The brilliant ending to the film that isn’t in the novel but fits the novel’s post-modern metaphysical style.

My Top 10

  1. The French Lieutenant’s Woman
  2. Ragtime
  3. Excalibur
  4. The Lady from Musashino
  5. Superman II

note:  That’s it.  My original list did have six films but I ended up cutting Buddy Buddy after watching it again (which is unlikely to bother anyone since it seemed I had a higher opinion of it than most).

Consensus Nominees:

  1. On Golden Pond  (264 pts)
  2. The French Lieutenant’s Woman  (112 pts)
  3. Ragtime  (80 pts)
  4. Prince of the City  (80 pts)
  5. Rich and Famous  (80 pts)

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

  • On Golden Pond
  • The French Lieutenant’s Woman
  • Pennies from Heaven
  • Prince of the City
  • Ragtime

WGA Awards:

Adapted Drama:

  • On Golden Pond
  • Cutter’s Way
  • Prince of the City
  • Ragtime

Adapted Comedy:

  • Rich and Famous
  • First Monday in October
  • For Your Eyes Only

Golden Globe:

  • On Golden Pond
  • The French Lieutenant’s Woman

Nominees that are Original:  Absence of Malice, The Four Seasons, Reds

BAFTA:

  • The French Lieutenant’s Woman
  • On Golden Pond  (1982)

Nominees that are Original:  Gregory’s Girl, Atlantic City, Chariots of Fire

My Top 10

The French Lieutenant’s Woman

The Film:

I have already reviewed this film when I wrote about the novel as one of my Top 100 (see below).  I stressed in that review the brilliant way that Harold Pinter managed to approach a novel that was very deliberately post-modern but set in the Victoria Era and managed to bring both those things into the script in a fantastic way.  But watching it this time (and I suspected this might be the case when I was re-reading the book yet again) I realized I have long been under-rating this film.  It still can’t make it into the Top 5 in a year such as this (four of the films above it are original scripts which is why it so easily wins this category) but it really is a great film and it deserves a bump up to a solid ****.  It has a brilliant performance from Streep and is easily my #1 adapted screenplay of the year.

The Source:

The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles (1969)

I ranked this novel at #99 all-time when I did my Top 100 Novels list.  That might not seem like that high a praise, being ranked down at 99 out of 100 but it means that out of the thousands of novels I have read, I ranked it at #99 all-time.  It is a brilliant post-modern attempt at looking at a forbidden romance in the Victorian Era, an era which is brilliant summed up in a quote I think I felt was too long to include in my original review:

“What are we faced with in the nineteenth century? An age where woman was sacred; and where you could buy a thirteen-year-old girl for a few pounds – a few shillings, if you wanted her for only an hour or two. Where more churches were built in the whole previous history of the country; and where one in sixty houses in London was a brothel (the modern ratio would be nearer one in six thousand). Where the sanctity of marriage (and the chastity before marriage) was proclaimed from every pulpit, in every newspaper editorial and public utterance; and where never – or hardly ever – have so many great public figures, from the future king on down, led scandalous private lives. Where the penal system was progressively humanized; and flagellation so rife that a Frenchman set out quite seriously to prove that the Marquis de Sade must have had English ancestry. Where the female body had never been so hidden from view; and where every sculptor was judged by his ability to carve naked women. Where there is not a single novel, play or poem of literary distinction that ever goes beyond the sensuality of a kiss, where Dr. Bowdler (the date of whose death, 1825, reminds us that the Victorian ethos was in being long before the strict threshold of the age) was widely considered a public benefactor; and where the output of pornography has never been exceeded. Where the excretory functions were never referred to; and where the sanitation remained – the flushing lavatory came late in the age and remained a luxury well up to 1900 – so primitive that there can have been few houses, and few streets, where one was not constantly reminded of them. Where it was universally maintained that women do not have orgasms; and yet every prostitute was taught to simulate them. Where there was an enormous progress and liberation in every other field of human activity; and nothing but tyranny in the most personal and fundamental. At first sight the answer seems clear – it is the business of sublimation. The Victorians poured their libido into those other fields; as if some genie of evolution, feeling lazy, said to himself: We need some progress, so let us dam and divert this one great canal and see what happens.”

The Adaptation:

How in the bloody hell did this brilliant adaptation of a book so long considered un-adaptable lose to the pile of schmaltzy tripe that is On Golden Pond?  What Pinter does is brilliant – he takes the actual story in the book, the love story between Charles and Sarah, and keeps it almost completely intact in the book, complete with dialogue mostly from the book.  Yet, to make a commentary on the love story, the same way that the book does with the post-modernism, he also adds in the secondary story of the love story being filmed with the two stars also having an affair ending with that brilliant cry out of the window that ends the film.  Pinter can’t actually keep much of the commentary on the love story but he keeps the spirit alive in the way that he structures the film, making this easily the best adapted screenplay of the year.

The Credits:

Directed by Karel Reisz.  Based on the book ‘The French Lieutenant’s Woman’ by John Fowles.  Screenplay by Harold Pinter.

Ragtime

The Film:

Milos Forman just didn’t make enough films (I wrote that sentence in the past tense before he died because he basically had retired anyway).  After coming to the States in 1970, he made just nine films over the course of 26 years.  But think of what he did in that time: winning two Oscars for One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Amadeus, making fascinating real-life films like The People vs Larry Flynt and Man in the Moon or tackling difficult literature in making Ragtime and Valmont.

When Ragtime was first published it was a big hit (see below) but how could it be made into a film?  There were so many things that resisted a film narrative, not to mention an entire family that never receive names.  But Forman and Michael Weller found a way through that, found a way to the core of the story (the family itself and their involvement with Coalhouse Walker) without letting the stories around the fringes either get in the way or disappear entirely.

There might be just enough that bleeds around the edges that prevents Ragtime from being a great film.  While some films move up or down through the years as I watch them again and again, Ragtime started at an 87 (the highest rating of ***.5) and has remained at an 87 every time I watch it again.  Yet, even at an 87, that makes it one of the best films in a weak year and the supporting performances of Elizabeth McGovern (who dominates much of the first hour) and Howard Rollins Jr (who dominates the last hour) are the best of the year in strong supporting categories.

Actually, it’s amazing how much this film dominates in the Top 10 of all the categories.  The film’s 8 Nighthawk nominations is not outside the realm of possibility for films that aren’t **** (its 8 Oscar nominations are exceeded by only three films that didn’t receive Best Picture nominations) but its 16 Top 10 finishes are way above the top (the next highest non **** film has only 13).  But it’s a measure of it not being a **** film that it only earns the 8 noms, which is by far the fewest for a film with anywhere close to that many Top 10 finishes.  Everything about is so well done, from the way the story is put together to the magnificent acting all across the board to the cinematography and the wonderful Randy Newman score and the fantastic sets and costumes.

Lots of films try to do what Ragtime does, telling stories of three different loosely connected families while also tying it into historical and cultural considerations.  But so rarely does a film do it with this kind of style and production.

The Source:

Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow (1975)

I walked into Chapter II Books, an old used bookstore that used to exist in Forest Grove and it was the first month of my junior year in college.  I came out with two books by authors that I had heard of but never read.  The first was Portnoy’s Complaint and that lead, a long way down the road, to this.  The other was Ragtime.  I didn’t take as much to Doctorow as I did to Roth (though I did read all his books up to that point) but Ragtime, his best book, has always been a book that I return to.  It’s the kind of book that could both win the National Book Award and earn a nomination for the Nebula Award.  Ragtime is a great book, just barely missing out on my Top 100.

It is, at times, a history lesson (“Henry Ford had once been an ordinary automobile manufacturer. Now he experienced an ecstasy greater and more intense than that vouchsafed to any American before him, not excepting Thomas Jefferson.”), at times a study in culture (“Of course Freud’s immediate reception in America was not auspicious. A few professional alienists understood his importance, but to most of the public he appeared as some kind of German sexologist, an exponent of free love who used big words to talk about dirty things. At least a decade would have to pass before Freud would have his revenge and see his ideas begin to destroy sex in America forever.”) and at times just a great story about a group of very disparate people who end up interconnected.

The Adaptation:

The filmmakers, rather intelligently, decided to drop much of the historical background in the film.  There are a few things that make it in through the newsreels or the montages at the beginning and end and of course the Shaw killing of Stanford White is a key moment in the film so that had to be in but a lot of the Houdini stuff and the world events that take the Father away from the family (the Peary expedition, the Lusitania) are excised.  Most of the events involving the three fictional families happen rather closely to how they happen in the book.  One of the key moments in the book takes a really bizarre scene (Mother’s Younger Brother masturbating in the closet while watching Emma Goldman oil down Evelyn Nesbit’s bruised body: “At this moment a hoarse unearthly cry issued from the walls, the closet door flew open and Mother’s Younger Brother fell into the room, his face twisted in a paroxysm of saintly mortification. He was clutching in his hands, as if trying to choke it, a rampant penis which, scornful of his intentions, whipped him about the floor, launching to his cries of ecstasy or despair, great filamented spurts of jism that traced the air like bullets and then settled slowly over Evelyn in her bed like falling ticker tape.”) and in the film is memorably changed into one of the most memorable scenes in the film (Evelyn coming into the room and then just dropping her clothes).  But the film takes a novel that didn’t look like it could even be made into a film and adapts it rather faithfully.

Of course, Doctorow had a notion to film it more literally: “With Ragtime, E. L. Doctorow simply rewrote his novel into a different format.  The sprawling script crawled with characters and gave off a monotone buzz of unaccentuated emotion because Doctorow failed to make any of the hard focusing choices necessary for a good adaptation.  He produced a huge libretto of some three hundred pages, a prettily penne paper brick that I wouldn’t have known how to begin to shoot.” (Turnaround: A Memoir, Miloš Forman and Jan Novak, p 207)  But Forman didn’t go that direction: “Michael Weller had just finished a fine play, Loose Ends, and we wrote our second screenplay together, trying to keep the feel of Doctorow’s sprawling, overpopulated novel, his Breughelian canvas in which fictional characters teem around historical personages.  We used the story of the black pianist as our main plot line.” (Forman, p 247)

The film was originally 176 minutes but Forman and producer Dino de Laurentiis decided to let Doctorow be the judge on a shorter cut that eliminated all of the Emma Goldman scenes.  Doctorow agreed to the shorter cut which Forman always felt “shortening Ragtime for no internal reason was a mistake.” (Forman, p 257)

The Credits:

Directed by Milos Forman.  Based on the novel by E.L. Doctorow.  Screenplay by Michael Weller.

Excalibur

The Film:

I have actually reviewed this film twice before, the first time when I reviewed it in 2009 as my example film for John Boorman when I placed him in my Top 100 Directors (and, though it is not his best film and not one of the two that earned him Oscar nominations, I still think it is perhaps the best example of why he is such a great director) and the second time, less than two years later as my Under-Appreciated Film of 1981 (because I think I had forgotten I had already reviewed it).  It’s a brilliant film that I like more every time I watch it (it’s included in my 100 Favorite Films) and so I’m glad that I own it on Blu Ray now to see all the colors and visions come to life so vividly.  I’ll just leave you with this: this is the cinematic debut of Gabriel Byrne, Liam Neeson and Ciarin Hinds and if that doesn’t move you to see it, then I don’t know what will.

The Source:

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

I again won’t bother to say all the things that could be said here.  There are entire books, even series of books, about the Arthur legends and what has been written about them.  They are, in a sense, my favorite stories, perhaps because of the way my own brain rewrites the Arthur legends (I have no less than four different scripts, including multiple ones that are actually complete that deal with the Arthur legend, one of which ends with the death of Arthur and one of which actually begins with the death of Arthur).  But for a list of some of the things you can go to, go here, where I discussed this source in relation to Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

The Adaptation:

“I began to formulate the idea that the Grail cycle was a metaphor for the past, present and future of humanity,” John Boorman would write in Adventures of a Suburban Boy (p 236) and would expound on how that vision fits the film (if you are a fan of the film that part of his book is well worth reading).  He also talks about working with Rospo Pallenberg, who had also co-written their doomed Lord of the Rings attempt a decade before: “I asked Rospo to help me somehow condense, compress Excalibur.  He had several terrific ideas.  The first was to tell the story chronologically but with major leaps between each stage.  We cut from Arthur’s birth directly to his youth, vaulting over his childhood, which forms the core of T. H. White’s The Once and Future King.” (p 237-238)  Again, Boorman expands upon that in the book and it’s really worth reading.

And Boorman gives a good idea of what the film really does.  It covers the major events in Arthur’s life in fits and starts with about 20 minutes before his birth, 20 minutes to cover The Sword in the Stone, about 15 to cover him meeting Launcelot and establishing the Round Table before we settle into his marriage and start down the path to the Launcelot-Guinevere love affair and the quest for the Grail before we move onto the final events that will bring the film to a close – it really does cover just about every major thing you would expect to see in an Arthur film.

The Credits:

Directed and Produced by John Boorman.  Screenplay: Rospo Pallnberg and John Boorman.  Adapted from Mallory’s “Le Morte Darthur” by Rospo Pallenberg.
note: There are no opening credits.  These are from the end credits.

The Lady from Musashino

The Film:

Writing this review makes me miss two things.  The first is working at a college library.  That job gave me access to Interlibrary Loan from all sorts of other college libraries and made it much easier to find hard to find films.  Take The Lady of Musashino, for example, a film that I was finally able to track down from another library.  That was good because it is quite a good film, an overlooked piece from acclaimed director Kenji Mizoguchi; overlooked, I suspect, not because of a lack of quality, but because not enough people have seen it.  Indeed, this time I wasn’t able to actually track it down at all and was forced to watch a version online that had no subtitles

Then there is the other thing I miss – good years of film.  The Lady of Musashino is from 1951, which was a very good year for film.  However, it didn’t play in the States until 1981 which, in spite of Raiders of the Lost Ark, is actually not that good a year in film.  If this film had come over to the states in the year it was released, it would have been #12 on my list for the year for Adapted Screenplay and I wouldn’t be writing this at all.  But, it arrived in 1981 and actually earned a Nighthawk nomination, but then again, in 1951, Original Screenplay was the weak category and its #3, Hue and Cry, wouldn’t have made the Top 10 in 1981.

