“Deep Throat moved closer to Woodward. ‘Let me explain something,’ he said. ‘When you move on someone like Haldeman, you’ve got to be sure you’re on the most solid ground. Shit, what a royal screw-up!'” (p 220)

My Top 10:

  1. All the President’s Men
  2. Solyaris
  3. Carrie
  4. Voyage of the Damned
  5. The Outlaw Josey Wales
  6. The Shootist
  7. Marathon Man
  8. The Last Tycoon
  9. The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings
  10. The Seven-Per-Cent Solution

Note:  There has been a change since my Nighthawk Awards, with The Shootist moving up into the Top 10.  If it seems like a big leap, that’s because #6-10 aren’t all that strong and in a good year many of them wouldn’t make the list.  The only two films on my list that aren’t in the Top 10 are both reviewed below because of nominations: Bound for Glory and Family Plot.

Consensus Nominees:

  1. All the President’s Men  (232 pts)
  2. The Pink Panther Strikes Again  (80 pts)
  3. Bound for Glory  (80 pts)
  4. The Seven-Per-Cent Solution  (80 pts)
  5. Voyage of the Damned  (72 pts)
  6. Marathon Man  (72 pts)

note:  All the President’s Men has a lower point total but a higher percentage total than One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest because of no critics winners and only one BAFTA nomination.

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

  • All the President’s Men
  • Bound for Glory
  • Fellini’s Casanova
  • The Seven Per-cent Solution
  • Voyage of the Damned

WGA Awards:

Adapted Drama:

  • All the President’s Men
  • Bound for Glory
  • Marathon Man
  • The Seven Per-Cent Solution
  • The Shootist

Adapted Comedy:

  • The Pink Panther Strikes Again
  • The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings
  • Family Plot
  • The Ritz
  • Stay Hungry

Golden Globe:

  • All the President’s Men
  • Marathon Man
  • Voyage of the Damned

Nominees that are Original:  Network, Rocky, Taxi Driver

BAFTA:

  • All the President’s Men

note:  Eligible 1976 films that were nominated that are Original are Bugsy Malone, Network and Rocky.  And yes, you read that right.  Bugsy Malone won Best Screenplay at the BAFTAs while All the President’s Men and Network didn’t.  To be fair, Network was nominated the next year, so Bugsy Malone just beat All the President’s Men, One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest and The Sunshine Boys.

My Top 10

All the President’s Men

The Film:

Do I need to write more about this film?  I wrote about it once for the Alan J. Pakula post when I placed him in my Top 100 directors (a position that I sadly think I am in the minority on).  I wrote about it again in the Best Picture post for 1976 where I discussed how I am a champion of it in a year where many others are champions of either Network or Taxi Driver (yet the actual Oscar went to Rocky, a choice few would defend though some do).  It is many things – a Mystery, a Suspense-Thriller, a true story Drama, a film about journalists, a film about journalism, a fantastic brilliant film, one of the first I saw after becoming serious interested in film and continue to love.

The Source:

All the President’s Men by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward  (1974)

This is one of the oldest books I own.  By that, I mean, I have had it the longest.  I bought it some time in 1989 at the Taft Branch of the Orange Public Library, it’s old, it’s trashed, it’s got ex-library markings and it’s a movie cover copy.  But, like all my other Nixon books it’s in mass market and I have become attached to this copy and have read it numerous, numerous times.  In fact, I actually wrote it up as a Great Read a few years ago (where you can find mention of the other Nixon books).  Yet, I was struck by a bit of sadness this time, because no matter what Nixon did, and it was a lot, he’s got nothing on the piece of pathological lying shit that currently occupies that office.  On page 342 it mentions the public apology that his press secretary, Ron Ziegler, gave to the Washington Post after it was proven that all of the things the Post had been reporting it were true.  Can you imagine anyone in this current administration ever having the decency to tell the truth long enough to do that?

The Adaptation:

“I hacked away at the morass of material and finally reached one conclusion: Throw away the last half of the book.” (Adventures in the Screen Trade: A Personal View of Hollywood and Screenwriting, William Goldman, p 218)

That is, for the most part true.  There are a couple of incidents later in the book that are moved forward before the point where Goldman ends the film (on about page 223 with the election).  The little speech that Ben Bradlee gives about LBJ and Hoover and the part where Woodward comes to Bernstein’s apartment and communicates via typewriter that they are being watched both come after that point and were moved up in time to be placed in the film (which is good, because they’re both good, dramatic moments).

A lot of what is in the film, especially the first 45 minutes, come from scenes in the book that have no dialogue, so the dialogue is created for the film.  But in the vast majority of scenes that had dialogue in the book, that dialogue is carried over faithfully into the book.

There are some small changes made for dramatic license in the film that didn’t happen (like the one listed below) but for the most part, the film follows the book.

Bernstein and his then-wife Nora Ephron wrote a version of the script. “Lawyers were called in and eventually it was decided I could read the Bernstein / Ephron version.  One scene from it is in the movie, a really nifty move by Bernstein when he outfakes a secretary to get in to see someone.  And it didn’t happen – they made it up.” (Goldman, p 223)

The Credits:

directed by Alan J. Pakula.  based on the book by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward.  screenplay by William Goldman.

Солярис
(Solyaris)

The Film:

I have already reviewed this film as my example film for director Andrei Tarkovsky when he landed at #82 in my Top 100 Directors list (a ranking that was vociferously complained about by at least two commenters as being way too low). This is a brilliant Sci-Fi film (I rank it in the Top 15 all-time and the second best non-English-language Sci-Fi film) that thinks about what it is doing. The most comparable film is 2001 because both films are cerebral looks at the future and what is happening and yet this film is also ripe with emotions that 2001 doesn’t even begin to scratch.

The Source:

Solaris by Stanislaw Lem (1961)

This is a bit tricky.  I read the same edition that most people who only read English read which is the Kilmartin / Cox translation from French (yes, the novel was written in Polish but then it was translated into French).  Unfortunately, Lem was on record as hating the Kilmartin / Cox translation.  That’s unfortunate because even their translation is quite a good book, perhaps the most cerebral science fiction novel I have ever completed (there are others that are in that realm that I just never got through).  It’s only 200 pages but it is extremely dense and it is anything but a quick read.

It is the story of Kris Kelvin, who is arriving at the station above the planet Solaris.  The arrival was planned but he arrives in the midst of a disaster with one crew member dead, one refusing to be seen and the third clearly traumatized.  It doesn’t take Kris long to find out what the problem is when his dead lover appears on the station and he has to decide how much of her she really is and whether it is a hallucination, a dream or something much more.  That doesn’t give much of the plot but the book isn’t really about plot but about something deeper and you really should at least see the film if you’re not ready to give the time necessary to read the book.

The Adaptation:

The film follows the book decently closely.  At least it follows what happens on the station while also expanding greatly on what happens on Earth before Kelvin ever even gets to the station (the book actually begins with Kelvin arriving at the station).  There are more theoretical things going on in the book than occur in the film but it’s hard to present those in a film and so the film focuses more on the interpersonal relationships.

“Nevertheless, although Tarkovsky retained the basic outline of Lem’s story and even much of the dialogue, his interpretation of it was very different from Lem’s own, and it is little wonder that the novelist indignantly rejected Tarkovsky’s first draft of the script, which placed two-thirds of the action on Earth and added a new character, Kris’s wife Maria, to whom he would return after his meeting with Hari at the space station . . . The sequences on Earth, and the Earth-space conflict that permeates the whole film, shift the film radically away from Lem’s primary philosophical and technological approach to something far more congenial to Tarkovsky himself – an exploration of family relationships, themes of guilt and betrayal, and a celebration of the natural beauty of Earth and humanity’s inescapable links with it.” (The Films of Andrei Tarkovsky: A Visual Fugue, Vida T. Johnson and Graham Petrie, p 100)

The Credits:

Режиссер Андрей Тарковский. на Научная фантастика Станислава Лема. Сценарий Ф. Горенштейна, А. Тарковского

note: This is my best attempt to reproduce, via Google translate, the original credits since WordPress doesn’t have the Cyrillac alphabet.  The director credit (the first one) definitely isn’t the word that was on-screen but I back-translated using the credits (via Criterion) and that’s what I was able to come up with.

Carrie

The Film:

I have already reviewed this film as one of the five best of the year.  In the review, I linked the film to The Exorcist and Jaws and I really do feel the films go together.  None of the three books are particularly good, all were made by young, talented directors, all of them were critical and commercial successes (though this one less than the other two, both in critical and commercial success).  What’s remarkable is that after all these years, all of the films that have been made out of King novels, there are still very few adaptations that stand up to this one and even fewer acting performances that can match the double whammy of Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie.  The 2013 remake isn’t a bad film, but given what had already been done with this film, why did anyone thing it was necessary?

