This scene isn’t in the original novel even though it comes during the period of time covered by the novel. Nor is it ever mentioned in the novel that the Don’s birthday is December 7. This is pure Coppola.

My Top 10

  1. The Godfather Part II
  2. Young Frankenstein
  3. The Parallax View
  4. Murder on the Orient Express
  5. Lenny
  6. The Front Page
  7. The Taking of Pelham One Two Three
  8. The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz
  9. Thieves Like Us
  10. Sanshiro Sugata

Note:  If you look at my original Nighthawk Awards you will only see nine films listed.  But, re-watching The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, which I needed to review anyway because it was a WGA nominee, I was reminded that it should have been on my list in the first place because the script really is quite good.

Consensus Nominees:

  1. The Godfather Part II  (192 pts)
  2. The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz  (120 pts)
  3. Lenny  (80 pts)
  4. Young Frankenstein  (80 pts)
  5. Murder on the Orient Express  (40 pts)
  6. Conrack  (40 pts)
  7. The Parallax View  (40 pts)
  8. The Taking of Pelham One Two Three  (40 pts)
  9. The Front Page  (40 pts)

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

  • The Godfather Part II
  • The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz
  • Lenny
  • Murder on the Orient Express
  • Young Frankenstein

WGA Awards:

Adapted Drama:

  • The Godfather Part II
  • Conrack
  • Lenny
  • The Parallax View
  • The Taking of Pelham One Two Three

Adapted Comedy:

  • The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz
  • The Front Page
  • Young Frankenstein

Golden Globe:

  • The Godfather Part II
  • The Towering Inferno

Nominees that are Original:  Chinatown, The Conversation, A Woman Under the Influence

BAFTA:

  • none

note:  Of the films eligible in 1974 nominated for Best Screenplay at the BAFTAs, all five of them were original (Chinatown, Blazing Saddles, The Conversation, Lacombe Lucien, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore).

My Top 10

 

The Godfather Part II

The Film:

Like with the first film, I watched this film this time with Veronica who was watching it for the first time.  She was impressed with the scope of the film and with Pacino and De Niro’s performances.  Her constant refrain through the film though was, “Oh god, Fredo, you are so dumb.”  It’s a brilliant film, of course, certainly one of the greatest sequels ever made if not the greatest.  But it is not the best film of the year (that would be Chinatown) and it is not better than the first one.

The Source:

The Godfather by Mario Puzo (1969)

I have already written about the novel in my 1972 post concerning the original film.  The parts of the book that are used for the film are Book III of the book (covering pages 183-214), though really, it’s only pages 183-199 that are used as the rest cover the period between the end of the flashback scenes in this film and before the action begins in the first film.

The Adaptation:

“From the beginning, Coppola had been enticed by the prospects of telling two stories in the movie, the first showing Vito Corleone as a young man on his way up, establishing what would become the most powerful crime family on the East Coast; the other depicting his son Michael at virtually the same age, presiding over the same family, now in tatters and losing its influence.” (Francis Ford Coppola: A Filmmaker’s Life, Michael Schumacher, p 155-156)

“There was very little unused material that he could work into the new picture, and he had ideas for the small portion of the novel – the flashback scenes in Little Italy – that he planned on using.” (Schumacher, p 162)

“Most of the events in the modern story were invented by Coppola. Some of them were suggested by contemporary newspaper accounts. . . . The flashbacks to young Vito’s life in New York’s ‘Little Italy’ were drawn from material left over from Puzo’s novel – historical background for which there had been no room in the first film. In fact, Book III of the novel is a thirty-page description of the roots of the Mafia in Sicily and Vito Corleone’s subsequent rise to power as a Mafia leader when he immigrates to the United States.” (Godfather: The Intimate Francis Ford Coppola, Gene D. Phillips, p 115)

All of those are accurate – while some of the scenes are more drawn out and filled in in the film while they weren’t in the book (unlike the original film, where most of the scenes came straight from the book), almost all of the scenes in the De Niro part of the film come from the original novel, with some notable changes: that his mother sends him away (she isn’t killed with no mention of a brother), that in the novel “he changed his name to Corleone to preserve some tie with his native village” rather than having it changed by an immigration official on Ellis Island, that the gun isn’t muffled by a towel that then catches on fire when he kills Fanucci and that there is no return trip to Sicily to avenge himself upon the man who killed his father.  None of the Michael scenes are in the novel at all and they are simply an extension of the original characters, though all of the actions of all the characters (except for Connie, who becomes a more well-rounded character in this film) are pretty consistent with how they were presented in the novel and the first film.

The Credits:

produced and directed by Francis Ford Coppola.  screenplay by Francis Ford Coppola & Mario Puzo.  based on the novel The Godfather by Mario Puzo.

Young Frankenstein

The Film:

There are jokes about how to pronounce the title character’s name, a silly line about coming in to Transylvania station (after a train ride that seems to begin in New York), lines about knockers and a recurring gag about the way the horses react to the name of the dominating frau that runs the castle.  None of these, listed there, sound like a catalog for one of the funniest films ever made.  What’s more, not only is this a magnificent cacophony of laughs but it is one of the most brilliant, innovative comedies ever made.  It is not just unbearably funny but also brilliantly made.

Outside of Woody Allen, there were two great names in movie comedy working in the 1970’s and in 1974, they made two films together: Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder.  This film was Wilder’s baby, an idea he had revolving around the notion of a grandchild who was ashamed of what his famous grandfather had done (Wilder would, a year later, make his directorial debut with another of his scripts that showcased his love of great literature: The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother).  Wilder would eventually decide, while working on Blazing Saddles, to work with Brooks again on this film provided Brooks didn’t act in the film (he thought his mugging would break the mood Wilder wanted to establish).  Wilder had the right idea and that’s why this is not only one of Brooks’ best films (and many would probably say his best film), but his most polished directorial work.  It would not just have the Brooks stamp of parodying a genre and being so funny you think you might die, but would also have first-class cinematography, sets and sound.  It would take the old Universal Horror films and their look and feel (ironically, since this was a 20th Century Fox film) and merge them with the Brooks / Wilder sense of humor.

