material.  Part of that is because the original play is only a two person production while a major part of the film is how these two annoy everyone else so much, which means a lot of interaction with other people at the start and especially end of scenes.  The original play had a charming ending with the two of them kind of starting over while the film has them wandering homeless in Central Park.  That the film dropped the inter-racial romance is not directly a change from the play since it wasn’t written in for the female role to be black in the play, it was just a casting choice.

The Credits:

Directed by Herbert Ross.  Based on the play “The Owl and the Pussycat” by Bill Manhoff.  Presented on the New York Stage by Philip Rose, Pat Fowler and Seven-Arts Production.  Screenplay by Buck Henry.

The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes

The Film:

I was disappointed when I originally saw this film.  I have always been a Sherlock Holmes fan, had read all the original stories long before seeing this film.  And this was Billy Wilder, one of the greatest of writer-directors, one of my all-time favorites.  And yet, this film was, curiously, a bit flat.  The blame for this lies in two places.  The first must go squarely at the feat of Wilder himself.  He just doesn’t do anything to really distinguish this film from any other use of Holmes.  If you’re going to try and stick Holmes into something involving politics of the day, I find it more interesting to have him going up against Jack the Ripper (and by extension, people involved with the throne) like in Murder by Decree rather than having Mycroft developing a submarine in the 19th Century and having it be frowned upon by Queen Victoria as unfair.  By having a bit of a femme fatale the film tries to bring someone into Holmes’ life on the level of Irene Adler but it would have been better off actually making use of the Adler story itself (“A Scandal in Bohemia”) and going from there rather just making up a brand new story.

This was Billy Wilder’s first film in four years, the longest lay-off of his career.  It showed that the upward tick of The Fortune Cookie wasn’t where he was headed and that his career was clearly in a decline.  Though the rest of the films that he would direct are all decent enough films, the magic that had sustained the first two decades of his directing career was now gone.  There’s no bite to this film, no snap to the direction or the script.  For a writer who made his mark on exceptionally witty lines that are remembered for years and years it’s surprising to have a Sherlock Holmes film without hardly any lines worth remembering more than five minutes.

But if much of the blame must be laid at Wilder’s feet (and I’m not suggesting that this is a bad film, just a mid range *** film and for a Sherlock Holmes film, or any film directed by Wilder, that is disappointing even if it’s better than most films), definitely part of the blame goes on the casting.  Robert Stephens and Colin Blakely were far from bad actors but they were not right for the role of Holmes and Watson.  To see a giddy Watson dancing along with a bunch of Russian ballerinas is bad enough, but then to have it cut short because Holmes has implied they have a relationship just so he can get out of fathering a child for the main ballerina is just too much and too silly, especially since that half hour sequence is completely unnecessary and simply makes the film drag.  I know the idea is to show various tidbits of Holmes’ private life (thus the title) and that there were actually more sequences filmed that were cut for running time, but if that was the plan, then they should have shortened things up on the main plot and not had it drag on for an hour and half.

Then there is Christopher Lee.  There’s nothing wrong with Lee or his performance of course because there never is.  But Lee’s Mycroft, with his masterly voice and command of the situation presents other problems.  For instance, this Mycroft seems so on top of things you can’t believe that this Sherlock would ever be considered great when compared to his brother.  For another thing, it reminds you that Lee had already been in a Sherlock Holmes film, the Hammer production of The Hound of the Baskervilles and that is one of the best Sherlock Holmes films ever made and it just makes this one suffer even more for the comparison.

The Source:

characters created by Arthur Conan Doyle

I have long been a fan of the original Doyle stories as I made clear here.  The source material here is simply the characters themselves, specifically the characters of Sherlock Holmes, John Watson, Mrs. Hudson and Mycroft Holmes.  This film doesn’t use any previous existing Sherlock Holmes story but just makes one up and uses the characters.

The Adaptation:

Other than Mycroft being much thinner than he should be according to the source material (which was always going to happen once you cast Christopher Lee – can you imagine an overweight Christopher Lee?) almost nothing in this film contradicts any actual Doyle story so in that sense, the film is certainly true to the characters.  But, given the characters involved and given the writers involved, it’s certainly a disappointing story.

