Over the last few weeks, I have been doing Saturday Art posts based on movies that I enjoy watching over and over. Many of these movies originated as books. Sometimes great books can lead to great movies but the reality is, this is actually fairly rare (in my not so very humble opinion). Oh yeah, there’s Gone With the Wind, The Godfather, or One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. But the more likely result is the standard line “the movie is OK but the book is better.”
Dashiell Hammett wrote The Thin Man and The Maltese Falcon and as good as the movies are, the written words are that much better. Raymond Chandler and The Big Sleep and Farewell, My Lovely the same thing.
Books from most all genres wind up being made into movies. Looking back at movies from the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s there are a lot of historical novels that make it to the big screen. Samuel Shellabarger had his books Captain from Castile and Prince of Foxes both hit the movies, both starring Tyrone Power. Power also starred in the movie version of The Black Rose by Thomas B Costain. However the film adaptation of another Costain book, The Silver Chalice, was so bad that Paul Newman took out an ad before it was shown on TV, asking that folks not watch it.
Books and plays by authors from 16th, 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries are always fair game for the movies. There have been many film adaptations of Shakespeare, some good; some not so good. Charles Dickens novels of course, with Great Expectations and A Christmas Carol at the top of the list. Alexandre Dumas’s The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo have both been made into movies multiple times. Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe is one of the few books that I first read after having first seen the movie (along with Ben Hur).
One of the problems of film adaptations of books is the inability for the films to capture the extent of detail that the books provide. Often in the books, the reader is privy to the characters’ thoughts and it is difficult for many directors and editors to find a way to convey those same thoughts through the pictures and dialog. It is also often difficult for the screen writer/director/editor to stay true to the plot of the original book. One of the most glaring examples of this has been The Natural. We’ll just say the book did not have the Hollywood ending and leave it at that.
Another book to movie where things got changed around quite a bit is a fairly recent one titled A Good Year by Peter Mayle. The movie was a bit of fluff starring Russell Crowe and directed by Ridley Scott and I think the best part of the movie was it got me to read the book just to see what it was supposed to be.
One of the book to movie transitions I’ve always found rather surprising was M*A*S*H. The film actually stayed surprisingly close to the book, leaving out only one major plot point in the transition.
This is just a short listing of the basis for some of the movies I’ve been discussing. Since books and the written word have been a strong part of my life since I was a child, I will be re-vising this topic some more in the coming weeks and covering more of the books to movies.
And because I can: