This opening bit might not be in the book but most of what follows is.

My Top 10

  1. That Obscure Object of Desire
  2. King Lear
  3. Equus
  4. Oh God
  5. The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
  6. The Marquise de O
  7. Dersu Uzala

Note:  That’s it.  That’s all I’ve got.  I had actually placed Jacob the Liar on the list (at #4) but when I looked at it again, I realized that it was a screenplay first, then, when cutbacks in film production in East Germany delayed the film for nearly a decade, it was rewritten as a novel.  But the screenplay had already existed which means, in spite of the credits, it’s not really an adapted script and I can skip having to review a very good film (and book) that are also brutally depressing so Happy New Year (2019) to me.

Consensus Nominees:

  1. Julia  (272 pts)
  2. Oh God  (120 pts)
  3. I Never Promised You a Rose Garden  (80 pts)
  4. Equus  (80 pts)
  5. That Obscure Object of Desire  (40 pts)
  6. Islands in the Stream  (40 pts)
  7. Looking for Mr. Goodbar  (40 pts)
  8. Semi-Tough  (40 pts)
  9. The Spy Who Loved Me  (40 pts)
  10. Saturday Night Fever  (40 pts)

note:  Julia has the second highest point total to-date (behind only A Man for All Seasons) and the highest percentage total (36.17%) to-date (though it will be beaten in 1979).  That’s because it’s the only Globe nominee, there are only two BAFTA nominees and no critics winners.

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

  • Julia
  • Equus
  • I Never Promised You a Rose Garden
  • Oh God
  • That Obscure Object of Desire

WGA Awards:

Adapted Drama:

  • Julia
  • I Never Promised You a Rose Garden
  • Islands in the Stream
  • Looking for Mr. Goodbar

Adapted Comedy:

  • Oh God
  • Semi-Tough
  • The Spy Who Loved Me

note:  A year after having a full five in each category, the WGA can only manage four and three.  I can’t blame them at all as the only film that might have potentially been eligible that wasn’t nominated was Equus (which I suspect wasn’t eligible).

Original Drama:

  • Saturday Night Fever

note:  Yes, nominated in original even though it was clearly adapted.

Golden Globe:

  • Julia

Nominees that are Original:  The Goodbye Girl, Annie Hall, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Turning Point

BAFTA:

  • Julia  (1978)
  • Equus

note:  Eligible 1977 films that were nominated for Original are Annie Hall, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Goodbye Girl and A Wedding (the last three all in 1978).

My Top 10

 

Cet Obscur Objet du Désir

The Film:

This is what I wrote about the film The Devil is a Woman in my 1935 post: “It’s von Sternberg and Dietrich, but not all that good.  Based on an 1898 French novel.”  It never occurred to me that the 1898 novel I was referring to was also the basis for a great film, not only the last great film of one of film’s greatest directors (ranked 29th on my all-time list) but one of the few examples in history when a director bowed out with a great film.  It’s not that the plot for these films is all that different (they’re not, since they’re based on the same source).  The character names aren’t even different.  But they are miles away as films because they are miles away in tone and that’s where Buñuel rose above the interesting source material and made a classic.

A man makes it to a train and ends up with several companions in his car.  When a woman tries to get on the train to join him, he dumps a bucket of water over her head.  Questioned about his actions when he returns to the car he begins a story.  As the story unfolds we start to understand what has bewitched this man and what has pained him to the point where he would do this action and we would have a considerable measure of sympathy for him.  The water is one thing but the bruises on her face are something different.  He is responsible for that as well and he won’t shy away from that part of the story as he narrates and we begin to understand that as well even if it is unacceptable.

But is it unacceptable?  I am not suggesting that it was okay for him to slap and beat her in response to her actions but that it might not have really been her.  Does that make any sense?  If it doesn’t, then you have never seen this film and if you have, then you would definitely understand.

Luis Buñuel was a revolutionary filmmaker.  He began his career with a surrealistic masterpiece that combined his work with the greatest surrealist in another artistic format (Salvador Dali, my favorite painter, which may perhaps say something about me) and he continued to find ways to combine surrealism with passionate storytelling in his films.  Here, he finds a new way to attack a conventional story.  The basic story is that Mathieu, a middle-aged Frenchman, has become entranced and besotted with a young, beautiful dancer from Seville by the name of Conchita.  In his relationship, Conchita seems to be two different kinds of women, one cold and distant, one fiery and passionate but never quite letting him take that final step into a firmly physical relationship.  In the original novel and the 1935 film, you get a woman who seems to be two different people and you begin to wonder why she continues to torment this poor man.  After an unsuccessful attempt to begin the attempt with Romy Schneider, Buñuel decided upon a bold move.  If Conchita acts like two completely different women, then why not cast her with two different actresses.  So, for the coldly distant Conchita we have icy French beauty Carole Boquet and for the fiery, tempestuous dancer who will bare her body on the stage for others to worship and will potentially go down on a lover directly in front of this man who is so obsessed with her (and financially supporting her), he went with the alluring Spanish actress Angelina Molina.  No one other than the audience seems to ever see anything but one woman but the appearances of the two of them isn’t at random, but represent two very different sides of a complicated woman that doesn’t even seem to know her own mind.

As a subplot that seems only loosely connected to anything going on in the action, we have a leftist terrorist group that keeps doing inexplicable violent things (including hijacking Mathieu’s car at one point).  The only reason I even mention them is that they bring about a surprising ending that really shouldn’t be so surprising at all when you think about it.  Isn’t that the only way that these two seriously fucked up people could ever end up happily ever after together?  And so we get to that final moment and in some ways, it’s almost like a fuck you from Buñuel to anyone who never understood his films and I’ve got to admire him for that.  But hell, I admire him for most of what he did on film anyway.

The Source:

La femme et le pantin by Pierre Louÿs (1898)

This is a fascinating portrait of an obsession.  A young Frenchman sees a beautiful young dancer at a carnival in Seville (“Her tall and supple body was full of expression. One felt that even with her face veiled one could guess her thoughts, and that she smiled with her legs as she spoke with her torso. Only women whom the long Northern winters do not immobilize near the fire have that grace and that freedom.”).  But his friend Mateo has already had an unhappy experience with the young woman (“If I can stop you at her door, it will be a good action on my part and a rare happiness for you”) and Mateo proceeds to tell the story of his love for Conchita, the story of how she alternately lead him on then pushed him away, entranced him and repulsed him until he was almost at the end of his mind.  A good novella that has a nice ending that keeps things in line with what we have already read.

The Adaptation:

“Essentially faithful to the book, I nonetheless added certain elements that radically changed the tone, and although I can’t explain why, I found the final scene very moving – the woman’s hand carefully mending a tear in a bloody lace mantilla.” (My Last Sigh: The Autobiography of Luis Buñuel, p 250)

While eliminating the original young man who wants to meet Conchita, Buñuel nonetheless continues with the original set-up of Mateo (Mathieu in the film) telling the story of his time with Conchita.  Much of what we see in the film comes from the original story with the exception of the leftist terrorist organization.

The Credits:

Un film de Luis Bunuel.  Scénario de Luis Bunuel. en collaboration avec Jean-Claude Carriere.  Inspiré de l’oeuvre de Pierre Louÿs “La femme et le pantin”  Editions: Albin Michel.

Король Лир
(King Lear)

The Film:

I have already reviewed this film.  Sadly, I reviewed it as the Under-appreciated film of 1975 in the days before I discovered oscars.org (before these days where their database no longer exists) and realized that this film actually belongs in 1977 (at least by Oscar eligibility; it was actually released in 1971).  It’s a fantastic film, a magnificent Shakespeare adaptation that actually sticks to the language which many foreign adaptations do not (they take the story and dump the dialogue).  It is certainly near the top of the list for greatest Shakespeare films.

The Source:

The Tragedie of King Lear by William Shakspeare (1606)

Do I really need to write a review of King Lear?  Did your high school not inflict it upon you?  I say inflict because in high school I didn’t have the same opinion of the play that I do now.  The play didn’t work for me that well outside of the tale of the twins.  Lear’s madness worked as something for an actor to really dive into but it didn’t feel real in the same way that say Hamlet did (or even Romeo and Juliet, which I have never particularly liked, but is realistic).  But it is a great tragedy, if not at the same level (to me) of his greatest tragedies (Hamlet, Macbeth, Othello).  If you have never read it (I read it for at least three classes, starting in 11th grade English), seen it (on stage, check) or seen a film adaptation (Kurosawa, Brook, Godard, Kozintsev and that’s just off the top of my head) there’s no excuse and that’s on you.

The Adaptation:

A good and faithful adaptation of the play that actually sticks to the language.  I was curious this time to see what the subtitles would say but it really does use the original Shakespeare and doesn’t try to back-translate from the Pasternak translation.

The Credits:

Screen version and direction: Grigori Kozintsev (Григо́рий Ко́зинцев).  Shakespeare (Шекспир).
notes: These are kind of a clusterfuck. The FACETS DVD translates very little of the credits and it’s hard to know what words to search for.

Equus

The Film:

Martin Dysart is weary.  He is a psychiatrist with a full load, treating disturbed youths.  But a friend of his has brought him the most disturbed youth of all, seventeen year old Alan Strang, who has blinded six horses in the stable where he works.  She thinks that Dysart is the only person who could possibly get through to Alan and she hopes he will try.

What makes us care?  At what point in our lives do things slip away from us and we no longer have the passions that we did when we were young?  Dysart wonders that as he works with Alan.  Alan is obsessed with Equus, the so-named horse god that Alan seems to worship.  It stems from a childhood incident riding a horse (with glee) then being punished by his parents.  In the horses he finds freedom, he finds pleasure, he finds passion, something which nothing else in his life offers.  So Martin can find a way through to Alan, but does he dare?  Would he take away something that Alan feels so strongly in the name of sanity? Is the reward worth the price?

All of these were questions that had already been dealt with in Peter Shaffer’s amazing stage play that had been a renowned success.  In the film, we get something different.  We get what is almost a study of two acting performances, although to say that means we’re pushing aside the numerous strong supporting female performances, including Eileen Atkins as the magistrate who brings Alan to Dysart in the first place, Joan Plowright as Alan’s religious mother who pushes him in the direction towards such beliefs in the first place with her insistence that god is always watching and of course Jenny Agutter as Jill, the young woman who brings Alan to work at the stables when she realizes his love for horses and whose sexual attraction to Alan is what confuses him to such a point that he blinds the horses in the first place.  But the film really does belong to Peter Firth, in by far his best known film role as Alan (he had also played the role on stage) and Richard Burton, who earned his final Oscar nomination for this performance and really was the best of the nominated performances.  Burton has always had a world weary way about him and here we really feel the burden of his years and his knowledge and he wonders if he can cut this boy off from the emotions that fuel his passion in the same way that he has managed to cut himself off from so many emotions for so long.

Equus is far from a perfect film and is perhaps best realized on stage.  But it is definitely worth it for Burton’s remarkable performance and a reminder that he was always one of the best actors working on film and he should have easily won an Oscar.

I wrote all this and only realized later that I had already written a full review of the film way back in 2009 for my Year in Film post.

The Source:

Equus by Peter Shaffer (1973)

Peter Shaffer, whose twin brother Anthony was also a playwright (his most famous play being Sleuth) was already a well established playwright with numerous successful plays when his two plays in the 70’s brought him international attention and acclaim and numerous awards.  The second of the plays, Amadeus, would eventually win him several awards and go on to become an Oscar winner for Best Picture (to date, the last Tony winner to go on to win the Oscar).  The first, Equus, was a sensation when it was first staged in 1973.  The story of a boy who blinds several horses and the psychiatrist who treats him, it was a massive success in London (with Alec McCowan), on Broadway (with Antony Hopkins at first) as well as in other cities (including, among other, Charles S. Dutton and Leonard Nimoy) and eventually returned to both London and Broadway with Richard Griffiths and Daniel Radcliffe in a massively acclaimed production.  It was a play that dealt with a lot of issues at once: parenting, religion, sexuality, human emotion, and didn’t skimp on any of them.  It provided a showy role in the young boy and a larger, more complicated one, for the doctor who must find any measure of emotion that he can.  As I have continued to make my Drama collection smaller and smaller through the years, it is still one of the plays that I continue to own, never even thinking about getting rid of it.  It has haunted me ever since I first read it, in high school, years before I ever saw the film.

The Adaptation:

Shaffer himself adapted the script and probably as a result of that, very little is changed from the original stage production.  As is so often the case, there are scenes that are moved around so that it is not to be as static as it would be if it were simply a filmed stage play and we get a few extra scenes involving the magistrate at the start and Dysart outside of the sanitorium, dealing with Alan’s parents.  We are also allowed, because of the majesty of film, to see actual horses and not simply a representation.

The Credits:

Directed by Sidney Lumet.  Screenplay by Peter Shaffer.
note:  There is no mention of the original play in the opening credits.

Oh, God!

The Film:

In the 1970’s, John Denver was an inescapable part of American culture.  His records were selling a gazillion copies.  He was winning Grammys.  He was on television specials.  He was even in the comics, singing loud enough to annoy his next door neighbor, Duke.  So it was only natural that he would start to appear in films.  And what a perfect role for him (unless you were going to actually have him singing).  He plays Jerry Landers, the assistant manager of a supermarket.

Jerry is just a nice guy.  He does a fine job.  He has a nice wife and a couple of kids and a house.  He just does his job and gets by.  He even has the kind of name that sounds perfect for a role for John Denver.  But suddenly Jerry has a slight problem, once he gets a note telling him he has an interview in a specific room at a specific time.  It turns out the interview is with God and God wants Jerry to take his message to the world.

This is a harmless and mostly enjoyable comedy about what happens to Jerry and about his dealings with God.  The dealings would be more of a problem if God wasn’t played by George Burns.  But Burns has such a wonderful voice that he’s great in the scenes where he’s not physically present and then when he does show up, it gets even better.  All Denver has to do is be himself, a bit of a mensch, making his way through the film and not blow it and he does exactly what we need him to do.  It’s Burns who really provides the comedy.

This movie doesn’t take itself too seriously and that’s why it works (I have it as a 75, which is the highest level of *** and just one point below being in consideration for my Best Picture list).  It has a goofy premise (see below) but it doesn’t try to do too much with that.  It’s not trying to be a Bergman film.  It’s just a silly comedy and it succeeds just fine as that.

The Source:

Oh, God!: A Novel by Avery Corman (1971)

I’ll be frank.  I didn’t like this novel at all.  It just seemed like a dumb little thing that could have been an amusing short story but Corman kept expanding it until it reached 190 pages and it could be published as a novel.  It’s about a struggling writer who manages to score an interview with God and the strange things that come into his life after that, including a trial that really kind of lands with a dud.  I’m not surprised it sold to films because of the basic premise but I am surprised it met with any success.  Corman would later write Kramer vs. Kramer which was a much, much better novel (actually, I wrote that before re-reading Kramer versus Kramer for the first time in something like 20 years and being quite disappointed in the book, so scratch the much, much part but it still a better novel).  Maybe he’s just more adept at serious writing than satire.

The Adaptation:

The basic premise comes from the book – the idea that God would suddenly call forth someone to interview him and to spread his word.  There are a few other bits that carry over from the book to the film (the resistance, the idea of a trial) but almost all the major details are different, from the occupation, to the family situation, to the way the trial is resolved (in the book, God never makes an appearance at the trial and the lawyer manages to get it ended by calling on God and insisting that the judge hesitated for a second as if God might appear, thus meaning there was at least the benefit of the doubt for his client).  The film does a much better job of handling the situation by making the man interacting with God a normal everyman with an average life.

The Credits:

directed by Carl Reiner.  based on the novel by Avery Corman.  screenplay by Larry Gelbart.

The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh

The Film:

I ranked this film at #14 among the original 50 Disney Animated Films which is probably a little high.  In a sense, it’s a throwback to earlier Disney films in that it’s what called a “package film”, yet it’s also different than the previous package films.  Those films were made up of several short films, often unconnected (expect perhaps thematically).  This film is made up of three short films that had already been released in theaters with other films: Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree (1966), Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day (1968 – the Oscar winner for Short Animated Film) and Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too (1974).  Unlike the other package films, these films were joined together as if they were one story, with some framing devices (the use of a storybook) and some material to make them join together and then a final addition to provide a conclusion to the film (see the adaptation section below).

This film works as well as it does for a couple of reasons.  The first is that all of the stories are with the same group of characters and they naturally flow into each other because of course they’re all adapted from the same book(s).  The second, is that Disney did such a magnificent job of bringing the Pooh characters to life in the first place.  The voice work is magnificent, the songs are wonderful (the Sherman brothers wrote them and they of course include songs not eligible for the Oscars because they were from the original shorts but are all time classics like “Winnie the Pooh” and my own personal theme song “The Wonderful Thing About Tiggers”) and the characters are lovable.