The Source:

Carrie by Stephen King  (1974)

I have long maintained that this isn’t a good book and I still think that but it’s not as bad as I remembered.  It had been some 25 years since I had read the book (in the summer of 1993 I read all the Stephen King books published up to that point that I had never read before and this was one of them and then I never bothered to go back and re-read it).  As a first novel, it’s interesting (he takes some ideas from Dracula and Frankenstein in making it a semi-epistolary novel (there are stretches of pure narrative and it’s actually those stretches that make up the bulk of the film)) and it doesn’t yet have King’s ability to run on for pages on end.  But it does have at least two different trends that would return in future King novels.  First of all, the town is basically destroyed by the rampage of young Carrie White, the bullied girl who happens to be telekinetic and who goes insane after having a bucket of pig’s blood dropped on her during prom.  The destruction of the town would be revisited in the next King novel (Salem’s Lot) and would reappear in several others as well (It and Needful Things come to mind).  The other thing that would become a hallmark of King’s fiction is the idea that the story isn’t over, that whatever prompted the horror in the first place would return, something that would be a part of The Stand (at least in the uncut version) and Christine and I’m sure several others that aren’t coming to mind (the last part of the book is a letter from a mother whose daughter clearly is also telekinetic).

I actually like the style of what King did with the book, immediately establishing that something horrible has happened and dealing with it as well from the aftermath by showing the books that are written about what has happened and interspersing that with the narrative.  He just doesn’t give very much characterization and he focuses too much on the plot.  But the book is better than I have been giving it credit for all these years.  It’s still not that good of a book and one of the weaker King books (he’s definitely written worse: Thinner and Gerald’s Game come to mind) but it’s not that bad.

The Adaptation:

Most of what we see on screen does come straight from the book.  The entire ending is somewhat different though, both in the way that Carrie kills her mother and the way she dies (she dies in Sue’s arms at least partially from being stabbed by her mother in the book) but the idea of the hand coming out to grab Sue, while not in the book, is thematically similar to the book in that the story hasn’t really ended.  The main difference is that the film is a straight-forward narrative and so we never get a sense of the aftermath (which is for the best) including the way that Sue is blamed by many for what happens when we know that’s not true.

The Credits:

Directed by brian depalma.  Based on the novel by stephen king.  Screenplay by lawrence d. cohen.

Voyage of the Damned

The Film:

This film is a mixture of two different trends in the 70’s.  The first was the rising wave of Holocaust films which would really crest the year after this with the premiere television miniseries Holocaust.  The second was the all-star film, films filled to the brim with quality actors, usually in smaller roles because there just wasn’t room for a lead actor anywhere.  Look at the cast of this film.  Four of them had already won Oscars (Jose Ferrer, Wendy Hiller, Lee Grant, Faye Dunaway would win an Oscar this same year).  An amazing eight of them either had been or would in the future be nominated for Oscars and that doesn’t even include Malcolm McDowell, Ben Gazarra, Sam Wanamaker, Fernando Rey, Jonathan Pryce or Maria Schell.  There are so many good, recognizable actors that every time you switch scenes you find yourself with two or three different ones than the ones who had been in the previous scene.  Many of them have only a handful of scenes or fewer (Jack Warden, yet another Oscar nominee, had his role completely cut).  And yet somehow they hold this all together.

Two of the actors in this film, Oskar Werner (one of the biggest roles) and Jose Ferrer (in two scenes) had been in Ship of Fools, also dealing (more vaguely) with the Holocaust and also with a ship full of movie stars.  But this film, in spite of lackluster direction (Stuart Rosenberg’s one great film, Cool Hand Luke, is because of the writing and the performance of Paul Newman, not because of his direction) is a much better film.  It’s mainly because of the writing.  In spite of bouncing between a number of stories, moving quickly between multiple groups of characters, we never lose sight of what is going on or why it is happening.  What’s more, this is a true story, so instead of dealing with an overwrought plot from Katharine Anne Porter, we get the actual true horror of over 900 Jewish passengers who are shipped off to Cuba as part of a Nazi propaganda plight to make it clear to the world that no one wants these people, so how can the Nazis possibly be criticized for wiping them off the planet?  To that extent, to make their point even more clear, the filmmakers fudge a bit on the number of passengers who likely did end up dying in the Holocaust (see below).

In a film like this, it’s always hard to decide which performances are really worth pointing out.  The Oscars nominated Lee Grant (as did the Nighthawks) who was already on their radar, having won the Oscar the year before.  The Globes gave their award to Katharine Ross in spite of only being in two scenes.  It’s hard to say there is any lead actor (you might think of Von Sydow because he’s the captain but he actually doesn’t have any more screen time than anyone else).  All of the actors come in and do their parts quite solidly, even Lynne Frederick who was much more known for being married to Peter Sellers than for her actual acting ability (plus she’s in the must melodramatic storyline, falling for steward Malcolm McDowell and vowing to die together).

This is not a great film and it’s too long because it wants to make certain to give screen time to everyone (it runs over 150 minutes) but it works partially because of the story (set in a particular time and place but also timeless given the events of the last few years as I write this in mid-2018) and because of the acting.

The Source:

Voyage of the Damned by Gordon Thomas and Max Morgan Witts (1974)

This is a solid book about a true story on the edge of the Holocaust that had been overlooked for a long time because it happened before war was actually declared (the events occur during the summer of 1939) and because it makes America look so bad that most Americans certainly didn’t want to think about it.  It deals with the 937 passengers on the St. Louis, a German ship full of Jews that was sent to Havana but the passengers were not allowed to disembark.  They tried America and were also rejected and so they went back to Europe and possible death before several European countries agreed to take them in.  It is a disgusting tale that is well told, focusing on several key people who either survived and gave interviews or who had written journals that were used in the writing of the book.  I would say it’s a book the current administration would do well to read but clearly those assholes would just side with the America First theory.

The Adaptation:

That Malcolm McDowell subplot that I said was the melodramatic?  It’s also the least factual.  Most of the events of the film took place and most of the characters depicted in the film were the actual characters.  There are some exceptions (Jonathan Pryce’s character is real but his brother? friend? is not).  But aside from that overly melodramatic suicide pact, most of what we see on film is exactly how it was depicted in the book.  There is one major caveat.  It is likely that only a couple of hundred of the 937 aboard the ship actually died in the camps.  The film claims it was over 600.  It seems the filmmakers went with this line in the Epilogue: “One estimate states that of the 907 who were returned to Europe only 240 lived,” but the book then strongly refutes that while the film seems to basically accept it as fact.

The Credits:

Directed by Stuart Rosenberg.  Based on the book “Voyage of the Damned” by Gordon Thomas and Max Morgan-Witts.

The Outlaw Josey Wales

The Film:

In 1969, the Western was both revitalized and killed.  The new wave of violence had brought forth three of the greatest Westerns ever made.  But, over the next seven years, only two films in the genre managed to raise above ***: McCabe & Mrs Miller (a very untraditional Western) and Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (made by Sam Peckinpah, who had made one of those great 1969 films) and neither was particularly financially successful.  Then came The Outlaw Josey Wales, which would be a triumph for Clint Eastwood, both as director and star.  It was successful, both critically and financially, but it would not signal a revival.  Indeed, there would not be another **** Western until Dances with Wolves, 16 years later.

It is interesting that this would be, until Unforgiven, Eastwood’s signature film as director and star.  He had become an international film star thanks to his trilogy of films with Sergio Leone as The Man With No Name.  Yet here, he is Josey Wales, the title star, a man whose name becomes the very focus of the film.  He is beaten by Union soldiers and his house is burned with his wife and child inside it.  That brings a need for violence and vengeance to the surface and he fights against the Union and when the war is over, he doesn’t give up.  It turns out to be a smart move, because his fellow men (soldiers isn’t really the word) are all betrayed and slaughtered after they surrender.  Instead, Wales goes on his own and becomes a one man trail of violence.

The Western genre is littered with men like Josey Wales, men who want to strike back against those who have done them wrong.  Indeed, as I sit here writing this review, I am also watching The Bravados, in which Gregory Peck rides after the men he believes have raped and killed his wife.  What distinguishes the best of these films is what the films themselves do.  This is not a great film because of the basic story, but because of what Eastwood as director and Eastwood as star do working together.  Wales is driven by need and violence and by a sense of righteousness.  So he would kill those who have betrayed him and any who stand in his way.  That will be matched by powerful editing, strong cinematography and first-rate direction.  This was a film very much in the Eastwood vein, a film of strong violence, a post-modern Western, in the same tradition that had been established by those three 1969 films and it was, for over a decade, to be the last of the great Westerns.

