“It was Sunday. Chance was in the garden. He moved slowly, dragging the green hose from one path to the next, carefully watching the flow of the water. Very gently he let the stream touch every plant, every flower, every branch of the garden. Plants were like people; they needed care to live, to survive their diseases, and to die peacefully.” (first lines)

My Top 10

  1. Being There
  2. Kramer vs. Kramer
  3. Apocalypse Now
  4. Picnic at Hanging Rock
  5. Love on the Run
  6. The Muppet Movie
  7. Nosferatu the Vampyre
  8. La Cage Aux Folles
  9. Starting Over
  10. Wise Blood
  11. Woyzeck

Note:  So why are there eleven films?  Well, because the more I thought about it, the more I realized The Muppet Movie has characters who were created for The Muppet Show and that by the current rules of the Academy, that means its an adapted script.  Yet, I had already gone through the effort of writing the review of Woyzeck and I didn’t want to eliminate it.  So this list goes to 11.  Too bad it’s not 1984, but that script is original anyway.

Consensus Nominees:

  1. Kramer vs. Kramer  (344 pts)
  2. Being There  (192 pts)
  3. Norma Rae  (112 pts)
  4. Apocalypse Now  (80 pts)
  5. A Little Romance  (80 pts)

note:  Kramer sets new highs for points (broken in 1993) and percentage (38.74% – broken in 1995).  Being There has the highest points for a #2 since 1972 and the highest percentage (21.62%) since 1967; it also sets a new points high for a screenplay without an Oscar nomination (broken in 1989) and is the only script in history to win the WGA and the BAFTA and fail to earn an Oscar nomination.

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

  • Kramer vs. Kramer
  • Apocalypse Now
  • La Cage Aux Folles
  • A Little Romance
  • Norma Rae

WGA Awards:

Adapted Drama:

  • Kramer vs. Kramer
  • Norma Rae

Adapted Comedy:

  • Being There
  • A Little Romance
  • Starting Over

note:  The WGA nominated just 10 films this year – 5 each in Adapted and Original, split with three in Comedy and two in Drama in each one.

Original Drama:

  • Apocalypse Now

note:  I don’t know if the WGA didn’t get that Apocalypse Now was adapted from Heart of Darkness or if they just didn’t care.

Golden Globe:

  • Kramer vs. Kramer
  • Being There
  • Norma Rae

Nominees that are Original:  Breaking Away, The China Syndrome

BAFTA:

  • Being There
  • Kramer vs. Kramer

note:  Both of those scripts were nominated in 1980.  In 1979, the BAFTAs nominated Manhattan, The China Syndrome and Yanks (all Original).

My Top 10

 

Being There

The Film:

So, this film, this brilliant, sly, satirical funny film that I finally saw, sadly, after Forrest Gump (and realized that Gump was just a combination of this film and Zelig), could it possibly be that it’s no longer funny?  This is a film about, let’s face it, an idiot, who sits around and watches television, the only way he relates to the world (and the only way he learns anything about it) and manages to rise, without saying anything of any meaning or merit, to a position where at the end of the film there is a strong possibility he will get elected to high office.  How can that possibly still be funny when that’s the world we now inhabit?  It’s true that Chance is what we would now call “developmentally delayed”, a wide spectrum of disabilities that impair cognitive thinking whereas the actual person who has managed to live this ridiculous life is just a fucking moron.  The difference between the satire in this film and the farce of reality is that Chance is unable to do more with what he has been given.  But there are startling other similarities as well.  Chance moves along his path of mistaken identity because he says exactly what he is thinking and the general assumption among everyone who meets him is that he is speaking in metaphors and that his simple concepts mask deep thoughts.  They bring their own reality to what he is saying.  Which, of course, is exactly what keeps happening in this country as things are said and people think and even say, “that can’t possibly be what he really means” without ever realizing that they are in fact now stuck in the satire because they’re reflecting their own depths on to someone whose own mental swimming pool is so shallow that it wouldn’t take a man like Chance to be able to walk across it without sinking an inch.

Being There was the final film in Hal Ashby’s decade of relevance.  He made seven films in the decade, only two of which (Bound for Glory, Coming Home) were nominated for Best Picture.  But look at what else he made – the great Black Comedy Harold and Maude, an important Jack Nicholson film, The Last Detail, the hilarious Shampoo and this, probably the best of his decade.  His films not only helped define the decade, they helped define the experience of movie-making in the decade and they are often looked at as the kinds of films that wouldn’t get made today.  In the 80’s, sadly Ashby would fade away, never making a single memorable film and then he died in 1988 still short of 60.

As mentioned, this is the story of Chance the gardener, who becomes, through a series of circumstances Chauncey Gardiner, the distinguished businessman in spite of the fact that nobody knows anything about him.  He accidentally moves his way to the top in a satire so deft that there was nothing left for Mad magazine to attempt to satirize (I actually remember the issue that it was satirized because my brother used to own it and it was my first exposure to the film, years before I would see it).  It has a brilliant performance from Peter Sellers, a career best from Melvyn Douglas (winning him a second Oscar) and a fantastic one from Shirley MacLaine that absolutely should have earned her an Oscar nomination.  In fact, the Oscars gave it short shrift all around as Sellers didn’t win and the script, which won the BAFTA and the WGA (and earned a Globe nom) set a record for most Consensus points without an Oscar nomination (only the second to that point to earn two wins without an Oscar nom), a record that wouldn’t be broken for another decade (when there were far more critics awards) and even today, almost 40 years later is still the 5th highest points for a script that didn’t receive an Oscar nomination.  Yet, the film’s satire is so spot on that it basically predicted our country before a quarter of the current population was even born.

The Source:

Being There by Jerzy Kosinski (1971)

Like Philip Roth’s Our Gang, published the next year, Kosinski knew that the key to satire is not to overstay your welcome.  Kosinki, in just 117 pages, satirizes the world of 1970 and the way the world was changing.  He gives us Chance, the memorable simple man who is forced out of the home where he has lived all his life and into society.  Luckily for him, he ends up getting hit by a car and ends up in the home of one of the richest men in America and starts a quick climb that ends up with him, just a week later, strongly considered for a vice-presidential run.  That he doesn’t have any ideas doesn’t seem to stop anyone.  Like Roth, Kosinski isn’t so much satirizing the world as giving a slight push towards satire to a world that is already pretty much insane.

This is a good little book, almost certainly the second best of his works (The Painted Bird is definitely the best and many would argue that Steps is better than Being There, but I prefer Being There) and one of the books for which he is best remembered.

The Adaptation:

Kosinski adapted the book himself.  Almost everything in the book makes it to the screen intact (except the homosexual encounter which is hinted at but not made explicit in the film while it is in the book although “encounter” might not really be the right word).  There is more in the film than in the book, including the doctor finding out about Chance and a lot more with the people working with the estate but all of that is simply expanding upon scenes that were in the original novel.  The ending of course, is completely added on and has given rise to all sorts of arguments as to what it means.

The Credits:

Directed by Hal Ashby.  Screenplay by Jerzy Kosinski.  Based on the novel by Jerzy Kosinski.

