Film Library

Die Hard vs Nothing Lasts Forever

When I started this series I set out to try and find films that most people wouldn’t have realized were based on novels. It would be easy to grab books that are famously based on literature and then see how they stack up against each other, but I like to think I typically pick movies that you never would have guessed were based on books. And let me tell you, Die Hard is a movie that I’m sure fits into that category very nicely. Most people that I mentioned the idea to were stunned that Die Hard  was a book, and that’s exactly the type of reaction that I’m shooting for. So, without further ado, let’s get into one of the greatest Christmas classics of all time.

 

 

THE FILM

DieHardPoster.jpg

I mean, do I even need to tell you about Die Hard? It’s one of the most famous and popular films of all time, becoming one of the high-water marks of action genre and one of the most imitable films of all time. It’s become increasingly trite for people to say that it’s their favorite Christmas film, and while that used to be a joke people could tell, it’s honestly pretty true now. It’s become a legitimate yule time classic, and something that countless people will pop on today and enjoy with their families. Which is kind of hilarious, but at the same time, this movie fucking rules. It had been a couple years since I last saw Die Hard before I refreshed my memory for this article, and I’ve got to tell you, it’s still delightful. The fashion, technology, and some of the attitudes continue to become more and more ridiculous as time goes on, but for the most part it’s a fairly timeless little adventure that’s just as fun and kicks just as much ass as it always has. But in case you’re some sort of alien I guess it’s time for me to tell you what Die Hard is about.

The film opens up with New York police detective John McClane (Bruce Willis) flying to Los Angeles in the hope of patching things up with his estranged wife. Apparently his wife, who is going by her maiden name of Holly Gennaro (Bonnie Bedelia), left John and brought their kids to Los Angeles to pursue a career with the Nakatomi corporation in LA. So McClane packs up and heads to Los Angeles to crash the Nakatomi Christmas party and try to win back his wife. She’s a little shocked to see McClane, but also seems open to trying to fix things, which makes it look like everything is going to work out great for the McClanes. And that’s when the terrorists show up.

A gang of international terrorists led by the erudite Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) show up at the Nakatomi building on Christmas Eve during the party, and announce that they’re going to hold everyone hostage and punish them for the economic crimes the Nakatomi corporation have committed. But there’s one thing the terrorists didn’t count on. John fucking McClane. They weren’t expecting him to be in Holly’s office, so he manages to sneak away from them and begins running around the otherwise empty office building, plotting and getting ready to defeat this band of terrorists single-handily. And he does a pretty great job. He initially tries to bring in some police to help him, but they largely assume that he’s just a crank call, especially because the terrorists have begun pretending to work there and convince that the police that there’s nothing to worry about. But pretty quickly, after one flamboyant kill, McClane announces his presence to the terrorists and gets to work thinning the herd.

DieHardHoHoHo.jpg

So the terrorists now know that John McClane exists, and that he’s willing to kill them, so they begin coming at him full-force, trying do stop him. Oh, and we also get some insight into their goals. Because it turns out they aren’t actually doing any of this for political or ideological reasons. They’re actually just there to rob the company of the money they just got for a massive deal. And the one thing that could spoil this whole plan is one pissed off cop who doesn’t give a crap about them, and doesn’t fear them. And right around now McClane does get some unexpected help, because after a beat cop named Al Powell (Reginald VelJohnson) stops by the building to see if McClane’s call were fake or not, McClane throws the body of another terrorist out of the window, catching his attention. So now Powell is aware of the terrorists, and brings in the LAPD, the media, and eventually even the FBI, creating a whole circus of people ready to watch the Nakatomi building and deal with the terrorists inside.

But that still leave John McClane in a building full of terrorists and hostages, so he just keeps working, taking down each and every one of them. Sometimes they come to him, and sometimes he goes to them, but slowly but surely he starts weeding the terrorists out. To great personal pains. Because the terrorists aren’t playing nice, and once McClane has an accidental run-in with Gruber, and Gruber notices that McClane is shoe-less, he of course creates a scenario where McClane’s feet are absolutely destroyed by shattered glass. But massive foot trauma isn’t going to slow down John McClane! He just keeps fighting until he finally gets down to just him and Hans, atop the Nakatomi building, with Holly as a hostage. But Hans wasn’t anticipating McClane having a gun duct-taped to his back, and McClane is able to get the draw on him, shooting Gruber off the building and saving the day. And after a brief moment to kill the last henchman, Karl, who is basically a slasher movie villain, McClane and Holly agree to give things another shot and everything works out for the best.

DieHardGun.jpg

What do you want me to say? It’s Die Hard. It’s the best! It’s the pinnacle of action movies that all others aspire to be. It takes a beautifully simple concept, hero is stuck in building with bad guys and fights them, and makes it into a masterpiece of action cinema that’s an almost perfectly crafted film. The action is thrilling and vicious, the acting is essentially all-around wonderful, especially for launching the action career of Bruce Willis and the villainous career of Alan Rickman, it’s funny, it’s brutal, it’s just an all around great time. There’s a reason that this movie is so beloved. It’s just a great time. Plus, even though it doesn’t have much to do with Christmas in a thematic sense, it’s full of a weird sense of the holidays that’s just so indelibly linked to it. The Christmas party setting and the use of carols just keeps reminding you that this is an insane action movie set at Christmas. Which is something of a trope by now, but at the time this was a novel and wonderful idea, juxtaposing the brutal violence with the saccharine purity of the holiday.  But I don’t have to sit here and tell you how great Die Hard is, if you’ve seen it you know how wonderful it is, and if you haven’t there’s only one cure.

THE BOOK

nothinglastsforever

Like I said up top, if there’s one movie that people are shocked to find that’s based on a novel, Die Hard is high up on that list. But there’s kind of a shocking amount of action movies that are based on novels, and trust me, I’ve got several downloaded to my Kindle to get to eventually. Because it just seems weird doesn’t it? To have an action movie be based on a novel. I can tell you, when I first picked up this book I was curious to see what this book could possibly be. Like, would it just be page after page describing John McClane machine-gunning people? Well, kind of. But before we get to the actual plot of the novel, I figured that I would let you in on some of the backstory of this book. Because believe it or not, this novel is actually a sequel. Like it says on that cover, it’s the sequel to a novel called The Detective, which was actually also made into a movie. I’ve never read or seen the detective, but it starred Frank Sinatra, which meant that when they made this movie they had to legally see if Sinatra wanted to star in Die Hard. He obviously passed, but could you imagine an elderly Frank Sinatra running around the Nakatomi building shooting terrorists? Because now that’s all I can think about. Anyway, let’s get into it.

Now, right up top I’ll say that there are plenty of differences between Nothing Lasts Forever and Die Hard.  The central premise is the same, but there’s still plenty of things that they changed when the story was brought to the big screen. Because this isn’t the story of John McClane, young policeman from New York. No, this is the story of Joe Leland, a retired NYPD detective who now works as a consultant for police departments to prepare them for the trials and tribulations of international terrorism. He’s heading from New York to Los Angeles to hang out with his daughter, Stephanie Gennaro, and her children at Stephanie’s company Christmas party in the Klaxon Oil office building. Leland gets to the office building, meets Stephanie’s coworkers and disprove of their lifestyles, before going to wash up in her office. Which is when a group of German terrorists, both men and women, led by a man named Anton “Little Tony” Gruber shows up to hold them hostage.