There are essentially three stories in the film as well as a little wrap-up to conclude the film.  First we get Pooh Bear just wanting to get some honey (including using a balloon to get it) and the classic scene of him getting stuck in Rabbit’s hole.  In the next, we get the blustery day that will destroy Owl’s house and blow things around and the introduction of Tigger.  In the third, we get the attempt to get the bounce out of Tigger, which fails hilariously.  Then we get a nice conclusion between Christopher Robin and Pooh Bear which, in these days, could almost be a hand-off to the later Disney film Christopher Robin.

How much you like this film will likely depend on how well you react to the Disney versions of the classic Milne characters.  If you love them, there’s really no reason you wouldn’t greatly enjoy the film.  And if you don’t like Tigger, well then, the problem is you.

The Source:

Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner by A.A. Milne  (1926, 1928)

These books are not for everybody.  Dorothy Parker’s review in The New Yorker rather famously ended with “And it is the word ‘hummy,’ my darlings, that makes the first place in The House at Pooh Corner at which Tonstant Weader Fwowed up.”  But for me, and for millions around the world, they are classics of children’s literature and have brought joy for close to a century now.  My own copy is The World of Pooh, an old, falling apart hardcover copy that my family had since before I was born (this same edition can be spotted in the opening credits scene of the film) which also comes complete with full page color illustrations.

I personally think a key aspect of enjoying these books is to be exposed to them at the right age.  As is clear from Parker’s reaction, the books play around with language but in a childish way with a lot of poems and songs (which, honestly, I often skip when reading the book, but I actually do the same for Tolkien a lot as well).  The best thing to do is to read the book to a child, to introduce them to these wonderful characters and see the way they interact with each other.  In some ways, it’s a good measure of understanding various personality types when you become an adult.

If you haven’t realized, I am a massive fan of Winnie the Pooh.  We have lots of books (the originals, the Latin, the philosophy versions, various picture book versions) plush dolls of almost all the characters, a set of matryoshka dolls, small figurines of all the characters, I have had Tigger hats, shirts, ears, even a costume for Thomas when he was small (see below).  Tigger is me and I am Tigger.

The Adaptation:

With the exception of the ridiculous Gopher character (for some utterly bizarre reason, Piglet wasn’t included in the first short and they introduced a Gopher character as well and they must have used him in some merchandising as well because we have Pooh character matryoshka dolls and Gopher is one of the dolls), almost everything in the film comes straight from the original books.  The first short covers the first two chapters of the first book (on Wikipedia it claims that Rabbit doesn’t decorate around Pooh in the book but in one of the illustrations he clearly does).  The second short covers a couple of chapters from the first book and several from the second book.  Gopher is still in it but Piglet is as well this time.  The third short covers several of the early chapters in the second book after Tigger first arrives in the Hundred Acre Wood.  Then there is the final bit of the film, added in to give a real conclusion of the film and it covers the final chapter of The House at Pooh Corner, in which Christopher Robin says goodbye to Pooh and the Hundred Acre Wood (and to childhood as a whole).  There are several parts of both books that aren’t included, of course, because there is only so much time in the film, but almost everything in the film does come directly from the books.

The Credits:

Directed by Wolfgang Reitherman, John Lounsbery.  Based on the Books written by A.A. Milne.  Illustrated by Ernest H. Shepard.  Story:  Larry Clemmons, Vance Gerry, Ken Anderson, Ted Berman, Ralph Wright, Xavier Atencio, Julius Svendsen, Eric Cleworth.  “Blustery Day” Story Supervision: Winston Hibler.

Die Marquise von O

The Film:

Eric Rohmer was the last of the major New Wave directors to establish himself, long after Truffaut, Godard and Malle had already become major names.  His was a different style.  Not the rapid jump cuts and random experimentation or the personal stories of a childhood not unlike his own, not descents into clever genres.  Rohmer made Dramas and Comedies, quirky films that focused as much on the writing as on the directing.  By 1976, it had been almost two decades since Rohmer had made a film that wasn’t part of his Six Moral Tales series.  But that series had been completed with his previous film and so he turned elsewhere, to an actual already established story.  In fact, he turned way back.

Just because his Six Moral Tales were done doesn’t mean this story has no moral at its heart.  The story begins with the Marquise making an announcement in the local paper.  She is pregnant and she does not know who the father is and wants him to come forth.  For a prominent woman, the child of a powerful father, to make such a public announcement fills the local area with both confusion and a sort of shame and then Rohmer takes a step back so that we can discover for ourselves just how this came about.  We go back and watch as she is taken prisoner by Russians invading the area, how the Count in charge of the invading forces saves her.  But that will only lead to several confusing episodes where first she believes the Count to be dead but then he isn’t dead but wants to marry her because he supposedly hallucinated about her when he was wounded but she is not ready for marriage yet and he leaves but then it turns out she is pregnant and doesn’t know how (or, more precisely, when).

Rohmer takes the tale, which seems confusing when you read it, and finds a way straight through to the heart of it.  It was based on a short story from early in the 19th Century.  It somehow brings Europe together because even though Rohmer was French, he made the film in German and the characters are mostly Italian with the exception of those who are Russian.  But the film is less about country than about class and we find upper class people dealing with lower class moralities and then trying to decide where to go from there.  It is a good film, a high ***, but in a good year, which this is not, it wouldn’t have managed to even come close to the Top 10, let alone land all the way up at #6.

The Source:

Die Marquise von O by Heinrich Von Kleist (1808)

A fascinating story about a prominent woman (a marquise) who, after a Russian invasion, finds herself pregnant.  When it turns out that the father is the very Russian Count who saved her during the invasion from the troops, you’re not quite sure whether to read this as a drama or a comedy of manners.  A story that has managed to endure and been consistently in print for some 200 years.

The Adaptation:

A faithful adaptation of the story, even keeping to the original time period (there is a 2008 Italian film version that updates the story to modern times).

The Credits:

Kleists Novelle Die Marquise Von O… von Eric Rohmer inszeniert.

Dersu Uzala

The Film:

During the peak years of Akira Kurosawa’s career, Japan pointedly refused to submit any of his film for Best Foreign Film at the Oscars.  Rashomon had won the award before it was a competitive award but from 1955 to 1970, no Kurosawa film was submitted.  Finally, Dodes Ka-Den was submitted in 1971 (and nominated) but it was a very different film for the great director and people turned away from him.  When he was offered a chance to make a film in the Soviet Union (as opposed to Japan’s declining film industry in the early 70’s, they had an industry that was strong but lacked strong directors and wanted to bring in a great director).  He had always wanted to make Dersu Uzala, the story of a native hunter that was befriended by a Russian expedition in Siberia in the early part of the century and so off he went to Siberia to make the film.  It is essentially un-Japanese, teaming with a country that had twice gone to war with Japan and making a film with no Japanese involved other than Kurosawa himself.  When the USSR submitted it for the Oscars in 1975 not only was it nominated but it actually won the Oscar (even over another Japanese film and in fact no Japanese film would win the Oscar again until 2008).

This is a good film, a low level ***.5 but it is not on the same level that Kurosawa had worked at before.  In fact, it was so very different from his previous work that in his seminal book on the director, The Films of Akira Kurosawa, writer Donald Richie refused to even write a chapter on the film, getting someone else to do it.

This is an old-fashioned Adventure film.  It tells the story of a Russian expedition exploring the eastern edges of Siberia near the Chinese border.  The expedition meets a hunter named Dersu Uzala (with hints of the “noble savage”) and he helps them through the expedition.  When they return five years later he meets up with them again.  Towards the end, with his eyesight failing and unable to survive as a hunter, Dersu returns to the city with the expedition’s captain but he is unable to cope with modern civilization and he returns to the wilderness only to be murdered for his rifle.

It is a minimal dialogue film.  Most of the film is spent exploring nature, dealing with things that can spring up and kill you and what you need to know to survive (including a scene where Dersu and the captain must hurriedly gather long wild grass and essentially use them to build themselves an igloo to survive a storm).  It is beautifully shot and is a far cry from his other films.

This film was hard to find for a very long time.  I taped it in 2005 before leaving Portland, getting it from Movie Madness but because of my directors project, didn’t go to watch it until 2008 at which point Thomas managed to press record on the VCR and tape over a good half hour of it.  Thankfully, by that time, it had been released on DVD and I was finally able to see all of it.

