Surprisingly enough, there are no Knights Who Say Ni in the original Malory. Neither is there a Black Knight who says “It’s only a flesh wound”, a witch being weighed against a duck, a holy hand grenade or a killer rabbit.

My Top 10

  1. Monty Python and the Holy Grail
  2. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
  3. Barry Lyndon
  4. The Man Who Would Be King
  5. Three Days of the Condor
  6. Jaws
  7. The Sunshine Boys
  8. Hester Street
  9. The Story of Adele H.
  10. The Day of the Locust

note:  Originally, Hester Street was reviewed as a WGA nominee.  But, my reaction to the film bumped it up the list and it displaced French Connection II (which still gets reviewed because it was also a WGA nominee).

Consensus Nominees:

  1. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest  (264 pts)
  2. The Sunshine Boys  (192 pts)
  3. Jaws  (112 pts)
  4. Barry Lyndon  (80 pts)
  5. The Man Who Would Be King  (80 pts)
  6. The Story of Adele H.  (80 pts)

note:  Cuckoo has the highest Consensus total in six years, although, because of a lot more Globe and BAFTA nominees, actually a lower Consensus percentage than The Godfather Part II from the year before.

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

  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
  • Barry Lyndon
  • The Man Who Would Be King
  • Scent of a Woman
  • The Sunshine Boys

WGA Awards:

Adapted Drama:

  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
  • Barry Lyndon
  • Jaws
  • Man in the Glass Booth
  • The Man Who Would Be King

Adapted Comedy:

  • The Sunshine Boys
  • Hester Street
  • Prisoner of Second Avenue

Original Drama:

  • French Connection II

Original Comedy

  • Return of the Pink Panther

note:  Yes, they are “Original” according to the WGA even though both are sequels.  In fact, the following year, the next Pink Panther film will win the Adapted Comedy award, so the WGA clearly hadn’t decided on a firm policy yet.

Golden Globe:

  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
  • Jaws
  • The Sunshine Boys

Nominees that are Original:  Dog Day Afternoon, Nashville

BAFTA:

  • Jaws
  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest  (1976)
  • The Sunshine Boys  (1976)

note:  Eligible 1975 films that were nominated that are Original are Dog Day Afternoon and Nashville.

My Top 10

 

Monty Python and the Holy Grail

The Film:

Should this film even be listed?  Does it even really count as adapted?  Ostensibly, I suppose, it comes from the Mallory, by way of numerous adaptations along the way.  Certainly the Pythons didn’t create the characters of Arthur, Launcelot or Galahad (though they did for brave, brave Sir Robin) or the quest for the Holy Grail.  But that’s just about it in this film because everything else in it, from the hilarious opening credits to the utterly ridiculous yet perfectly appropriate ending was all an invention of those six brilliant men.  It still stands up as the funniest film ever made.  I can’t imagine anything will ever catch it, even if these men are running away while banging coconuts.  I, of course, have already reviewed it as one of the five best films of the year.

The Source:

Le Morte d’Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory  (1485)

I will not get into the long history of Malory’s work on this book and its eventual publication, 14 years after he died in prison.  I won’t even discuss whether you should read it, because, honestly, there are a lot of versions that are much easier to read (I grew up reading the Illustrated Junior Library edition that was edited by Sidney Lanier and my bookshelf also contains The Quest of the Holy Grail, The Arthurian Companion, Tennyson’s Idylls of the King and White’s The Once and Future King).  I’ve owned this film on DVD for 15 years or so and I have made it clear to Veronica that I want a Blu-Ray copy of Excalibur before I get to 1981 (I got rid of my VHS copy before we left Boston).

The Adaptation:

In the original Malory, there is an Arthur who is king, a Launcelot who is brave, a Galahad who is pure and a Bedivere.  There is a quest for the Grail.  Other than that, it’s made up by the Pythons.  There is not even a mention of Malory (or another other version of the Arthur legend) as a source, but given what I already had to type for the credits, that’s fine.

One interesting tidbit is that after they had written some of the more amusing and absurd things in the film, they discovered that there was actually some historical precedent for them:  “Wednesday, November 28th [1973].  Met at TG’s later.  He has been reading various fine-looking books on mediaeval warfare, and found that much of the absurd stuff that has already been written for the Holy Grail film has healthy precedents (e.g. taunting one’s opponents and, as a last resort, firing dead animals at them during a siege – both quoted as mediaeval tactics by Montgomery).”  (Diaries: 1969-1979, The Python Years, Michael Palin, p 146)

The Credits:

Directed by 40 Specially Trained Ecuadorian Mountain Llamas, 6 Venezuelan Red Llamas, 142 Mexican Whooping Llamas, 14 North Chilean Guancos (Closely related to the llama), Red Llama of Brixton, 76000 Battery Llamas from “Llama-Fresh” Farms Ltd. near Paraguay, and Terry Gilliam & Terry Jones.  Written and performed by: Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones, Michael Palin.

One flew over the cuckoo’s nest

The Film:

I have already reviewed this film as the Best Picture winner for 1975.  It’s a tricky thing when a film continually loses awards as time goes on.  There was a time when I think this might have been my Best Picture winner.  When I did my awards several years ago, it was still the winner for Adapted Screenplay and Actress, both of which have now gone to other films.  But that’s a re-thinking of other films, not a reflection on the quality of this film, which is still an outstanding film with magnificent acting.  What it isn’t, is a particularly realistic film.  I said as much in my review of it and one commenter noted that it’s really a reflection of the times, but that actually backed up what I had said about it being a parable (also strengthened by director Milos Forman saying that Ratched reflected the communist rulers in Czechoslovakia that he had left behind).  But that’s not to the film’s detriment, as long as you know what you are looking for in this film.  It’s an anti-authoritarian film that is kind of masquerading as being about mental illness.  But, slip down into the performances and let them flow and try not to think too hard about that.

One nice little tidbit about this film I learned just recently and isn’t found in the IMDb, TCM, Wikipedia or in the book Inside Oscar.  Pretty much everyone knows that this film won the big five Oscars, the first film to do so since It Happened One Night.  What isn’t as well known is what Forman got the next day: “The next morning, there was the pile of telegrams.  The most moving one came from Frank Capra, whose It Happened One Night was the only other picture ever to win all five major Oscars.  WELCOME TO THE CLUB, it said.”  (Turnaround: A Memoir, Miloš Forman and Jan Novak, p 225)

The Source:

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey

Kesey has always struck me as an over-rated writer.  I read this years ago and thought it had some power to it but wasn’t on the same kind of level that many others placed it at (Time Magazine had it on their Top 100 list) and I’m actually a little surprised that I still have the novel after all this time.  The interesting thing, if you’ve seen the film first (which, for many people, is probably the case nowadays), you’ll be surprised that not only is it a first person narrative, but it’s actually Chief who gives the narrative.  That gives you a specific kind of insight that you can’t really get in a stage or film version and I’m not entirely certain how well it works for me.  It can be a powerful novel and it’s certainly miles above Kesey’s massively over-rated Sometimes a Great Notion but I wouldn’t blame you if you don’t take the dive into it, even at less than 300 pages.

The Adaptation:

A surprising amount of the film comes straight from the book, even if it has to cut a lot of the book to get to that.  Basically, anything that wasn’t really furthering what we see in Randall P. McMurphy and his stand-off against the oppressive Nurse Ratched is eliminated from the film though there isn’t any specific scene that springs to mind that was eliminated.  It just seems like there’s a lot of the book that is just killing time.  Nicholson and Dourif are fantastic but I really wish I could have seen the original stage version with Kirk Douglas and Gene Wilder.  That must have been a hell of a play.

Forman himself worked on the script: “I worked on the first draft of our screenplay with Larry Hauben and later rewrote it with another very fine screenwriter, Bo Goldman.”  (Forman, p 207).  That was after Kesey himself had done a draft: “Zaentz and Douglas already owned a screenplay of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest when they hired me.  They didn’t like it, even though it had been written by Ken Kesey himself, and I had to agree with them.  The script was too faithful a transcription of the novel.” (Forman, p 207)

The Credits:

directed by Milos Forman.  screenplay by Lawrence Hauben and Bo Goldman.  based on the novel by Ken Kesey.

Barry Lyndon

The Film:

As I mentioned in my original review, the film had to grow on me over time.  But, that happened with general opinion as well.  It is held up by some as one of the greatest of Kubrick’s films while the reviews at the time were more mixed, in spite of the Oscar nominations.  I am still not willing to place it on the list of greatest Kubrick films, not when we’re talking about the man who directed Paths of Glory, Dr. Strangelove, 2001 and A Clockwork Orange, but it is definitely a great film and most definitely a beautiful looking film, between the costumes, makeup and cinematography, one of the most beautiful films to look at ever made.

