Film of the Book: On the Beach

Directed by Stanley Kramer (1959)

From the review of the book by Nevil Shute:

A devastating nuclear war has been fought across the world, wiping out almost all life. Only in the far South have people survived, so far, but they know that the poisonous fallout is gradually heading their way and the scientists have told them there is nothing they can do to save themselves. We follow a group of characters in the city and suburbs of Melbourne as they figure out how to spend their last few months of life…

You can read the full book review by clicking here

In terms of action and even dialogue, the film stays pretty close to the book for the most part, but there are some differences that I felt changed the emphasis and tone quite a bit. Before I get into those, though, I had some real problems with the casting and what I’ll call the Hollywoodisation of the film. In the book, Captain Dwight Towers is American, but all the other major characters are Australian. It jarred with me throughout that in the movie the vast majority of the main characters speak with American accents. Most of them make no attempt to sound Australian, and there’s a distinct contrast between their voices and the minor characters, many of whom are authentic Aussies.

(I cannot lie – I got very tired of Waltzing Matilda by the time the film was finished.)

The star factor clearly came into play in Kramer’s casting, too. Ava Gardner is about twenty years too old for the character of Moira, so that, instead of a young innocent drinking and playing the field to ward off thoughts of her impending death with her life unlived, we have an older woman who has been drinking and playing the field for decades before the war even began. She’s good, but she’s not the girl in the book, and therefore her story is not so heart-breaking. Fred Astaire is also far older than the character he is playing, but because he’s a secondary character and not involved in romance, I found that didn’t bother me so much – I rather enjoyed his performance, though I felt someone should have talked to him about his eye make-up which looked like a throwback to the days of the silent movies.

Ava Gardner and Fred Asatire – good performances but too old for the roles

Gregory Peck is very good as Dwight and Anthony Perkins is good as Peter, although a sadly Americanised version. The woman who plays Mary, Donna Anderson – hmm. I couldn’t decide whether her acting is terrible or whether the fault is Kramer’s direction, but she’s a real weakness in what is otherwise a solid cast.

As much as warning of the dangers of nuclear holocaust, it seemed to me the book was speculating on how humanity, knowing that its end was inescapable, would deal with its own demise. The film somehow keeps trying to inject hope where in the book there is none, I think in an attempt to create some suspense. While Kramer doesn’t go so far as to change the outcome for humanity, he does change how the people react to it, thus rather missing Shute’s point. I’m now heading into pretty major spoiler territory, so if you’re intending to read the book or watch the film, you might want to skip ahead to the last paragraph…

(The mystery of the invisible baby! Little Jennifer, Peter and Mary’s child, never physically appears in the movie but they might have made a better job of pretending she was there. Elbowing her in the face so you can kiss her mum doesn’t seem very caring…)

* * * * *

Mary, in the book, chooses to go into denial. It’s not that she doesn’t know they’re all going to die, she simply makes a decision to live the last few months of her life as she would if they had a future ahead of them. In the film, she more or less goes insane, at one point becoming almost catatonic. Why? It added nothing and was less psychologically interesting.

Anthony Perkins and Donna Anderson as Peter and Mad Mary

In the book, Shute describes how the people of Melbourne cope with daily existence as shortages grow, and their domestic concerns as death approaches – things like what to do about their farm animals and pets, how long to continue going to work, how to cope without milk and petrol and so on. I said in my review: It’s a slow-moving but fascinating and rather moving depiction of an undramatic end – all the bombs and war and destruction occurred far away; for the people of Melbourne, nothing has outwardly happened and yet every part of their existence has been irrevocably changed. The film shows us very little of these concerns, preferring to concentrate on the minimal action provided by the submarine’s expedition north and on the romance between Dwight and Moira. As a result there’s far less depth to it.

Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner as Dwight and Moira

But the biggest and worst change is the relationship between Dwight and Moira. Dwight’s wife and children are already dead, having been in America during the war. In the book, Dwight, rather like Mary, chooses in light of his own impending death to go on as if they are alive and will all die together, and be together in some form of afterlife. This prevents him from being able to fall in love with Moira as she wishes. In the film, Hollywoodisation demands romance, so they fall in love. The fact that Dwight so easily gets over his wife cheapens and lessens him as a character – a terrible mistake.

The end is also changed for no reason that I could think of. In the book, Dwight follows military norms to the end, scuttling the submarine so it can’t fall into the hands of a now non-existent enemy. In the film, he and his crew sentimentally set out for home, wishing to die in America. This also ruins the book’s sad end for Moira, choosing to die looking out over the bay where Dwight’s body lies in his sunken vessel. In the film, she watches him leave her, not out of a sense of duty but out of some kind of sickly sweet patriotism. And then Kramer tacks on an over-the-top warning to humanity about the dangers of nuclear weapons, obviously not realising that, if you feel you need to spell out your point, then you’ve failed to make it.

Spelling out the point…

* * * END OF SPOILERS * * *

You know, before I started writing this I was intending to give the film five stars – I did enjoy watching it. But as I’ve been writing it’s been going down in my estimation – the perils of over-analysis! So now I feel quite generous giving it four.

★ ★ ★ ★

And that makes the decision very easy this time…

The Winner in the Book v Film Battle is…

THE BOOK!

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Film of the Book: In the Heat of the Night

Directed by Norman Jewison (1967)

From the review of the book by John Ball:

When night patrolman Sam Wood finds a dead man in the street, it’s quickly apparent the man has been murdered. The new police chief, Bill Gillespie, orders Sam to check around for anyone who looks like he might be trying to leave town. When Sam comes across a black man sitting quietly in the Colored waiting room of the train station and discovers he has a sizeable amount of cash in his wallet, it seems the case is closed. Until the black man reveals his identity to Gillespie – Virgil Tibbs, a homicide investigator with the Pasadena police, who’s passing through Wells on his way back north after visiting his mother…

You can read the full book review by clicking here

I’d seen the film more than once before but quite long ago, so only remembered the main points of the plot while I was reading the book, and they seemed very similar. However, on rewatching the film, there are actually lots of differences, some minor and frankly inexplicable to me, while others add together to make a pretty major change to the tone.

The name of the town has changed from Wells to Sparta and we seem to have moved from South Carolina to Mississippi. As an ignorant Brit, I have no idea if there is some significance in this change of venue that may explain, or be caused by, the change in emphasis over the questions of race between the book and the film. Even more baffling to me is that in the book Virgil Tibbs works in the police department in Pasadena in California, while in the film he works in Philadelphia in Pennsylvania. None of these things matter to the story nor seem to make the slightest difference but perhaps there’s some subtlety I’m missing.

A bigger and more significant change is in the name and character of the victim, but here it’s easier to guess why Jewison did it. In the book, the victim is Enrico Mantoli, a famous musical maestro who is in the middle of organising a music festival which it is hoped will bring much need employment and generate income for the town. There’s no real race element to the Mantoli part of the plot – the racial tension is mostly about the personalities of Tibbs, Chief Gillespie and Officer Wood, and over the question of a black man working with the police. It seems to me that Jewison wanted to add a more overtly political race element to the story, and so in the film the victim is a man called Colbert, who was about to open a factory in the town which would have provided well-paying jobs, many of them for the black townspeople. Jewison has changed another character, Endicott, who in the book was a fairly liberal-minded secondary character, into a racist plantation owner who was violently against Colbert’s plans, as his factory would have attracted away the cheap black labour Endicott still used to pick his cotton just as they had in the days of slavery.

Although the book came out in 1965 and the film just two years later, there’s a feeling of the time gap being much longer. The book doesn’t specify a date but feels to me like it’s maybe the late ‘50s. Segregation was still legally happening, so that Tibbs had to use “Colored” waiting rooms and rest rooms, and quite clearly had no choice but to accept much of the racism that came his way. The film feels set firmly in its own time – official segregation has gone, and black people have rights, in theory at least. The bluesy score by Quincy Jones, the title track by Ray Charles and the title graphics all place the film squarely in the late ‘60s.

Gillespie is the least changed character, although Rod Steiger’s great performance makes him rather more likeable and certainly more humorous than his book persona. Poor Wood (Warren Oates) has been downgraded from a complex, evolving character in the book to little more than a comic turn in the film, and his big romance has been completely cut. It works in the film, but he’s a much more interesting character in the book.

But the biggest change of all is in the personality of Virgil Tibbs (Sidney Poitier). In the book, he is outwardly calm and placid, accepting whatever slights and humiliations come his way as just the way things are. He has inward strength and a kind of passive resistance but he doesn’t overtly challenge either the rules or the rulers of this society, preferring to get the job done and then get on a train out of there. In the film, he takes no nonsense, frequently getting angry, giving as good as he gets verbally and even physically. Again he makes it feel as if there’s been a real shift in time and attitude between book and film.

The book is a great book and the film is a great film – if you haven’t already, it’s well worth reading one and watching the other. The book seems to me to say more about the human, individual reaction to race and racism, while the film is weighted slightly more, perhaps, towards societal and political questions, aggressively pro-Civil Rights with one scene that shocked the world at the time, when Tibbs slaps the racist Endicott. Overall, though, the film is lighter in tone with a lot of humour, and the great central performances make it highly entertaining. The book, for me, is more thought-provoking and, although Tibbs is still the central character, goes far more deeply into the attitudes and circumstances that lead the white people to behave as they do, including an insightful look at the question, still largely unaddressed, of how ignoring white poverty stokes the fires of racism.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

So not an easy decision this time but, while both get the full five stars and my wholehearted recommendation, by a small margin…

The Winner in the Book v Film Battle is…

THE BOOK!

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Film of the Book: The 39 Steps

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock (1935)

From the book review of The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan:

It’s May 1914 and war is looming over Europe. Richard Hannay has returned from South Africa and is finding England dull. He’ll give it another couple of days, he decides, and if nothing exciting happens, he’ll return to one of the outposts of Empire. But then a man he doesn’t know, Scudder, turns up at his door seeking help. When Scudder is then killed, Hannay finds himself possessed of a secret and Scudder’s coded notebook, running from the conspirators who want to kill him and the police who want to arrest him for Scudder’s murder. And so the chase is on…

You can read the full book review by clicking here

I found the book a shade disappointing, with an almost incomprehensible plot that relied far too much on coincidence and got a little tedious in the middle as our hero ran around over the moors of Scotland, dodging the bad guys. I’d seen the Hitchcock film before but my memory of it was vague, although I remembered enjoying it. So time for a refresher!

Hitchcock’s cameo

Ah, Hitchcock! He’s the master! Scudder has been replaced by a mysterious female foreign agent, Annabelle Smith (Lucie Mannheim). Hannay has been at a music hall where, in the midst of a performance by Mr Memory (the clue to his act is in his name), shots ring out causing the audience to flee. Hannay finds himself protecting the beautiful Miss Smith, who begs him to take her to his flat. Once there, rather than burbling incoherently about vague conspiracies in far-off lands as Scudder does in the book, Annabelle tells Hannay (Robert Donat) that there is a plot to steal plans from the British Military and that she must go to Scotland to meet a man in order to stop it. Later that night, she is stabbed and gives a marvellously ham death scene worthy of Jimmy Cagney at his finest. Fortunately she has left a map of Scotland, carefully marked with the relevant location, and Hannay decides to take her place, especially when he realises the police think he’s the one who murdered her.

Lucie Mannheim and Robert Donat – you can tell she’s a mysterious foreign agent by the way she knocks back her whisky…

This actually gives Hannay a reason to go to Scotland and a purpose when he gets there. In the book, he goes to Scotland merely to fill in a few weeks which (for no reason that made sense to me) Scudder had insisted he wait before going to the authorities. So book Hannay wanders aimlessly around the countryside followed by the baddies on whom he chanced by coincidence, while film Hannay goes to Scotland intentionally to thwart the baddies.

Gus McNaughton and Jerry Verno as two commercial travellers Hannay shares a carriage with on the Flying Scotsman train. Their humour seems like a precursor to the characters of Caldicott and Charters in the later The Lady Vanishes (1938)

The second major change that Hitchcock makes – and this should come as a surprise to no-one – is to introduce a blonde! The book sadly lacks female characters in general, and a love interest for Hannay in particular – clearly Buchan didn’t realise that all great action heroes must have a love interest! Hitchcock puts this right. As Hannay travels up to Scotland on the train, he encounters Pamela (Madeleine Carroll). This first meeting doesn’t go well (and frankly, since he bursts into her carriage, grabs her and kisses her, this is not altogether surprising), but the audience know that they are destined to meet again. Pamela is fun – she’s feisty and independent and not easily won over by Donat’s rough wooing, but she’s also a woman of sense and intelligence who, once she’s convinced he’s the good guy, gives him real help. There’s lots of stuff that seems a bit sexist now, but it was 1935, and I don’t care.