So, that’s two paragraphs so far and I haven’t really said anything about the film itself other than that it’s quite good (in other words, low ***.5).  This is a portrait of a changing Japanese society during the end and immediate aftermath of the war.  There are five main characters in the film and they all suffer from distinct flaws except one, the title character herself.  That is Michiko, a young woman married to a womanizing college professor.  Her husband is also about to swindle the wife of Michiko’s cousin.  But that cousin is a war profiteer and isn’t exactly good to his wife, Tomiko, so her need to escape from him is understandable.  But Tomiko is actually in love with Tsutomu, another cousin who has just arrived fresh from the war and having been a prisoner.

Watching it again, I am reminded somewhat of The Cranes are Flying and the experience of one woman in the USSR during the same war.  There are differences of course and while that film focused more on the cost of the war, this film is more about what the war has done to society and how changing norms become accepted.  Does it say something distinctive about Japanese culture how Michiko deals with the problems of the people she knows and what her choice is?

If you decide to watch this film, it will not by easy to get hold of (at least in the States).  But it may reward you with its characters, its story, its moving script.  It’s a reminder that while Mizoguchi may not be held up as highly as Kurosawa, he is still one of the most important directors in Japanese film history.

The Source:

Musashino Fujin, (武蔵野夫人, “A Wife in Musashino”, 1950) by Shōhei Ōoka (1950)

This review is being written long before the post is going up because I needed to get it out of the way before leaving Massachusetts.  That’s because, not only is the movie hard to find, but the book was as well (I actually had to get the book from outside my own library system).  I even have to wonder how much the book is available at all and if for a long time perhaps it wasn’t available at all because the version I read is a 2004 translation done for a specific series (Michigan Monograph Series for Japanese Studies).  That would be unfortunate if it is the case because, if you get a chance to read it, this book is worth the read (just like the film is worth the time to watch it).

This is a short but moving piece.  Ooka studied Stendahl (something he gives to Akiyama, the unpleasant professor in the novel) and his psychological insight into his characters and their tragic lives (long before psychology even had a name) is inspired by the great French writer.

I will not bother with a plot description because there is almost no difference between the film and the original novel.  But Ooka’s writing is easy to dive into and dense enough that it prevents you from moving too quickly.  Here is an early paragraph when he is describing the area of Musashino itself: “Water gushes out where the interior of the hollow gradually rises and becomes a low cliff.  The sandy stratum that lies beneath the reddish loam of Musashino is exposed there.  Clean subterranean water bubbles forth as though crawling out of the earth and quickly becomes a murmuring stream starting its downward flow.  Chosaku’s family built a small pool where this stream crosses the lower road and use it to wash vegetables from the fields.” (p 4)

The Adaptation:

If there is anything that is changed from the original, it is because of a translation question and that is the title itself.   I tend to list the film as The Lady from Musashino because that’s how it was listed in the TSPDT list that prompted me to see the film.  But most sources call it The Lady of Musashino.  Dennis Washburn, in his translation, titled it “A Wife in Musashino” and addresses this in his afterward: “The English title of [Mizoguchi’s film] is The Lady of Musashino.  One way to translate fujin is ‘lady’ and, in the sense of someone who is accomplished in manners and conduct, ‘lady’ is an appropriate choice.  However, the word ‘lady’ also carries the connotation of aristocratic status, and that is a problem in this case.  To avoid any possible confusion with regard to social status, I have chosen to translate the title as A Wife in Musashino.  My choice stresses Michiko’s status as a wife, and, more important, suggest the value she places on her status.”  Having seen the film and read the novel, I actually pretty much agree with Washburn.

Other than the title difference, there is almost no difference between the original novel and the film.  It is a very faithful (and solid) adaptation.

The Credits:

Directed by Kenji Mizoguchi.  Written by Yoshikata Yoda.  From the novel by  Shōhei Ōoka.
note: Because I was unable to get a copy with subtitles for re-watching it (and because I don’t understand Japanese writing), the credits are from the IMDb.

Superman II

The Film:

I not only have reviewed this film already (here) but I also even reviewed the Richard Donner cut of the film.  As is well known by now, Donner was fired from the film and when Richard Lester was brought in to finish it, he added a lot more humor to the film, a lot of which doesn’t work all that well.  Yet, the Lester version includes the great Eiffel Tower sequence and complete visual effects as well as the great opening credit montage that recaps the first film brilliantly.  In either cut (I now own both of them on Blu Ray, using my birthday money on a used copy of the box set, which gives me two versions of the first two films and Superman Returns as well as the terrible third and fourth films), I enjoy watching the film, one that has been one of my favorite films since I saw it on my eighth birthday in the theater.  I will admit, though, that it is not as good a film as the first film and that it would not have made the list in a good year.  This isn’t a good year, however, and here it is.

The Source:

Superman created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster

The film makes use of the original characters of course that had been created for the comics (even Zod was created for the comics back in 1961 though I wouldn’t actually know that until years later) but it really makes more use of the characters how they were created for the big screen in the first film in 1978.  If you go here and look at the first film, you can see all the various books I listed that I recommend when it comes to Superman.

The Adaptation:

As I just wrote, the characters derive more from how they were written in the first film than how they were written in the comics.  Other than Zod having facial hair, there’s not a lot of things that directly contradict the comics other than the utterly bizarre powers that all of the Kryptonians show off in the Fortress of Solitude that make no sense.

The Credits:

Directed by Richard Lester.  Superman created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.  Creative Consultant: Tom Mankiewicz.  Story by Mario Puzo.  Screenplay by Mario Puzo, David Newman and Leslie Newman.

Consensus Nominees

On Golden Pond

The Film:

If I thought that On Golden Pond was ridiculously sentimental schmaltz when I reviewed it for my Best Picture project that’s nothing compared to how I viewed it this time.  I wondered if I had been too generous in even giving it three stars.  This time I found it almost unwatchable, the schmaltziness washing over me, forcing me to constantly fast-forward.  It’s hard for me to stomach that a film with three actors I adore so much could be in something I find so difficult to sit through.  I am glad that Fonda’s career was finally recognized with an Oscar and that the two Fondas were able to use this film to overcome years of distance but good lord I wish it was a better film.

The Source:

On Golden Pond: A Play by Ernest Thompson (1979)

This played well on stage apparently, since it was a big hit and would later have a successful revival in the 00’s with James Earl Jones but theater audiences have often tolerated such things.  It certainly reads just as sentimental as it plays on screen.

