Re: RARA-AVIS: Re: Books to Films

From: Stephen Burridge (
Date: 01 Jul 2007

Sure, it's a matter of taste.

I agree that the relation of the Hitchcock movie to the Buchan book is different from the relation of the Altman movie to the Chandler book. Still, I think you are way too hard on Altman. And I think my preference for Buchan's book based on my affection for it is similar enough to your arguments about "The Long Goodbye" to justify the mention.

Stephen Burridge

On 7/1/07, JIM DOHERTY <> wrote:
> Stephen,
> 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).
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