The Source:

The Memoirs of Barry Lyndon, Esq. of the Kingdom of Ireland by William Makepeace Thackerey (1844)

The original title of the book when it appeared serially throughout all of 1844 was The Luck of Barry Lyndon; A Romance of the Last Century. By Fitz-Boodle.  Even the title I list above, which became the title of the book upon its revision in 1856 is incomplete as it has a very long subtitle of what it contains.  It was the first major work of Thackerey, who was only 33 when it was published, preceding Vanity Fair by three years.  I struggled reading it even though it isn’t actually all that long (the Oxford Classics version, which contains the passages cut for the revised edition only runs 349 pages and that’s with 30 pages of notes).  Like many Victorian novels, the style runs contrary to the kind of narratives that I prefer.  But, in Barry, Thackerey gives us a fascinating narrator (and one who is extremely unreliable) and that alone makes the work worth reading.

One interesting thing to note: the book doesn’t seem to be widely read.  Unlike most great Victorian novels (including Thackerey’s own Vanity Fair), it was never published by the Modern Library and doesn’t seem to have ever had a Bantam or Signet edition.

The Adaptation:

“To create an adaptation that conveys the director’s vision, Thackerey’s original text has been both compressed and expanded.  Kubrick has altered the narrative of the novel in at least four significant respects: He has made a large number of deletions … Significant scenes have been added to the film … Equally important, a number of scenes have been focused by condensation … These changes also alter the proportion of the narrative, shifting our attention to scenes in which Barry is a victim and hence more sympathetic.  Although less than a tenth of Thackerey’s novel is devoted to Barry’s downfall, Kubrick devotes more than a quarter of the film to his ‘misfortune and distress.’  In Thackerey’s text Barry encounters Lady Lyndon three quarters of the way through the narrative; however half the film is devoted to the consequences of Barry’s marriage of convenience and rise in class.  Finally, Kubrick, in adapting Thackerey’s text, has made a significant alteration in point of view.” (“Narrative and Discourse in Kubrick’s Modern Tragedy” by Michael Klein in The English Novel and the Movies, p 97-98)

“Kubrick wrote a bare-boned 243-page script that removed the more outrageous coincidences.  Redmond Barry’s family are no longer the ancient and rightful owners of the Lyndon estates, sold generations before to an Englishman.  Nor does the Chevalier de Balibari, the professional gambler on whom Barry is sent to spy, and whose associate he becomes, turn out to be his uncle in disguise.  Kubrick also truncated Barry’s courtship of Lady Lyndon, which occupies much more time in the book.  Originally Barry won her only by out-manoeuvring the many candidates who, as old Sir Charles tells Barry apoplectically just before his death, ‘have always turned up to apply for the situation’.  The antipathy between Barry and Viscount Bullingdun assumes greater importance, culminating in a duel where Barry, succumbing to his Irish sentimentality and taking pity on the terrified young man, fires into the ground, only to have Bullingdon use his second shot to smash his leg, which has to be amputated.  Many linking scenes were also inserted, some of them eccentric.  To cover Barry’s desertion from the British army, Kubrick wrote in a comic sequence where two gay officers stage a tearful parting waist-deep in a river while Barry steals the horse and despatches of one of them.  He also extracted two incidents from Vanity Fair: the reading of Sir Charles Lyndon’s obituary (Lord Steyne’s in the novel), and Lord Wendover’s speech about his friends (said of Becky Sharp in the novel).”  (Stanley Kubrick: A Biography by John Baxter, p 279)

Both of those quotes do a solid job of summing up the differences between the novel and the film although I would disagree with the use of the word “sentimentality” in describing Barry’s actions in the duel.  It seems to me that Barry, for once, does the right thing, and then is punished for it, an appropriate result given the other actions in his life.  In the book, Bullingdun is sent to America to fight in the war and presumed killed and the reaction among others to that is really what brings about Barry’s downfall and the Viscount’s return just culminates it, not suddenly slamming him down with the duel.  Frankly, I much prefer what Kubrick does in the film.

One interesting note: the film has narration and while the narrator in the film is a third person narrator, some of the lines are definitely straight from the novel, which means that it was Barry’s narration originally.  One particular line (“Lady Lyndon, always vapourish and nervous, after our blessed boy’s catastrophe became more agitated than ever and plunged into devotion with so much fervour that you would have fancied her almost distracted at times.”) is placed in the film almost exactly and I had the oddness of reading it on the page and hearing it said in the film at the exact same time.

The Credits:

Written for the screen, Produced and Directed by Stanley Kubrick.  Based on the Novel by William Makepeace Thackerey.

The Man Who Would Be King

The Film:

I have already reviewed this film as one of the five best films of 1975.  What confuses me is that Oscar voters didn’t think of it as one of the five best films of 1975.  It is one of the all-time great Adventure films and was, in conjunction with Fat City, the sure sign that John Huston had bounced back from the weak films that he had been making in the late 60’s and early 70’s.

The Source:

The Man Who Would Be King” by Rudyard Kipling  (1888)

While not setting aside the casual racism and overt imperialism that runs through a lot of Kipling’s writings (which, ironically, is not the most objectionable thing about his physical books, since many older editions have a swastika on the front from a time when the symbol had a much different meaning), it’s worth remembering that there is a very good reason that Kipling was the first English language writer to win the Nobel Prize in Literature.  This is a great story (running 40 pages in The Portable Kipling, so a decent length story) about two British adventurers who decide to go conquer the land of Kafiristan with a couple of rifles, with the thought that the natives will have never seen a gun (correctly).  However, things go badly because they are greeted as gods and then when one of them is scratched (after deciding he would get married), the natives revolt against them.  We only get the story secondhand, with an introduction to the main two characters from a Kipling stand-in and then returning to one of them to tell the tragic story.  It’s a fantastic adventure story that shows both British arrogance and what can be the results of such arrogance.

The Adaptation:

John Huston wanted to make this film for a long time.  He had a number of early drafts, working with Aeneas MacKenzie, Steve Grimes and Tony Veiller when it was still planned as a film for Bogie and Gable, though when Bogie started to get sick, Huston realized he would never get to make the film with them.  As mentioned in my review, he had other considerations over the years for others who could play Dravot and Peachy.

“So Gladys Hill and I went down to Cuernavaca and, incorporating a number of good things out of the other scripts, wrote yet another screenplay, sticking this time a little closer to the story by Kipling.  The original story was too short to be adapted in itself, but it struck themes that lent themselves to expansion – for instance, the Masonic motif, reflected through the emblems on Kipling’s watch fob, the altar stone and the treasure.  Using such material as springboards, we did a lot of invention, and it turned out to be a good invention, supportive of the tone, feeling and spirit underlying the original short story.” (An Open Book, John Huston, p 351)

Huston really does take almost everything in the original story and simply expands on it.  He even keeps the framing device of Peachy telling the story to Kipling back in the newspaper office (though it actually begins with that while the story only gets to that in chronological order and Peachy explains everything that has happened since he left).  There isn’t a lot of dialogue in the story so most of the dialogue, especially between Dravot and Peachy when they are off on their adventure was created by Huston.  As an extra little tidbit, what the character of Kipling is writing at the start of the film are actual lines from the Kipling poem “The Ballad of Boh da Thone”.

The Credits:

Directed by John Huston.  Screenplay by John Huston and Gladys Hill.  Based on the story by Rudyard Kipling.

Three Days of the Condor

The Film:

Alan J. Pakula made three films in the 70’s that are often viewed as his Political Paranoia trilogy: Klute, The Parallax View and All the President’s Men.  This film, though directed by Sydney Pollack, a solid filmmaker who I never thought of as being Pakula’s equal (in spite of Pollack having an Oscar and Pakula not having one) fits right in with those three films.  The film that this most fits alongside with is The Parallax View.  Both films starred major matinee stars in solid acting roles as men on the run from those who want to kill them who have stumbled upon conspiracies that involve high levels of government.  Because this film is directed by Pollack and not filmed by Gordon Willis (and, let’s face it, Beatty is a better actor than Redford), this one isn’t quite on the same level.  But it is a solid, taut, political thriller about a poor CIA drudge whose jobs is reading books (he is insistent upon telling people that throughout the story) who manages to stumble upon a conspiracy contingency plan involved with seizing the world’s oil in an emergency.

Joe Turner works at something called The American Literary Historical Society.  It’s an old house in New York and he reads books for a living.  Well, that’s what he does, but you can see something is different given the camera and lock on the door and the man with the gun.  That’s because this is really a research division of the CIA and Turner reads those books as he feeds them into computers and looks into CIA details being released.  He stumbles upon a book that has been translated into an odd assortment of languages which, it will turn out, are all languages of oil producing countries.  When he sends this information along to his superiors, he comes back from lunch one day (he snuck out through a back entrance of the building) to discover that his co-workers have all been killed.  He grabs a gun from the office and suddenly he’s on the run, afraid to come in out of the cold, especially when the attempt he does make almost gets him killed (the top head of his division is actually the person behind the killings).

Turner suddenly has to use all his wits to survive.  These turn out to be some army training, mostly in the signal corps (which allows him to rewire some telephones so that when he calls in again, he can keep the line from being traced) and a sympathetic (and of course beautiful) woman that he kidnaps at first, to get away from the man trying to kill him, but who quickly begins to believe him, especially after the mailman comes in with an automatic machine gun and some karate moves and tries to kill them both.