The Source:

Дерсу Узала by V. K. Arseniev (1928)

It’s hard to pin down a publication date.  This book, Dersu the Trapper is based on the 1928 book In the Wilds of Ussuriland, “a combined edition of the Dersu Uzala chapters from two earlier books of Arseniev’s memoirs.” (ix).  Arseniev wrote many books about his journeys in the East when he was an explorer for imperial Russia.  This is a classic adventure book in the style of Lewis & Clark, describing the world that he is discovering on the edges of his country.  On three different journeys he met up with Dersu, a Gold (Nanai) hunter who became a guide for the expedition and this book was made up of those journeys published together.  A fascinating book for anyone with an interest in such exploration.

One particular bit I noted in the book after Dersu explains that the Russians and Chinese both have leaders and both have brigands: “At first that stuck me as a rather odd association, Tsar and brigands, but when I turned it over in my mind I understood his line of reasoning.  Once he started sorting out people into a kind of classification, there had to be rich and poor, idle and workers.” (p 181)  If those thoughts are really from the first writing he made back in the 00’s and not from the edited version put together in 1928 then it’s no wonder that Arseniev was able to survive much longer than almost anyone else who had been in his position before the Revolution.  It seems a perfect extrapolation for Marxist dogma.

The Adaptation:

Almost everything in the film comes directly from the books.  The most notable difference is that there were three expeditions in the books but they are condensed into two for the film.  It was the end of the third expedition when Dersu accompanied Arseniev back to civilization.  That is the only significant difference between the film and book as Dersu did not meet Arseniev’s wife and child (though he did, in fact, get his voice recorded).  Almost everything else is simply a condensed version of the book.

The Credits:

Directed by Akira Kurosawa.  Screenplay: Akira Kurasawa, Yuri Nagibin.  Based on the memoirs of V. K. Arseniev.

note: There are no opening credits other than the title.  The credits I list are from the subtitles from when the film appeared on TCM.  Due to the italicized cyrillic script, I was unable to reproduce the credits as they appear on the screen.

Consensus Nominees

 

Julia

The Film:

I have already reviewed this film as one of the Best Picture nominees.  Every time I have seen it, I keep wanting it to be at least ***.5 and be a contender for Best Picture.  It has a great cast (who do magnificent jobs), it is directed by a Top 50 Director and it won Best Adapted Screenplay (and both supporting awards) at the Oscars.  Yet, it isn’t.  It never manages to rise above *** because there are just problems with the script and the only reason I think it managed to win the Oscar is that the competition was so weak (except for That Obscure Object, but it was surprising enough that it was nominated and it would have been amazing if it had won).  The acting manages to overcome that but it’s just not enough to push the film any higher.

The Source:

“Julia”, from Pentimento: A Book of Portraits by Lillian Hellman (1973)

After publishing a memoir in 1969, Hellman released this book a few years later, a series of vignettes about different points and people in her life.  This story was widely criticized (especially after the film was released) as being false, either completely fictional or based on the life of Murial Gardiner.  The truth of the matter isn’t relevant to the quality of the piece, which is decent enough and gives an idea of Hellman’s relationship with Dash Hammett and the compelling way she tells the story of her journey to Moscow and delivering money to an anti-Nazi group on the way.

The Adaptation:

The adaptation, while not a particularly strong script (you can see more about that in my actual review), is strong in this sense: it is able to take the story that Hellman tells and put it on the screen while also creating all of the other aspects around it that aren’t spelled out.  The scenes with Julia are the ones that come most directly from the book, while the scenes from childhood, and most especially the scenes with Hammett (which are the best things in the film) only have loose approximations in the book and are almost completely created by the filmmakers (or, I suppose could have come from her earlier memoir but if so, they didn’t acknowledge it and since I haven’t read that, I don’t know for certain).

The Credits:

Directed by Fred Zinnemann.  Based upon the story by Lillian Hellman.  Screenplay by Alvin Sargent.

I Never Promised You a Rose Garden

The Film:

To be fair, they also never promised me a good film, but the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences implicitly promised me that when they nominated the script for Best Adapted Screenplay.  That’s a promise that won’t be kept.  The problem is that it’s a film that doesn’t quite know what it wants to be.  It’s kind of part One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest (or maybe more The Snake Pit) and part Heavenly Creatures, though that film wouldn’t come along for another 17 years.  It was based on a successful novel that perhaps is really geared more towards young adults based on both the level of prose and that in the 1989 Signet edition that I read, all of the ads in the back were for Young Adult books.

Poor, pretty Deborah (a very pretty Kathleen Quinlan, just a year after being dazzlingly cute in Lifeguard) has a lot of problems.  She’s diagnosed as schizophrenic (perhaps she wouldn’t be today, but it was a pretty broad diagnoses back then that covered her problems), she tried to kill herself and she has retreated into a fantasy world with a different language that she has created inside her head.  That’s an awful lot for a 16 year old to cope with, which is why she isn’t coping and she’s been institutionalized.  But is that the best thing for her?  Will that allow her to get well?

The film, like the book, seems to broadly argue for it, which I suppose is that main difference between this film and the other two films mentioned above that deal with being placed in a mental institution.  It doesn’t argue that Deborah doesn’t belong there – it just chronicles her journey while she is there, with people who are far more sick than she is, and with the retreat into the fantasy world that is preventing her from getting well through most of the film.  The movie does fall into the trap that people can be cured if they want to be cured.

The film isn’t good but I’m unsure of how bad it really is.  It has a convincing performance from Quinlan and a solid one from Bibi Andersson as her psychiatrist.  But the script is fairly weak, not quite sure how to navigate into the real world through Deborah’s delusions and her constantly being told what she needs to do in order to be well again.  I will chalk it up to an incredibly weak year.  The WGA and the Oscars nominated a film that seemed to have an important subject because there just wasn’t much around to nominate.

The Source:

i never promised you a rose garden by Hannah Green  (1964)

Green is a pseudonym for Joanne Greenberg (and later editions carry her name on the cover), whose book is supposedly a thinly fictional account of her own mental problems when she was growing up.  It is decently written, though, as I wrote above, really seems like it’s meant for younger readers.  It feels like a weaker version of The Bell Jar and given my own opinions on Plath and her writing, that is really not meant as a compliment.

The Adaptation:

Given that much of the book deals with the fantasy world going on inside Deborah’s head and it’s not really given a good description in the book, the filmmakers had some leeway with how to depict that (and it was probably the right move to depict it, although it leaves the film uneven as well).  Other than that, the film does a good job of keeping much of what it is in the book and never really strays too far from the book.

The Credits:

Directed by Anthony Page.  Based on the Novel by Hannah Green.  Screenplay: Gavin Lambert, Lewis John Carlino.

Islands in the Stream

The Film:

Thomas Hudson doesn’t really want to be part of the world anymore.  He’s a painter, he’s got three sons, the world is moving into war, but none of that matters when it comes to him interacting with the world.  He has retreated to Cuba in the latter years of the 1930’s and he’s just retreating from everything.  Yet, somehow life keeps finding its way to him, not just his sons visiting or his ex-wife but the way the world won’t let him completely push it away.

The novels of Ernest Hemingway hadn’t exactly been strong fodder for film adaptations.  Of the seven films made from his seven novels (two of them had two each while two of the novels were never filmed), only two were considered strong successes: For Whom the Bell Tolls and To Have and Have Not (which also strayed the most from the original novel).  So, it’s a little surprising that when the first of Hemingway’s posthumous novels was released in 1970, Islands in the Stream, film studios were after each other to film it.  What’s more, not a lot happens in the book, some of themes had been done better in The Old Man and the Sea (perhaps why that was published and this one wasn’t) and the main character mostly waits around to be told that those he loves most have died.  So why was this film made?  And what’s more, why did the WGA decide it was one of the best written films of the year?

Don’t get me wrong.  This film isn’t a disaster.  It’s mediocre (high **.5) and aside from an interesting performance from George C. Scott and some decent Cinematography (which was Oscar nominated while Star Wars was not so the Academy screwed that one), the film is mostly pretty boring.  There’s certainly nothing about the script that deserved any accolades yet, as is demonstrated above, this is a terrible year for adapted scripts and perhaps the WGA just felt that they needed something there to fill in that final spot.

A painter wants to get away from the world, but he plays with his sons who then later die (two in accidents, one in the war) and in the end he takes part in the world again by working against German submarines in the Caribbean.  If it doesn’t sound like much, well it isn’t much.