The Source:

The Rebel Outlaw: Josey Wales by Forrest Carter (1972)

This novel was originally released under this title in 1972 (the copy I read said it was 1973 on the copyright page though 1972 in the Afterword), then republished in 1975 under the title Gone to Texas (which was used in the credits to the film).  The copy that I read was published as omnibus called Josey Wales (the edition in the image to the right), published in conjunction with the 1976 sequel The Vengeance Trail of Josey Wales.  In the Afterward, a University of New Mexico professor lauds the writing of Carter while, it would seem, deliberately hiding his past as a KKK member, ardent segregationist and former candidate for governor of Alabama as a white supremacist.  Sometimes the person you have been and the work you create can be separated, but it’s that sense of Confederate righteousness, of violence against any who would dare hold you back, of trying to make your way the right way, that runs through this book and so Carter’s past is relevant to his writing.

Honestly, the book isn’t much worth reading.  Carter’s hatred of government is clear through the book, his prose is stilted and it would have probably (hopefully) been forgotten had Eastwood not made the film.

The Adaptation:

It made me think of Hitchcock.  Now, Hitchcock never directed a Western, but his work was full of strong adaptations made from weak materials.  They would often take the framework and build something much stronger.  That’s exactly what happens here.  Some of the details are very similar (the main characters that Josey is teamed with, his whole journey of violence) but there are a number of strong differences that matter.  The first is that Josey is not wounded in the death of his wife and child; in fact, he never even sees who does it.  That plays into the other major difference.  As the Afterward to the novel says “The screenplay by Sonja Chernus and Philip Kaufman alters the novel in several ways – especially by adding the characters of Captain Terril and Fletcher – to provide unity that would not have been present had the novel been directly made into a film.”  That is definitely true.  Having someone to be the focus of Josey’s vengeance, as well as someone adding dramatic tension by chasing Josey and giving a strong climax to the film when the two men finally meet, the script is much better than the original novel.

The Credits:

directed by Clint Eastwood.  from the book “Gone to Texas” by Forrest Carter.  screenplay by Phil Kaufman and Sonia Chernus.

The Shootist

The Film:

In general, I prefer actors to movie stars.  Yes, there are those who combine both, people like Bogie and Cagney whom I really love, but if I’m watching a movie from the 40’s, I’m going to pick Claude Rains over John Wayne any day.  But some movie stars eventually become actors, though it doesn’t happen right away.  John Wayne became a star over night after a decade in the business with the release of Stagecoach in 1939.  But he wouldn’t become an actor really until 1948 with Red River (“I didn’t know the big lug could act” was apparently John Ford’s reaction to the film).  After that, he would continue to be a star and would occasionally, most notably in The Searchers, be an actor.  In Rooster Cogburn, his penultimate film, Wayne was a star, and a bad one at that, following up his (undeserved) Oscar role in a terrible film.  Though I was never a fan of Wayne or his boorish politics, I suppose it is nice that he went out as an actor.

J.B. Books rides into Carson City looking for a doctor that treated him once so he can confirm news he already got from another doctor: he’s dying of prostate cancer (the doctor is played by Jimmy Stewart in his last good film role).  Books then decides he’s going to live out his days in the room he’s taken from Bond Rogers (a solid performance from Lauren Bacall).  Bond is displeased, partially because Books lied to her when he took the room and partially because of who he is (an accomplished shootist, or an assassin as she calls him) and partially because her young son, Gillum, is fascinated by Books and wants to grow up to be like him.  Books doesn’t really want the boy’s attention and tries to push him away though he does teach him how to shoot as well.  Books just wants to die and what he decides is that he doesn’t want cancer to be the thing that kills him.  So he starts tying up his affairs and then sends out messages to men that he knows want to kill him for his past deeds and he heads towards his end.

John Wayne notably decried the violence that rose up in film in the late 60’s, especially recoiling from a film like The Wild Bunch, the ultimate post-modern Western.  But The Shootist, in a sense, is a merger of the traditional and the post-modern Western.  It relishes in Wayne’s history on film (it makes use of earlier Wayne films as a montage to open the film to show him killing men in the past, possibly the first film to use a montage of an actor’s earlier roles to show the actor as a younger man in the current role) and until the final shoot-out, doesn’t have much in the way of bloodshed (and the blood looks much more like thick red paint than actual blood – those effects are much more Hollywood than the end of The Wild Bunch).  But this is also the end of the Western as we have known it, the departure of Wayne from film and from his traditional role (after he rides in, he’s never on a horse again, going on a buggy ride with Bacall and taking the new town streetcar to his end).  How appropriate that it would be Don Siegel, who was part of the new Westerns, along with his perpetual star Clint Eastwood, that would direct this solemn farewell to the traditional Western.

But this film, in spite of the shoot-out, in spite of Wayne lying dead on the floor, veers away from the post-modern Western at the end.  Young Gillum, so desperately wanting to be like Books, finds that he can not.  After Books is shot in the back by a bartender at the conclusion of the fight, Gillum takes Books’ gun and shoots the bartender.  But that is too much from him and he hurls the pistol away, not able to take the result of his own actions.  It’s the right ending for the film (see below) and makes for a solid film.  It’s not a great Western and even the performance by Wayne isn’t even close to his performances in Red River or The Searchers.  But it is a good Wayne performance, one of his better ones and a good one to end a long, fruitful career on.

The Source:

The Shootist by Glendon Swarthout  (1975)

This is an interesting book.  It’s a good Western, one of the better ones that I have read (almost all of the real Westerns I have read have been over the course of this project).  But there is something lacking and that’s description.  You get names of the characters but you learn almost nothing about them, nothing about who they are or even who they look like.  Swarthout uses incredibly stark prose, sticking very much to Books and his story.  But it is an interesting and effective story and for all the lack of descriptive prose, it is worth reading, certainly more so than most Westerns I have read.

The very idea came to the author because of an article he read as is pointed out in the 2011 introduction to the novel by his son Miles (who also worked on the screenplay):

My father had read a medical article stating that one of the leading causes of death among old Western cowboys was not, surprisingly, lead poisoning, rope burns, bad food or hygiene, or just plain poisonous whiskey.  Instead, it was cancer of the prostate.  In the late 1800s all cowboying was done from the back of a horse, and the constant pounding a man’s buttocks took day after day in the saddle led many hard-riding buckaroos to have severe problems with their prostrate glands in their old age.

The Adaptation:

There is a lot in the first chapter of A Siegel Film: An Autobiography by Don Siegel about the back and forth between director Don Siegel and John Wayne about the script, including the dropping of profanities, which Wayne strongly objected to and about bringing in another writer after the first draft to change the construction of the script.

Most of the film follows the novel decently closely with some alterations that aren’t huge (in the book, for instance, Books only sees the doctor in his own room, after going to the boarding house and the buggy scene with Bond is actually the same trip where he teaches Gillum to shoot) until we get to the ending.  In the original novel, Gillum actually shoots Books as a favor to him because his wounds from the gunfight aren’t enough to kill him.  Wayne himself insisted that would kill Howard’s career – the man who shot Wayne in the back – and so the filmmakers changed the ending.  Swarthout’s son, in the introduction, states (correctly, in my opinion) that this ending is actually probably the better one, one more fitting for the book and the themes.  It’s a big difference, but it really is the more fitting ending and is one that should have been used in the book instead.

The Credits:

Directed by Don Siegel.  Based on the Novel by Glendon Swarthout.  Screenplay by Miles Hood Swarthout and Scott Hale.

Marathon Man

The Film:

A bitter man, tired of being stuck in traffic behind an elderly immigrant tries to race around him on a crowded New York street and they both end up crashing into an oil truck and die in the conflagration.  A man who is as solid as a rock, never betraying himself with nervousness or anger, leaves a bomb in a baby carriage in an outdoor market and it explodes.  An intense graduate student in History at Columbia is also in training for a marathon and takes off after someone who mocks him for his pace when running around the Central Park reservoir.  Three completely separate scenes open the film and you wonder what could possibly be the connection between them and slowly the pieces will come together and you find yourself in one of the most intense thrillers of the decade.

The elderly immigrant, it would turn out, is the father of Szell, a monster of the Holocaust, a dentist who would steal gold from fillings and who has been in hiding in South America since the war while his father runs a diamond smuggling business that keeps him rich.  The man with the bomb is Doc, a government agent (what part of the government is never really clear) who both handles Szell (again, not clear if he is doing this as a side business or the government is sanctioning it) who is also the older brother of Babe, the marathon runner.  When the death of his father brings Szell out into the open (and to the States), it also brings Doc into danger and then brings him back to the States as well.  Arriving to meet his brother and the woman his brother has fallen for, he recognizes her as an imposter and suspicious as to what she could be doing with his brother.  Then there is the business with the diamonds.