Kramer vs. Kramer

The Film:

I have already reviewed this film once because it won Best Picture at the Oscars.  It is an excellent film, a moving drama that gives a glimpse into a marriage, not so much to see why it fails, but what happens after it fails.  It is a sympathetic and interesting look at both sides of the marriage and though we stick with the father and the son through much of the film, we also get an understanding of the mother.  As an excellent drama that was also a massive box office hit (actually the biggest film of the year by a considerable margin), the last drama to rule the box office until another Best Picture winner with a Best Actor performance from Dustin Hoffman, Rain Man (after that it would be yet another eight years before another Drama and no Drama has done it again since), so it’s not hard to see why it won Best Picture.

The Source:

Kramer versus Kramer: a novel by Avery Corman (1977)

Kramer versus Kramer offers fresh insight into the other side of women’ s liberation.”  That’s from the book jacket and it kind of gives insight into the novel.  As I will write about below, the film is much more balanced in the view of the two parents.  This is a novel about a woman who leaves her husband and son, a woman who is a mess and leaves her husband with no warning and no chance to object and doesn’t provide him with any money or support.  The husband divorces her, struggles to raise their son and then, after a few years, she moves back to New York and demands custody of their son.  In the end, she is awarded custody but realizes she’s still not ready to be a mother and relents and the book ends.  Joanna Kramer is a one-sided character and there is no question that the book’s sympathies lie entirely with Ted Kramer and his devotion to his son.  It’s not all that good but then Avery Corman (whose Oh God was already reviewed in my 1977 post, not kindly) isn’t really all that good a writer in my opinion.

The Adaptation:

Meryl Streep had it right when she didn’t want to play Joanna Kramer as the role was written in the book, decrying her as an ogre (not even knowing that she wasn’t being asked in to play Joanna).  First of all, Streep doesn’t in any way match the description as given in the book (“Joanna Kramer was nearly professional in her looks, too slight at five-three to be taken for a model, possibly an actress, a striking, slender woman with long, black hair, a thin, elegant nose, large brown eyes and somewhat chesty for her frame.”) but then again Dustin Hoffman was hardly the five-ten that Ted in the book is.  But the film is much more sympathetic to the character of Joanna and gives more burdens to Ted than the book originally did.

First of all, we get more of their lives together before the start of the film.  We see their entire courtship and marriage and the problems they have been having (we are made privy to Joanna’s unhappiness even if Ted is mostly unaware of it) and so it’s less of a shock when she walks out in the book.  But in the film, we also have a much different professional life for Ted.  In the film, he’s gotten an important account the day she leaves him while it is just another day in their life in the book.  He is much more of a workaholic and his work life is much more impacted by being a single parent, losing him a job (in the book, he loses the job because the company he works for is sold and everyone loses their jobs).  The book was really a whack job on a woman who would leave her husband and child while in the book you understand more why Joanna would leave and you see that Ted is far from the perfect parent.  Even the little things are better in the film, like the scene where young Billy meets his father’s one-night stand in the hallway and asks her about chicken.  The conversation goes on between her and Ted back in the bedroom, while the film wisely ends the scene after her line “I just met your son, Kramer.”  It’s also more believable for that to happen with a four year old than a six year old (in the book, Billy is much younger when Joanna leaves and she is gone for less time in the film before she returns to get custody).

One notable scene for me is that it is in the apartment where Billy falls and cuts himself and Ted gets a cab while in the film, it becomes one of the most memorable scenes when Ted races down the street to the hospital, carrying his bleeding son, something that moves me immensely as a parent.

Much of the film was supposedly improvised and given how little the scenes in the film correspond to actual scenes in the original novel, it’s easy to believe.

The Credits:

Written for the Screen and Directed by Robert Benton.  From the novel by Avery Corman.

Apocalypse Now

The Film:

A hallucinatory nightmare and work of genius at the same time.  There is, quite possibly, no greater film in history that is also as flawed as this one.  It was a brilliant idea to marry the basic storyline from Heart of Darkness to the Vietnam War.  This is the work, that to my mind, most clearly shows Coppola’s directorial vision, even if it is not as complete and brilliant a film as The Godfather.  What’s notable as well, of course, is that it also inspired one of the great documentaries of all-time: Hearts of Darkness.  While reactions to this film can vary, this is no way to credibly call yourself interested in film until you have seen this film.  As a Best Picture nominee, of course, I have already written a larger review of it which can be found here.

The Source:

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad  (1899 serialized, 1902 book form)

I have already reviewed this book when I ranked it as the 8th greatest novel of all-time.  The Modern Library ranked it #67 which, first of all, is way too low, and second of all, was cheating, since it was originally serialized in 1899 and their list only covered the 20th Century.  I first read this for my AP English class (a class in which I also read three other books that actually ranked above this on my list) and I don’t think I’ve ever gone more than a few years without re-reading it (being 96 pages helps) which means I’ve read it over a dozen times and still it haunts me every time.  One of the first things in any literary canon that you have to read.

The Adaptation:

“At the time Carroll Ballard was working on an adaptation of the Joseph Conrad story Heart of Darkness.  At the same time John Milius and I were working on a story that was based on stories and incidents John had from Vietnam veterans he’s been interviewing, guys who had come back from the war.  That’s where the surfing on the beach and the Playboy Bunnies idea came from.  We sat down and I said, ‘We have to find a way of connecting all this.  Why don’t we have him go on a journey to solve a problem?’  So John made him a Special Ops guy who has to undertake a mission and kill a rogue officer.  We thought putting him in a helicopter would be too easy, so we put him on a boat going upriver.  Obviously it’s a symbolic and mythic trip up the River Styx.  Carroll’s version then fell apart, and Francis suggested we incorporate things from Conrad into our story.  The only major difference between our version and the film that Francis eventually made is that at the end of our script there’s a huge battle with the Viet Cong and they wipe everyone out except Willard and four or five other Americans.  The HQ sends a helicopter to get Willard out of there and he shoots the helicopter down.  Francis’ film ends on a much more existential note.”  (George Lucas interviewed in Conversations at the American Film Institute with The Great Moviemakers: The Next Generation, ed. George Stevens, Jr, p 312)

“To this day, the origins of the plot for Apocalypse Now remain rather mysterious, largely because of conflicting statements issued by those involved in its development.  Coppola always maintained that the core of the screenplay was John Milius’ work, and that his (Coppola’s) main contribution was bringing the plot closer to Heart of Darkness.  Milius acknowledged that the original idea was his, and that it was enhanced by his discussions with George Lucas, but his feelings about how the story turned out – and who was responsible for it – fluctuated with his mercurial moods.” (Francis Ford Coppola: A Filmmaker’s Life, Michael Schumacher, p 192) Pages 192-194 detail what Milius had in his original script (many of the key scenes that appear in the film) and the changes that Coppola made (namely the opening and the ending).

“Moreover, one of the elements of Coppola’s film that serves to bring it closer to the original story is the employment of Willard as the narrator of the film, just as Marlow is the narrator of the novella.” (Godfather: The Intimate Francis Ford Coppola, Gene D. Phillips, p 148)  Phillips then describes how there was an original opening scene in the script that was never shot that had Willard back in the States describing the story, much as Marlow is doing from England in the original book.

Of course, the film isn’t so much an adaptation of the book (as is evidenced by the book not being mentioned in the credits) as it takes the framework from the story and a few of the details and places them in the Vietnam War.  Most importantly, in the book, Marlow is not sent to kill Kurtz but is merely a witness to Kurtz’s death.  But it’s hard to imagine how any film could make better use of the book.