Pollack and Redford had already made several films together by this point (they would also later collaborate on the Best Picture winning Out of Africa) but neither of them had ever made a thriller.  Redford, of course, makes a compelling man on the run (in Out of Sight, Clooney and Lopez’s characters will discuss the speed with which the girl believes him but it’s always been widely assumed that she starts to believe him because he’s Redford).  He manages to survive thanks to some luck and some quick wits (he realizes that he’s in an elevator with the killer and he manages to arranged to leave the building with several other people to keep himself from being an easy target).  He’s not a super-hero on the run, but just a bookish, learned man who is doing what he can to survive.  This film makes it easy to understand the kind of political paranoia that went on during the 70’s, especially when you consider the actual events that America was involved in around the world.  It’s not all about Redford, of course.  Max von Sydow makes a sinister assassin, cold-heartedly moving along his path, Faye Dunaway makes a compelling accomplice once Redford convinces her and Cliff Robertson gives one of his better performances as the head man of the CIA trying to discover what has gone wrong while also trying to explain away his own agency’s moral lapses.  At a time, post-Watergate, when a lot of people had lost faith in their government, they still had faith in what they could see on screen, and the results were solid.

The Source:

Six Days of the Condor by James Grady

This is a solid, if undistinguished first thriller from a young author.  It’s about a bookish CIA analyst whose division is killed because of a small discovery that they make which is actually about a crate of books that never arrived (because there weren’t any books, but rather drugs in those crates).  Ronald Malcolm has the good luck of having been out getting lunch for the office when his division is wiped out and has to spend almost a week on the run, trying to let the CIA know what is going on while keeping himself from getting killed by the moles in the agency who are part of the conspiracy.

Grady hints in the “confession” in the 2016 reprint of the book (which discusses how the Russians actually bought into his ludicrous idea of the CIA reading books to discover if their plots had been released to the public after seeing it in the movie) that his hero is supposed to be a John le Carre type of hero but his Malcolm is actually ridiculously competent and is able to do anything the plot needs him to do, including fighting off a man who can kill with a single blow.  It could have been made into a much less realistic, more action oriented film if other people had gotten hold of it.

The Adaptation:

Aside from the name change to the main character as you can see from the above, and the name and time period changes to the film as you can see from the source name, there are a few other important changes which Grady himself notes in the “confession”:

Already the plot had been shifted from Washington D.C., to New York because, I was told, Robert Redford had to shoot two movies that year: Three Days of the Condor and All the President’s Men.  He and his family lived in New York and he didn’t want to have to uproot them to move to Washington for the year.  Of the two movies’ plots, only Condor could be moved to New York.  More important was the MacGuffin.  Just before I left Montana for Washington, the United States got hit with its first oil embargo.  The invisible world of petroleum politics suddenly dominated the way we all lived.  That change in America’s reality, that change in Americans’ consciousness, was too creatively cool to ignore, so that MacGuffin’s addictive narcotic went from heroin to oil.  And instead of my noir ending, the brilliant screenwriters came up with an even more chilling, culturally impactful Lady or the Tiger? climax.  (xxxiii)

Grady doesn’t mention little things that get changed (like how it’s what languages a book is translated into that’s the clue rather than missing crates, which is actually a much better idea) or bigger ones (the Dunaway character is shot 2/3 of the way through the book and though she doesn’t die (that was forced on him by the publishers), she is taken out of the story).  It’s a moderately faithful adaptation, with some major things kept but a lot of smaller details changed.

The Credits:

Directed by Sydney Pollack.  Based on the novel “Six Days of the Condor” by James Grady.  Screenplay by Lorenzo Semple, Jr. and David Rayfiel.

Jaws

The Film:

I have, of course, already reviewed the film.  It is easily one of the greatest Horror films of all-time, if not the greatest Horror film ever made and is my #1 film of 1975, a rare thing for a Horror film.  Unlike films that had come before this by directors who weren’t great (Victor Fleming, Robert Wise), directors who would fall from greatness (William Friedkin) or directors whose later films would be greatly reduced in popularity (Francis Ford Coppola), it established Steven Spielberg as the foremost popular great director in film history.  He has directed 11 Best Picture nominees yet his films have grossed twice as much as any other director in history.

The Source:

Jaws by Peter Benchley (1974)

I included this book on the list of “Great Films, Unreadable Books” many years ago.  I didn’t even remember that I had actually read the book before, but apparently I had.  It’s not good.  There are some moments of real suspense, particularly late in the book after the three men have gone out to look for the shark.  But, most of the time, the book gets bogged down in subplots (like Brody’s wife sleeping with Hooper).  I was especially annoyed at the way the book keeps referring to the shark as a fish: “Now the fish turned again, homing on the stream of blood rushing from the woman’s femoral artery, a beacon as clear and true as a lighthouse on a cloudless night.”  Veronica asked why this annoyed me so and I replied, “if this were a book about a killer lion, would you like it if it just keep calling it a mammal?”  Every use of the word “fish” in regards to the shark I just found off-putting.  It’s a damn shark.  Use that word.  It’s much more menacing.

The Adaptation:

“The book disturbed me but didn’t really scare me.  It began with a real burst of speed and all of a sudden the middle section got weighted down by this terrestrial sociology, this provincial moralizing about a town without pity.  I didn’t want to make any kind of moral judgment with the movie . . . The only time the book really frightened me was in the last hundred pages, when Benchley stopped describing what the shark looked like and began concentrating on how the barrels were moving through the water and hitting the boat.  They could only see the barrels, not the shark, and that terrified me.”(Steven Spielberg interviewed in Conversations at the American Film Institute with The Great Moviemakers: The Next Generation, ed. George Stevens, Jr, p 613)

“I supervised every draft of Jaws, and just about every scene in the movie is from my own head, as set down on paper by five different people.  I should have been brave and sat down and written the screenplay myself, but I felt I needed a sounding board, someone to come in and play with my ideas and make them better and give me ideas back that I never would have imagined myself.  As such, Jaws had six screenplays and five writers, including three uncredited writers.  The script changed daily.  The actors really supplied most of their own dialogue.” (Stevens, p 618)

Part of the reason that Hooper survives in the film is because of a bit of lucky circumstance.  Shooting live shark footage in Australia, they managed to get great shots of a shark, but with no diver in the cage.  So, Spielberg, Verna Fields and William S. Gilmore Jr. decided to allow Hooper to survive partially so they could use the magnificent shark cage footage (information courtesy of Steven Spielberg: A Biography by Joseph McBride).

“The [Indianapolis speech] came from a book that Howard Sackler found in a library. He thought it was a great opportunity to have a flashback.  I didn’t want a flashback but thought it would work if we just had someone say it.”(Stevens, p 620)

That last bit was a bone of contention.  Sackler wrote the original Indianapolis speech, but then John Milius changed and extended it (how much it was changed is the bone of that contention, with Spielberg saying a lot and Carl Gottlieb saying not much) and then Robert Shaw actually adding to it himself (Shaw was also a playwright as you can see down below).  And yet, for all of that, what is probably the most famous line in the film (“You’re gonna need a bigger boat”) was actually an ad-lib by Roy Scheider.

Pretty much everything done for the film is an improvement over the book.  We no longer have to worry about the ridiculous affair, we don’t have to have Hooper dying, we don’t have to wonder about the criminal business partners that are behind the mayor’s decision to keep the beaches open and most importantly, we don’t get that ridiculously let down of an ending (“Nothing happened. The fish was nearly touching him, only a foot or two away, but it had stopped. And then, as Brody watched, the steel-grey body began to recede downward into the gloom. It seemed to fall away, an apparition evanescing into darkness.”).  Wait, you think to yourself, that’s it?  The shark just suddenly, finally dies just before eating Brody?  Blowing it up was definitely the way to go.  That provides a real climax.

The Credits:

Directed by Steven Spielberg.  Screenplay by Peter Benchley and Carl Gottlieb.  Based upon the Novel by Peter Benchley.
note:  Clearly there are uncredited writers including Howard Sackler, John Milius and Robert Shaw.

The Sunshine Boys

The Film:

“You mean to tell me you haven’t spoken to him eleven years?”  “I haven’t seen him in eleven years. I haven’t spoken to him in twelve years.”

That’s Willie Clark.  He’s talking about Al Lewis, who for over 40 years was his partner in comedy, a vaudeville act called, of course, Lewis & Clark and also known as The Sunshine Boys.  They broke up years ago because, well, it depends on which one you ask.  Or not.  Willie claims he was tired of being spit on and being poked in the chest, both of which we clearly see Al Lewis does to him when they reunite.  But Willie is also a massive pain in the ass and unreasonable in almost every scene he appears in, so it’s easy to see why Al would want out as well.  They are two old Jewish men who worked together for a long time and can’t stand each other.  They also can’t really deal without each other.  In a sense, they live for their arguments and without those they have both felt lost.

