“Kay could see how Michael stood to receive their homage.  He reminded her of statues in Rome, statues of those Roman emperors of antiquity, who, by divine right, held the power of life and death over their fellow men.  One hand was on his hip, the profile of his face showed a cold proud power, his body was carelessly, arrogantly at ease, weight resting on one foot slightly behind the other.  The caporegimes stood before him.  In that moment Kay knew that everything Connie had accused Michael of was true.” (p 419)

My Top 10

  1. The Godfather
  2. Sleuth
  3. Play It Again Sam
  4. Cabaret
  5. Deliverance
  6. Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex
  7. The Heartbreak Kid
  8. Fat City
  9. Travels with My Aunt
  10. Avanti

Note:  My full list is fourteen films long but three of the of the other four are reviewed below because of award nominations (The Emigrants, Sounder, Frenzy) leaving just one for the list down at the bottom.

Consensus Nominees:

  1. The Godfather  (224 pts)
  2. Cabaret  (192 pts)
  3. Pete n Tillie  (80 pts)
  4. Sounder  (80 pts)
  5. Avanti  /  Deliverance  /  The Heartbreak Kid  (72 pts)

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

  • The Godfather
  • Cabaret
  • The Emigrants
  • Pete n Tillie
  • Sounder

Oscar Nominees  (Best Screenplay – Based on Factual Material or Material Not Previously Produced or Published)

  • Lady Sings the Blues
  • Young Winston

note:  Yes, this is essentially the Original Screenplay category.  But their bizarre notion of not having “factual material” in the Adapted category means we have two films based on non-fiction books in this category that are really adapted.  Thankfully this is the last of such nonsense; in 1973 all five are really original and in 1974 the category will just revert to “Original”.

WGA Awards:

Adapted Drama:

  • The Godfather
  • Deliverance
  • Pete n Tillie
  • Slaughterhouse Five
  • Sounder

Adapted Comedy:

  • Cabaret
  • Avanti
  • Butterflies are Free
  • The Heartbreak Kid
  • Travels with My Aunt

Original Comedy

  • The War Between Men and Women

note:  Not certain what constitutes “Original” here but this is clearly and explicitly based on the writings of James Thurber.  Perhaps because it wasn’t based on a particular source they considered it original?

Golden Globe:

  • The Godfather
  • Avanti
  • Cabaret
  • Deliverance
  • Frenzy
  • The Heartbreak Kid

Nominees that are Original:  none

BAFTA:

  • Cabaret
  • Sleuth  (1973)

My Top 10

 

The Godfather

The Film:

What more can be said about this film that I haven’t already said?  Well, the argument could easily be made that there’s a lot more to be said about it since I have only written two reviews (the first here, when writing about Coppola for my Top 100 Directors project and the second here as a Best Picture winner) and there have been entire books written about this film.  But suffice it to say that this is one of the greatest films ever made and probably the best choice of Best Picture that the Academy ever made.  It is a triumph on every level of artistic merit, from the technical aspects to the writing and directing and especially, of course, the acting.

The Source:

The Godfather by Mario Puzo (1969)

Puzo is the first to admit that he wrote this novel to be a success and to make him money because his first two, more literary novels, had not made him much money and because he owed a lot of money.  In that, he did his job perfectly, because the novel made him very rich and was a massive success.  It’s a fairly enjoyable novel, not great, but compulsively readable with fascinating characters.

That being said, it’s worth wondering how much value you get out of reading the book.  Are there people who read the book who haven’t already seen the film?  That means they’re already coming to it with their notions fully formed and while a lot of the scenes in the book are fascinating, there are a number that drag and they’re ironically the ones that you’re not familiar with already (see below).  While the main characters are all really well drawn, the females suffer in the extreme from the madonna-whore complex (especially in the parts that aren’t in the film, like the Hollywood scenes).  There’s not a single female character in the book with any depth.  And aside from that, Puzo feels the need to explain a bit too much which the film can do with images and is why the film is considered so great.

In the end, the book was a fun read but I don’t think I’ll need to ever go back to it again (I used to own it years ago, so this is probably the third time I’ve read it).  There’s just too much in the films and too little of what’s not in the film is worth it.

The Adaptation:

Certain films, after their release, begin to transcend culture.  Such films get so many things written and published about them that it basically makes this section unnecessary.  There is a lot that can be written about what Coppola did to adapt the novel to the screen.  But Coppola has already published that on his own.  First, there is the Annotated Godfather: The Complete Screenplay which publishes the complete screenplay with various annotations and commentary throughout.  The second book, published in 2016, really covers the adaptation itself.  It’s called The Godfather Notebook.  It is literally what Coppola used to write the script, with his own hand written pages of the novel, torn out of the book and pasted on the wall so that he could break the book down into filmable scenes and turn it into a screenplay.  It is, literally, a 786 page book that covers this entire section here.

On page 671 of Conversations at the American Film Institute with The Great Moviemakers: The Next Generation, ed. George Stevens, Jr, Robert Towne details how he was brought in to write the final scene between Michael and his father.

The last thing I will say is that the biggest difference between the novel and the film is that one section of the book would be skipped entirely (Book III, covering 30 pages, which would provide the basis for the De Niro sections of the sequel), that there is a lot more about Johnny Fontane and his later fortunes in the book (which are some of the least interesting parts of the book and were rightly skipped for the film) and that there is a lot, lot more sex in the book than there is in the film.

The Credits:

directed by Francis Ford Coppola.  screenplay by Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola.
note:  The only mention of the source is in the opening titles: Mario Puzo’s The Godfather.

Sleuth

The Film:

I have already reviewed this film.  That’s because it’s one of the Top 5 films of 1972.  I find it utterly inexplicable that it was passed over for Best Picture and Adapted Screenplay while it was nominated for Director and twice for Actor.  Sounder is a charming film, a nice film that works for families even while dealing with serious issues, but it is not anywhere near on the same level as Sleuth.  Then there is, of course, the secret of the film.  If you still don’t know what it is and didn’t listen to me when I told you to go watch it after posting my Nighthawk Awards for 1972 a couple of years ago, then it’s your own fault at this point.

The Source:

Sleuth by Anthony Shaffer  (1970)

I am reminded of James Goldman.  James was a playwright and won an Oscar for adapting his own play The Lion in Winter in 1968.  But, the next year his younger brother won his first Oscar (for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) and would later become possibly the most famous screenwriter in Hollywood and today many people that know who William is might be surprised that his brother won an Oscar first.  Now we have Anthony Shaffer who, by early 1973, had won two Edgar Awards, the first for his play Sleuth, which was a big hit, then again for his screenplay for the hit film and then he wrote the script for the original The Wicker Man.  But, 1973 was also the year when his twin brother Peter’s play Equus went on stage, winning the first of two Tonys for Best Play and he would later win an Oscar for adapting his own play, Amadeus and you might find people today who know who Peter is and have no idea he has a brother who was a writer as well.

Sleuth is a very smart play, not so much a “who done it” but more of a “did he did actually do it?”  For it to work, of course, you had to have the perfect placement between the two acts and you had to provide a lie for the audience to believe (which, according to the cast list, they did in both London and New York and even did it slightly differently each time).  You have to have two good actors in order to pull it off plausibly (and they did – Anthony Quayle and Keith Baxter).  Shaffer wanted his originals on film, especially Quayle, but when your director wants Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine, there’s no way you’re getting your original cast.  And it doesn’t matter.  Too bad for Quayle, but he’s not on the same level as these two legendary actors.

I don’t know how well the play would work today.  It’s still a really good play and some great acting even if you do know what’s going to happen.  That’s proven by the number of times I have watched the film and never failed to be satisfied.  But Shaffer thought so as well and was hesitant to sell the film rights and damage the potential of the play.

The Adaptation:

“In the original play, Milo Tindle wasn’t a Cockney, but instead directed a travel agency and was half-Jewish and half-Italian.  I preferred to make him a hairstylist, someone who had climbed the social ladder by fornicating, and the hairstylist is good at this.  One of the most brilliant aspects of Michael Caine’s portrayal is his accent. I tried to get him to use his accent like a violinist uses his violin.  He puts on the accent of a proper gentleman and then drops it.” (Joseph L. Mankiewicz Interviews, Brian Dauth, ed. p 129)

Mankiewicz has mentioned the key thing.  Almost all of the dialogue makes it to the film intact.  There is some opening up, especially the amusing opening scene in the maze and of course we see a lot more rooms of Wyce’s house than we did in the original one room play.  But it is a very faithful adaptation, so Shaffer clearly felt he had done it right the first time (and he’s correct).

The Credits:

Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz.  Based on the play by Anthony Shaffer.  Screenplay by Anthony Shaffer.

Play It Again, Sam

The Film:

I have already reviewed this film as my Under-appreciated Film of 1972 when I did my Year in Film back in 2010.  It’s an interesting film because it’s written by Woody Allen, both the film itself and the original play and it stars Allen but he didn’t direct it (it’s also set in San Francisco which sets it apart from most Woody Allen films).  But it is actually funnier than many of Allen’s early films.  It doesn’t quite have the same sense of comic timing that an actual Allen film would have but it is a very good film in a year that doesn’t actually have a lot of very good films.

The Source:

Play It Again, Sam by Woody Allen  (1969)

This was Woody Allen’s second foray into play-writing (his Don’t Drink the Water had been staged in 1966) but his first time acting on Broadway, though, of course, he had long been famous as a comedian, so he was widely known for his performances.  Woody stuck in the starring role for a year and when he left, it was likely to really begin his movie career and the role was taken by Bob Denver (yes, Gilligan).  I’ll let Clive Barnes, the editor of Best American Plays, Seventh Series: 1967-1973, where this play was the final play in the book take it from here: “This proved two things.  First it demonstrated that the play was not, as had been suggested, merely a vehicle for the very special comedy talents of Mr. Allen himself.  Second, and rather sadly, it also demonstrated that it was those special talents – rather than the play – that the public was paying to see, for, although Mr. Denver succeeded, the play itself failed and closed soon after Mr. Allen’s departure.” (p 564)

This play is actually vitally important in the history of the film because it was here where Woody Allen met both Tony Roberts and, more importantly, Diane Keaton.  Can you imagine the Allen films of the 1970’s had Allen not met these two, the best friend and the love interest?  Plus, it is a very funny play that makes great use of the Bogart legend and the idea of the film schlub who just wants to sit in the dark and dream of a better life that he can’t ever seem to find.