And from there the story is basically the same as Die Hard. At least for a long time. Leland manages to escape from the terrorists without them knowing, and he begins traveling around the building, setting up traps and bases of operation to begin fighting the terrorists. He gets to the roof and tries to contact the police, ends up fighting a bunch of terrorists, gets some machine guns, gets help from officer Al Powell down on the ground, and just generally does everything he can to become a thorn in Little Tony Gruber’s side. he gets filthy, crawls around in air ducts, gets his feet slashed up, and does a whole lot of complaining about the fact that he’s a goddamn grandfather running around in a building on Christmas Eve snapping the necks of terrorists. But then, near the end of the novel, things start to veer off course again. Because we learn that these terrorists aren’t really here to a bank robbery. They actually are here to punish the Klaxon Oil Company for helping destabilize the Chilean government for their own profit. And they plan to take the $6 million they got from the deal and throw it out into the Los Angeles sky as some sort of Robin Hood-esque plot. Oh, and kill lots of Klaxon employees. But Leland manages to kill them all before that can be done, until it’s just him and Gruber. The two have a show-down on the rooftops, with Stephanie held prisoner, just like in Die Hard, but then the unexpected happened. When Gruber is shot, he pulls Stephanie with him, causing her to plummet off the building to her death as well. At which point, after enduring the night from hell and the sudden death of his daughter, Leland decides he’s done with everything, and throws the money down onto the crowds himself before coming down and relinquishing himself to police custody.

Yikes. That took a turn. But other than the sudden dark ending, and the general change in names, it was still Die Hard. Which means that it was still a good time. The novel was well written and had a really enjoyable and fun pace to it, creating a really action-packed story that was unlike any other novel that I’d really read before. Just like the movie it eventually inspired, this movie was basically all climax, which I hadn’t really experienced in novel form before, and I’m kind of surprised it worked. Even though I was a little surprised at how much of an old grump Leland was. I wasn’t expecting lines like this in the story:

The old technology got people out into the world and into contact with others. This stuff was for consumers locked in subdivided little warrens, people who lived like cattle being raised for the slaughter.

Like, that’s the type of out of touch griping that you’d expect from some Baby Boomer writing an article about how Millennials are destroying the world, not the inner monologue of a badass killing as many terrorists as possible. But despite some of those flaws, and a generally conservative idealogy that the book was espousing, I had a good time with this novel.

THE VERDICT

Yeah, so when I first picked this book/film combination to tackle there were two primary reasons. First was the fact that I expected most people wouldn’t have been familiar with Nothing Lasts Forever, and that it would inform people about this new novel to check out. But the second was because I kind of assumed it was going to be pretty radically different from Die Hard. The last few adaptions that I’ve examined on this series haven’t really had that man differences between each other. They’ve been straight-forward adaptations without a lot of variation, and I figured I would try to find something a little different. And everything I’d heard about Nothing Lasts Forever made me assume that this would fit the bill. I’d heard about the fact that this was Joe Leland, that it was a sequel, and that there were plenty of surface level differences, so I thought it would be perfect. But, actually, besides the changing of character names and attributes the story itself was virtually the same. Several plot-beats play out exactly the same, and there’s even directly lifted bits of dialogue. That ending is pretty different and bleak, but for the most part the plot was the same. The fact that the terrorists were actually terrorists and not just robbing the bulding was different, and the whole interaction between Leland and Gruber was very different that that of McClane and Gruber. But, at the end of the day, I would still recommend Die Hard over Nothing Lasts Forever. Mainly because the film takes a great concept, a lone policeman trapped in a skyscraper with a group of terrorists, and works out some of the weird kinks. The idea that Joe Leland was an expert on terrorists, and was probably the most competent person in the country to be thrown into this scenario wasn’t that interesting. Hell, he even know who Gruber was when he saw him, familiar with his work. But making the protagonist just a resourceful person who has no goddamn idea what to do, and is just flying by the seat of his pants works so much better to me. Die Hard took a good idea and wrinkled out the issues to make it a great idea. So, this Christmas, settle down and pop in one of the greatest action films of all time, and maybe, if you’re interested, check out the novel that it’s based on sometime in the future.

Die Hard was written by Jeb Stuart and Steven E de Souza, directed by John McTiernan, and released by 20th Century Fox, 1988.

Nothing Lasts Forever was written by Roderick Thorp, 1979.

DiehardVent.jpg

Film Library

Rosemary’s Baby vs Rosemary’s Baby

Hey there everybody! I haven’t done one of these in a while, but I figured that since tomorrow is Halloween that I should check out a classic horror novel/movie pairing and do a Film Library about it. The only problem being that I’m still doing the DLM Challenge and thus needed to find a classic horror movie, based on a book, that I hadn’t seen before. My own weird issues with the Exorcist kept that one from being chosen, so I decided to do something a little different. I’m not sure if this novel/movie are really considered horror so much as thrillers, but I decided to finally check out the devil-worshiping weirdness of Rosemary’s Baby. And here we go! Hail Satan!

 

THE BOOK

RosemaryCover.jpg

I’ll say right off the bat; I’m not typically a horror guy. I really love the classic horror novels, like Dracula, and I suppose Frankenstein, and I do tend to be a big fan of Stephen King, but other than that my usual interest in horror is pretty low. I think that’s because I’ve always had a pretty over-active imagination, and have been able to build much more from a novel than it was intending. I know as a kid when I was reading Jurassic Park my mind found much more terrifying scenarios involving dinosaurs than Michael Crichton seemed to be able to. So I usually need something really interesting to get me to check out some horror. And Rosemary’s Baby is one of those stories that seemed to take horror in a different light. And that’s mainly because the novel took its source of horror from the idea of parenthood. I’ve heard about the movie, and the weird real-life stories that surround it, but I hadn’t known much about the novel, so I went in pretty blind, and was fairly impressed.

The novel follows a young couple living in New York named Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse. Guy is a struggling actor and Rosemary (being that it’s the early sixties) is his dutiful wife. The novel opens with the pair buying an apartment in a big gloomy apartment complex called the Bramford that has a fairly shady reputation. An aging novelist named Hutch that’s friends with Rosemary tells them all about the dark deeds that have happened in the building, including the occupation of a man named Adrian Marcato who was a devil-worshipper who claimed to summon Satan. The couple ignore those ominous warnings though, and get to work living their life. Guy starts trying to audition while Rosemary gets their apartment decorated, meeting a woman in the laundry room and making friends. However shortly after meeting the woman, they come home to find that she’s committed suicide. Which isn’t a reassuring event.

And things take a weird turn when the elderly couple that the woman were living with, Minnie and Roman Castevet, end up inflicting themselves up the Woodhouse’s. The Castevet’s are very odd and eccentric, and Rosemary doesn’t really intend on spending much time with them, but after a couple nights where Guy stays up to talk with Roman, he begins to become obsessed with them. And right around that time things start changing in their lives. A rival of Guy’s goes blind out of the blue, giving Guy his big break, and he announces that he wants to start having a baby with Rosemary. And he shows that ambition by essentially raping Rosemary one night when she passes out, seemingly from too much alcohol. She had a series of insane nightmares that night, but doesn’t think much of it, especially when she learns that she’s pregnant.

Things then start to get weird. Guy keeps insisting on hanging out with the Castevet’s and a motley crew of other old people in the apartment, to the point that they begin influencing almost every aspect of their lives. The Castevet’s begin spending all of their time with the Woodhouse’s and they even set up Rosemary with a weird OB/GYN who gives her strange orders. And the pregnancy doesn’t seem to be agreeing with Rosemary. She’s wracked with pain almost constantly and doesn’t seem to be gaining any weight, all of which starts to concern her about her new OB/GYN’s true motives, and why Guy is so deadset on following all of the Castevet’s decisions. And it just gets weirder from there, because after a conversation with Hutch, where he meets Roman, Hutch starts investigating. And while he suddenly falls into a deep coma, he does get a message to Rosemary, and a book about witches. She begins investigating the book, and eventually realizes what Hutch was trying to tell her. That Roman Castevet is actually the son of Adrian Marcato, and that he’s probably a devil-worshiper who wants to steal her baby and use it for nefarious purposes. Thus begins Rosemary’s slow descent into madness and she starts to question everyone around her, terrified that everyone in her life has been lying to her in order to give her unborn child to the devil. And after a lot of running around, hiding from people, and trying to solve the mystery she suddenly gives birth in her apartment. But when she wakes up after the birth she’s told that the baby didn’t live and that it was all a misunderstanding. Well, that is until she realizes that there’s a baby crying somewhere in the complex. She then breaks in to the Castevet’s apartment, and find that a) they have her baby, b) the baby is the son of Satan, c) they want it to conquer the world, and d) they want her to still be the mother of it. And, after a bit of a mental breakdown, the novel ends with Rosemary considering it.