Willie is played by Walter Matthau in one of the best performances of his career.  He doesn’t just look older (with some solid makeup), he absolutely acts like the lost older man he is playing, the kind of man who would come into a garage, defying the notion that he has the wrong address and wonder if the potato chip commercial might be being filmed in the back.  He hits every line perfectly, even if the lines make us wince.  Or make his nephew wince.  That’s poor Ben, who is also an agent and sadly, he is Willie’s agent and that’s tough work because Willie can’t remember things, can’t hear things and is, as I said, a massive pain in the ass.  Ben is played by Richard Benjamin and this again might be a career best performance (and I wonder if I ranked him too law, putting him in 7th in my Best Supporting Actor list for the Nighthawk Awards).  He’s frustrated with his uncle, trying to keep his career alive, but there’s not much you can do with a man who can’t even remember the name of the potato chip he’s supposed to be doing a commercial for.

But Ben has lined up a reunion between the two old partners and that’s where things get really interesting.  That’s because Herbert Ross and Neil Simon decided to bring in George Burns, who hadn’t made a film in over 30 years to play Lewis.  Burns gives a perfectly understated performance, reacting exactly as he needs to, giving just the right amount of drollness to the lines and managing to win an Oscar years after everyone had forgotten he even existed (and over a decade after his longtime wife and partner Gracie Allen had died).  This gave a new life to his career and by the time I was growing up in the 80’s, Burns was looked on fondly as the old career comic who just wouldn’t die (he would die, in 1996, just a few weeks after he turned 100).

The film works so well (it’s ****), not just because of the magnificent chemistry between the three stars, not just because of the fantastic lines that Simon gives them, but also because of the way the film is constructed (more on that below). It continually makes you laugh and it’s a reminder of just how very good Neil Simon could be.

The Source:

The Sunshine Boys: A Comedy in Two Acts by Neil Simon (1972)

I have written numerous times about the trinity of American playwrights, those three who stand above the others: O’Neill, Miller and Williams.  But there might not be a more successful playwright in American history than Neil Simon.  He has won three Tonys, has won a Pulitzer, has been extremely successful at adapting his plays for film (earning multiple Oscar nominations and winning several WGA awards).  He has earned 17 Tony nominations, once had four plays running at the same time on Broadway and is the only playwright to have a New York theatre named after him while still alive.  And this might just be his best play.

It works so well for a variety of reasons.  The first, is that while these characters are severely flawed, Simon has nonetheless created them with loving care.  They are real people with real flaws and they interact with each other in hilarious, but realistic ways.  He has an understanding of the history of Comedy and how it would lead to such an act that would hate each other so much and yet need each other so much.

note:  I decided to leave the present tense in the paragraphs above.  I wrote this before Neil Simon died in August.

The Adaptation:

As I mentioned above, the construction of the film is a key reason why it is so good.  In that, I am not just talking about the play (almost all of which ends up in the film exactly as it is written) but the things that are added to the play.  Look at the way that the opening scene in the play (between Ben and Willy in Willy’s apartment) is expanded in the film.  We get the scenes we only heard about in the original scene (the commercial, Willie at the garage) but we also get the scene divided into multiple segments.  We get to see Ben’s frustration around the scene before we get any conclusion.  Simon continues to do this throughout the film (the screenplay is credited to him without any actual mention of his original play in the credits), as Simon adds new scenes around the originals that keep with the themes of the play, such as the small little scene where we find out that Lewis and Clark are stuck in their dressing room.  It’s a hilarious little scene that follows on Willie’s inability to work the lock on his apartment that wouldn’t have worked on stage (a small little scene in a different setting) but is easy to add in to the film and is edited perfectly as we jump from one cut to another.  The whole script is like that and once again, I wonder if I have ranked it too low in this year, though, to be fair, this is actually quite a strong year for adapted scripts.  This adaptation is just another reminder of what a funny and enjoyable film this is and how it shouldn’t be missed, perhaps the best of all the Neil Simon films.

The Credits:

Directed by Herbert Ross.  Screenplay by Neil Simon.

Hester Street

The Film:

It was hard enough in the 70’s being a woman director.  Joan Micklin Silver had been a screenwriter and had made several short films but she couldn’t get a job as a director.  Small wonder in those days when still not a single female director had ever been nominated for the Oscar.  So, when Silver couldn’t get a studio to back her film she and her husband raised the money themselves and created their own distribution company.  Would any studio have backed this film even if it hadn’t had a female director?  It’s made in black-and-white, is about Jewish immigrants around the turn of the century and it implicitly rejects the American concepts of assimilation and capitalism. It was, shall we say, not bankable.  But what it was, was quite good.

Yekl has been in America trying to earn some money to bring over his wife and child from Europe.  He’s enjoying his new home, peppering his Yiddish with English expressions (the film is in both Yiddish and English), going by the name Jake and having an affair with Mamie, a dancer in New York where he has settled.  So, when his wife finally does arrive he’s not certain how he feels.  Perhaps the best scene in the film is the one where he has to convince the immigration official that this really is his wife and child (the child doesn’t much look like him).  He wants to appear American but here is his old world wife who doesn’t speak English and the official gives him dubious looks when he insists this is his wife and child.  Finally he is able to provide his marriage license but since it’s entirely in Yiddish and the official can’t even figure which end is up (literally), they are finally passed through.  But the damage is done.  Jake doesn’t really know what kind of life he wants now.  His wife can’t even believe he’s shaved his beard while he can only see how much he reminds her of the lives they left behind.

The film isn’t great.  It’s hampered a bit by the budget though it does well with the costumes and the art direction.  The bigger problem is that most of the cast is only okay and they don’t really carry the weight of the story.  The story gets a bit melodramatic as Jake and his wife eventually divorce as he wants to be with Mamie but she wants to be with the more traditional man who lives in their building.  But when his wife ends up with much of Mamie’s money to make the whole thing work, he’s not certain what he wants to do.  In one sense, America has liberated him from his old life but it also doesn’t seem to have all the answers if things are going to be much more difficult than he imagined.

But what really makes this film work is Carol Kane as Geitl, Jake’s wife.  Kane had already appeared in The Last Detail but this gave the 23 year old a starring role and she made the most of it, giving one of the best performances (in an admittedly weak year) and earning an Oscar nomination.  Her growing independence comes as much from her performance as it does from the script and it shows the power that has made Kane such a talented performer across multiple acting platforms through the years right up through to today.

Silver no longer makes films, though she is still alive and in her eighties.  She would continue to thrive though for well over a decade in an industry that valued neither her nor her gender.  Eventually she would get a bit more of a box office breakthrough with the charming Crossing Delancey and she would continue to work in television well into this century.  Just imagine what she could have done if just given the chance.

The Source:

Yekl: A Tale of the New York Ghetto by Abraham Cahan (1896)

There are a couple of different ways to read this novella (at 89 pages that seems the right description).  The first is simply to read it as the story of immigrants and how their lives change as part of the American experience.  Yekl comes to America and eventually becomes Jake and ends up dating Mamie even though he is in the process of bringing his wife and child over from Europe.  Eventually, after his wife arrives they end up divorcing so that he can be with Mamie and so that she can be with the more traditional man who also lives in their building.

But that ending can also be looked at in a different way.  Because of the circumstances of the divorce, Mamie ends up paying his wife, Geitl, a considerable amount of money and her financial situation is much more shaky and Jake isn’t certain he wants to be with her.  If this is a look at the immigrant experience, it is also a critical look at America and the way that people come and are assimilated.  In fact, Cahan was a socialist and this can also be looked at as an implicit criticism of capitalism.  Sticking to tradition doesn’t necessarily work but neither does embracing the capitalistic view of America.  You have to read the story with a critical eye to get this viewpoint but it does add another fascinating layer to what was already quite a good story.

The story is quite well respected and as a result is actually still quite easy to get hold of with a Dover printing still in print for almost 50 years.

The Adaptation:

Most of what we see on film comes from the original story though the story itself was quite light on dialogue so most of the dialogue in the film comes from Silver herself.  Most notable, at least for me, is that the fascinating scene with the immigration official wasn’t in the original story in any way and that’s all written by Silver.  That speaks well for her adaptation that she does a faithful adaptation of a good story and still manages to come up with the best scene in the film.

The Credits:

Directed by Joan Micklin Silver.  Screenplay by Joan Micklin Silver.  Based on “Yekl” by Abraham Cahan.

L’Histoire d’Adèle H.

The Film:

Isabelle Adjani wasn’t brand new to the screen; she had been playing some small roles in films for a few years and had done television and stage work.  But here, at the age of nineteen (she would turn 20 a couple of months before the film was released) she emerges as a full-blown star actress.  When I first saw this film, years ago, I had her in a very distant second to Louise Fletcher but when I went back to watch it again, going through all the Truffaut films for my Top 100 Directors project, I moved her considerably up, passing Fletcher.

It is a tricky thing asking a beautiful young actress to play someone who is being rejected.  They have to be able to convey precisely what it is about the person that is being rejected because there will always be some question in the background over why such a beautiful young woman is being rejected.  It’s also a tricky thing because you get into questions of mental instability.  How do you play someone with severe mental problems that only become gradually recognizable?  That’s what is at the heart of this film, not just in Adjani’s performance but in the way that Truffaut writes and directs the film as well.