The Credits:

Produced and Directed by Billy Wilder.  Based upon the Characters created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  Written by Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond.

Golden Globe Nominee

Scrooge

The Film:

There have been a lot of Scrooges through the years.  There have rarely ever been bad ones, because the role is so ripe to be attacked and because so many good actors have been handed it.  But that doesn’t mean that all versions of the story are equal.  This one, for example, is not all that good.  Oh, it has Albert Finney, and Finney is one of those great actors who seems born to play Scrooge, but the film itself doesn’t quite know what to do with him.  It has him mugging horribly and it has him getting too over-excited at the end and even dressing up as Santa Claus (did that version of Santa even exist at that point?).  Most importantly, in discussing the flaws of the film, it is a musical.

Just being a musical doesn’t count as a flaw.  I am extremely fond of musicals; good ones, that is.  But this isn’t a good one.  The songs are boring, the songs are forgettable, and the songs just make the film last far too long.  One of the good things about this story is that isn’t very long, which means you can do the whole story and do it nicely in 90 minutes or so.  Hell, the Muppets would later do it as a musical and they would still get it done in less than 90 minutes.  The IMDb informs me that this film only lasts 113 minutes but good lord does it feel like a hell of a lot more than that.  It is a low **.5 and it manages to do that mainly through Finney’s performance in the moments where it is able to overcome the direction by Ronald Neame.  Yet, somehow the Globes thought that Finney was worthy of an award and that the film’s script deserved a nomination as one of the best scripts of the year, but then again, it lost to Love Story, so clearly the Globe voters had lost their minds that year.

There are a lot of choices for adaptations of this story.  Your best bet is to find a different one.  This is one has nice art direction and costumes, as this story usually does, and it does have Alec Guinness in a small role as Jacob Marley, but still, your best bet is to skip this and go watch the Alistair Sim version again (or the George C. Scott television version).

Two final notes on this film.  The first is that on the poster to the right the tagline is “If he can sing and dance there’s hope for all of us.”  Of course, the implication is that if Scrooge, the eternal miser, can be inspired to sing and dance, then anyone can find joy and happiness.  But the other way to look at the tagline is that Finney himself doesn’t do a very good job of singing or dancing and that therefore there’s no hope for all of us.  The second note is that at least one of my consistent commenters is a supporter of this film (“a classic populist entertainment that has endured for generations” he called it in the 1960 comments).  I recommend you skip this film but he may (and is welcome to) disagree in the comments and you can decide if he’s convinced you that you should see it.

The Source:

A Christmas Carol in prose being A Ghost Story of Christmas by Charles Dickens  (1843)

I have already written about this, in 1952, for the adaptation with Alistair Sim.  It is one of the best works of Dickens, either in spite of the sentimentality or because of it.  A reminder, as well, that there is a brief piece on it here where I ranked it at #4 among the novels of Charles Dickens.

The Adaptation:

This version does a very good job of sticking to the original, because your really don’t need to do anything except that.  But it does add in all the annoying songs, of course, and because of that, it really makes the end of the film just go on forever.

The Credits:

Directed by Ronald Neame.  Based on A CHRISTMAS CAROL by Charles Dickens.  Music and Lyrics by Leslie Bricusse.  Screenplay by Leslie Bricusse.

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

  • Tristana  –  This film exists in a weird spot for me because I have it as a low ***.5 which is still a very good film but it’s in the midst of Luis Buñuel’s last career resurgence and this is actually the second weakest of his six final films.  Still, definitely worth watching.  Based on the novel by Benito Pérez Galdós, it was Oscar nominated for Foreign Film.