Madeleine Carroll as the shocked Pamela – but he only did it to escape from the baddies…

The Scottish scenes are great. Hitchcock clearly hired real Scots for the bit parts of railway guards and so on, with the result that the accents are authentic, and he moved the locations from the lowland moors to the Highlands – much more dramatic scenery, better suited to film, even if the bulk of the film was probably shot in the studio. John Laurie (much later Private Frazer in Dad’s Army) shows up as a grim bullying crofter with Peggy Ashcroft as his put-upon wife.

John Laurie and Peggy Ashcroft may only have small roles, but they’re still both great…

The plot plays out well, with a lot of humour in the scenes between Hannay and Pamela, and plenty of drama and danger to provide the thrills. The dénouement, I must admit, is nearly as silly as the one in the book, though quite different – but it’s very well done, both dramatic and quite moving, and at least it makes sense.

The two stars give sparkling performances, but they’re not alone – most of the actors in the smaller roles are excellent too. Poor Lucie Mannheim did remind me a little of Lina Lamont in Singin’ in the Rain – she has all the exaggerated over-dramatic gestures of the silent era, especially in her death scene, but it all added to the fun. The film itself shows its age a little at points, such as when Hannay is running and it gives that speeded up impression you get in movies of the Charlie Chaplin era. But on the whole it has held up brilliantly – exciting, fast-paced and thoroughly entertaining.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

So the choice is easy this time. Hitchcock’s changes turned an OK book into a great film – a true classic. If you haven’t seen it, you should!

The Winner in the Book v Film Battle is…

 

THE FILM!

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Film of the Book: The War of the Worlds

Two versions…

Directed by Byron Haskin and starring Gene Barry (1953)
Directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Tom Cruise (2005)

From the book review:

London, at the tail-end of the nineteenth century, is the largest city on Earth, the centre of the world’s greatest empire; indeed, the centre of the world. As its population grows, its tentacles are spreading out to incorporate the various towns and villages around it into suburbs for the middle classes. A vast swarm of humanity, scurrying busily to and fro, like ants around an ant-heap. A tempting eat-all-you-want buffet for hungry aliens…

You can read the full book review by clicking here.

 

Film of the Book

 

In my review of the book, I mentioned that, as a story, I might only have rated it as three or four stars on the grounds that it’s full of description rather than action and the ending is somewhat anti-climactic for modern tastes. But it earns its place as a five-star classic because of the light it sheds on aspects of Wells’ society and the British psyche of the time. Specifically, it gives a commentary on Britain’s relationship with its Empire, on the centuries-old fear of invasion, on questions of Darwinism and evolution and on the contemporary discussion of the relatively newly-discovered “canals” on Mars, suggesting advanced life there. All of these would be difficult to reproduce in a film, I felt, especially since both film versions promptly transplanted the story to America and brought it forward in time! But I hoped that maybe the films would have something else to offer…

Gene Barry and Ann Robinson in Haskin’s version

Haskin’s 1953 film is set in southern California and has a scientist, Dr Clayton Forrester (Gene Barry), as hero, and the time is the then present. To give the story the more human touch a film really needs, Forrester is provided with a love interest, Sylvia, played by Ann Robinson. Empire has gone as a theme, to be replaced by contemporary fears relating to the Cold War and the mass destruction of all-out global nuclear war, and this works reasonably well. There are references to the battle between traditional religious and evolutionary theories and the film gets a little lost in deciding whether Martians, being more advanced, are closer to their Maker, or – and it really glosses over this – are enemies of man’s God as much as man. Let’s just say that the film suggests God plays a significant role in their annihilation. I found it a little messy, but probably wouldn’t have noticed it at all if I hadn’t been comparing to the book.

Tom Cruise and Dakota Fanning in Spielberg’s version

Spielberg’s 2005 version is also set in its present and the location is in and around New York and Boston. Tom Cruise plays a crane operator who just happens to get caught up in events. Spielberg’s humanising involves the rather clichéd story of an absent father suddenly thrust into peril with his two children, giving them all a chance to learn to understand and respect each other better. It’s a bit saccharin, but then it is Spielberg. Spielberg’s updating of the Empire aspect is to throw in a couple of fairly blatant references to 9/11 – “Is it terrorists, Dad?”, planes falling from the sky and tall buildings being destroyed. But there’s no feeling of depth to these references and I actually felt they were in rather poor taste, to be honest. If there’s anything in the film about evolution, I missed it.

Haskin’s Martian – honestly it looks scarier in the film…

Haskin’s aliens are from Mars. It surprised me that this would still have been considered a possibility in 1953 but wikipedia tells me people were still discussing the potential existence of Martians as late as the 1960s. Spielberg gets round the problem by never saying where the aliens come from. By 2005, he’d have had no other option obviously, but it does mean all the stuff about the red weed choking the earth loses its resonance a little. (Mind you, Haskin ignores the red weed completely – special effects budget overspent maybe?) Neither alien looks much like the one in the book, but since it’s basically described as a kind of round, brown blob, I can quite see why the directors both went for something a bit more exciting!

Spielberg’s alien…

Which brings me to the one thing the films both have that the book doesn’t – special effects. I started with Haskin’s version and thought that some of the effects seem a little clunky now, but that others are still great. Apparently it won an Oscar for them and I certainly feel it was well deserved. The destruction of Los Angeles is particularly impressive and the heat ray is suitably terrifying even if it looks not unlike a big flame thrower. The war machines aren’t really like the ones in the book but they’re very good nevertheless. I was glad I’d watched it first though, because not surprisingly Spielberg’s effects are vastly superior. The destruction of New York is brilliant, and the alien machines look just as I imagined them from the book. Plus Spielberg covers the landscape with the creeping red weed which adds to the feeling of horror.

Haskin’s war machine

Both Gene Barry and Tom Cruise turn in fine performances – Barry more cerebral as a scientist, and Tom doing his action man thing, which works for me. Women and girls in both versions are there very much to scream and be saved by brawny men, I fear. But if I’m ever attacked by a Martian, frankly I’ll scream as loud as I can and hope that Tom comes running to my aid (or Gene, I suppose, if Tom’s busy – a girl can’t afford to be choosy in an emergency), so I forgive them. Both films stick fairly closely to the book in terms of the ending, which was a relief but also means they end somewhat less dramatically than films of this type usually do.

Spielberg’s war machine

All-in-all, I enjoyed both films very much for different reasons and would be hard put to recommend one over another. Spielberg for the effects (and Tom), but Haskin for greater depth. For entertainment value, both deserve…

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

* * * * * * *

In the end, though, the final decision is easy.
For the ideas, the depth and the commentary on society’s contemporary concerns…

The Winner in the Book v Film Battle is…

THE BOOK!

Gratuitous and irrelevant Tom pic. Because why not?

 

Film of the Book: The Lodger

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock (1927)

From the book review of The Lodger by Marie Belloc Lowndes:

London is agog over a series of horrific murders, all of drunken women. The murderer leaves his calling card on the bodies – a triangular slip of paper pinned to their clothes with the words “The Avenger” written on it…

Well, what a little gem this one turned out to be! Written in 1913, it’s clearly inspired by the Jack the Ripper murders but with enough changes to make it an original story in its own right. It’s the perspective that makes it so unique – the Buntings are just an ordinary respectable little family struggling to keep their heads above water, who suddenly find themselves wondering if their lodger could possibly be living a double life as The Avenger.

You can read the full book review by clicking here.

Film of the Book

This is a silent movie, Hitchcock’s third as director but first real success, and the film that set him on the path of psychological suspense movies. It shows all the signs of his later interest in twisted psychologies, innovative techniques – and blondes. And in taking the basic premise of someone else’s story and then changing it almost out of all recognition…

In the book, the victims are drunken women who, to some extent in the mores of the time, bring their misfortunes on themselves. Hitchcock immediately changes this to beautiful blondes, and makes Daisy Bunting, the quiet, respectable daughter in the book, into a glamorous blonde mannequin (a model for clothes). This allows him to do a bit of innocent titillation by taking us backstage at her girly show and letting us glimpse lots of young beauties in states of semi-undress. It also elevates Daisy to centre stage from the rather small role she plays in the book by making her a potential victim of the Avenger.

The Buntings in the film are a happy little family with no mention of money worries, taking away in one stroke much of the reason for Mrs Bunting’s moral dilemma as to whether she should report her suspicions of her new lodger to the police. Joe the policeman is still in love with Daisy and, at first, she with him. Joe is unfortunately rather ham, and looks considerably more sinister and crazed than the lodger – I’d have had him arrested just on the grounds that he looks as if he ought to be a murderer!

Malcolm Keen as the policeman Joe Chandler – I’m still convinced he’s probably a murderer…

Ivor Novello as Mr Sleuth the lodger, though, looks beautiful and sinister and tortured. I fell in love with him within about a minute and a half, so could quite understand when Daisy found him irresistibly attractive too. Poor Joe! I bet he preferred the book. As the film goes on, it diverges further and further from the book so that by the time it ends, it really has very little to do with the original in terms of plot.

Ivor Novello as Mr Sleuth… or is he The Avenger?

As so often with Hitchcock, though, the movie is still superb in its own right. I’m no film expert as you know, but some of his techniques feel very modern for the time: the use of flashing words to introduce the concept of the blonde victims and the girly shows; the way he shows the latest news being spread via newspapers (in scenes that reminded me somewhat of the later Citizen Kane) and radio – an interesting update from the book which, 14 years earlier, doesn’t mention radio at all; and a brilliant and completely Hitchcockian (is that a word?) moment when we see the Buntings listen to their lodger pace back and forth in his room above theirs – and then Hitchcock lets us see him pacing from below, filmed through a glass floor. The scene cards (yeah, I don’t know the technical term for those…) look more modern than is usual in silent films too – they are in colour for a start, often flash, and have a kind of jazz age style about them somehow.

Although Hitchcock changes the plot and loses some of the psychological depth as a result, he does a brilliant job with the creepiness and suspense, and again it’s not at all clear whether the lodger is the Avenger until late on. Peril a-plenty stalks our poor Daisy, while Joe does some seriously jealous tooth-gnashing. Mrs Bunting, as the worried mother and landlady, is the stand-out performance for me, though I was impressed by most of the cast, especially the women. Ivor Novello’s performance is variable – sometimes he feels a little ham too, like poor Joe, but at other times he’s so good at being a tortured soul that it’s easy to understand why the women especially so badly want him to be innocent.

Marie Ault as Mrs Bunting with her lodger…

The film was restored by the British Film Institute in 2012 and given a new score by Nitin Sawhney. The restoration is great – the film is pure pleasure to watch, and I wouldn’t often say that about a film of this age. I found the score less successful overall. Sometimes it adds greatly to the atmosphere of the film, but at others it sounds rather incongruous – too modern and not always quite in synch with the action. Halfway through, the orchestral music gives way to a sung love song which, while fine on its own account, simply seems out of place.

Lucky June Tripp as Daisy Bunting. He can’t be a murderer! Can he??

Nearly a century on, I still found the film remarkably watchable, enjoyable and effectively scary, and I heartily recommend it even to people who, like me, normally avoid silent films. (There’s a very good quality copy on youtube, though perhaps illegally – I don’t know. Here’s the link, the decision is yours.) The trailer below gives a good idea of the style of the film and a snippet of the new score…

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Although I enjoyed the film hugely, the changes to the plot means it doesn’t quite have the psychological depth of the book, so if I reluctantly have to choose, then…

The Winner in the Book v Film Battle is…

THE BOOK!

* * * * *

Film of the Book: The Lady Vanishes (The Wheel Spins)

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock (1938)

From the book review of The Wheel Spins by Ethel Lina White:

A young Englishwoman, Iris Carr, is travelling home alone from an unspecified European country. Suffering from sunstroke, she nearly misses her train but a helpful porter shoves her into a carriage at the last moment. The people in the carriage clearly resent her presence – all except one, that is. Miss Froy, another Englishwoman, takes Iris under her wing and carries her off to have tea in the dining carriage. When they return, Iris sleeps for a while. When she awakes, Miss Froy has gone, and the other passengers deny all knowledge of there having ever been another Englishwoman in the carriage…

You can read the full book review by clicking here.

Film of the Book

It surprised me on re-watching the film just how different it is from the book on which it’s based. The basic premise remains the same, that Miss Froy disappears during the train journey and Iris sets out to find her, but the tone of the film is much lighter and Hitchcock has changed the emphasis in several places.

Firstly, Iris is not particularly likeable in the book. She starts out as one of a rude, noisy crowd in the hotel, alienating the other guests and being insufferably superior to all and sundry. She is travelling alone on the train because she has had a falling out with one of her friends who is annoyed because her husband was flirting with Iris. The Iris in the film is completely different. She’s still extrovert, but charmingly so, and clearly loved by her friends. She’s travelling home alone to marry a man her father has more or less chosen for her, out of a sense of duty.

