elliot gould as philip marlowe

Booking A Show

Adapting a book for the screen isn’t easy.

No, really, don’t laugh at the obviousness of that statement! It isn’t. A screenwriter (okay, this is Hollywood we’re talking about…is there a word for a group of scripters, perhaps a Scribe of Sceenwriters?!) has to find the essence of the novel and attempt to bring it to the screen; novels and movies obviously aren’t the same, both can accomplish things of which the other is incapable. Then again, there’s the tendency to option books and then throw out everything but the title and, if you’re lucky, a few character names. Not so much translating a book as transgressing against it. There’s been more than a few film adaptations that I’ve watched then uttered the words “What the *expletive deleted* was THAT?!” afterwards. Except, that’s not the whole story is it? Some of my favorite films weren’t entirely faithful (and in some cases weren’t faithful at *all*) to the original material, yet are still *great* movies and great adaptations. Books aren’t movies and movies aren’t books but both, at their best can succeed on their own terms. As a novel to be novel must be novel then a movie to be movie must be a movie – or something like that at least…

Robert Altman’s “The Long Goodbye” has Elliot Gould as a laid back, somewhat ineffectual, Marlowe disdained even by his own cats but underneath that he’s still Chandler’s “shop-soiled Sir Galahad” and even though the movie is only tangentially related to the source’s plot and situations it is still great (plus apart from Mr Gould it has under-rated character actor Henry Gibson as a sinister psychiatrist so it just *has* to be good, no?!). David Lean’s wonderful “Great Expectations” cuts characters and plot threads, streamlines the narrative, and changes the ending but it all *works*, the result being one of the greatest movies ever made (I should confess that as a child I had the biggest crush on Jean Simmons’s Estella, which, as she treats the boy Pip abominably may be slightly odd… *winks*). Howard Hawks’ The Big Sleep alters some elements, not least so we can get more of that Bogie/Bacall chemistry – which was slightly lacking in the original cut, but the result is faithful to the spirit and evokes the “feel” of Chandler’s novel while preserving much of the plot, it is another magnificent picture (even if Chandler himself confessed to being confused by his own plot). All three are fine movies and there are many more I could mention. I wonder if any of you have favorite adaptations, and, if so, what are they?

If I had time I might bring up screen versions that are *too* faithful and don’t do enough to transform the material for cinema but I fear I have taxed your patience too much already!

This post may be the first in an occasional series on novels and their silver screen adaps, also – be still your beating hearts! – you may see some book-based posts from me in the future, if the wonderful Ms Lester chooses to make it so! Until then – it’s Farewell from Mr Kaplan…
George 😉

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  1. July 9, 2013

    Henry Fonda’s Tom Joad from Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath is a favorite of many.

    “I’ll be all around in the dark. I’ll be ever’-where – wherever you can look. Wherever there’s a fight so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there. Wherever there’s a cop beatin’ up a guy, I’ll be there. I’ll be in the way guys yell when they’re mad – I’ll be in the way kids laugh when they’re hungry an’ they know supper’s ready. An’ when the people are eatin’ the stuff they raise, and livin’ in the houses they build – I’ll be there, too.”

    • George Kaplan
      July 9, 2013

      That is such a wonderful and evocative choice, S.K.! Thank you, such a fine work of adaptation and performance. And Mr Fonda was superlative.

  2. July 9, 2013

    okay, well oops, the video has been removed, but the text is “under the dark” hah.

    • July 9, 2013

      Hey! That’s a beautiful passage and deft adaptation by Nunnally Johnson. I’ll try to find that video and embed it…

      • July 9, 2013

        I’m a sucker for Steinbeck. And Faulkner.

      • July 9, 2013

        “The Reivers”! Faulkner’s last novel, and the only comedic one, if I’m remembering correctly… I haven’t seen the 1969 film with Steve McQueen, a situation I will soon remedy.

      • July 9, 2013

        I remember seeing it with my Dad and laughing, laughing. Good memory. 🙂

  3. July 9, 2013

    Oh, and Mr. Kaplan – one of my favorite screen adaptations is Aldous Huxley’s “Pride and Prejudice” – he was one of three writers who worked on it, but I believe he’s the only one that got screen credit. They tore out huge chunks of the novel, but it’s a romp all the same 😉

    • George Kaplan
      July 9, 2013

      I can’t recall if I’ve seen that version all the way through, now I will have to seek it out! Aldous Huxley, no less! Thanks, Vickie.

    • George Kaplan
      July 9, 2013

      And who *doesn’t* like a romp?! I presume Mr Darcy doesn’t get his shirt wet as he does in the BBC version from the ’90s? 😉

  4. Heather in Arles
    July 9, 2013

    Ooh, more please! Dear Vickie and Mr. Kaplan, I am clambering for more such fine postings–book-based? Yes please! Nothing more to add than that…just silently nodding my head in agreement. Carry on! 😉

    • George Kaplan
      July 9, 2013

      Hello, Heather! Thanks for your kind words, I hope to bring you more book-based ramblings in the future – if the incomparable Ms Lester permits! 🙂

  5. July 9, 2013

    Dearest George
    There is of course the interesting sub-genre of screenplays adapted from books in another language…
    Ruth Rendell and Patricia Highsmith are excellent examples of writers who have inspired film makers overseas.
    Yours ever
    The Perfumed Dandy

    • George Kaplan
      July 9, 2013

      My dear Dandy,
      How right you are – Live Flesh and Plein Soleil(Purple Noon)/Der Amerikanische Freund (The American Friend) are great adaptations. Fine examples of european filmmakers taking English and American works and making something rich and strange out of them

      • George Kaplan
        July 9, 2013

        Thanks again!
        Warm wishes, George

  6. July 10, 2013

    I recall a Monday afternoon in April conversation about The Long Goodbye! Hummm. Oh The Reivers is a wonderful moive! I’ll tell you one that is different from the book but is wonderful on its own. Breakfast At Tiffany’s! When I get the mean reds the only thing that does any good is to pop the DVD of Tiffany’s on. Calms me down right away.

    • George Kaplan
      July 11, 2013

      Ah, *Breakfast At Tiffany’s*… Audrey as Holly Golightly, Audrey pulling off sunglasses like no one else could, Audrey singing Moon River in a voice that touches the heart, Audrey/Holly in the rain at the end… Oops, did I not mention Ms Hepburn?!
      Fabulous choice, Lanier. A film rather different to the source material but exquisite in its own way.
      (we won’t mention Mickey Rooney’s character! “Miss GORIGHTRY!” Oh dear. I’m afraid that makes me laugh with its dubiousness!)

      • July 11, 2013

        Yes almost perfect Mr. Kaplan in every way but one…. “I musta protest!” but it was a different time.

  7. July 13, 2013

    Make it so Ms Lester,Make it so.

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