It is popular belief that movies based on novels are generally garbage.
This point of view has some merit. Sometimes, a movie will simply miss the point of the novel it was taken from, as with 1994’s Frankenstein.
Other times, a movie will boil down the novel to such an extent that it comes across as manipulative tripe (The Horse Whisperer, Beloved). Of course, there are also the unfortunate movies that were taken from novels that were no good in the first place (Patriot Games). Aspersions aside, not every movie taken from a novel is unworthy of accolades. These classic titles serve as reminders that film can sometimes reproduce fiction with remarkable acuity.
The Remains of the Day
Anthony Hopkins plays Stevens, the butler of Lord Darlington (James Fox), in the Britain of the 1930s. Stevens is committed to the appearance of beauty and order that surround him, so vividly brought to life by magnificent views inside Darlington Hall, Lord Darlington’s estate and the rolling greenery that surrounds it. In his devotion, Stevens misses on more than one opportunity for love with Miss Kenton (Emma Thompson) by being unable to distinguish himself from the house he serves.
Even the death of his father (Peter Vaughan) does not diminish his loyalty. When Lord Darlington chooses to “work with” a Germany that’s on a decline toward Nazism, the house Stevens devoted his life to turns to shambles.
Kazuo Ishiguro won the Booker Prize for Fiction for this, his third novel. The movie was no less successful, congratulated by eight Oscar nominations and even a mention on The Sopranos.
This classic film was originally a novel by Charles Webb. In the movie, Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) is a college graduate without direction. His parents feel he should go to graduate school and then onto a good career, but Braddock is not so sure. In true 1960s style, Braddock chooses first a sordid love affair with Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft) and then pursues Mrs. Robinson’s daughter, Elaine (Katherine Ross), over the expectations of the “plastic fantastic” his parents wish to impart upon him. All the while, he allows his career goals to flounder.
Like much art that arose from the counter-culture of the ’60s, Braddock can be seen as anything from a spoiled brat to a social revolutionary.
No matter what one’s political views, The Graduate is a fascinating look at the way sexual epiphanies can transform a shy boy into a man.
Conrad Jarrett (Timothy Hutton) is another young boy with problems.
Jarrett’s problem is not sexual, however. It’s suicide. Having already attempted suicide once, Conrad’s father, Calvin (Donald Sutherland), is naturally worried. After Conrad gets out of the home in which he was placed, he begins therapy with Dr. Tyrone C. Berger (Judd Hirsch). Through their discussions together, Conrad identifies that much of his problem surrounds the accidental drowning of Conrad’s brother, Buck, and how Conrad’s mother, Beth (Mary Tyler Moore), has reacted to it.
What this film does, besides bringing the novel by Judith Guest to the big screen, is bring to light the roles that people sometimes take on in the face of tragedy. From Moore’s portrayal of a sterile housewife in denial to Sutherland’s flawless portrayal of the concerned father, Ordinary People delves into emotional issues in a more empathic way than many of its counterparts. There are no true antagonists here, much as there rarely are in real life. These are merely ordinary people in a miasma of emotion that needs to be dealt with.
There were several “big name” movies that could have appeared in this slot. Schindler’s List was originally a novel by Thomas Keneally. The Caine Mutiny was originally a novel by Herman Wouk, and even A Clockwork Orange was based on a novel by Anthony Burgess. However, The Godfather, based on a novel by Mario Puzo, cannot be overlooked.
The aging patriarch of the Corleone crime family is granting requests on the day of his daughter’s wedding. There are only two requirements to have the assistance of Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando).
The first requirement is that he must be addressed as Godfather, with all of the respect and religiosity that title entails. The second requirement is that you must promise to do him “a service” at some point in the future. You must agree that you are in his debt.
From the wedding scene, in which Don Corleone dances with his daughter, to the scene in which an attempt is made on Corleone’s life, it is sufficient to say that every scene in The Godfather is infamous in some way. In this case, an average book brought about extraordinary cinema.
Regardless of how such a thing could happen, both cinema and fiction are strengthened because of it.