Iris (Margaret Lockwood, centre) saying goodbye to her friends…

Hitchcock introduces the two other major characters in the hotel before the journey begins. Max the engineer from the book has morphed into Gilbert the musician and his first meeting with Iris is a typical rom-com instant antagonism scene, signalling the romance that will inevitably follow. They are more equal in the film, sparring partners at first, and it’s not long before their mutual attraction becomes obvious. Much more fun than the patronising male attitude Iris had to tolerate in the book.

Gilbert the musician (Michael Redgrave) with some comedy foreigners…

Miss Froy appears in the hotel in order to develop the motive for her disappearance – an entirely different motive than in the book. The change means that Miss Froy, like Iris, is an active participant in her own story rather than the passive and unwitting victim of the book. I’m intrigued that Hitchcock’s version of the female characters feels considerably more modern than the portrayal of them in the book. It feels as if there’s been a generational shift somehow, which is rather odd since there’s actually only a two year gap between them. But it does mean that White’s insightful picture of the subordination of women – the treatment of them as inferior, hysterical, and to be controlled by the men around them – is largely lost. Perhaps White’s portrayal is more English, and Hitchcock had one eye on the less socially restricted American audience?

Iris, Gilbert and Miss Froy (Dame May Whitty)

In general, though, White’s story harks back to the past – the England of the dying days of Empire – while Hitchcock’s refers to the future, his changed motive and thriller ending clearly influenced by the coming war. The result is that, while White was being somewhat snarky about the self-proclaimed superiority of the English abroad, Hitchcock reverses this to show that, in a tight spot, the English will ultimately band together when any one of them is threatened, and show the old bulldog spirit in the face of danger. The one English character who doesn’t go along with this is seen as a coward and a weakling who gets his just desserts. In other words, White’s English characters think they’re superior to Johnny Foreigner, whereas Hitchcock’s actually are. I guess bolstering the national ego on the eve of war is forgiveable. (Fellow Scots, I thought about saying British all through this paragraph, but both film and book feel distinctly English rather than British to me.)

Banding together in the face of adversity…

The other major change that Hitchcock makes is to do away with the sections of the book that show Miss Froy’s elderly parents happily anticipating the return of their beloved child – scenes which give the book an unexpected emotional depth. Instead, Hitchcock inserts some humorous scenes involving two additional characters – the delightful cricket fanatics and archetypal bluff Englishmen, Charters and Caldicott. (Apparently this pairing was so successful that the characters later appeared in other films and even got their own TV series, though by that time they were being played by different actors.)

Caldicott (Naunton Wayne) and Charters (Basil Radford) listen avidly to Miss Froy’s reminiscences…

The film also has a scene in the luggage compartment involving some magician’s props that is more or less slapstick. These changes alter the tone entirely, making the film much more humorous than the novel. And hugely enjoyable!

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

So it’s hard to pick a winner this time, since apart from the basic premise, they’re pretty much chalk and cheese. Great chalk and great cheese, though: the book darker, with a wicked edge to the occasional humour; the film frothier, funnier, as much comedy romance as thriller, and with a distinctly patriotic edge. I thoroughly enjoyed both, though for different reasons.

But if I really have to choose… after much swithering…

The Winner in the Book v Film Battle is…

THE FILM!

* * * * *

Film of the Book: Slaughterhouse-Five

Directed by George Roy Hill (1972)

slaughterhouse-five-poster

From the book review:

The narrator, having survived WW2, intends to write a book about the bombing of Dresden, but can’t seem to think of anything to say. He visits an army buddy to share memories in a bid to get himself started, but his buddy’s wife is angry, thinking he will write yet another book glorifying war. He promises he won’t – and then he begins to tell the fable of Billy Pilgrim. Written during the height of the Vietnam War, Vonnegut uses his own experiences of an earlier war to produce a powerful protest novel, one that concentrates on the effects of war at the human, individual level.

You can read the full book review by clicking here.

 

Film of the Book

 

The film begins by showing us Billy typing a letter to a newspaper, explaining that he is ‘unstuck in time’, travelling backwards and forwards through his own life. This is quite an effective short-cut, though unlike in the book it’s not really expanded on later to show why Billy had decided to make his story public. In the book, we are told Billy’s story by a narrator who makes us aware that it’s a fable, a form he is using because he feels he wants to say something profound about the bombing of Dresden. This isn’t mentioned in the film, so that the viewer is put in the position of having to assume that Billy’s life is “real”, which in turn means that the events perhaps take precedence over the meaning – the reverse of what happens in the book.

Then the film starts to move through Billy’s life, concentrating on his experiences in WW2 as a prisoner of war first in the camps and then later in Dresden before and after the bombing of the city. Although it shifts in time, the film feels as if it takes a more linear approach to Billy’s life – more or less starting at the beginning and ending at the end, but with detours along the way. The book seems more jumbled, more fragmented, and therefore gives, I feel, a clearer picture of Billy’s disorientation.

slaughterhouse-five-arriving-in-dresden

When I look at the notes I took while watching, it turns out it’s primarily a list of things the film misses out. This is a pity, since I’d say it’s a brave and partially successful attempt to bring a complex and difficult book to the screen. Michael Sacks as Billy gives a good performance though I felt that somehow he made film Billy fit his life better than the Billy in the book did. He doesn’t seem as scared in his early army career, nor as disconnected in the later scenes, and he’s played a little more for laughs – and is perhaps more likeable, in fact. For example, in the book we know he doesn’t ever really love his wife – the major reason for him marrying her is that she happens to be the daughter of his boss. I didn’t feel that came across much in the film – she is made rather annoying, but we don’t get inside Billy’s head to know how he feels about her. I’m not normally a fan of having a narrator doing a voiceover in a film, but with a book that is so concerned with what’s happening inside the main character’s head, I began to feel it would have helped to fill some of the gaps.

While I don’t think the book is really science fiction, nonetheless Billy’s visits to the planet Tralfamadore are central, and I was surprised at how underplayed this aspect is in the film. For a start, Hill has wimped out of showing the odd-looking Tralfamadorians, turning them into an invisible species instead. And, rather annoyingly and completely in line with ’70s cinema (my unfavourite decade of film), Billy turns up on the planet in his respectable night wear, whereas the girl turns up nicely naked and with plenty of pert nipple action, so that the lascivious males in the audience have something to drool over while the lascivious females have to make do with their imaginations, unless they happen to have a dressing gown fetish. And then they wonder why we became feminists…

slaughterhouse-five-arriving-on-tralfamadore

The science fiction author from the book doesn’t appear either, though I didn’t feel this was a great loss since he seemed a bit extraneous anyway. Much more oddly, the phrase “So it goes” is entirely missing from the film. Anyone who has read the book will know that it’s used as a chorus every time a death occurs, as a sort of semaphore to mark both the inevitability and futility of war. I can see that, without a voiceover, it would have been quite difficult to shoehorn this in, but without it, I felt the point was left rather unclear. In fact, the film seems to send another message, focussing on a small (and rather trite) part of the Tralfamadorian philosophy, that life is made up of moments and we should concentrate on the good ones. Very little is made of the, to me, deeper part of their philosophy – the part that draws Billy into this particular delusion – that if one can travel backwards in one’s life, one can in a sense keep people alive by visiting them in the past, thus reducing the finality of death. Part of this message comes from another scene that’s also missing – where Billy sees old war movies running in reverse, so that it appears that the dead come back to life, and that the Germans, rather than shooting planes down, are in fact lifting them back into the sky. The omission of this central and moving scene is a strange decision indeed.

slaughterhouse-five-dresden-after-bombing

Unfortunately the film left me entirely unmoved in the end. While it’s quite entertaining in parts, and has its shocking moments, overall it lacks the depth and power of the book. It’s too linear, we don’t get a real idea of what’s going on in Billy’s mind, and I felt that some of the major points in the book were either omitted entirely or weren’t sufficiently explored. The rather odd “happy ending” that is tacked on therefore came as less of a surprise than it should have done.

★ ★ ★

So an easy decision this time…

The Winner in the Book v Film Battle is…

slaughterhouse-five

THE BOOK!

* * * * *

Film of the Book: Moby Dick

Directed by John Huston (1956)

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From the book review:

Our narrator (call him Ishmael) signs up for a voyage aboard the whaling ship Pequod, only to find that the Captain, Ahab, is pursuing a personal vendetta against the whale which caused him to lose his leg – Moby-Dick.

See, I still find that blurb quite appealing, even knowing what I now know – that that whole story is crammed into a few pages near the beginning and the last few pages at the end, and all the rest is filled with digressions, varying in degree of interest from quite exciting to cure for insomnia status.

You can read the full book review by clicking here.

Film of the Book

Having slated the book of Moby-Dick, it took me some time to work up the enthusiasm to watch the film despite knowing that it had a pretty good reputation. After all, lots of people unaccountably seem to think the book’s good too! I was cheered by a couple of things – the running time is only 1 hour 50 minutes, so clearly a lot of the extraneous digressions must have been cut – hurrah! And Huston wrote the screenplay along with Ray Bradbury who, unlike Melville, knew a thing or two about how to tell a good story.

The film starts off much like the book, with our narrator Ishmael arriving in the town of New Bedford to join a whaling ship. There he meets Queequeg the cannibal, a South Sea Islander. Imagine my surprise on discovering that this “dark-complexioned” man is played by a white actor! I couldn’t decide whether it would have been better or worse if they’d at least tried to make him look black-ish. But scuttling quickly away from that thorny issue towards another, I couldn’t help but note that the film had also omitted the YA instalove between Ishmael and Queequeg that led to (implied… or possibly just inferred) gay sex romps in the book – I can’t begin to express how happy I was at that decision! Melville’s obsession with hands squeezing blubber while fantasizing about squeezing other things has left me with emotional scars…

Friedrich von Ledebur as the quaintly coloured Queequeg
Friedrich von Ledebur as the quaintly coloured Queequeg

So it was obvious from an early stage that there were going to be significant differences between book and film. Huston did indeed strip out pretty much all of the digressions and a good deal of the philosophising, though I felt he and Bradbury had managed to condense the main points so that the film doesn’t lose too much of the depth. We still see Ahab’s obsession with getting his revenge, and Bradbury (I assume) creates some fairly sharply focused dialogue between Ahab and Starbuck that I felt actually made the whole religion/blasphemy point much clearer than Melville managed in the book. Plus, to my joy, Ahab mostly speaks in standard English rather than the cod-Shakespearian horrors employed by Melville. There’s still a bit of ye-ing rather than you-ing, but nothing too out of place for its 19th century context. The major difference is that the movie keeps the action going – Ahab appears within the first few minutes and it’s not long before the Pequod sails – unlike in the book, where I had nearly died of boredom before we even saw the ship. Then, boom! Ahab persuades the crew to take an oath to kill the Great White Whale, and the hunt is on!

Gregory Peck as Captain Ahab and Leo Genn as Starbuck
Gregory Peck as Captain Ahab and Leo Genn as Starbuck

On the whole, the acting is good, rather than excellent, but the action and drama made up for any weaknesses in performance. Gregory Peck is not at all my idea of Ahab, but once I got used to him I thought he does a fine job, at points when he does his raging speeches reminding me of Orson Welles. Which is a coincidence since Welles himself appears in a great, if oddly superfluous, cameo as the preacher giving a sermon before the voyage, thundering away about Jonah and the whale.

Orson Welles thundering...
Orson Welles thundering…

Despite his unlikeliness for the role, Friedrich von Ledebur as Queequeg stands out, as does Harry Andrews as Stubb. But really the success of the film is all down to Huston’s direction in the end. Not just the big action scenes, but little touches like the women standing in silence as the ship sets sail – where did he find those amazing faces? (In a small town in Ireland apparently.) With no words at all, he manages to create a real sense of the dangers of the voyage just from the worn and fatalistic expressions of these women watching their men sail out, perhaps never to return.

The special effects are great for the time, and the way Huston films it gives a real sense of the power of the sea and the constant peril to the sailors leaping about the dizzyingly high rigging of the fragile-looking ship. The scenes with the whales work brilliantly, though they can get a little gory for modern tastes (mine, at least), and when Moby Dick finally appears (after only an hour and a half, unlike in the book when it took roughly six weeks 😉 ) he is terrifying! The storm is fantastic, with Ahab ordering his men up the rigging in defiance of howling wind and lashing rain; and the birds hovering over the hunting scenes create a real atmosphere of wild menace – man against nature. And I loved the St Elmo’s Fire scene (or, as Melville would incomprehensibly put it, the corpusants scene).

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I loved the way much of the film is in subdued tones of blue and grey and brown, almost as if it’s in black and white, giving extra dramatic effect to sudden flashes of bright colour – the blood of the whales, or the green of the St Elmo’s Fire. I’m going to admit that during the climactic finale, as Ahab and the whale fought their final battle to the death, the tears were pouring down my face as I frantically cheered Moby on!