The Adaptation:

While the film opens the play up (which, according to Woody Allen in Conversations with Woody Allen by Eric Lax was all Herbert Ross’ idea and Woody said “a lot of the adaptation, he should have credit for,” (p 344), giving us a lot of scenes outside on the streets of San Francisco (there was a strike going on in New York so the film was made and set in San Francisco even though the play was set in New York but it works just as well there), almost all of the actual dialogue in the film still comes from the original play.  The changes that are really made are the sight gags which might have been on stage but would have been hard to do every night and certainly aren’t included in the text of the play, the scenes like Allan fighting a losing battle against his hair dryer or his inability to remove a record from its sleeve without destroying it.  A very faithful rendition of the original play but since this had the same writer and star, it’s not a surprise.

The Credits:

directed by Herbert Ross.  based on the play by Woody Allen.  screenplay by Woody Allen.

Cabaret

The Film:

I seem to keep moving up and down on this film.  You can see some of that in my original review of the film.  But when I did the Nighthawk Awards, I think I under-appreciated the visionary look of the film when it comes to its cinematography and editing.  Certainly as I watched it this time, with Veronica watching it for the first time (how is it I had seen this film at least four times without her seeing it?), I was once again blown away by the technical display on-screen.

The Source:

Cabaret, book by Joe Masteroff, Music by John Kander, lyrics by Fred Ebb, based on the play by John Van Druten (1966)

that play is I Am a Camera: A Play in Three Acts by John Van Druten (1951), Adapted from the Berlin Stories of Christopher Isherwood

The Berlin Stories by Christopher Isherwood was first published as one book in 1945, but it was comprised of Mr Norris Changes Trains (1935) and Goodbye to Berlin (1939), the latter of which was comprised of various short pieces published over the previous few years, most notably “Sally Bowles”, which was published in 1939

Oh, what a treasure trove of sources to read, and I read them all.  In fact, I also took a look at Cabaret: The Illustrated Book and Lyrics, which is illustrated with stills from the 1998 Broadway revival by Rob Marshall (future director of Best Picture winner Chicago), based on the production that Sam Mendes (future director of Best Picture winner American Beauty) put on in London.  The question is what order to look at the sources?  Perhaps we’ll go with reverse chronological order.

The original Broadway version of Cabaret is not necessarily less dark than the Bob Fosse film but it feels like it’s less dark.  Perhaps part of that is the look of the soundtrack (to the right), which I bought after watching friends perform in it in college.  Or perhaps because some of the songs that are in it are more light-hearted (or sound more light-hearted whether they are or not) and those are the songs that were cut from the film, charming songs like “So What” (sung by the landlady), “A Perfectly Marvelous Boy” (sung by Sally in the apartment) and “Meeskite” (sung by a Jewish tenant at a party who is planning to marry the landlady).  The original musical takes most of what had been brought on stage (and film) in I Am a Camera and brings them to musical life.  Most importantly, it anchored both parts of the show with really great songs that grab at you, from the welcoming Emcee intoning “Wilkommen” to the great climactic number “Life is a Cabaret”.  It’s quite a good musical and it’s worth seeing if you ever get a chance on stage partially because it is so different from the film.  This musical makes me glad that I got a chance to see Hamilton on stage, because I would have loved to have seen, on stage, what Sam Mendes (and Rob Marshall) did with this.

I Am a Camera is also a good play, because it does so much with the character of Sally Bowles.  She isn’t as much the center of the play because we don’t see her performing, but she does liven things up a bit.  There is a lot more character development and more subplots in this play because it doesn’t have to use time with the songs the way that Cabaret does (more on that below).  It was also made into a film, with a good performance from Julie Harris, who also played Sally in the original London version of the play.

The Berlin Stories are well-written and show why Christopher Isherwood was the most famous openly gay writer of his time.  The first part of the book, Mr Norris Changes Trains, is well-written and interesting, but other than the arrival in Berlin, it has almost nothing to do with the later adaptations of the work.  Also, while the title of the play and film would come from the first page of “A Berlin Diary (Autumn 1930)”, the first part of Goodbye to Berlin: “I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking,” it is really the later story, “Sally Bowles” that would provide most of the plot and ideas that would comprise the adaptations (although parts of them would also come from “The Landauers”).  “Sally Bowles” is the best of the stories, because Sally springs to life in Isherwood’s prose and brings the story to life.  It would be too easy to say that Sally is the one really lively character, but that would be to demote Isherwood’s role really to that of a passive recorder, something that the well-written and deeply thought out introduction to the book by Armistead Maupin correctly warns against.

The Adaptation:

The big thing, which you can read about just about anywhere, is that when Bob Fosse made the film, he decided to cut all but one of the songs that are sung outside the setting of the Kit Kat Club itself, although according to All His Jazz: The Life and Death of Bob Fosse by Martin Gottfried, that was already decided by producer Cy Feuer and Fosse “enthusiastically supported Feuer’s notion of dropping all musical numbers that were not ‘justified.’.” (p 206)  That one song, “Tomorrow Belong to Me”, is also switched in setting and makes for a really disturbing scene.  Most of the light-hearted aspect of the play gets dropped because those songs in the boarding house are much lighter in tone than the others and what was emphasized instead was the growing darkening in the rise of the Nazis.

One of the other things is that Fosse, by dropping those songs, drops the subplot involving the Jewish tenant who agrees to marry the landlady.  Instead, to keep along those same lines (a romance that will become increasingly dangerous in the upcoming dark days), they put back in a subplot from the original novel that had been used in the play I Am a Camera about the man who is pretending not to be Jewish falling in love with the upper class Jewish woman.  I think this subplot is actually distracting from the strengths of the film, but it is true to the original sources.

There are a couple of things that continually change through all the adaptations.  In the original stories, “Christopher Isherwood”, the narrator, is gay and he is British.  Sally is also British.  The identity of who made Sally pregnant is no mystery – it’s Klaus.  But those are the things that change.  In I Am a Camera, Christopher and Sally are both still British, but Christopher is straight and the child is his.  In Cabaret, Clifford Bradshaw becomes American (played by Bert Convy) while Sally is still British and the baby is Cliff’s.  In the film version, Clifford Bradshaw is now Brian Roberts and he’s back to being British while it is Sally who is American.  This time, Brian is bi-sexual and there is debate over whether the child is his or Fritz’s.

The Credits:

directed by Bob Fosse.  based on the musical play “Cabaret”. book by Joe Masteroff.  lyrics by Fred Ebb.  based on the play by John Van Druten and stories by Christopher Isherwood. screenplay by Jay Allen.

note: This is the same Jay Allen as Jay Presson Allen who is listed down below as the screenwriter on Travels with My Aunt.
note:  Though the IMDb does not mention it, the Gottfried book mentions script rewrites by Hugh Wheeler.

Deliverance

The Film:

This film is an example of why I distinguish between the best films and my favorite films.  This film is a **** film, it’s extremely well-made, the directing is excellent, the acting and writing are solid.  But it’s a not a movie to enjoy.  I feel uncomfortable every time I have seen it.  There are brilliant moments in it, like when Voight is on the ground and he sees Reynolds and the connection between the two.  But I think I’ll pass on ever watching it again after this unless I start some other project that forces me to watch it yet again.  As a Best Picture nominee, I already reviewed it here.

The Source:

Deliverance by James Dickey (1970)

This novel was on the Modern Library List at #42.  It was also on the Time Magazine list.  It is a well-written novel and extremely riveting (at least if you haven’t seen the film and don’t know what will happen – if you’ve seen the film it becomes a little less riveting) but I think those two lists are over-rating it a bit.  I wouldn’t classify it as a great novel and I am surprised that both groups included it.

It’s the story of four men from Atlanta who go into the back woods on a canoe trip before the river is dammed.  Things quickly take a violent and horrifying turn when they run into a couple of locals who rape one of the men and are about to do the same to the narrator before they are rescued.  From there on out, what begins as a trip against nature becomes a trip against a nightmare and the narrator is forced to climb for his life, kill a man and hope that he can outwit the local law enforcement just to arrive home alive.  As I said, it’s riveting, and with Dickey (who was the U.S. Poet Laureate for a stretch), we have a masterful use of language.

The Adaptation:

The film follows very closely to the book, which is to be expected since Dickey himself wrote the screenplay.  There is a slight difference in the end when it is the sheriff himself who suspects what has happened while in the book it was a deputy who was so insistent.  But in the most famous scene, two things are different.  The line “squeal like a pig” is only in the film (and indeed, there are disagreements over who thought it up, though it doesn’t seem to be Dickey) and in the book, Ed never actually sees Lewis and makes a sign for him (“I knelt down. As my knees hit, I heard a sound, a snap-slap off in the woods, a sound like a rubber band popping or a sickle-blade cutting quick. The older man was standing with the gun barrel in his hand and no change in the stupid, advantage-taking expression of his face, and a foot and a half of bright red arrow was shoved forward from the middle of his chest. It was there so suddenly it seemed to have come from within him.”).  It’s definitely the right move in the film, as it provides that great visual image and the connection between the two men.

Boorman, in his autobiography Adventures of a Suburban Boy writes about adapting the novel: “The first difficulty lay with the opening.  The first third of the novel explores the lives of the four men in Atlanta.  Dickey cleverly evokes the indeterminate dissatisfactions of their comfortable lives.  I decided to start the movie with the construction of the dam that will tame and kill this beautiful river, interposed with the four men arriving in the mountains with their canoes.” (p 183-184)  That was after Dickey had already attempted his own script: “It transpired that Dickey had written a screenplay himself.  He had simply put the entire novel into script form.  I wrote my own version and submitted it to the studio.” (p 182)

The Credits:

Produced and Directed by John Boorman.  Screenplay by James Dickey based on his novel.

“everything you always wanted to know about sex”*
* but were afraid to ask

The Film:

When people say to Woody Allen that they like his early, funny films this is the kind of film they’re talking about.  There are others, of course, but this is a prime example because it reflects the kind of things that Allen was doing before he concentrated on being a filmmaker.  This hearkens back to his stand-up routines, to his first film (What’s Up Tiger Lily) and to the short writings that he would do in The New Yorker.  But it’s also not very reflective of the kind of filmmaking that Allen would do later.  It’s really the last of his films like this because when he would make Sleeper the next year, while there would be lots of gags, it would also start to focus a bit more on character and story.

What we have here is a series of short vignettes.  As mentioned below, Allen got the idea for this film when he saw David Reuben, the author of the famous book, use one of his jokes on The Tonight Show and decided to make the film as revenge.  So this film takes several different questions that are addressed (seriously) in the book and develops short little skits around them.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t get off to a great start because the opening bit, “Do Aphrodisiacs Work?”, with a court jester (Allen) trying to romance the Queen (Lynn Redgrave) just isn’t very funny.  But it definitely kicks up a notch with the next one “What is Sodomy?” which goes a different direction than you would expect when a doctor (Gene Wilder) ends up having an affair with a sheep.