There is a lot of plot in this film and there’s no need to go through all of it.  There are a number of prominent actors involved, but the key ones are Roy Scheider, continuing his string of hits in the decade as Doc, Dustin Hoffman, the star of the film as Babe and, most importantly, Laurence Olivier, earning yet another on his long list of Oscar nominations as Szell, the man who will come to terrorize Babe in a series of scenes that strike fear in the heart of anyone who doesn’t like going to the dentist.

Ironically, given my long history of dental issues, it’s the not the dental scenes that bother me the most.  The visceral image of a man trying to garrotte Doc only for Doc to block the wire with his hand (and have it cut deeply into his hand in a scene that makes me squirm even thinking about it) is actually the one that really gets to me.  But once Doc has been killed, once Babe is being tortured by Szell to find out if he can safely retrieve his diamonds, we get those horrible scene of Babe in the chair, of Szell asking “is it safe”, of the drilling into a cavity without novocaine and then kicking it up a notch by drilling into an actual live nerve and a generation of people were suddenly afraid to go anywhere near a dentist’s chair.

This is an insanely intense film.  Even when we’re not in the dentist’s chair, we have scenes of Babe running for his life without shoes or shirt, of Babe trapped in his bathroom, not knowing what is coming, of having his head shoved down into the water of his tub, the memorable scene where he thinks he’s been helped to escape only to realize that isn’t what has happened.  This isn’t one of Hoffman’s best performances (rather famously, when he was using the method to try and get into character, Olivier complained “Why doesn’t he just try acting”) but it is definitely one of his most intense.  And Olivier is brilliant as the aged Nazi who just happens to be in the same year as Jason Robards’ brilliant Bradlee.  The book was a big hit and the film was a big success and with good reason because it’s unlikely you’re going to forget it.

The Source:

Marathon Man by William Goldman  (1974)

Goldman mentions in his introduction that he wrote this book after the death of his longtime editor and that it was far more commercial than anything he had written before (and that he might not have written something this commercial had his editor not died).  It’s a solid thriller of a young graduate student who ends up involved in a plot by a former Nazi dentist to get hold of smuggled diamonds after his father (living in New York) is killed in a car crash.  It’s not great literature but it is a quick, suspenseful read.

The Adaptation:

“I don’t remember much clearly about Marathon Man.  I wrote, in a compressed period of time, two versions of the novel and at least four versions of the screenplay, and after that, someone, I suspect Robert Towne, was brought in to write the ending.” (Adventures in the Screen Trade: A Personal View of Hollywood and Screenwriting, William Goldman, p 228)

“In the book, Babe kills Szell, but Hoffman admitted that, as a Jew, he was uncomfortable playing such a revenge-soaked scene.  John also felt it simply too pat, asking Goldman give them something more.  The screenwriter, however, couldn’t see beyond what he’d already written, so Robert Towne (The Last Detail, Chinatown, Shampoo) was brought in to give them an appropriate killer of an ending.” (edge of midnight: The Life of John Schlesinger by William J. Mann, p 435)

Outside of the ending (and a bit less detail on Babe and Doc’s father and their shared past after his death), the film follows fairly closely to the novel.

The Credits:

directed by john schlesinger.  screenplay by william goldman from his novel.
note:  Though not credited, as noted above, Robert Towne wrote the ending of the film.

The Last Tycoon

The Film:

In the mid 70’s, Hollywood seemed to suddenly become enamored of its past.  We got originals like Inserts, Nickelodeon and Silent Movie and we had adaptations of older novels about Hollywood in the 30’s like The Day of the Locust and The Last Tycoon.  It’s an era that doesn’t seem to stand out in the same way that Hollywood’s fascination with itself in the early 50’s did because that era produced Sunset Blvd., Singin’ in the Rain and The Bad and the Beautiful, all-time great films that showed a deep understanding and appreciation for what had come before.  There were more films in this era but they couldn’t really rise up.

This novel might have been one of the best ever written about Hollywood if only it had been finished (see below).  But what we got was a fragment and a fragment usually makes for an incomplete film.  Part of what we see on film is fascinating.  Robert De Niro plays Monroe Stahr, a good looking young executive who is essentially running a Hollywood studio.  He instantly knows what people will pay money to see and what they won’t.  He works with efficiency and ruthlessness, bringing a director who is unable to control his star actress outside to talk with him and then explaining that a new director went in when they walked out and that he’s through on the picture.  But, in a flood caused by an earthquake, Monroe saw a young woman who looks like his dead wife (who was a star actress) and becomes obsessed with her.  Combined with dealing with a potential writer’s strike and the flirtatious daughter of Monroe’s nominal boss, he’s wearing himself down and it’s starting to show at work at the same time that sharks are circling, hoping to knock him off his pedestal.

There is much that this film does right, as could be expected from a classic Hollywood director like Elia Kazan, especially when given talent like De Niro (and Nicholson, in a small role) to work with, even though the best performance in the film is actually given by Donald Pleasance as a writer on the edge.  The film looks great, with fantastic art direction and solid costumes.  But there is a hole in the performances from the two lead females.  Theresa Russell is passable as the daughter of the exec but Ingrid Boulting’s dead-eyed performance as the woman that Monroe becomes obsessed with almost kills the film and prevents it from really rising above.  It also does what it can with the fact that Fitzgerald died with the book not even halfway to being finished and the ending doesn’t really go in the direction that Fitzgerald had planned to take it.

In the end, this film is an oddity at best.  It is the last film of a truly great director, a rare (and weird) example of a post-modern writer like Harold Pinter working in Hollywood with a classic director and possibly the best film made out of a Fitzgerald work, one of the all-time great writers whose films have defied being easily adapted to film.

The Source:

The Last Tycoon: an unfinished novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald  (1941)

Scott Fitzgerald, that poor son-of-a-bitch, worked in Hollywood but was never all that successful at it.  Little of his work earned him screen credits, he was forced to write short stories about doing that type of work (the Pat Hobby stories) to make a living and his last novel, which might well have turned out to be his most mature work, The Last Tycoon, was only partially completed when he died of a heart attack at the age of 44.

It is an interesting novel and it might have been a great novel about Hollywood but we can only have Fitzgerald’s notes about which way it would have gone.  It does have a fascinating character in Monroe Stahr, a fictional portrait of Irving Thalberg, the boy wonder who helped run MGM for a decade.

It is definitely worth reading if, for not other reason, to see where Fitzgerald and his fiction were heading when he died and where they might have gone had he lived.

The Adaptation:

A good portion of the first half of the film comes straight from the book, including a lot of the dialogue (the most memorable being the scene where Monroe fires the director).  But the second half of the film doesn’t have a novel to go from and it completely abandons the notes that Fitzgerald left behind about where he wanted the novel to go. Essentially, Pinter just creates his own second half of the film using the characters as had been developed but not using any idea that Fitzgerald had planned for them.

The Credits:

Directed by Elia Kazan.  Screenplay by Harold Pinter.
note:  These are from the end credits.  The only opening credit is the title, which is also the only mention of the source: F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Last Tycoon.

The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings

The Film:

The Negro Leagues were where black ball players were consigned before 1947.  It was a wealth of talent and part of the reason why it’s hard to make the claim that Babe Ruth or Ty Cobb might have been the greatest baseball player of all-time (hint: my answer is Willie Mays) because they never came close to actually playing against the best players of their time.  Not when a slugger like Josh Gibson (who might have had more home runs than Ruth) or Cool Papa Bell (who might have had more steals than Cobb) weren’t allowed on the field.  So, it’s ironic that this film, which kind of celebrates the Negro Leagues, was also kind of relegated to the side, placed in the hands of a first-time (white) director and was completely passed over by the Golden Globes in favor of the not as good (but big budget) remake of A Star is Born which they heaped five awards upon.

That’s not to say this is a great film – it’s a solidly good film (high ***) that is considerably entertaining with a flashy, fun performance from Billy Dee Williams that perfectly set him up to later play Lando Calrissian, a solid performance from James Earl Jones that anchors the film and a scene-stealing one from Richard Pryor as a black who tries to continually insist that he isn’t black (he’s Indian, or maybe he’s Cuban, or anything but black) so that he can go play in Major League Baseball.

One of the ironies of the film is that it deals with an issue that was actually at the heart of a lot of baseball players at the time: money and contracts (this film came out at the dawn of the Free Agency Era).  At the beginning of the film, a player is injured and so the owner of the team simply drops him, in spite of years of devotion to the team.  Back then, you needed to keep playing to earn money, there were no pensions (certainly not in the Negro Leagues) and you often had to figure out how to earn money during the months you weren’t playing.  Fed up by this dismissal of a teammate, star pitcher Bingo Long (kind of based on Satchel Paige) decides to leave the team, strike out on his own and create a team of traveling all-stars that can go around, earn their own money and be entertaining and great at the same time.

