RARA-AVIS: Re: Books to Films

From: JIM DOHERTY ( jimdohertyjr@yahoo.com)
Date: 01 Jul 2007


Re your comments below:

"I think 'Saboteur' and 'North By Northwest' are too far from 'The Thirty-Nine Steps' to be considered versions of the same source material, even if the form of the story is roughly similar."

Well, I'm not sure if Buchan's estate ever sued for plagiarism, or whether they would have been successful if they had, but to me (and I'm far from the only one) all three films seem to have essentially the same plot. Innocent bystander is unwittingly swept into espionage caper, wrongly accused of a crime, and must simultaneously dodge cops and catch the real villains before SOMETHING REALLY BAD happens.

The main difference seems to be setting and time period. STEPS (the novel) is set in Britain during, or just before, WW1, STEPS (the film) in Britain between the wars (but closer to the start of WW2 than the end of WW1), SABOTEUR in the States during WW2, and NBN in the States during the Cold War.

Sure each iteration moves a little farther from the novel, but they all have essentially the same plot.

In fact, the differences are essentially the same as the differences between the '30's version of THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH and the 1956 version, which IS an official remake.

"Which indirectly leads to the issue of how faithful a movie should be to the novel on which it's based and from which it takes its title and characters etc. I gather from your posts to this list that you feel passionately about this issue in the case of 'The Long Goodbye.' I'm on the other side of that question: I like both the novel and the quite different Altman movie and I have no problems with the liberties Altman took. I think the movie maker is entitled to do as he wishes with the source material."

Not just about GOOODBYE. Understand, I don't say a filmmaker should be bound to doing nothing but a scene by scene literal translation of the source material. ALlowances have to be made for the difference in medium if nothing else.

Even Robert Penn Warren's adaptation of his own novel, ALL THE KING'S MEN, into a stage play has plenty of differences, differences that come about primarily because of the differences in the mediums.

What I DO say is that any filmmaker who has no respect for the source material, as Altman clearly (and, based on his own comments, explicitly) had no respect for Chandler, his character, or his novel, has no business using the source material to trash the source material.

A filmmaker should at least try, to the best of his or her ability, to be true to the spirit of whatever is being adapted.

"However, I have to admit that in the case of 'The 39 Steps' I had to watch it a few times before I was able to get past its differences from the novel. I read the book for the first time when I was pretty young, and knew it well by the time I saw the film. I'm a fan of Buchan's stories, with all their weaknesses and ugly aspects. I think this is the root of my sense that the novel is 'better.' The movie, for all its energy and humour and cleverness, doesn't deliver the storytelling magic I associate with the book. And the screwball comedy-type 'romantic tension' is utterly alien to the spirit of Buchan."

Well, I read the book first, too. And my take is just different from yours. While I was aware of the differences, I got the same sense of movement, verve, suspense, and adventures from both versions. I thought the film, while not a literal translation, was quite faithful to the spirit of Buchan's original.

Significantly, from what I've been given to understand, Buchan did, too.

Leaving aside Buchan's opinions about the film and/or its faithfulness to his novel, however, liking the film or not liking the film is just a difference of speicific opinion, not a difference of philosophy,
(though I gather from your earlier comments that there's a difference in philosophy, too).


____________________________________________________________________________________ Be a better Globetrotter. Get better travel answers from someone who knows. Yahoo! Answers - Check it out. http://answers.yahoo.com/dir/?link=list&sid=396545469

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 01 Jul 2007 EDT