The Adaptation:

Almost everything in the play makes it to the screen intact, though a few things are moved around to keep from making the scenes too long.  But some of the key scenes in the film weren’t in the original play.  Small little scenes, of course, like anything away from the cabin, weren’t in the original production because it was a one location play.  But also the main scene in the film, the stranding of the two of them on the rock, was never in the original either (or the other fishing scenes, since all the scenes take place in the cabin).  That of course means that the backflip scenes also weren’t in the original.  One other thing of note: in the original play, Chelsea is described as “a bit heavy”.  Clearly they changed that in the film as will be noticed in the bikini scene.

The Credits:

Directed by Mark Rydell.  Screenplay by Ernest Thompson.  Based on his play.

Prince of the City

The Film:

Prince of the City was directed by Sidney Lumet, one of the all-time great directors (he was ranked at #19 in my initial Top 100 and #22 in my 2.0 version of the list).  It earned Golden Globe nominations for Picture, Director and Actor and was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay at the Oscars.  And yet, in a very weak year for Adapted Screenplay, when my entire list is only five films long, I don’t have it on my list and I don’t rate the film any higher than mid ***.  So why is that?

That was the question I was wondering about myself when I was re-watching this film.  Certainly there have been any number of films during the course of this project that I have re-evaluated and moved either up or down.  Yet, in the end, I stand by my original judgment of this film.  It is a good film, but there is nothing about it that makes it move onto any of my lists.  Lumet set out to make a film that could go on a shelf with his earlier Serpico dealing some of the same issues (and indeed, the main cop portrayed by Treat Williams was one of the few cops that Serpico himself trusted, although wrongly, as it turned out).  But where Serpico was exciting and dynamic and had a performance that lit the film up, this film doesn’t work in the same way.

This is the story of the corrupt cops in a division of the New York Police Department.  One of them, tired of a life that means grabbing heroin so that he can keep one of his stoolies from breaking down, he decides to cooperate with the investigation as long as he doesn’t have to turn on his partners.  But of course he will have to turn on his partners.  Indeed, there’s no way to get through this without perjuring himself while also confessing to various crimes.  Williams at times can be intense and at times can be bland but he’s forced to carry the entire film.  There is a large supporting cast but most of them don’t actually add much to the film.  Even the script seems to meander too much.  This film didn’t need to be anywhere near 167 minutes and it just feels like it is constantly dragging without any real focus.  Part of the idea is the mundane triviality that comes along with such an investigation but that makes for some boring movie-going at times.

I wish I liked this film better.  I want to like this film better if for no other reason than because it was directed by Sidney Lumet.  But not every film from a great director is a winner.  Still, it’s better than his version of The Wiz.

The Source:

Prince of the City: The True Story of a Cop Who Knew Too Much by Robert Daley (1978)

Robert Daley was the Deputy Police Commissioner in New York for a stretch and even though he wrote numerous books, he writes more like he was the Deputy Police Commissioner.  I just could never sink into the book properly.  I was reminded of things that are better books (and films) at the beginning (The French Connection is mentioned prominently as the case that began the SIU, the special unit that the particular cop featured in this book was a part of) and things that are much worse by a historical figure late in the book (one of the prosecutors involved in this case about busting dirty cops is Rudy Giuliani, very early in his career when he was just ambitious and not a crackpot).  This is the story of Bob Leuci, an SIU detective who spent years taking drugs or payoffs (he didn’t use the drugs – just passed it on to junkies on his payroll) who eventually decided to cooperate with an investigation of his unit with the original caveat that he would not betray his partners who ends up deep enough that he realizes he has to betray his partners.  For me, not particularly compelling, but then I’m not interested in dirty NYC cops who think that they’re okay guys because they’re just robbing the bad guys.

The Adaptation:

“What happened was that Jay [Presson Allen] still had three more weeks of work on another script when we decided to adapt her novel.  So I cut the book up into sections, starting with the ending.  For me the three critical moments in the life of the character are the day when he decides to reveal the names to his partner, the week when the judges meet in a room to figure out whether they should indict him for giving false testimony, and finally, the debate over whether to retry the most important case in which he ever had to testify.  Once again, no fiction author could have imagined that both decisions would be made on the same day because it would have seemed too perfect from the dramatic standpoint.  By using these three strong moments as points of departure, I was able to align the facts, the incidents that lead me to them, so I made my way backwards.” (Sidney Lumet quoted in Sidney Lumet: Interviews, ed. Joanna E. Rapf, p 83-84)

“Then we had the lucky instance that some of the dialogue was actually in transcription, from the wire Treat Williams’s character was wearing.  So she said, ‘Why don’t you take the scenes where he’s got the wire on?’  So I wound up writing about half the dialogue.” (p 170)

That is true – there are some scenes in the film that are straight from the book (like when he’s accused of wearing a wire when the prosecutors are supposed to be backing him up) but a lot of the individual scenes in the film don’t actually come from the book and I assume they come from the transcripts.

What didn’t get mentioned in the Lumet book was that Brian De Palma actually worked with the actual cop played by Treat Williams for a year and a half and had developed the script with David Rabe through all that time before eventually he and Rabe left the project, which De Palma briefly mentions in the documentary De Palma.  He always felt that Lumet stole the film from him and that it was ironic that he would end up directing Scarface, which Lumet had been developing.

The Credits:

Directed by Sidney Lumet.  Screenplay by Jay Presson Allen and Sidney Lumet.  Based on the book by Robert Daley.
note: These are from the end credits. There are no opening credits.

Rich and Famous

The Film:

In 1981, two long directing careers ended.  The first was Billy Wilder, whose final film Buddy, Buddy is listed above.  It’s a low-range ***.5 black comedy that was passed over by the WGA (okay, that’s no longer the case that it’s above because I wrote this review two years ago but it still makes the point).  The other, George Cukor, is a low-range *** rather bland drama that somehow managed to win the WGA award for Comedy Adapted from Another Medium.  It’s one of those times where I look at the WGA Awards and try to wonder what the hell they were thinking.

Candace Bergen and Jacqueline Bisset play two college friends whose friendship is tested through the years.  Partially it’s because Bisset becomes a successful writer (and successful lover to different men) while Bergen is off playing domestic bliss in California.  Part of it is because every time Bisset comes around, Bergen’s husband suddenly seems to remember, “oh, that’s right, my wife’s best friend is Jacqueline Bisset” and he gets the look on his face that many men did when faced with Bisset during the 70’s.  We pop in and look at their relationship a few times over the years and it always seems to be strained, but they manage to overcome that.  Eventually, Bergen decides to write her own book (with Bisset’s help) and that becomes successful as well, at the same time that Bisset is blocked in her writing, and of course that adds more tension.  Then, because we don’t have enough, we throw in a young Meg Ryan in her film debut, Bergen’s daughter who looks to her “aunt” for some freedom and advice.