In short, this is the story I hoped for when I read the book! No lack of narrative drive here! No long hours of tedium while Melville shows off his knowledge of whales, religion, Shakespeare and anything else he can think of. Extract the gem of the story from the dross, get a great scriptwriter to polish it, hire some decent actors, work a few miracles with effects, and hey presto! A magnificent film is born!

Thar she blows!
Thar she blows!

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

So without the slightest hesitation I say: chuck out the book and watch the film instead!
I hereby declare…

The Winner in the Book v Film Battle is…

moby-dick-dvd

THE FILM!

* * * * *

Film of the Book: The Kite Runner

Directed by Marc Forster (2007)

the-kite-runner-poster

From the book review:

Two young boys grow up side by side in Kabul in the 1970s. Though in some ways they are best friends, they are not equal. The narrator, Amir, is the son of a rich man, whom he calls Baba, and Hassan is the son of Baba’s servant, Ali. Hassan acts as Amir’s servant as well as his friend. But, more importantly in an Afghanistan divided along lines of class and religion, Amir is a Pashtun Sunni, part of the ruling class, while Hassan is a Hazara Shi’a – a group reviled and mocked. One day, during a kite-fighting competition, something will happen that will drive these friends apart, in a foreshadowing of the wars that will soon break the country apart. Many years later, as Amir returns to Kabul from his new home in America, his mission to put right some of the things left unresolved from his childhood mirrors the question of whether this broken country can ever find resolutions to its bitter divisions.

You can read the full book review by clicking here.

 

Film of the Book

 

For the most part, the film is a faithful rendering of the book with all the most important plot points (bar one, which I’ll come to later) and lines of dialogue included. The book is written in English, but the film varies the language depending on location, so that much of it is subtitled. Personally, I’m not keen on watching subtitled foreign language films, but I do think the decision makes sense in this film – it would have felt very false if the boys were speaking English in the Kabul sections of the film.

The two young child actors who play Amir and Hassan are very good, both managing to give their performances a feeling of naturalness. In fact, the casting in general is fine – no performance stood out for me as particularly great, but equally none were bad, so it has the feeling of a true ensemble piece rather than a star vehicle.

the-kite-runner-amir-and-hassan
Ahmad Khan Mahmidzada as Hassan and Zekeria Ebrahimi as young Amir

When watching a film soon after reading the book, I find it can be quite hard to know how well the story is being told. In this case, I felt that I may well not have got the nuances had I not read the book. The story has two main strands – Amir’s guilt over what he sees as his betrayal of Hassan, and the parallel being drawn between the breakdown of their friendship and the horror of what is happening to Afghanistan. Amir’s desire for redemption is a personalisation of the question of whether Afghanistan can ever be put back together again with its own divisions healed. In the film, I wasn’t convinced that Amir’s guilt came over terribly well, meaning that he actually came over as rather unlikeable and unsympathetic. (Admittedly, I didn’t sympathise with him in the book as much as I felt I was expected to either.) But I didn’t think the parallels between the personal and political came over clearly in the film at all, leaving it as simply a story of Amir’s personal journey rather than a symbol of the nation’s struggle.

Homayoun Ershadi as Baba
Homayoun Ershadi as Baba

Part of my problem with it is that, in an effort to condense it to a filmable length, it becomes a series of episodes rather than the free flowing story in the book. The book is narrated by Amir, so that we are privy to his innermost thoughts and emotions – always hard to portray in movie form, of course, and here I didn’t feel the film really captured it. As a result, I found I was distanced from the characters on screen, even Amir – watching their actions, rather than feeling their emotions. Sometimes the script tries to shoehorn in a shortcut to replace the stuff for which there hasn’t been room, and this can come over as totally false and forced. For example, adult Amir and his wife Soraya are unable to have children, which is not only a source of sorrow to them, but is important in their reaction to the child that Amir brings into their lives in the latter part of the story. In the film, this is portrayed by Soraya referring to Amir’s newly published book as “your baby” with heavy significance, rolling her sad eyes portentously and receiving a consoling hug from Amir. Hmm! This was the point where I first giggled inappropriately…

Khalid Abdalla as adult Amir and Atossa Leoni as Soraya
Khalid Abdalla as adult Amir and Atossa Leoni as Soraya

…but that wasn’t nearly as bad as my second bout of unseemly laughter, which I do feel really bad about, since the subject matter certainly isn’t amusing. When Amir has returned to Kabul as an adult, he is trying to contact a man who might be able to help him find Sohrab, the boy he’s looking for. He attends a football match, and at half-time the officials bring on a man and a woman who have been found guilty of adultery. In a scene of horrific brutality, the woman is then stoned. In the book, it’s a particularly powerful moment, showing the utter inhumanity of life under the Taliban. In the film… well, unfortunately, the profusion of false beards suddenly made me think of The Life of Brian… look! Here’s a screenshot… is it just me?

the-kite-runner-crowd

I fear it probably is… but whether or not, it totally destroyed the drama for me as all I could hear in my head was Brian’s mother saying “He’s a very naughty boy!” And I must say, the film’s superficial portrayal of the horrors of the Taliban regime felt about as authentic as Monty Python too.

After that, the film never really recovered for me, I’m afraid. So when, for reasons entirely unexplained, the director chose to turn the major climax into a kind of action thriller scene and followed it up by totally omitting the bit that explains the final trauma which drives young Sohrab into muteness, I wasn’t as bothered as I otherwise might have been, since I’d been thrown completely out of the story by then anyway.

the-kite-runner-kite-flying

I know this sounds as if I hated the film, and I really didn’t. As I said, it’s mostly a faithful reproduction of the book and is worth watching. But, for me, it didn’t achieve either the depth or the feeling of the original, and in the end felt workmanlike rather than wonderful.

★ ★ ★

So the choice is easy this time…

The Winner in the Book v Film Battle is…

the kite runner2

THE BOOK!

* * * * *

Characters in Costume Blogfest: A Few Good Men

Clothes maketh the man…

characters-in-costume-logo

The Characters in Costume Blogfest is being hosted jointly by Christina Wehner and Andrea at Into the Winter Lea, and seemed like a great opportunity to discuss one of my all-time favourite films, A Few Good Men (Dir: Rob Reiner, 1992).

The cynics amongst you are probably thinking this is simply an opportunity to post pics of the deliciously young Tom Cruise in his lovely white uniform. As if I’d ever be so shallow!

afgm-tom-in-white

No, indeed! It has always seemed to me that the use of uniforms in the movie, both overtly as one of the major plot points, and more symbolically throughout, is as important in conveying the meaning of the film as are the spoken lines. Since this is a discussion of the film rather than a review, it will be heavily spoiler-filled, so if you haven’t watched it and want to, I’d suggest you do that before reading. But do come back afterwards!

(NB To get it out of the way straight off, I have no idea whether the uniforms in the film are authentic and accurate or not, and I frankly don’t care. As far as I’m concerned they are part of the storytelling, and if the director has taken some liberties with the truth or simply got things wrong, I’m fine with that.)

* * * * * * *

Khaki, camouflage and whites...
Khaki, camouflage and whites…

Briefly, the film tells the story of Lieutenant Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise), a member of the US Navy’s JAG Corps, defending two marines who have been charged with murdering one of their colleagues. The plot hinges on whether they had been ordered to give the victim, Private William Santiago, a Code Red – a traditional form of internal disciplinary punishment recently outlawed. This is used as a basis to discuss codes of honour, attitudes to discipline within the armed forces, and the age old question of whether it is ever acceptable for soldiers to disobey orders given by an officer.

The first indication of the importance of uniform within the film is its absence. Every serving character in the film makes their first appearance in uniform – except Kaffee, who first appears in baseball kit. Daniel Kaffee is a young, recently qualified lawyer, intending to serve a few years in the JAG Corps because he feels his late father, himself a celebrated lawyer, would have wanted him to. He has no real loyalty to the Navy nor any desire to do more than plea-bargain his way through the cases he’s allocated. While others are proud of their uniforms, Kaffee gets out of his into civvies at every opportunity.

afgm-_-baseball-with-joanne

One of the major themes is the divide in attitude between the officers in the JAG Corps, who are part of the navy, and the marines, who see themselves as the real fighting men. This divide is almost a matter of mutual contempt. The JAG officers see the marines as outdated relics of a more brutal past (remember, this is towards the end of the Cold War, when peace had been the norm for decades and everyone anticipated that we’d keep heading in that direction). The marines see the navy in general as an inferior branch of the service, and the JAG officers in particular as bleeding heart liberals with no code of honour and no understanding of the realities of facing an armed enemy. (At that time, the Soviets were still in Cuba and the marines at Guantanamo were the US’ first line of defence in the Cold War.)

Lieutenant Kaffee: Have I done something to offend you?
Lieutenant Kendrick (Kiefer Sutherland): No, I like all you Navy boys. Every time we go someplace to fight, you fellas always give us a ride.

afgm-kendrick

When Kaffee and his colleagues JoAnne Galloway (Demi Moore) and Sam Weinberg (Kevin Pollak) go to Cuba to start their investigation, Sam advises Kaffee to wear his white uniform because of the heat. Unlike the two men, who are first and foremost lawyers, JoAnne’s loyalty is to the service – she sees herself as an officer first and a lawyer second. JoAnne wears khaki. On arrival in Cuba, the two men are immediately told to don camouflage…

Corporal Barnes (Noah Wyle): I got some camouflage jackets in the Jeep, sirs. I suggest you both put them on.
Kaffee: Camouflage jackets?
Barnes: Yes, sir! We’ll be riding pretty close to the fence line. If the Cubans see an officer wearing white, they figure it might be someone they want to take a shot at.

afgm-arriving-in-cuba

The white uniforms are shown even more clearly as symbolising everything the marines despise about these non-fighting officers when the commanding officer of the marines, Colonel Jessup (Jack Nicholson), demands that Kaffee show him the respect he feels is his due…

Colonel Jessup: You see, Danny, I can deal with the bullets and the bombs and the blood. I don’t want money and I don’t want medals. What I do want is for you to stand there in that faggotty white uniform and with your Harvard mouth extend me some fucking courtesy. You gotta ask me nicely.

afgm-jessop-faggotty-white-uniform

Kaffee doesn’t fare much better with his clients. Disgusted that Kaffee wants them to take a deal, Lance Corporal Dawson (Wolfgang Bodison) tells him…

Lance Corporal Dawson: You’re such a coward. I can’t believe they let you wear a uniform.

afgm-dawson-and-caffey

The plot hinges on why Private Santiago didn’t pack on the day he died. He was apparently due to be transferred off base at dawn the following day for his own safety (having gone outwith the chain of command to report on a fellow marine), but Kaffee sees all his uniforms carefully hung up in his wardrobe. The realisation of the oddity of this comes to him when he later sees his own uniforms hung up in the same way. This leads to a courtroom scene where he demands to know from Colonel Jessup what clothes the Colonel packed when he came to Washington to testify. And it’s at this point that the trial begins to turn in Kaffee’s favour. So uniforms play an actual pivotal part in the story as well as being used symbolically.

afgm-santiagos-locker

Perhaps the most powerful use of uniform in the film, though, comes when Jessup’s second-in-command, Lieutenant Colonel Markinson (J. T. Walsh), is torn between loyalty and honour.

Lieutenant Colonel Markinson: I want you to know that I am proud neither of what I have done nor what I am doing.

As we hear his voice reading the last letter he wrote, to Santiago’s mother, we watch as he puts on his full dress uniform – the braided jacket, the belt, the shoes shiny as mirrors, the white gloves, the ceremonial sword, and finally his officer’s hat – then takes his service pistol and shoots himself in the mouth. It’s an incredibly powerful scene, showing how even at this extremity the uniform and all it symbolises is of ultimate importance to him.

afgm-markinson

Finally, in the course of the case, Kaffee too has learned the meaning of duty and honour, and learned to admire these men who live by a code that he has come to understand a little better. And in return, he has changed the contempt of the marines he defended into respect. The young man we first met in his baseball gear is last seen in full dress uniform, receiving the salute of his client, and returning it with none of his earlier cynicism for the traditions of the marines.

* * * * * * *

A great film, in which I think the three major actors, Tom Cruise, Demi Moore and Jack Nicholson, each give one of their best performances. And, you know, it has to be said… Tom does look awfully handsome in uniform…

afgm-final-salute

* * * * * * *

To read the other posts in the blogfest, pop on over to Christina’s blog for links. Thanks for hosting, Christina and Andrea!