Adèle Hugo was a real person.  She was the daughter of Victor Hugo.  Because writers have never really received the same kind of recognition here that they have in other countries, it’s hard to really grasp how important a figure Victor Hugo was in France during the mid 19th Century.  Adèle was the fifth and final child of the great writer, the only one to actually outlive him and was in her early 30’s when she left France (Hugo himself was living in exile) and travelled to Nova Scotia in pursuit of a soldier that she was obsessed with (it’s more credit to Adjani’s performance that she plays much older than her actual age – usually actresses are expected to play in the other direction).  The film downplays the connection to her father until the end, even going so far as to not use his last name in the title (partially at the request of his heirs), but here we have the daughter of the most famous person in her country, living in destitution and obsession on the opposite of the ocean.  Yet, we only gradually become aware of everything that has happened and the breakdown in her life and her sanity.

Adjani is one of those great French actresses who never made the transition to acting in English, so she is not as well known in America as some of her contemporaries like Isabelle Huppert or Juliette Binoche.  But she is among the very best and, in spite of a later Oscar nomination for Camille Claudel, this is quite probably her best performance and one not to be missed.

The Source:

Le Journal d’Adele Hugo (1863)

The date of 1863 is because that’s when the diaries were written, as Adèle Hugo was living these events.  They weren’t published until well into the 20th Century and unfortunately have never been translated into English.

The Adaptation:

Obviously since the journals have not been translated into English, I can’t compare what she actually wrote in the journals (and lived through) with what Truffaut put up on screen.

The Credits:

Mise en Scene: François Truffaut.  Scenario Original de François Truffaut, Jean Gruault, Suzanne Schiffman.  Avec la collaboration de Frances V. Guille Ayant Publie Le Journal d’Adele Hugo Aux Editions “Lettres Modernes” Paris.

The Day of the Locust

The Film:

I had heard of the film before 1998 when the novel landed on the Modern Library’s list but I had not yet seen it and I’m not certain I knew it was based on a novel.  I’m fairly certain I was able to read the book (I used to own a copy with it and Miss Lonelyhearts paired together) before I was able to see the film.  Either way, I had a similar reaction to both the book and the novel.  I thought both were quite good but not really on the level high enough to be included in my own lists.  The film itself sits at a 75, the highest level of *** but still too low to be included on my Best Picture list.

I think perhaps part of what keeps the film from reaching greatness is precisely what makes the original novel reach for it (see below).  This is a film of grotesques.  It is not really a character study in that none of the people in it, with the possible exception of Homer Simpson (yes, one of the main characters is named Homer Simpson and Matt Groening has at least, at times, claimed that the name came from either the novel or the film) are actual characters.  They are grotesque depictions of the kind of people that you would find in Hollywood back during the era when the Depression wasn’t yet over but there was still a lurid, outlandish society out West where you could ignore the misery in the rest of the country.  Just imagine if the Joads had headed straight west after crossing the border instead of turning north towards Central Valley where all the farms are.  Tom could have been one hell of a Hollywood leading man, looking like Henry Fonda like he did.

But this film isn’t about the stars, it’s about the hangers-on.  It’s about men like Tod, the art director who comes from Yale and lusts after Faye.  Faye is just an extra on a Napoleon film, the kind of empty-headed blonde that you could find on any block in Southern California and that seemed to populate my entire high school.  There is Harry, Faye’s father, who is a cast-off of the old vaudeville days (and, played by Burgess Meredith, gives the best performance in the film, which earned him his first Oscar nomination at the age of 68).  There is Abe, the grotesque dwarf whose misery could rise to any height.  There is Earle Shoop, the cowboy living up under the Hollywoodland sign in the hills.  And the worst is Adore Loomis, the horrifying child actor who wants to make it big and taunts anyone who doesn’t respond to him.  What is Homer, the poor miserable hotel clerk who has come out west for his health, supposed to do when presented with all of this grotesqueness?  Perhaps to respond precisely as he does which brings about the tragic conclusion of the film.

This film is fairly well-made with an interesting script, some good acting and magnificent sets and costumes (some of which show the times in Hollywood and others which show the desperation of those who were working there).  It can’t quite overcome though, a feeling of emptiness at its heart. Perhaps that’s only right. It is a story about Hollywood, after all.

The Source:

The Day of the Locust by Nathaniel West (1939)

In the previous year, I reviewed The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz and I compared it to The Adventures of Augie March.  I didn’t need to read of any comparisons to make that one and indeed I didn’t find many other examples of that comparison online (though there definitely were some).  Now, I’m going to up the ante, which in some ways isn’t fair because The Day of the Locust is an even better book than Duddy Kravitz and in some ways is perfectly fair because it seems like Nathaniel West invited this comparison upon himself.  Again, this is something I have come up with on my own and there are a few examples online that shows that I’m not the first person to make this comparison.

“It is hard to laugh at the need for beauty and romance, no matter how tasteless, even horrible, the results of that are. But it is easy to sigh. Few things are sadder than the truly monstrous.”  That quote, from page 24, is the last paragraph of Chapter One.  If you aren’t seeing where I’m going with this, then you need to read Winesburg, Ohio, one of the great novels of all-time.  The entire prologue to that book deals with The Book of the Grotesque and the way that all people are grotesque.  I don’t know for certain that West read Winesburg but I suspect he was inspired by that because he seems to explicitly give us a book of the grotesque, made even more so by the outlandish world of Hollywood.

Is this the best book ever written about Hollywood?  I included it in my Top 200 novels of all-time and I didn’t include The Last Tycoon, What Makes Sammy Run or The Loved One, though I could include The Pat and Hobby Stories, the wonderful Hollywood stories that Fitzgerald continually wrote in the last couple of years of his life while also working on Tycoon.  It really gets to the heart and grotesqueness of Hollywood.

The Adaptation:

“The biggest problem of the script was the character of Tod.  In Waldo’s notes to John, he pointed out that Tod had been a literary device in the novel, ‘little more than a cipher, without motivation or dramatic thrust,’ a function that would be next to impossible to translate to the screen.  ‘The poetic vision and compassion expressed in Tod’s observations in the novel are lost in a literal translation of the Tod Hackett character,’ Salt wrote, ‘leaving only the fragmented, freaky and fascinating but peripheral characters and events of the book.’  It would be necessary, Salt believed, to turn Tod from ‘an observer to a participant – or further even – not only to make Tod a participant in the various schemes and dramatic action but to make the incidents and characters participants in Tod’s story.’  Salt’s final script made attempts in that direction, but while Tod was placed centrally in the narrative the character still felt peripheral.” (edge of midnight: The Life of John Schlesinger by William J. Mann, p 401)

That’s a pretty good description of how the book comes to life on the screen.  It’s a good adaptation but it’s true that Tod isn’t much of a character in the original book.  The film does give him more of a personality, especially because it’s needed to counteract the (deliberate) total lack of personality in Homer.  But almost everything else we see on the screen was exactly how it was described in the book.  The differences are in tone and in the way that Tod is portrayed and made more of a character.

The Credits:

directed by John Schlesinger.  based on the novel by Nathaniel West. screenplay by Waldo Salt.

Oscar Nominees

 

Profumo di donna

The Film:

This film is a bit mediocre.  I give it a 62, which is the highest ranking of **.5.  That isn’t a great recommendation for this film, especially given that it was Oscar nominated for its script, but when you consider how much I loathe the remake of it (it’s the very lowest of **), well, then, it could be a lot worse.

The strength of this film lies in the performance of Vittorio Gassman.  He gives some depth to a character that is otherwise really difficult to bear – the blind Italian soldier who is determined to kill himself by the end of the film.  There is a poignancy to the fact that he doesn’t want to see his long-lost love because he can’t bear to have her see him in this condition.

The problem with the film lies partially in the character of Giovanni, the young aide who has been assigned to the blind soldier, and partially in the performance by Alessandro Momo in the role.  I feel bad criticizing his performance because he was only 17 and he died almost immediately after filming was completed in a motorcycle accident.  It’s not entirely his fault that he’s put in the role of being the narrator of a film that really needs to be narrated more by the soldier himself.  But, like in the original book, they seem to feel the need to have a guide for both the soldier and the audience.  Yet, Momo’s performance is also a problem and I just wanted to reach through at times and strangle him.

I can not honestly recommend this film.  I saw it the first time because it was Oscar nominated and I was glad that it was so much better than the remake it inspired.  But I had to go back to it again for this project and I’m just too worn down by this story to care much.  So, in the end, it’s got a good performance, but it’s still a mediocre film.

The Source:

Il buio e il miele by Giovanni Arpino (1969, tr. 2011)

First of all, this novel is not called Scent of a Woman, in spite of the current Penguin Modern Classics edition pictured to the right (which also states that the Italian film was made in 1979 and directed by “Diho Rissi”).  The original Italian title translates into “The Dark and Honey”.  It is a dark little novel, powered forward by the embittered loneliness of its main character, an army vet who was blinded in a training exercise.  With an assistant provided for him, he embarks on a weekend trip that he intends to cap off with a suicide, but things start to get in the way.  Though we get a feeling for the loneliness that engulfs Fausto (the main character), it is diluted somewhat by the first-person narration by the young assistant and by the ending, in which the suicide doesn’t come off and there is actually a chance for something more in his lonely life.