The first four sketches are a little uneven but are more funny than not.  Then we get to the final three sketches and they highlight the unevenness of the film.  The fifth sketch, “What are Sex Perverts?” gives us a game show where people have to guess what the person’s perversion is.  As breaking into a game show would later become a humorous trope in comedic films, this is a nice early use of it and the straight faces we get from these people (including Regis) asking the questions works as a great contrast against the subject matter in question.  The sixth vignette, “Are the Findings of Doctors and Clinics Who Do Sexual Research and Experiments Accurate?” starts off strong with John Carradine playing a lunatic scientist with all sorts of bizarre ideas but once it moves on to a parody of The Blob with a giant breast on the lose, it loses focus, which is a bit emblematic of the whole film.  If the film had ended there, it definitely would be sitting down in the *** range.  But then the film really comes to life with “What Happens During Ejaculation?”.  With a body being run by the likes of Tony Randall and Burt Reynolds we finish with one of Allen’s funniest little sequences, with Randall getting off the best line in the film: (Randall:  I don’t know if we’re gonna make it or not, doesn’t look too good.  The Girl:  I’m a graduate of New York University.  Randall (confidently):  We’re gonna make it.).

You don’t have to like Woody Allen to like the film.  It’s one of the films that could help someone get into him.  Yes, he does play several parts and his performances in the first and sixth sequences wear a little thin.  But he’s perfectly placed in the final sequence, and just like everything else in that final one, it helps things go out with a climax.

The Source:

Everything you always wanted to know about sex* *but were afraid to ask by David Reuben, M.D.  (1969)

One of the most famous books about sex ever published and a massive seller.  It has useful information that still resonates today in that it can counter a lot of ridiculous things you would learn about sex on the internet.

The Adaptation:

Allen didn’t really adapt the book.  He looked at the chapter headings of the book and created his own vignettes based around them.  According to the IMDb “Woody Allen saw Dr. David Reuben promoting his book, on which this film is based, on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson (1962).  When asked by Johnny Carson “Is sex dirty?”, Reuben replied, “It is if you’re doing it right” which is a line from Allen’s Take the Money and Run (1969).  Allen was offended by Dr. Reuben using his joke, so he made this film as a form of revenge against him. Dr. Reuben did not like the film.”  It’s really the only correct way to adapt such a book anyway.  I should note that in Woody Allen on Woody Allen, he doesn’t give that anecdote at all, simply saying that he saw Reuben on television and thought the idea of funny sketches to the questions would make a funny movie.  As he says, “I would use his questions but add my answers.” (p 58)

The Credits:

written for the screen and directed by woody allen.  from the book Everything you always wanted to know about sex* *but were afraid to ask by dr. david reuben.

The Heartbreak Kid

The Film:

In 1993, Sleepless in Seattle was sweeping people over but it left me cold when I left the theater.  It was easy for me to pinpoint my issue with it – the Bill Pullman character.  He was a nice guy, a bit of a drip, but a nice, devoted guy.  Yet, the writers needed to figure out some way to bring Meg Ryan together with Tom Hanks, so you’re supposed to just accept that Pullman is a boring, drip and that Ryan is better off with Hanks.  I just felt bad for Pullman.

Here we have The Heartbreak Kid, and I’m still not really sure how I feel about it.  Charles Grodin and Jeannie Berlin play a newly married couple on their honeymoon.  Berlin is a bit annoying – she constantly wants to be told in bed how much he wants her (he finally just gets tired of it and snaps at her), she needs his attention, and at the beach she refuses to use any sunscreen and gets a horrible burn, essentially curtailing her participation in their honeymoon.  I suspect all of this is in there to make it less objectionable when her husband wants to dump her.  See, the real problem isn’t her.  (Hell, on one level the problem isn’t her at all – Jeannie Berlin gives the best performance in the film and even if she didn’t win the Oscar, she does win the Nighthawk.)  The problem is her husband.  A few minutes before she came out on to the beach (he got tired of waiting for her) he noticed Cybill Shepherd in a bathing suit with the sun shining behind her blonde hair and he no longer had any interest in his marriage.  He just wants the Midwestern blonde with the bombshell body.

This film is written by Neil Simon and directed by Elaine May, both of whom were born with knacks for comedy, so this awkward take on the An American Tragedy story (based on a short story) finds ways to make us laugh (awkwardly) while Grodin is trying to balance his wife, stuck back in the hotel room, with the beautiful blonde and the blonde’s father, well played by Eddie Albert in a role that is so obstructionist to Grodin’s desires that he could give Ted Cruz a lesson in how not to get things done.  Grodin is desperate and pathetic and almost everything in the film makes me wince.  No wonder Ben Stiller decided to star in the remake – his whole awkward comedy schtick seems to come straight from this film.

In the end, the film runs along a very thin line and ends up as a 75.  Films that I give a 75 are rare, because they are quite good, but they fall just that tiny bit short of making it to ***.5 and thus don’t make it into consideration for my Best Picture awards, which is more notable for Comedies because of the fewer contenders for my Comedy awards.  It makes me laugh and it makes me wince (not necessarily a fault), but there’s something a little bit off that keeps me from bumping it up that tiny little bit.

The Source:

“A Change of Plan” by Bruce Jay Friedman (1966)

This is really an unpleasant little story.  A guy is with a girl for a few years and then they get married: “And so finally, after four years of drift, they had found all exits barricaded and gotten married in a sudden spurt, bombing their parents with the news.”  But, on their honeymoon, he meets a Minnesota blonde (“She had a nice fleshiness, a good hundred thirty pounds to his bride’s hundred four. He caught her scent, too, just like honey.”  So, he lies to his wife, goes after the blonde, then dumps his wife, gets a quick divorce and moves to Minnesota just to get the blonde.

The Adaptation:

The film makes a major change that is absent in the story and actually makes Grodin’s character much more acceptable: the annoyance of the wife.  There’s nothing in the original story about her whining in bed, needing to be wanted.  The whole thing with the sunburn that allows him to get out of the room and pursue the blonde isn’t in the story.  Much as I find myself uncomfortable in watching the film, well, that character is far less objectionable than the one in the original story.

Other than that, the film pretty much follows the story, just expanding what is only a six page story into a full-length feature film.

The Credits:

Directed by Elaine May.  Based on “A Change of Plan” by Bruce Jay Friedman.  Screenplay by Neil Simon.

Fat City

The Film:

By 1972, John Huston had been in the wilderness for a bit.  Yes, since 1964 he had made several films and the sources included Carson McCullers and the freaking Bible.  But he hadn’t really made a good film in eight years.  Then he returned to some solidly literary sources, first with Leonard Gardner in Fat City before upping the ante later in the decade with Kipling and Flannery O’Connor before tackling really difficult works in the 80’s (Under the Volcano, The Dead).  Fat City, a story that could take him back to basic storytelling seemed to be something that lit a fire in him and the rest of his career, while he would still have some duds (I’m looking at you, Annie), he would also have some of the biggest triumphs of his career as well.

Tully is a boxer.  Or at least he was a boxer.  Maybe he still is, though he’s nearing thirty and he’s been spending most of his time drinking and picking crops as a dayworker.  But he decides to spend a little time down at the Y punching at a bag and he meets Ernie.  Ernie is young, fresh-faced, just a kid who wants to get in the ring but he seems to have a good punch and might have some talent.  Tully’s not looking to become a manager, so he steers Ernie towards his old manager and kind of continues on his way through life.  But the meeting seems to have awakened something in Tully.  Or maybe it’s the approach of thirty.  Either way, he starts looking at maybe getting in the ring himself and reminding himself of who he is.

Fat City isn’t a movie of redemption, of a boxer looking for the comeback who makes it good.  Nor is it about taking someone young under your wing and trying to live through them.  It’s just a story of a couple of guys and the ways their lives briefly intercept, the way the older one sees something in the younger one.  But it is a well-written and well-directed film.  Most importantly, it is a well-acted film that seems almost naturalistic, not because of the style of acting but because it is not populated with well-known actors.  In the role of Tully is Stacey Keach in what might be his finest film role.  Ernie is played by Jeff Bridges, still young and just a year after The Last Picture Show.  There is also Susan Tyrell playing the barfly that Tully shacks up with for a while when her man is in prison and Tyrell earned an Oscar nomination for her performance.

There is no other sport in which my enjoyment of the sport is so contrasted against the quality of the movies made about (though it doesn’t hurt that there are more films about boxing than any other sport).  But that might be because so many boxing films end up being about so much more than the sport itself.  What we have here is a character study about someone aging out and someone growing up and how they briefly intersect.  Boxing just happens to be what they do.

The Source:

Fat City by Leonard Gardner (1969)

A very good little book about two men who meet on different paths in the boxing world in Stockton.  Denis Johnson hits it right in the introduction: “Though the two men hardly meet, the tale blends the perspective on them until they seem to chart a single life of missteps and baffled love, Ernie its youth and Tully its future.”  That’s a great way of describing this novel.  A slice of life from Stockton, a city that can’t ever seem to become more than it is, right on the edge of the agricultural world (because of its location in Central Valley) and not quite able to become a major city.  When Ernie, the young boxer, is headed back home after a fight in Utah and says he’s going to Stockton he is told “What would anybody want to go to Stockton for?”  A really good book currently in print from New York Review Books Classics that I highly recommend.  Definitely one of the best books that I have read for the first time because of this project.

The Adaptation:

The film, while a faithful adaptation of the book, makes a couple of important changes.  The first is in lessening Ernie’s place in the story.  Yes, we see his domestic situation, but he’s half the book and it really feels like he’s a secondary character in the film while Tully is the lead while in the book it almost perfectly is divided between them.  The second is the ending.  In the book, it ends with Ernie returning home, in a beautifully written line (“He came lightly down the metal steps into balmy air and diesel fumes, and feeling in himself the potent allegiance of fate, he pushed open the door to the lobby, where unkempt sleepers slumped upright on the benches.”).  The poignant scene that ends the film with the two men sitting together in a diner, not speaking is entirely from the filmmakers (though, since Gardner wrote the script, hard to say if it was his idea or Huston’s).

The Credits:

Directed by John Huston.  Screenplay by Leonard Gardner.  Based on the novel “Fat City” by Leonard Gardner.