The very concept of the film, the poor doctor who wants to run from his family’s history only to end up embracing it, is funny enough.  The work on the film is amazing.  Wilder’s performance is hilarious and brilliant and yet somehow managed to not even get nominated for a Golden Globe even though this is the kind of performance the Best Actor – Comedy / Musical category is made for.  But perhaps what really makes the film is all of the supporting performances.  From Marty Feldman as an Igor whose hump keeps moving to Terri Garr as the most adorable lab assistant ever to Madeline Khan, Cloris Leachmann, Kenneth Mars and most especially Peter Boyle, bringing a sense of comic timing, humor, pathos and even an ability to sing and dance to the role of the Monster.

It’s hard to think that Young Frankenstein isn’t one of the five best films of the year.  But this year, 1974, my year, is a year where you have to choose between Chinatown and The Godfather Part II, where you have both Truffaut and Bergman earning nominations and both of them losing.  It’s just too great a year and this film, as great as it is, just can’t make it into that amazing top five.

The Source:

Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley (originally anonymously published)  (1818)

I have already reviewed the novel once before, back when I wrote about the great 1931 James Whale production here (way back in 2013 – this project has been going on for a while now).  It is a great novel, one that made its way into my Top 200 and would be considered one of the greatest Horror novels ever written if that’s how you want to classify it.  But you don’t have to (read more about that in the original review).

One thing that I didn’t explicitly say in the original is that while there are many cheap editions available of the novel, the best version is the Annotated Frankenstein (pictured on the right).  The original version is out-of-print, but it should be easy to find used (though not necessarily cheap), it is really well done, by the same author who did the Annotated Dracula.  But, like with many of those original Annotated books, there is a new edition now and that one you can easily find.

The Adaptation:

Because this is a parody and an ostensible sequel (“We’ve been through this five times before”), while it doesn’t flat out adapt the book, it does take parts of the book as well as parts of the earlier films and gives them a humorous twist.  We get the original creation scene, based more on the first film than on the novel.  We have the scene with blind man, from the original novel (and the second film) played as the most hilarious scene in the film (“I was gonna make espresso”).  The scene with the little girl from the first film is transposed and given a lighter ending.  Very few lines come from the original novel and only a few from any of the previous films, but it all feels so familiar and yet it’s all so funny when so much of the original was horrific.

The Credits:

Directed by Mel Brooks.  Screen Story and Screenplay by Gene Wilder and Mel Brooks.  Based on characters in the novel “Frankenstein” by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley.

The Parallax View

The Film:

I have already reviewed this film once as the Under-Appreciated film of 1974.  First of all, it’s a great film for its times.  It is often seen as the middle-film in Alan J. Pakula’s trilogy of Political Paranoia (between Klute and All the President’s Men) and it shows a lot of the mindsets in this country after the assassinations of the 60’s and the conspiracy theories rising in the 70’s.  Second, it is a great representation of three artists who were grossly under-appreciated by the Academy: director Alan J. Pakula, star Warren Beatty and cinematographer Gordon Willis.  Third, several of the major critics were either lukewarm or flat-out dismissed the film altogether.  Just remember that in the same year that this film was made and completely ignored by the Academy, they nominated The Towering Inferno for Best Picture.

The Source:

The Parallax View by Loren Singer  (1970)

An interesting little thriller of intrigue and murder.  Several people who were filmed at an event (what it is, I was never quite clear on – if you read the Wikipedia page on Singer, it’s the same as the film, but it’s definitely not) have been dying, in the order that they were filmed.  The last two in the film are trying to figure out what is going on and stumble upon a conspiracy to murder all of the witnesses.  The protagonist must try to infiltrate the organization that is behind it while keeping himself from getting killed at the same time.  It’s an effective thriller that in some ways is more effective because we don’t really know what’s going on.  But we also don’t get much in the way of characters and we never really know the people we’re reading about.  A better idea than it is a novel.

The Adaptation:

The film takes the basic blueprint from the book – that witnesses to an event are being killed off by the mysterious Parallax organization and mostly goes its own way with it.  The political aspect to the film, the assassination at the beginning, the second assassin, the paranoia (in the book, it’s clear much earlier that the conspiracy is true), most of the events of the film (except for the attempted drowning scene and using the fishing rod to escape from that – I remembered that instantly when reading the book) are entirely different in the film, as are the climactic events (other than that the protagonist ends up dead) and the way it ties into more political intrigue.  The filmmakers took an interesting idea from the book and really turned into a film for its time on their own.

The Credits:

Produced and Directed by Alan J. Pakula.  Screenplay by David Giler and Lorenzo Semple, Jr..  Based upon the novel by Loren Singer.
note:  The source is not listed in the opening credits, only in the end credits.

Murder on the Orient Express

The Film:

A man has been killed on a train.  This man is definitely not what he seemed.  We might expect that over the course of our film we will discover eventually who the man was and who killed him.  The film throws us a bit of a curve right away when it explains who the man was.  In fact, there had already been hints as to who he might have been with the headlines played over the opening scenes of the famous Armstrong case, when the baby of the famous couple was kidnapped and then killed.  It can’t be un-connected, so there’s little surprise when we discover that this was the man behind that famous crime (so clearly based on the Lindbergh kidnapping).  It’s surprising, however, that we find out so early.  It turns out the mystery of the man isn’t the real mystery.  It’s figuring out the rest of the steps.

Thankfully, to further us along on this goal we have the greatest detective in the world, Hercule Poirot.  The performance by Albert Finney as Poirot makes you begin to wonder what exactly kind of film this is.  I don’t mean to question whether it’s a mystery, since clearly there’s a murder and a mystery and a detective and everything we need for the genre is here.  The question is whether or not this film is a comedy.  Finney’s performance is sly and droll.  He badgers people, he befuddles everyone he comes into contact with (sometimes with his accent), he pulls and teases at things.  But there is an element of humor to his performance, even if what he is investigating is deadly serious.

Finney is the star but he isn’t the only star-level actor in the cast.  This is the 70’s after all, and why make a film like this if you can’t make it an all-star affair?  Need some beautiful women for some roles?  How about Jacqueline Bissett and Vanessa Redgrave.  Someone to act dastardly and deserve to be murdered?  Richard Widmark.  A strong forceful performance from a former military man?  Sean Connery.  Some strong support?  Former Oscar winners Martin Balsam, Wendy Hiller and Ingrid Bergman.  In fact, Bergman’s supporting turn would be so good that she would go on to win the Oscar for a third time.

