Thursday, July 2, 2015

Thursday Movie Picks: Adaptations of Classic Literature (No Poems or Plays)


Happy Thursday, all! For close to a year, I've dedicated this day of the week to participate in a weekly meme called, fittingly, Thursday Movie Picks hosted by Wanderer at Wandering Through the Shelves. I almost skipped this week. I just wasn't sure what to do with the topic she's assigned us. By the way, that's the name of the game: she gives us a topic and we suggest a trio of films to go with that topic. This week's is "Adaptations of Classic Literature." I was cool with that, then she hit me with the caveat: no poems or plays.

Dammit.

All the Shakespeare stuff is out. What do I do now?

And what does she mean by classic, anyway?

For classic, I'm going with a two part definition: 1) stuff written before my parents were born (roughly around the center of last century) and/or 2) 'stuff they make us read in  high school, or sooner. Even this broad definition caused a dilemma. I've seen the movies based on those books so long ago, I hardly remember them. After sobbing in several beers due to the emotional torment this caused, I sucked it up, drove on, and came up with three picks.

Dracula
(1931)
Based on Dracula by Bram Stoker (1897)
To say the story of Dracula has staying power is to undersell it by a ridiculous margin. The character has appeared as a major character in literally hundreds of films in the century and change since the advent of moving pictures. While 1922's Nosferatu is iconic in its own right, this version resonates most with the movie-going public. Bela Lugosi's legendary performance has informed what every other actor has tried to do with the role. Either imitate it, purposely try a different approach, or poke fun at it. Forget actors. Just ask someone in your family to do a Dracula impersonation. Chances are they'll put on their best Lugosi accent and pull something over the lower part of their face that's supposed to be a cape. Besides, this is also the first official adaptation. For a more modern take on the same novel, check out the Francis Ford Coppola directed Bram Stoker's Dracula from 1992.


Animal Farm
(1954)
Based on Animal Farm by George Orwell (1945)
Written as a satire and all-out attack on Joseph Stalin, George Orwell's classic had trouble seeing the light of day. When it did, it struck a chord. It did the same with me even though I knew nothing of Stalinism when I read it. To me, it was a great allegory for what could go wrong with any society if power is abused. Though I saw it for the first time about thirty years after it came out, the movie drove home the point. Quick history lesson: this was the first British animated film to receive a theatrical release.


To Kill a Mockingbird
(1962)
Based on To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960)
Let's face it, a novel about civil rights for blacks written by a white woman from Alabama in 1960 and getting published is groundbreaking stuff, whether it's any good or not. Fortunately, it's excellent. The movie of the same title, which made it to the big screen a mere two years later, quickly became one of the all-time greats. The performance by Gregory Peck is a towering achievement. Then again, so is the whole film. Though much more than this, it's most famous for Peck's character, a lawyer named Atticus Finch, defending a black man accused of raping a white girl. Mind you, this is during a time and in a place where black men were openly lynched just for being accused of such things. Over fifty years later, it's still an excellent watch and, sadly, relevant.


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26 comments:

  1. I've only seen To Kill a Mockingbird from your picks and loved both movie and novel. Gregory Peck really embodied the role, it's difficult to imagine the role being portrayed by another actor.

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    1. It's not just difficult to imagine anyone else as Atticus Finch, it's impossible!

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  2. I read Animal Farms around middle school. I like it, but I like that book even better after I read about Revolution of Russia (or Bolshevik? whatever).
    Sadly, I haven't watched any of these classic films.

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    1. I didn't read it until high school, but it rocked my world even then. Probably time for a re-read...and re-watch.

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  3. I love To Kill a Mocking Bird so much. I've never read Animal Farm, but I've always wanted to. Great picks!

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    1. I highly recommend Animal Farm. And you have to be a cold-hearted bigot not to love To Kill a Mockingbird.

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  4. Oh, I loved To Kill a Mockingbird! That was one of Gregory Peck's best performances and who would have thought you could make twenty minutes of people conducting a courtroom procession interesting. I also remember that part being rather depressing, especially after seeing Atticus give a very compelling testimony that basically pointed out the problems with EVERY SINGLE ARGUMENT THE PROSECUTION MADE and the jury (which of course, this being the 60's, consisted entirely of old white men) STILL decided the defendant was guilty (even the judge seemed to be thinking "are you kidding me?"). It really showed how messed up a world that was (and in some places still is). Of course Scout's narrative was also pretty compelling, with the various difficulties she had to face being a smart and capable little girl in a society that basically expected her to get married and have babies.

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    1. Yes to this entire comment! I couldn't have...and didn't...say it any better, myself.

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  5. BOOM! You nailed it. Great picks. I haven't seen Animal Farm, but I loved To Kill a Mockingbird (as well as the novel) and thought Dracula was quite good (those aren't really my kind of thing, though).