Travels with My Aunt

The Film:

This was kind of a last hurrah for George Cukor.  He had been a great director in the Hollywood Studio System but in the 60’s, he started to lose his way.  He did manage to finally win Best Director at the Oscars in 1964 for My Fair Lady, but he would only make a handful of films after that and this was the only high spot.  It proved, once again, that there was probably no greater Hollywood director of females than Cukor, as his only real competition are Bergman (Swedish) and Woody Allen (decidedly not Hollywood).  It was also a bit of a strange piece, because it is a Graham Greene Comedy (more on that below).

It’s the story of a retired bank director who, at his mother’s funeral, meets again his Aunt Augusta, who he has not seen in many years.  As can be guessed, from other such films, meeting her will end up in a whirlwind of adventures for him and while he tries to stay the kind of mild mannered Englishman you would expect from a retired bank director (he is played by Alec McCowen, who died not long before I re-watched the film and was always quite good in such roles (he was also Q in Never Say Never Again, the unofficial Connery Bond film and he was quite enjoyable and droll)).  But McCowen is really just a side role in his own adventures.  It’s his aunt, played with a zest for life that you can’t imagine from anyone than Maggie Smith, that is really the star of the show and doesn’t she know it.  She uses the funeral as a chance to reunite herself with him and you can see some revelations coming later but I won’t mention them in case you’ve never had a chance to see the film (which is worth seeing) or read the book (which is also worth reading).

It’s easy to see how this film wouldn’t work for a lot of people.  It has a lot of whimsy and a lot of disjointed stories that seem like they are a connection of anecdotes strung together (which is kind of how the book is), but it keeps moving so steadily because of Smith’s wonderful performance, one that can capture a woman approaching old age (long before Smith was actually doing so) and when she was a still a schoolgirl and allowing herself to be seduced by a complete stranger.  It’s quite simply a fun film and in a year with The Godfather, Deliverance, Cabaret and The Emigrants, it’s nice to just have a fun film.

The Source:

Travels with My Aunt: A Novel by Graham Greene (1969)

“Greeneland has been described often as a land bleak and severe. A whisky priest dies in one village, a self-hunted man lives with lepers in another. But Greeneland has its summer regions, and in the sunlight everything looks a bit different.”  That’s the jacket flap on my hardcover copy of Travels with My Aunt.  It is a fairly accurate assessment, both of Greene’s more serious works (which you should read if you haven’t, since he was one of the great writers of the 20th Century) and of this book as well.  It’s not like Greene had never done a comedy before (his Our Man in Havana is very sly and droll), but he hadn’t done anything like this book.  It is a novel, but it reads almost more like a series of short little amusing vignettes.

Henry Pulling, a recently retired bank manager, meets his Aunt Augusta at his mother’s funeral, having not seen her for many years.  Augusta than pulls him along on her travels (I think this was the first book that made me realize that Britain used to have very strict rules about how much currency you were allowed to take out of the country and it stuns me that the Brits managed to survive like that for so long) all across Europe, in search of lovers past, in search of lovers future, in search of adventure and excitement and fun.  Pulling’s an Englishman who was a bank manager; fun isn’t something he’s used to.  Nor is he used to having his mother’s ashes used to smuggle cannabis by his aunt’s man servant.  Or discovering that the past he thought he had wasn’t quite what he imagined.

This really is a fun little novel, partially because it is so different from anything else that Greene every published.  I have read all of Greene’s novels, and while this doesn’t belong anywhere near the top of the list, it is certainly one I return to for the sheer enjoyment.

The Adaptation:

“During the script conferences, Cukor continues, ‘Jay Allen and I often compared a scene in the screenplay with the way Greene had written it in the book, and used as much of the dialogue from the novel as possible. We clung very much to the spirit of the novel, and made changes reluctantly and only in the interest of dramatizing the story more vividly.’

One such alteration occurs at the finale, and for Greene this change contributed to what he terms the movie’s ‘misinterpretation’ of his original story.  In correspondence Greene has said, ‘When I read the script that was smuggled to me from Spain’ where Cukor’s unit was doing location work, ‘I was horrified.’

‘Greene’s ending to the story is more hardbitten than the one in the film,’ Cukor concedes. ‘In the novel the aging Visconti is going to marry a twelve-year-old girl in South America and desert Aunt Augusta once more, even though she still loves him.  In the movie, on the other hand, we show her at long last becoming disenchanted with Visconti, and thereby being released from the thrall of her lifelong infatuation with him – something which Greene, perhaps with greater truth and realism, does not allow to happen in the novel.'”  (George Cukor by Gene D. Phillips, p 144)

It is true that the ending of the film is quite different than the original novel and that the rest of the film does follow quite well along with the original.

The Credits:

Directed by George Cukor. Screenplay by Jay Presson Allen and Hugh Wheeler. Based Upon the Novel by Graham Greene.

note: If you read the Wikipedia page on the film, you might think that Katharine Hepburn contributed to the script and practically wrote the first draft.  There is nothing to support that and even though Wikipedia points towards TCM, it’s clear from the TCM notes page on the film that this is completely untrue.

Avanti!

The Film:

I came to this film late in my journey through the Billy Wilder oeuvre.  In spite of its big success at the Golden Globes (six nominations and it won Actor – Comedy) it hadn’t seemed a big deal to see it since it hadn’t received any Oscar nominations.  In fact, no film has ever received as many Globe nominations or come anywhere close to as many as Globe points while failing to earn any Oscar nominations which might say something about it.  And when I did finally see it, I wasn’t overwhelmed.  Oh, it was a good film, a fairly funny film with solid comedic performances from Jack Lemmon and Juliet Mills (Hayley’s older sister).  It even had a good comedic premise for the film: Lemmon’s father has died in Italy and he goes to retrieve the body only to discover that his father was having an affair with Mills’ mother who also died in the crash and of course Lemmon and Mills fall into a measure of love and have a short fling before heading back to their own lives.  Yet, in some ways, it seemed almost a letdown for Wilder, not quite the frenzied plots of his earlier films and something which could make a more mellow 70’s comedy (and would, a few years later, in Same Time Next Year).

If all of this feels like a bit of letdown it’s interesting to note what Wilder originally wanted to do.  As he explained to Cameron Crowe in Conversations with Wilder, his original plan was to have Wendell Armbruster Senior, the dead man, having been involved in an affair with a bellhop instead of a British woman and for the bellhop, of course, to be male.  Wilder thought that was a daring choice and could have made for a more interesting comedy (and he’s right) but the studio insisted strongly that it wouldn’t play well.  I do have to wonder if the makers of Death at a Funeral had ever read about this before they decided to bring in their own similar idea into that film which is one of the most brilliant ideas in the whole film.

The film runs well over two hours and it really didn’t need to.  Yes, there are some subplots (the actual bellhop is hoping to get back to America and blackmails Lemmon in two different ways which also brings in a nude swimming scene) and things go off the deep end a bit when the bodies are actually taken hostage by the people whose vineyard was damaged in the crash.  Wilder could have dialed back some of the subplots, focused more just on Lemmon and Mills and cut the film down closer to an hour and a half and it would run much more smoothly.  But in the end, it’s able to overcome the length and still provide us with a good time because this is still Billy Wilder and while the lines might not be at the top of his game, they are still pretty good:

Carlo Carlucci: You see, I have been offered a job with an American chain of hotels… the Sheraton. And there are a couple of openings and one of them is in Damascus.

J.J. Blodgett: Damascus, hmm… Now don’t quote me on this, but with the Russian presence escalating in the Mediterranean, and the military posture of the Arabs stiffening and the first strike capabilities of the Israelis at its peak, the whole place is a powder keg that could blow up in your face any second. My advice is, forget Damascus.

Carlo Carlucci: Thank you. In that case I’d better take the other job.

J.J. Blodgett: What’s that?

Carlo Carlucci: The Sheraton in New York.

J.J. Blodgett: [Slight pause] Hmm… Take the one in Damascus!

The Source:

Avanti! or A Very Uncomplicated Girl by Samuel Taylor  (1968)

Samuel Taylor had a previous play adapted by Wilder, Sabrina Fair.  But Wilder had taken the premise from the play and stripped it of pretty much all the dialogue and created his own film that was much more Wilder than anything Taylor had come up with.  This time, Taylor’s play is a one room Comedy about a man who discovers that his father wasn’t just vacationing in Rome but was having a long time affair once a year and then he falls for the daughter of the woman that his father was having the affair with.  In the end, everything works out (even the problem of what to do with the bodies) and they have a short affair of their own before getting back to their own lives.

If you think I might have put up the wrong play on the right, you are mistaken.  After the success of the film, the play was able to return to the stage in London and Taylor, and, surprisingly, changed the name of the play, apparently deciding not to capitalize on the film.

The Adaptation:

“Taylor’s single-set play takes place in a hotel room in Rome.  Wilder opened it out for the screen by relocating the action at a health resort on the Italian island of Ischia.  What’s more, in reimagining the story for the screen, Wilder kept only Taylor’s premise (the deaths of the couple’s parents, which bring them to Italy) and the resolution (their adopting their parents’ annual romantic ritual).” (Some Like it Wilder: The Life and Controversial Films of Billy Wilder, Gene D. Phillips, p 247-248)

Wilder really did retool the entire play.  He kept a few lines but most of the memorable lines come from him (such as “The coroner, he eats very well. He knows all the widows.”) as does the nude swimming scene.  The original play had the man’s wife with him in Italy for both the beginning and the conclusion of the play which makes it harder to sympathize with his situation.  He also deliberately had the female lead be overweight so that the viewer wouldn’t feel that Armbruster (a name that Wilder created which is much better than the Alexander Ben Claiborne but going by “Sandy” of the play) was giving up something better by returning to his wife.  This film is a lot closer to the original play than Sabrina was but it’s still much more Wilder than it is Taylor.

The Credits:

Produced and Directed by Billy Wilder.  Based on the Stage Play “Avanti!” by Samuel Taylor.  Screenplay by Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond.

Consensus Nominees

Pete ‘n’ Tillie

The Film:

Pete and Tillie are being set up at a party by their mutual friend Gertrude.  They are completely wrong for each other in just about every way, from her shyness to his brashness, from his womanizing to her virginity.  So of course you know this going to be a romantic film.  Pete is played by Walter Matthau and Tillie is played by Carol Burnett (her first major film role though she had been a star on her show for years already) so we know this going to be a comedy.  So we have a romantic comedy but there is an awful lot of emotional pathos to it.