Film of the Book: Murder, She Said (4.50 from Paddington)

Directed by George Pollock (1961)

murder-she-said-2

From the book review of 4.50 from Paddington by Agatha Christie:

When Elspeth McGillicuddy glances out of the window of her train carriage, she can see straight into another train that is running parallel to her own. As a blind flies up on the carriage opposite her, she is horrified to see a woman being strangled by a tall, dark man. Unable to do anything to prevent it, she reports it to the conductor. He suspects she’s just been napping and has dreamt the whole thing, but he’s a conscientious man so he reports the matter at the next station. However, no body is found on the train, and there the matter would probably have rested, but for the fact that Mrs McGillicuddy was on her way to St Mary Mead to visit her old friend, Jane Marple…

You can read the full book review by clicking here.

Film of the Book

murder-she-said-gallery

As soon as the delightful title music of Ron Goodwin starts up, it’s clear this is going to be a fun romping version of Agatha Christie’s story. Apparently Christie disliked these Margaret Rutherford adaptations, and I can see why. They are not what you would call faithful to the originals and Miss Marple is not the sedentary observer of human nature we all know and love. But for once I don’t care – the films are brilliant and just as entertaining as the books, if in a different way. Murder, She Said was the first of the four Miss Marple movies in which Rutherford starred and, despite some major changes, actually sticks fairly closely to the basic plot of the book. As the series went on the divergences from the books grew ever wider and the final movie, Murder Ahoy!, wasn’t even based on any of the books at all.

First of all, poor Elspeth McGillicuddy has been cut completely, as has housekeeper and assistant sleuth, Lucy Eyelesbarrow. Now it’s Miss Marple herself who sees the murder through the train windows. When the police fail to find a body, Inspector Craddock (Charles Tingwell) tries to persuade Miss Marple that she must have seen a couple… ahem… honeymooning, as he so delicately puts it. On Miss Marple pointing out in no uncertain terms that, spinster she may be, but she can still tell the difference between a bit of “honeymooning” and strangulation, Inspector Craddock subtly suggests that she must be dotty.

murder-she-said-inspector-craddock

So Miss Marple, after consulting her close friend Mr Stringer (who is played by Margaret Rutherford’s real-life husband Stringer Davis), decides that they should investigate themselves. After a lovely scene of these two rather, shall we say, mature people searching the railway tracks, Miss Marple gets herself employed as the new housemaid at Ackenthorpe Hall – Rutherford Hall in the book, and changed to prevent confusion over the coincidence of the house sharing the same name as the star of the film. Why they changed Crackenthorpe to Ackenthorpe defeats me though, as does the fact that Miss Marple apparently now lives in Milchester rather than St Mary Mead…

murder-she-said-railway-tracks

While the purist in me is shaking her head disapprovingly about these wholesale changes, I do understand them. Unlike Poirot, often Miss Marple doesn’t have a huge role in the books, tending to perform her miracles somewhat in the background of the action. She doesn’t really investigate as such – she merely listens and applies her knowledge of human nature to get to the truth. In this book, Lucy Eyelesbarrow is the central character with only occasional appearances from Miss Marple herself. But if you’ve booked the wonderful Margaret Rutherford to star in your movie, you want her pretty much in every scene, or else you might find yourself lynched by an angry mob of disgruntled Rutherford fans… including me! So this version of Miss Marple carries out all the investigative work herself, helped only a little by Inspector Craddock and the ever-faithful Mr Stringer.

murder-she-said-james-robertson-justice

The cast is a nice line-up of British character actors of the period, plus a few up-and-coming stars of the future in bit parts. James Robertson Justice guest-stars as grumpy old Mr Ackenthorpe, and his exchanges with new housemaid Jane are total comic joy. Muriel Pavlow is excellent as poor put-upon Emma, Mr Ackenthorpe’s daughter. The various Ackenthorpe brothers are an unpleasant bunch, as they are in the book too, and all played by well-known faces even if the names are less familiar to me – Thorley Walters, Conrad Phillips and Gerald Cross, with Ronald Howard as brother-in-law Brian Eastley. For reasons unknown (to me), an American actor, Arthur Kennedy, plays Dr Quimper and I must say I find his American accent a bit discombobulating amongst all these Brits. A youngish Richard Briers appears in a tiny role, and who should pop up as the daily cleaner at Ackenthorpe Hall but the woman who would later in her career become the definitive Miss Marple – our very own Joan Hickson! There’s a lovely bit where she gets chased by a goat…

murder-she-said-joan-hickson

In the book, I loved the interplay between the two boys, Alexander and his friend Stodders, and the various adults. Stodders has been ruthlessly done away with in the same mass culling that took Elspeth and Lucy. But Alexander is delightfully played by Ronnie Raymond. (Wondering whatever happened to him, I checked it out and IMDb informs me he quit acting and became an undertaker! I kinda wish I hadn’t checked now…) In the film, he’s an arrogant, cheeky little so-and-so who quite frankly would benefit from a swift kick up the pants, but Jane soon gets him onside and he becomes a kind of assistant sleuth. He and Rutherford work beautifully together and provide much of the film’s humour.

murder-she-said-alexander

Just to add to the general jollity, the film throws in some light-hearted mild horror elements – people hiding behind curtains, storms and thunder, lights going out at unfortunate moments, and a gardener of the scowling sinister variety. Because of the disappearance of Mrs McGillicuddy, the ending is changed (though the solution is not), and builds up to a tense face-off between Miss Marple and the murderer. As Inspector Craddock points out, she’s a very brave lady!

murder-she-said-torch

OK, OK, I know Christie fans are probably gnashing their teeth right now, but honestly, it’s so much fun! Try to forget that the real Miss Marple is unlikely to disguise herself in dungarees! Ignore the unlikeliness of her possibly having romantic inclinations towards dear Mr Stringer! Go along with the idea of her creeping about the grounds in the middle of the night with a torch, searching for corpses! In fact, just try to put out of your mind that it’s got anything to do with the book at all and enjoy it for what it is – a great British comedy thriller starring one of the finest comedy character actresses of all time. You surely won’t regret it…

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

It kinda breaks my heart to choose from these, so…

The Winner in the Book v Film Battle is…

4-50-from-paddington-2

THE BOOK!

murder-she-said-dvd

AND THE FILM!

* * * * *

This post is part of the Agatha Christie Blogathon being hosted by Christina Werner and Little Bits of Classics. Do pop through to find links to all the great Poirot posts from yesterday, and check back with them over the next couple of days for links to today’s Miss Marple posts, and tomorrow’s posts on anything else Agatha Christie related.

AgathaChristie

Film of the Book: Enigma

Directed by Michael Apted (2001)

Enigma poster

From the book review:

It’s 1943, and the Allies rely on the shipping convoys from the US to keep their battered countries fed and munitioned. The tide has been flowing in the Allies favour since the German Enigma codes were broken at Bletchley Park in the South of England. But now the Germans have changed the U-boat code, threatening not only individual convoys but the entire defeat of the Allied forces. Tom Jericho, hailed as one of the most brilliant codebreakers, is on a break, suffering from a combination of stress, overwork and a broken heart over a girl named Claire. But with this new threat, despite his fragile health, he’s urgently needed back in Bletchley. And when he gets there, he discovers Claire is missing…

You can read the full book review by clicking here.

 

Film of the Book

 

In my review, I described the novel as a masterclass in how to write a book, so the film had a high standard to reach. Unfortunately, this is one case where making a direct comparison worked significantly to the detriment of the film.

The first thing I noticed was how brightly shot and coloured the movie is. England looks like a green and pleasant land. Normally I’d appreciate this kind of visual treat, but the book shows a much bleaker England, where everything is cold and grey, where three years of war have taken their toll on the land and environment as much as on the people, who are tired and undernourished. The film mentions briefly the lack of normal foodstuffs, but gives no real feeling for the deprivations people were undergoing. The same applies to the cold – with coal rationing meaning that even indoors heating was barely adequate. In the film, the sun shines constantly. As a result, the atmosphere that Harris creates in the book of a country struggling to survive, desperate for the supplies sent from the US on shipping convoys, never really materialises.

Dougray Scott, Saffron Borrows and Kate Winslett as Jericho, Claire and Hester
Dougray Scott, Saffron Burrows and Kate Winslett as Jericho, Claire and Hester

While both Dougray Scott and Kate Winslett give fine performances, neither of them convinced me as the characters from the book. Scott is too old to be a man so thrown by losing his first love that he has a breakdown. One wonders why he has never been in love before, and also why he would have been naive enough to fall so heavily for Claire or believe that she had fallen for him. Winslett, one of my favourite actresses, is way too beautiful to be Hester. I had an urgent desire to tell Apted that sticking a pair of specs on a beautiful woman does not make her plain – I thought we’d got past that stereotype around about the same time as we came out of rationing.

Of course, it was important in the film that Hester was beautiful because the decision had been made, in typical Hollywood style, to have Jericho and Hester fall in love, and women, as we know, can only attract a man by being beautiful – in Hollywood. I don’t know whether that’s more insulting to men or women, in truth. But it did make me laugh that as she evolved into the love interest, Hester wore her specs less and less till eventually they disappeared altogether. Apparently it’s still true that men don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses!

enigma 1

Apart from the insertion of the love story, the film sticks pretty closely to the underlying plot of the book, though in a somewhat abridged form due to time constraints. However, there are some major changes towards the end in the way the story plays out. I could understand why this had been done – the climax of the book doesn’t have the level of action we’ve come to expect from movie thrillers – and it didn’t hugely affect the overall storyline. But it did lead to some clumsiness that again took away from the authenticity of the wartime atmosphere. Trying to avoid spoilers, the idea that Jericho could suddenly decide to drive hundreds of miles with no word of where he might have got strictly rationed petrol was nearly as ridiculous as the suggestion that the police could search a car and not notice a massive great machine hidden under the folded-down roof. I didn’t mind that they changed the way the story played out, but I was irritated by the fact that they didn’t make enough effort to keep it credible.

enigma 3

The abridgement of the story also led to an awful lot of plot explanation being done by the device of characters telling each other things they would already have known. At the beginning, Jericho kindly explains to the Americans how Enigma worked – considering they had been working on building their own code-breaking machines for months, this seemed a little unnecessary. And the code-breakers too kept explaining to each other how they went about their jobs. Again, possibly for time or budget constraints, some scenes that I felt would have worked brilliantly on screen simply didn’t appear and again were quickly glossed over with a line or two of dialogue – for example, the heroic retrieval from a sinking U-boat of the original codebooks that gave the codebreakers the information they needed to break the Enigma codes.

Specless!
Specless!

I know I’ve been highly critical of the film, but the criticisms are mainly in terms of comparison to the book. Without that comparison it’s an enjoyable movie, though it doesn’t have the same levels of atmosphere, depth and authenticity that made the book so exceptional and, where changes have been made, they’ve been made clumsily. One where I think the movie would actually have worked much better for me if I’d watched it before I’d read the book, and thus had lower expectations.

★ ★ ★ ★

So it will be no surprise to learn that…

The Winner in the Book v Film Battle is…

enigma 2

THE BOOK!

* * * * *

gone fishing

Did you know?

…that the venue for the US Open at Flushing Meadows is built on the site that apparently inspired the Valley of Ashes in The Great Gatsby?

 

See you soon!

Film of the Book: 2001: A Space Odyssey

Directed by Stanley Kubrick (1968)

2001 eye gif

From the book review:

A tribe of man-apes is visited by aliens who use a strange artefact to stimulate their minds, thus setting them on a course to become fully human and develop the intelligence that will eventually allow them to dominate their world. Millennia later, mankind has reached the moon, only to find hidden another similar artefact, one that this time will send them on a journey to the furthest reaches of the solar system and perhaps beyond…

Well, it’s easy to see why this one is considered a sci-fi great. It has everything a good cult classic should have – lots of hard science, a just about feasible premise and a completely incomprehensible ending that leaves the door open for readers to make up their own interpretation, which they have apparently been doing with varying degrees of wackiness since the book was first published in 1968.

You can read the full book review by clicking here.

Film of the Book

This is a film I’ve tried to watch a few times in the past, and on each occasion have given up halfway through in order to prevent death from boredom. So I was intrigued to see whether reading the book would change my opinion of the film.

And, boy! Yes, it does!!

2001 monolith

What I never realised before is that both book and film were written simultaneously as a joint venture between Arthur C Clarke and Stanley Kubrick. The film screenplay is credited to Kubrick and Clarke, in that order, and apparently the book was originally intended to be credited to Clarke and Kubrick, in that order, to highlight the specific influence of each man on each medium. They developed the basic idea together based on some earlier stories of Clarke’s, although the film does diverge somewhat from the book, especially around that mystical ending. The book, while still leaving much open to interpretation, tells the story much more clearly, while the film concentrates on visuals and effects to create a kind of mystical experience that, in Kubrick’s words, “hits the viewer at an inner level of consciousness, just as music does, or painting.”

OK, then. That probably works for people who instinctively “understand” music and painting, but I’m strictly a words kind of gal, which is probably why the film didn’t initially work for me. But having read the book, on this viewing I wasn’t trying to work out what it all meant, or sighing with exasperation at the lack of dialogue. Instead, I was able to watch it as intended – as an amazing visual and sound experience that, once I could get into the flow, took me on a trip as acidy as anything that came out of the ’60s.