All of this manages to survive and get up to *** mainly because of the talent of George Cukor.  Cukor worked as a director for 50 years.  It is ironic that three actors won Best Actor in Cukor films (Jimmy Stewart, Ronald Colman, Rex Harrison) because he was primarily known for being such a great director for women (his films earned nine nominations for Best Actress and three more for Supporting Actress).  Bisset was never a great actress and Cukor manages to pull her through just fine.  His direction manages to keep the melodrama from weighing the film down too much (that the script won an award is just ridiculous), but this really is a rather forgettable final film from the great director.  But, then again, most final films are.  Even Wilder’s film is mostly forgotten and is certainly under-appreciated.

The Source:

Old Acquaintance by John van Druten (1940)

A rather old-fashioned play about the friendship of two women, this play has been filmed twice.  The first time it was filmed it was (I presume, since I haven’t seen it), closer to the original play, following the timeline through the years and this second was a much looser adaptation (see below).  The dialogue and scenes seem forced when reading them now, though they might have been more suited to the time.  It’s the story of a friendship between two women, one of whom is already a successful writer and the other who becomes one and the strain it places on their long friendship.

The Adaptation:

What this film does is take the original concept from the play (two friends, one of whom is a successful writer and the other who is long-married and becomes a successful writer) and the strain it places on their friendship.  It also takes one of the conceits of the first film version – tracking their friendship across time (the original play takes place over the course of only a month and everything we find out is almost entirely done through dialogue).  But, with the play moved to the present (it begins in 1959 and ends in 1981), with the stilted dialogue of the time replaced by stilted dialogue of the present, almost every line in the play has been dropped.  Like with modern adaptations of Shakespeare, it simply takes the story and has an entirely new screenplay that drops all the original dialogue.

The Credits:

Directed by George Cukor.  Based on a play by John Van Druten.  Screenplay by Gerald Ayres.

Oscar Nominee

Pennies from Heaven

The Film:

The sheet music salesman has fallen on hard times but so has the country.  It’s the height of the Depression and though he knows his business, he can’t convince anyone to believe in him, not his wife (who feels estranged from him and his sexual proclivities and worries that he strays), not the banker who refuses to give him a loan, not the women he meets along the way.  But, hey, not all is bleak and despair, because you can always break into song, with a big number around every corner, keeping the darkness and despair away.

Thus we have Pennies in Heaven, one of the very strangest Musicals ever made in Hollywood, perhaps because it didn’t originally come from Hollywood or even Broadway but was rather an original BBC presentation from Dennis Potter, a rather unique talent.  Potter’s original production (see below) went back to his memories of growing up in a rough time when music could help keep the blues away.  But if Musicals are usually an escape from reality, even the darker Musicals (like Chicago for example) aren’t a case study in contrasts.  What makes Pennies from Heaven so strange is that the music numbers seem like they come from a completely different film.  Yes, I understand the idea that this is the escape from reality but it is so discordant that it’s hard to reconcile, especially when the reality is as grim as the one presented here.

Here’s the story in a nutshell: the salesman (Steve Martin), finding no helpers for his dream, meets a woman and sleeps with her (Bernadette Peters) but since he’s still married, she gets an abortion and becomes a prostitute while he gets mistakenly accused of raping and killing a blind girl he met (long story there) and is eventually executed for the crime.

It’s hard to know what to think of the film.  Reviews were mixed (Roger Ebert’s is rather negative), perhaps because people didn’t know what to make of it, especially since MGM made certain that the original BBC production wasn’t competing with it on television.  Martin and Peters do fine jobs and the film looks good, especially in the production numbers.  It’s just that it’s hard to settle into the film when it keeps making sudden turns like it does.  In the end, I give it a high *** because it is too well-made to really settle any lower than that but is too schizophrenic to be anything higher.

The Source:

Pennies from Heaven by Dennis Potter  (1978)

This was not only a big hit for the BBC when it originally aired but has continued to be highly regarded over the years as one of the best things the BBC has ever put on the air.  It’s the story of a sheet music salesman (Bob Hoskins) who is unhappy with his life, his job and his marriage and ends up falling for a woman in the Forest of Dean, though their romance leads to anything but happiness.  Eventually, through a set of unfortunate circumstances, he is convicted of the murder of a blind girl (a murder he didn’t commit) and is hanged.

What makes the production notable, of course, is that the characters will suddenly break into song.  Unlike the big production numbers in the Hollywood version, though, it’s just the characters suddenly singing major tunes of the era (which are, admittedly, not a lot to my taste).  It makes for an odd combination, especially through some seven hours or so (six episodes).  But it does provide a rather magical number to end on.  After Hoskins is hanged and we think it’s over, he appears to his love on a bridge and the two of them dance together, giving a sort-of happy ending, while singing what is by far my favorite song that is used in the production, “The Glory of Love”.  It brings a little joy back in after such a brutally bleak story.

The Adaptation:

Aside from massively shortening the story everywhere that they could and holding to just the basic plot (with some seven hours reduced to about two), the biggest difference (aside from also changing the location from Britain to Chicago, although keeping the 1930s as the era) is in the original BBC production, the musical numbers were just people breaking into song while in the Hollywood version they really do become big Busby Berkeley like production numbers.  This is most jarring in the final number.  In the original production, Hoskins is hanged and we get some lyrics on dark screen and then it seems like it’s over (even starting the end credit sequence) before we go to his love on a bridge, listening and then go into that wonderful song.  But in the film version, after Martin in the gallows, we get a huge production number.  The starkness of the original compared to the huge production of the remake really shows the difference in the two versions and why I prefer the original.  You can see the original version here and the film version here and decide which you prefer, but to me, it’s a microcosm of the difference between the two productions.

The Credits:

Directed by Herbert Ross.  Written for the Screen and Based on Original Material by Dennis Potter.

WGA Nominees

Cutter’s Way

The Film:

Can Alex Cutter be considered a protagonist in this film?  He is the buddy of Richard Bone, a gigolo who is getting along in Santa Barbara by crashing at Cutter’s house, falling for his woman, getting the occasional bit of cash from women he sleeps with and working at a boatyard.  Both Cutter and Bone are a mess, Cutter more so, because, as he would have you see it, he was damaged in a war that no one approved of and came to home to a country where no one cared about him.

So, if Cutter can be considered a protagonist does that make him just about the most unlikable protagonist in film?  He is a deeply repulsive man.  At first glance, you can lay the blame on Vietnam that brought him back with one eye, one arm and a limp.  But then you actually listen to him and you realize he must have been an awful person before he ever went to Vietnam.  He’s the kind of man who will casually sling racist phrases and when called on it by his friends will claim that those friends use it when others aren’t around, not backing down a whit in spite of the menacing men standing around him who don’t want to hear his shit.  He’s the kind of man who, when he discovers a car slightly blocking his driveway, will simply slam his car into it multiple times, then bald-facedly lie to the police when they show up and tell the people that his insurance will cover it (he doesn’t have any).  When faced with his friend Bone’s situation, that Bone witnessed a man dumping a body in an alleyway one night when his car died and after his arrest for the crime (because his dead car was found just down the alley from the body), rather than try to let the police know the actual facts, will actually blackmail the suspected murderer and provoke things to the point where his own house with his woman inside will be burned down.

