It’s a popular topic on writers’ and readers’ forums: film adaptations that fail to live up to the books or stories on which they’re based. As far as I’m concerned, all the selections below measure up to their source material, and, in some cases, surpass it. In no particular order, my favorites are:
Rear Window (1954) Dir. Alfred Hitchcock, based on the short story “Rear Window” by Cornell Woolrich. A photographer, confined to a wheelchair with a broken leg, spies on the neighbors across his courtyard and suspects one of them has committed a murder. A brilliant and riveting film, one every fiction writer should see for its use of limited omniscient point of view.
Dangerous Liaisons (1988) Dir. Stephen Frears, based on the novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Choderlos de Laclos. Eighteenth century sex games. The book has been adapted many times, but this version, with Glenn Close and John Malkovich, is my favorite, as the performances give depth to a couple of really unpleasant, manipulative characters.
The Remains of the Day (1993) Dir. James Ivory, based on the novel The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro. An understated, beautiful performance by Anthony Hopkins as a butler who is so dedicated to serving his employer, that he has no life of his own.
Rosemary’s Baby (1968) Dir. Roman Polanski, based on the novel Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin. A young couple moves into a building with a sordid past and is befriended by the quirky, elderly couple next door. Ruth Gordon won an Oscar for her portrayal of the nosy Minnie Castevet. Talk about comic relief!
Portrait of Jennie (1948) Dir. William Dieterle, based on the novella Portrait of Jennie by Robert Nathan. An artist who is down on his luck meets a mysterious little girl who asks him to wait for her to grow up. Every time she reappears to him, she is older…. A lovely fantasy.
A Christmas Carol, a.k.a. Scrooge (1951) Dir. Brian Desmond Hurst, based on the novella A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens I saw this version when I was a child, and there has never been any Ebenezer Scrooge but Alistair Sim for me since. There are many good versions of this book, but this is the best; trust me.
Purple Noon (1960) Dir. Rene Clement, based on the novel The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith Alain Delon is perfectly slick and sociopathic as Ripley. The end is a stunner.
La Ceremonie (1995) Dir. Claude Chabrol, based on the novel A Judgement in Stone by Ruth Rendell This book has one of my all-time favorite opening lines, “Eunice Parchman killed the Coverdale family because she could not read or write." And it just gets better from there. This adaptation does not disappoint. Everything about the film is chilling.
The Wizard of Oz (1939) Dir. Victor Fleming, based on the novel, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum What can I say? I love Baum’s books, but I am a total sucker for this movie, munchkins, flying monkeys and all.
Gods and Monsters (1998) Dir. Bill Condon, based on the novel Father of Frankenstein by Christopher Bram. An imagining of the events leading to Frankenstein’s director, James Whale’s mysterious death. The film won an Oscar for best adapted screenplay and rightfully so. If you’re a fan of Frankenstein in its all its forms, see it AND read the book. The order doesn’t matter.
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