The Source:

Islands in the Stream by Ernest Hemingway  (1970)

I won’t just provide a blanket statement that posthumously published works should be ignored but there are several types of such works.  There are those that were deliberately held aside (A Moveable Feast, Long Day’s Journey Into Night), those that didn’t really need to be published because they just weren’t very good (The Garden of Eden, True at First Light, most of the Vonnegut releases), unfinished works that are readable (The Last Tycoon), unfinished works that are pointless to release unfinished (The Mystery of Edwin Drood).  This one isn’t bad but I suspect Hemingway himself wasn’t happy with it which is why it didn’t ever get published.  He re-used some of the ideas in The Old Man and the Sea (written not long after this book) and there just enough in the book to sustain it.  Hemingway is in decent form and his narrative prose is still stark but strong but the novel feels kind of empty.  It is probably not a coincidence that when Scribner’s published the Hemingway editions that I own (see here) that the only posthumous work included was A Moveable Feast.

The Adaptation:

Most of what we see on screen is straight from the book, though the book was split into three sections while the film is split into four.  That’s because the entire third section of the film, where his ex-wife comes to tell him that his eldest son is dead, isn’t in the book at all.  He finds that out by telegraph and she never appears.  They just wanted to get another female character on-screen.

The Credits:

Directed by Franklin J. Schaffner.  Based upon the Novel by Ernest Hemingway.  Screenplay by Denne Bart Petitclerc.

Looking for Mr. Goodbar

The Film:

It’s always interesting when an actor or actress suddenly takes a big leap into the acting forefront because of multiple roles in the same year.  It’s also interesting to see which one the awards, and more importantly, the Academy, which will only choose one, embraces.  This is a case where the Academy got it right.  Diane Keaton had been a star for a few years in the Godfather films and Woody Allen comedies but in 1977 she suddenly began to get serious awards attention with her double whammy of playing Annie Hall and the doomed schoolteacher in Looking for Mr Goodbar.  Given that the former was a romantic comedy and the latter a serious drama, it would have been understandable if the awards attention had focused more on the latter, but thankfully everyone seemed to understand that her performance in Annie Hall was much more worthy of awards and adulation.  It certainly must have helped that Annie Hall is one of the best romantic comedies ever made while Goodbar is sad and dour and depressing and not actually all that good in spite of Keaton’s performance and being from acclaimed writer-director Richard Brooks.

Terry isn’t all that happy.  She’s a single woman alive and sort of on the prowl in New York City.  She’s been liberated from her parents and from childhood illnesses that left her scarred in both body and soul.  She had an affair with a professor in college but now she works with children and releases her tensions at night by going to bars and picking up men.  She has a need for sex and she’s filling it.  She fills it with swinging men like Tony (a young Richard Gere) who make their living mooching off women like Terry while pushing away a nice guy like James (William Atherton) who is perfectly willing to marry her even though Terry is quite clear that’s not what she has in mind.

All of this could continue for Terry but then we wouldn’t have a film.  Instead, we get the famous ending of the film where she picks up the wrong guy in the bar (by reading The Godfather in the bar which might seem like a joke because of Keaton’s role but it was actually in the original Rossner novel) and she gets herself killed.  But there’s no point to it and even no art to it and now the film is just over with nothing to reward you for having sat through two hours of it.  I would be kind of at a loss to explain what a letdown it is but I’ll just give you the final paragraph of Roger Ebert’s review of the film because that really sums it up:

“What we get (and I quote from someone walking out of the screening ahead of me) is ‘another one of those movies that are supposed to be all filled with significance because the person gets killed at the end.’  What we might have gotten is a movie about a character obsessed, and fascinated, by what the end might be.  Even a movie about how she got to be that way.”

The Source:

Looking for Mr. Goodbar by Judith Rossner (1975)

A lot of films, I see the film and then I look forward to reading the book (if I haven’t done so already) but this wasn’t a year for that and this film was no exception.  I saw the film for the first time probably 20 years ago or so because of its Oscar nominations (before I started focusing on other awards) which it didn’t deserve.  But it left such a sour taste in my mouth that I had no interest in reading the book even though it was a huge seller.  I was even less interested when I learned that the novel was inspired by an actual case, a young teacher who was murdered by a man she picked up in a bar in New York City.  But, I read the book for this project and lo and behold, I disliked the book possibly even more than I disliked the film.  At least the film had the benefit of a very good Diane Keaton performance.  The New York Times best seller list described the book as a “stunning psychological study of a woman’s passive complicity in her own death.”  It’s true that Terry, a young woman scarred by polio and bad scoliosis (caused by her polio, and because her parents didn’t notice it for years, ended up with several operations) and starts leading a life of random pickups of men from bars at night, unbeknownst to her family.  But all of this was just stripped straight from the actual case and it just seems like Rossner could have written a true crime book instead of just writing a thinly fictionalized version of the real case.  In either way, it seems that Rossner blames her character for her own death and almost everyone in the book is just too unpleasant to deal with except for poor James, the pathetic schmuck who is all too willing to marry Terry except Terry doesn’t want to give up her life of casual sex.  Just an unpleasant book all around.

The Adaptation:

“Compared to the character in the novel, Richard’s Terry is warmer and far surer of herself.  She seduces her college professor, fights back against her bullying father, and takes charge of her life with determination.  Now a teacher of deaf children, she shows them care and love.  Gone is the racial and homosexual bigotry the character exhibited in the novel; in the screenplay, Terry give special attention to a black child.  While a cold emptiness is at the core of Rossner’s Terry, Richard gives her a far brighter personality and outlook even though she is heading toward the same fate. She fights her assailant, not ready to give in and die.” (Tough as Nails: The Life and Films of Richard Brooks, Douglass K. Daniel, p 204)

What Daniel says is the key difference between the novel and the film and also perhaps why Judith Rossner so intensely disliked the film version of her novel.  Keaton’s Terry is actually a victim and not an accomplice in her own death.  Rossner’s Terry was definitely out there looking and she found something that was darker than she could handle.  The film Terry is just looking for a good time and for a chance to live life as she pleased.  Roger Ebert posited that “[Brooks] has rewritten the story, in any event, into a cautionary lesson: Promiscuous young women who frequent pickup bars and go home with strangers are likely to get into trouble,” but I actually disagree with that.  I would argue that’s what Rossner was saying and that she was saying, at least in the case of Terry, that they are also potentially looking for that kind of trouble.  Brooks’ Terry just goes to the wrong bar and brings home the wrong man.

Aside from the character herself, there are other differences, most notably in how much Terry’s childhood and her family relationships are downplayed.  Yes, they appear in the film, but not nearly to the extent that they dominate the shaping of Terry’s personality as they did in the novel.

It’s tricky because I didn’t like the film and I really didn’t like the book and I think I didn’t like them in different ways.  I felt that Rossner was writing about a rather unlikeable character and blaming her for her own death while Brooks just made an unpleasant film in which everyone else is the problem and Terry is just trying to make her way through an unpleasant life.

The Credits:

Written for the Screen and Directed by Richard Brooks.  Based on the Novel by Judith Rossner.

Semi-Tough

The Film:

“The film received mixed reception.  Some reviewers praised its parodies of the est training, Erhard and other new age movements such as Rolfing.  Others criticized the script and direction, noting that some of director Ritchie’s previous films had more of a personal tone.  Still other reviews lamented the film’s departure from the novel Semi-Tough, which dealt more with football and less with the new age movement.”  That’s a quote from the Wikipedia article on this film, which makes it interesting, doesn’t it, that I am reviewing this film because the WGA nominated it as one of the best Adapted Comedies of the year.

The WGA used to be a lot more democratic, I suppose, is one way of putting it.  They used to have lots and lots of nominees.  In the first two decades of their awards, they grouped their awards by genre which meant I spent a lot of time reviewing Musicals that it no way belonged on any sort of list of award-worthy adapted screenplays.  Until 1983, they would continue to divide their Original and Adapted Screenplays between Drama and Comedy which is why I have had to review two Pink Panther sequels and now this film (and some more yet to come).  Is the problem their categories or just their choices?  In this year, it’s a combination of both as well as their stringent rules, because it wasn’t a strong overall year for Comedies (and Annie Hall and The Goodbye Girl were both original) and the best adapted Comedy was foreign (That Obscure Object of Desire).