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

  • The Confession  –  Another true political story (following Z) by Costa-Gavras, this one based on the book L’aveu by Artur London.
  • Tell Them Willie Boy is Here  –  Abraham Polonsky’s first film in over 20 years is based on the book Willie Boy: A Desert Manhunt by Harry Lawton.  A true story that won Actor (Robert Redford) and Actress (Katharine Ross) at the BAFTAs but both were co-winners with their performances in Butch Cassidy.
  • The Molly Maguires  –  Though the film is based on a novel by Arthur H. Lewis, the Maguires were a real organization of 19th Century coal miners and I first saw this film in U.S. History as a junior in high school (Mr. Brunt’s class).
  • The Boys in the Band  –  A good early Friedkin film based on the popular off-Broadway play which is now playing on Broadway for its 50th anniversary.  As an avid book collector who is straight, the moment I most remember is the scene at the beginning where someone walks into a bookstore and you can see a full display of Modern Library books.  What’s more, that was almost a decade ago (when I saw this film) and when I re-watched The Owl and the Pussycat for this project a couple of weeks ago, I immediately identified it as the same bookstore (the Doubleday on 5th Avenue – I checked and I’m correct on that).  Yes, I’m that guy who, when watching films and television, is looking at the books in the background on the shelves.  My apologies to those people for whom this film is a cultural milestone.
  • Black Girl  –  First feature film from important Senegalese director Ousmane Sembène (1966 film released in L.A. in 1970) based on his own novella.  Wikipedia claims “It is often considered the first Sub-Saharan African film by an African filmmaker to receive international attention” but the IMDb says it’s “believed to be the first feature film made by a black African in sub-Saharan Africa”.  It’s possible they’re both true.
  • A Boy Named Charlie Brown  –  The first Peanuts feature film was released in December of 1969 but didn’t play L.A. until at least early 1970.  Lost Best Song Score at the Oscars to Let it Be.
  • The Crucified Lovers  –  A 1954 Kenji Mizoguchi film that was adapted from a 1715 play.
  • A Walk with Love and Death  –  One of the harder to find John Huston films is based on the novel by Hans Konigsberger.  The film debut of Anjelica Huston which seemed like cheap nepotism but then Huston became one of film’s best actresses, so it all worked out.
  • Tora! Tora! Tora!  –  Based on the title book as well as The Broken Seal (by Ladislas Farago who wrote the Patton book above), this film is a solid *** film but I want it to be lower because it just crushed Akira Kurosawa and he was fired from the film.
  • Wuthering Heights  –  So why watch an AIP version of the classic Bronte novel (my #93 novel of all-time) when there are so many other options?  It’s the only one with Timothy Dalton as Heathcliff.  It also has a young Julian Glover as Hindley.  Not great but certainly watchable.
  • The Landlord  –  Kristin Hunter’s 1966 novel becomes Hal Ashby’s directorial debut.  Okay film but gives you no sense of how important Ashby will be the rest of the decade.
  • Mouchette  –  A 1967 Robert Bresson film based on the novel by Georges Bernanos.
  • Zatoichi Meets Yojimbo  –  The 20th Zatoichi film which is made better by the presence of Toshiro Mifune.
  • Zatoichi Challenged  –  The 17th Zatoichi film and automatically inferior to the one listed above because it doesn’t have Toshiro Mifune.
  • Soldier Blue  –  Western based on the novel Arrow in the Sun loosely based on the Sand Creek Massacre.  We’re getting into low *** now.
  • Loving  –  George Segal Comedy based on the novel Ralph Wilson Ltd.
  • Taste the Blood of Dracula  –  Christopher Lee’s fourth go around as Dracula for Hammer.  The last good (***) Hammer Dracula film.
  • The Virgin and the Gypsy  –  Mediocre film version of the novella by D.H. Lawrence.
  • Borsalino  –  French Gangster film with Jean-Paul Belmondo based on the book Bandits à Marseille by Eugène Saccomano.
  • Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed  –  The fifth Hammer Frankenstein film.
  • Cotton Comes to Harlem  –  The Chester Himes novel becomes a Blaxploitation film that’s also the directorial debut of Ossie Davis.
  • The Kremlin Letter  –  One of John Huston’s weaker films (**.5).  Based on the novel by Noel Behn.
  • Beneath the Planet of the Apes  –  People complain about franchises today but this is the third franchise in the last 10 films.  The second of the Planet of the Apes films makes only small use of Charlton Heston.