So that’s Rosemary’s Baby. I enjoyed the book. I really wasn’t expecting the novel to hit me on such a visceral level, and I can only assume that as I get older and my wife and I start trying to have children it’ll get that much more affecting. Because the horror doesn’t really come from the Devil in this story. No, that stuff wasn’t frightening to me. Nor really were the malevolent elderly people that were hiding in the shadows. Honestly, I wasn’t even that creeped out by the idea of the husband manipulating the wife and doing something so evil. The thing that really affected me about this story is the idea of something happening to your child. Rosemary becomes convinced that people are after her child, and there’s nothing she can do about it, and the novel does a good job at showing how shattering that that would be. For a while I was kind of fascinated by the idea that the novel would end without there actually being any Devil shenanigans, and that it would end up just being Rosemary being insane, but regardless of how supernatural the novel actually did end, the visceral horror that comes along with your child being stolen from your is enough to make this a fascinating read.

 

THE FILM

RosemaryPoster.jpg

Whenever I write one of these posts, I usually watch the movie first, and then read the novel so that I can make notes on the differences. And there comes a point when reading the novel that I start to kick myself on the decision to pick this pair of stories, because it becomes evident that the stories are virtually identical. I much prefer books that were adapted in theme or name only, rather than the direct adaptation because there’s often not much to talk about when discussing whichever story I write up second. And this is maybe the greatest example of this conundrum that I’ve encountered so far on this site. Because, despite your feelings toward Roman Polanski and your own personal abilities to separate the art from the artist, you have to hand it to him. He adapted the novel pretty much spot on. There’s basically nothing different between the Ira Levin novel and this film. They even primarily use the exact same dialogue from the novel in this film. Which probably makes sense, since the film came out a year after the book. It was clearly fast-tracked, and pushed out as fast as they could to capitalize on the success of the novel.

But if there’s not much I can describe in this article about the plot of the film, I guess I’ll have to talk about some of the other aspects of the film. Primarily that it’s wonderfully crafted. Now, I know that people have serious issues with the films of Roman Polanski, and ten to discredit them or decide that they’re going to ignore them since they’re the films of a child rapist. And while I can’t argue that Roman Polanski isn’t a scumbag, I can say that labeling his movies unwatchable because he directed them is doing a serious disservice to everyone else involved in the production. Polanski is credited as the director and screenwriter of the film, but as you begin learning more and more about the process of film-making, you know that that doesn’t mean he’s entirely responsible for the end result. Countless other behind-the-scenes workers and a score of actors are also responsible for creating this film, and choosing to just ignore the film seems wrong to me. Separating the art from the artist is one of those things, like watching movies in their own historical context, that really helps you appreciate stories more, and I think it’s integral to appreciating films like Rosemary’s Baby for what they are. Great films.

rosemarybassenet

Rosemary’s Baby is an expertly created film. It’s filled with a masterful amount of dread that just has every frame dripping with a slowly growing existential horror. From the eerie singing that makes up the score to the wonderfully disturbing exterior of the Dakota apartment building we just can’t escape how other-worldly and menacing this film is. All of the acting in this film is spot on, and I adore the idea of taking an army of charming old character actors and having them be the unassuming geriatrics that make up the coven. The sets in the film are wonderful, making you forget that about 95% of this film takes place inside the walls of the inescapable Bramford apartment complex. And all of these aspect come together to create a true classic film, one that manages to be frightening and tense, despite how insane things get by the end of the film.

THE VERDICT

You may be thinking that this is going to be a hard one for me to decide on. Usually when I find a novel and a film that are so similar like this film, I generally can’t decide which one is better. I usually just cop out and say that they’re both good, and that you shouldn’t experience them too close together since their similarity will diminish whichever you experience second. And, yeah, do that. But, surprisingly, I do have a decision on which one was better. And it’s the film. That may seem odd, since they’re so similar, but I legitimately had a better time with the film than the novel, while enjoying both quite a bit, and I think that it mainly came down to decisions they made to enhance the story that Ira Levine wrote.

I mentioned earlier that the film used quite a bit of the dialogue from the novel, but there’s one thing that the film didn’t use. The inner monologues. The film is from the point of view of Rosemary, and mostly takes place in her head. Which does give us some great moments in the novel, where she’s questioning her sanity and is becoming increasingly paranoid, but there are some other issues. Now, it could be because Ira Levin was a man in the sixties, but his characterization of a woman was less than stellar. She was frequently a hysterical mess who was constantly blaming herself for her marital woes and worrying about how she was going to take care of Guy’s every whim. And taking that out from the film was a big step up for me. The film also was a little less obsessed with religion. I couldn’t quite tell from the novel what Ira Levin’s thoughts on religion was, but there was a lot of complaining about how little people in the sixties were caring about religion, and how not caring about God was leading to rampant devil-worship. The movie did have Rosemary look at the famous “Is God Dead?” Time cover, but the book had a whole spiel about it, hammering in the point.  And that got a little grating.

But aside from that, the film just visualized the story so much better, to me. They somehow created Rosemary’s insane dreams that she has throughout the novel in a way that made them work, and as I mentioned earlier, I love the casting of all the elderly people. They just came across so much more lovable and kind in the film, which makes the eventual twist better. Plus, the movie wisely didn’t feature a lot of the Devil baby at the end, which was a great call. I didn’t need to see a baby with horns and a tail like the book had. I still think the story could have been even better if there actually was no cult, and Rosemary was just cracking, but the film actualized the cult reveal in a more visceral and affecting manner than the novel. So, overall I would still recommend that you check out both stories, but I would say that if you want to experience the best version of this story, check out the movie. Get past the issues and baggage that come along with a Roman Polanski movie and check out an extremely affecting, creepy, and tense horror film.

Rosemary’s Baby was written by Ira Levin, 1967

Rosemary’s Baby was written and directed by Roman Polanski and released by Paramount Pictures, 1968.

RosemaryTerrified.jpg

 

Film Library

All the King’s Men³

Hey everybody, politics are weird right? We’re currently knee-deep in what’s surely the strangest and most insane Presidential of my life so far, and I really hope the rest of my life. Things are pretty bleak. Neither party has really put forth anyone that I can get too excited about, but when one of your choices is a hate-spewing monster, it’s pretty easy to figure out who I’ll be voting for this November. And you know what? Politics never change. We like to hope that each new politician is going to be the one to really change things, but they never will. I don’t know if it’s a downfall in the way our political system is structured, or just inherent human weakness, but as I get older I just get more and more cynical about the entire idea of politics. And it’s hard not to when both fiction and reality are full of nothing but examples of politicians submitting to the powers of corruption. And you know what, I decided to check out one of the most famous examples of that trope, the classic novel All the King’s Men. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, this novel traces the rise and fall of a  politician in the 1940s, and was made into a film that ended up winning the Best Picture Oscar in 1950. So that’s a hell of a pedigree. And I decided to check out the novel and of course had to check out the film in order to compare the two. So let’s get going!

THE FILM

KingsMen49Poster

It’s obviously not a real seal of quality if a film has received the Best Picture award from the Academy of Motion Pictures, honestly it can more often than not be a pretty big red flag that that may not be the case at all, but nevertheless it’s certainly going to be an important film. And along with the knowledge that this film received the Best Picture award is the fact that it was based off an enormously popular novel that received the Pulitzer Prize. Which the movie is psyched about. Seriously, the idea that the novel won the Pulitzer is featured more heavily on that poster than the title of the damn film. And the opening the movie itself even takes it’s time to let us know that we’re watching a story based on something that was so well written it got the Pulitzer. Well, pretty much based on. We’ll get to that later. First let’s talk about the plot of the film.