Of course, things will happen along the way to cause problems and it will all end up in a winner-take-all ballgame that we will know the ending of long before the players do because how else could it possibly end?  But the film looks good (at least the sets and the costumes do, evoking the late 1930’s), sounds good (the ball coming off the bat is always a striking sound) and is entertaining from start to finish.  Really, how much more do you need out of a movie?

The Source:

The Bingo Long Traveling All-Star & Motor Kings by William Brashler (1973)

Given that Brashler had no particular interest in the Negro Leagues (he says so in the Introduction to the edition that I read), it’s impressive that this book is as good as it is.  It’s not a great book, certainly not in the level of top baseball books like The Great American Novel, Shoeless Joe or The Natural.  But it evokes the time and place and you feel for these players, for the way they have been kept off the real national stage, the way they play for lower pay and any minute could have an injury that could end their career and reduce them potentially to picking crops.  It’s also entertaining and a fairly quick read.  It may not be in the list of top baseball books but if you have a love of baseball (which I do), it’s definitely worth a read.

The Adaptation:

The first change the filmmakers made was to switch the two main players.  In the book, Bingo Long is the more serious catcher who is tired of giving his hard work to an owner who doesn’t give a shit about anything but making money while Leon Carter is the flashy pitcher.  Those two names were switched for the film.  Bingo is now the flashy pitcher (Brashler, in the Introduction, says it’s because you couldn’t have star Billy Dee Williams hidden behind a catcher’s mask) and Leon is the more serious catcher (based mostly on Josh Gibson).  The other major change comes about halfway through when everything is completely different on through to the end of the film (there is nothing like it in the original novel).  So, basically, the entire second half was created by the screenwriters, except for the evocation of Jackie Robinson at the end of the book and the film.  There are also a number of minor changes along the way (the injury that prompts the whole thing, for instance, which is a broken foot caused by sliding into third in the book).

The Credits:

Directed by John Badham.  Based on the novel by William Brashler.  Screenplay by Hal Barwood & Matthew Robbins.

The Seven-Per-cent Solution

The Film:

There are a couple of intriguing ideas in this film, one of which comes from the original novel but one of which comes from the filmmakers.  The one that comes from the novel is the central idea behind both the novel and the film: that Sherlock Holmes never faced off against Moriarty during the period that he was “dead” and that he ran away to Vienna and instead ended up meeting Sigmund Freud and embarking upon an adventure that involved him.  That two men who so depended on what they observed of people would meet and pair off was a brilliant idea and it is amusing and witty on-screen.  But the idea that came from the filmmakers was the one of casting Nicol Williamson as Sherlock Holmes.

Nicol Williamson was extremely talented but he was also a talent that had to be endured by all those around him (if you read my Great Read on Sherlock Holmes you can find a link to a brilliant obit on him from Paul Rudnick).  He was manic and imbued with energy.  He also always seemed like the smartest person in the room, something that suited him well both as Hamlet (in 1969) and as Merlin (in Excalibur).  What better person to play Sherlock Holmes?  He’s not my favorite Sherlock because of both Benedict Cumberbatch and Peter Cushing but he’s definitely up there.  With Robert Duvall playing a lower key Watson, with Alan Arkin finding the right degree of neuroticism to bring to the role of Sigmund Freud and with Laurence Olivier deliberately under-playing Moriarty (I suspect they got him to kind of fool with people who hadn’t read the book and wouldn’t know that he’s really just a red herring), it’s really up to Williamson to crank up all the required energy for the film and he comes through.

The basic story is this: Sherlock believes that Moriarty, his old Maths tutor is the Napoleon of Crime and to get him past this delusion, Watson tricks Sherlock into going to Vienna and meeting Freud.  While there, they end up involved in a mystery that might have gotten World War I started a good generation earlier and manage to stop it in a bizarre little mystery that also manages to drag Vanessa Redgrave into the film.  In the end, Holmes will work through his problems and realize that Moriarty isn’t the criminal he thought he was and in the end, Watson will write this all up in a way that will keep the public from ever knowing the truth.

This isn’t a great Sherlock Holmes movie, but to tell the truth, I’ve never seen a great Sherlock Holmes movie.  For my money, the best Sherlock is the work done on BBC with Cumberbatch and Freeman.  But this is definitely one of the more enjoyable Sherlock Holmes movies.

The Source:

The Seven-Per-Cent-Solution, being a reprint from the reminiscences of John H. Watson, M.D., as edited by Nicholas Meyer (1974)

Nicholas Meyer was a writer (who later became a director – he would write and direct Star Trek II, the best of the Star Trek films) who decided, in light of an impending strike by the WGA to write a Sherlock Holmes novel instead of a screenplay.  He followed the concepts laid out by Doyle and wrote it as if it were Watson imparting the narrative (he even offers some annotations to make it fit in with all the other Doyle stories – he follows the work laid out by William S. Baring-Gould, the man who did the original Annotated Sherlock Holmes volumes (more on that book here and here) and acknowledges the work of Baring-Gould.  It’s a solid read, the story of what “really happened” during the time that Sherlock Holmes was “dead”, when, according to this novel, he was really in Vienna embarking on therapy with Freud and then an adventure that prevents World War I from breaking out in the 1890’s.  It’s a fun read, just like the Doyle novels, though not quite up to their level.

The Adaptation:

While the first half of the film follows fairly closely to the novel, the second half gets quite a bit farther away, with more of the woman involved in the film (because they got Vanessa Redgrave, presumably) and some scenes in the film that weren’t in the book at all.  Meyer has been quoted as saying he was perfectly willing to depart from the book to make things more cinematic with his script and it was actually Ross who kept trying to pull things closer to the book.

The Credits:

Produced and Directed by Herbert Ross.  Screenplay by Nicholas Meyer.  From his novel, “The Seven-Per-Cent Solution”.

Consensus Nominees

The Pink Panther Strikes Again

The Film:

The bad news about this film is that, once you have made it through the pre-credits sequence with Dreyfuss and Clouseau, the opening credits and the face-off between Clouseau and his manservant Cato as they wreck destruction throughout his apartment there is basically nothing of value left to this film with the exception of the magnificent scene on the parallel bars.  The good news is that the pre-credits, credits and the Cato fight scene take up so much time that by the time you are done with them you are already a quarter of the way through a film that is at least twenty minutes too long.

The Return of the Pink Panther, in spite of not being very good (see my review here), had been a considerable success, helping to revive the sagging careers of both Blake Edwards and Peter Sellers, so another sequel was pretty much inevitable.  In fact, Edwards had envisioned a television show and written two pilot prospects, the first of which was made into Return and the second of which was made into this film.  That helps explain why both films have far too little plots for the length of the films.  The previous film had an almost entire secondary plot running side-by-side.  This one has a plot that wouldn’t seem out of place in this time period with some of the more outlandish James Bond plots and it really does seem like Edwards wanted to make something that was more akin to a Bond spoof, apparently not aware that with some of the films coming up, Roger Moore would accomplish that by himself.

So what is the plot?  Dreyfuss, now firmly mad, escapes from the asylum and will make major buildings disappear with a weapon he has developed unless the world’s governments kill Clouseau.  So, Clouseau will stumble through, completely unaware that he is being hunted.  He will manage to get a girl, a Russian spy who turns for him, unaware that the man she just made love to was actually Omar Sharif who was there to kill Clouseau (and thinks he has).  Veronica said that Sharif was too good to be in this movie.  I had to remind her that Sharif is also in Top Secret with the demeaning doogie doo scene and that Peter Sellers is really a great actor when not in such a ridiculous film.

The opening scene with Cato is hilarious.  The scene on the parallel bars made me laugh quite loud.  The credits are entertaining, especially as the animated panther spoofs various films and Henry Mancini deftly works in musical nods to those same spoofs.  But other than that, this is a very weak film that somehow managed to win the WGA Adapted Comedy (the year after the previous sequel was nominated as an original) in a very weak year for Comedies.

The Source:

characters created by Blake Edwards

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, Cato and Dreyfuss that existed before.

The Adaptation:

Well, by this point Dreyfuss is utterly mad and instead of being Clouseau’s boss, he is now his arch-enemy.  Other than that, there is no real adaptation.

The Credits:

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

Bound for Glory

The Film:

I have already reviewed this film as one of the Best Picture nominees.  But, as I mentioned in the original review, while this film is well-made, especially the cinematography, it is lacking in the music.  It seems to me the whole point of doing a biopic of a musician is to showcase the music and it’s just lacking in this film.

