Re: RARA-AVIS: Adaptions of HB novels (& non-adaptations)

From: Rene Ribic (
Date: 27 Jan 2002

Thinking about film versions of HB novels - in general & particularly in relation to adaptations being the key criterion as to whether, in theory at least, certain films warrant discussion on this list - 2 things occurred to me. One is how hard it is to draw a line between HB adaptations & original script films made in the same style or genre or directed/written by the same people, particularly in an era not only in which every director & writer is acutely aware of film-noir & other related & non-related genres/styles on the one hand, but many of these same people (Coen Bros, Tarantino, et al) are known to be fans of the written equivalents also.I mean, strictly according to the rules we shouldn't really be discussing the Coens at all, not that I have the least problem with it.Imagine that the Coens never gave an interview, or if they did, & stated consistently that neither of them read books.Imagine if they hadn't made "Miller's Crossing".We would have no excuse to discuss their work (or it's connections to HB lit) even though they would still be the same movies. This is not intended as a criticism of the list rules - no matter how sensible a rule is there will always be times & instances where a strict adherence would be foolish.- And there'll ALWAYS be some asshole like me pointing them out :) - I think Herr Listmeister Denton does an excellent job of letting us run off at the mouth for a little but stepping in before the thread gets bogged down in arguments over the comparative HB credentials of "Rocky 15" &
"Rocky 19". The 2nd thing I thought of (& I'm by no meams the 1st to think of it) is just how important these film adaptations are/were in relation to popularising the work of the authors' work initially & to the chance of their work being remembered by the public & it's chances of being reprinted.There were 2 things that brought me to HB lit as an adolescent, at that time mostly obsessed with SF/fantasy - (1) Michael Moorcock's constant refrain during his editorshipof "New Worlds" magazine that SF had yet to produce a writer of the quality of Hammett or Chandler (with the possible exception of Alfred Bester, whose 2 classic novels, "The Demolished Man" & "Tiger, Tiger" - AKA "The Stars My Destination", unfortunatley - I think would be of interest to many listmembers.Probably already discussed in various SF/HB threads) ; (2) My love of Humphrey Bogart movies such as "The Maltese Falcon". So the first HB I read was Hammett, Chandler & JM Cain, all of whom had several books that had been made into classic movies.After I'd read everything I could get hold of by these guys I thought I'd exhausted the field (oh, foolish youth!) & to maintain my HB habit I had to turn to movies. Here, luckily, it was easier to have an informed notion of what was out there.Aside from 1930's gangster movies & film noir from 1940's &1950's there were also the more contemporary films of the 1960's, '70's & '80's which I gorged myself on during the decade 1974-1984 : Point Blank, The Conversation, Assault on Precinct 13, The Long Goodbye; McCabe & Mrs Miller; The Wild Bunch; Straw Dogs; Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia; Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid; The Good, the Bad & the Ugly; For a Fistful of Dollars; For a Few Dollars More; Once Upon a Time in the West; Once Upon a Time in America; High Plains Drifter; Magnum Force; Dirty Harry; The Godfather; The Godfather 2; Mean Streets; Taxi Driver; Raging Bull; King of Comedy; Blue Collar; Breathless; Blood Simple; Cutter's Way; Farewell, My Lovely; The American Friend; Blue Velvet; Body Heat; First Blood; Southern Comfort; Deliverance; Bladerunner; The Long Good Friday; Gorky Park; Scorpio; there were some Australian films : Stir; Pure Shit
(AKA Pure S); The Cars That Ate Paris; Mad Max; Mad Max 2. There were some excellent HB'ish TV shows being made in the UK & Australia in the 1980's - the only ones I now recall were "Edge of Darkness", "Out" &
"Law & Order" from the UK & "Scales of Justice" from Australia but there were others. All these & many more (yes I realise many of these flicks are westerns, etc but I feel they fit comfortably in my list) not only fed my habit but left me , luckily for me, exposed to the marketing strategies of smart cookies like Maxim Jakubowski who while republishing many HB/noir classics in his Black Box & Blue Murder lines concentrated heavily on authors & books that had famous film adaptations of them, the cover blurbs prominently featuring info about said adaptations. It was my familiarity with films such as "Little Caesar" & "High Sierra" which clinched my decision to buy my first HB books outside the HamChanCain ouevre.Later I discovered that some of the modern films I liked were based on novels, eg "Cutter & Bone"/"Cutter's Way".Lou Stathis, in his intro to the RESearch edition of "Wild Wives/High Priest of California" speculates that most of the HB authors of the past who are remembered today (1 exception being JD MacDonald who had managed to break through to bestsellerdom) are remembered primarily because of classic film versions of their work.Publishers also seem more likely to reprint books that have movie versions extant & will usually retitle books if there is a film version (eg Point Blank/Payback; Shoot the Piano Player; The Killing).Which is a possible answer to the question someone posed recently, "Why are Charles Williams books out of print?"Although several of his books have been adapted I don't think any of the films achieve classic status - the only ones I recall seeing "The Hot Spot" & "Dead Calm" hardly qualified as classics, even though I enjoyed them both, particularly "Dead Calm" (oh, & both the original books were republished as movie tie-in editions by Penguin & No Exit, respectively - the Penguin edition using the movie title instead of "Hell Hath No Fury", natch. I also have a Penguin edition of "The Long Saturday Night" as a tie-in to Truffaut's film adaptation titled "Finally, Sunday". No prizes for guessing which title Penguin went with).So, no famous classics, cult hits, etc for Charlie, even though IMDB lists 13 different adaptations of his work.No famous films, no books in print (or at least as far as I know).Others here have noted the Prion (?) imprint which is reprinting the original novels that many famous films are based on, that being the criterion for selection; many if not all of these titles would qualify as HB/noir or near relations & several have been printed previously as part of noir revival lines such as the mentioned Zomba & Blue Murder editions. Sorry about the long & rambling post but the topic is near to my heart & reading the Washington Post piece by G Pelecanos got me going .(I guess it's well past time that I read one of his books!Man has excellent taste, fer sure.)Thanks for the link, Ann.Also a big thank you to all those who weighed in with the great info about Horace "the real" McCoy. Youse guys never let me down. Rene.

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