Credits:

Directed and Produced by Francis Coppola.  Written by John Milius and Francis Coppola.  Narration by Michael Herr.
note:  There are no opening credits (not even the title).  These are from the end credits.

Picnic at Hanging Rock

The Film:

I have already reviewed this film as one of the five best of 1979.  Of course, it’s not actually a 1979 film but a 1975 film that took four years before it finally made the journey across the ocean to the United States and became Oscar eligible, even though it wasn’t because it had been released more than two years before.  But who cares?  It’s a brilliant film, one of the best of the Australian New Wave (only really rivaled by Weir’s own Gallipoli and Breaker Morant), a mysterious, ethereal film about events that may or may not have happened (they didn’t).  It’s beautiful to look at and it lingers in your mind as you wonder what did really happen out on that rock and you remember that part of the Australian New Wave was the way that people interact with a land that is so easily capable of killing you.

The Source:

Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay (1967)

There are a lot of great novel to film adaptations.  They take a book and they turn it, faithfully, into a great film.  But there are few films that so perfectly match the original novel in terms of the way they make you feel and think.  If you have only seen the film and have never read the original novel, I would invite you to look inside and dive into the characters, into their world, into their land.  “In the colourless twilight every detail stood out, clearly defined and separate. A huge untidy nest wedged in the fork of a stunted tree, its every twig and feather intricately laced and woven by tireless beak and claw.”  This is Australia in all its lethal splendor.

What happened out there on the rock?  Part of the brilliance of the novel is that it gives you strange, vague clues but never provides an answer (there originally was an answer which the publishers wisely convinced Lindsay to cut from the book).  It is part of the mystery of this land and these girls, as they are entering their adulthood, that sometimes things happen and things and people just disappear.  I am reminded of the line from Less Than Zero about Los Angeles: “You can disappear here without knowing it.”

The Adaptation:

The film follows the original novel very closely.  There are a few minor deviations (the knowledge, for instance of the connection between Sarah and Albert is actually divulged much earlier in the book) but overall, it fits in with the book quite well, not only in terms of fidelity, but in terms of how you feel when reading / watching it.  They are fantastic spiritual matches and a perfect example of, no matter which one you come to first, you should both read the book and watch the film.

The Credits:

Directed by Peter Weir.  Screenplay by Cliff Green.  From the Novel by Joan Lindsay.

L’Amour en fuite

The Film:

I have already reviewed this film once as my under-appreciated film of 1979.  As the final film in the Adventures of Antoine Doinel it deserves recognition and as one of the best foreign films of 1979 and one of the ten best films of the year it deserves appreciation.  It really never got its proper due in either way which is why I reviewed it.  It is a warm, wonderful, human comedy that manages to look forward at the same time that it looks back.  Forget Boyhood – watch the Doinel movies over and over again and watch Antoine (and Jean-Pierre Leaud) age in real time.

The Source:

characters created by Francois Truffaut  (1959)

As I already wrote about The 400 Blows here as one of the best films of 1959 and as I reviewed Stolen Kisses here as one of the best adapted screenplays of 1969 (for the same reason as this one, because it continues to use characters that had been created for another film), you can see my views on earlier films in the series.  This film actually makes considerable use of footage from all of the previous films in the series.

The Adaptation:

The characters continue to grow even if they don’t continue to mature, especially Antoine.  But he has written the story of his life and we watch it unfold and you wish that Truffaut had time to make more films in the series before his early death in 1984.

The Credits:

Mise en scène: François Truffaut.  Scenario deFrançois Truffaut, Marie-France Pisier, Jean Aurel, Suzanne Schiffman

The Muppet Movie

The Film:

“I’m Statler.”  “And I’m Waldorf.  We’re here to heckle The Muppet Movie.”

Has any movie ever started with better lines?  Statler and Waldorf were always one of the best things about The Muppet Show, one of the greatest shows ever to air on television.  They also help set the tone for the film.  First, it’s going to be funny.  Second, it’s going to maintain the characters as they were originally established on The Muppet Show (though many of the characters had first appeared before The Muppet Show began in 1976, it was the personalities and their interactions as established on the show that is carried forth into the film and that’s why this really qualifies as an adapted screenplay).  Third, it will have a whole slough of guest stars (most of whom were actual hosts of the show during the second season, when the movie was being filmed).  Fourth, it will have a lot of in-jokes that can be so funny you wonder if you will pee your pants.  The film and its lines are so memorable that watching it this time I asked Thomas who Kermit and Fozzie would run into (“Big Bird!”), where he was going (“New York City!”) and why (“to break into public television!”).  I should note that there was a stretch in 2012 where Thomas and I watched this movie every day when he came home from school.

More importantly, at least to me, this film corrects one of my least favorite things in the film by reducing the role of Miss Piggy.  I have always found her to be grating and annoying and by not introducing her until well into the film and then taking her out of part of it, it makes it easier for me to take.  It’s not a coincidence that her song is the song that doesn’t make my Top 5 for the film (because I only nominate five songs from a film for the Nighthawk Awards).  Which brings me to the music in this film which is wonderful.  “The Rainbow Connection” provides for a beautiful opening number, bringing us slowly into the main action of the film, not to mention that it’s one of the most wonderful songs ever written.  If you don’t like the song, you are either a completely hopeless curmudgeon or your musical tastes are so hopelessly misaligned from mine that there is little point in you ever looking at the Best Song category in the Nighthawk Awards (where this film earned the #1, 4, 5 and 8 spots).

The film itself is a journey, as made by the Muppets, of how they became rich and famous (the final cameo, the man who makes them rich and famous, is my favorite in the film), starting with Kermit leaving the swamp (with the worst pun ever, so bad I won’t repeat it and if you don’t know it, you haven’t watched the film enough) and gathering his buddies along the way.  It brings us to that final moment of them all standing together in that beautiful rainbow with the voices giving life to yet another wonderful song as they have done all through the film, while making us continually laugh (“Turn left at the fork in the road” or “I don’t know how to thank you guys.”  “I don’t know why to thank you guys.”) and just when we’ve ended with some beautiful sentimentality, they remind us that after all, they’re the Muppets and they are here to make us laugh and in comes poor Jack, finally catching up to them and we just can’t stop laughing, just like we did all through every episode of the show.

The Source:

The Muppet Show, created by Jim Henson (1976)

Is it my favorite television show of all-time?  An as-yet-un-posted list has it ranked third (behind Sesame Street and Robotech) but it is pretty damn close.  It was wildly entertaining with a great concept (I’ve always wanted to copy that concept – a bad variety show in a rundown theatre where things are always going wrong) and a great bunch of characters, whether it’s Gonzo and his mis-placed confidence (“this evening I will perform a feat of lunatic daring“), Rowlf and his sarcasm (“I don’t got rhythm“), Fozzie and his truly terrible jokes or, of course, Statler and Waldorf always heckling everything (“Wake when the show starts.”  “It’s already been on a while.”  “Oh.  Wake me when it’s over”).  There are few things in life that give me as much joy as listening to that wonderful theme song (complete with the audience yelling back “Why don’t you get things started!“) and knowing I’m about to have another half-hour of pure entertainment.

