Five Very Good Books That Made Very Bad Movies
Maybe it was seeing "There Will Be Blood," a magnificent movie made from Upton Sinclair's hair-raising Oil!, that started me thinking about how some works of fiction make the leap to the screen gracefully, and others just fall flat on their cans. Annie Proulx's stirring short story "Brokeback Mountain," for instance, was done proud in celluloid, while Paul Bowles's Sheltering Sky was not. It's said that P.L. Travers bawled at the film premiere of "Mary Poppins," because she realized that her little book would be forgotten in the wake of Julie Andrews's winning characterization.
We could argue about whether Atonement got a fair shake in pixels, or The Kite Runner, for that matter. And some movies -- "Sophie's Choice," for instance -- seem to live quite respectably on their own, at some distance from their literary forbears. But there are some that are just plain bad offal of good, even great works. Here are five that merit that sad distinction:
1. "The Sound and the Fury."
Martin Ritt's 1959 version of Faulkner's incomparable novel is long, painful -- simply unwatchable. Yul Brynner as Jason Compson? Puh-lease. . . The only relief was a young, striving Joanne Woodward. It's sad to think that a whole generation judged an extraordinary book by this film.
2. "The Great Gatsby."
Jack Clayton's 1974 movie of this literary masterpiece was a critical and financial flop. And with reason: Mia Farrow made a very wan, very ditzy Daisy Buchanan. And sunny Robert Redford was no match for the amoral enigma of Jay Gatsby.
3. "The House of the Spirits."
Isabel Allende's roiling epic was drained of all its hot Latin American blood in this pallid 1993 film starring Jeremy Irons, Meryl Streep, Glenn Close and Winona Ryder. The only Latino actor I remember crossing the screen was Antonio Banderas, and, speaking quite frankly as a Latina: He made me cringe.
4. "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil."
Good book. Silly movie. Kenneth Turan of the L.A. Times summed up this 1997 effort perfectly when he wrote, "Listless, disjointed and disconnected, this meandering two-hour, 32-minute exercise in futility will fascinate no one who doesn't have a blood relation among the cast or crew." So true! All of Savannah, it seems, shuffled through.
5. "The Name of the Rose."
Dense and rich as Italian chocolate, Umberto Eco's book was stripped of all its vitality, strangely enough, in this all-action movie, a 1986 collaboration among French, German and Italian filmmakers. Even the wizardly Sean Connery, as Franciscan friar William of Baskerville, couldn't resuscitate the corpse.
What favorite books pleased or disappointed you in their celluloid versions?
-- Marie Arana
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