2001 man-apes

The first section, the dawn of man, works much better in the book in terms of giving a real insight into the society of the man-apes and how the alien monolith influenced their development. In the film, it’s beautifully shot with some truly glorious imagery, climaxing with the fabulous Also sprach Zarathustra music. The man-apes themselves do unfortunately look somewhat like men in ape costumes occasionally, but I suspect that’s because years of CGI have set our expectations too high. But knowing what was happening meant that it didn’t matter that the film perhaps didn’t get the full meaning across – the book was in my head almost like an explanatory (and unobtrusive) voice-over.

The section on the moon is probably the most dialogue-heavy part of the film, which helps to explain a little what’s going on. It also humanises the film a little, being almost the only place where we see people interacting with each other.

The space journey to Jupiter (unlike in the book, where Saturn is the destination) gives Kubrick the chance to play brilliantly with special effects, especially of weightlessness. The fact that these effects still work some half a century later is pretty amazing, and great to see how he interpreted Clarke’s detailed descriptions of how space flight works. Using Strauss’ Blue Danube waltz as the music during the space sequences is inspired – it works so well with the floatiness of everything that happens in and out of the ship. The film cuts a lot of the sciency stuff out, though – no sampling the crust of comets, nor sling-shotting around Mars and so on – but I did feel in the book that this section got a little bogged down in science, so the film worked well for me here in concentrating more on technical stuff and in moving the story along.

In the film, I’m not at all sure if I would have caught the reasons why HAL, the ship’s sentient computer, begins to malfunction but, again, the book explains this much more clearly, while the film makes it a rather more emotional sequence, I think. There’s very little opportunity for the actors to shine, since they don’t do much except turn switches on and off and talk to the computer, but actually I was impressed by Keir Dullea’s performance as Dave Bowman. In some scenes, the camera stares directly into his face for extended periods and, with little dialogue, he manages to get across a range of changing emotions very well.

2001 - Dave

But the star of the show (and in the past I’ve always given up before I got to this bit) is the surreal and truly psychedelic sequence in the fourth and final section. All done to some beautifully dissonant modernist music composed by Georgy Ligety, the effects are wonderful – a kaleidoscope of amazingly imaginative spacescapes, ever-changing but in a flow, creating a real feeling of infinity and the awful grandeur and possibilities of the universe. Then a totally surreal section by which, frankly, I would have been baffled if I hadn’t read the book, and finished with what seems like a fairly major variation from the book, but which, on reflection, is certainly within the same philosophical ballpark. I’m telling you, man, it totally blew my mind! Awesome!

My dear friend wikipedia (to whom thanks for all my newly acquired background knowledge) tells me that Clarke said “I always used to tell people, ‘Read the book, see the film, and repeat the dose as often as necessary’”. I heartily concur, and have an urgent desire now to read the book then see the film all over again. And next time I read the book, I’ll have the fabulous images and music from the film running in my head. Two parts that are differently great but which, together, become something uniquely wonderful.

★ ★ ★ ★★

And so, for the first and perhaps only time…

The Winner in the Book v Film Battle is…

2001 both1

BOTH TOGETHER!

 

Film of the Book: Sunset Song

Directed by Terence Davies (2015)

 

Agyness Deyn as Chris Guthrie
Agyness Deyn as Chris Guthrie

From the book review:

The book is essentially a lament for the passing of a way of life. Gibbon shows how the war hurried the process along, but he also indicates how change was happening anyway, with increasing mechanisation of farms, the landowners gradually driving the tenant farmers off as they found more profitable uses for the land, the English-ing of education leading to the loss of the old language and with it, old traditions. Although the cruelties and hardships of the old ways are shown to the full, he also portrays the sense of community, of neighbour supporting neighbour when the need arises. And he gives a great feeling of the relative isolation of these communities, far distant from the seat of power and with little interest in anything beyond their own lives. But here too he suggests things are changing…

You can read the full book review by clicking here.

 

Film of the Book

 

Apparently the making of the film has been a long-term labour of love for director Terence Davies, his first attempt to bring it to the screen having failed in 2003. It has been one of the films I’ve been most eager to see since I fell in love with the book all over again when I recently re-read it after a gap of many years. The book is a profound and deeply moving portrait of a rural society caught up in the changes brought about through modernisation and war at the beginning of the 20th century, culminating with the characters coming together to face an uncertain future in a world that will never be the same again.

I wish I was about to rave about the film, but I’m not – well, not in a good way, at least. It’s the most disappointing adaptation I have seen on either big or small screen for years. The book is widely recognised as one of the most significant Scottish novels of the 20th century, and I hoped the film would faithfully reproduce the themes and culture that give it that deserved status.

Kevin Guthrie and Agyness Dean as Ewan Tavendale and Chris Guthrie
Kevin Guthrie and Agyness Deyn as Ewan Tavendale and Chris Guthrie

Imagine my disappointment then to discover that Davies had decided to cast an English actress in the central role of Chris Guthrie – a 32-year-old English actress at that, to play a character who is a child at the start of the book and no more than mid-20s at its end. Agyness Deyn does her best in the role, and her accent is reasonably authentic sounding at points – enough to fool a non-Scottish audience anyway, I would think – but she is totally miscast. She is a former model – tall, fragile and delicate looking. Hardly what one expects an early 20th century Aberdeenshire farmer’s daughter to look like, I fear. However, there’s no doubt she looks good in her underclothes or naked, which is presumably why that’s how she appears for a goodly proportion of the time. But the young girl’s sexual awakening is handled in the book with a kind of harsh integrity which is lost completely by having a mature actress play the role.

Chris as a child - you can tell by the pigtails. The wig changes style throughout to indicate her increasing age...
Chris as a young teenager – you can tell by the pigtails. The wig changes style throughout to indicate her increasing age…

Many of the other cast members are Scottish and some of the performances are excellent. Peter Mullan as Chris’ harsh and brutal father is entirely credible, and Kevin Guthrie does well with the character of Chris’ lover and husband, Ewan Tavendale – though Davies’ interpretation of Ewan’s character gives him an innocence and charm in the early days of their relationship that he doesn’t really possess in the book, making his later transformation about as realistic as Jekyll and Hyde. Daniela Nardini, one of our finest Scottish actresses, stands out as Chris’ mother – unfortunately, the character’s early death means this is a tiny role. And Ian Pirie works wonders with the severely reduced role that Davies leaves for Chae, one of the central characters in the book, perhaps as much its heart as Chris herself, but here sidelined to the periphery, as Davies converts the ensemble piece of the book to a narrow concentration on Chris’ early life and love for Ewan.

Chris isn't the only one who has aged before her time - this is her teenage brother being beaten by their brutal father. A scene with a great deal of pathos in the book made ludicrous by the fact that the son here could easily beat his father to a pulp if he chose...
Chris isn’t the only one who has aged before her time – this is her “teenage” brother being beaten by their brutal father. A scene with a great deal of pathos in the book made ludicrous by the fact that the son here could easily beat his father to a pulp if he chose…

One of the central themes of the book is the loss of Scottish language and culture due to the anglicisation of the education system, forcing children to speak English rather than their native dialects. What an utterly odd directorial decision then for Davies to anglicise the speech in the film! He uses a rather annoying voiceover to explain all the bits of the book that he fails to portray on the screen, and mentions the question of anglicisation in that, so clearly he didn’t miss the point in the book. He gives as his reason that using authentic dialect would have made the film difficult for viewers unfamiliar with it – I suggest that’s why they invented subtitles. Would he make an Icelandic film in English too? Sadly, perhaps he would.

I won’t even bother to mention my horror at finding that much of the film was shot in New Zealand.

Daniela Nardini as Chris' mother - a stand out performance in a tiny part...
Daniela Nardini as Chris’ mother – a stand out performance in a tiny part…

The real disappointment though is the narrowness of the focus of the film, it’s concentration almost entirely on Chris. The book also has Chris at its centre, but through her lets the reader see the whole community. It’s the discussions between the men that show the beginnings of the rise of socialism, the attitudes towards the war in this community so detached from the seat of power, the social strata and structures that must yield to change. Davies allows us about three minutes of this in one scene of the community getting together, with the result that when some of the men decide either to go or refuse to go to war, the viewer is left baffled by their motivation, unable to differentiate between cowardice and principled pacifism. And he takes the community completely out of the ending, leaving us with Chris standing alone – totally wrong and distorting the entire point of the book.

Peter Mullen gives a good perfomance as the brutal father of the family...
Peter Mullan gives a good perfomance as the brutal father of the family…

Perhaps it works as a standalone war-time love story for non-Scots. There is some lovely scenery and some of it is even Scottish, but it crawls along from one set-piece scene to another with the camera lingering far too long on overly staged tableaux, never flowing nor achieving a true portrayal of the characters or the culture. By all means, see the film, but please don’t think it is anything other than the palest reflection of the excellent book.

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★ ★

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You won’t be surprised to learn that by a huge margin…

The Winner in the Book v Film Battle is…

 

sunset song 2

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THE BOOK!

 

 

Film of the Book: Brooklyn

Directed by John Crowley (2015)

 

brooklyn 1

From the book review:

This book, set in the 1950s, takes us from small town Ireland to Brooklyn in the company of Eilis Lacey, a young girl forced into economic migration through lack of employment and the expectations of her family. Though told in the third person, we see through Eilis’ eyes as we get to know about her life in Ireland with the mother and sister she loves, with friends and roots in a community she has known all her life; then we follow her as she is transplanted to Brooklyn, where she has the support of the Irish community, still strongly under the sway of the Roman Catholic church, but where she is so far away from her family, friendless and emotionally alone.

You can read the full book review by clicking here.

 

Film of the Book

 

 

I’m going to start by saying I think this is a wonderful film that gets Tóibín’s quiet emotionalism and gentle humour perfectly. The acting is brilliant all round and Saoirse Ronan’s central performance as Eilis Lacey thoroughly deserves all the awards nominations it has received. It’s beautifully filmed. Although I understand most of the Brooklyn scenes were actually shot in Canada, they nonetheless feel entirely authentic, but the Ireland scenes are fabulous, showing to full effect the gorgeous scenery and lush greenness of the Emerald Isle. It’s a special treat that some of the scenes are shot in Toibin’s own birthplace of Enniscorthy, the place where so many of his novels are set.

However, this slot is all about comparison and, although the film sticks very closely to the plot of the novel, for me there were some significant differences in emphasis that somewhat changed what I thought of as the central themes.

(There may be some fairly major spoilers ahead – I shall try to be oblique, but if you are proposing to read the book or watch the film in the near future, I suggest you may not want to read the rest of this post.)

Fiona Glascott, Jane Brennan and Saoirse Ronan as Rose, Mary and Eilis Lacey
Fiona Glascott, Jane Brennan and Saoirse Ronan as Rose, Mary and Eilis Lacey

There are four things in particular that I feel change the interpretation – the speed with which the film gets her to Brooklyn, Eilis’ family, the love affairs and, most of all, Eilis’ personality.

In the book, much more time is spent in Ireland before Eilis boards the ship for America, during which we see her as having very little say in her own future. It is the 1950s, opportunities in Ireland are scarce and many of the young people are forced away from the country to look for employment. Eilis herself, however, doesn’t want to go and isn’t consulted when her sister and mother decide what is best for her. It gives a real and believable picture of a society where young people were still expected to conform to decisions made for them by parents and community, before the rebelliousness and individualism of the sixties had begun. The film, constrained no doubt by time, hints too quickly at this, thus missing some of the deep sorrow of forced migration. It feels as if Eilis is going to America to look for opportunity, rather than going from Ireland because of lack of opportunity – a subtle difference but, I felt, an important one.

The wonderful Julie Walters is in fine form as Eilis' landlady in Brooklyn, Mrs Kehoe.
The wonderful Julie Walters is on fine form as Eilis’ landlady in Brooklyn, Mrs Kehoe.

In the film, Eilis’ family consists of herself, her mother and her sister. In the book, she has brothers, who have also been forced from home and are now living and making a life for themselves in Liverpool, as so many Irish people did. They don’t appear much in the book, but I felt they were important for a couple of reasons. Firstly, they provide a much wider picture of the Irish diaspora. Secondly, they are much closer to home and within relatively easy visiting distance. This means Eilis’ mother is not so solitary as the film makes her seem when tragedy strikes. She has family around her – it is, in fact, Eilis, so far away, who is completely isolated and alone. And when Eilis makes her final decision, in the film it seems so harsh because her mother is so alone, but in the book, her mother seems more selfish, and we see how it is daughters rather than sons who are expected to make sacrifices for their parents. (Also, the letter to Eilis from one of her brothers after the tragedy is the single most moving part of the book for me, and obviously it disappeared from the film along with him.)

begorrathon 2016

In the film, the love affairs are central – in the book, I felt they were less so. The focus of the book is on homesickness and the gradual creation of a new life. Obviously, Tony, the American love interest, is part of that, but Eilis is not bowled over by him the way she is in the film. Again the differences are subtle, but Eilis almost clung to Tony because of her loneliness and one was never quite sure of the depth of her feeling towards him. The same could be said about Jim – his plot purpose in the book was not to rend her heart between two lovers, but to provide a way for her to stay in Ireland.