The film isn’t really great.  The pace is a bit off.  But, with Finney in the lead and Sidney Lumet directing, it’s the continuation of Lumet’s magnificent run, a run that saw five films in five years (Serpico, Murder, Dog Day Afternoon, Network, Equus) that would see an astonishing 12 Oscar nominations for acting (also 10 at the Globes and 10 at the BAFTAs).  While Lumet would only earn two Best Director nominations for the films, those performances are a measure of his direction as well.  This is a reminder that not all the all-star films of the 70’s were just big budget blunders.  Some were really fun.

The Source:

Murder on the Orient Express: A Hercule Poirot Mystery by Agatha Christie (1934)

Technically, the title should be Murder on the Calais Coach and the date should be 1933 because the novel was first published as a U.S. serialization in Saturday Evening Post from 30 September to 4 November before its book publication in the U.S. and U.K. on 1 January 1934.  The title was changed to Murder on the Calais Coach for the US because they didn’t want people to confuse it with Orient Express, the Graham Greene novel that had been titled Stamboul Train in the U.K..  The story itself might not even be as confusing as all that, being a locked room murder mystery (also a stopped train murder mystery, with the murderer among them) but having, as its victim, the man responsible for a horrid crime.  That crime is a loose adaptation of the real Lindbergh kidnapping, still one of the most highly publicized crimes in the modern age.  But that is just the background for Christie’s novel as she still needed to come up with the crime and the motives that unites all of the people on the train.  I won’t say who the actual culprit is because if you haven’t read the book (the most famous book by one of the most successful fiction authors in the history of the printed word) or seen either this film or the 2017 version (not as good but still quite enjoyable) then you really should do so and not have the famous ending spoiled by me.

The Adaptation:

Most of what we see in the film come straight from the book.  The film does set up the revelation of who the murder victim is earlier by showing us all the clips about the Armstrong case but even in the book it doesn’t take too long before we find out the identity (we learn it on page 65).  There are a few little details that are changed for this film (though fewer than in the 2017 film) but really it’s a fairly faithful adaptation.

The Credits:

Directed by Sidney Lumet.  Screenplay by Paul Dehn.
note: The only mention of the source is in the title: Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express.

Lenny

The Film:

I have already reviewed Lenny because it was nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars.  I was reminded in reading that review that I probably under-appreciated the editing in the film when I went to do my Nighthawk Awards for the year, although it is a very tough year in the Editing category.  It is a great film, a lower level **** film that relies primarily on the performance of Dustin Hoffman, back when such edgy performances were his forte, the direction of Bob Fosse and the editing, which Fosse didn’t do himself, but was there for every step of the process, trying to put together his finished film.  It’s not one of my Top 5 for the year but it’s not a bad choice by the Academy by any means, especially when you consider what else they nominated (go way down this list).

The Source:

Lenny: a play based on the life and words of Lenny Bruce by Julian Barry  (1971)

This is an okay play about Lenny Bruce and his life but I have to wonder if it might not have been served and might not have better served Bruce himself had it been a one-man show, focusing more on what he did onstage and what he did with language rather than focusing as much on his run-ins with the law and on his personal life.

The Adaptation:

The finished film really has almost nothing to do with the original play but that’s okay because I would venture to guess that the finished film also doesn’t bear much resemblance to the screenplay which was also written by Julian Barry.  There are some scenes (like the ending courtroom scene) that stay fairly close to the original production but I think this was a film that was shaped in the editing room around Dustin Hoffman’s performance and how best it works for a narrative because it doesn’t really follow a linear narrative at all, moving back and forth in his life.

The Credits:

Directed by Bob Fosse.  From the play “Lenny” by Julian Barry.  Original New York stage play Staged by Tom O’Horgan.  Produced on stage by Jules Fisher, Marvin Worth, Michael Butler.  Screenplay by Julian Barry.

The Front Page

The Film:

There are four film versions of the great Hecht / MacArthur play and they range across the board in quality.  The best, without question, is His Girl Friday, the 1940 version from Howard Hawks that changed the gender of the lead.  The weakest is Switching Channels, the 1987 film that not only switched genders but also switched from newspaper to television.  In between are the original, which I have as a high *** and, except for giving us more Walter and Hildy (and much earlier) follows decently close to the play and this one which I have as a low ***.5.  With the exception of Switching Channels, which had to change a lot more dialogue because of the change in medium, many of the versions have a lot of the same dialogue which comes straight from the play.  So what is it that makes the four versions of such different quality.

Well, let’s look at this film.  The first thing it has going for it is Billy Wilder, not only because he’s one of the all-time great directors but because he also co-wrote the script and dumped a lot of the original dialogue and added his own, so scenes like the jailhouse scene (which wasn’t in the original) is all Wilder (and Diamond).  But there’s also the star power of Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon.  Now, all of the films had a solid, enjoyable Walter Burns and most of them had a solid Hildy Johnson.  But this one has the added dimension of Matthau and Lemmon already having been co-stars in several films and being able to work perfectly off each other.  Wilder has been adamant over the years that he didn’t really want to do this film but perhaps part of the reason that he decided to go ahead with it was because he knew these two actors would be perfectly suited for the roles.  Lemmon is good but Matthau is perfectly cast as the unscrupulous editor who will do anything for the story and to hold on to his star reporter.  The film is able to keep the final line of the play “The son of a bitch stole my watch” which couldn’t be used in His Girl Friday and was partially censored in the original version.  But it works so well because Matthau is able to so completely sell the line – clear confidence that he will get his reporter back and not above using any means possible to do it.