The film follows two men, Jack Burden and Willie Stark. Burden is a journalist sent to a little Podunk town in his state to begin covering a local politician who is rallying against the  corruption of the big city, as personified by the local political boss, Tiny Duffy. And that politician is good old Willie Stark, a simple man with a lot of plans. Stark is the son of a farmer, and is trying to do his best as the treasurer of this small town. But when his attempts to keep a shady construction company from building a new school is shot down, he’s fired, and returns to a life of farming while studying law in his spare time. But things change when several children die from a faulty fire-escape, and people begin putting their faith in Willie Stark. And one of those people is Jack Burden, who has been looking for something to believe in. He grew up rich, but is trying to find a new life for himself away from the little community he grew up in. He visits them, especially a family named the Stanton’s that he’s so entwined with. There’s Adam, his best friend, Anne, his long-suffering girlfriend, and Judge Stanton, a father figure to Jack.

So, hoping he’s found someone to believe in, Jack heads back to the little city Stark is from, and finds that two people working for the current governor are there too, Tiny Duffy and a campaign manager named Sadie Burke. But Jack realizes pretty quickly that they’re there to convince Stark to run for governor, with no hopes in him winning, and assuming that he’ll split the hick vote, letting their real boss win. And they’re probably right, because even though Willie is passionate, he’s a mess. He only talks about facts and figures, and is incredibly boring. But when Sadie accidentally lets it slip that Willie’s just a patsy, he gets really drunk and decides to do something different with his speech. He begins speaking from the heart, not just his mind, realizing that voters don’t care about logic, they’re more interesting in emotion. And wouldn’t you know, he starts to get popular. And even though he still loses the election, he keeps campaigning the whole next term, and gets swept into office during the next election in a landslide.

KingsMen49Stark.jpg

And now that Willie is Governor, he starts making changes. He keeps Tiny and Sadie on in his staff, as reminders not to get screwed over again, and hires Jack as his “researcher” which really just means his own personal muckraker. And together, the two men start to change the state. Stark starts building just about everything he can, trying to earn the respect and adoration of the common man, while using Jack’s social connections to keep the rich on his side as well. He meets with the Stanton’s, promising to build a new medical center that Adam will run, and convincing the Judge to become his Attorney General.

And for a while everything’s going good. Until one of Stark’s cronies is caught committing fraud, and Stark decides to cover it up. This pushes the Judge away from him, and leads to some of his enemies talking about impeachment. And to make matter worse, we learn that Stark is secretly dating Anne, who has given up on Jack. And that really starts to sting when Stark tasks Jack with digging up some dirt on the Judge. So Jack gets to work, and eventually does find something incriminating about the Judge. But none of that seems to matter when Sadie lets it slip that Stark is dating the woman he loves, leading Jack to keep the dirt secret, and only tell Anne, since the Judge is her uncle.

But problems just keep getting heaped on Stark. Because his adopted son Tom ends up getting into a drunken car accident, where the woman he was with dies, and Willie decides to have her father killed for asking too many questions. And Tom gets some comeuppance when he’s paralyzed in a football accident, shattering Stark. But things aren’t bad enough yet, because the body of that father is found, and a whole new impeachment trial gets going, with Judge Stanton leading the charge. So Jack and Willie go to talk to the Judge, and Willie shocks Jack by telling the Judge all about the blackmail Jack had dug up, even though Jack never told him. It’s obvious that Anne was the one to tell Willie, solidifying Jack’s fears that they’re together. And when presented with his wrong-doings, the Judge decides to kill himself. And that, combined with Jack letting Adam know about his sister’s affair, drives Adam off the deep end. So while Willie is busy scamming people to ensure he doesn’t get impeached, Adam is driven insane, and ends up murdering Stark in cold blood on the steps of the capital, ending Willie’s tumultuous career and life.

KingsMen49Capitol.png

This was a very interesting little movie. I’m not really sure I would say it was really a Best Picture quality movie, but it was interesting. There are a lot of differences between this story and the novel, which I’ll get to later, but I would wager that the real strength of the film comes from the story. The acting was decent I suppose, but it was certainly the Willie Stark show. The character was the most important, and everything revolved around him. Everyone else were basically just side-characters, there to cause conflict with Stark, and to move his journey along. But despite some average performances and pretty workmanlike direction, the movie still remains very watchable, primarily because of that plot and the themes therein. Willie Stark’s humble beginnings, his meteoric rise based on exploiting the common man, and his tragic fall caused by juggling too much corruption is a pretty tragic, but familiar story. The same sort of thing happens to politicians all the time, and this has really become the same basic trajectory of a politician. Willie starts out idealistic, with real ideas on how to save his state. But a combination of him realizing that people don’t care about good ideas and his realization that he likes adoration really starts to wear on him, until he falls down the slippery slope of American politics into the morass of corruption. It’s a story for the ages, and one that will probably play out again and again for the rest of our lives.

THE BOOK

KingsMenNovel

All the King’s Men is one of those novels that I’ve heard about for a long time, and that’s been on my reading list for longer than I’d care to admit. I’m not really sure if it’s one of those novels that people read in highschool or not, but I at least didn’t. And yet, I feel like it was mentioned in the same breath as some of those classics, becoming and enduring piece of literature, and one of the great American novels. I mean, they don’t pass out Pulitzer’s for nothing you know? And I was really impressed with this novel. It was a tad long-winded at times, and had some passages that could easily be excised without loosing much to the plot or the themes, but for the most part it was a really interesting read. It’s also a very unique look at American history. The book is a sort of homage to the politician Huey Long, who was operating around the same time as Stark. Long was a boisterous politician who rose from simple beginnings, got all the power he could, and was killed in the midst of corruption. He wasn’t the first person to follow this trajectory, but he was a current example, and his life lead to this fascinating little tale.

Now, as far as the plot is considered, the movie did a pretty good job adapting it. At least for the most part. The film used a very chronological approach, showing things as they happened in time, where as the novel took things in a scattered manner, jumping all around the timeline. But the real differences were with the plot. The broad strokes are the same. Jack’s a journalist who meets the idealist Willie Stark, and follows him as he starts to gain influence after the school tragedy, and sees him getting taken advantage of by Sadie and Tiny. Willie turns things around, eventually becomes the governor, and takes over the state, hiring Jack as his researcher.But things start to fall apart when Jack’s told to track down dirt on the Judge, leading to everyone’s downfall. So thing’s are very similar.

But, as usual, the novel adds much more. And the way they add more is by having Jack be more of a central character. While watching the movie it kind of made me expect the novel to be structured similarly to the Great Gatsby. That novel has Nick, the boring narrator who experiences the life of a much more interesting man, Jay Gatsby, and gets his life involved with his while basically just serving as the reason we’re learning about Gatsby. And that’s kind of what the movie did to Jack. But in the novel, Jack has a lot more depth. We learn a whole lot more about him and his family, and the book is really about him more than Willie. But it wasn’t just a narrator thing, there were some fundamental differences between the film and the novel. Probably the biggest is the fact that the Judge wasn’t a Stanton in the novel, he was Judge Irwin, not related to Anne and Adam at all. Plus, as we learn later, Irwin is actually Jack’s father, which he never knew until after he was dead. There’s also a big difference with the ending, because the film really made it seem like it was all Adam’s choice. But in the novel, we find out that Adam was pushed to the murder by  Sadie and Tiny, who were sick of being second-fiddle to Stark. Sadie was in love with Willie, and furious that he chose Anne over her, and Tiny wanted to be the governor and was tired of being mocked all the time by Stark. They pulled the trigger just as much as Adam.

Yet, it’s really Jack and his story that are the most different in the novel. It’s more than just the Judge and his true parentage, really most everything about Jack is different. He’s much more cynical and lost in the novel, getting worse and worse as the book goes on, as he starts to realize that not even this paragon of virtue that he decided to hitch his wagon to was on the level. Because he’s never really felt passionate about anything in his life. The movie had Anne and Jack be a couple that just never got the timing right, but in the novel they were much different. Jack was kind of obsessed with Anne for a while when they were teenagers, but when she fully gave herself to him, he got bored and abandoned her. Jack’s a sleazy guy in the novel. He just doesn’t care about anything. And when he finally does care about something, it bites him in the ass and causes several of the closest people in the world to him to die. And it all added up to a very interesting novel with one of the most flawed and battered narrator/protagonists I’ve read in a while.