Emory Cohen as Eilis' American love interest, Tony Fiorello
Emory Cohen as Eilis’ American love interest, Tony Fiorello

That may make Eilis sound cool and pragmatic, which would be about right. In the film she is a passionate, confident young woman. In the book, she is a passive heroine, a young girl, trying to please everyone, and constantly swayed by people older or with stronger personalities than her own. In fact, the book is exactly about her growing up, maturing to the point where she finally begins to make her own decisions – and, in both book and film, even her final decision is forced on her rather than being made of her own volition. In the book, that made sense because of the passive nature of her character – what else could she possibly have done? The book Eilis would never have considered withstanding a scandal – the film Eilis, it seems to me, could have found other options had she wanted. In the film, this is a girl torn between two lovers, but in the book, she’s torn between the circumscribed but safe certainties of life in her old country and the risks and opportunities in her new world. In the film, we know that love conquers all. In the book, as Eilis made her last voyage, this reader wasn’t so sure…

The differences are subtle, of tone rather than of story and, as always, come down to a matter of personal interpretation. None of the above should be seen as criticism, however. It is merely a comparison. I repeat – a brilliant film that gets my highest recommendation!

banner-brooklyn-Brooklyn_Film_844x476.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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But for its added depth and subtlety

The Winner in the Book v Film Battle is…

 

brooklyn cover

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THE BOOK!

 

 

Film of the Book: Green for Danger

Directed by Sidney Gilliat (1946)

 

Green-for-Danger-1
Alastair Sim as a rather wicked Inspector Cockrill

From the book review:

World War 2 is underway and a military hospital has been set up at Heron’s Park in Kent. As the book begins, the local postman is taking a bundle of letters to the hospital from seven people confirming acceptance of positions they’ve been offered there. These seven people will become the chief suspects when a patient at the hospital dies unexpectedly on the operating table. At first, it’s assumed the death was no more than an unusual reaction to the anaesthetic, but when Inspector Cockrill is called in to confirm this, he learns a couple of things that lead him to suspect the death may have been murder. But before he can find out who did it, he first has to work out how it was done…

You can read the full book review by clicking here.

 

Film of the Book

 

In my review of the book, I praised the characterisation, fiendish plotting, multitude of red herrings, and the authentic feel of a military hospital operating during the Blitz. I also criticised it a little for being too drawn out towards the end. So these were the things for which I was particularly looking out when watching the film.

With a fairly short running time of just on an hour and a half, the film necessarily has to do quite a bit of squeezing to get the whole thing in. And with a major talent like Alastair Sim in the role of Inspector Cockrill, it isn’t surprising that he becomes the central focus. First off, the film cuts two characters out completely, moving their actions onto other characters. I must say the writers do this seamlessly so that, if I hadn’t been making a direct comparison, I doubt I’d have noticed that anything was missing. It does have the effect of removing one of my favourite red herrings, though – the one I thought for about half the book was going to be the real motive – but on the upside, it also removes a bit of romantic hoohah that had felt contrived and unrealistic in the book, so the seesaw remains pretty balanced.

They all look so innocent, don't they?
They all look so innocent, don’t they?

In the book, the suspects’ characterisation is very well developed. These seven people have all become friends and, in some cases, lovers, and each person is so well drawn that the reader cares about what happens to them. In the film, the characterisation is much more superficial – in fact, for a good half of it I was continually mixing up two of the women, since they hadn’t properly developed as “people”. In a sense, they feel more like chess-pieces being shoved around to move the plot along. Again, though, without comparison, this works fine – the film pushes on at a fairly frantic pace from event to event, making it more of a fun roller-coaster mystery thriller.

Green for Danger 5

Cockrill becomes a kind of comedy character, as you’d expect with Alastair Sim playing him, but retains the intelligence he shows in the book, and adds a whole layer of rather wicked cruelty to the role, thoroughly enjoying how miserable and scared he’s making all the suspects. I thoroughly enjoyed it, too, I must admit! It’s an excellent performance – he doesn’t overplay it to the extent that it becomes farce, but it certainly changes the tone to being much more humorous than the book, which does take away a little from the depth of it, I felt.

The standard of acting throughout is pretty good, although there was quite a lot of “eye-acting” going on – startled looks, suspicious glances, narrowed eyes etc. Since all the actors were at it, I assume it was a directorial decision. It made me laugh, but it all added to the melodrama. Trevor Howard and Leo Genn, as Dr Barnes and Dr Eden, are both excellent as two men interested in the same nurse, Esther. Poor “Barney” is deeply in love and wildly jealous, while for Dr Eden the whole thing is meaningless – he’s just enjoying winding Barney up. One of the funniest scenes in the film is when they eventually come to blows, and Alastair Sims pulls up a chair to sit and watch.

Nurse Woods, “Woody”, was my favourite character in the book, and while I enjoyed Megs Jenkins’ performance, the writers had removed all the underlying pathos from her character, leaving only a rather sensible school-marm type behind. Judy Campbell plays Sister Bates as a kind of semi-demented, jealousy-ravaged maniac, slightly over the top, but a good deal of fun. The other two women, Sally Gray and Rosamund John, didn’t register highly for me, partly because of the way their parts were written, and partly because I found the performances weren’t as strong as the others.

Oooh, creepy!
Oooh, creepy!

Overall, the book has far more depth of characterisation and gets the war-time atmosphere over much better, both of which add a lot of moral ambiguity to the motivation which the film misses entirely. However, I enjoyed the film loads. It sticks pretty closely to the plot and keeps enough of the red herrings to make it a proper mystery. It’s much faster paced, and Sim’s performance adds greatly to the jollity making the whole thing feel like a real romp! One I will undoubtedly watch again when I need something light and thoroughly entertaining.

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★ ★ ★ ★

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And, finally

The Winner in the Book v Film Battle is…

 

green for danger.

 

THE BOOK!

 

 

Film of the Book: Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

Two versions…

Starring Fredric March and directed by Rouben Mamoulian (1932)
Starring Spencer Tracy and directed by Victor Fleming (1941)

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jekyll2

(I’m linking this post to the Movie Scientists Blogathon being held jointly by Christina Wehner and Silver Screenings. Follow the link to find your way to lots of great reviews of scientists in films – The Good, The Mad, The Lonely. I’m slotting Dr Jekyll into the Mad category…)

From the book review:

A man and a child accidentally bump into each other at a street corner – a normal everyday incident. But when the child falls down, the man deliberately tramples over her, ignoring her screams of pain. When he is stopped by passers-by, he shows no remorse. This is the reader’s first introduction to Mr Hyde, a man who has no obvious deformity but gives off an air so repellent that strangers passing him in the street shudder without knowing why. But this man has some kind of hold over the eminently respectable and well-known scientist, Dr Jekyll, who not only pays compensation for Hyde’s actions, but also gives him the run of his own house, and has made out his will in Hyde’s favour, leaving him everything should Jekyll die… or disappear.

You can read the full book review by clicking here.

 

Film of the Book

 

In my review of the book, I mentioned a few things that made the story work so well, and even as I did, I could see that some of them wouldn’t work at all well on film. So I anticipated that the basic story would be changed, and decided that I would be looking to see how well the films stuck to the spirit rather than the actual plot.

London fog is a major character in the book, beautifully described and working both to give a scary atmosphere and as a metaphor for the darkness hidden within each human soul. I was disappointed to see that neither film made real use of this. Each shows the fog at one point and March makes a mention of it in the 1932 version, but it doesn’t ever get used to obscure acts of wickedness or to show London as a place where viciousness lives side by side with respectability. Interestingly, when I read London Fog recently, Corton mentioned that the fog created for use in films used to make cast and crew feel ill, so I guess directors probably chose to use it sparingly. But I missed it.

Rose Hobart and Fredric March
Rose Hobart and Fredric March

In fact, neither film gave a particularly atmospheric picture of London at all. I suspect they were both made mainly in the studio, and anachronisms abound – in dress, speech, manners. The sets are kept limited, for cost reasons presumably, so there is little prowling around dark alleyways. The Tracy film does better here, showing some contrast between the ultra respectable areas and the seamier side of life. But overall the films both rely more on dialogue and acting than on creating visual atmosphere.

Spencer Tracy and Lana Turner
Spencer Tracy and Lana Turner

The book gives very little indication of what Mr Hyde’s vices actually consist of and this works perfectly in written form, leaving the reader to her/his own imagination. Clearly it would never work in a film though. The 1941 film is obviously based on the 1932 version, so both have gone for the same addition to the story line – the introduction of two beautiful women, one the fiancée of Dr Jekyll, the other a prostitute (1932) or good-time girl (1941) who becomes Hyde’s unwilling mistress and major victim. In both cases this works brilliantly as a way to show the contrast between his good and evil sides and his struggle once evil begins to take him over.

The 1932 film has two lovely actresses who both turn in strong performances – Rose Hobart as Muriel, the fiancée, and Miriam Hopkins as Ivy the prostitute. Ivy’s transition from extremely saucy temptress to terrified victim is excellent, and though the physical violence mostly happens off-screen, the psychological torture Hyde uses on her is chillingly horrific.

Miriam Hopkins in a bit of pre-code naughtiness
Miriam Hopkins in a bit of pre-code naughtiness

The 1942 film has Lana Turner as fiancée Bea, and Ingrid Bergman as Ivy. Now, I shall admit bias here – I have adored Ingrid Bergman my entire life. In fact, as a child I wanted to be her when I grew up. She is stunningly gorgeous and a great actress, especially in these vulnerable, woman as victim roles. Her portrayal of flirty, tempting Ivy at the beginning is charming and her terror once Hyde has her under his brutal control is superb. So… I was prepared to overlook her extremely dodgy attempt at a kind of Cockney accent! At least she made an attempt, which is more than could really be said for either Lana or Spencer, who both sound cheerfully American throughout.

As far as the women go, acting honours come out about even – fine performances all round – with the 1932 edging it in terms of authenticity of accent, but Bergman’s performance just outshining Hopkins’ for me.

Isn't she lovely? Ingrid Bergman...
Isn’t she lovely? Ingrid Bergman…

The men, Fredric March and Spencer Tracy, are just about equally good in my opinion – again I have a huge soft spot for Spencer Tracy, but I could see why many people rate March’s performance as the better of the two. Which brings me neatly to the crux of the matter – it is in the character of Jekyll/Hyde that the two films finally diverge, making one an adaptation faithful to the spirit of the book, and the other a kind of schlock horror – excellent, but wrong.

The book makes it clear that Jekyll has always had vices but now finds it difficult to indulge them due to his increasing fame. So he is never a truly good man – he is a weak man, whose evil side comes to dominate him more and more. The March film gets this so wrong, portraying Jekyll as some kind of angel, caring for the poor and needy out of goodness of heart. Not so the Tracy version, which has Jekyll single-mindedly pursuing his objectives, carrying out experiments on animals, and people if he can get the chance, and not needing much temptation from Bergman to stray from the path of righteousness.

Apeman Fredric March and terrified Miriam Hopkins
Apeman Fredric March and terrified Miriam Hopkins

And again, the book says specifically that Hyde suffers from no obvious physical deformity – his evil is in his nature, not his physical being. The Tracy film is spot on – though his appearance changes, he remains a man – coarsened, perhaps, but not head-turningly grotesque. March turns into the ape-man! He does it brilliantly, but still – it’s ridiculous! By the end he’s leaping about up and down shelves like some kind of manic chimpanzee! His body language is that of an animal – all twitches and sniffs. Tracy is always a fully human man – much more chilling when he turns to evil and, more importantly, true to Stevenson’s creation.

Ah, that's more like it! Spencer Tracy and beautiful Ingrid...
Ah, that’s more like it! Spencer Tracy and beautiful Ingrid…

So, both films are very enjoyable and I had huge fun immersing myself in the story again and again. But in terms of Film of the Book – the 1941 version wins hands down. Take a bow, Mr Fleming and Mr Tracy! Great adaptation!

For Mr March…

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★ ★ ★ ★

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For Mr Tracy…

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★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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* * * * * * *

And, finally… ooh, this is hard. Very hard!…

The Winner in the Book v Film Battle is…

 

jekyll tracy dvd

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THE FILM!