The Adaptation:

Is it an adaptation?  Obviously I didn’t used to consider it as such.  But this time, I was thinking about the characters and they way they derive from the way the characters were written on the show, whether they just get a little cameo in the theater scenes (like the haughty Sam the Eagle) or have a full role (Fozzie and Miss Piggy were created for The Muppet Show).  These are pre-existing characters, written to expectations, and as such, this qualifies as an adaptation as much as the Toy Story sequels.  So, yes, it’s faithful to those characters, as created for the show and we can be thankful for that because it’s funny as can be and still stands up after all this time (all those viewings – at this point, it honestly might be fourth behind Star Wars, Empire Strikes Back and Star Trek II for films I have seen – easily in excess of 100 at this point).

The Credits:

Directed by James Frawley.  Music and Lyrics by Paul Williams and Kenny Ascher.  Written by Jerry Juhl and Jack Burns.

Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht

The Film:

He is bald, freakish and ugly.  Rats move in response to him.  When he arrives, he brings the plague with him.  He is a walking embodiment of death, all the destructive and horrible things in the world.  He is Count Dracula, a nosferatu, a vampyre, one of the creatures of the night.  He is not the romantic creature as first created on stage (ironically) and as embodied by Frank Langella in the extremely flawed film version that was also released in this year.  He is decay and rot and all of the awful things, so much so that you can almost smell the reek of him coming off the screen.

I have already written a small review of this film in my piece on the novel which can be found here (also to be, directly below it in that post, is a review of the Langella film which really is not good) so I won’t write too much about it here.  I mentioned in my original review that Klaus Kinsi, known for overwhelming you with his energy on the screen, gives his most subdued performance here (and is one of the most subdued Dracula performances as well).  That’s actually a feature of the brilliant of Herzog’s direction because he wanted that performance, so he would rile Kinski up and endure his rages until he was exhausted and only then would he film.  It worked well because the combination of Herzog’s moody direction (with great cinematography, sets and makeup) and Kinski’s brilliantly underplayed performance make for one of the greatest vampire films ever made, not quite making it to **** but hitting at the very highest level of ***.5.  It doesn’t hurt that Isabelle Adjani as Lucy makes for one of the most beautiful victims in Dracula history.

The Source:

Dracula by Bram Stoker  (1897)

That’s the only source I am listing here because it’s the original and everything stems from there but there are really more sources.  If you want to know what I think about Dracula, go here, where I ranked it at #95 all-time.  But this film is really a remake of the original Murnau film.  A review of that film can be found here (where I discuss the script and how it was adapted).  I was also going to say that the film takes from the Keane play with the Balderston revisions, but I realize that the play might actually take from the Murnau film because the film predated the play by two years (and the revisions by five) although, since the Murnau film was ordered to be destroyed, it’s possible the playwrights never even saw the Murnau film.

Any way it works, there are different sources for the film and they all point back to Stoker.  Read the Stoker book if you never have because it’s brilliant and definitely watch Nosferatu if you never have because it’s one of the greatest Horror films ever made.

This is the first of an astounding six films in this year that make some use of Dracula.  The others are all listed down at the bottom.  This is far and away the best (in fact, the only truly good one).

The Adaptation:

What this film really does is to take the Murnau film and the story it had set up and keep it mostly intact but to restore the original names from Stoker’s Dracula that Murnau couldn’t use because he didn’t have the rights to the book.  Other than that, it’s considerably faithful to the original Murnau with more extensive dialogue (because that had been a silent film with intertitles while this is a sound film with actual dialogue).

The Credits:

Buch, Regie und Produktion: Werner Herzog.
note:  Just as Murnau didn’t credit Stoker in his original film (because he didn’t have the copyright), Herzog doesn’t credit Stoker or Murnau.

La Cage Aux Folles

The Film:

La Cage Aux Folles was a surprise success in the United States.  Yes, in France you could get away with this, a comedy about two gay men, but would it play in the States?  Well, it not only played in the States, it earned Oscar nominations for Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay.  The latter is not so surprising, as in the 60’s and 70’s, lots of Foreign films were nominated for their screenplays.  The Director is more of a surprise, partially because I don’t think it even remotely deserved it, and partially because he’s not that well-known a director (it’s not like nominations earlier in the decade for the likes of Lina Wertmuller, Bergman, Fellini and Truffaut).

How much you like this film might depend on whether you saw this first or The Birdcage, although I am an exception to that.  I had already seen this before The Birdcage came out in 1996 because of my Oscar obsession, yet, with the pitch perfect delivery of Robin Williams, the hysterics of Nathan Lane, and especially because of the outlandishness of Hank Azaria, I love the latter and only admire this film.  It might be because I really like both Williams and Lane and have no connections to the stars of this film outside of this film.  It’s true that they did this film first, and some of the lines are exactly the same in this one as they are in The Birdcage.  But I prefer the performances of the latter.

This is a very good film, of course, namely because the dialogue is so smart and cutting, the very premise is so outlandish (two gay men are going to try and pretend they are straight to help out their son but then one of them ends up faking being the mom instead).  I can absolutely see why this was such a success in France that they ended up making two sequels (I’m glad they didn’t do that in the States) and that it would then inspire a remake and a musical.

The Source:

La Cage Aux Folles by Jean Poiret  (1973)

This is the limitation of not being able to speak another language.  If you need a copy of La Cage Aux Folles and you can’t read French, you are out of luck.  There are copies of the English language version of the Screenplay (I received, as an ILL from the Wichita Public Library, and I can’t imagine why they have this, a United Artists facsimile of the revised proposed English dubbing of the screenplay), there are copies of the musical that was later made from it, there are copies of the screenplay for The Birdcage, but there is not a copy of the original play in English.

The Adaptation:

So what is different?  I can’t even be certain.  But there are likely some changes, at least when you look at the number of changes that were made in the English dubbing version of the script (most pages have at least one correction).

The Credits:

Un film de Edouard Molinaro.  d’apres l’eouvre de Jean Poiret.  Adaptation à l’Éeran Francis Veber, Edouard Molinaro, Marcello Danon et Jean Poiret.

Starting Over

The Film:

We’ll make a romantic comedy.  And we’ll have it star Burt Reynolds.  Without his mustache.  “Have you lost your mind?” was probably the response to that pitch.  And yet, look at the results.  This is a charming comedy, a fun movie with a good performance from Reynolds that proved, like Deliverance had, that he really could act.  Maybe the mustache was getting in the way?

Reynolds plays Phil Potter.  His wife, played by Candace Bergen, has essentially dumped him.  She wants to get on with her music career, even if her singing sounds like someone strangling cats.  She can write songs well enough that she is getting work in spite of her voice and if Tom Waits could do it, why not her?  So, she kind of tosses Phil out, though not fast enough for him to avoid hearing her singing as he’s leaving.  So Phil heads up to Boston (he’s been in New York) to visit with his brother for a while and figure out something else to do with his life.

