BOOKCHAP ON: Celluloid and paper – two interdependent media?

Article published on March 18, 2016.

The power of books made into films cannot be over estimated. Throughout the rise of film from the earliest days up to the present, we have famous examples that cover all genres. A recent interest in the subject of book/film correlation within the nudge/nb household forced me into researching my own modest film collection to better understand why it either works or doesn’t.

I make no secret of my preference for older films; amongst my varied collection are a number from foreign lands, too. One is a 1930 German film ‘The Blue Angel’; it stars Marlene Deitrich in one of her first films singing ‘Falling In Love Again (never wanted to)’. In my humble opinion, she wasn’t a very good actress, or wasn’t at the time of the film. Now this film was taken from a book entitled ‘Professor Unrat’ the main character in the film. The book was published in 1905, written by Heinrich Mann but I guarantee the book is little known these days, but the film is a classic, especially the song.

Another book that screamed out for filming was ‘The Godfather’. The finished film was rather splendidly done because it followed Mario Puzo’s book quite literally with little additional ‘Hollywood’ intervention. I suggest the film was so good in fact that the two filmed sequels were hastily written with Puzo’s input, additional bangs, violence and sex to perhaps play to the voyeur in us all, or to make as much money as possible from the franchise, I figure the latter being the case.

As a youth I enjoyed the Beatles, the film ‘A Hard Days Night’ was their first celluloid outing and it proved to be an inspired hit. I saw the film; of course, I still have a copy on disc. I also purchased the book with a few stills from the film in it for the princely sum of 2/6d. This is a weird about face in as much as the book was actually written after the film. I kept this book for many years, probably into the late 1980’s; I then sold it amongst others at auction (a difficult decision to take). A few weeks later I saw that self same book again in a decent ‘used’ bookshop priced at £15.00. It vanished quite rapidly!

Japanese films also fascinate me, the actor Toshiro Mifune in particular. One film I have is ‘Yojimbo’; this is a classic example of the Ronin character, the wandering Samurai warrior. This film is partly based on two Dashiell Hammett novels, ‘The Glass Key’ from 1931 and ‘Red Harvest’ in 1929, Hammett you may recall was the author of ‘The Maltese Falcon’, eventually made into the Bogart film of the same name, of course.

The Yojimbo film tells exactly the same story as that produced many years later with Clint Eastwood as the Ronin character in the 1964 film ‘A Fistful of Dollars’. I rather sadly have watched these two films back to back some years ago and I have to say the similarities are startling. One can also include the ‘Seven Samurai’ together with the ‘Magnificent Seven’ as another comparison, plus the spawning of sequels galore due to the popularity.

Of course the immortal ‘Gone With The Wind’ is another great book made into film. I have the book still but I find it very difficult to get into in any form. One suspects it is a lightness of knowledge about the era on my part, and not able to sit comfortably in the imagination. Similar, early films are ‘The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’ and ‘The Adventures of Tom Sawyer’. Both these were originally penned by Samuel Langhorne Clemens, or Mark Twain to use his nom de plume. Both make very decent films albeit early versions ostensibly for children. The same with Arthur Ransome and his ‘Swallows and Amazons’ or; Sir Walter Scott’s books ‘Rob Roy’ or ‘Ivanhoe’ amongst many others.

On the subject of filmed books, a Maria von Trapp wrote a book entitled ‘The Story Of The Trapp Family Singers’. This was published in 1949, became a bestseller and was made into two German/Austrian films. Eventually the story was altered into a Broadway musical entitled ‘The Sound Of Music’. This of course later became an icon in the film genre.

The list is endless and, as the years trickle by; the list gets longer and longer. Too many to mention in fact; I have read a lot of the books related above; some I felt lacking in something that the film actually portrays, equally some books are far better than the film. I cannot in all honesty complain at the film versions, they all serve a purpose and hopefully might spur people on to read the original books.

Reg Seward
March 2016

 

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