Tillie doesn’t really want to go out with Pete but he talks his way back to her apartment and then manages to score additional dates and then eventually sleeps with her.  That will eventually lead to marriage (“The honeymoon’s over,” she tells him, “it’s time to get married” in a line that comes straight from the book and was the tagline for the film) and to a child.  But the child will only bring happiness for a while because there is Pete’s constant infidelity and more importantly, the generic movie illness (although it was a book illness first) that will kill the child when he is still young.

The writing, based on a long story by constant New Yorker writer Peter de Vries, is okay while the direction doesn’t have a whole lot of subtlety to it (but then again, that was never Martin Ritt’s style).  What it has going for it are four performances.  There are the lead performances from Burnett and Matthau (both of which earned Globe noms) and the supporting performance from Geraldine Page, which of course earned her an Oscar nomination.  Page is quite enjoyable as the woman who refuses to let anyone know her age to the point where we get one of film’s more enjoyable catfights, with Page and Burnett slapping it out in the mud and the leaves.  There is also Rene Auberjonois as Burnett’s gay friend who also wants to know Page’s age and is willing to step up and be married to Tillie when Pete has just about disappeared.

The film is, ostensibly a Comedy, but there is an awful lot of drama going on as well and it’s hard to know if you’re supposed to laugh or cry and I just don’t know if that’s a compliment to the film or not.

The Source:

Witch’s Milk by Peter De Vries (1968)

A novella that was published with another thematically linked novella (The Cat’s Pajamas) that I didn’t bother to read, it’s a decent story about a woman, Tillie, who gets almost tricked into a relationship which then develops into marriage and a child but both are cut short.  There’s not a whole lot to it and I suspect it might have slipped away (and still really has) if not for the film adaptation.

The Adaptation:

A lot of what is in the film, including a lot of specific lines, comes directly from the book.  But there isn’t enough in the book to sustain the film so characters like Burt (the faithless husband of Gertrude, the Geraldine Page character) are invented and characters like Jimmy (Auberjonois) have their roles greatly increased (he only actually appears at the end of the book).  Even the scenes that come straight from the book tend to have additional dialogue to pad their lengths.

The Credits:

Directed by Martin Ritt.  Based on the novella “Witch’s Milk” by Peter de Vries.  Written for the Screen and Produced by Julius J. Epstein.

Sounder

The Film:

Because this film was nominated for Best Picture, I have already reviewed it here.  One thing that I definitely thought about this time is that it’s kind of ridiculous that Paul Winfield was nominated for Best Actor.  He’s quite good, but he’s missing from well over half the film while off on the work gang and he is definitely a supporting performer.  I must say, this is one of those films that actually suffers from being nominated for Best Picture because I am incapable of watching it and not thinking “Really?  This was nominated over Sleuth?”

The Source:

Sounder by William H. Armstrong (1969)

When I was in the fourth grade we were assigned to read a Newbery winner.  I read them all.  Because I’m like that.  That means I read Sounder sometime in the fourth grade, but I have no memory of it.  Given its subject, the love between a boy and his dog while his father is out of the picture (he’s in prison), it’s no wonder that it won the Newbery.  I’m not cynical enough to say that this was written with the award in mind (actually, I’m totally cynical enough to say that but I see no evidence that this is the case so I won’t make that slanderous claim), but it totally fits the kind of thing that the Newbery often rewards.

It’s a good book for kids.  It tells the story of a kid, which is always a good subject choice.  It gives him hardships to deal with but in the end, he is able to grow and have a better future than he has had of the past (he is working towards an education).  It brings up social issues (the family is poor and black in the south) but it doesn’t bludgeon you over the head with them.

It doesn’t work as well for an adult, though, because it is aimed a bit too much towards children and gets a bit too simplistic.  But it’s easy to see how the producers saw there was a movie to be made from it.

The Adaptation:

The first major change becomes apparent when you read what I wrote above and what I wrote in my original review.  I talked in the original review about how this film, unlike Old Yeller or The Yearling, was a drama and not a Kids film.  But the book is clearly a kids book (as is evidenced by the Newbery Award).  It was Lonne Elder III, the screenwriter who made that change of focus, as can be seen when looking at the notes on the AFI page for the film: “While the book centers on the family’s concern for the dog, screenwriter Lonne Elder III stated in a Nov 1972 interview in the New Watts Awakening that he preferred to focus on the family’s daily survival.”

Aside from that, there are a considerable number of changes, some of which are also to be found mentioned on that AFI page.  It talks about how the book ends with the death of the dog and the father while the boy (all the characters are unnamed in the book) lives for a year with the teacher while his father is gone.  But the key character of Mrs. Boatwright, who helps the boy find out where his father is in the film, is not a character at all in the book.

But they key thing comes down to Elder’s decision.  The book was about a relationship between a boy and his dog.  The film is so much more than that, a drama about growing up poor and black in the south and what you can try to do to escape that poverty.

The Credits:

director: Martin Ritt.  screenplay by Lonne Elder III.  based on the Newbery Award winning novel by William H. Armstrong.

Oscar Nominees

The Emigrants

The Film:

I have already reviewed this film once because it was nominated for Best Picture (that makes this the fifth of the year and one of those rare years where all five films nominated were adapted).  In fact, it was nominated for Best Foreign Film in 1971 and then nominated for Best Picture the next year (there are rules that don’t allow that anymore).  I talked about how, though it was a Swedish film with two of Bergman’s biggest stars, it wasn’t an insult to Bergman that it was nominated for Best Picture when he hadn’t yet been nominated because this film was much more suited for the Academy than his were.  It’s lush and colorful and moving, though a bit slow and not even close to the level of Bergman’s best work (or even his next level down).

The Source:

Utvandrarna (1949) and Invandrarna (1952) by Vilhelm Moberg

When I first saw The Emigrants and learned that there was a sequel to the film (The New Land, nominated for Best Foreign Film in 1972), I figured that there was one long novel that had been split into two for the films.  As it turned out, it was the opposite.  There are, in fact, four novels in the series by Vilhelm Moberg, published over the years 1949 to 1959.  The first two (The Emigrant, Unto a Good Land) were adapted into this film while the second two (The Settlers, The Last Letter Home) were adapted into the second film (which I won’t be reviewing because it wasn’t nominated for its script and didn’t make my Top 10 in 1973).  In all, it covers the journey of a family (and a few others) as they leave Sweden in the middle of the 19th Century and come to America to find a new life.  They are solid novels (at least the first two are) and have long been held up as among the heights of Swedish literature.

The Adaptation:

The film covers the family’s time in Sweden including the events that make them decide to leave Sweden, the journey across the Atlantic and then their trek deeper into America, eventually settling in Minnesota, as well as some time there.  The first novel ends with their arrival in New York and they way they are awestruck at the city and how different it is from where they left.  It is the second novel that covers the journey to America and their first year there (including the birth of their first American child).  Almost everything we see on the screen was in the original novels, though a few things are compressed so that we can get to it all in the space of one film (though, a long film, clocking in at 191 minutes).

The Credits:

Directed, Photographed and Edited by Jan Troell.  From a novel by Vilhelm Moburg.  Screenplay by Jan Troell and Bengt Forslund.

Lady Sings the Blues

The Film:

The music is jarring and a bit harsh as we watch the woman, in still photographs, being brought into a jail and fingerprinted.  It makes you think that this will be a thriller or a crime film or that this is a woman about to go on Death Row, something like I Want to Live.  Indeed, it ends on a still photograph where the woman looks completely deranged.  And it turns out, she’s thrown in a literally padded cell.  But this is a biopic, a Musical, the life of one of the most important and talented singers in American musical history, a woman whose deeply troubled life ended when she was barely older than I am now.  With a bit of irony, I write these words on the same day where Aretha Franklin, one of the very few black female singers, possibly the only one who could be legitimately said to be a greater figure in American musical history than Billie Holiday, has died.  But other than their race, gender, talent and that they were both signed by John Hammond, the similarities pretty much end there.  Franklin had a loving family, rose to great respect among the entire world, was beloved by almost everyone and died after a long, amazing life.  Holliday lived and worked in brothels, begged money from her father, was raped, beaten and had to fight for everything and was just five months older than I am now when she died.

As a biopic this isn’t much.  It does what all biopics do, especially ones about singers, focusing on their singing and on the more lurid aspects of their lives.  Holiday was born very poor, got by on guile, luck, hard work and learning to survive.  But she also had an amazing voice and she is finally given a chance to show that off.  That manages to impress not only her future nightclub manager but also, before too long, a rich man (with Mob connections) who wants her voice as much as he wants her body.  But Holiday, sadly, ends up in the thrall of heroin and she spends the rest of her life trying to balance her career with her need for the drugs.

It’s a little surprising to watch the film and realize that it was nominated for its writing.  But, it was during the short stretch where films based on “factual material” were considered as part of the Original Screenplay category and it was a weak year for original scripts.  The Art Direction and Costume Design were also nominated and though they are on my list, I probably should have had them higher up.  But none of that really matters, nor do Richard Pryor or Billy Dee Williams in key early film roles.  This is the film where Diana Ross became an actress, seemingly out of nowhere.  You can see a fictionalized version of this in Dreamgirls, but basically Ross told Berry Gordy he needed to give her this role and since he was producing the film, he did.  She didn’t disappoint, giving a bravura performance, though she had the bad luck to run up against Liza Minnelli at the Oscars.  It’s a decent film, a low-level *** film, so it isn’t a bad film.  But really, it’s all about Ross reaching down, finding her inner Billie Holiday, whether working at a brothel, wowing the crowds or trying to get off the junk.

The Source:

Lady Sings the Blues by Billie Holiday with William Dufty  (1956)

I am a bit mixed when it comes to musical autobiographies (or biographies).  Even when it’s someone I really like, someone like Bruce Springsteen or Carrie Brownstein, I’m hard to pressed to really get into the book.  If it’s someone whose music isn’t really to my taste, someone like Billie Holiday, it’s really hard for me to sink into the book.  It doesn’t help that Holiday lived such a messed up life, born when her parents were fifteen and thirteen, raised at times in a brothel, begging her father at his club for money to take home to her mother and, of course, all the years on heroin.  I mean, what does it even say about a person when she publishes such a book at the age of 41?  Is it any surprise then that she died at 44?  It is well-written enough (Dufty did the actual writing) and it is certainly lurid (although supposedly not nearly as lurid as it could have been, at least in regards to her famous lovers).

The Adaptation:

Only the bare bones of the book are up on screen.  Indeed, you could make the argument that this film is more of an original screenplay than an adapted screenplay just from seeing what made it on screen.  It’s telling that Holiday didn’t marry Louis McKay until after the book was published and that he’s barely mentioned at all.  He’s the second leading character in the film (the fifty dollars really happened but not from McKay – she met McKay one night in Harlem when she kept a whore from picking his pocket).  The audition where Billie gets hired and then chooses her name?  Nothing like that happened in real life.  The film doesn’t bother with John Hammond, who, of course, not only signed Holiday to Columbia but also Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen.