Yet, this is not a classic film.  Not only is not near the level that Hawks set, but it’s also nowhere near the level of a classic Wilder film.  So what is it about this film that keeps it from ever quite reaching for the stars?  It shouldn’t be the supporting cast, which has solid character work from the likes of Vincent Gardenia, Dick O’Neill and Charles Durning.  Could the problem be with Susan Sarandon?  She plays Hildy’s fiancee and you can’t quite see what he’s running towards.  This is Sarandon, not only before she was a great actress but even before Rocky Horror when she was still mostly unknown.  It also has Carol Burnett in a thankless role as a whore that is a friend of the poor Earl Williams who is in jail for shooting a cop.  Burnett, a natural comedienne is forced to play straight melodrama while everyone else around her gets to have all the lines.  It’s a waste of her talent and Wilder isn’t ever quite sure what to do with her.  Perhaps the whole issue is that this is very much a guy’s movie.  When Hawks made his film, by making Hildy a female, it tilted everything just enough out of whack that it took the machismo of the stage play and the first film version and turned in on its ear and this film, in spite of the good dialogue, in spite of the solid performances, just can’t do enough with the straight version of it to make it rise to the same level.

The Source:

The Front Page by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur  (1928)

I have already reviewed this play, of course, way back in 2013 when I did the Adapted Screenplay post for 1930-31 to discuss the original film version of the play.

The Adaptation:

“About 60 percent of the dialogue in The Front Page is now different, according to Diamond, but he and Wilder regard the script as a faithful ‘opening up’ of the original. The job of adapting the play was ‘really mechanics, most of it,’ Diamond explained, with the work basically involving the addition of scenes which occur off-screen in the play, such as a police dragnet for the escaped prisoner, and the straightening out of certain dramatic clumsiness in the original. The play takes place entirely in the pressroom set, but the film ranges more naturally over Chicago.” (“Shooting The Front Page: Two Damns and One By God” by Joseph McBride, printed in Billy Wilder: Interviews, ed. Robert Horton, p 82-83)

That is true, especially for any scene that doesn’t take place in the newsroom (we get a lot of scenes in the film that we hear about in the original play but wasn’t actually in the original play).  One of the best lines in this version is the line about Ben Hecht going west to Hollywood to write for the movies and about his farewell party, a nod to the author of the original play.  It’s difficult to read along in the original play with this film, although a hell of a lot easier than Lenny, obviously.

The Credits:

Directed by Billy Wilder.  Based on the play by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur.  Screenplay by Billy Wilder & I.A.L. Diamond.

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three

The Film:

Though I classify it as a Crime film (specifically a Heist film, although that’s not really fully accurate and you could make the argument that Walter Matthau is the lead character and that thus it’s not a Crime film) this is an example of the kind of first-rate Suspense-Thriller that really came to the forefront in the 70’s.  The 70’s blend of Thrillers, films like The Parallax View or Three Days of the Condor were considerably different than those made by Hitchcock.

This one provides all that you would need.  First, there is a likeable protagonist.  That’s Walter Matthau, who probably wouldn’t be believable as an actual cop but certainly works as a bit schlubby of a lieutenant in the New York Transit Police.  It’s his job to police the subway and that’s usually a fairly easy job and indeed on the day in question he’s showing around some Japanese men who run the Tokyo subway (and actually understand English, much to his chagrin) until the moment where someone speaks into a radio and says “I have taken your train.”

That man is Robert Shaw, who had proved the year before in The Sting that he could play a rather nasty villain and do it with a measure of charm and the next year would prove in Jaws that he could be likable and repulsive at the same time.  Shaw is a mercenary who has come up with the idea of hijacking a train and holding the passengers hostage for a million dollars.  It will only work because he has a plan to defeat the dead man’s switch.  That’s the thing that the Transit Police are counting on to keep his plan from working and the moment where Matthau realizes they have done this is the climax of the film.

So now we have the bare bones of a thriller.  But add in a pulsing score, the tension of whether or not they really will kill the passengers (none of the passengers are played by name actors which actually lends a lot of credence to that notion).  It comes from a novel that was good enough but had a solid premise for a thriller.  But the film ratchets things up from the book, making the Matthau character much more important and interesting (a lot of which comes from his performance) and providing an ending that is much more thrilling and fascinating.

One word about the two parts of the ending.  First, there is what happens to Robert Shaw and I won’t mention it except to mention that it was one of the few things about the film that I absolutely remembered and I am still unlikely to forget it.  The second is the final shot of the film, an amusing shot that brings a nice conclusion to what we have been watching and certainly one of the more memorable freeze-frames to conclude a film.

The Source:

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three by John Godey (1973)

It’s a little ironic that the copy of this book I got from the library had the movie cover because it’s the 2009 remake of the film that I have never seen and have no interest in seeing. The book is a decent enough thriller that has a good premise at its core (a group of men hijack a subway train to trade hostages for cash). The dialogue isn’t great and the book tries to do too much, told in third person limited with a large group of characters. It could have been shorter and more effective if it had just stuck to the main characters instead of trying to do so much.

The Adaptation:

A lot of things are changed in the adaptation, most notably what happens at the end.  From the moment when the undercover cop from the train shoots one of the robbers, everything is different in the book than it is in the film.  Quite frankly, the film’s ending, with its memorable scene and then brilliant freeze-frame ending is a vast improvement over what Godey did in the book.  Plus, most of the more memorable lines in the film (“We’re going to let ’em keep the goddamn subway train. Hell, we’ve got plenty of them; we’ll never even miss it.”  “How about the 18 hostages, Al? Are we going to miss them?” or “Wait a minute. I just figured out how they’re going to get away.”  “I’m listening.”  “They’re going to fly the train to Cuba.”) weren’t in the book.  Don’t feel the need to read the book, just watch the film and enjoy.

The Credits:

Directed by Joseph Sargent.  Based on the novel by John Godey.  Screenplay by Peter Stone.

The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz

The Film:

You’re nothing without land.  That is the mantra of Duddy Kravitz, a poor Jewish boy growing up in Montreal.  He learns that from his grandfather who has driven it into his head.  His father drives a cab and acts as a part-time pimp for a whore that he drives to her tricks.  His brother is trying to get through medical school with the money from their uncle who gets mad at Duddy when Duddy tries to point out that his uncle’s employees are stealing from him.  So Duddy will rely on himself and he’s going to get that land because nothing else in life matters.