THE OTHER MOVIE

KingsMen06Poster.jpg

What’s this? A second movie?! That’s right! Turns out this is the first time that one of the novels I’ve featured on this project has been made into a motion picture twice, so I figured it made sense to check out both of the adaptations. And let me tell you, that may have been a mistake! Because while the original film didn’t really blow me away, especially when compared to the novel, this movie really fell flat. And the strange thing is that this was a much more faithful adaptation of the novel than the first film. However, as I learned after sitting through this flick, just because you’re a more slavish adaptation doesn’t mean that you’re going to make a better film.

Now, the plot of this movie is virtually identical to the book. Even more so than the original film. It had the same loose structure, where events were jumbled around, and was missing a lot of the weird changes that the original film made. It had that same plot we’ve already talked about, Judge Irwin was Jack’s father, Anne wasn’t in a relationship with Jack, and even though they didn’t spell it out for us it was pretty obvious that Sadie and Tiny had a hand in pushing Adam over the edge. Really the only thing they took out was Tom, Willie’s son. He’s in there a bit, but they didn’t put in the car accident or the football accident like the other two, and basically just made the character a non-entity, not including his mistakes in Willie’s downfall. Nope, in this movie it was all Willie’s doing.

KingsMen06Willie

So what was the problem with this movie if it was so accurate? Well, I would say one of the biggest issues was that it was too accurate. The novel is a long and dense, with a whole lot of detail. The original film streamlined things, took out some things that made the plot drag on, or at least used some montages to skip over some things. This more recent movie dragged everything out. And yet, still felt rushed. There was too much going on in this version, and I really felt like I was only following it because I had read the novel and seen the other movie. Characters would show up and scenes would play out with virtually no context. I really can’t tell if this movie would make any sense, since I had experienced the other versions of the story before checking it out, but I have to assume it would have been a confounding experience. Plus, while the original movie was a little bland in regards to acting and directing, this movie was trying way too hard. The acting was all over the place, going from sleep-walking performances to Sean Penn’s ridiculously over-the-top portrayal of Willie Stark. I never liked his Willie, he was always a scum, so it took some of the bit out his eventual corruption, because he kind of always seemed like a lousy guy. And while this movie made an attempt to make Jack a more central character, and Jude Law gave a better and more cynical performance, it was still wholly the Willy Stark show. The direction was really trying to be something special, with dramatic close-ups and random artistic shots that felt overly out of place. And the only thing that felt more melodramatic than Penn’s performance was the ridiculous score, which had me laugh out loud several times.

It all just came together to create a bloating film that handicapped itself by trying to be too accurate to the novel. If it had removed some things, or changed some plot detail around, it could have been an interesting movie. We don’t need carbon-copy adaptations of novels every time. Sometimes it’s best if things are a little different. But this movie was really trying to go for the gold, a desperate bit of Oscar-bait that was trying to sum up a story that probably works best as a novel.

THE VERDICT

So yeah, a triple helping of All the King’s Men. It’s a really interesting story, one based on true events and that really hammers in the idea that politics will never change. The rise and fall of Willie Stark is a true American story, regardless of the fact that it actually happened with Huey Long, and it’s an important one to experience. But how do the various versions hold up to each other? Well, as happens more often than not, the book is the best. Like I mentioned earlier, it was be a tad over-long, and could probably use some trimming, but it has enough space to really let itself breathe. And while the 49 film isn’t exactly accurate, it’s by far a better movie than the 06 remake. Like I said, just because your movie is more accurate, doesn’t mean it’s going to be a better film. It’s hard to make a film that remains truly accurate to a novel and doesn’t become a bloated mess. The mediums are too different, and you can’t stay that accurate. So let’s just scratch the 06 movie off right now. But as for the 49 film and the novel, I would say your preference really boils down to which character you find most interesting. Because while the film is the story of Willie Stark’s rise and fall, the book is more the story of Jack Burden and how his life was completely changed by Willie Stark. It’s a subtle difference, but I found Willie a more interesting character when he wasn’t the focus of the story.

All the King’s Men was written by Robert Penn Warren, 1946.

All the King’s Men was written and directed by Robert Rossen and distributed by Columbia Pictures, 1949.

All the King’s Men was written and directed by Steven Zaillian and distributed by Columbia Pictures, 2006.

KingsMenEnd.jpg

Film Library

Jackie Brown vs. Rum Punch

Two of these in a row? Yeah, usually these articles come every couple of months, because I don’t really exclusively read novels that have been turned into movie, but when the next book I pick up has been made one, I’ll certainly do one of these. And when I was knee-deep in the Price of Salt to write the last of these articles, I was able to go to a special screening of what’s possibly my favorite Quentin Tarantino film, the wonderful Jackie Brown. I adore Jackie Brown, possibly because it’s the most forgotten of his films, adding to the fact that it’s just a really great movie, and I had been aware for a long time that it was based off a novel. And one written by the wonderful Elmore Leonard, who I have read a tragically small amount of work. So after seeing Jackie Brown on the big screen, I was really wanting to talk about it, and decided to just dive into Rum Punch, the novel it was based off, and talk about both of them. So here we go!

 

THE FILM

Jackie Brown Poster

The films of Quentin Tarantino have reached a pretty mythic status among film geeks. These fun, crazy movies that are throwbacks to the older genre flicks that Tarantino worshiped as a teenager have somehow transcended their forefathers and become very respected and beloved films. Tarantino built his empire on the backs of movies that most people never heard of, and that the film establishment would turn their noses up at, and essentially makes exploitation movies, but with artistic skill. His films are usually a hodgepodge of inspirations and homages, mixing scenes, music, and inspirations from dozens of movies that he loves, without usually being a direct adaptation of one specific thing. Yeah, you can talk about how Reservoir Dogs is either an “homage” or ripoff of City on Fire, but all of the other movies are more broad in their homage, not necessarily picking on any one thing in particular. That is except Jackie Brown, Tarantino’s only adaptation to date. And man was it a great idea to have Tarantino adapt an Elmore Leonard novel for the screen. Tarantino, at the time especially, was known to make fun crime movies with quirky dialogue, and Leonard was known for making fun crime novels with quirky dialogue. They were essentially making the same types of stories, just in different medium, and where some directors fall while adapting Leonard, Tarantino excelled. He made a wonderful movie that while maybe is the least Tarantinoy, is still another masterpiece and took full advantage of his style.

The plot is an twisty crime caper, like most of Tarantino’s earlier films, and mostly revolves around Jackie Brown, a middle-aged stewardess played by the Blaxpolitation icon Pam Grier. She’s working for a local gun-dealer named Ordell Robbie (Samuel L. Jackson with the weirdest ponytail/beard combo of all time) who is having her smuggle money from Mexico to Los Angeles for him. Ordell is ready to make a big score and get half a million dollars sent in, and has brought his buddy Luis Gara (Robert DeNiro in a wonderful role) to help him out, since he just got out of jail for a bank robbery. And everything is going good for Ordell until an associate of his named Beaumont (Chris Tucker) is arrested for an unrelated crime, and gives an ATF officer named Ray Nicolette (Michael Keaton) and his LAPD partner Mark some information about his money smuggling. That gets them to find Jackie, and give her a “random” search that pulls up the $50,000 she brought in. She’s brought in, but does her best to remain loyal to Ordell and not tell them anything, that is until they find some cocaine in her bag as well, and she’s busted.