Then we can get to Bone.  Bone had just left the house a few hours before after sleeping with Mo, Cutter’s woman, before heading back to his boat and missing getting burned to death like Mo.  He’s not exactly all that likable himself.

That’s not the only problem with this film.  You can make a film out of unlikable people though it can be difficult and it usually requires more subtlety than you get from this script.  But things spiral completely out of control until you get a climax that is just absurd and stupid and makes you wonder why you watched this film.  The answer, of course, is that Jeff Bridges gives a solid performance as Bone and John Heard gives a fascinating, if repulsive one as Cutter.  But that just isn’t enough to save the film and you might be lucky to even make it to the stupid ending.

The Source:

Cutter and Bone by Newton Thornburg (1976)

Of course, the repulsive characters of Cutter and Bone come straight from the original novel.  Just like in the film, Bone witnesses the dumping of a body and that leads to the two men hounding a rich tycoon.  But while the film keeps things located in Santa Barbara, in the book, they head across the country because for some reason the guy is actually situated mainly in the Ozarks.  If the film at least has Bridges’ and Heard’s performances, the book really doesn’t have much to recommend it.

The Adaptation:

Much of the first half of the book and the first half of the film follow pretty closely.  In fact, except for mentioning the Ozarks, things stay very close until the house is burned down.  But, after that, things go in radically different directions.  Apparently screenwriter Jeffrey Alan Fiskin claimed that the last part of the book was just a rip-off of Easy Rider (which I can somewhat see, especially given the last line, which really has a feeling of being written after Thornburg watched Easy Rider), so things stay in Santa Barbara and instead you get a completely idiotic climax.  Now, the actual ending is at least interesting but you have to get through the stupid horse-riding scene before that (don’t ask) and the actual final shot seems to almost be ripped off from the film Harper instead of Easy Rider.  It’s better than the book but that final shot can’t redeem the climax.

The Credits:

Directed by Ivan Passer.  Based on the novel “Cutter and Bone” by Newton Thornburg.  Screenplay by Jeffrey Alan Fiskin.

First Monday in October

The Film:

I don’t have a review for this film and there are a few reasons for that.  The first is that it’s hard to maintain all this data and somehow this got listed in the Original Screenplay spreadsheet even though it’s clearly adapted (it was nominated by the WGA for Adapted Comedy) and by the time I realized it, it was going to make it a pain to review.  The second reason is that it is even more of a pain to review because it’s not readily available.  Netflix doesn’t have it, nor does either of my local library systems and I’m not going to pay money to YouTube to watch it when I’ve already seen it and it’s not easy to find online otherwise.  Third, once I looked at it, I realized I didn’t want to watch it again for reasons that will be made clear down below.  So, I am punting this one and I can do that because it’s my project and I make no money from it and while I enjoy the back and forth with those of you who do comment, I’m really only doing this for me.  When I did watch this, I didn’t rate it that high (a 65) and didn’t give the performances any points even though stars Walter Matthau and Jill Clayburgh were both Globe nominated.  This year happened to be really weak for Comedy as you can see from the Nighthawk Awards and they just didn’t have much to choose from.

The Source:

First Monday in October by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee  (1975)

Once I looked at the description (because I saw this film years ago and remembered nothing about it), I really didn’t want to dive into the play either.  Lawrence and Lee had done history with Inherit the Wind and The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail but here they go for prescience.  This is the story of the first female Supreme Court justice, first staged in 1975 when it was looking like the Republicans might lose the White House for quite a while and it has an obviously Republican president appoint an archconservative from Orange County.  They couldn’t have known how things would go, how Reagan would triumph over Carter and his malaise and bring in arch-conservatism and appoint a female justice (though from Arizona).  Nor do I know how they would have known how Supreme Court justices got so excited over viewing pornos for 1st Amendment cases because I read about that in The Brethren, the Woodward book that wasn’t published until 1979 (I suppose it could have been common knowledge) or how they could have predicted such a friendship between two such starkly different justices which didn’t come with O’Connor but with Ginsburg and Scalia.  The Supreme Court is so supremely fucked at this point, I couldn’t bring myself to even bother with this.

The Adaptation:

I can’t really speak to how close the film follows the original play but Lawrence and Lee did write the adaptation.  Ironically, the film got pushed up from an early 1982 release to August of 1981 (opening just two weeks after I moved to Orange County) because of the nomination of O’Connor to the Supreme Court (which makes it all the more strange that The Selected Plays of Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee, the text I got from the library for this project, says in the introduction to this play that the film version was released in 1980).

The Credits:

Directed by Ronald Neame.  Written by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee.

For Your Eyes Only

The Film:

I have already reviewed this film as part of my For Love of Film: James Bond film series.  As I said then, it is, by a considerable margin, the best of the Roger Moore Bond films.  In a large part that’s because it gave us a Bond very much unlike the Bond that Moore had been playing (in fact, the scene that I discuss is so much the real Bond that Moore actually objected to it).  It’s a very enjoyable action film that is still fun to watch, not the least of which because it has one of the best Bond songs to go with it (an actual Oscar nominated Bond song – the last until 2012).

The Source:

For Your Eyes Only” / “Risico”, both by Ian Fleming (1960)

As you can see below, the credits don’t actually mention a story, though of course the film does take its title from the first story.  But the film is actually an adaptation of two stories, both of which appeared in the Bond short story collection For Your Eyes Only that Fleming published in 1960 between Goldfinger and Thunderball.  Both of them are interesting and effective, in the same way that all of the original Fleming books are.

“For Your Eyes Only” has a couple living in Jamaica that are murdered by Cubans who are about to be ousted by Castro (this story was almost certainly written as those events were unfolding in Cuba) but the couple are friends of M (he was their best man) and he sends Bond after the men.  Bond meets their daughter and they manage to extract vengeance together and head off together at the end of the story.  The setting for the conclusion is upstate New York and it seems natural to read The Spy Who Loved Me as a continuation of Bond in New York, even though that’s not precisely what happens.

“Risico” is a story about Bond being sent after a smuggler only to deal with two smugglers who have turned on each other with Bond being played off between them and having to decide which to trust and which to kill.

The Adaptation:

If both of those plots sound familiar, that’s because both of them were used in the film, of course.  The framing story of the film, the murder of the Havelocks and their daughter’s vengeance while falling for Bond comes from the first with some details entirely intact (but most others changed, including that they weren’t in Greece and they weren’t working for the government and that M sends Bond as a personal issue).  The second half of the film, dealing with the two smugglers playing Bond off against each other, comes intact from “Risico” up to the point where the gunman is killed by Bond.  Everything outside of that, including the scenes in the Italian Alps and all of the business with the Russians and the British technology was created especially for the film.  All in all, though, the film does a fine job of taking two totally disconnected Bond stories and making them work as one continual storyline.