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    1. Thanks. I haven't watched Animal Farm in a while, myself. Need to revisit. To Kill a Mockingbird might be the best book-movie combo ever. Glad you liked Dracula, too, even if it isn't really your thing.

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  6. Awesome choices! I've never seen the movie adaptation of Animal Farm, but I loved reading the book with my kids.

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  7. Animal Farm is such a great book. I don't remember much of the movie though, to be honest. I saw it SO long ago.

    LOVE this version of Dracula. Such a classic. I almost went with another Universal Monster Movie: The Invisible Man. LOVE Claude Rains's voice.

    To Kill A Mockingbird is the greatest book-to-film adaptation of all time. I ADORE that book and the film is near-perfect at capturing its essence and putting the narrative onscreen. Plus, Peck's for-the-ages performance.

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    1. Glad to see another fan of Animal Farm. I've only seen parts of The Invisible Man. Shame. To Kill A Mockingbird...yes!

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  8. Great choices! You met the challenge well despite this genre not being really up your alley. This version of Dracula is definitely the blueprint for all others though it creaks now. I wasn't crazy about the Coppola version but liked the '79 version with Frank Langella. I like the book of Animal Farm more than the film but it was a good effort. Everyone seems to love To Kill a Mockingbird far more than I. It's a fine film with a great Peck performance but nothing I revisit very often at all.

    I usually think of classic literature coming from the 19th century but then two of the ones I came up with were 20th century works so it's a malleable concept. Here's my three with an extra because I just can't help myself:

    The Return of the Soldier (1982)-Powerful version of Rebecca West's first novel. A wealthy middle aged man returns from WWI shell shocked and with no memory of his life for the past twenty years. He longs to see his first love, now a dowdy housewife, which his wife, a haughty brittle woman, can't comprehend and reacts to hostilely. Standing by on the sidelines is his cousin Jenny who has complicated feelings for him as well. Richly appointed drama is an acting showcase for Alan Bates, Julie Christie, Glenda Jackson and an almost unrecognizable Ann-Margret who are all superb.

    Far From the Madding Crowd (1967)-Sweeping, gorgeously shot version of Thomas Hardy's dense novel. Julie Christie makes a beautiful Bathsheba, a young woman who has inherited a large estate and whose life becomes complicated by three men. Terence Stamp is fine as Sergeant Troy but the real acting comes from Alan Bates as the steadfast Gabriel Oak and Peter Finch as the tormented Boldwood. Deliberately paced but beautifully done.

    The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)-Diamond hard noir with Lana Turner white hot in both dress and sexuality and John Garfield the poor sap who falls under her spell. Excellent direction and a great supporting cast make this adaptation of the James M. Cain novel one of the classics of the noir era. Avoid the Jack Nicholson/Jessica Lange remake, its trash.

    Honorable Mention-Summer Storm (1944) - Olga, a beautiful young peasant girl brings tragedy to all who surround her including herself. Set in the Russian countryside this adaption of Anton Chekov’s The Shooting Party was one of Douglas Sirk’s earliest American films. Missing some of his signature stylistic touches he still uses shadows effectively and draws excellent work from his cast, especially George Sanders, as the troubled leading man for a change and Edward Everett Horton, in a more complex role than usual, that of a dissipated count. But the real standout is Linda Darnell in the first of the bad girl roles in which she excelled. She digs deep into Olga’s conflicted nature offering a passionate performance of an impulsive girl who is ultimately her own worst enemy.

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    1. Damn you, Josh. You always come up with stuff I have to add to my to-watch list! Haven't seen any of these, yet. And yes, what exactly is classic is certainly subjective.

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    2. Glad that I've offered up some titles that peak your interest! I've found so many films to try out through this series so I try and find more obscure movies that fit the themes, shine a little focus on them and hopefully encourage others to check them out.

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  9. Nice choices. I've seen the 1922 version of Dracula but still yet to see the first sound version, but you're right. It's the go to impression. It's that iconic.

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    1. 22's Nosferatu is wonderful, but I had to go with this version for the reasons given. I hope you get to check it out.

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  10. I just saw To Kill a Mockingbird fairly recently during my Gregory Peck Obsession Days. Oh my, that was a profound film on so many levels. The race issue obviously is still relevant and profound to this day, but there's also the father/daughter relationship that's so moving and beautifully-portrayed.

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    1. Yes, that father/daughter relationship is great and the whole movie really was profound on many levels.

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  11. Can't go wrong with To Kill a Mockingbird, man! That is one of the best literary adaptations ever. I think we watched this version of Animal Farm after reading the book when I was in 9th grade. I don't fully remember it though. I sort of want to read this again. I have never seen one Dracula movie in any form under any title. Great picks!

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    1. Not one Dracula film? How is this possible? Wow. I'm sort of impressed by that.

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  12. A movie adaptation of Animal Farm just sounds so odd to me. I think there might even be a recent version too.

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    1. There is a recent version, '99 I think. It might even be live-action, as preposterous as that sounds. I haven't bothered with that.

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