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  • Gail Wilson Kenna

On Novels made into Movies

I had hoped for more responses than I received to my question last week. No matter. I appreciated the ones I read, especially comments about Christopher Isherwood’s Goodbye to Berlin, made into the musical, Cabaret.

A reader wrote, “Occasionally the art forms can be very different and wind up in the same place.” This old friend went on to say, “The movie contained the energy and spectacle of the actual cabaret in a way the written work never could. What I got a glimpse of in the book, I fully understood viscerally in the movie… involved and deeply moved.”

Another person wrote about the film version of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited as a memorable treatment of the novel. I would agree and add this thought. The filmed version for television was not limited like the two-hour movie. The BR series had multiple episodes and could include every scene from Waugh’s novel. I remember seeing Brideshead Revisited in the mid-80s when there was no taping. I dodged invites or left functions to make certain I was home to see the next episode. Then twenty years ago, I watched the entire series again while living in Peru, appreciating every episode all over again.

Someone mentioned Dr. Zhivago. This gave me pause. The famous British film director, David Lean, liked to take big novels by important writers and turn them into romantic movies. His 1965 adaptation of Boris Pasternak’s novel is a good example. The Russian revolution is background for a love affair. The late movie critic, Robert Ebert, said the viewer gets a “postcard of revolution.”

The same comment could be made for Lean’s Bridge on the River Kwai. The American character, played by William Holden, has a lover. What did that have to do with the British prisoners building a bridge in Burma for the Japanese? But a viewer could be forgiving of this Hollywood touch because Alec Guinness was the Colonel in charge. Who can forget his Macbeth moment when he asks, “What have I done?” then falls on the wire hidden in sand and blows up the bridge? And who can forget Peter O’Toole as Lawrence of Arabia? My point? Lean managed to have great actors in his films and who could not be entertained by his sweeping sagas?

Another reader mentioned D.H. Lawrence’s Women in Love. She enjoyed both the novel and movie. The late Glenda Jackson was memorable in the film. Another reader appreciated that the movie version of Cry the Beloved Country was excellent. Robert Redford’s A River Runs Through It was cited. Who can forget that shot of Brad Pitt, casting in the river? Yet as much as Redford loved the novel (and bought the rights), he could not put into a movie the compressed genius and Shakespearean language of Norman Maclean’s 101 page novel.

Lastly, one reader of my blog, had watched the movie version of Carr’s A Month in the Country. “The story, as presented in the movie, felt like weak tea to me,” he wrote. “I’m looking forward to reading the novel again so I can renew my affections for it!” A 1994 obituary for J.L. Carr ends with… he was “both a marvellous writer and a marvellous man.” Word eleven wants to correct the British spelling. O Brave New World/ That has such machines in it!

Until next Monday, good thoughts to all.

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