One thing of note from the book that might resonate even more today than when it was published in 1956 and that really seems to come from Holiday’s heart:

People on drugs are sick people.  So now we end up with the government chasing sick people like they were criminals, telling doctors they can’t help them, prosecuting them because they had some stuff without paying the tax, and sending them to jail.  Imagine if the government chased sick people with diabetes, put a tax on insulin and drove it into the black market, told doctors they couldn’t treat them, and then caught them, prosecuted them for not paying their taxes, and then sent them to jail.  If we did that, everyone would know we were crazy.  Yet we do practically the same thing every day in the week to sick people hooked on drugs.  The jails are full and the problem is getting worse every day.  (p 152-153)

The Credits:

Directed by Sidney J. Furie.  Screenplay by Terence McCloy and Chris Clark & Suzanne de Passe.  Based on the book by Billie Holiday and William Dufty.

Young Winston

The Film:

Richard Attenborough, as his career as a director progressed, would become known for true stories.  He would have a good eye for the camera and his work with actors was strong but his films would often lack a strong narrative cohesion.  That is all on display here, in his second film as a director.  We get the story of the young Winston Churchill, from his birth, through to his famous capture and escape from a prisoner-of-war camp during the Boer War and on to his election to Parliament and the beginning of his real career.  Given that Churchill lived a fascinating life (the daughter of an American beauty with a lot of money and the Chancellor of the Exchequer) and was known throughout his country before the age of 30, you would expect more than what you get here.  And more perplexing, this film is being reviewed here because it was nominated for its script (in the ostensible Original Screenplay category but placed there in spite of being adapted because it was during the short stretch the category was titled Best Screenplay Based on Factual Material or Material Not Previously Produced or Published).

There is little about the screenplay that makes it stand out.  It is like so many other biopics (although only covering half a life and the half that doesn’t include failures like Gallipoli or triumphs like Dunkirk).  We get a standard voice-over, although one that is often off-putting since sometimes we get the older Winston looking back and sometimes it’s narrated by the actual actor playing Winston at a young age.  The film needed a clearer narrative frame.  We get two and a half hours of young Winston but much of the first half isn’t really about him, instead being tied up with his father’s work at getting elected (and a really long scene with Winston’s mother debating with a shop owner) and his failures as a politician and the long descent into death.  It’s like the filmmakers didn’t think there was enough of Winston’s life to fill a film.  But we could have lopped off the first hour of the film, still had more than enough to fill the rest of the time (the film runs 157 minutes) and kept the focus on Winston and his adventures in India and South Africa.

In later years, Attenborough would delight in giving small roles to all sorts of distinguished British actors and that’s on full display here (as it was in his first film, the fantastic Oh What a Lovely War) with big names like Jack Hawkins and John Mills and then rising stars like Ian Holm and Anthony Hopkins.  But unfortunately Simon Ward, in the key role of Winston himself, isn’t really up to the task.

The Source:

My Early Life: 1874-1904 by Winston Churchill (1930)

Winston Churchill was 56 when he published this book (though parts of it had been written and were even in circulation for much of the decade leading up to that).  He might have imagined that the best part, the part of his life that he would be best known for (hoping that people would eventually forget about Gallipoli or at least realize that the catastrophic part of it shouldn’t have been laid at his feet) was already long past.  Could he have imagined that he would be far more famous a decade after writing this than he was at the time?

Churchill is a talented writer.  It is worth remembering that he actually won the Nobel Prize for Literature.  I have read his entire six volume works on the Second World War and they are a fascinating and detailed study.  Yet, I never found any of that here.  I struggled to get myself into this story.  Perhaps he wasn’t really meant to write memoirs, but rather history where, even though he was involved in it, he could take a step back and describe it as a historian and writer rather than the subject.  This book has been lauded by many but I can’t honestly recommend it.  Perhaps it just smacks too much of British imperialism.

The Adaptation:

There are a few scenes in the film that are lifted straight from the book (most notably, the moment after he has escaped from the prisoner-of-war camp and found the one Englishman within 20 miles), complete with dialogue intact.  But much of the film comes from either more general descriptions in the book or aren’t in the book at all.  Perhaps what best sums up the difference between the book and the film is that the film is separated into two roughly equal length parts which are divided upon the death of Winston’s father while the 372 page book features the death of his father on page 62.  Basically, any scene in the first half of the film which features either of his parents in which Winston is not present does not come from the actual book since the book is very much an autobiography and does not discuss his parents’ lives outside of him.

The Credits:

Directed by Richard Attenborough.  Based upon “My Early Life: A Roving Commission” by The Rt. Hon. Winston Churchill K.G. O.M. C.H. M.P.  Written for the screen and Produced by Carl Foreman.

WGA Nominees

Slaughterhouse-Five

The Film:

I first read Slaughterhouse-Five when I was in college but I didn’t see the film then.  I didn’t even know there was a film then.  Eventually I did learn of the film’s existence and I kept putting it off because it seemed that Vonnegut wasn’t right for film (I did see and like the film adaptation of Mother Night when it was released in 1996 but that’s a very different kind of Vonnegut book) and I didn’t want to be disappointed.  I started to bend a bit when John Irving wrote, in his book My Movie Business about talking to Vonnegut about George Roy Hill who had directed not only this film but also the film adaptation of Irving’s The World According to Garp and how they were both pleased with the adaptations Hill had made of their books.  And, of course, eventually my OCD about movie awards would win out and since this film earned various nominations, I would eventually end up seeing it, no matter my reservations.  So, of course, I did.  And I wasn’t impressed but neither was I massively disappointed.

Consider the original novel.  It’s the story of Billie Pilgrim, a man who becomes unstuck in time.  By that, Vonnegut means that Billy keeps bouncing back and forth between times in his life.  He’s not reliving his memories.  He’s just not living his life in a linear fashion anymore.  So, one minute, he is a poor, pathetic chaplain’s assistant in World War II, captured by the Nazis and being held in Dresden during the period of time that it was being destroyed from the air by Allied bombs.  The next minute, he is an adult in a plane crash that will cause his wife to get careless in her grief and concern and end up in a car accident that will end with her death (from carbon monoxide poisoning).  Then he is a captive on the planet Tralfamadore, essentially an exhibit in a zoo along with an adult film star that eventually becomes his lover.  So you can see the trickiness of trying to make a coherent film about all of this.  Not only do you have constant, massive shifts in time that can come with no warning (which is as they happen to Billy, who might be talking romantically to his porn-star lover only to find himself confronted with his fellow soldiers who can’t believe what is happening) but shifts in tone as well.  The scenes during the war are War scenes, complete with the capture of Billy and the prisoner of war situation.  The scenes on Tralfamadore, while not laden with special effects, are nonetheless Science-Fiction scenes.  Then there is the rest of the film which ventures somewhere between Drama and Black Comedy.  When his wife is dealing with her grief, for instance, you think it’s Drama, but then she keeps getting into accidents and driving like a madwoman and you start to laugh because there’s nothing else you can do one when one man is describing this crazy woman and then suddenly yells to duck because she’s coming back around.

So, what we have, is a solidly, well-filmed (which makes sense since Hill was an Oscar nominee before this for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and would win the Oscar the next year for The Sting) story that really doesn’t have a solid handle on what it really is.  It wants to be so many things and so it never really succeeds at any of them but it doesn’t actually fail at any of them either.  It certainly isn’t helped though by Michael Sacks.  Sacks was in his first starring role in a major film playing Billy and if he is effective during the war scenes because he’s supposed to be overwhelmed by it all, he doesn’t really work in the scenes where he is supposed to be an older Billy.  Likewise, other than Valerie Perrine (who was also in her first major film role but is much more convincing in spite of her lack of experience as an actress and would be good enough that two years later she would earn an Oscar nomination for Lenny), the film really doesn’t have much in the way of actors.

The Source:

Slaughterhouse-Five or The Children’s Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death by Kurt Vonnegut  (1969)

I have already reviewed this book.  It is one of the great novels of the 20th Century.  That viewpoint is not only held by me (I ranked it #31 All-Time and many of the novels above it aren’t from the 20th Century) but by many others as well.  Time placed it on their own list and the Modern Library ranked it #18 for 20th Century English Language Novels.  If you haven’t read it, well then I hope you haven’t been through college, because if so, I feel bad for you, because you should have, and also, you need to read it.  Vonnegut is one of the most original, fascinating, funny and unique writers in the history of literature and this is widely regarded as his best book (including by me).  And so it goes.

The Adaptation:

“I love George Roy Hill and Universal Pictures, who made a flawless translation of my novel Slaughterhouse-Five to the silver screen.  I drool and cackle every time I watch that film, because it is so harmonious with what I felt when I wrote the book. … I had nothing to do with the script of Slaughterhouse-Five, incidentally.  That was the work of Steven [sic] Geller – and a good job it was.”  (Between Time and Timbuktu or Prometheus-5: A Space Fantasy Based on Materials, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr, p xv-xvi)

I’m a little torn on Vonnegut’s quote.  I don’t see the film as flawless by any means but that’s not necessarily what he is saying.  He is saying that it is a flawless translation.  In that sense, I suppose, Vonnegut is correct.  Almost everything that we see on screen comes directly from the book and most of the book does end up on the screen (the scenes on Tralfamadore are pushed a little later in the film).  While the film is okay, it is a solid adaptation of the book, as good a film that I think you could make out of it unless you wanted to be really unfaithful.

The Credits:

Directed by George Roy Hill.  Based on the Novel “Slaughterhouse-Five Or The Children’s Crusade” by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.  Screenplay by Stephen Geller.

Butterflies are Free

The Film:

When I watched this film the first time, years ago, 30 Rock didn’t exist yet.  And when I initially re-watched it and wrote this review back in July of 2017 (it became toast when my computer died), I hadn’t yet watched the show.  But having watched the show now, the first word that comes to mind in thinking about this film is “blerg”.  For Tina Fey’s Liz Lemon, it mostly means “damn it”, but to me it’s not only that (damn it for having to write this again or even have to think about it again), but also a kind of all “blech” description of the film itself.