What Phil will do with his life mostly revolves around women.  Oh, he manages to find a job, teaching junior college but given what they pay for teaching junior college and that he has no idea what he’s doing (his first class ends with him telling them he’s done and the class letting him know there’s still 56 minutes left in class) I don’t know how the hell he can afford his apartment near Harvard Square (actually, it was near Harvard in the book but seems closer to the Common in the film but either way there is no way on earth he could afford Boston, even in 1979 with what he must be getting paid).  But the work is just in there for the comedy and the film focuses more on the romance.  But that’s also part of the comedy because Phil ends up seeing Marilyn, a pre-school teacher who gets so flustered when Phil, frustrated with her, comes to a school carnival and continually dunks her to the point where she curses in front of the kids and parents (the comedy).  But that’s better than the woman that basically threw herself at Phil.  Or any of the others he has found.  But it turns out his wife isn’t so done with him as he (or she thought) because she shows up in the apartment where he’s living with Marilyn, flashing her cleavage (I don’t really think of Candace Bergen as having much cleavage but what is there is flashed) and forcing Marilyn first to the car and then back into the apartment on this snowy night when Phil takes the car to have dinner with his wife.  Or ex-wife.  Or whatever they are at this point.

My review is making it sound like I don’t like this film which is not true at all.  It’s quite a charming comedy with a fun performance by Reynolds (I was going to say charming but he takes pictures of Marilyn in the shower with a Polaroid so charming is probably out) and quite good performances from Bergen and Jill Clayburgh (as Marilyn) as well as Charles Durning (who is always good) as Phil’s brother.  None of them make my Top 5 but Reynolds, Clayburgh and Bergen all earn Comedy noms as does the script and even the film would have in a weaker year (1979 is quite a strong year for Comedy).

But poor Reynolds, though.  Not only did both of his female co-stars earn Oscar nominations for this film but he was living with Sally Field at the time and not only did she win the Oscar but he predicted that if she took the role of Norma Rae that she would win the Oscar.  It would take almost another 20 years before Reynolds would finally earn an Oscar nomination and even then he would lose to Robin Williams in a very tough race (and, in a postscript, between the time I wrote this review and the time it will post, he died).

The Source:

Starting Over by Dan Wakefield  (1973)

This is, to be honest, not a very good book.  It pains me a little to say that because it was written and is set in Boston (the jacket picture of the author shows a map of downtown Boston on the wall behind him) and because his last name is Wakefield which is my mother’s maiden name and while there are lots of Wakefields in the world, I still feel at least a small connection to all of them (except Andrew Wakefield who is a reprehensible lying sack of shit).  This isn’t a romantic comedy about a couple that break up and then sort of get back together at the same time that the male in the couple is also pursuing a new relationship.  It’s about a guy who is dumped from his marriage and then can’t seem to get his life together, bouncing from woman to woman until he finds a new one and marries her while also lamenting the freedom that is gone: “From the corner of his eye, Potter watched the receding ass of the blonde, twitching away down the beach, reminding him of freedom, soon to be out of sight.” (p 307)

The Adaptation:

The basic premise of the book is the same as the film but almost all of the details are different and certainly the last half of the film is entirely created by the filmmakers and has nothing to do with what happens in the book.  Even one of the key relationships in the film is changed from the book because the Charles Durning character is just a close friend of Phil in the book, not his brother.

The Credits:

Directed by Alan J. Pakula.  Based upon the novel by Dan Wakefield.  Screenplay by James L. Brooks.

Wise Blood

The Film:

What exactly is this film?  Is it a Drama?  There is certainly enough to justify that, in a world where a man preaches, where men blind themselves and push themselves into death at the age of 22, where the fire and brimstone preached by a grandfather can still hold someone who has seen the horror of war and come back home to the desolation of nothing at all.

Perhaps it’s a religious film.  There is enough of God in the film, invoked by its various inhabitants.  But there really isn’t an ounce of faith in the film and for that, you have to have some semblance of faith from at least someone.

But perhaps this film is a Comedy.  It is certainly satirical in the way that it approaches religion, with this young man preaching “The Church of Truth Without Christ”, with the cynical way it looks at a man who pretends to be blind, at the way the young preacher will fall for the con artist’s daughter, the way he manages to attract an acolyte without even attempting it.  Can we be expected to really take any of this seriously?

The way it is written by John Huston, adapting the great novel by Flannery O’Connor, what seemed more serious in the book becomes more satirical in the film.  We stumble among these characters, all of whom might seem too satirical for real life until you turn on the news and find these same kind of people all over the place, trying to preach their truth when they haven’t the faintest idea what their truth even is.  Any way you want to cut it, the film is a solid film because of contributions from across the board.  John Huston, a man who had already adapted Hammett, Crane, Melville, Miller, Williams and even Kipling now takes his turn at Flannery O’Connor and he seems to understand the grotesque caricatures he’s working with.  It’s like Winesburg Ohio came to the South.  He makes a brilliant decision in casting Brad Dourif in the lead role as Hazel, the young preacher who wants the church without the messiah.  Dourif was never destined to be a star but he was always a fascinating actor and Huston is one of the rare directors to ever cut through Dourif to find the performances inside.  The film is helped along with a lively bluegrass score by Alex North and solid cinematography.  This film was completely overlooked at awards time in favor of weak films like Norma Rae but it’s one you shouldn’t miss.

The Source:

Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor (1952)

I didn’t come to this book through a straight line and perhaps O’Connor would have appreciated that since this novel grew out of a Master’s Thesis and several published stories and wasn’t much regarded when it was first published only to find very high regard later (thankfully before she died, which she did, quite young).  I had read one of her stories for a class as an undergraduate (“A Good Man is Hard to Find”) and so I sought out more by her.  In my tiny college bookstore I found 3 by Flannery O’Connor, a collection that brought together her two novels and a short story collection (though, ironically, not A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories, which I wrote about here).  I read Wise Blood and was fascinated by it, by the story of Hazel Motes, this preacher of the Church of Truth Without Christ.  As someone who has always turned away from organized religion, it was novel for me and this was a character who was endlessly fascinating.  Wise Blood eventually ended up on my Top 200 list though it had been a long time since I had last read it.

It’s a short novel and yet it has immense power to it.  When you read a line like this one, chosen by opening the book to a random page: “Enoch’s brain was divided into two parts.  The part of communication with his blood did the figuring but it never said anything in words.  The other part was stocked up with all kinds of words and phrases.” (p 45)  O’Connor’s way with characters is something that runs through all of her fiction.  If you want to read more of her (and you should because she is tragically under-read these days), you can go to the piece above because I wrote a lot more about her there.

The Adaptation:

The adaptation is actually very faithful to the original novel.  There are a few small details changed (there is nothing that specifically places it at either the time of the novel’s publication or at the time the film was made which makes Hazel’s military service more vague) but for the most part we get the novel on the screen, with all the grotesque details of the characters in all their bizarre glory.

The Source:

Directed by Jhon Huston.  From the novel by Flannery O’Connor.  Screenplay: Benedict and Michael Fitzgerald.
note: Yes, Huston’s name is misspelled in the opening credits, three times in all)

Woyzeck

The Film:

When you’ve seen over 16,000 films, you lose track of when you first saw them.  Not so for me with this film.  In early 2003, after we bought our house and just as I was starting my Great Director project (which spawned my Top 100 Directors), a friend of mine from Powells loaned me the Herzog-Kinski box set, five fantastic films complete with the brilliant documentary about their collaboration (My Best Fiend).  I had never seen any of the films at that point, or, except for The Mystery of Kaspar Hauser, any Herzog film.  The box set was a revelation and I was consistently blown away by Kinski’s performances.  I watched the films in order, which works perfectly here, because not only was this film made after Nosferatu, but was made directly after they finished with Nosferatu, with an exhausted cast and crew limping onto this film from the last.