Jackie Brown Ordell and Luis.jpg

While all of this is going on, Ordell and Luis meet with a bail-bondsman named Max Cherry (the wonderful Robert Forster), and get the bail for Beaumont. And when Beaumont gets out of jail, Ordell almost immediately kills him to make sure he doesn’t snitch any more than he already did. So he gets Max to move the bail for Beaumont over for Jackie, and get her out too, planning the same fate. But when Max goes to pick up Jackie, he falls for her right away. The two end up chatting and going to a bar, while Jackie begins planning her revenge for Ordell, even stealing Max’s gun to use on Ordell if necessary. And that night when Ordell comes to kill Jackie, she gets the upper hand and ends up getting Ordell to agree to a plan of hers that will get his $550,000 into the states, and screw over the ATF. She then convinces Nicollete and his partner that every time she brings money into the States she drops it off in this complicated matter at a mall, and that if they keep watching the mall they’ll eventually track it down to Ordell and get him that way. But in actuality, she and Max are planning to screw everyone over. They do a test-run of the plan where Jackie brings a bag with the marked money into the mall, where she switches the bag with another of Ordell’s girls Sheronda. But Nicollete doesn’t know that Sheronda’s bag is then picked up by yet another woman, Simone, who brings the money back to Ordell. And when Jackie is waiting in the mall food court she ends up running into Max, who was at the mall to watch a movie, and the two end up spending more time together as the plan starts to come together and she convinces Max to help her steal the money from Ordell and the ATF.

Unfortunately, when the real switch is getting ready to happen, Simone flees, leaving Ordell without another reliable woman to help him out, so he has to resort to using Melanie (Bridget Fonda) a ditsy surfer-girl who knew Ordell and Luis from the past. So Jackie goes to Mexico, gets the $550,000 and brings it back into the States, while separating it out between $50,000 and $500,000. She gives Nicollete the $50,000 to mark, and keeps the rest secret. She then goes to a store in the mall to buy an awesome new suit, and heads to the dressing room, where the plan is to give the $500,000 to Melanie before doing the drop-off with Sheronda. But in actuality she only puts a couple thousand in the bag for Melanie, and hides the rest. So Melanie and Luis come to get the money, while Luis doesn’t find it weird that Max Cherry is wandering around the same store. Luis and Melanie head out with the cash, and Jackie goes running out to the food-court, telling Nicollete that Melanie stole the money before they could do the drop. That gets Luis and Melanie, and Jackie and Nicollete out of the mall, so Max can grab the $500,000 and head out. Nicollete is obviously irritated with Jackie, but it doesn’t seem like there was anything she could do about it, and her story seems to add up when they find Melanie’s body in the parking lot, which happened when Luis shot her because she was annoying. So Jackie is cleared of her charges, and now all she has to do it take care of Ordell. After killing Melanie Luis heads out to meet Ordell, and when he shows up with only $50,000 Ordell gets furious and ends up killing Luis. He then knows that Jackie has screwed him over, and when Max Cherry shows up at one of his houses, he decides to come back to Max’s storefront with him, since Max says Jackie is waiting for Ordell there to tell him about the money. So Ordell and Max head back to his store, where Ordell is planning to kill them both. But when they get there it turns out Jackie has gotten Nicollete to be there too, and Jackie yells that Ordell has a gun, causing Nicollete to shoot him, ending all her problems. The story then picks up a couple of days later, with everyone dead Nicolette and the ATF have stopped caring, and Jackie shows up at Max’s store before heading off into the sunset. She ensures Max that she didn’t use him, and offers for him to come along, but Max knows that he can’t keep up with her, and decides to stay behind, knowing that she’s changed his life.

Jackie Brown Jackie.jpg

This movie is so wonderful. The plot is so twisty and fun, and full of memorable characters, but that’s all from the Elmore Leonard novel, so I’ll focus more on the film here. Tarantino is known for taking different exploitation genres and giving them his own twist, and here he takes what amounts to a crazy heist story, and gives it a bit of a Blaxploitation twist. But not really through the plot, since if that was the case Jackie would spend most of her time shotgunning pimps and drug-dealers in the face while being topless, you know, like most of Pam Grier’s other movies. No, the Blaxploitation flavor of the movie comes from the cast and the music. Tarantino took one of the queens of the genre, Pam Grier, and gave her a new starring role, and man did she deliver. Grier puts in a truly wonderful performance, really selling Jackie as this mastermind of the whole plot, while also being genuinely moving when talking about her faded glory and her relationship with Max. Speaking of Max, Robert Forster was another actor whose career had been in a gully at the time of this movie, Tarantino knew him from all the bad exploitation movies he made in the 70s and 80s, and he was also stellar in the movie. Max Cherry is a truly tragic character, who gets drawn into this crazy plot, and even though Jackie denies it in the end, she totally played him, but he doesn’t even care, because this whole event, and the attention she gave him, probably made his life. He falls fast and hard for Jackie, even going to get some music she likes to listen to. And all of the other actors are great too, Samuel L Jackson is so intimidating and frightening in the movie and Robert DeNiro puts in a performance unlike anything I’ve ever seen him do, making him a burnt out old bum who just can’t do anything right. And the music, oh man, the music. Tarantino has always been amazing at putting together some perfect soundtracks for his movies, and this may be my favorite of them all. It’s jam packed with classic soul songs, many of which are from some of he most famous Blaxploitation films, and all of them are amazing. As much as I love Jackie Brown, it’s greatest feat may have been introducing me to most of the music on the soundtrack, especially “Didn’t I Blow Your Mind,” by the Delphonics, which is featured in one of my favorite scenes of the movie, where Max and Ordell are driving to Max’s store in the end of the movie, both men aware that one or both of them will die that night, but they find common ground by grooving to the same song. This movie is probably the least-well known of Tarantino’s, and I really don’t know why. Yeah, it’s the movie of his that’s the least dripping with his style, but it’s so well-made and fun. Tarantino took an amazing story, some fascinating characters, and made something his own with them.

Jackie Brown Kiss

THE BOOK

Rum Punch Cover.jpg

I mentioned earlier, but I really want to dive deeper into the bibliography of Elmore Leonard. This is the second book of his I’ve read, and man they’re enjoyable. I know he’s also made a bunch of Westerns, but the two I’ve read have been really fun, silly crime novels that have a bunch of goofy characters all trying to get one over on each other. And here we have Rum Punch. And once again, I have another book that is extremely close to the film adaptation. It has the same plot, the same characters, and often the same dialogue. So it’s not going to make much sense going over the plot, because it’s essentially the same. We have Ordell and his gun operation that requires him to smuggle money into the country, Jackie being busted by the Nicollete and deciding to screw Ordell over with the help of Max Cherry, and the whole scam with the fake drop-offs are the same. So we don’t need to rehash the plot, but what I will talk about are some of the differences with the novel.

Now, in Jackie Brown, I would certainly say that Jackie is the main character, it’s her story, and we follow her.  But Rum Punch is much more of an ensemble story, with no clear main character. We follow everyone equally, and learn about them all. And that’s not to say the the book had less of Jackie, she’s in all the same scenes, the difference is that the movie left out a lot of character development for pretty much everyone else. It was Jackie’s movie, so everyone else was knocked down to supporting cast, whereas the book let us learn about everyone. Everything about Jackie is the same in the novel, except for the fact that she’s named Jackie Burke and she’s white, it’s the other characters that get some changes.

First of all there’s the fact that this is actually a sequel to an earlier Leonard novel called the Switch that revolves around a younger Ordell and Luis trying to ransom the wife of a rich land developer, before meeting his mistress Melanie. So three of the characters have already been established, and have a much deeper relationship in the novel. Ordell and Luis are old pals, and have been through a lot together, which makes it even harder for Ordell when Luis gets out of jail and has clearly become a different man. We also see that Ordell has changed from when Luis knew him, becoming a crueler and darker man. Max Cherry is pretty much the same character, except for the fact that he’s going through a divorce in the book, which is kind of spurred on when he meets Jackie. He’s been separated from his wife for a while when the story begins, but it’s meeting Jackie and falling in love with her that really gets him moving on the divorce.