This film takes two different kind of tropes and marries them together.  Since each trope taken separately is kind of nauseating, the combination of the two is really more than I can take.  The first is the notion that someone who is disabled in some way isn’t really that disabled as long as they can think and feel.  In this case, it’s a blind man who has finally moved out of his overbearing mother’s house.  The other trope is that of the free-spirit (or hippie, if you prefer) who is able to help someone who is more uptight to learn to relax and enjoy life.  That the poster for the film shows the free-spirit cutting the blind man’s hair while she wears just a bikini and he’s wearing a long beaded necklace completely embraces that trope (I found a different poster for the right).  Of course, we are combining them here because it will turn out that the two live next door to each other and they will fall in love and there will be some lessons learned with a happy ending as if we just watched a Saturday morning cartoon.

It does not help the film that the two main characters are played by Edward Albert and Goldie Hawn.  Albert is the son of Eddie Albert and he was never a big success on film because, perhaps, he’s what would happen if you took Stephen Collins and made him even more bland.  The free spirit is played by Goldie Hawn (of course she is, which at least explains the bikini).  While Hawn, unlike Albert, has a measure of talent, it is an unbearably annoying talent and this is not exactly one of her shining film moments like Cactus Flower or Private Benjamin.  This is Hawn at her most coy and annoying.

The only saving grace for the film is Eileen Heckart who plays Albert’s mother.  She’s the kind of mother who writes books about her son (a son who must have an amazing memory in that not only has he read all of Dickens in braille but actually remembers a specific quote and is able to correct Hawn on it, leading to the title) and suffocates him with love and care.  She can’t bear to have him go off to the big city and she worries about him, especially now that he’s found the damn hippie.

When I first reviewed this film, I gave it a 67.  I can’t imagine what I was thinking.  Perhaps it was Heckart’s performance, which is good, but didn’t deserve the Oscar even in a weak year like 1972 (a weak year in Supporting Actress anyway).  If I were to think about it again, it would probably be lucky to escape with a 63 (the lowest score you can get and still be ***).

The most perplexing thing about this film is that it was nominated for Best Cinematography and Best Sound.  The Godfather and The Emigrants weren’t nominated for the former and Deliverance wasn’t nominated for either but this film was nominated for both.  I can not, for the life of me, explain that.  Blerg.

The Source:

Butterflies are Free by Leonard Gershe (1969)

I can not blame the filmmakers for putting two annoying tropes together. Playwright Leonard Gershe had already done it in the original stage production.  Almost everything you see in the film had already been done on stage.  If the ages of the main characters had been a bit younger, this would have worked well as an Afterschool Special if not for the fact that it didn’t exist yet and that the two main characters sleep together.  On stage, the main roles were played by Keir Dullea and Blythe Danner (Heckart had also played her role on stage).  I can understand replacing Danner, who hadn’t yet made a film, with Hawn (who’s also, much as I find her annoying, a better actress).  But why replace Dullea, who had been the star of 2001, with Albert?  Dullea isn’t a particularly good actor (see David and Lisa, or really, don’t), but he’s not as bland as Albert.

The Adaptation:

Aside from changing the location of the film from New York to San Francisco, almost nothing in the film is changed from the play.  There are a couple of extra scenes added outside the apartment that weren’t in the original play (which confined itself to the apartment), some of which are just location shots out in the city.  But basically, the play is right there on the screen.

The Credits:

Directed by Milton Katselas.  Screenplay by Leonard Gershe.  Based upon his play.

The War Between Men and Women

The Film:

If you’re going to market your film as a Romantic Comedy, then there are two things that your film must have.  The first is that must have romance and the second is that it must have comedy.  This film, nominally based on the writings of James Thurber, but really just throwing some Thurber style illustrations into a terrible story, doesn’t really have any of either.

Jack Lemmon is a cartoonist, a rather snarky one who doesn’t seem to get along with anyone but is somehow a bit of a womanizer (the start of the film is him explaining how he’ll never be trapped into marriage so right away we know he’ll be married before the end of the film).  One day, while blind from a visit to the ophthalmologist he literally bumps into a woman and makes a connection with her that continues when he later runs into her (not literally this time) at a party.  Of course, she has kids and an ex who the kids adore and it’s nothing like what he wants but apparently he can’t get enough of the sex because he manages to talk himself into marriage.

The rest of the film will deal with Lemmon dealing with his new wife (Julie Harris), her annoying kids, the ex-husband who eventually becomes a drinking buddy (Jason Robards) and his declining eyesight (a serious problem for a cartoonist).  There is one funny moment where he draws characters with no clothes (like Thurber does) and is accused by his editor of being pornographic but he insists “I don’t draw well enough for pornography”.  But that’s about it for the comedy and since the couple is actually really annoying, there isn’t much in the way of romance either and you can pretty much skip this film and chalk it up to the WGA being desperate for an Adapted Comedy in a year that’s weak for them.

The Source:

The Last Flower by James Thurber  (1939)

This is a short little animated parable about the potential for war to wipe out mankind and how, even if we survive, we end up coming back to war yet again.  Drawn in that simple Thurber style (which works for the amusing Lemmon line above), it’s short and sweet.

The Adaptation:

It’s only an adaptation of The Last Flower in that the Lemmon character actually makes this story during the course of the film.  But really what this does is take a character who does humorous illustrations like Thurber and creates a romantic comedy around him.  It really is only technically an adaptation.

The Credits:

Directed by Melville Shavelson.  Written by Melville Shavelson and Danny Arnold.  Suggested by the Writings and Drawings of James Thurber and including “The Last Flower”.

Golden Globe Nominee

Frenzy

The Film:

The Production Code was gone.  Alfred Hitchcock was returning to England to make a film that, at least in part, reminded him of his childhood (he was the son of a greengrocer and there were scenes that he wanted to set in the produce market at Covent Garden before it was done away with).  He wanted to escape the critical and commercial drubbings that had accompanied his last two films, both Cold War thrillers (Torn Curtain, Topaz).  He had a novel about a serial killer and the man who is mistaken for him (partially because the killer has killed the man’s wife in circumstances that make the innocent man look guilty of it) and a chance for some sex, for some nudity, for some violence and no Production Code to get around like with Psycho.  So now we get to Frenzy, the penultimate film from the great director and in the opinion of many (including myself), the only really good film he would make after The Birds in 1963.

Jon Finch is Dick Blaney.  He’s not good at getting along with people.  He gets himself fired from the bar where he’s been working.  He goes to his ex-wife to argue with her (an argument which is overheard by her secretary).  The next day, Blaney’s ex-wife is raped and murdered.  Later, the woman from the bar where he’s been working (and who he has been staying with) is also murdered.  The first was a coincidence that it was connected to Blaney.  The second is because the killer knows him and wants to throw more suspicion on him.

The second murder is an exquisitely filmed scene, a hearkening back to the great work Hitchcock had done in earlier years.  As the killer (we know he’s the killer at this point) walks into the apartment with Blaney’s girlfriend the camera slowly pulls away, moving down the stairs and even across the street.  We know what’s happening but, even with the allowance to show more on screen (there was nudity in the first rape / murder scene and some nudity with the body that is found at the beginning of the film), there is no need to be explicit in this scene and in fact, it’s more disturbing in that we can imagine what is happening rather than seeing it depicted on-screen.  We get more of that classic Hitchcock later in the film when the killer must dispose of the body and he accidentally leaves a clue behind and he’s forced to ride with her in the back of a potato lorry, trying to get his tie pin back from her (literally) cold, dead hand.  It’s moments like these that really make the film stand above all of the other post-1963 work from Hitchcock.  If it doesn’t rise up to the level of his best films (and indeed, I have it at ***.5, not ****) it’s because the writing and the acting isn’t at nearly the same level as the great Hitchcock films.

Released from the Production Code, Hitchcock could have gone with a more downbeat ending.  But, like always, the innocent man is actually discovered to be innocent and the guilty man is found.  But what we get is a classic scene where the killer realizes the game is up.  I won’t reveal the brilliant last line that ends the film but will just remind you that as the last hurrah from the great director this is a film you really need to see.

The Source:

Goodbye Piccadilly, Farewell Leicester Square by Arthur La Bern (1966)

This is a decent book about a man marked by the war (and a friend’s suicide) that ends up, due partially to circumstance, and then partially because the real killer knows him and realizes he can lay a path towards him and escape justice, suspected of a number of serial killings.  La Bern’s most famous book was It Always Rains on Sunday (which you can read about here) but this book isn’t quite at the same level.  The book goes to some extreme circumstances both to throw shade on the main character (we don’t know at first who the real killer is) but also the keep him out of the hands of the police.  That being said, this is a far better book than Raymond Foery, the author of a book on the film (see more below) would have you believe.  If you check the index for mentions of the original source in Foery’s book, almost every time the original book is mentioned he finds something denigrating to say about it.  All things considered, this book is actually considerably better than the source material for a lot of Hitchcock films.

The Adaptation:

This is one of those films (like a lot of Hitchcock films) where an entire book has been written about it.  The specific place to look is Chapter 4 of Alfred Hitchcock’s Frenzy by Raymond Foery where he goes into detail of the screenplay as it was developed by Anthony Shaffer (more famous for writing Sleuth) along with notes and ideas from Hitchcock himself (who rarely wrote scripts but often contributed to them).  As is so often the case with Hitchcock adaptations, the basic premise comes from the original book while a lot of the details are not present there.  While some of the key moments come from the original novel (like being caught in the truck trying to remove evidence), a lot of the film is simply original (including the whole motif of the necktie).  A key part of the book, that Finch’s character is marked by the war (and a friend’s suicide after the war) is completely dropped adding more to the feeling of an innocent man than a broken man who wants to stay away from the police.  There is no scene at home with the inspector in the original novel and we find out who the actual killer is much later in the novel than in the film.

There might be more on the differences between the film and the novel but this was one of the pieces that was lost when my computer died and since the book was hard to get the first time, I have tried to recreate it mostly from memory rather than to get the book again.

The Credits:

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock.  Based on the novel “GOODBYE PICCADILLY, FAREWELL LEICESTER SQUARE”, by Arthur LaBern.  Screenplay by Anthony Shaffer.

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

  • The Hot Rock  –  The only film to make this list in the first half of the 70’s, where it was often difficult to even get a full list of 10 (original screenplay were blossoming).