So, here we have Semi-Tough, a moderately amusing football comedy starring Burt Reynolds and Kris Kristofferson (I have it rated as a high **.5).  It takes the notions of a successful football duo (Kristofferson is a wide receiver, Reynolds is a running back), throws in a female roommate that brings in a romantic triangle and then, on top of that, decides to add in some satire about various New Age movements of the seventies.  The problem is that the football, which is what the novel was about (see below) isn’t all that amusing or original, especially since Reynolds had already starred in The Longest Yard.  The satire of the new age stuff is the part of the film that has more appeal, but still not really enough to make this anything more than a film that could be seen once (if that) and then forgotten.  Instead, I’m here writing about this film that I’ve basically forgotten about after just watching it and trying to explain why it was nominated for its writing when that was the most criticized thing about the film and I’m just going to stop now.

The Source:

Semi-Tough by Dan Jenkins  (1972)

“I guess by now there can’t be too many people anywhere who haven’t heard about Billy Clyde Puckett, the humminest sumbitch that ever carried a football.  Maybe you could find some Communist chinks someplace who don’t know about me, but surely everybody in America does if they happen to keep up with pro football, which is what I think everybody in America does.  That, and jack around with somebody else’s wife or husband.  Anyhow, Billy Clyde Puckett turns out to be me, the book writer who is writing this book about his life and his loves and his true experiences in what you call your violent world of professional football.”

Puckett, a character you would never believe would write a book, would then use the n-word in the next paragraph and spend the fourth paragraph explaining why he’s not a racist.  If that’s what you want to read, be my guest.  It’s a piece of shit book and one of the most worthless narrative voices ever used for a novel.

The Adaptation:

They added the new age stuff to the film (it’s not in the book) because there just isn’t enough in the book to bother with a film and even that wasn’t enough.  The film takes the book’s football story and adds more of the romance and all of the satire.  But ignore the film and definitely don’t read the book.

The Credits:

Directed by Michael Ritchie.  Based on the novel by Dan Jenkins.  Screenplay by Walter Bernstein.

The Spy Who Loved Me

The Film:

I have actually already reviewed this film.  That’s because it’s a James Bond film, of course, and I ran an entire series reviewing all the Bond films back in 2015.  As I mentioned in the review, it’s a good film (regarded by many as the best of the Roger Moore films though I give For Your Eyes Only that distinction and say that this is the second best of the Moore films) with a decent Bond girl and such a good supporting villain that they did something they had never done before with a supporting villain and actually brought him back for the sequel but it’s hampered by a terrible primary villain.  It was the first Bond film to earn multiple Oscar nominations, including one for Carly Simon’s hit song “Nobody Does it Better”.

The Source:

The Spy Who Loved Me by Ian Fleming  (1962)

This is, to me, by far the worst of the original Fleming Bond novels (I’ve read all of them multiple times).  Nothing else is even close.  It was the ninth novel and the last before he married Bond off in the tenth book.  It’s unfortunate that it’s so bad because Fleming tries to do something new.  It’s actually written in a first-person narrative from a young woman who Bond saves from some gangsters (and it’s more sexually explicit than the other books).  But, first of all, the plot is terrible and second of all, Fleming is terrible at writing from a female viewpoint.  She’s a boring character and the book is just a disaster until Bond shows up and then it still takes too long for something that really should have been a short story.  Kudos to Fleming for trying something new but the results are just a disaster.

The Adaptation:

“For The Spy Who Loved Me the story was vitally important – per Ian Fleming’s wishes, his estate specified that an entirely new story should be devised for the film version of the title.  Danjaq had to agree not to use the novel in any form.”  (James Bond, John Cork & Bruce Scivally, p 165)

That is indeed the case.  The title is the only thing left over from the original novel, though they make a nod to the novel: “Eventually the filmmakers decided to use just two tangential elements from THE SPY WHO LOVED ME novel.  The first was a pair of villains, named Horror and Slugsy in the Fleming novel.  Slugsy was a shorter, stocky, hairless man, and Horror was tall, skeletal, and had teeth that were completely capped in steel.”  (ibid, p 165)  The second tangential element is just going back to using a SPECTRE like organization, which is really tangential.

The Credits:

Directed by Lewis Gilbert.  Roger Moore as Ian Fleming’s James Bond.  Screenplay by Christopher Wood and Richard Maibaum.

Saturday Night Fever

The Film:

Personally, I’m never quite sure how I feel about “Stayin’ Alive”.  It’s got an infectious beat, no doubt about it, but falsettos have never really been my thing.  There are days where I think it’s kind of a brilliant song and days where I think it’s an example of why disco was a horribly low point in popular music history.  Whether you’re one of the millions who made it a number one hit or whether you think it’s the nadir of rock, there is no denying the power of the song in the classic opening scene of Saturday Night Fever.  John Travolta catapulted himself into superstardom with one of the all-time great movie struts, dressed to impress while swinging a paint can, walking along the streets of Brooklyn and “Stayin’ Alive” fuels that opening credit scene and helped make Saturday Night Fever one of the biggest hits of the year.  In later years, the scene would be constantly parodied and sometimes it would be to make a dig at Travolta, but there’s no question that the opening scene is what helped propel Travolta to an Oscar nomination (he misses out on a Nighthawk nomination but only because of two foreign performances from other years whose Oscar eligibility pushed them into 1977).

But, is Saturday Night Fever a great film?  I would argue no.  I can understand why it was an immensely popular film, especially given how many copies of the soundtrack were sold over the years (to be fair, they were also abandoned over the years – during the late 90’s and early 00’s, when I would scour Everyday Music in Portland looking for cheap vinyl, there were always several copies in the 50¢ bins).  It has a very memorable character at its core in Tony Manero, the teenager who uses his dancing talent (and there is a hell of a lot of it evident in the film) to escape from the mundane aspects of his life – a job at a hardware store that offers no possibilities and doesn’t give him enough money to go buy that sweet looking blue shirt in the store that he put on layaway on a whim while walking by, a home-life that deals with nagging parents and a brother who just recently quit the church while affording him no real privacy – but is unable to do anything more with it.

There is an artificial story that is created in the film (see below) to give Tony something to do when he’s not dancing.  There are friends with some problems (the death of one of them will provide the emotional climax of the film), there’s a girl who’s interested in him and a girl that he’s a little too interested in (he tries to go too far).  John Badham’s direction (probably the best of a decent but mostly mediocre career) and the editing help keep the film from dragging and when it’s out on the floor it really comes alive but it can’t do enough with the scenes outside of the disco to really make a great film out of the material.  As such, the screenplay doesn’t really get any points from me, because it doesn’t do much with the characters and the best scenes in the film are the ones that derive least from the script and the most from the direction, the editing, the music and Travolta’s performance.

Ironically, Travolta’s performance is the only thing that’s better than the film that this one obviously inspired: Boogie Nights.  It’s been a while since I had seen Saturday Night Fever but Boogie Nights always sticks with me and it’s easy to see how much Anderson must have been inspired by this one.  Yet, like so many really great auteurs, he is able to take his inspiration and exceed it beyond your wildest expectations.  In the end, though, while I don’t think this is a great film, it is a strong one (high ***) and if you’ve never seen it, it’s absolutely a cultural landmark that everyone should see.

The Source:

“Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night” by Nik Cohn  (1976)

First of all, if you look at the credits below, you’ll see that the film spells Cohn’s name wrong, but he basically deserves it.  The original article had a disclaimer: “Everything described in this article is factual and was either witnessed by me or told to me directly by the people involved. Only the names of the main characters have been changed.”  Nothing in that disclaimer is accurate.  Cohn would later admit that the story is basically a work of fiction because the night he tried to go to the disco, he was puked on and when he went back to observe the guy who was cooly observing things, he was gone.  So he wrote the story mostly based on people he knew back in England and made the details up.

So, I don’t know how I feel about that.  It’s certainly a well-written profile but it’s easier to write a profile piece when you don’t have to worry about being right about anything.  So, you can go ahead and read it (it’s available online at New York Magazine, where the piece originally appeared, and interestingly enough, nowhere do they mention that it’s all fiction) but just be forewarned that it’s not a profile piece, it’s a work of fiction.

The Adaptation:

The original piece doesn’t actually have a story in it.  Yes, it tells about Tony’s life (almost all of the details of which are changed in the film – the father’s in jail in the story, there’s no older brother just leaving the priesthood) but it really just focuses on what happens when he goes to the disco.  So, almost everything that happens outside of the disco, including all of the stuff on the bridge (which provides an emotional punch to the film) wasn’t in the original story anyway.