It would be easy to think of Duddy as a stereotypical Jew who only cares about money and indeed, writer Mordecai Richler was asked about that in the Reading Group Guide to the novel at the book of the copy I read.  But if you’re going to think like that, first, it means that you think that way about Jews, but also that you’re not really seeing Duddy for who he is.  He is a driven boy, one who feels the need to succeed and will not let anything get in his way.  Family?  He’ll walk away from them if it gets him the chance.  The lovely girl, Yvette, that he kind of falls for and shows him a beautiful lake near the hotel where he is working for the summer?  Well, Yvette becomes a pale shadow in his life once he sees that lake and wonders how he can get hold of the money to buy a piece of it.

It is easy to find mention that Richard Dreyfuss felt so insecure about his performance after viewing it in the finished film that he hurriedly took the part in Jaws lest Spielberg give it to someone else.  But Dreyfuss, well into his twenties, seems perfectly at home as the young teen Duddy as he makes the transition into adulthood even if you could make the argument that he never is able to really become a man.

This film never really made much of a leap.  It was noticed for its writing (by both the WGA and the Oscars) but Dreyfuss was passed over at the Globes where he clearly belonged.  Today, it’s difficult to even find the film and I actually had to watch it on YouTube for the purposes of writing this review.  But with a strong supporting cast (Jack Warden as his father, Randy Quaid as a young man that Duddy befriends but uses, Denholm Elliott as the blacklisted director that Duddy talks into working for him in filming bar mitzvahs with some hilarious results) this is a film well worth tracking down.  I hope Dreyfuss has gone back and watched this again and realize how perfect he was for the role.

The Source:

The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz by Mordecai Richler (1959)

I have no proof that Richler ever even read Saul Bellow’s The Adventures of Augie March but it was on my mind before I even read the novel, back when I had only seen the film.  It moved more into the forefront of my mind as I was reading the novel.  Apparently I’m not alone in making that connection because a quick Google search reveals that in the Observer of 8 November 1959, Karl Miller apparently suggest that Richler flat out stole the idea of Kravitz from Bellow.  But that’s not fair to Richler, who has written a rich and fascinating story that in some ways I actually enjoyed reading more than I ever enjoyed Augie March (there are several Bellow books I prefer even though March is the one with the highest reputation).

Poor Duddy Kravitz doesn’t have a whole lot going for him.  It’s his brother who gets the attention, adulation and financial support.  His father mostly ignores or derides Duddy, instead grandly discussing the days of the Boy Wonder, the young man in the neighborhood who managed to parley a few bus transfers into a fortune.  But Duddy is determined to make something of himself and if it takes sacrificing his family, his only real friend and the woman who thinks at first she might love him, well, if it well get him his land, it must be worth it.

Though I won’t be covering it (it made my list but not my Top 10), Richler’s later novel Barney’s Version has an older, successful Duddy making an appearance.  I wish they had managed to grab Dreyfuss and do that in the film version.

The Adaptation:

It’s a very solid, faithful adaptation.  The first few chapters of the book, the ones that describe Duddy during his time in school and the way that he tortures his teachers, are dropped entirely and the film instead opens during Chapter 7 with the local kids giving anti-semitic taunts at the cadets as they march.  But from then on, much of what we see on screen is exactly what we read on the page (including a lot of dialogue verbatim).

The Credits:

directed by Ted Kotcheff.  screenplay by Mordecai Richler based on his novel.  adaptation by Lionel Chetwynd.

Thieves Like Us

The Film:

In my review of McCabe & Mrs. Miller, I wrote about what Roger Ebert said about the film, about how there are some people who are incapable of not getting themselves killed.  He was writing specifically about the Keith Carradine character, though it also extended to McCabe himself and the way he ends up dead in the snow.  Well, this time Keith Carradine is the lead in the film and he’s carried that notion with him.  It seems like there isn’t a person in this film who can’t just help but be killed, although it’s really just the main three men, the bankrobbers who escape from prison and then just go right back to robbing banks.

Films get remade all the time, especially if they’re based on a novel.  Different directors want to do different takes on the story and the characters.  This novel was filmed originally in 1948 by Nicholas Ray under the title They Live By Night.  It starred Farley Granger, a pretty-boy actor who always seemed to be lacking any depth under that face and that worked perfectly for the role of Bowie, who just wants to get himself a lawyer to get out from under the charge that got him sent away in the first place and he falls in love with Cathy O’Donnell, the pretty young actress who starred as the girl next door in The Best Years of Our Lives.  This was a couple on the run and headed towards death but it was a pretty couple, up against the odds.  Robert Altman isn’t that type of director.  His Bowie is a convicted murderer and he’s just fine with robbing banks.  He falls for Shelley Duvall and I can guarantee you that no one has ever referred to her as a pretty young actress.  They’re desperate and scared and stupid and death is coming them faster than they can imagine.  That’s the way that Altman does things, because after all, he directed McCabe in the first place.

This is a solid very good crime film, the story of three Depression era bank robbers who can’t seem to give things up and get on with life.  Bowie is in love now and he gets his girl pregnant.  One of his confederates gets married to a lively blonde and he uses his actual name on the marriage certificate even though they are all on the run, with posted rewards all over the place.  It’s an odd film because Altman uses no score (all the music in the film comes from sources within the film itself), the cinematography is quite dark (there is very little sun even in daylight) and he shies away from any type of Hollywood glamor.  It’s almost like he looked at the original film and thought, I like that bleak noir feel, but I can make it even less Hollywood.

The Source:

Thieves Like Us by Edward Anderson (1937)

An effective crime novel about three bank robbers that continue to do this because they don’t know any other way.  They escape from jail (they are on the run after the escape at the start of the book) and they just go right back to it.  One of them, Bowie, has a chance for a different kind of life when he falls for Keechie and gets her pregnant but even that can’t save him from what is clearly his destiny to die at the guns of the law.

The Adaptation:

“When I read Thieves Like Us I did not know that it had been made into a film before.  I wanted to bring that book to the screen exactly the way it was.  So I hired someone to write the screenplay and I said just give me that book, and the only change we made was in the ending.” (Robert Altman quoted in Robert Altman Interviews, David Sterritt, ed., p 115)

Unlike the original film, which greatly changed the character of Bowie (to make it more palatable to the Production Code presumably) though it still ended with his death, here keeps to the original novel.  In fact almost everything in the film comes from the novel (it’s a remarkably faithful adaptation) with the exception that Altman and his screenwriters pull back from the brink just at the end and allow Keechie to survive the law when she doesn’t in the book, getting gunned down with her man.  So Altman is quite accurate in his quote.