  • The Last Adventure  –  Another 1967 French film, this one based on the novel by José Giovanni.
  • Promise at Dawn  –  Jules Dassin directs an adaptation of Romain Gary’s autobiographical novel.
  • There’s a Girl in My Soup  –  Peter Sellers and Goldie Hawn in a film version of the play that had been running in London for years.
  • The Vampire Lovers  –  The same source material as Vampyr (Carmilla by J. Sheridan Le Fanu) but Vampyr is a classic and this is a high **.5 film.  It is a Hammer film with Peter Cushing though, so there is that.
  • Colossus: The Forbin Project  –  Film version of the Science-Fiction novel by D.F. Jones.
  • The Phantom Tollbooth  –  Chuck Jones’ mostly animated version of the classic kids book is a bit uneven.  Famously hated by author Norton Juster.
  • Godzilla vs Monster Zero  –  Also known as Invasion of Astro-Monster, released in Japan in 1965 and released in the U.S. on a double bill with The War of the Gargantuas.
  • Oedipus the King  –  Christopher Plummer as Oedipus but the film is very theatrical and not all that good.  Down to mid-**.5.
  • Diary of a Mad Housewife  –  Very good performances from Carrie Snodgrass and Frank Langella but the film itself just isn’t very good.  Adapted from the novel by Sue Kaufman.
  • Something for Everyone  –  Acclaimed theater director Hal Prince makes a rare film.  Based on the novel The Cook by Harry Kressing, it has a Golden Globe nominated performance from Angela Lansbury.
  • The Assassination Bureau  –  A black Comedy from Basil Dearden adapted from, of all things, an unfinished novel by Jack London based on a story he apparently got from Sinclair Lewis.
  • The Revolutionary  –  Another Konigsberger novel, this one adapted by the author himself and starring Jon Voight.  The film debut of Jeffrey Jones.
  • The Blood Demon  –  Whatever title you know it as (it has at least five), it’s a West German version of Poe’s “The Pit and the Pendulum”.
  • Getting Straight  –  Weak (low **.5) Richard Rush film based on the novel by Ken Kolb.
  • Double Suicide  –  Japanese tragedy based on a play from 1721.
  • A Man Called Horse  –  Based on a short story by Dorothy M. Johnson (who wrote the story “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance”), this is a similar story to Little Big Man but not as good.
  • The Devil’s Bride  –  Also known as The Devil Rides Out.  Yet another Hammer film.  I didn’t actually mention it in my Hammer piece which prompted a question about it in the comments.
  • On a Clear Day You Can See Forever  –  First you had a Henry James novel (The Sense of the Past), then a play (Berkeley Square) that was also an Oscar nominated movie then turned into a stage musical in 1966 (with lyrics by Lerner and Burton Lane) and now a crappy movie with Barbra Streisand.
  • The Liberation of L.B. Jones  –  The final film of directorial great (#25 all-time) William Wyler is a complete dud.  Based on the novel by Jesse Hill Ford.
  • The Looking Glass War  –  Even a young Anthony Hopkins can’t save this dud of a John le Carré adaptation.  Based on one of the tangential Smiley novels (the name wasn’t used because Paramount had the rights).  Now we’ve reached ** films.
  • Leo the Last  –  Early John Boorman film that’s pretty bad.  Based on a Hungarian play The Prince.
  • Dirty Dingus Magee  –  Often lambasted as one of the worst Westerns ever made (I don’t think it’s quite that bad), it’s based on the novel by David Markson.
  • Captain Nemo and the Underwater City  –  Inspired by 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea but without much inspiration in the film itself.  It does have Robert Ryan as Nemo.
  • Julius Caesar  –  Stuart Burge’s Othello in 1965 had been a very good film because it had Olivier and Maggie Smith.  Having Charlton Heston as Mark Antony just isn’t the same and Burge just isn’t a good film director.
  • Rabbit, Run  –  This terrible adaptation of the great Updike book (though the other three books are better) was such a disaster that perhaps it scared off anyone from adapting any other Updike books.  Almost 50 years later and the only other novel made into a film was The Witches of Eastwick.
  • Last of the Mobile Hot Shots  –  Not quite Sidney Lumet’s worst film, but close.  Gore Vidal wrote this adaptation of a lesser known Tennessee Williams play, The Seven Descents of Myrtle.