The Credits:

Directed by John Glen.  Screenplay by Richard Maibaum and Michael G. Wilson.
the only mention of the source is “Ian Fleming’s James Bond” before the title.

Other Screenplays on My List Outside My Top 10

(in descending order of how I rank the script)

  • none, obviously, given that my list only has five films

Other Adaptations

(in descending order of how good the film is)

  • Pixote –  A very good Brazilian film (mid ***.5) from future Oscar nominee Hector Babenco but I didn’t feel the writing was strong enough to merit my list.  Based on the book The Childhood of the Dead Ones by José Louzeiro.  The Consensus winner for Best Foreign Film.
  • The Fox and the Hound –  Just high enough to make my Animated list (low ***.5) but not good enough on the writing end to make that list.  Still, the last Animated Film from Disney good enough to make the list until 1989.  Based on the novel by Daniel P. Mannix.
  • Zoot Suit –  Golden Globe nominee for Best Comedy, a high ***.  Based on the play by Luis Valdez who wrote and directed the film and wouldn’t direct another film until La Bamba.
  • Hungarians –  Hard to find nominee for Best Foreign Film from 1978.  Directed by noted Hungarian director Zoltán Fábri and based on the novel by József Balázs.
  • Buddy Buddy –  As mentioned at the top, I used to have this as a low ***.5 but I have dropped it to a high *** and dropped it from my screenplay list.  Still fun, this is a comedy about a hit man and the annoying man in the hotel room next door, based on a French film.  This film is better than the original because of Wilder and because of the chemistry between Matthau (as the hit man) and Lemmon.
  • Lili Marleen –  West German Drama from Fassbinder.  Based on the novel The Heavens Have Many Colors.
  • The Shooting Party –  A 1978 Soviet film based on the novel by Chekhov.
  • Miss Oyu –  A 1951 Kenji Mizoguchi film finally making it to the States.  Based on the novel The Reed Cutter by Junichiro Tanizaki.
  • Der Bockerer –  The Austrian submission for Best Foreign Film.  Based on the play by Ulrich Becher and Peter Preses.
  • Oblomov –  Nikita Mikhalkov’s adaptation of the well-known Russian novel.
  • Thief –  Michael Mann’s directorial debut based on a book by a real jewel thief called The Home Invaders.  A solid film that would kind of show what Mann would do with his career.
  • The Great Muppet Caper –  We’re down to mid *** now.  I’ve been asked about this film before and it really pales in comparison to the first Muppet film mainly because this film has way, way too much Miss Piggy.  Adapted only in the sense that the Muppet characters kind of already existed.  You could easily say this is Original.
  • The Looney, Looney, Looney Bugs Bunny Movie –  Yet another Looney Tunes clip show movie.  Always good because the original cartoons are so good but never great because they’re just clip show movies.
  • Flaklypa Grand Prix –  A Norwegian stop-motion Animated film based on a series of cartoon books by Kjell Aukrust.
  • Clash of the Titans –  Adapted in the sense that the Greek Gods already existed as characters.  The story of Perseus with some major changes.  A seminal film for me when I was growing up and the first film I covered in the RCM series almost six years ago now.
  • Children’s Island –  Swedish submission for Best Foreign Film that deals with an 11 year old coming into puberty which was apparently enough to get it banned in Australia a few years ago.
  • Victory –  My older brother really enjoyed this film when we were kids in which Allied troops play Nazi captors at soccer.  It stars Stallone, Michael Caine, Max Von Sydow and Pele.  Directed by John Huston, surprisingly enough.  Based on a 1962 film by Zoltan Fabri that was based on a real 1942 soccer match.
  • Beau Pere –  No word on whether Australia banned this one, about a Lolita type affair (30 year old sleeps with 14 year old stepdaughter after mother dies) but has the actual 15 year old actress’ bare breasts on the poster.  Directed by Bertrand Blier based on his own novel.
  • Heavy Metal –  Well known and highly influential Animated film adapted from the stories and art published in Heavy Metal magazine.
  • Priest of Love –  Ian McKellen plays D.H. Lawrence in his first lead film role and his first role at all in a dozen years.  Based on a biography of Lawrence by Harry T. Moore.
  • If I Were For Real –  Taiwanese Drama that was their submission for Best Foreign Film.  Based on a play and both play and film were banned for years in China.
  • Jane Austen in Manhattan –  The final film appearance of Anne Baxter and the first of Sean Young.  It’s Merchant-Ivory adapting two plays by Jane Austen.
  • Whose Life is it Anyway? –  First it was a television movie then a play and finally a movie.  All of them are about a man in a wheelchair who wants to end his life and in the film he’s played by Richard Dreyfuss.
  • The Glass Cell –  Another 1978 Best Foreign Film nominee, this one from West Germany.  Based on a novel by Patricia Highsmith.
  • Outlaw: The Saga of Gisli –  Icelandic Adventure film and their submission for Best Foreign Film.  Based on the Gisla saga, an old Icelandic tale that was oral before probably being set down in writing in the 13th Century.
  • Sharky’s Machine –  Burt Reynolds gives himself a solid role as an Atlanta cop, directing the film as well as starring.  Based on the novel by William Diehl.  This film helped make a star out of Rachel Ward.
  • The Underground Man –  The Argentine submission for Best Foreign Film is an adaptation of Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground.
  • Tales from the Vienna Woods –  The Austrian submission for Best Foreign Film from 1979.  Based on the play by Ödön von Horváth.
  • Taps –  The prototype for The Outsiders, with rising star Timothy Hutton and future stars Sean Penn and Tom Cruise.  A bunch of military school students take over the school to keep it from closing.  Based on the novel Father Sky.  We’re down to low ***.
  • Coup de Grace –  A 1976 Volker Schlöndorff film adapted from the novel by Marguerite Yourcenar and available on DVD from Criterion.
  • The Mystery of Oberwald –  Antonioni remakes Cocteau’s The Eagle Has Two Heads with unimpressive results.
  • Looks and Smiles –  A Ken Loach film based on the novel by Barry Hines.
  • Lucio Flavio, o Passageiro de Agonia –  Hector Babenco’s previous film (from 1976) also makes it to the States.  Based on the book by José Louzeiro.
  • Chie the Brat –  A Japanese Animated Film from Isao Takahata based on the Manga series.
  • Umrao Jaan –  A big hit in India where it was made, this is based on a well-known Urdu novel from 1905.
  • True Confessions –  We’ve reached the **.5 films with this film that should be better given it has De Niro (priest) and Duvall (cop) playing brothers.  Based on the novel by John Gregory Dunne which was based on the Black Dahlia case.
  • The Hand –  Seven years after his first try, Oliver Stone returns to the director’s chair with this psychological Horror film based on the novel The Lizard’s Tail.
  • Eye of the Needle –  I don’t know that this would have convinced me that this was the person to handle the next Star Wars film but it did for George Lucas.  Richard Marquand directs this mediocre Suspense film based on the novel by Ken Follett.