The Credits:

Director: Robert Altman.  Screenplay by Calder Willingham, Joan Tewkesbury and Robert Altman.  From the Edward Anderson Novel “Thieves Like Us”.

姿三四郎
(Sanshiro Sugata)

The Film:

Consider where a great director comes from.  Martin Scorsese went to film school, David Lean was an editor, Stanley Kubrick was a photographer, Woody Allen and Ingmar Bergman were writers, Orson Welles came from the stage.  There’s not actually a lot of examples at the top of people who started working at a studio and worked for other directors and got the chance to watch and see how things worked before they got a chance behind the camera.  Perhaps that’s one of the things that drew Spielberg to Kurosawa’s films, since that was how they both got their start.  As a result, Kurosawa emerged here, in his feature debut, as a director with a sure eye and a polished mind over what he wanted to put on the screen.  Of course, it was Japan during the war, so he was somewhat limited in what kind of story he could tell, but perhaps that would have an influence on what he would give us in the future.  Being forced to look to the past and tell the story of how judo came to be a respected art and fighting form (the film is often called Judo Saga), he can make reflections on the world that we live in without saying anything explicit.

Though Kurosawa was already working as a writer (in fact, it was his writing that lead the studio to allow him to take the reins on this film), it is actually his directorial vision that comes through more strongly than his actual writing on this film (even though he would do both).  The story is actually pretty straightforward, as Sanshiro comes to learn judo, becomes a master, has a fight with someone who doesn’t respect it to show its mastery over jujitsu and not only wins the fight but the man’s daughter and then must have another fight at the end of the film against the film’s primary antagonist.  Sanshiro wins both fights, of course and proves the mastery of judo, something that must have thrilling for Japanese audiences in 1943 and given them something to look forward to (as the war was starting to turn against them).

This film, which is quite good (I rank it as the best Foreign Film of 1943 even though it wouldn’t play L.A. and thus be eligible here until 1974 and, let’s face it, 1943 didn’t see a whole lot of energy from the world devoted to making films) is most important for showing the direction that Kurosawa would take as a director.  It would show some of his visual flair, show his ability to balance action and drama (and that a lot of his films would have considerable action to be balanced with drama) and, in the defeated foe early in the film, begin the decades long collaboration with Takashi Shimura who would emerge as one of Japan’s great actors and who would actually star in more Kurosawa films than Toshiro Mifune.  This film wouldn’t be an immediate great start for Kurosawa as it would take another five years before he would make another film equal to this one and it wouldn’t be until the early 50’s that he would start to get a reputation outside of Japan (one which was actually much different than his reputation inside Japan) but it was a more than solid start.

The Source:

姿三四郎 by Tsuneo Tomita  (1942)

Though a big seller in Japan (even in the middle of the war), the novel has never, as far as I can tell, been translated into English.  So I have been unable to read it for this project.

The Adaptation:

I haven’t found anything that describes how much difference there is between the original novel and the film, possibly because it hasn’t been translated into English.

The Credits:

Directed by Akira Kurosawa.  Original Novel by Tsuneo Tomita.  Screenplay by Akira Kurosawa.
note:  Credits courtesy of the Criterion Eclipse Series DVD.

WGA Nominees

 

Conrack

The Film:

Martin Ritt teamed with the screenwriting couple of Irving Ravetch and Harriet Frank, Jr. (yes, Harriet Frank, Jr. is a she) any number of times over the years, beginning with Faulkner adaptations and making their way through all kinds of films.  They were not necessarily a great team (their Faulkner films leave much to be desired) but they never really lapsed into condescension.  At least not until Conrack, a waste of a film about a teacher who ends up working with really poor black kids on an island off the coast of South Carolina.

If you don’t believe that this film is a waste, try watching this film and see the pathetically annoying, cloying performance from Jon Voight then go back and watch Midnight Cowboy or Catch-22 or Deliverance and you wonder what the hell happened to him to make him so pathetic.  Voight plays Pat Conroy, the future author, working as a teacher.  Or maybe he’s Patroy, the name that the principal calls him, this pathetically obnoxious woman who can’t even be bothered to get the teacher’s name correct and doesn’t give a rat’s ass about the students who she thinks are all a waste anyway.  Or you can call him Conrack, which, after all, is what the students call him because they seem incapable of getting his name right (and it’s what he was called in the book and presumably in real life).

This is Conroy’s memoir of working as a teacher before he was a best-selling author.  I don’t like his books but good lord they aren’t as condescending as this.  The film isn’t a story about an inspirational teacher but one who refuses to listen to anyone else and gets his ass fired because everyone in power is against him and they have every right to fire him.  It’s not a good film, it’s not a good performance and it’s astounding that the WGA was this desperate for an Adapted Drama for their category.  This was a better choice than Murder on the Orient Express, Thieves Like Us or The Odessa File?

The Source:

The Water is Wide: A Memoir by Pat Conroy (1972)

I don’t like Pat Conroy’s books.  That will become clear as we go through this project.  This is the first Conroy book in the project but, because of the way I have gone about writing reviews, this is actually the third Conroy book I have reviewed.  This is by far the most tolerable of the books.  It’s not that Conroy can’t write.  He clearly can.  But his characters in his novels are so repulsive that I just want to stop reading.  Here, of course, we don’t have to worry about that since this is a memoir (and since, thankfully, his father isn’t a character), although this book is pretty condescending.  We get Conroy writing about the woefully uneducated children he is dealing with, the horrible principal of the school and the asshole superintendent.  In the end, Conroy refuses to conform and gets fired.  It’s not exactly a Dead Poets / Miss Brodie firing, but really more of, “I deliberately disobeyed orders and got fired and can’t believe it” type of firing.  Yet, this book was clearly successful enough to spark a very successful writing career that would spawn so many unpleasant characters that I hope that no Conroy book is ever adapted again.

The Adaptation:

All of what we see is mostly straight from the book.  Because there isn’t as much dialogue in the book, there are some scenes that are created more for the film, though with vague descriptions in the original memoir.