This film drew me in from the opening moments, especially the opening credits scene as an exhausted soldier, played with a feverish intensity by Klaus Kinski, is forced into basic maneuvers with brilliant music in the background (I originally had the film high on my Original Score list for 1979 until I realized that all of the music in the film was actually pre-existing classical pieces that I wasn’t familiar with).  I was drawn in by the man – who is this man, so clearly worn down by life, driven to the utter brink?  And, given what he had done in Aguirre (gone mad) and Nosferatu (vampire), what could I expect from him this time?

I didn’t know the background at the time, that this was based on a famous German play that had been left unfinished at the author’s death.  It is based on the true story of a wigmaker turned soldier who murdered the woman he was living with.  In the film, he’s the subject of bizarre medical experiments from a rather eccentric doctor (for instance, at one point, he is allowed to only eat peas, a fate to me that sounds worse than root canal surgery, though in all fairness, I should point out that I often use the example that one of the advantages of being an adult means I never have to eat peas again for the rest of my life) while also dealing with a woman that he lives with who berates him, looks down upon him and in the end, cheats on him.  The medical experiments are also prompting bizarre visions and in the end, he goes mad (again – that’s what Kinski does best after all and if you’ve seen My Best Fiend, you can understand what could drive him to madness in working with Herzog) and murders his mistress and then, still in his madness, drowns himself in the lake while trying to find out answers.

This is a short, rather bizarre and certainly violent film.  It is definitely not for everyone, but I think that could really be a disclaimer on any Herzog film and certainly on the ones he made with Kinski as the star.  But, between the brilliant use of music, between the feverish performance from Kinski and a really good supporting one from Eva Mattes as his mistress, it’s a film you should definitely see at least once.  Though I don’t blame you if once is all you can take.

The Source:

Woyzeck by Georg Büchner (1837 / 1879 / 1913)

So why the three dates?  Büchner was a brilliant young writer working just after the death of Germany’s most famous and acclaimed writer, Goethe.  He had already produced two plays (one on Danton, one a satire on the nobility) when he started working on this play in late 1836.  Work presumably came to an end the following February when he died of typhus at the age of 23.  The play was left unfinished and remained so (and unpublished) until 1879 when an Austrian writer (Karl Emil Franzos) both finished and published it in 1879.  It still remained unstaged until 1913 when the famous German director (and later filmmaker) Max Reinhardt staged a version of it in Munich (under the title of Wozzeck because apparently Büchner had microscopic handwriting that was near impossible to read).

Because the play wasn’t completed, it’s up to directors to decide what ending they want to use.  In real life, Woyzeck was guillotined for murder.  Büchner made a note about drowning and most endings make use of that. It is a short, strange play but a powerful one for all of that.

The Adaptation:

While moving some things around (some scenes are moved to different places in the film though they are largely kept intact), Herzog follows decently closely to the play.  When he got to the ending, of course, he had to decide what to do, and Woyzeck having his visions, heading out into the water, drowning as he tries to come to the bottom of whatever has happened to him and what he has done, seems like the right move for the film that we have watched.

The Credits:

Eine Werner Herzog Filmproduktion.  Nach dem Bühnenfragment von George Büchner.

Consensus Nominees

 

Norma Rae

The Film:

Almost two and a half minutes.  That’s how long it takes from the time when Norma first holds up the sign that says “UNION” before all the machines are finally turned off and everyone in the mill is staring at her.  It reminds me of a film that was once described as “As subtle as a horse-kick to the head”.  I reviewed this film once before way back in 2011 for the 1979 Best Picture post because this film managed to earn a Best Picture nomination over Manhattan and Being There.  Well, Hollywood has long loved its unions, at least those people who are voting members of the Academy.  But it’s really just not that good of a film.  Field is quite good and in a year that didn’t have Jane Fonda in The China Syndrome or Bette Midler in The Rose I might be okay with her winning the Oscar but she’s in 5th place on my list.  The film itself is down at #57 and that might be too generous.

The Source:

Crystal Lee: A Woman of Inheritance by Henry P. Leifermann (1975)

Crystal Lee Sutton, a woman who was raised among the cotton mills of North Carolina (both her parents worked at one as did she) ended up, due to a number of circumstances, helping to get the mill she worked in unionized.  The book was apparently written too early because while they voted for the union after Sutton was fired in 1973 but apparently (if Wikipedia can be counted upon though it incorrectly states Sutton’s firing as being in 1978) didn’t get an actual contract until 1980.  Sutton famously wrote the word “UNION” a piece of cardboard, a scene made famous in Norma Rae but more on that below.

I must say I have no idea what the subtitle of the book is supposed to be about.

The Adaptation:

So, the most famous scene in the film absolutely came straight from the book (and real-life).  “She held her sign high over her head, in both hands, and slowly turned in a circle so the mill hands on the open floor, the women in put-up, the side hemmers and terry cutters, all of them watching her now, could read what she had written: ‘UNION’.” (p 150) and the mill did narrowly vote for the union afterwards.  But the rest of Norma’s story only bears superficial resemblances to Crystal (parents worked for mills, though Crystal’s father was dead by this time, children by different fathers though Crystal was still married at the time).  That’s not surprising since the film doesn’t actually credit the book.

The Credits:

directed by Martin Ritt.  screenplay by Irving Ravetch and Harriet Frank, Jr..
note: The source is completely uncredited.

A Little Romance

The Film:

This film seems like one that is built out of better films (or, in the case of the poster, better art).  Lauren and Daniel are a smart young couple that fall in love, or whatever might approximate it given that they seem to fall in love almost instantly without really getting a chance to know each other.  Lauren is probably just bored, since she’s established as a genius, is stuck with her boring mother and stepfather and is in a foreign country.  Daniel, on the other hand, who obsessively goes to the movies and has learned English from them (a ridiculous notion, as can be detailed in the Roger Ebert review here, which also details a number of other ways in which this film can’t even remotely be taken seriously) is probably just in love with the notion of being in love.  He’s a romantic, of course, because he goes to the movies all the time.

The movies that he sees include ones like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Sting, both of which were directed by George Roy Hill, who also directed this one, but somehow lost his ability to direct a worthwhile film along the way.  They travel to Verona so that we can be reminded of Romeo and Juliet.  They see a bicycle race and since they’re in Italy we’re presumably meant to think of Bicycle Thieves.  The final shot is gratuitously stolen from The 400 Blows, unless it’s supposed to be another reminder of Hill’s previous work, in which case it was stolen from Butch.  Laurence Olivier bumbles through the film in a role that seems like it was meant for Maurice Chevalier and really shouldn’t be played by such a great actor.

The main problem, as can be seen either from the Ebert review or the similarly unkind Vincent Canby review is that the writing in this film is ridiculous.  It resembles nothing like actual people.  This is a movie, through and through and the script just reinforces that with every line.  Yet, somehow the script was nominated by both the WGA and the Oscars, which is embarrassing since those were writers who were voting for both those awards.