Then there are some of the plot changes, in some cases that enhanced the story, and in others that seemed cluttered. There’s a weird element to the story where Max’s bail-bondsman business is being taken over by some sort of insurance company with mob ties, and that Luis is an employee of Max’s, albeit one that’s forced upon him. That’s why Ordell gets the bond from him. And similarly there’s the fact that Luis had been living with Simone, and when Max comes to threaten him and get some money back from him, that’s what scares Simone out of the picture, causing Melanie to be brought in. There’s also an incredibly weird plot where Luis and Ordell are planning on robbing some neo-Nazi’s and their gun cache with the help of a group of crack-head soldiers that Ordell controls. Yeah…that’s odd. And that plot even ends with Melanie stone-cold murdering the head of the Nazis. And man is Melanie more diabolical in the novel. She keeps trying to convince Jackie to screw over Ordell and split the money between the two of them, which really works well with the fact that she was introduced in the previous novel as a con-artist. In the end, the novel is incredibly similar, but it really does more with the characters, giving them all a lot more depth so that it’s more than just the Jackie show.

THE VERDICT

Well, once again I’ve gotten a movie and a book that are virtually identical. The stories are incredibly similar, and they’re both really great. The big difference between the two ends up being if you want more an ensemble plot or one focused on one character. You can tell that Jackie Brown is going to be more focused than Rum Punch, pretty much based on the name. Rum Punch could be about anything, but Jackie Brown is definitely going to be about Jackie Brown. Both of these are great, and I really love the character of Jackie, which makes the movie incredibly enjoyable, but I will say, I loved Rum Punch and learning more about the other characters. Yeah, for the most part the characters in Jackie Brown were well fleshed-out, but you really get a better feel for them in Rum Punch. You learn their motivations and struggles. And while I really liked the fact that the novel filled in some weird plot-holes, like why they chose Max Cherry, what Max was doing in the mall when he ran into Jackie, and where Simone went, they aren’t really integral parts of the story. It adds flavor, but it’s not necessary. I definitely suggest experiencing both of these stories, and while I really love Rum Punch, Jackie Brown was my favorite of the two, mainly because of the cast and the music. But in the end, it’s a great story, told brilliantly in both mediums, and should be experienced both ways, although, just like Carol and Price of Salt, you maybe shouldn’t back-to-back them like I did, because they’re a little too similar and create a bit of fatigue, although not as bad as that last example, since I generally enjoy this story more than Carol and Price of Salt. But check them out, they’re awesome.

Jackie Brown was written and directed by Quentin Tarantino and released by Miramax Films, 1997.

Rum Punch was written by Elmore Leonard, 1992

Jackie Brown Ending.jpg

Film Library

Carol vs. the Price of Salt

Well I haven’t done one of these in a while, but I decided to bring this series out when I learned one of the most critically lauded and beloved movies of 2015, Todd Haynes’ Carol, was based on a novel. And not just any novel, one written by a truly wonderful author, Patricia Highsmith, whose work I quite enjoy. So I went to see Carol, and just finished then novel it was based on, the Price of Salt, and now it’s time to talk about them.Well I haven’t done one of these in a while, but I decided to bring this series out when I learned one of the most critically lauded and beloved movies of 2015, Todd Haynes’ Carol, was based on a novel. And not just any novel, one written by a truly wonderful author, Patricia Highsmith, whose work I quite enjoy. So I went to see Carol, and just finished then novel it was based on, the Price of Salt, and now it’s time to talk about them.

 

THE FILM

Carol Poster.jpg

Carol (2015)

Written by Phyllis Nagy

Directed by Todd Haynes

I first started hearing about Carol back when it premiered at Cannes, and pretty much every film critic on the internet lost their minds. I began hearing about Carol, as this staggering work of genius that would change cinema forever for months, waiting for it to finally be released to us commoners who don’t get to go to film festivals. And the hype just grew and grew. I’ve already talked on the site about how much I adore Haynes’ last movie, I’m Not There, but that had been the only one that I’ve seen before, and from what I understand it’s not very emblematic of the rest of his work. Haynes appears to be a trailblazer in the Queer Cinema movement, and has spent a lot of his career making films that attempt to normalize LGBTQ characters and lifestyles for the average person. It’s a very important thing, as I discussed when I wrote about Tangerine, and it looks like he’s making some very high-quality films that are looking at very important social issues, and Carol fits right in with the rest of his oeuvre. It became clear from the reviews and the couple trailers that got released throughout the year that Carol focused on a love affair between two women in the 1950’s, one a naïve young woman trying to find herself, and the other a captivating older woman. The cinematography looked gorgeous, Haynes’ direction appeared solid, and the two leads are wonderful actresses, so this looked like a sure-fire thing. And when I learned it was based on a Patricia Highsmith novel, I got really excited, because that implied to me it would have an interesting, dark twist.

And it’s pretty good. I didn’t love the movie as much as so many other people did, but I’m pretty sure I’ve figured out exactly why. The most obvious explanation for why Carol didn’t blow me away in the way I was expecting would be to blame the hype. Which is probably a big part of it. When you get assaulted with nothing but positive praise for a movie, and people are telling you that it’s the greatest thing of the year, yeah, you’re probably going to be a little let down. And that’s not to say I didn’t like Carol, I actually did like it quite a bit, but it definitely wasn’t my favorite movie of the year, and I really don’t think it’ll be kept in my memory forever as a masterpiece. So it’s easy to blame the praise for kind of knocking this movie down a couple pegs for me, but I think the main reason is the fact that I heard it was based on Patricia Highsmith. Now, I’ll get to this later in the book section, but I will say that when you hear something is based on Highsmith, you kind of assume that there’s going to be a certain psychological bend to the story, which wasn’t really there. But let’s talk about the movie.

The story is set in New York in 1952, and follows a young woman named Therese Belivet (played by the great Rooney Mara) as she tries to figure out who she is. She’s temporarily working at a Manhattan department store during the Christmas season while trying to work as a professional photographer. Like any coming-of-age character she’s drifting through life, with nothing really good happening. She’s in a lackluster relationship with a faux-artist who is trying to stick her into a traditional 50s relationship, and she’s approaching 90’s-teenager levels of existential ennui. She works at this department store, selling dolls during the holiday rush, and just seems sad. That is until one day she meets a glamorous woman named Carol (the always amazing Cate Blanchett), who is there buying a present for her daughter. She and Therese talk, and Therese basically falls in love instantly, and convinces Carol that her daughter would love this enormous train-set that she covets. The two chat, and when she leaves Therese sees she left her gloves behind. So she sends Carol the gloves in the mail along with a nice note.

Carol Santa Hat

We see Therese dealing with the two men in her life for a while after that. Richard, her boring boyfriend who wants her to travel to Europe with him and eventually get married, and Dannie, a friend who is trying to get her a job as a photo-editor and tries to kiss her. But it’s clear that while all of this is happening, Therese is still focusing on Carol. And Carol has problems of her own, because she’s going through a stressful divorce that’s focusing around her aloof husband Harge, who wants to get full custody of their daughter. So things aren’t going well for either of these women, and when Carol gets her gloves in the mail, she calls the store to thank Therese, and the two end up creating a lunch date as a thank-you. So they have lunch together, and end up finding each other fascinating, each of them clearly attracted to the other. So they begin spending time together, and Therese starts coming out to Carol’s home in New Jersey to hang out. They just hang out and get to know each other, while Harge begins to get suspicious, since Carol apparently had an affair with her friend Abby in the past, and he thinks Carol may be having another lesbian affair. And that fear makes Harge pull a total dick move by threatening to tell the courts that she’s a lesbian, which would make them give the daughter to him, since it’s the 50s and no one would trust a lesbian mother.