The Adaptation:

The ending of the film is considerably lighter than in the book – he has much more than a chance for something more in life.  But the key difference is the old lover.  That character didn’t exist at all in the book and was added simply for the film.

The Credits:

Regia di Dino Rissi.  Sceneggiatora di Ruggerio Maccari, Dino Risi.  dai roman “Il buio e il miele” di Giovanni Arpino.

WGA Nominees

 

French Connection II

The Film:

Ah, sequels.  When people talk about how the 70’s was the last great era for moviemaking and how Jaws and Star Wars ruined it, they often leave out a few things.  Let’s look at sequels.  Of the 50 films nominated for Best Picture in the 60’s, only four of them would get sequels, three of them much, much later (a decade or more) and only one Best Picture winner would get one (the only one, as it turned out, that arrived before too long).  Now let’s look at the 70’s.  I count at least 14 of the 50 nominees from the 70’s that received sequels including six Best Picture winners and the first five winners of the decade.  What’s more, many of those sequels arrived long before The Empire Strikes Back.  French Connection II is one of the better sequels to a Best Picture nominee or winner but it does bring up some of the problems that would plague later films.  For instance, other than financial considerations, what was the point?

The easy comparison, of course, is The Godfather Part II.  Much of the blame could be laid on that film because it was the first of those picture winners to spawn a sequel and it was an unqualified success (and is widely regarded as the greatest sequel ever made).  So it was easy for people to look at that and see that you could get a good return on the investment.  Thus, we get French Connection II, a film that is fairly good but made less than a quarter what the first one made and is not a film that anyone thinks is nearly as good as the first one.  The first one had a brilliant ending in good part because it was an ambiguous ending (although you are told that the mastermind wasn’t caught).  What’s more, it was based on a true story (though with some considerable changes).  The second Godfather was continuing the story of a character, Michael Corleone, who had earned a film to continue to his story.  But The French Connection wasn’t the story of Popeye Doyle, it was just the story of a bust that he did.  We didn’t need to see what came next.

So, with all of that out of the way, knowing that this film didn’t need to be made, what can be said about the film itself?  Well, it’s actually quite a good film, surprisingly.  It had several strikes against it, obviously, including the lack of the original director and one of the stars and the completely unnecessary aspect to it.  But it does give us an entertaining, thrilling film that is anchored by another really good Gene Hackman performance.  It might not be at the same level of his Oscar winning performance in the first film but Hackman has always been one of the consummate pros of the film industry and he seems incapable of giving a bad performance.

Hackman is again playing Popeye Doyle, this time as a fish out of water.  He’s in Marseillaise, working with the French police, straining against his constraints (he has no legal authority, he’s not allowed to carry a gun) in the hopes of catching the mastermind behind the heroin trade that he was chasing in the first film.  But he manages to get spotted and captured and we get an agonizing middle section (for him and to watch, not a comment on the quality of the film or its speed) in which the criminals get him addicted to heroin in an effort to get him to talk.  Eventually he is freed and we get a really thrilling conclusion that involves a shootout, a chase and a spillway with water rushing in to kill everyone.  It’s a reminder that while John Frankenheimer may have never hit the highs of William Friedkin, he was a professional who made a lot of really thrilling films like The Manchurian Candidate, The Train and Ronin, a list where French Connection II fits right in. It’s thrilling and it’s got a solid performance from Hackman.  If it’s not great, it’s at least really good for what it does.

The Source:

characters from The French Connection, written by Ernest Tidyman  (1971)

There really isn’t a source.  The WGA nominated it, as I mentioned above, as an original screenplay.  But the character of Popeye Doyle and Charnier (the drug mastermind) as they exist on film really were creations of Tidyman and much different than the real people as written about in the original book.

The Adaptation:

This film doesn’t change either character very much from how they were depicted in the original film.  The story itself, of course, is completely original.  While the first film had at least been based in fact, this one is not.

The Credits:

Directed by John Frankenheimer.  Screenplay by Alexander Jacobs and Robert Dillon & Laurie Dillon.  Story by Robert Dillon & Laurie Dillon.

The Man in the Glass Booth

The Film:

Arthur Goldman is starting to achieve Howard Hughes status.  He’s not that rich, of course, though he has a box in his Manhattan penthouse with over two million dollars in cash inside.  It’s the paranoia that I’m talking about, the sense that everything is conspiring against him.  With Hughes, it was a sign of mental illness that consumed him.  For Goldman, a Jewish survivor of the Holocaust, it’s the idea that he is being followed, that men are coming after him to take him away.  Except, while Hughes’s paranoia was a construction of the illness in his mind, Goldman, who at times seems even crazier than Hughes, turns out to be right.  Men are coming to get him and it turns out they are Israeli agents who are going to drag him back to Israel to stand trial as Dorff, the horrific camp commandant that Goldman rails against and whom the Israelis claim is the real identity of Goldman.

This story was supposedly inspired by the hunt to catch Eichmann and to bring him to justice (ironically, a film of which has just been released) but while that was a real situation, what Robert Shaw did with this in his play that was a hit on Broadway was much more a question of symbolism than history.  Symbolism, which often works on stage much better than it does on film, is still the heart of this film because once Goldman arrives in Israel and is placed in the glass booth of the title (to prevent him from being assassinated), the real question of who he is becomes only the background to who any of us are and what we bear responsibility for.

The American Film Theatre program was begun to take great plays and put them on film and make them available (though, only to subscribers, which was an odd thought, because they also allowed reviewers and Academy members to see them which meant that Maximilian Schell earned an Oscar nomination for this film that very few people saw).  This was an odd choice, given that the first year of the program had included such playwrights as O’Neill, Chekhov, Pinter and Ionesco.  Robert Shaw and his play were hardly in that category.  But then we just get to the play itself which actually isn’t all that strong.  It uses too much symbolism and really just ends up relying on the lead performance.  I wish I could have seen Donald Pleasance’s performance on stage that earned a Tony nomination.  Schell gives a strong performance but also seems like a pale echo of the prosecutor he played in the film that made him an international star: Judgment at Nuremberg.  The idea in this play is that we have to question who we hold accountable for the Holocaust, if anyone.  Again, a strange idea to come out of the Eichmann trial given his obvious culpability.

This film, like the play, wants to do too much and there just isn’t enough to sustain it.  What’s worse, for a long time it was unavailable (because of the way the AFT had designed their program) and so the hype around it was kind of built up because Schell did earn that surprise Oscar nomination.  If you’re an Oscar completists, you absolutely have to see it, of course, but I can’t really recommend it as anything more than a curiosity.

The Source:

The Man in the Glass Booth: a play by Robert Shaw  (1968)

“Robert Shaw is as well-known as an actor as he is as an author.”  That’s what it says on the dust jacket of the play.  Given that he was coming off an Oscar nomination a Best Picture winning film (A Man for All Seasons), that’s kind of an understatement.  This play was a success on Broadway, earning several Tony nominations but it’s a strange play that tries to get at the heart of who is responsible for the Holocaust, of all the people are responsible just for being there, I guess.  I never really figured out precisely what it was trying to say and didn’t think it was all that effective in how it was saying it.

The novel is actually less effective than the play.  It is strange for the title to be used in the novel because it is such a visual image in both the play and the film that you wonder why Shaw even bothered, especially since the novel and the play were released in the same year.  If Goldman seems like a crank through the first half of the play, it’s even worse reading it in the novel.

The Adaptation:

There were considerable changes as noted in this piece from the AFI entry on the film:

A 12 Feb 1975 Var news item revealed that playwright Robert Shaw, author of The Man in the Glass Booth , requested that his name be removed from the film adaptation because “he was unhappy with Edward Anhalt’s script.” AFT insisted that the changes to the play were minor. According to a 22 Jun 1975 LAT article, AFT offered Shaw the opportunity to adapt his play, which opened on Broadway in 1968, starring Donald Pleasance, directed by Harold Pinter. In an interview quoted in the LAT article, Shaw stated, “I had written the novel, I had written the play, I had had enough.” Anhalt explained that he “found it necessary to adjust the thematic emphasis” to have “Arthur Goldman” take on the guilt of both Jews and Germans, then forgive them their guilt. Shaw responded, saying, “There are whole new speeches now that run totally counter to what I originally wrote. I would stop it if I could,” and asked for his name to be removed from the film’s credits. The LAT article observed that with the changes made to Shaw’s play, AFT had shown itself “less interested in preserving performances and productions than in recasting well-known plays into self-sufficient films.”

It is definitely true that there were a lot of changes made.  Much of the early dialogue in the play especially any scene that doesn’t involve Charlie before the Israelis come to arrest Goldman is different from the original play (there are almost no other characters on stage during the first act other than Charlie and Goldman until the Israelis arrive).  The ending is very different, not only in the speech that is given but that in the play it is attested by witnesses that Goldman really isn’t Dorff after which he declares that he is still guilty.  The play ends with Goldman, having stripped himself naked, standing in the glass booth, staring at the judge.  The ending of the film is very different, we’ll just go with that.

The play was based on Shaw’s novel of the same title even though the actual first edition of the play printed by Grove Press states that the play was adapted from Shaw’s novel The Flag (which apparently preceded this novel in a loose trilogy).

The Credits:

Director: Arthur Hiller.  Screenplay: Edward Anhalt.
note:  Even though this is an American Film Theatre production, which were all film versions of plays, there is no mention of the source in the opening credits.  This is because of Shaw’s objection (see above).

The Prisoner of Second Avenue

The Film:

If The Sunshine Boys is an example of Neil Simon at his best, this is him at his most annoying.  Or at least creating his most annoying character.  The Odd Couple worked so well not because Felix Unger is so ridiculous (though he is) but because of the way his annoying anal personality played off against Oscar Madison.  But this time Simon has given another Unger like character, complete with a performance from Jack Lemmon that reminds you of the most aggravating of Felix’s characteristics, and gives him nothing to play off against.

Lemmon plays Mel Edison, who has just lost his job and is about to lose his mind given the noisy flight attendants living next door and the garbage strike that brings a stench all the way up to his 14th floor apartment.  He’s got a wife, played well by Anne Bancroft, and you wonder why she puts up with Mel who can’t stop complaining about noises she can’t hear, stenches she can’t smell and anything else he can put voice to.

Having someone who is a mess and can’t stop complaining about everything is certainly nothing new for Simon.  But here he just can’t seem to find enough of a story to hang around it.  Because he has just lost his job, we’re supposed to feel some measure of sympathy for him but the constant complaints without a good foil just start to wear thin and I found myself just wishing the damn movie was over so I could be done listening to him.  Of course it has to end on a ridiculous punchline to sum up all the things that have been going wrong for him but even that didn’t work for me.

The Source:

The Prisoner of Second Avenue: A New Comedy by Neil Simon (1971)

This was, of course, yet another hit for Simon, like everything else.  It ran for 798 performances and did well at the Tonys, earning a nomination for Best Play.  Is it perhaps because Peter Falk doesn’t seem like such a whiner, that it worked better?  Maybe I just like Jack Lemmon too much and didn’t want to listen to him reduced to such a role?  Perhaps the staging from Mike Nichols, one of the great all-time stage directors, did something more for the play than what Melvin Frank was able to do with the film?

The Adaptation:

As is so often the case, Simon adapted his own play.  And like with so many of his plays, he takes the single location setting and expands it to many different places (a taxi, Mel’s work, the big suburban house of Mel’s brother) while also adding in extra scenes.  Almost everything that was in the original play is also in the film while a number of scenes have been added.  Which makes me wonder, since the film only runs 98 minutes, how long did the original play run each night?  It’s only 87 pages, so I imagine it wasn’t that long.

The Credits:

Produced and Directed by Melvin Frank.  Screenplay by Neil Simon.

note:  The only mention of the source is in the opening: A Melvin Frank production of a Neil Simon play.

The Return of the Pink Panther

The Film:

Because the WGA has always had more lenient rules on whether a film is original or adapted, this film was actually nominated by the WGA for Best Original Comedy (while the sequel the next year was the winner in the Adapted category, so go figure).  That means the voting members of the WGA thought this was a better written film than Love and Death and The Great Waldo Pepper which is just insane.

Let’s be clear about this: there are some aspects of the Pink Panther films that I heartily enjoy which is why I have seen all of the Sellers Clouseau films multiple times.  In college, my roommate Jamie and I would enjoy watching these films just for the moments of Cato leaping out from some ridiculous place to attack Clouseau and watching the utter mayhem that would unfold.  I had this film at a 61 (high **.5) before watching it again with Veronica for this review and it’s clear I had it considerably too high.  It’s a low **.5 film at best.  We watched it just a couple of nights after watching Sellers in The Mouse That Roared, a film where the Americans are all really badly acted and the plot just gets preposterously silly and that was a much better film.

The thing about these films, especially the three made in the mid 70’s is that they have a few things can be counted upon in every film and those are the things that make the film enjoyable.  First, there will be the opening credits sequence with that utterly fantastic Mancini score complete with animated versions of the Pink Panther himself taking us through the credits.  In this era, they would rival the Bond films for the most enjoyable credits sequences.  The other thing, of course is Cato’s propensity for attacking his master at any moment, whether it be leaping out from a freezer or handing him a fortune cookie dressed as a Japanese waitress that says “Beware of the Japanese waitress.”  The amount of destruction from those battles always makes the scenes worth watching.

The problem, especially with this film, is the rest of the film.  There are too many scenes that take far too long to unfold and keep going with simple gags that aren’t particularly funny.  But that’s emblematic of all of these films.  This film in particular basically has two almost completely separate plots going at the same time.  There is the Clouseau plot, where he is following Lady Lytton, trying to see if she knows anything about the theft of the famous Pink Panther diamond.  The other involves Lord Lytton trying to track down the actual thief (who, you could figure out very early on, is actually Lady Lytton).  The two plots are connected at the core but run basically side by side without intersecting through most of the film. As Veronica pointed out, “I want more of the Christopher Plummer scenes”.  When the humor is all in the Sellers scenes and you want less of it, that’s a really bad sign.

There just isn’t enough of a film here to hang all the trappings on.  Or maybe there would have been if the film had been considerably shorter.  One thing about The Mouse That Roared was that it ran less than 90 minutes.  This film runs an agonizing 114 minutes and by the time we finally get to that last attack by Cato everything has dragged on for so long that we’re lucky if we’re not asleep.

I should point out, I suppose, that this film was a huge box office hit, grossing what would be the equivalent today of $200 million, reviving the careers of both Edwards and Sellers and leading to two more films in the following three years, both of which were also considerably successful.  But then again, box office has never been a measure of the quality of a film.

The Source:

characters created by Blake Edwards (1963)

There is no real source, of course.  It’s just that, by Academy rules (and current WGA rules), because Inspector Clouseau is a pre-existing character, this entire screenplay would be considered adapted even though there is nothing other than the characters of Clouseau, Lytton, Cato and Dreyfuss that existed before.

The Adaptation:

So, there’s not really much to adapt.  Lytton is changed slightly in that he is now played by Christopher Plummer instead of David Niven, is now married (at the end of the first film he had run off with Clouseau’s wife).  Dreyfuss still hates Clouseau, who is still incompetent (although his ridiculous French accent is even more ridiculous now) and Cato is attacking him as usual.

The Credits:

Produced and Directed by Blake Edwards.  Screenplay by Frank Waldman and Blake Edwards.

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

  • none  –

Other Adaptations

 

(in descending order of how good the film is)