The Source:

E=MC2, mon amour by Patrick Cauvin (1977)

This novel was translated at the same time that the film came out but it is hard to find with only a handful of libraries in the country owning a copy.

The Adaptation:

I can only hope that the basic idea of the film came from the novel and that much of the dialogue was changed because it won’t speak well of the original novel if some of the dialogue comes straight from the original source.  But, sadly, of course, I can’t verify that.

The Credits:

Directed by George Roy Hill.  Screenplay by Allan Burns.
note:  There is no mention of the original source in the credits.

Other Screenplays on My List Outside My Top 10

(in descending order of how I rank the script)

  • A Quiet Duel  –  Early Kurosawa (based on a play called The Abortion Doctor) that, like many Japanese films, came to the States in 1979.  A low ***.5 film
  • The Onion Field  –  A high ***.5 film based on the true crime book about the murder of a police officer.
  • Orchestra Rehearsal  –  I’m slight at a loss on this one thanks the oscars.org going defunct with their database.  They had it listed as adapted but I can find nothing (other than supposedly coming from a Fellini story, though that could just be a film story) that indicates it is adapted.  Solid (high ***) late Fellini film.
  • The Great Train Robbery  –  A high ***, this adaptation of the also really enjoyable novel by Michael Crichton is actually reviewed in full here where I wrote about the book as a Great Read.  Both are worth diving into.
  • Fedora  –  The penultimate Billy Wilder film is based on a novella by Tom Tryon.  High *** but I rated the script high enough to join the list.

Other Adaptations

(in descending order of how good the film is)