The Source:

Bound for Glory by Woody Guthrie (1943)

There’s a reason that the film doesn’t have a whole lot in about Guthrie’s music.  That’s because the original source material didn’t have a whole lot either.  It’s true that this book was written back in 1943, with a lot of famous Guthrie songs still to come.  Indeed, what would become his most famous song, “This Land is Your Land” had been written out but never recorded by this time.  This is less an autobiography than a collection of anecdotes that Guthrie wants to tell about his early life.  If you were to read it, you wouldn’t necessarily think that this person was becoming the most famous songwriter of his generation.  The book is really kind of a mess to read.  If you want to read a book about Guthrie, you are actually much better off going with Woody Guthrie: A Life, the same book by Joe Klein that is mentioned by Bruce Springsteen in his live recording of “This Land is Your Land”.

The Adaptation:

Well, the script follows as well along with the book as is possible, given that the book meanders back and forth and it’s sometimes hard to tell if you have moved forward in time or back or nowhere at all.  Most of the stuff about the very young Guthrie is cut, in order to focus on David Carradine’s performance and there is a bit more about his career taking off a bit that is in the film that wasn’t in the original book.  But, you are actually better off with the film for a narrative than what was in the original book.

The Credits:

directed by Hal Ashby.  screenplay by Robert Getchell.  based on the WOODY GUTHRIE autobiography. (the source credit is only in the end credits)

Oscar Nominees

Fellini’s Casanova

The Film:

I have a long and complicated history in my appreciation for Fellini.  My first exposure to him was to two of his greatest films: 8 1/2 and La Dolce Vita, but because those are also the ones that help bring about his transition from almost surrealistic genius to near self-indulgent narcissism, it was a while before I could really appreciate them and him.  What made it worse was the Academy, because in the 70’s, while it rightly appreciated the brilliance of Amarcord, it also nominated him for Best Director for his atrocious Satyricon (which thankfully I didn’t have to review for this project as its script wasn’t nominated) and for Best Adapted Screenplay for this, his next worst film.  So is this just a case of me misunderstanding him as so many comments accuse me of in my post about Fellini in spite of ranking him as the 40th greatest director of all-time?  Well, Fellini himself thought this was his worst film (the chapter on the film in John Baxter’s biography is even titled ‘The Worst Film I Ever Made’).  So, the bigger question is why did the Academy nominate this over Carrie, The Outlaw Josey Wales, Marathon Man or The Shootist?  Perhaps they just wanted to show some appreciation to Fellini which seems unnecessary since Amarcord had just won Foreign Film two years before and Fellini had rather famously been nominated over Spielberg the year before.

What is there to really say about this film?  Fellini backed himself into making it, signing a contract because he needed to raise money and then, because Dino DeLaurentiis was pushing for it so strongly, was unable to get away with not making it.  But by then, Fellini had tried to plow through the unedited versions of the memoirs (see below) and decided more and more that he just hated the man.  He had okayed the casting of Donald Sutherland and then pushed him farther and farther away, ostracizing him because he was playing this character that Fellini had come to dislike so much.  Gore Vidal had warned Fellini not to make a film about a man he loathed (that bit is repeated in every Fellini book) but Fellini didn’t heed the advice.  So, again, what do we really have?

Is this a portrait of Casanova?  Well, it’s a portrait of someone, a man who lives in a world of hedonism and lechery, whose ideas are ignored because of the man he is viewed as others to be.  He is a man both very much of his time (meeting many of the most important people in the world, traveling all over) and completely against his time (often despised for who he is while simultaneously many obsess over him because of who he is).  Sutherland is never really able to give us the complexities of the man because Fellini isn’t really interested in his complexities.  So what we get are some interesting costumes, art direction and makeup and a script that goes all over the place without actually saying anything, giving us a real character or even telling us much of a story.  Yet, somehow, the writers branch of the Academy decided this was one of the five best adapted scripts of the year.

The Source:

Histoire de ma vie by Jacques Casanova de Seingalt (1960)

Ah, the long history of these memoirs.  Casanova began composing them in 1789 (in French, I should note, which he points out in his Preface, written in 1797, “I have written in French instead of in Italian because the French language is more widely known than mine”).  “At his death nine years later (June 4, 1798), though he had written 4545 manuscript pages, he had brought his autobiography down only to the summer of 1774.” (Textual Notes, p 1177)  After his death, they eventually passed to his great-nephew who offered them up for publication in 1820 to F.A. Brockhaus who began publishing them in 1822.  Well, he published a German translation that was adapted and it took twelve volumes and six years.  It would not be until 1960 that the full version would finally reach publication.  The version I read is the current version in print by Everyman’s Library which runs, with notes and index, 1429 pages and is just under half of the original length.  Peter Washington, who did that abridgment, sums it up: “The memoirs have been compared to a picaresque novel but an analogy with Proust also suggest itself. Characters recur, experiences are repeated in new circumstances, places revisited, philosophies assessed, adventures pondered, all with cumulative force.” (lxviii)

I don’t know that I can honestly recommend the memoirs.  Casanova was a true renaissance man, one who rubbed up against all the great minds and people of his day and he writes about it very well and it is continually fascinating.  It is also very, very long and you start to weary of it long before the end.  It is a shame he is thought of so much in terms of his name because what he does is so much more than that and he is a talented writer but he leaves no detail undiscovered.

The Adaptation:

“In order to understand the movie, one needs perhaps to first try and forget the historical figure and the legend of Casanova.  It’s useless to attempt to figure out the reasons behind Fellini’s choices, exclusions and changes to the six volumes of the Brockhaus; the original manuscript is simply the occasion, the repository that inspires visual ideas, a pretext for a parade of imagery and symbols, like the storm in the lagoon or the magical escape from Piombi prison onto the moonlit rooftops; or like the sound of Enrichetta’s cello after the entomological sketch performed by the hunchback Du Bois, which makes the seducer weep, or the embalmed whale in the foggy London market, a perfect blend of William Hogarth and Roland Topor, the Pre-Raphaelite tableau of the giantess and two dwarves.” (Federico Fellini: His Life and Work, Tullio Kezick, p 325, tr. Minna Proctor with Viviana Mazza)

I am quite in agreement with that assessment of the film.  There really is no need to look to the original Casanova to compare it with the film.  Or, even better, do look to the original see you can see the full measure of the man that Fellini’s film barely bothers to deal with.

“Later Fellini brought in the novelist Anthony Burgess to brush up the English dialogue.  And, unknown to Zapponi at the time, Tonino Guerra did some additional work on the script.” (Fellini: A Life, Hollis Alpert, p 251)  Though not mentioned in the IMDb, the use of Burgess is mentioned as well in at least two other books about Fellini.

The Credits:

Freely drawn from “The Story of My Life” by Giacomo Casanova.  Screenplay by Federico Fellini, Bernardino Zapponi.  English dialogue directors: Frank Dunlop – Christopher Cruise.
note: All credits come before the title: Fellini’s Casanova but with no directing credit.

WGA Nominees

 

Family Plot

The Film:

Alfred Hitchcock was known, throughout most of his career, as the Master of Suspense.  He created that legacy through carefully crafted film sequences that have been remembered for decades.  What is less well known, at least among casual fans, but well known among film lovers, is Hitchcock’s sense of humor.  While he would rarely make an out and out Comedy (though he did do a few, such as Mr and Mrs Smith or The Trouble with Harry), many of his films had an element of comedy to them.  In his final film, Family Plot, he decided to mix the two things in a way that he hadn’t really emphasized since the 50’s, with, unfortunately, mixed results.

Take a look at one of the main sequences in the film, the one designed for the highest level of suspense.  The main two characters, a fake medium and her boyfriend whom she employs to do detective work and help back up her notions, are in a car headed down a long hill with several curves.  Their brake-line, however, has been cut, and they are unable to slow down and their descent becomes fraught with peril.  Unfortunately, this is also the sequence in the film where the comedy is pushed to its highest point.  So, while poor Bruce Dern is trying his best to keep them from getting killed, Barbara Harris is all over him.  Does she want to die?  She’s clearly not wearing a seatbelt and if they hit something, she’ll go through the windshield, not to mention the fact that she’s grabbing at him, obstructing his view, choking him by grabbing his tie and basically doing everything she can to kill them both.  I hadn’t seen this film since 2003, when Hitchcock was the first director I embarked upon with my Great Director project, finally seeing all the films of his I had never seen and this was the one scene I remembered very clearly.  The comedy overwhelms any attempt at suspense.