The Credits:

directed by Martin Ritt.  from the book “The Water is Wide” by Pat Conroy.  screenplay by Irving Ravetch and Harriet Frank, Jr..

Golden Globe Nominees

 

The Towering Inferno

The Film:

If the Academy was going to nominate an all-star Disaster film couldn’t they have done it when Hollywood did it right like in The Poseidon Adventure?  That at least was a good movie, with a solid lead performance and some good action.  This film is a disaster, all right, but not in the genre sense.  It is agonizing, not just in its length, but also in its pace, is an embarrassment when you consider how many Oscar winners are in the cast (two already had them, three more would win after this film).  And, like I mentioned in my original full review of the film, post 9/11 it’s not even enjoyable to watch because there is too much similarity in some of the death scenes as to what happened in real life.  This is one of the single worst films the Academy has ever nominated for Best Picture.  My original review said **.5 and I was forced to lower it when it was pointed out that it read more like a ** review.

The Source:

The Tower by Daniel Martin Stern (1973) and The Glass Inferno by Thomas N. Scortia & Frank M. Robinson  (1974)

Yes, there are two sources.  After Warner outbid Fox for the first novel, Fox spent a lot on the second one with both novels having similar plots.

The Tower is not a particularly good book but for the most part it isn’t a bad book.  It’s the story of the tallest building in the world, the World Tower, situated right near the World Trade Center.  The combination of a small fire that went off with paint storage, the explosion of electrical work by sabotage and shoddy, cheap electrical work all cascade into a series of events that start a giant inferno that can’t be contained.  With the grand opening at the top with several politicians in attendance, it’s a race to get the building cleared while it can be cleared.  It has a hell of a downer of an ending when, with some people still left to get out, the breeches buoy being used to get them out melts and the remaining few people are left to burn and then the book just ends.

The Glass Inferno is not a good book.  It is just as badly paced as the film and doesn’t have the advantage of special effects.  It also deals with a new skyscraper that is on fire, with a newsman who has been pursuing the story of this tower being dangerous (apparently new fire codes were passed to be less stringent and there’s suspense and supposedly intrigue over that but really it’s all just a bore because it all comes to nothing once the fire starts).

The Adaptation:

Most of what is in the film that does come from the books comes from The Tower.  Many of the details (the son-in-law having an affair who was responsible for the cheap electrical work, the beeches buoy) are here in this book.

Almost nothing in the film comes from The Glass Inferno except for part of the title and setting it in San Francisco.  There is a bit about short cuts that were used for financial reasons.  But really, this novel was mostly ignored in the actual construction of the film’s screenplay.

Most of what is in the film wasn’t in either of the original books.  Most of the characters as we see them on the screen are just made up for the film, though, as mentioned, some of them are more based on what we see in The Tower while we get almost nothing about characters from The Glass Inferno.

The Credits:

Directed by John Guillermin.  Action Sequences directed by Irwin Allen.  Based on the novels “The Tower” by Richard Martin Stern And “The Glass Inferno” by Thomas N. Scortia and Frank M. Robinson.  Screenplay by Stirling Silliphant.