  • Dougal and the Blue Cat  –  If I use the English title should it be in this year?  The French version (Pollux et le Chat Bleu) was released in 1970 but the U.K. version is from 1972.  Either way, not a good film.  The film comes from the show (The Magic Roundabout) in Britain which had been based on the French show (Le Manège enchanté) and the confusion won’t stop there as in the 2006 Nighthawk Awards, the U.S. version of the second film (Doogal) was my Worst Film of the Year, though there is a British version (again, The Magic Roundabout) which must be better.  Anyway, the U.K. version of the show and the film was created by Eric Thompson who is better known now as the (now-deceased) husband of Phyllida Law and father of Emma and Sophie.
  • The Dunwich Horror  –  A Roger Corman produced AIP version of the Lovecraft story.
  • Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon  –  Not the worst Otto Preminger film because of Bunny Lake is Missing but very close and low **.  Based on the novel by Marjorie Kellogg.
  • Tropic of Cancer  –  Joseph Strick had already written and directed Ulysses and would later do the same for Portrait of the Artist.  With film censorship evaporating he tackles Henry Miller.  This is closer in quality to the latter.  I hated this film but, to be fair, I hated this book.
  • The Hawaiians  –  In 1966, George Roy Hill directed Hawaii which, at 189 minutes long, only covered the third chapter of James Michener’s Hawaii.  Now we have this film at 134 minutes covering chapters four and five except instead of Julie Andrews, Max von Sydow and Gene Hackman in a Hill film we have Tom Gries directing Charlton Heston and Geraldine Chaplin.  I remember reading North and South in ninth grade and one of my teachers commenting “Ah, John Jakes, my second favorite bad historical fiction writer.”  His favorite was Michener.  You decide if it’s a compliment.
  • The Cross and the Switchblade  –  Erik Estrada finds Christianity thanks to Pat Boone.  Do I need to explain why it’s this low?  Based on the non-fiction book.
  • Pieces of Dreams  –  A hard-to-find Oscar nominee (Best Song) about a priest (Robert Forster) wondering if he wants to leave the church for love.  Based on The Wine and the Music by William Edmund Barrett (more famous for writing Lilies in the Field).
  • First Love  –  Turgid film from the Turgenev novella directed by Maximilian Schell and nominated for Best Foreign Film at the Oscars.  At best, the ninth worst film ever nominated in that category and I only say that because there are still eight nominees I haven’t seen.
  • Venus in Furs  –  Skip the film, listen to the Velvet Underground song.  Oh, you want to point out that the VU song isn’t used in this erotic horror film from Jesus Franco that’s inexplicably in English and only tangentially connected to the 1870 classic of sadomasochism to capitalize on the title?  Who cares?  Listen to the VU song anyway because it’s brilliant.  The film is *.5.
  • Pufnstuf  –  First it was a live-action / life-sized puppet show that lasted a whopping 17 episodes.  Then it somehow became a terrible kids film.
  • They Came from Beyond Space  –  A 1967 British Sci-Fi film that re-used the sets from the second Doctor Who film and is directed by acclaimed cinematographer Freddie Francis.  Based on the novel The Gods Hate Kansas by Joseph Millard.  A * film.
  • Flap  –  Just two years after winning the Oscar, Carol Reed hits bottom with this terrible attempt at a comedic Western based on the novel Nobody Loves a Drunken Indian by Clair Huffaker.
  • Fellini Satyricon  –  When people try to claim that Fellini’s not self-indulgent, I slap them and then show them Satyricon though I run away first because I’m sure not going to sit through it again.  Loosely based on the classic work by Petronius but without any plot, meaning or sense.  Even though there are still three Best Director nominated films I haven’t seen, I’ll go ahead and say this is the worst film ever nominated.  A good 12 points lower than Fatal Attraction.
  • The War of the Gargantuas  –  Not listed as adapted on the old oscars.org database but is a sequel to Frankenstein Conquers the World.  Low *.
  • Myra Breckenridge  –  The worst film of the year and therefore it has a full review in my Nighthawk Awards.

Adaptations of Notable Works I Haven’t Seen:

  • none

Adult Versions of Notable Literary Works:

note:  In this year, the Academy started listing “adult films” in their old oscars.org database.  In this year, for instance, there is a German version of the Kama Sutra.  Going forward, I will list such films down here without any comment as to whether or not I have seen them.

Advertisements