The Credits:

Directed by John Badham.  Based upon a story by Nick Cohn.  Screenplay by Norman Wexler.

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)

  • Ossessione  –  Luchino Visconti’s 1943 version of The Postman Always Rings Twice (made before it was made even the first time in the States) finally makes it to America.  Better than either American version but still lands at just a high ***.
  • Race for Your Life Charlie Brown  –  The third feature for Chuck and the Peanuts gang features a white-water rafting race.  Great for kids, good for adults.
  • Cross of Iron  –  With the Nazis as the protagonists, we are on the Russian front in 1943.  Solid Sam Peckinpah film based on the novel The Willing Flesh.
  • The Rescuers  –  I always want this to be better than it is, especially since it would win Best Animated Film by default if it reached ***.5.  But it’s not.  I ranked it #35 of the original 50 Disney Animated Films.  Based on the novels by Margery Sharp.
  • Equinox Flower  –  Not just the first Ozu film in color (made in 1958) but a rare one that is adapted (from the novel by Ton Satomi).  As with most Ozu, this Drama is a solid ***.
  • Jabberwocky  –  Terry Gilliam’s fertile imagination gives visual life to Lewis Carroll’s poem.  Visionary but still no better than mid ***.
  • A Bridge Too Far  –  This film, on the other hand, I always expect to be worse because it’s a 70s all-star film.  But this film, about a failed Allied mission to end the war by Christmas 1944 (based on the book by Cornelius Ryan who also wrote The Longest Day) is still pretty solid.  Winner of 3 BAFTA Awards.
  • The Eagle Has Landed  –  World War II film about Germans wanting to kidnap Churchill, based on the novel by Jack Higgins, the final film from former Oscar nominee John Sturges.
  • Space Battleship Yamato  –  Various episodes from a story arc on the Japanese television show put together for a theatrical release.  At 145 minutes, it starts to drag.
  • The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick  –  Somewhat boring (and thus over-rated) Wim Wenders adaptation of the novel by Peter Handke.  Made in 1972, its U.S. release in 1977 helped make Wenders an international name.
  • Aces High  –  The famous play about World War I, Journey’s End, is turned into a film about pilots instead of men in the trenches.  We’re now down to low ***.
  • Candleshoe  –  Jodie Foster returns to Kids films after Taxi Driver, starring in this Disney adaptation of Christmas at Candleshoe about a con artist at an English estate where the butler disguises himself constantly to hide the fact that he’s the only servant left.
  • Man on the Roof  –  Swedish police procedural based on the novel The Abominable Man.  The Swedish submission for Best Foreign Film.
  • The Lacemaker  –  French Drama based on the novel La Dentellière.
  • The Magic Blade  –  Shaw Brothers martial arts film based on the novel by Lung Ku.  We’ve hit **.5 now.
  • The Magic Pony  –  A remake (by the same director) of a 1947 animated film, this 1975 Soviet animated film is based on a poem by Pyotr Pavlovich Yershov.
  • Suspiria  –  Partially based on Thomas de Quincey’s essay “Suspiria de profundis”, this Dario Argento Horror film was obviously influential as Luca Guadagnino remade it this year but for all its influence I still don’t think it’s all that good.  Worth seeing at least once though.
  • Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger  –  It’s got a young, beautiful Jane Seymour and it’s got Patrick Troughton and Harryhausen effects but for all that, it’s still no better than mid **.5.
  • Airport ’77  –  I don’t remember why I rate this sequel so much higher than the first two but I do.
  • The American Friend  –  More of the international discovery of Wim Wenders, this is based on Ripley’s Game by Patricia Highsmith (the third of the Ripley books).
  • Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo  –  The third of the Herbie films has too much of Don Knotts.
  • First Love  –  Unless you’re a Partridge Family or L.A. Law fan who wants to see a Susan Dey nude sex scene, there’s little reason to see this romance between her and William Katt.  Based on the novel Sentimental Education by Harold Brodkey.
  • Effie Briest  –  Fassbinder adapts the 1894 novel by Theodor Fontane.  Released in West Germany in 1974.
  • The White Buffalo  –  A Western with Charles Bronson as Wild Bill Hickok.  Much better than the later Bronson collaborations with director J. Lee Thompson.  Based on a novel by Richard Sale.
  • The Deep  –  Based on a novel by Peter Benchley (Jaws), the huge box office success of this film was all about Jacqueline Bissett in a wet t-shirt and not any quality in the film.
  • Joseph Andrews  –  Tony Richardson, 14 years after his Oscar success with Tom Jones, tackles Henry Fielding’s other novel with much weaker results.
  • Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom  –  Loosely based on the de Sade book, I wrote a little about this film here.  Only for the very strong of stomach.  I have changed it to a low **.5 from the ** I mentioned there.
  • Black Sunday  –  Before he became known for Hannibal Lecter, Thomas Harris was known for this novel about a terrorist attack on the Super Bowl.  The novel is suspenseful but the film is mediocre.
  • Bilitis  –  David Hamilton was already well known for his photography of nude youths when he directed this film in the same style based on a poem cycle by Pierre Louÿs.
  • Thieves  –  Herb Gardner (A Thousand Clowns) play becomes a rather lifeless film with Charles Grodin and Marlo Thomas.
  • The Domino Principle  –  One of Stanley Kramer’s last films, a Suspense film with Gene Hackman adapted from the novel by Adam Kennedy.
  • The Last Remake of Beau Geste  –  Marty Feldman’s parody of the classic book might have worked better had there been a more recent version to parody.  Very uneven comedy.
  • The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training  –  Now we’re into ** films.  The sequel to the first film (which had been original and much better).  This is one is missing Walter Matthau and Tatum O’Neal.
  • Telefon  –  Don Siegel Suspense film with Charles Bronson instead of Clint Eastwood.  Based on the novel by Walter Wager.
  • Sister Street Fighter  –  A spin-off from the 1974 film Street Fighter.  A Japanese martial arts film.
  • Pete’s Dragon  –  “Candle on the Water” is one of the schmaltziest Disney songs and it’s perfect for this film.  Based on an unpublished short story and originally conceived in the 50’s for the Disneyland show.  Combination of live-action and animation doesn’t make it any better.
  • The People That Time Forgot  –  John Wayne’s son Patrick stars in this Adventure film loosely based on two Edgar Rice Burroughs novels.  Mid **.
  • Immoral Tales  –  It’s not enough to be erotic; you should also be good.  Adapted from a few different sources, this is the less common anthology film in which all the stories are from the same director (Walerian Borowczyk).
  • Sorcerer  –  William Friedkin remakes Wages of Fear though Friedkin likes to dispute that and claim it’s just an adaptation of the original novel Le Salaire de la peur.  Either way, it’s not good and it was a massive flop.
  • Twilight’s Last Gleaming  –  It’s the year for bad thrillers based on Walter Wager novels.  This one was directed by Robert Aldrich.
  • Fire Sale  –  Alan Arkin stars in and directs this Comedy based on the novel by Robert Klane.
  • The Slipper and the Rose: The Story of Cinderella  –  My mother asked me one morning if all Oscar movies were worth watching.  Thinking about what had been on TCM that morning, I said “You didn’t watch The Slipper and the Rose, did you?  Because it’s terrible.”  She had.  She agreed.  The Sherman Brothers earned yet another Oscar nomination for the title waltz but this version of Cinderella is pretty bad even though it was inexplicably a Royal Command Performance.
  • Bobby Deerfield  –  Future Oscar winning director Sydney Pollack takes a lesser known Erich Marie Remarque novel (Heaven Has No Favorites) and makes this dud about an American race car driver.
  • Audrey Rose  –  Former Oscar winning director Robert Wise makes a psychological Horror film based on the novel by Frank De Felitta.  We’re into low ** now.
  • Count Dracula  –  Not the 1977 BBC production (which is television but pretty good) but the 1970 Jesus Franco version finally getting a U.S. release.  Even with Christopher Lee playing Dracula again, Franco makes a dour, boring film.  Not the worst adaptation but pretty low down on the list.
  • Which Way is Up?  –  A remake of Lina Wertmuller’s The Seduction of Mimi with Richard Pryor.
  • Outrageous!  –  Canadian Comedy with a gay theme based on the short story “Making It” by Margaret Gibson.
  • Valentino  –  It’s good that the obsession with classic Hollywood was starting to peter out if the films are going to be this bad.  A biopic made by Ken Russell based on the book Valentino, an Intimate Exposé of the Sheik.
  • The Choirboys  –  We drop all the way down to mid *.5 with this Comedy from Robert Aldrich based on Joseph Wambaugh’s novel.  Wambaugh will fare much better in a couple of years with the adaptation of his nonfiction book The Onion Field.
  • Raggedy Ann & Andy: A Musical Adventure  –  I had both a Raggedy Ann and a Raggedy Andy growing up.  I prefer memories of my stuffed toys to this terrible Kids animated musical based on the characters that were created as dolls in 1915 and short stories in 1918.
  • A Little Night Music  –  see below
  • The Island of Dr. Moreau  –  I give this adaptation of the Wells novel (there’s a review of it here when they did the novel right with Island of Lost Souls) a 24 which is a high * and is five points higher than the 1996 adaptation so there’s that going for it, I suppose.  The second of three AIP adaptations of Wells works, the last one down below.
  • The Sentinel  –  Desperate Rosemary’s Baby wannabe but without the talent.  Based on a novel by Jeffrey Konvitz.
  • Orca  –  If sharks are scary then killer whales must be as well, right?  Wrong.  Based on the novel by Arthur Herzog which I’m sure was just as much an attempt to capitalize on the success of Jaws as this film was.  Herzog will be back at the bottom of next year’s list with The Swarm.
  • Exorcist II: The Heretic  –  Just remember that I have this sequel rated at mid * and I probably have it rated higher than most people.  The last film of Paul Henreid and it’s hard to find a year with two performances of greater disparity in quality in the same year by the same actor than Richard Burton in this film and in Equus.
  • The Other Side of Midnight  –  It’s based on a Sidney Sheldon novel.  Do I have to say more?  It stars actor John Beck and I only mention that because it’s also my brother’s name.
  • Damnation Alley  –  Mutant.  Flesh-eating.  Cockroaches.  Do I have to say more?  If that’s your thing, go to it.  Based on a novel by acclaimed Sci-Fi writer Roger Zelazny.
  • Empire of the Ants  –  The final of three AIP adaptations of Wells works and the worst of the three (which average a 15.67).  Very loosely based on the short story by Wells.  Sadly, not even among the five worst Wild Nature films I have seen from the 70’s but it is the worst adapted film of the year.