This film is very uneven and that scene is a perfect example of why.  It’s clearly a Comedy (Harris was nominated for Actress – Comedy at the Globes and the film was nominated for Adapted Comedy by the WGA which is why it has made it into this post) but there is also an element of suspense.  It’s about the two of them tracking them the heir to a fortune, but that heir happens to be a murderer, kidnapper and jewel thief who thinks he’s being tracked down for other reasons.  The nastiness of the villains (played quite well by William Devane and decently well by Karen Black) is a bizarre contrast over the lightness of the rest of the film, kind of in the same way that the silliness of the Whoopi Goldberg scenes would undermine the romance and danger in Ghost.

This is certainly not a bad film – it is entertaining enough.  But, for a career like Hitchcock’s, it’s a weak way to go out. He would have been better off going out a few years earlier with Frenzy, which had some real nastiness in it but was a lot closer to the real suspense that he had been a master of for so long.

The Source:

The Rainbird Pattern by Victor Canning (1972)

This is a decent little thriller about three groups of two people.  The first are a medium and her partner who are trying to track down the last remnant of the Rainbird family so that he can inherit the fortune when his aunt dies.  The second is a pair of police detectives who have been trying to track down the mysterious Trader, a man who keeps kidnapping important people and then exchanging them for jewelry ransoms.  Then there is Trader and his partner.  But Trader is also Edward Shoebridge, that long lost heir, who has gone on to darker things.  Things work themselves forward with some real suspense, including a dark moment where the woman who you would think of as the heroine suddenly is killed by Trader and set up to look like a suicide.  There is also a fairly dark ending with the potential future of the Rainbird fortune headed into the hands of someone who is deeply disturbed.  But overall, it’s definitely an effective thriller.

The Adaptation:

“The director and his collaborator reworked Victor Canning’s noirish story – a book that turns downright nasty in its conclusion – into a wry comedy.” (“A Brief Anatomy of Family Plot” by Lesley Brill, printed in Hitchcock at the Source: The Auteur as Adaptor, ed. R. Barton Palmer and David Boyd, p 296).

“In The Rainbird Pattern, on the other hand, the kidnappers kill Blanche, a detail that makes clear the enormous difference between the novel and its filmic transformation.  The presentation of her death also underlines the degree to which the novel takes seriously its female protagonist’s powers.” (“A Brief Anatomy of Family Plot” by Lesley Brill, printed in Hitchcock at the Source: The Auteur as Adaptor, ed. R. Barton Palmer and David Boyd, p 299-300)

Those are both true and what they don’t flat-out say is that the film really turns a dark thriller into a comedy.  The basic premise of the book is still there (transported from England to Southern California) but a lot of the details are changed.  But, aside from the ending (which is completely different from the book), it is really the tone of the story that is the most different.

The Credits:

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock.  Screenplay by Ernest Lehman.
note: These are the only two credits in the opening credits (nothing about the source), not just the writing, but at all.  The end credits do include From the Novel “The Rainbird Pattern” by Victor Canning.

The Ritz

The Film:

This is a not particularly funny Comedy about the most naive man in the world.  That’s not supposed to be the joke but it apparently is.

Jack Weston plays Gaetano Proclo, a man who has been unlucky enough to marry into the Mob.  His wife is the younger sister of a gangster and when their father dies, his dying wish is to have his son-in-law killed (there is no explanation for this but given that he seems to be a bumbling idiot, maybe he just wanted his daughter to have a better chance with a better man, although you would think if that was the case he would have done it years ago before they had children and grew into middle age together).  So Proclo will flee to the place where his brother-in-law won’t find him, which turns out to be The Ritz, a gay bath house.  Proclo is from Cleveland and there must apparently have been no gays in Cleveland in the 70’s because he apparently has no idea what he’s gotten into.

That’s really the gag for much of the film.  There is a man who is chasing after him because apparently he’s into fat men, there’s an almost screaming queen played by F. Murray Abraham and there is a Cuban singer played by Rita Moreno who thinks that Proclo may be a producer that she can impress to get out of working the pits in The Ritz and who he thinks is a transvestite, although, given how long it takes him to realize that everyone around him is gay and that he’s in a place specifically aimed at providing gay hookups, it’s amazing he even knows what a transvestite is.

Moreno is the key thing in the film because everything else falls flat.  Almost nothing about it is funny, especially the ending, where Weston will do a gay routine with the man chasing him (it turns out he’s an old army buddy) and Abraham as the Andrews Sisters and will be saved by his wife insisting he not be shot and the fact that her brother has been hiding the fact that he and the family actually own this bath house.  But Moreno is a star and she seems to know it.  Or she knows she’s in a ridiculously campy movie and she knows how to play it up.  She earned a Golden Globe nom (so did Weston and the film itself but this was a really weak year for Comedies as can be seen from a glance at my Comedy awards for the year which tops out at four films, two of which are foreign and another of which isn’t a Comedy or even really a Musical but is a biopic of a musician and so manages to get slotted in there).

The Source:

The Ritz by Terrence McNally (1974)

Terrence McNally was already a successful playwright when he wrote this play and it went on to be a big success (the version of the play that I read, reprinted in Best American Plays, Eighth Series: 1974-1982 claims that it won McNally a Tony but that’s not true – its only Tony nomination (which it did win) was for Rita Moreno).  I can see why it would be a big hit on Broadway, all about the bath houses and the fun gay lifestyle and this ridiculous square from Cleveland who has no idea what he is involved with but it just falls flat for me.  I fully admit that I am just not the audience for it.

The Adaptation:

Not only does the play arrive on screen almost entirely intact (no surprise there, with McNally writing both the play and the screenplay) but so does the cast.  The five biggest roles in the play were all played by the same actors that had starred on Broadway: Jack Weston, Rita Moreno, F. Murray Abraham, Paul B. Price and Jerry Stiller.  The only real changes were bringing in Treat Williams for Stephen Collins (and Williams is so good looking and such a contrast with the high pitched voice that he works well) and Kaye Ballard replacing Ruth Jaroslow as the wife.

The Credits:

directed by Richard Lester.  screenplay by Terrence McNally.

note: Like a lot of Neil Simon films from around this time, the film’s opening titles make no mention of the original source play that was also written by McNally.

Stay Hungry

The Film:

Craig Blake is rich and bored.  His parents have died and he’s left with a big house, a faithful servant (up until the point where he walks out and wants to take a suit of armor with him), a country club membership and a job at a realty company that doesn’t really require him to do anything.  So, one day he decides that he’s going to do something there and it involves him visiting a local gym where the current Mr. Alabama works out (wearing disguises at times) and he suddenly falls in with a strange weight-lifting crowd that brings something different to his life.

Craig needs to buy the gym so his sleazy partners can have enough space to build something.  Or something like that.  If it seems like the plot is just there to get Craig mixed in with the weight lifters to see what will happen from there, you’re more right than you know (see below).  But what develops after Craig starts hitting the gym (and all sorts of people start hitting each other) is a moderately entertaining comedy that is also a bit strange.

Craig is played by Jeff Bridges in laid back performance that seems to come to him naturally, between his laconic performance in The Last Picture Show and actually being the child of a famous parent and growing up outside the norm.  At the gym he meets a pretty secretary (Sally Field) that he falls for.  But who he’s really interested in is Mr. Alabama, Joe Santo, played (not in his actual film debut though the film credits it as such) by Arnold Schwarzenegger.  Even here, at the start of his career, he shows that he has a bit of a flair for comedy.  There is a plot (Craig’s partners want the gym) but really the film just provides some settings for Craig’s more hoity-toity world of the aristocratic South to intermix with this new breed of weight lifters and their own strange culture.

Stay Hungry‘s not always successful and it’s not always funny but in a very weak year for Adapted Comedy at the WGA, it managed to make it into the nominees.  They could have done worse; they did, with their winner.

The Source:

Stay Hungry by Charles Gaines  (1972)

An odd, interesting little novel about a rather aristocratic Montgomery man (he was born rich, inherited a lot when his parents died, is a country club member) who is bored and joins a gym and starts hanging around with Mr. Alabama.  A little look at weight lifting culture from an author who would then write the text for the photo book Pumping Iron.  Schwarzenegger was among the bodybuilders showcased in the book which almost certainly lead to his being cast in the film.  Ironically, he lost weight for the film which he had to put back on for the documentary Pumping Iron for his Mr. Olympia competition.

The Adaptation:

While a good chunk of the scenes in film come from the boom, especially in the way that Craig interacts with the weight lifters, as I hinted above, the plot in the film (that Craig’s realty company wants to buy the gym and get rid of it) is only a plot that they added for the film.  It’s completely absent from the original novel.  I don’t know if Rafelson decided it needed a plot or if it was actually Gaines (they co-wrote the screenplay) who felt it needed more of a plot to be a film but either way it was added for the film and it’s actually kind of unnecessary.  The film would have been just as good without it.