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

  • Three Sisters  –  Filmed in 1970, this was the last film directed by Laurence Olivier and it wasn’t released in the States until it became part of the American Film Theatre in 1974.  Solid *** production of the Chekhov play.
  • Scorching Winds  –  Indian drama, based on a short story by Ismat Chughtai.  The Indian submission for Best Foreign Film at the Oscars.
  • The Odessa File  –  One of Ronald Neame’s better films, an adaptation of the Frederick Forsyth thriller starring Jon Voight.
  • The Three Musketeers  –  I want to like this better than I do (it was nominated at the Globes and Raquel Welch won Actress – Comedy playing Constance) because I love the book and there is no really great film version of it.  This might be the best, but it’s still not any better than high ***.  Only covers the first half of the novel as the film wasn’t going to make the release date and so the second half of the film was split off into a second film, The Four Musketeers, which will be in 1975.
  • The Truce  –  Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Film, an Argentine film based on the novel by Mario Bendetti.  Obviously, I don’t feel it’s good enough to earn its nomination (it’s mid ***) but it’s not a bad choice either.
  • Rhinoceros  –  Another AFT production, this one an adaptation of the absurdist Ionesco play re-uniting Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder.
  • Memories of Underdevelopment  –  Well known 1968 Cuban film directed by Tomás Gutiérrez Alea, based on Inconsolable Memories by Edmundo Desnoes.
  • The Dervish and Death  –  The Yugoslav submission for Best Foreign Film, based on the novel by Meša Selimović.
  • The Music  –  A 1972 Japanese film by Yasuzo Masumura based on the novel by Yukio Mishima.
  • Don Quixote  –  Rudolph Nureyev produces a ballet version of the famous novel.
  • Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell  –  A bit of a guilty pleasure, another Hammer film in the Frankenstein saga but it has Peter Cushing and has a small role for Patrick Troughton, so that makes it worth seeing at least once.  Low ***.
  • The Last Summer  –  The Bulgarian submission for Best Foreign Film, based on the novel by Yordan Radichkov.
  • Fantastic Planet  –  A visionary but not that great animated Science Fiction film based on a French Sci-Fi novel Oms en série.
  • The Hideaways  –  According to Wikipedia, released under the title of the original (fantastic, Newbury winning) children’s book From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler but the Academy listed this under this title (supposedly only the video release title, but clearly not true).  The film is okay but it’s a great children’s book.
  • Zandy’s Bride  –  After his Oscar nominated Emigrants films, Jan Troell makes a film in English starring Gene Hackman.  Based on the novel The Stranger by Lillian Bos Ross.
  • Lovin’ Molly  –  Sidney Lumet’s weak film in the midst of his great stretch.  Mediocre Drama based on an early Larry McMurtry novel, Leaving Cheyenne.
  • Sanshiro Sugata Part II  –  Kurosawa makes a sequel to his first film which isn’t nearly as good, continuing the story from the very long novel.  The original, of course, is listed above.  Both took some three decades before they played in the States.  We’re into **.5 now.
  • Turkish Delight  –  A 1973 Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Film, this is an early film from future Hollywood director Paul Verhoeven.  Based on the novel Turks Fruit.
  • The Mysterious Island of Captain Nemo  –  Omar Sharif plays Captain Nemo in this version of Verne’s Mysterious Island.
  • The Golden Voyage of Sinbad  –  The film, based on the tales of Sinbad from Arabian Nights, is high **.5.  The effects, though, are Harryhausen and the film is worth seeing just for those.
  • The Tamarind Seed  –  A film I had to track down for my mother because she had read the book and really liked it.  I’ve never read the novel (by Evelyn Anthony) and can’t recommend the film.  The first film for Julie Andrews in four years and the start of her doing films for her husband, Blake Edwards.
  • Five on the Black Hand Side  –  A Blaxploitation Comedy, based on the play by Charlie L. Russell.
  • Partner  –  Bertolucci does Dostoevsky, more specifically his novel The Double.
  • The Island at the Top of the World  –  Disney version of the novel The Lost Ones by Ian Cameron.
  • Lost in the Stars  –  Film version of the Musical adaptation of Cry the Beloved Country.
  • ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore  –  Charlotte Rampling stars in a 1971 Italian version of the classic John Ford play (Ford the 17th Century playwright, not the Oscar winning director).
  • Trinity is STILL My Name!  –  Spaghetti Western sequel to They Call Me Trinity.
  • Steppenwolf  –  Adaptation of the famous Herman Hesse novel.  The film isn’t all that good (low **.5) but I don’t think the novel is all that good either.
  • The Man with the Golden Gun  –  I’ve already reviewed this in full in my For Love of Film series.  One of the weakest Bond films.
  • Herbie Rides Again  –  Sequel to The Love Bug.  Inferior to the original.  Will be followed by another sequel in three years.
  • Going Places  –  An erotic Comedy from director Bertrand Blier, adapted from his own novel.
  • Pippi in the South Seas  –  Don’t remember why I was forced to watch this, and it definitely wasn’t just a choice because I can’t stand Pippi Longstocking.
  • Daisy Miller  –  Cybill Shepherd as Henry James’ heroine?  Wow, Bogdanovich, way to think with the wrong head.  The good news is, it doesn’t screw thing up too badly because the original book is already quite boring.
  • Huckleberry Finn  –  Subpar Musical Kids adaptation of a book I find to be over-rated anyway.
  • Mame  –  The original was annoying enough but at least had a good performance from Rosalind Russell.  This Musical version of the 1958 film (which had been a novel first) should just be forgotten.
  • The Great Gatsby  –  Well, at least this novel isn’t over-rated.  But the film is terrible.  You can read my own review of the film here with a review of the book.  At this point, we enter ** films.
  • The Blood Spattered Bride  –  A 1972 Spanish version of the classic Carmilla.  Don’t watch it.  Read the book or watch Vampyr.
  • I, Monster  –  No film is a better example of how Amicus Productions Horror films were a pale imitation of Hammer.  If you have Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing and you use a great book (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde) and you still make a bad film, what good are you?
  • The Olsen Gang’s Last Escapade  –  The sixth in a series of Dutch films, the rest unseen by me, but this one seen because it was the Dutch submission for Best Foreign Film.
  • Madhouse  –  More Amicus Horror crap, this one based on Devilday by Angus Hall.
  • Boot Hill  –  A 1969 Spaghetti Western, the sequel to Ace High.
  • The Dove  –  A Golden Globe nominee for Best Song, this is based on the non-fiction book about Robin Lee Graham, who sailed around the world, starting as a teenager.
  • The Abdication  –  Liv Ullmann as Queen Christina of Sweden falls in love with Peter Finch as a Cardinal in the Vatican but it’s incredibly dull.  Based on the play by Ruth Wolff and directed by former Oscar nominee Anthony Harvey )(The Lion in Winter).
  • The Little Prince  –  I’m not particularly attached to the book by Count Antoine de Saint-Exupéry so I wasn’t that bothered that this Musical adaptation was so bad other than having to sit through it because it was nominated for two Oscars and three Globes.
  • Gold  –  Roger Moore disappoint even when’s not Bond.  A boring drama based on the novel Gold Mine.
  • Dead Cert  –  Former Oscar winner Tony Richardson (Tom Jones) directs this stupid film about a jockey.  Based on the novel by Dick Francis.
  • Blood for Dracula  –  Also known as Andy Warhol’s Dracula.  It’s crap that uses the character of Dracula.  Now we hit *.5.
  • Flesh for Frankenstein  –  Also known as Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein.  It’s crap that uses the character of Frankenstein.  Neither of these terrible films really has anything to do with the brilliant source material and Warhol didn’t actually direct either film (Paul Morrissey did).
  • The Bed Sitting Room  –  Imagine a Beckett post-apocalyptic satire that’s not actually funny and you get something like this.  The studio hated it so much they didn’t want to release it.  Based on the play by Spike Milligan (who’s also in the film) and John Antrobus.
  • The Klansman  –  Not based on the racist novel that was the source for Birth of a Nation but rather a non-fiction book by journalist William Bradford Huie.  Unfortunately, the film is just terrible, trying to be an important social drama and just failing.
  • Son of Dracula  –  We’ve reached * films now.  It does have a mention of Dracula, which makes it adapted.  But it’s also a film produced by and starring Ringo Starr and it’s utter crap.
  • The Nine Lives of Fritz the Cat  –  Ostensibly a sequel to Fritz the Cat but with no involvement from Robert Crumb or Ralph Bakshi.  Low *.
  • Macunaima  –  A Brazilian Comedy based on the novel by Mário de Andrade.
  • Airport 1975  –  The second Airport film, continuing from the film rather than having anything to do with the original novel.  I only saw it because it was on the DVD with the third film (which earned two Oscar noms – well, it received two noms but it didn’t earn them).  A big box office success but terrible.  Airplane is actually derived more from this film than the original Airport.
  • Death Wish  –  My worst film of the year, sitting at .5.  Based on the novel by Brian Garfield.

Adaptations of Notable Works I Haven’t Seen

  • The Terminal Man  –  I read this when I read all of Crichton’s books, back in the summer of 1993 after reading Jurassic Park.  The film is available from Warner On Demand but I don’t feel like it’s worth paying to see it.