Adaptations of Notable Works I Haven’t Seen

  • none  –

Bonus Review

 

A Little Night Music

The Film:

In response to my comment on Jesus Christ Superstar here (way down the page) in which I said “Not even close to the biggest film screw-up of a stage musical that I love (just wait until 1977)”, F.T. commented “I’m sure you don’t plan to give the film any more than one or two sentences when we get to 1977, and I’m sure you won’t give a fig for our difference of opinion”.  Always willing to rise to a challenge, I not only re-watched the film, I even watched it with Veronica who had never seen the film but who has also never seen it on stage.

Now, I suppose I could start by saying that F.T. gives an impassioned defense of it and that Veronica didn’t think the movie was that bad.  Veronica, however, had heard the music a lot but never seen it on stage so more than anything, she was glad to have visual images to go along with the songs she had heard so many times because I’ve owned the original cast recording since years before I even met her.  She did agree that Elizabeth Taylor was pretty awful and that’s she automatically inclined to like Diana Rigg in anything because she’s one of the best Bond girls, because she was Mrs. Peel and because she’s so snarky and awesome on Game of Thrones.

Now what about my take on the film?  I had already called it the biggest film screw-up of a stage musical that I love.  I admit that I bumped my rating of the film up slightly, from * to *.5.  But there is plenty to dislike about this film, some of which are more personal to me and some of which are just about the film in general.

The two biggest problems with the film are Elizabeth Taylor and Hal Prince.  Prince has long been established as a great stage director (he’s won an astounding eight Tonys for direction and was nominated for directing the original stage production) but he just doesn’t know what to do with the camera.  In a film that should have great production (period costumes and sets), he either is incompetent as a director or trying to cover up budget problems because he so consistently moves in close for every song.  He doesn’t know how to actually give a good production of a song on film.  What’s more, he seems to have no confidence in the original show.  You don’t have to have fidelity to an original stage show but why do the film if you feel that concerned about it?  The music in the film is consistently at too quick a pitch and songs are butchered throughout the film.  Take the opening number, which is an interesting variation on the chorus that opens the stage show and could have been interesting.  But Prince shows no interesting in directing, rather just giving all the stars a close-up even though he does a terrible job (and terrible later as well – Veronica was very confused) at establishing the characters for you so you know who they are.  Or look at “Weekend in the Country”, a great number on stage that uses everyone and one of my favorite songs from any musical and the way that Prince is obsessed with focusing on all the stars and never seems to remember this can be a fantastic number with great production values.

As for Taylor, well, presumably she was cast to get a big star.  But she can’t sing at all, which is a problem for the lead of a musical (which probably explains some of the song cuts) and because you can still see the great beauty she once was, she’s not really believable as a former lover for Len Cariou in the same way that Glynis Johns was in the original stage show.

I’m not the only person who things that this is a disastrous film.  In his comment, F.T. referenced the Vincent Canby review in the New York Times which you can read here and which I fully agree with and my People Magazine Guide to Films on Video (a book I bought 30 years ago and hang onto more for sentimental reasons than because it should be seriously considered) calls it an embarrassment and notes “when Stephen Sondheim wrote ‘Send in the Clowns’ he presumably didn’t mean the producer and the director.”

Now, I will admit that my review is also reflective of my love for the music and the stage show as mentioned below.  You are welcome to agree with F.T. or with me.  As for me, it might be slightly higher than when I first watched it some twenty years ago but it’s still pretty damn bad.  But whatever you do, don’t for a second listen to Rex Reed.  His blurb on the poster, by inference, says that both this film (which is terrible) and Gigi (which has nice sets and costumes but is very over-rated) are both more “consistently stylish, intelligent and enchanting” than West Side Story, The Music Man, My Fair Lady and Cabaret.  How Reed ever got a job reviewing films is completely beyond me.

The Source:

A Little Night Music, music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, book by Hugh Wheeler  (1973)  /  Smiles of a Summer Night, written and directed by Ingmar Bergman

You can never see something again for the first time (baring memory loss).  I suppose I will have to be okay with that because my memory of seeing this play on stage, a musical I was not familiar with at the time, will always be entrenched in my brain as one of the best parts of one of the best months of my life.  I saw it in London with Judi Dench as the star (and Siân Phillips as her mother) in a fantastic production at the National Theatre.  Her gravelly voice was the perfect stand-in for the original performance by Glynis Johns (which I would quickly learn, buying the original cast recording at Tower Records the next day) and she won the Olivier for her performance.

But the stage performance is not the original, of course.  Sondheim adapted his own musical from Bergman’s brilliant Smiles of a Summer Night (a full review of which you can read here).  The title, of course, comes from the English translation of my absolute favorite piece of classical music, Mozart’s Serenade No. 13 for strings in G major, Eine kleine Nachtmusik.  Sondheim’s trims a little from the original Bergman so there is room for the songs and he takes the young male child of Desiree and makes her a female teenager (a rather precocious one).  But he keeps the full measure of the characters, most notably the maid, Petra, who is many ways the key character in the original film (and, played by Harriet Andersson, gives the best performance) and in the musical because of the way she observes the actions of the idle rich which she then comments on her great song “The Miller’s Son”.

The Adaptation:

Wait, you say, what is “The Miller’s Son”?  Well, it’s one of many cuts to the original musical.  Like I said above, it doesn’t seem like Prince had any confidence in the music because of how much he cuts.  Or maybe he knew by casting people like Elizabeth Taylor and Leslie Anne-Down he wasn’t going to get particularly good singing and he could keep to the people who had been in the Broadway show like Len Cariou and Hermione Gingold, except he cuts from them as well.

Sondheim does write new lyrics to both “The Night Waltz” and “The Glamorous Life” but the cuts to Wheeler’s book really make the story harder to follow and there are whole other songs that are cut, not just the songs sung by the Chorus, but also character songs.

But it is really the cuts to the role of Petra, who is such a great commentator on what is going on and eliminating her only solo song that really damages the way the story is told.  People want to be able to look at a film for what it is, but when it’s a terrible version of a brilliant film and a brilliant stage musical, you can’t ignore comparing it to what has come before.

The Credits:

Directed by Harold Prince.  Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.  Suggested by a film by Ingmar Bergman.  Screenplay by Hugh Wheeler.