I am a writer. This is what I do. I also review movies. Therefore, I am always looking for ways to combine the two. This column is one example. Another is an idea I had fairly recently. I thought it would be great to publish book versions of classic films like THE GRAPES OF WRATH and TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. Well, the lawsuit statement I received states that both of these were novels before they were films. Who knew? I mean, I was churning out $10 a piece cash down at Union Square for these things. While sitting in jail last weekend, I got a chance to read TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD by some magazine called Harper's Lee. Mine was better. This writer goes on and on about what Atticus Finch looked like. In my version, I wrote, "The dude looked like Gregory Peck." My whole novel was 9 pages. Double spaced. Anyway, this piqued my interest in looking into more films that were remakes of books.
Obviously TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD and Steinbeck's THE GRAPES OF WRATH (Henry Fonda's favorite role was Tom Joad) were both fine books that made great movies. John Ford's expert direction makes THE GRAPES OF WRATH especially worth while, more so for those who have read the book. In each case, the film followed the plot of the novel closely. For a more recent choice, LORD OF THE RINGS by Tolkien is tops for fantasy in both media. Also, I hear THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD and THE KING OF KINGS were based on some book, though I can't remember which. Those, however, relied more on spiritual spectacle than plot adherence. As a result, no need to read the Bible. Max Von Sydow's Jesus with a German accent is all ye need to know.
We all know the most famous novel/movie combos, but there are some lesser- knowns that are just as worthwhile. Robert Altman's SHORT CUTS was based on a series of Raymond Carver stories, all of which I have read and loved. In this case, both the stories and the film were spectacular. The movie veers from the stories somewhat, but to a trivial amount. It only strays enough to thread all of Carver's stories together into a coherent film. I recommend buying the Criterion Collection's book/movie set of SHORT CUTS. That way, you have both the stories and the film. Another worthwhile author to look at is Walter Tevis. He wrote the novel versions of THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH, THE HUSTLER, and THE COLOR OF MONEY. THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH you may remember as David Bowie's acting debut, and the other 2 are just one of many Paul Newman greats. The novels for the above films are all worth the read (THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH may really only be truly enjoyed by those who like a bit of sci-fi) and the movies are all worth the watch. Ray Bradbury's FAHRENHEIT 451 and Kurt Vonnegut's SLAUGHTERHOUSE 5 also stand out as some great book/movie pairs.
But, every great house of film has a few reeking garbage bags sitting by its curb. Throw Nathaniel Hawthorne's TWICE-TOLD TALES in there. The stories were Twice-Told, but once was really too much. Its Vincent Price horror flick remake made the only thing scarier than Hawthorne's prose those who enjoyed the film. In my humble opinion, one can place Tom Clancy's novels in that waste mound as well. I have nothing bad to say about his movies, but why sit down for Clancy's dictionary-sized novels when you can see it happen on screen? I think my copy of THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER is evening out our crooked sofa. Still, though, I'll bet more have sat for his books than for the original book for THE KING OF KINGS. What was that called again? CRUEL INTENTIONS was a book before it was crap, entitled LES LIAISONS DANGEREUSES by Choderlos De Laclos. The only thing crueler than CRUEL INTENTIONS, though, is making someone sit through the entire film. Charging someone for it is the epitome of unspeakable evil. There was, however, a pretty good film version that came out in 1959 in France that shared the same title as the novel. That one will not be subject to my harsh verbal beatings.
At any rate, if you find yourself in need of a good film remake, but don't want to go all bug-eyed watching two films, read the book version of a movie, and then watch what Hollywood turned it into. My recommendations in the third paragraph are a good place to start. No matter what you do, though, I usually find it better to look at a lesser-known, perhaps more recent book that has been made into a movie. Sure, THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME and THE THREE MUSKETEERS have made great films, but everyone knows those stories. Pick something not as popular, and you will find a deeper intimacy with your choice. I, on the other hand, need to get down to Union Square and tell my business associate Screechy to stop selling our novels before we get into even more trouble...
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For anyone who's ever been told "You should have seen the original," this column provides insight into any film thatís been remade, rehashed, or re-envisioned.
Jonathan is a college student in New York. He is already an accomplished writer, having completed 3 full-length plays and numerous poems. He is also working on his first book.|
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