  • And Now for Something Completely Different  –  This compilation of sketches from Monty Python was released originally in 1971 in the U.K., in the states in 1972 and again in 1974 but apparently, according to the Academy, didn’t have an L.A. run until 1975.  A 75 (highest ***), because the sketches are brilliant, but it’s hardly an actual film.
  • Sandakan no. 8  –  The 1974 Japanese submission for Best Foreign Film (and nominated), this was based on a story by Tomoko Yamazaki.
  • The Rocky Horror Picture Show  –  Based on the long running stage musical, this, of course, became the ultimate midnight movie.  Along with Holy Grail, one of two films on this list that I’ve actually seen in the theater.  Good fun, some good songs and one really great song (“The Time Warp”).
  • Special Section  –  A Costa-Gavras film about Vichy France based on the book by Hervé Villeré.  It was also a Golden Globe nominee for Best Foreign Film.
  • Bugs Bunny Superstar  –  Technically a Documentary, but also a clip show movie (just like And Now) which is what makes it adapted.  Narrated by Orson Welles.
  • Crime and Punishment  –  Solid 1970 Soviet film version of the great novel.  Fully reviewed here.
  • Just Before Nightfall  –  A 1971 Claude Chabrol Thriller based on the novel The Thin Line.
  • Land of Promise  –  An Andrzej Wajda film, based on the novel by Wladyslaw Reymont.
  • Lancelot du Lac  –  Robert Bresson does his take on the Arthurian legend.  Given my love of Arthurian legend, I always want this to be great but, in spite of its reputation, it isn’t.
  • The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum  –  West German film based on the novel by Henrich Böll.  Solid Drama from an often over-rated director (Volker Schlöndorff).
  • The Four Musketeers  –  It’s actually the second half of The Three Musketeers, split into two films.  Because everyone was signed for one film, this sparked the “Salkind clause” which stipulates that a contract must say how many films are being made.  Fun but far from great.
  • The Magic Flute  –  Ingmar Bergman basically films his stage version of Mozart’s opera and filmed it for television no less, but it was released to theaters and earned an Oscar nomination, so it’s eligible on my list.
  • Farewell, My Lovely  –  Robert Mitchum in his first go around as Marlowe is a solid film with an Oscar nominated performance from Sylvia Miles.
  • Battles Without Honor or Humanity: Final Episode  –  The fifth and obviously final film in the film series.  Solid conclusion to a strong Japanese Crime film series.
  • Stardust  –  A sequel to the 1973 film That’ll Be the Day.
  • Betty Boop Scandals  –  This is an odd one, since you can tell by the link there’s no page for it on the IMDb.  Yet, it exists, the third compilation film on this list (made up of old Betty Boop cartoons from the 20’s and 30’s) and the Academy listed it when they had the old oscars.org database.  Damn, I wish they would put that back up.  It was so amazingly valuable.
  • Nazareno Cruz and the Wolf  –  The Argentine submission for Best Foreign Film, a werewolf story based on the myth from Guarani mythology.
  • The Eiger Sanction  –  A Clint Eastwood film (star and director) about an assassin dragged back for one more job.  Adapted from the novel by Trevanian.
  • La Rupture  –  Another Chabrol Thriller, this one from 1970 and based on the novel The Balloon Man.
  • The Nada Gang  –  More Chabrol, this one is from 1974 and is based on the novel by Jean-Patrick Manchette.
  • The Castle of Sand  –  A Japanese police procedural based on the novel Inspector Imanishi Investigates by Seicho Matsumoto.
  • The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother  –  This is really an original script, but it can go here because Gene Wilder made use of Holmes and Watsons as (admittedly minor) characters in this decently amusing Comedy.
  • Dr. Syn  –  This is a 1964 compilation of episodes of Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color about the character who is the subject of a series of novels by Russell Thorndike.  The film was released in Europe in 1964 and eventually released, re-edited in the States in 1975.  It’s just okay as we’re down to low *** films now.
  • Dick Deadeye  –  A British animated version of Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, directed by Bill Melendez, better known for directing the various Peanuts films.
  • Gulliver’s Travels Beyond the Moon  –  A 1965 Japanese animated film that puts Gulliver in outer space and was released in the States in 1975.
  • Give ’em Hell, Harry!  –  If I’m going to count this, I should be able to count the National Theatre Live production of Hamlet with Benedict Cumberbatch.  But I don’t because it wasn’t Oscar eligible and this really shouldn’t have been but it was an odd year for the Academy, nominating numerous things that really shouldn’t have been eligible.  This is actually a literally filmed one-man play with James Whitmore as Harry Truman.  Does that mean it’s not adapted because the play itself was original?  Not all that good and Michael Caine, Warren Beatty, Gene Hackman (twice), Robert Redford and Sean Connery all were more deserving.
  • Escape to Witch Mountain  –  Sci-Fi Kids film from Disney based on the 1968 novel by Alexander H. Key.  Example #1 (the Erik example) of why you shouldn’t re-watch films you remember fondly from childhood.  Did not hold up well and barely holds on the bottom of a *** rating.  My whole family were big fans when we were kids, though.
  • One of Our Dinosaurs is Missing  –  Another Disney Kids film, this one based on The Great Dinosaur Robbery.
  • Moses and Aaron  –  Filmed version of the opera by Arnold Schoenberg.
  • A Midsummer Night’s Dream  –  Now we’ve hit **.5.  Given the cast (Ian Holm as Puck, Judi Dench as Titania, Helen Mirren as Hermia, Diana Rigg as Helena) of this 1968 adaptation of my favorite Shakespeare play, I desperately want to like it, but Peter Hall just mucks it up.
  • Return of the Street Fighter  –  Sonny Chiba in the sequel to Street Fighter, so the fights are worth watching.
  • Valerie and Her Week of Wonders  –  A 1970 Czech surrealist Horror film based on the novel by Vítězslav Nezval.
  • Donkey Skin  –  A 1970 French Musical from Jacques Demy.  Based on the Perrault fairy tale.
  • Galileo  –  Another AFT film, this one of the classic Brecht play with Topol in the lead.  Too bad it never really comes to life.
  • Funny Lady  –  The sequel to Funny GirlFunny Girl wasn’t that great and was kind of too long.  Definitely didn’t need another 136 minutes of it, especially since Streisand’s performance isn’t nearly on the same level with Herbert Ross directing instead of William Wyler.
  • Conduct Unbecoming  –  Former Oscar nominee Michael Anderson directs an adaptation of the play by Barry England about British soldiers in 19th Century India.
  • Hedda  –  Trevor Nunn is a great theatre director but has not been very successful on film.  A lackluster film version of the magnificent Ibsen play has a strong performance from Glenda Jackson but nothing else to really recommend it.
  • L’Emmerdeur  –  Directed by French director (and future Oscar nominee) Edouard Molinaro, this Crime Comedy is based on the play Le contrat by Francis Veber.
  • The Drowning Pool  –  Paul Newman returns as Harper in this sequel (based on the novel by Ross Macdonald) and even adding Joanne Woodward doesn’t keep it from being a dud that gets too wrapped up in its plot.  We’re into low **.5.
  • The Other Side of the Mountain  –  The true story of a ski racing champion who was paralyzed in an accident.  Based on the book A Long Way Up and has a rather terrible Oscar nominated song.
  • Cleopatra Jones and the Casino of Gold  –  Cleopatra Jones returns in this sequel.
  • The Land That Time Forgot  –  An adventure film based on the Edgar Rice Burroughs pulp novel.
  • The Stepford Wives  –  The novel by Ira Levin was a huge hit, the film less so.  But there are decent moments throughout that make it worth watching at least once.
  • Friday Foster  –  More Blaxploitation, this one at least has Pam Grier.  Based on the comic strip.
  • Journey Back to Oz  –  An animated sequel, sort of based on the second Oz book (The Marvelous Land of Oz) but it’s not very good.
  • Tommy  –  The original album is great.  The film soundtrack is okay, with all-star musical performers in for various songs (the best being Elton John doing “Pinball Wizard”).  The film itself is kind of a mess, a high ** with a decent performance from Ann-Margret.
  • Rooster Cogburn  –  Terrible sequel to True Grit with one of John Wayne’s last performances.
  • Aladdin and His Magic Lamp  –  A French animated version of the classic Arabian Nights tale but it’s a total dud (mid **).
  • Happy Birthday, Wanda June  –  The original play is one of the weakest things Kurt Vonnegut ever published (until they started mining all his unpublished work after his death) and the film, originally released in 1971, was such a dud that it didn’t play L.A. until 1975 apparently.
  • The Hindenburg  –  Ridiculous plot based on a book by Michael M. Mooney about sabotage aboard the famous zeppelin.  One of the first films I ever got from Netflix as it was released on DVD around the time I joined in early 2006 and I needed to see it because it won two Oscars (both special – Visual Effects, Sound Effects Editing).
  • Mr. Quilp  –  A terrible Musical version of Dickens’ The Old Curiosity Shop.  It focuses’ on the dwarf Quilp, who I described here as a character “who might just be Dickens’ best villain (yes, even better than Madame DeFarge)”.  But, played by Anthony Newley, he’s just boring.
  • The Reincarnation of Peter Proud  –  Based on the novel by Max Erlich, this isn’t quite really bad J. Lee Thompson but we’re starting to get there.
  • Breakout  –  And here’s the star of those terrible Thompson films: Charles Bronson in a terrible Action Comedy.  Based on the book by Eliot Asinof who wrote one of the seminal books about baseball: Eight Men Out.
  • The Apple Dumpling Gang  –  Example #2 of why you don’t re-watch the movies from childhood, the Veronica example.  She used to watch this film (and others like it) with her grandmother so we recently got it to watch with Thomas and good lord is it dumb, even for a silly Disney Kids film.  Based on the novel by Jack Bickham and both the novel and film might have been inspired by the much better The Adventures of Bullwhip Griffin.
  • A Boy and His Dog  –  We’re into low ** with this Sci-Fi Comedy based on a novel by Harlan Ellison.
  • The Happy Hooker  –  Based on the best-selling book by Xaviera Hollander, this might seem like it should be listed at the bottom but it’s actually really tame with a decent performance from Lynn Redgrave as Hollander in an otherwise terrible film.
  • Rollerball  –  Originally a short story in Esquire, then this crappy film before being remade a couple of decades later into another crappy film.
  • Lisztomania  –  This was the year for Ken Russell to make bad self-indulgent films that had great music to go along with them.  This one is a biopic (sort-of) of composer Franz Liszt based on the novel Nélida by Marie d’Agoult, a thinly disguised account of her affair with Liszt.
  • Man Friday  –  Dreadful (*.5) version of Robinson Crusoe that reverses the roles in part.  A waste of Peter O’Toole and Richard Roundtree.
  • Once is Not Enough  –  I refuse to use the full title of Jacqueline Susann’s Once is Not Enough.  I had to see it because Brenda Vacarro was (in my view, wrongly) nominated for an Oscar and actually won the Globe for Supporting Actress.  High *.
  • Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze  –  Michael Anderson again, this time doing a film version of the pulp hero Doc Savage.  Low *.
  • Mandingo  –  A .5 film.  This film, based on the novel by Kyle Onstott, show that Doctor Dolittle wasn’t Richard Fleischer’s low point as a director.
  • Caged Virgins  –  Known by a lot of different names, this French erotic Horror film is loosely based on Carmilla, the same novella that inspired Vampyr.
  • Death Race 2000  –  Another shitty movie based on a short story (“The Racer” by Ib Melchior) that would later be remade into a shitty movie.

Adaptations of Notable Works I Haven’t Seen

  • The Black Bird  –  A Comedy sequel to The Maltese Falcon with a low reputation.
  • Ophelia  –  Claude Chabrol’s take on the Shakespeare character.

Adult Films That Are Also Adaptations

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