  • The Howling –  If 1979 was the year for Dracula this is the year for werewolves and sadly, this is the best of the lot.  Not bad but not great either.  Based on the novel by Gary Brandner.
  • The Professional –  Jean-Paul Belmondo plays a secret agent in this hit French film based on the novel Death of a Thin-Skinned Animal.  It was a big hit but it’s just mid **.5.
  • Son of the White Mare –  Hungarian Animated film based on poetry by Laszlo Arany and ancient area legends.
  • Fort Apache, the Bronx –  Neither the IMDb or Wikipedia lists this Paul Newman cop film as adapted so I think the old oscars.org site must have decided it really was based on Tom Walker’s 1976 book Fort Apache (he sued the filmmakers but lost).
  • The Postman Always Rings Twice –  You would have thought that being outside the Production Code would have made for a much better version than the 1946 version of James M. Cain’s novel that was hampered by the Code but no.  In spite of starring Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange, it’s just not all that good and the ending, while straight from the book, just seems stupid when you watch it on film.
  • An Enemy of the People –  It was a labor of love for Steve McQueen to star in Arthur Miller’s adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s play but it got delayed so long that McQueen was dead before it ever got a U.S. release.  Sadly, it’s not all that good either.
  • The Incredible Shrinking Woman –  I first came across this film in its Mad Magazine parody in an issue that my brother owned.  This is a comedic gender-reversed remake of The Incredible Shrinking Man (and thus Richard Matheson’s novel).
  • Wolfen –  More werewolves and in spite of having Albert Finney, we’re down to low **.5.  Based on the novel by Whitley Strieber.
  • Docteur Jekyll et les femmes –  A French version of the classic story which sadly isn’t all that good.
  • Halloween II –  The sequel to the massive Horror hit of 1978 that helped kick off the current Slasher subgenre.  Picks up immediately afterwards.  Not terrible, with Donald Pleasance and Jamie Lee Curtis still involved and there won’t be a better film in the franchise until 2018.
  • Neighbors –  Given that it’s Belushi and Aykroyd it should be funnier than it is (we’re now down to ** films).  Based on the novel by Thomas Berger, more famous for writing Little Big Man.
  • Cattle Annie and Little Britches –  Burt Lancaster returns to the West in an adaptation of the novel by Robert Ward.  It’s based on the Doolin-Dalton gang but you’re better off listening to the Eagles song.
  • Ghost Story –  Peter Straub’s hit Horror book becomes a drab film that’s the last film for Melvyn Douglas (died before release), Fred Astaire and Douglas Fairbanks Jr.
  • Beyond the Reef –  The only reason to watch this drab (mid **) Adventure film is if, like me, you had a crush on Maren Jensen from watching Battlestar Galactica.  Based on the novel Tikoyo and His Shark.
  • Zorro, The Gay Blade –  I want this to be better, with George Hamilton playing Zorro like he played Dracula but it’s just not good.
  • The Dogs of War –  Frederick Forsyth’s novel doesn’t get nearly the kind of quality treatment that his Day of the Jackal did.
  • Only When I Laugh –  I searched for years for this film because of its three acting nominations at the Oscars and finally found it and was stunned at how bad it was.  Another Neil Simon play (The Gingerbread Lady) made into a film for his wife, Marsha Mason.  The acting is okay but not really Oscar quality.
  • The Watcher in the Woods –  Now we’ve reached low ** with this mess of a film that Disney originally released in 1980 then pulled to make a new ending.  Bette Davis provides some camp fun but Lynn-Holly Johnson proves she was not meant for acting (more on that in the linked review above for For Your Eyes Only).  On DVD you can also see (most) of the original ending.  Either way, the film is quite bad unless you’re into camp in which case it’s bad but you might enjoy it.
  • La Cage Aux Folles II –  The same stars and director as the Oscar nominated original but just not funny at all.
  • The Pursuit of D. B. Cooper –  Based on Free Fall, a novel that gives an idea of who D.B. Cooper might have been, it’s a pretty bad Comedy about what happens before and after his famous crime.
  • Circle of Two –  Jules Dassin’s final film is just awful (*.5), with Richard Burton finding his muse in Tatum O’Neal.  Based on the novel Lessons in Love.
  • Omen III: The Final Conflict –  Poor Sam Neill comes to America and gets to star in this shitty third film in the series.  It would be another decade before America would finally realize how good he could be even if he never made it to America or, specifically, Montana.
  • Condorman –  Speaking of people destined for future stardom, Michael Crawford, several years before he becomes London and Broadway’s biggest leading man stars as a dopey super-hero in this goofy (and terrible) Disney film based on the novel The Game of X.
  • The Hound of Baskervilles –  I’m not a fan of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore (unless Cook is saying “Mawage”) and this Sherlock Holmes spoof (Cook as Holmes, Moore as Watson) is just awful.  Not funny in the slightest, although likely about to be knocked off the top of Worst Comedic Version of Sherlock Holmes (haven’t seen Holmes and Watson yet).
  • Charlie Chan and the Curse of the Dragon Queen –  Even worse that spoofing Holmes is spoofing Chan because then you get into the racist aspect (Peter Ustinov as a Chinese man) aside from being dreadfully unfunny.  I feel I should mention this film also has Richard Hatch, the star of Battlestar Galactica.  We’re into the * films now.
  • Shock Treatment –  Basically a sequel to Rocky Horror except it’s utter crap.
  • Endless Love –  “The endless movie Endless Love” as Bette Midler put it when she gave out Best Song at the Oscars, one of the more irreverent moments in Oscar history.  I agree.  This terrible Romance from Franco Zeffirelli is based on the novel by Scott Spencer.
  • Sphinx –  Former Oscar winning director Franklin J. Schaffner bottoms out with this Adventure film based on the Robin Cook novel.
  • Friday the 13th Part II –  Unlike Halloween, this sequel came out quickly (one year later instead of three) and also unlike Halloween, the original already sucked so this sequel of course is terrible.  So are all the films in this franchise and I know because I put myself through all of them for the upcoming Horror post.
  • The Legend of Lone Ranger –  Reviewed here as the Worst Western I Hadn’t Yet Reviewed.  We’re also now down to .5 films.  Based on the character of course.
  • Mommie Dearest –  Razzie winner for Worst Picture and Worst Picture of the Decade this terrible film killed Faye Dunaway as a serious actress.  Lovers of camp however will defend this adaptation of Christina Crawford’s memoir about how awful her mother Joan was.
  • Tarzan the Ape Man –  Razzie nominee for Worst Picture.  John Derek directed his wife and exposed a lot of her skin in this film that focuses more on Jane than Tarzan although they are equally bad in their acting (Miles O’Keeffe plays Tarzan).  The second worst film of the year and by a significant margin the worst of the 34 live-action Tarzan films I have seen.

Adaptations of Notable Works I Haven’t Seen

  • none  –