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(Well, it cheated by having Ingrid Bergman and Spencer Tracy in it…)

 

Film of the Book: Black Narcissus

Directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger (1947)

 

(This is the first in an occasional feature of reviews of the “Film of the Book”, or occasionally the “Book of the Film”, if I happen to have seen and loved the film first. I will start by saying I am not at all knowledgeable about the technical side of cinema – direction, cinematography, etc – so my reviews will be totally subjective, based on the story-telling. I’ll be looking at two things – firstly, how does it compare to the book, in plot, casting, atmosphere, location, etc; and secondly, did I enjoy it, which is after all the most important thing. The rating reflects my enjoyment rather than a quality assessment.)

The palace at Mopu from the 1947 film by Powell and Pressburger
The palace at Mopu from the 1947 film by Powell and Pressburger

From the book review:

The palace at Mopu was once known as the House of Women, home to the harem of the General, the local overlord of this remote spot high in the Himalayas. That General is now dead, and his son wants to do something to improve the lives of his people. So he has invited the Sisters of Mary to set up a convent there, to provide a school and clinic. Sister Superior Clodagh and her small group of fellow nuns make the long journey, full of enthusiasm to set up the new Convent of St Faith. But they are not prepared for the isolation they will feel in this place of majestic grandeur, set amidst the mountains, constantly windswept, and with a population who have their own spiritual beliefs and no desire to change. Soon the nuns will find themselves challenged, not only physically, but emotionally, even spiritually, struggling to maintain their faith amidst the emptiness that surrounds them.

You can read the full book review by clicking here.

 

Film of the Book

 

In my review of the book, I mentioned three things that really stood out for me – the depth of the characterisation, the wonderfully atmospheric sense of place and the slow build up of tension leading to a gothic climax. So these were the things I was looking for when watching the film.

First off, the major casting is pretty great. Deborah Kerr, as Sister Clodagh, acts as much with her face and her mannerisms as her words, and gives a fine portrayal of Clodagh’s initial over-confidence giving way to uncertainty, growing nervousness and even panic over the course of the film. She is beautiful, of course, but this is kept toned down during the convent sections. We see some of Clodagh’s back-story in Ireland before she became a nun, and the contrast helps to show the passionate personality she still is beneath the veil.

(Deborah Kerr as Sister Clodagh before and after becoming a nun…)

David Farrar, an actor I don’t know at all, is excellent as Mr Dean – he has an overt masculinity (not altogether aided, I must say, by some of the shortest shorts in history) without being an overly handsome hunk, which is exactly how I saw him in the book. Sister Ruth is played by Kathleen Byron. She isn’t quite as I imagined Ruth – too glamorous and a little too manic – but she fits the role as depicted in the film very well and gives a fine performance, particularly in the latter stages when all of Ruth’s repressions come shrieking to the surface. The relationships between these characters are at the heart of the film and the three actors work well together, none of them dominating the screen to the detriment of the others.

(The very masculine and frequently underdressed Mr Dean – David Farrar)

The other nuns have lesser roles but Briony (Judith Furse) and Honey (Jenny Laird) are both very true to the book, while the magnificent Dame Flora Robson steals every scene she’s in in her small role as Sister Philippa. Sabu is a little too old and not quite beautiful enough to match my idea of the Young General, but he acts the role well, his costumes are appropriately gorgeous, and at least he’s Indian. Which is more than can be said for the rest of the Indian characters! Typical of the era, of course, but a bit strange to modern eyes. A young Jean Simmons is delightfully slinky and manipulative in her role as Kanchi, the beautiful temptress who tries to seduce the Young General. But I fear that May Hallatt turns the role of the housekeeper Angu Ayah into some kind of Cockney charlady, complete with accent! I kept expecting her to say ‘Cuppa tea, ducks?’ every time she appeared…

may hallatt

(The only Cockney charlady in the Himalayas – May Hallatt as Angu Ayah)

The movie is beautifully filmed in stunningly vibrant Technicolor and, despite being made almost entirely in Pinewood Studios, I believe, brings the haunting atmosphere of the remote Himalayan setting to brilliant life. The ever-present wind plays a big part in creating the unsettling tone in the book, and Powell and Pressburger use this to great effect in the film. One of the things that impressed me about the book was how clearly Godden created visual images in my mind – something that doesn’t often happen with me – and I don’t remember ever seeing another film adaptation that matched my own ideas of a place so exactly, palace and mountains both. A tribute both to Godden’s remarkable descriptive skill and to Powell and Pressburger’s faithful and rather gorgeous interpretation.

(Slinky temptress Kanchi – Jean Simmons, and Sabu as the Young General)

And so to the plot. For the vast majority of the film, the screenplay sticks rigidly to the book – somewhat abridged naturally, but getting all the important plot points over, and largely sticking strictly to the dialogue as written. The necessary shortening means that there’s less time available for nuance and the story has to move quicker, so the film doesn’t have quite the same effect of creeping slowly up on you that the book achieves. The high quality of the acting is crucial here in letting us see the changes in the nuns but, even so, the film doesn’t achieve quite the same depth of characterisation. It makes up for it in added drama, though.

sister ruth

(Kathleen Byron already looking a bit scary as Sister Ruth)

There is one fairly significant change towards the end. I don’t know the reason for it, and can’t discuss the detail since it would be a spoiler, but I suspect it may have been that, at that time, film-makers felt there were some things a nun couldn’t be seen to do in a movie. Odd, since it works fine in the book and I didn’t feel the nun aspect actually made the thing any more shocking. Fundamentally both book and film are about women living a life of isolation in an environment they find challenging, physically, emotionally and spiritually, rather than about religion as such. For my money, the change made the overall tone of the film a little more melodramatic and a little less gothic than the book. However, taken purely in the context of the film, it works brilliantly and the high drama of the ending is superb.

black narcissus bell

I do hope that rather oblique paragraph has intrigued you, because if you loved the book, then I highly recommend the film, and if you loved the film, then I’m pretty sure you’ll love the book too. Mostly a very faithful adaptation and hugely enjoyable as a film in its own right.

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★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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And, finally… by the tiniest of margins…

The Winner in the Book v Film Battle is…

 

narcissus b.

 

THE BOOK!

 

 

Tuesday Terror! The Polar Express – The Movie…

…a chilling tale of child abduction, slavery and torture…

 

The innocent looking cover picture of this movie belies the dark horror that lies at its heart. This is not one for the faint-hearted as the script shows mankind (and elfkind) at their evil worst. So think hard before you read on – the images you are about to see may churn up bits of your subconscious better left unchurned, as we fearfully approach this week’s…

TUESDAY TERROR!

The Polar Express – The Movie

 

the polar express

 

Right from the beginning an atmosphere of dread pervades the film, as our cute and adorable little hero (symbolically given no name so that we must assume he could be any child – perhaps even your inner child!) is told by his uncaring parents that during the night a strange man will enter the house while he sleeps. Then, laughing, they turn out the light and leave him alone in the dark. Restless and scared, he flees through the window into the clutches of a sinister stranger who offers to take him away to a place where he will be safe. Hah!

 

polar express conductor

 

Our hero is still suspicious, but succumbs to the temptation of gifts and hot chocolate. Soon he finds himself trapped on a train hurtling towards who-knows-where through a harsh and icy landscape filled with wolves, ghosts and other beasts of the darkness. And with him are many other children, each abducted from home on this bleak midwinter night.

 

polar express wolves

 

But the abductor (or, as he revealingly calls himself, the Conductor) is only the go-between – taking the children to meet the real evil mastermind, who hides his true identity behind an innocent-seeming alias: Santa. Our hero-boy realises something is amiss, but as he runs to the back of the train to escape, he is met by a diabolical form of torture that stops him in his tracks, and the most horrific aspect is that the torture is carried out by other children…

 

 

Carried against his will to Santa’s dungeons, our hero-boy is forced to witness some unforgettable atrocities. It transpires that Santa has enslaved all the elves and, not content with forcing them to work till midnight, he tortures them with the most horrible sights and sounds ever to assail human (or elven) senses…

 

 

Look! Look…if you dare…at that poor young female elf at the end, about to be tossed from a roof-top for the wicked pleasure of Santa and his evil henchmen! Too awful!! And then watch with terror as the monstrous Santa cruelly whips his enslaved reindeer while his diabolical laughter rends the night sky…

 

 

With great courage, our hero-boy finally escapes from the clutches of the gang and finds his way back home. He makes sure the door is safely closed and, exhausted, sinks into an uneasy sleep. But the worst is yet to come for, in the distance, we hear the tinkling of approaching bells and then, at last, a terrifying scraping, scrabbling sound is heard in the vicinity of the chimney…

 

polar express bell

Never ask for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for THEE!!!

* * * * * * *

            Fretful Porpentine rating:                                  😯   😯   😯   😯   😯

                Overall story rating: santasantasantasantasanta

Transwarp Tuesday! John Carter

When two tribes go to war…

 

kinopoisk.ru

 

Having recently read and loved Edgar Rice Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars – I was intrigued to see how Disney had dealt with it.

So in a departure from the norm, it’s a movie review for this week’s…

TRANSWARP TUESDAY!

* * * * * * *

 

Disney does Edgar Rice Burroughs!

 

in

 

JOHN CARTER

 

Lynn Collins and Taylor Kitsch as Dejah Thoris and John Carter
Lynn Collins and Taylor Kitsch as Dejah Thoris and John Carter

Two Martian tribes are at war – the Heliumites and the Zodangans, who for ease we shall think of as the goodies and the baddies. But the baddies are being helped by a mysterious race of superbeings known as the Thern, who have given them the ability to harness the ninth ray of the sun and use it as a super weapon. As the goodies face certain defeat, the leader of the Zodangans offers to spare them from destruction if the Heliumite Princess, Dejah Thoris, agrees to be his bride.

Meantime, back on Earth, ex-Confederate Army Captain John Carter takes refuge from a horde of attacking Apache warriors in a mysterious cave, where he meets a passing Thern and is accidentally transported to Barsoom, which we Earthlings know as the Red Planet – Mars! Once there, he finds the lower gravity gives him superior strength and the ability to jump really high and really far. Captured by Tharks (14-ft tall, six-limbed, green, horned, pretty ugly), he falls in love with the thankfully human-looking Dejah Thoris and is gradually sucked into the ongoing war…

Tharks...
Tharks…

The plot of the film is a simplified version of the plot of the book, which in truth was already fairly simple. The scriptwriters have tried to make sense of some of the gaping plot holes in the book by introducing the Thern, thus providing an explanation for how John Carter got to Mars. They’ve also changed Dejah Thoris a bit to make her more acceptable to modern audiences. She already had a reasonably heroic role in the book but in the film she is kickass! Truly! And intelligent, gorgeous, scantily clad, interestingly tattooed and a bit of a flirt. A description that works equally well for John Carter, minus the tattoos…and possibly the intelligence.

Some people say women can't be warriors...but I bet they don't say it when Dejah's around...
Dejah Thoris in warrior mode…

However the writers (who somewhat amazingly include Michael Chabon) have got rid of most of the stuff about the society of the Tharks, which personally I felt was one of the more interesting features of the book. Oddly, though, they left little bits in but without much explanation, so that I wondered whether I’d have struggled to follow the plot (such as it is) if I hadn’t read the book. For instance, the big reveal about Tars Tarkas being Sola’s father really needed the background filled out to show why it was important – that is, that in Thark society, love between adults is taboo; eggs are laid and children brought up by the community rather than by biological parents.

Thark on a thoat...
Thark on a thoat…

Instead the film concentrates almost entirely on fighting and battles interspersed with the John Carter/Dejah Thoris love story. This works well in terms of the CGI – overall they do a good job of all the different creatures of Burroughs’ imagination* and the very Disney-style battles involve a lot of fun and exciting fighting and killing, while keeping it almost entirely gore-free – with the exception of the blue blood of the great White Ape, and that was really just splattered about for its humorous value. And obviously only the baddies die, and they all deserve it, so the feel-good factor is not disrupted.

(*Special mention must go to Woola – the dog-like creature. I was somewhat disappointed that they didn’t go for the full ten legs, but they got his massive grin and cuddly personality. On the other hand (pun intended), they went for the simplest version possible of giving the Tharks an extra pair of arms, which wasn’t really how Burroughs described them. He said the extra limbs could operate as either arms or legs as circumstances required… I suspect either CGI or the special effects guys’ imaginations must still have limitations.)

Woola...four legs missing, but still smiling...
Woola…four legs missing, but still smiling…

A fun adventure, as silly and inconsistent as the book but in different ways. I’m not sure I’d be nominating it for Oscars for the script or indeed the acting; and I suspect I wouldn’t have enjoyed it half as much if I hadn’t read the book. But it has lots of heroics, a good deal of humour, a nice little romance (despite my severe disappointment that they cut the bit about Dejah laying an egg) and the special effects looked pretty good to my untutored eye. Overall, the full two hours and a bit passed very entertainingly.

Little Green Men Rating: :mrgreen: :mrgreen: :mrgreen: :mrgreen:

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