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

  • Jeremiah Johnson  –  Unless I have miscounted, the first of six collaborations between Sydney Pollack and Robert Redford.  Solid Western based on two books about the real life Johnson.
  • The Getaway  –  Panned when it was released, this is the film that lost Robert Evans his wife.  It’s garnered better reviews since and I think it’s a solid ***.  Steve McQueen Crime film based on the novel by Jim Thompson.
  • Utamaru and His Five Women  –  A 1946 Mizoguchi film just making it to the States.  Based on the novel by Kanji Kunieda.
  • Snoopy, Come Home  –  One of the better Peanuts films, it’s based on the series of strips where Snoopy returned to his first owner, Lila.
  • The Poseidon Adventure  –  Definitely the best Disaster film I’ve ever seen (the only one that even comes close is 2016’s The Wave) but it’s still just mid ***.  Based on the novel by Paul Gallico (who, amazingly, also wrote Pride of the Yankees).  Inspired sequels, remakes and a very good Doctor Who Christmas Special.
  • Une Femme Douce  –  A 1969 Robert Bresson film that is actually adapted from a Dostoevsky short story.
  • The Valachi Papers  –  I saw this after seeing it listed in a list book for my Crime post.  Solid adaptation of the non-fiction book by Peter Maas (whose Serpico will be in the next post) based on a real Mafia informer.
  • Boxcar Bertha  –  An early Scorsese film adapted from the book Sister of the Road about the real Boxcar Bertha.
  • São Bernardo  –  A Brazilian film based on the novel by Graciliano Ramos.
  • 1776  –  A lackluster musical that does give William Daniels a plum role as John Adams.  I probably should have watched it again during the two years when I lived just a couple of blocks from the Adams birthplace but I can’t bear the thought of sitting through all two and a half hours of those songs again.  Based on the Tony winning stage musical that was a big hit.  We’re into lower *** films now.
  • The Nightcomers  –  A film prequel to The Turn of the Screw that stars Marlon Brando.  Better than it should be.
  • Zee and Co  –  Also known as X, Y and Zee, it’s a British film with Michael Caine and Elizabeth Taylor based on the novel by Edna O’Brien.
  • Uncle Vanya  –  Andrei Konchalovsky does a mediocre job with the great Chekhov play.
  • Case of the Naves Brothers  –  A 1967 Brazilian Drama that was submitted for the Oscar for Best Foreign Film (but not nominated).  Got a U.S. release in 1972.  Based on a book by the lawyer for the two real life brothers who were tortured into confessing to a crime they didn’t commit.
  • Living Free  –  The sequel to Born Free isn’t actually based on the sequel book Living Free, but the third book Forever Free.
  • The Nun  –  A 1966 Jacques Rivette Drama that earned an Oscar qualifying run in 1972.  Based on a novel by 18th Century French writer Denis Diderot.
  • Man of La Mancha  –  Don Quixote as a musical via a Broadway musical and a Broadway play (I, Don Quixote).  I’m not a fan.  “To dream the impossible dreammmmmmmmmm!”
  • Uncle Tom’s Cabin  –  This one’s from 1965 and it’s West German but it still got a U.S. 1972 release.  Based on the novel, of course.
  • The Adventures of Barry MacKenzie  –  Director of a future Best Picture winner, Bruce Beresford directs this adaptation of the comic strip created by Barry Humphries and yes, Humphries brings his Dame Edna character to the screen here (although she’s not yet a Dame).
  • Uphaar  –  The Indian submission for the Oscars in this year (not nominated), it’s based on a Tagore short story.
  • Tomorrow  –  Originally a Faulkner short story, then a play by Horton Foote.  It stars Robert Duvall and I feel like I am supposed to like it, but it’s barely a *** film.
  • Kidnapped  –  Delbert Mann directs a lackluster adaptation of the classic Stevenson novel (and the first half of the its sequel Catriona).  The last *** film on the list.
  • The Ruling Class  –  The second film in which Peter O’Toole gives a solid performance in a meh film (the other is Man of La Mancha).  He was Oscar nominated for this one.  Based on the play by Peter Barnes.
  • Savage Messiah  –  Another mediocre Ken Russell film.  This one is based on a book about sculptor Henri Gaudier-Brzeska.
  • The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds  –  For years, I thought of this as “that play with the weird title I chose not to read for my summer reading for AP English and read Cyrano de Bergerac instead”.  But Paul Newman turned the play into the film, starring his wife.  The play was by Paul Zindel and won the Pulitzer.
  • Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb  –  The fourth and final Hammer Mummy film.  Based, very loosely, on Bram Stoker’s The Jewel of Seven Stars.
  • A Separate Peace  –  I really liked the John Knowles novel when I read it in 9th grade (and it was similar in theme to Dead Poet’s Society which happened to open that same year) but it has not aged well and my brain now just thinks of the Simpsons line “Although I hardly consider A Separate Peace the ninth grade level.”  The film is very mediocre and stars Parker Stevenson before he was a Hardy Boy.
  • Tower of Screaming Virgins  –  Known in Britain as She Lost Her . . . You Know What.  A 1967 West German film that’s actually based on a lesser known Dumas novel.
  • Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland  –  It’s got a lot of British stars in small roles (Ralph Richardson, Peter Sellers, Dudley Moore, Roy Kinnear) but it’s utterly dull.  Based on the two brilliant books of course.
  • Lone Wolf and Cub: Sword of Vengeance  –  It’s the first of the film series but the films were based on the manga series that began in 1970.  We’re down to lower **.5 now.
  • Ten Days’ Wonder  –  A weak Chabrol film based on an Ellery Queen novel.
  • Across 110th Street  –  Mediocre Crime film based on the novel by Wally Ferris.  The soundtrack would be the most memorable and enduring part of the film.
  • Child’s Play  –  Sidney Lumet dips into mediocrity yet again before his stretch of great years begins in 1973.  Based on a play by Robert Marasco.
  • The Decameron  –  The first of the “Trilogy of Life” in which Pier Paolo Pasolini brings his strand of hedonism to classic works of literature which will also include The Canterbury Tales and Arabian Nights.  This one is based on the classic collection of 14th century novellas.
  • Cool Breeze  –  A Blaxploitation remake of The Asphalt Jungle.
  • Under Milk Wood  –  The second to last film to star both Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton (the last, Hammersmith is Out, also in this year, a very loose telling of the Faust legend, I consider original and isn’t on the list but is actually worse than this one).  Weak Comedy based on the radio play by poet Dylan Thomas.
  • Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde  –  The second Hammer Jekyll film takes the great Stevenson novel and turns it on its side by having him transform into a female.  Also throws in aspects of Jack the Ripper and Burke and Hare.
  • Fritz the Cat  –  Ralph Bakshi adapts the famous Crumb comic strip about a horny cat.  One of those films where, when you finally see it, you think, “well that wasn’t worth the build up.”
  • Last of the Red Hot Lovers  –  Neil Simon was a great playwright (I write was because he died three days ago) but this was not of his good ones.  The New York Times agreed, commenting “In the dismal history of Neil Simon screenplays and adaptations for the screen, The Last of the Red Hot Lovers may represent the lowest ebb”.  We’ve entered ** territory now.
  • The Public Eye  –  Also known as Follow Me, this was adapted by Peter Shaffer from his own play and obviously is not the Shaffer adaptation in this year to choose.  Carol Reed’s last film is a mystery but a boring one.
  • Tales from the Crypt  –  Not a Hammer film, but an Amicus one, the other British company that Freddie Francis directed Horror films for when he wasn’t winning Oscars for Cinematography.  It’s an anthology film based on the old EC Comics series that helped usher in the Comics Code and went out with the Code in 1955.
  • Conquest of the Planet of the Apes  –  The fourth Planet of the Apes film and it is not a winner.
  • One is a Lonely Number  –  Also known as Two is a Happy Number.  Based on a short story called “The Good Humor Man”.  Star Trish Van Devere was nominated for Best Actress at the Globes.
  • Dracula A.D. 1972  –  The seventh Hammer Dracula film and the first since the original to have both Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing.  Sadly, it’s still terrible.
  • Dr Phibes Rises Again  –  The sequel to The Abominable Doctor Phibes, which was an original script.
  • Play It As It Lays  –  Another Globe nominee for Actress, this time for Tuesday Weld.  Written by Joan Didion and her husband, based on Didion’s novel.  Low **.  Directed by 1962 Best Director nominee Frank Perry.
  • The Other  –  We’ve skipped all the way down to *.  Also directed by a 1962 Oscar nominee, this time Robert Mulligan.  Terrible Suspense film based on the first novel by actor Tom Tryon (The Cardinal).
  • Blacula  –  Do I list it as the sub-genre Blaxploitation or Vampire (Dracula)?  I went with the latter.  It’s terrible either way.  I have a strong feeling they came up with the title and then fashioned the story around it.
  • Dracula vs Frankenstein  –  The Adamson film, not the Franco film.  I count this one as Monster (Frankenstein).  Other titles it’s known by are Blood of Frankenstein, The Revenge of Dracula, Teenage Dracula and They’re Coming to Get You.  Whatever you call it, it’s mid *.
  • Portnoy’s Complaint  –  One of the funniest novels ever written and I finally tracked down the film and good lord is it bad.  Like Goodbye Columbus, it stars Richard Benjamin but that one was good and this is just awful.  Not the worst film ever made from a major literary book (the 1995 Scarlet Letter is worse) but, because I refuse to see the James Franco Sound and the Fury and have no idea how bad it is, there is no worse adaptation of a greater book that I have ever seen.
  • Ben  –  Just awful (low *) sequel to Willard that is mostly known for the Michael Jackson theme song (or the great line in the Pearl Jam songs “Rats”: “Ben, the two of us need look no more”).  Not even bad enough, though to make the Bottom 5.
  • Night of the Lepus  –  Let’s get the Wild Nature sub-genre thriving in the 70’s.  Terrible title for a film based on a book with a just as bad title: The Year of the Angry Rabbit.  Low .5 film that was only the third worst of the year.
  • Grave of the Vampire  –  Also not the worst of the year because the worst, The Thing With Two Heads, was original (so very original).  This isn’t.  Or isn’t it?  Written by David Chase (yes, the same one who created The Sopranos) supposedly based on his novel The Still Life.  But the internet is full of people trying to find confirmation of the novel’s existence and it’s clear it doesn’t.  So if based on the supposed novel, then the novel was unpublished, which really makes it more of an original script.  Either way, this Horror film about an undead rapist is appallingly bad.  It’s actually a big year for bad Vampire films as there are also, not listed because they are original, Countess Dracula (nothing to do with Dracula), Vampire Circus and Baron Blood.

Adaptations of Notable Works I Haven’t Seen

  • Treasure Island  –  Orson Welles plays Long John Silver in this adaptation of Stevenson’s classic adventure story but it’s hard to find.
  • When the Legends Die  –  I remember reading the book while growing up (Junior High, maybe?) and not liking it.  Didn’t stop me from wanting to see the film version but I wasn’t able to.

Adult Films That Are Also Adaptations

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