The Credits:

directed by Bob Rafelson.  screenplay by Charles Gaines and Bob Rafelson.  based on the novel by Charles Gaines.

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)

  • The Tenant  –  Creepy effective (high ***) Roman Polanski film, based on the novel Le Locataire chimérique by Roland Topor.
  • Freaky Friday  –  Not a classic Disney film but certainly a solid one with Jodie Foster and Barbara Harris switching roles.  Based on the 1972 novel by Mary Rodgers.
  • La Chienne  –  The 1931 Renoir film, based on the novel and play which finally earned a U.S. release.
  • Winstanley  –  The story of Gerard Winstanley and the Diggers, though based on a novel about them (by David Caute) rather than a non-fiction book.  A solid film but if you want to know more about the Diggers in less time, have a listen to Billy Bragg’s magnificent version of “The World Turned Upside Down“.
  • Robin and Marian  –  Solid tale of an older Robin Hood (only adapted because of the characters) but I’ve always expected more (Connery as Robin, Audrey Hepburn as Marian) and been a little disappointed that it’s only a mid ***.
  • Distant Thunder  –  A 1973 Satyajit Ray film based on the novel by Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay.
  • The Clockmaker of St. Paul  –  A 1974 French film based on the novel by Georges Simenon.
  • A Star is Born  –  Not a bad film but not worthy of 5 Golden Globes and by a long, long way the weakest version of the story.  Skip this version and watch the brilliant original, the brilliant 1954 version or the magnificent version now in theaters.
  • They Fought for Their Motherland  –  The Soviet submission for Best Foreign Film is a solid World War II film from director Sergei Bondarchuk based on the Sholokhov novel.
  • The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant  –  A drop of several points down to low ***, this Fassbinder film is based on his own play.
  • Shout at the Devil  –  Another real event (or at least derived from one) that is based on a novel (by Wilbur Smith) this is an adventure story set in Africa during World War I with Lee Marvin and Roger Moore and desperately wants you to be reminded of The African Queen with nowhere near the quality.
  • Iracema – Uma Transa Amazōnica  –  A Brazilian film based on the classic 19th Century Brazilian novel.
  • Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull’s History Lesson  –  Robert Altman’s not entirely successful Western Comedy is based on the play Indians by Arthur Kopit.
  • The Last Hard Men  –  Decently entertaining Western with James Coburn and Charlton Heston.  Based on the novel Gundown.
  • The Enforcer  –  Clint Eastwood continues on in his third time as Dirty Harry.
  • The Clown  –  West Germany’s Best Foreign Film submission is based on a novel by Heinrich Böll.
  • The Fifth Seal  –  The Hungarian Best Foreign Film submission is based on a novel by Ferenc Sánta.
  • Call of the Wild  –  Not the 1976 television version but the 1972 film version with Charlton Heston that finally got a U.S. release.  Based on the Jack London novel, of course.
  • The Passover Plot  –  An Oscar nominee for Costume Design, this was based on a bizarre book that posited that Jesus was part of a messianic conspiracy plot.
  • Kamouraska  –  A 1973 Canadian film based on the novel by Anne Hébert.
  • Vincent, Francois, Paul and the Others  –  Okay French Drama from 1974 based on the novel La grande Marrade.  The last *** film on the list.
  • The Killer Inside Me  –  It’s not bad but at high **.5 it’s not really good either and you’re better off with the 2010 version of the disturbing Jim Thompson novel.
  • The Wild Party  –  What the bloody hell is Raquel Welch doing in a Merchant-Ivory film?  Making a mess of it.  Based, loosely, on a poem by Joseph Moncure March; the poem had already inspired two stage musicals.
  • Breakheart Pass  –  This is the kind of adventure you can expect from an Alistar MacLean novel (he also wrote The Guns of Navarone and Ice Station Zebra) with Charles Bronson starring in an Action Western.  You can decide what genre it really belongs in.
  • The Return of a Man Called Horse  –  Richard Harris returns as the character and returns to the West but it’s not really worth your time.
  • Swashbuckler  –  Based on a story called “The Scarlet Buccaneer” (which was the British title), I expected more from a Pirate film with Robert Shaw and James Earl Jones.
  • Survive!  –  A Mexican film that is the story of the 1973 crash in the Andes that was also the basis for the 1993 film Alive.  Based on the non-fiction book.  Not great but at least it doesn’t have Ethan Hawke.
  • Chino  –  A 1973 John Sturges film starring Charles Bronson.  Based on the novel The Valdez Horses.
  • Jack and the Beanstalk  –  The famous fairy tale becomes a Japanese animated film that’s mediocre.  We’re down to low **.5 now.
  • From Noon till Three  –
  • The Man Who Fell to Earth  –  Director Nicolas Roeg died today (24 November 2018) but that’s not going to mean I will give this film any more leeway because it is already ridiculously over-rated.  Based on a novel by Walter Tevis (who also wrote The Hustler), this film is fascinating but dreadfully slow.
  • W.C. Fields and Me  –  The trend of looking back at the Studio Era continues, this time with Rod Steiger as the famous actor, based on a memoir by Fields’ long-time mistress.
  • Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla  –  The 14th Godzilla film and the penultimate of the original Showa series.
  • The Olsen Gang Sees Red  –  The eighth in the Olsen Gang series and the Danish submission for Best Foreign Film.
  • The Sailor Who Fell From Grace with the Sea  –  Not one of the best Mishima novels makes a high ** film with a decent performance from Sarah Miles that somehow earned an Oscar nomination.
  • Shoot  –  Mediocre Drama with Cliff Robertson and Ernest Borgnine (redundant, I know) based on the novel by Douglas Fairbairn.
  • Cockfighter  –  A 1974 Monte Hellman film based on the novel by Charles Willeford.
  • Two-Minute Warning  –  Bizarrely nominated for Best Editing at the Oscars when Taxi Driver wasn’t, this Suspense film is based on a novel by George LaFountaine.
  • Logan’s Run  –  “Sanctuary!!!!”  If that means nothing to you, you haven’t seen this ambitious but critically flawed Sci-Fi film based on the novel.  Was a solid hit, though and won an Oscar (Visual Effects) and inspired a Marvel comic series and a television show.
  • King Kong  –  The remake has severe flaws but can also be somewhat fun.  I wrote a full review of it here.  One of the first films I ever saw in the theater though it had to have been on a re-release.
  • Gator  –  Lackluster sequel to White Lightning that Burt Reynolds was going to skip until they gave him a chance to direct it.
  • Terror of Mechagodzilla  –  The final film in the Show series and the 15th Godzilla film.  The least successful film in the franchise and a pretty bad one (low **) and the next Godzilla film wouldn’t be until the Heisei Series started in 1984.
  • The Shaggy D.A.  –  Not exactly Disney at its best with this sequel to The Shaggy Dog coming 17 years after the original.
  • A Matter of Time  –  The families are here with Vincente Minnelli directing daughter Liza and with Ingrid Bergman starring with daughter Isabella Rossellini.  But it’s a bizarre mess of a Musical based on the novel The Film of Memory by Maurice Druon.
  • Burnt Offerings  –  Bad Horror film based on the novel by Robert Marasco.
  • Ode to Billy Joe  –  “What the song didn’t you tell you the movie will” promises the poster even though it’s spelled “Billie” in the Bobby Gentry song and you don’t want the answer if you have to sit through this mess of a melodrama.  I can’t blanket say that films based on songs are bad ideas since there will be one in my Top 10 when I get to the 1991 Adapted Screenplay post.
  • The Blue Bird  –  If you have to watch a version of the Maeterlinck play watch the 1940 version with Shirley Temple.  Yes, this is directed by George Cukor and has Jane Fonda, Elizabeth Taylor and Cicely Tyson but it’s just awful.  We’re actually into *.5 territory now.
  • Futureworld  –  The sequel to Westworld.  Don’t bother.  In fact, you can really skip Westworld and just watch the brilliant HBO show.
  • St. Ives  –  Based on the novel The Procane Chronicle by Oliver Bleeck this isn’t the worst J. Lee Thompson-Charles Bronson collaboration but at * it’s still pretty bad.  The first of nine collaborations between the two.
  • The Food of the Gods  –  Very loosely based on an H.G. Wells novel (The Food of the Gods and How It Came to the Earth) this is another crappy * Wild Nature Horror film from this decade.
  • Drum  –  The sequel to Mandingo.  I gave that one a 7.  I give this one a 5.

Adaptations of Notable Works I Haven’t Seen

  • The Bawdy Adventures of Tom Jones  –  Annoyingly just about impossible to get ahold of.  I thought this would be an Adult Film but it’s got Terry-Thomas of all people in it.

Adult Films That Are Also Adaptations

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