  • Soldier of Orange  –  The rare ***.5 film that doesn’t merit points for its script and the best film from Paul Verhoeven before he came to Hollywood.  Based on the World War II memoir of Dutch pilot Erik Hazelhoff Roelfzema.
  • The Innocent  –  Strong 1976 Luchino Visconti film based on the novel The Intruder.
  • Murder by Decree  –  I wrote a full paragraph on this film here because it’s a Sherlock Holmes film.  Christopher Plummer is a first-rate Sherlock Holmes even if James Mason isn’t all that good as Watson.  The story has Sherlock hunting Jack the Ripper with the notion that the Ripper crimes are tied up with the royal family.
  • The Black Stallion  –  A good family film that was a solid hit.  Based on the children’s classic from 1941 by Walter Farley.  There would later be a sequel and a prequel and even a television series.
  • Last Embrace  –  Early Jonathan Demme film based on the novel The 13th Man.
  • Saint Jack  –  Peter Bogdanovich adapts a Paul Theroux novel.  I don’t remember much about it other than that Denholm Elliott is quite good in it, though that really should go without saying.
  • Escape from Alcatraz  –  Almost a decade after their previous films, Eastwood and Siegel team up for one last film.  Based on the non-fiction book about the 1962 breakout.  At the time of the film’s release it was widely assumed the escapees had died (even though the film implies they are successful) but recent evidence shows they might have escaped (and Mythbusters proved they could have).
  • Hair  –  Four years after winning the Oscar, Milos Forman finally makes another film, this one an adaptation of the massive Broadway hit.  It’s solid but far from great.
  • The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums  –  The first of three films from acclaimed director Kenji Mizoguchi on this list whose films finally made it to the States in 1979.  I always want to like his films more than I do.  This one is based on the classic Japanese novel.  This film was originally released in 1936.
  • My Love Has Been Burning  –  Another Mizoguchi film, this one from 1949 and often called Flame of My Love.  This one is based on a novel by Kôgo Noda, who is mostly known for being the co-writer of many Ozu films.
  • The Europeans  –  The first of the Merchant / Ivory classic literature adaptations, this is based on a novel by Henry James.
  • Battlestar Galactica  –  I’m not quite sure if this should belong here.  It’s the theatrical release of the first three episodes of the show.  It was released in international theaters before the show debuted in September of 1978 but didn’t air in U.S. theaters until after the season was complete the following year (which is why it is here).  If it’s adapted, I shouldn’t include the Score for Nighthawk Awards (because it was written for the show) and if I do, I shouldn’t count it as adapted.  Well, it’s here and you can read a much more full review here.  By the way, if you watch it and Baltar isn’t executed, you’re watching the television edit not the theatrical version.
  • Moonraker  –  The second film in a row that’s already reviewed.  That’s because I covered it in my For Love of Film: James Bond series.  A fun film but also the silliest of Bond films.
  • Time After Time  –  Based on a then-unpublished novel by Karl Alexander (though it was published before the film was released) with a great premise: what if Jack the Ripper was friends with H.G. Wells and what if Wells really did build a time machine and they both went to 1979 San Francisco.  Solid ***.
  • The 47 Ronin  –  Another Mizoguchi, this one from 1941, utilizing the famous Japanese story.  I really want it to be great but it’s just not.
  • The Maids of Wilko  –  Polish submission for Best Foreign Film based on a short story by Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz.
  • Jana Aranya  –  A 1976 film from Satyajit Ray.  Based on the novel by Mani Shankar Mukherjee.
  • Junoon  –  Another Indian film, this one based on the novella A Flight of Pigeons.
  • The Silent Partner  –  A Canadian heist film that’s a remake of a 1969 Danish heist film which was based on a Danish novel.
  • The Wicker Man  –  Clearly I am not a big fan as so many in Britain (and elsewhere) are.  Based, not on the book (which is a novelization) but on the novel Ritual by David Pinner.
  • Tent of Miracles  –  The Brazilian submission for Best Foreign Film in 1977, it’s based on the well-known novel by Jorge Amado.
  • Star Trek: The Motion Picture  –  Now we’re into low ***.  This is another movie that has already been reviewed (here).  It’s got a good idea but was badly directed and edited.  But it does have one of the all-time great film scores.  Based, of course, on the characters from the original show.
  • Max Havelaar  –  The Dutch Best Foreign Film submission for 1976.  Based on the novel from 1860.
  • Gypsies are Found Near Heaven  –  The biggest Soviet hit of 1976 (though originally released in late 1975), based on a Gorky short story.
  • Buck Rogers in the 25th Century  –  Once again, Universal decided to release the pilot in theaters before the show began, this time releasing it in the States as well.  Thinking about this, it means I need to include its Score on my list for the year because it’s also really good.  This one is adapted either way because Buck, as a character, had existed since 1928 (originally created for the novella Armageddon 2419 A.D.).
  • The Green Room  –  Not all Truffaut is great, such as this film, based on a short story by Henry James.  Still not bad though because it’s Truffaut.
  • The Cycle  –  Wikipedia both claims that this film was originally made in 1975 and that it was finally released in Iran after being banned in early 1978, neither of which would have made it eligible to be Iran’s first Foreign Film submission at the Oscars, which it was, in 1977.  Based on a play by Gholam-Hossein Sa-edi.
  • Cadena perpetua  –  Mexican cop Action film based on a novel by Luis Sorta.  Directed by Arturo Ripstein.
  • Despair  –  Fassbinder tackles Nabokov with not great results.
  • Cause Toujours  –  French Comedy from director Edouard Molinaro (Oscar nominated this year for La Cage Aux Folles) based on the novel Hang Ups by Peter Marks.
  • North Dallas Forty  –  This was the decade for Sports Comedies but like North Dallas Forty (which is **.5) most of them weren’t all that good no matter how popular they were.  Based on the novel by Peter Gent.
  • Winter Kills  –  Given the cast (Jeff Bridges, John Huston, even Toshiro Mifune), I expected more from this bizarre conspiracy film about a JFK type assassination, especially since the novel it was based on was written by Richard Condon who wrote The Manchurian Candidate and Prizzi’s Honor.
  • The Street Fighter’s Last Revenge  –  The third in the series with Sonny Chiba.  Not bad but just not good enough.
  • Love at First Bite  –  I want this to be better, a spoof of Dracula with George Hamilton (he would do the same to Zorro two years later).  Hamilton is funny but the film just isn’t funny enough.  Still, the second best Dracula film of the year.
  • Quadrophenia  –  Skip the film and just listen to the brilliant double album by the Who that inspired it.  Not quite as good an album as Tommy but a much better film.
  • Dracula  –  I’ve reviewed it in full here.  Disappointing and a horribly stupid ending but Langella is fun to watch.  I always hope it will be better than it is.
  • Angel Guts: Red Classroom  –  Part of the Nikkatsu Roman Porno line though it’s not really a porno.  A sequel to an earlier film and based on a manga series.
  • The Wanderers  –  Disappointing film from Philip Kaufman based on the novel by Richard Price which I haven’t read (his Clockers is great but his Bloodbrothers is awful).
  • Chapter Two  –  The last Neil Simon adaptation of the decade and one of the weaker ones though of course it earned Marsha Mason an undeserved Oscar nom.  We’ve dropped all the way to low **.5.
  • Head Over Heels  –  Romantic Comedy from Joan Micklin Silver based on the novel Chilly Scenes of Winter by Ann Beattie.  Later re-released under the book’s title with the book’s melancholy ending.
  • The Consequence  –  Early film from Wolfgang Petersen based on the autobiographical novel by Alexander Ziegler.
  • Rocky II  –  The third Best Picture winner of the decade to get a sequel (three more would if you count a television movie).  This time Rocky wins the fight.
  • Butch and Sundance: The Early Days  –  Well, a sequel wasn’t possible but one of the best Westerns of all-time gets a prequel but instead of Newman and Redford we get Tom Berenger and William Katt.  Not the same.
  • The Warriors  –  The 1965 novel was actually based on the Greek text Anabasis.  This is a big cult film but it’s not actually very good.
  • Money Movers  –  The last film from Bruce Beresford before he hit big worldwide with Breaker Morant.  Based on a novel by Devon Minchin.
  • Jesus  –  Also known as The Jesus Film.  Since most of the dialogue actually comes from the Gospel of Luke, it’s definitely adapted though it’s pretty boring.  You’re better off reading The Bible.
  • The Prisoner of Zenda  –  The fifth film version of the classic Adventure novel, this one is done as a Comedy with Peter Sellers.  Watch the 1937 version instead.
  • The Woman with Red Hair  –  Now we’ve hit ** films.  Another of the Nikkatsu Roman Porno series, this one from a novel by Kenji Nakagami.
  • The 5th Musketeer  –  Weak adaptation of The Man in the Iron Mask.
  • A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man  –  Another one already reviewed in full, this time here, because it’s an adaptation of one of the greatest novels ever written.  Skip the film.  Read the book (if you can).
  • More American Graffiti  –  Yet another Best Picture nominee sequel.  Richard Dreyfuss skipped on it and it’s completely unnecessary since the end of the first film told us the final fates of all the characters.  The only memorable scene is the woman on the bus singing “Baby Love”.  Basically the end of Ron Howard’s acting career on film.
  • The Champ  –  A terrible remake of the stupid 1931 film that was nominated for Best Picture with Rick Schroeder as the kid.
  • King, Queen, Knave  –  This time it’s Jerzy Skolimowski adapting Nabokov.
  • The Passage  –  Weak J. Lee Thompson World War II Action film.  Based on the novel Perilous Passage.
  • Unidentified Flying Oddball  –  Silly updated Disney version of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.
  • Dracula and Son  –  More Eduard Molinaro, this one from 1976.  Bad Comedy that makes use of Dracula and is thus adapted.
  • The Human Factor  –  Otto Preminger’s final novel is a dud version of the Graham Greene novel.
  • Beyond the Poseidon Adventure  –  Well at least the original wasn’t a Best Picture nominee.  Stupid sequel has Michael Caine and Sally Field trying to get treasure from the ship.
  • The Bell Jar  –  I have never liked the Sylvia Plath book though I got a higher appreciation for it in grad school after reading it when a friend did a paper on it.  The film version is terrible though.  Now we’re into low **.
  • The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires  –  The ninth and final Dracula film from Hammer is also a Shaw Brothers Martial Arts film which is why it’s so bad (well, that and because John Forbes-Robertson plays Dracula instead of Christopher Lee).  Originally made in 1974 but not released in the States until 1979 (and retitled The 7 Brothers Meet Dracula).
  • Nightwing  –  Arthur Hiller makes a Wild Nature Horror film, this one about bats.  Based on the novel by Martin Cruz Smith.
  • Hurricane  –  Terrible Disaster film based on the novel by Nordhoff and Hall and a remake of a considerably better 1937 film.
  • The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again  –  If you’ve seen the first film, you know it was the kids who were the Apple Dumpling Gang.  But instead Disney brought back Don Knotts and Tim Conway, the idiot crooks from the first film for the sequel.
  • Ashanti  –  The start of the utter dreck that finished Richard Fleischer’s directorial career and also one of the last films from William Holden.  But it’s just awful (we’ve jumped all the way down to *).  Based on the novel Ébano.
  • Bloodline  –  A Sidney Sheldon novel becomes a crappy Suspense film.
  • The Amityville Horror  –  One of the “classic” Horror films that is nothing of the kind.  Terrible film from a ridiculous “non-fiction” book about a supposedly haunted house.  Numerous sequels will follow, all of them awful.
  • The Concorde… Airport ’79  –  George Kennedy’s character follows over so I guess it’s adapted.  The fourth (and thankfully last) in the series of films and again a sequel to a Best Picture nominee, the fourth on the list.
  • Cosmos: War of the Planets  –  Well, it’s a remake of Planet of the Vampires so technically it’s adapted.  Terrible Sci-Fi film.
  • Avalanche Express  –  The final film from former Oscar nominated director Mark Robson.  Terrible (now we’ve hit mid *) Suspense film based on the novel by Colin Forbes.
  • Shame of the Jungle  –  An adult Animated film known as Tarzoon when it was originally released in France.  Dubbed into English for the U.S., where it was the first foreign Animated film to earn an X rating.  As a version of Tarzan, even a satire, I considered it adapted.
  • Americathon  –  Terrible satire based on the play.  Roger Ebert gets it right in his .5 review though I give it a full *.
  • Zoltan: Hound of Dracula  –  Also known as Dracula’s Dog and based on the novel Hounds of Dracula by Ken Johnson.  Our final Dracula film of the year.  Simply awful, earning .5.
  • The Shape of Things to Come  –  Crappy Canadian Sci-Fi film that takes the title from H.G. Wells but really drops the book.

Adaptations of Notable Works I Haven’t Seen

  • The Magician of Lublin  –  Adaptation of the Isaac Bashevis Singer novel that I have not been able to get hold of.
Advertisements