Carol is obviously pissed at this, and makes the weird decision to go on a road-trip with Therese, which really isn’t the thing you would do when you were trying to prove you’re a stable mother, but whatever. The two then head out west, much to the anger of Therese’s dumb boyfriend Richard, causing them to break up. So Carol and Therese start heading aimlessly West, enjoying each other’s company. They just kind of drive around, and run into a travelling salesman a couple of times that they chat up with. But things really turn a corner when they get to Waterloo, Iowa (which is a little on the nose) and they stay the night at a hotel for New Year’s Eve. And while the two celebrate the holiday, they finally kiss and end up making love. Unfortunately they learn that that salesman was actually a private eye who Harge hired to follow them, and he has audio of them, which he’s going to give to Harge as evidence of Carol’s “perversion,” which will make her lose her daughter. Carol freaks out, even threatens the dude at gunpoint, but the tapes had already been sent, which causes Carol to become incredibly depressed.

Carol Sadness.jpg

Carol then flees Iowa, and takes a plane back to New York to deal with the fallout, and Therese ends up having to drive back to New York with Carol’s weird friend Abby, who warns Therese that Carol will always break her heart. So Therese gets back to New York, and finds that things are going bad for Carol and the divorce, and Carol tells her they can’t see each other anymore. So Therese is devastated, but tries her best to get on with her life. She begins working at the New York Times, and has become a professional photographer. While things are not good for Carol. She has to go to a psychotherapist to fix her “condition,” and ends up just calling everything off, letting Harge keep the daughter and give her visitation right, because she doesn’t want to ruin the daughter’s life with a drawn out legal battle. So now that she’s officially given up, she decides to try and make amends with Therese, and invites her out to dinner. Unfortunately Therese is still irritated with Carol for ditching her, and doesn’t really feel like forgiving her, even when Carol offers for the two of them to live together and be in a real relationship. So Therese leaves Carol, heading off for a party that could advance her career, but ends up feeling incredibly drawn to Carol still, and leaves the party to go be with her, diving into the relationship.

This movie was extremely well-made, well-acted, and became a very enjoyable romance. I would say that romance movies are my least favorite types of movie, mainly because they tend to be very boring. They’re either going to be terrible romantic-comedies that are basically exploitation movies that are designed to prey on every stereotype of womanhood, or their like this, very slow films that show what it’s like to be in a relationship. Falling in love is a wonderful thing…to you. It can be very boring to make a movie about a couple realistically falling in love, because so much of it is internal, and it can be extremely hard to translate that to the big screen. And this movie does a pretty good job of that. Although there really doesn’t seem to be that much believable material to show them falling in love. Therese is kind of a blank slate, a character that hasn’t found herself, and has decided that she loves this dynamic, vibrant woman, so she creates her personality as something that Carol would like. In a way, Therese still ends up in a traditional 50s relationship, just between two women. Therese ends up creating her own career, and making something of herself, when she stops seeing Carol, and I kind of get the feeling that she’s completely willing to throw it all away by the end when she goes back to her. She’s so drawn into Carol, and kind of gets swept up in this woman’s life, at the loss of her own.

Now, I will say, this movie is really good, but there was something major missing for me. I kept expecting, through the whole movie, for this to become much darker. The tone, and especially the knowledge that Patricia Highsmith wrote the novel, made me assume that things were going to get very dark by the end of the movie. That or it was going to get very depressing, and honestly, my thoughts about Therese being subsumed by Carol’s life may be part of that still. Who knows, if someone is completely unaware of Patricia Highsmith, and wasn’t anticipating this to get dark at all, maybe they’ll see the movie as a very positive and uplifting romance, and it’s just my lens of darkness that’s muddling it. I’ll get more into the darkness I was expecting in the book section, so for now I’ll just say that without the darkness I do see this as a very important movie. In 2015, the year that the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage in the United States I think it’s very nice to see what’s essentially a traditional romance movie, but with two women in it. It wasn’t covered in melodrama or strife, and really has a happy ending, which is something that you just don’t normally see from Hollywood.

THE BOOK

Carol Book.jpg

The Price of Salt (1952)

Patricia Highsmith (as Claire Morgan)

Last time when I wrote one of these, about Grapes of Wrath, I talked about how it was kind of hard to write this part of the article, since the book was so similar. But man does that seem like a minor problem this time, because at least Grapes of Wrath the book had some differences in plot. This book had some a very minor plot change, but for the most part it was one of the most shockingly accurate adaptations I’ve ever seen. This novel is essentially a direct adaptation, often with the same dialog, and followed the same plot, beat for beat. Which makes this part a little harder to write.

The plot of the book follows the movie almost exactly for quite a long time. We see Therese and her boring life at the New York department store, but here she dreams of being a set-designer for plays instead of a photographer. She meets Carol working one day, and then gets invited to a lunch-date when she sends her a nice note, and the two almost immediately hit it off. They then begin spending all of their time together while Therese deals with her terrible boyfriend Richard. Now, one big difference at this point is that everything is from Therese’s point of view, we never see things from Carol’s point of view. Around this point in the movie we would cut over to see Carol and Harge’s divorce proceedings, but not here. Harge really only showed up for one small scene in the novel. It was all Therese, all the time. Which gave a very different tint to the novel, because we have no idea if Therese is a reliable narrator, especially as things go on.

Everything follows the same progression as the movie for a while longer, and they head out on their doomed road-trip. The book follows a lot more of their trip and all of the stops they make, but when they finally realize they’ve been busted and have to come to terms with their relationship being in danger. In the movie, Carol flies back to New York in the night and Abby shows up to drive back with Therese. But in the novel, Carol leaves and just kind of strands Therese there. She gets stuck in some mid-Western city, waiting there for an indeterminate time. Carol keeps writing to her, telling her to stay there and wait while she deals with the Harge situation. So Therese just hangs out in this town, staying in a boarding house with a bunch of local weirdos, going through the motions while pretty much going crazy. She slowly goes mad while waiting for Carol, and basically starts to go through withdrawals. Then Carol calls her, tells her they have to end the relationship since she’s under so much scrutiny, and Therese basically starts a new life there, getting a job and a home. But she eventually heads back to New York to try to pick up the shambles of her life, and just like the movie, moves on. Then Carol calls her up, wants to meet, and tries to get her to move in together, and then things play out exactly the way they do in the movie.

So yeah, this book is essentially the exact same as the movie, except for that minor diversion when Therese starts a weird life in the mid-West. Really the only other difference between the novel and the movie is the fact that everything’s in Therese’s head, like I already mentioned. Which does lend some much darker moments. The movie really made Therese a blank slate, as I mentioned, and she just seemed incredibly passive and just so drawn up in Carol’s wake. And the same thing is pretty much the same in the book, but being inside Therese’s mind gives us some glimpses into some darker thoughts. In the novel, Therese really gets obsessed with Carol, and has some crazy thoughts. I mean, look at this from Therese’s inner monologue.

“She Wished the tunnel might cave in and kill them both, that their bodies might be dragged out together.”

What the hell? Who thinks like that? And to make it even worse, when their relationship becomes endangered because Carol wants to keep her daughter in her life, Therese starts to become petulant and resentful of Carol’s damn daughter. She starts to get angry that Carol would dare care more about her daughter than their fabulous love. And to make matters worse, their relationship really takes a weirder turn when Carol starts basically treating Therese like she’s her daughter. She says incredilby motherly things to her, nagging and belittling her, with lines like

“How do you ever expect to create anything if you get all your experiences second hand?” Carol asked, her voice soft and even, and yet merciless.

or

“Do you realize how many times a day you make me ask you that?” she said. “Don’t you think it’s a little inconsiderate?”

Seriously, what kind of relationship is this? The relationship in the movie ends up being a pretty positive one, but the one portrayed in the novel is incredibly strange. By the end of the movie, I felt like Therese and Carol might make it after all, but by the end of the book? Who knows, they might last together, but it would be a pretty damaged and dysfunctional relationship.

The last thing I want to mention about the book is some background. Now, one of the main reasons that the movie fell slightly flat for me was because I assumed the story was going to take a serious dark turn, mainly because it was written by Patricia Highsmith. All of the stories of hers I’ve come across have been so dark and twisted, leading me to think things would take a very odd turn at some point. I spent the whole movie, and novel, assuming that at some point Therese was going to kill Harge. I was convinced that Therese was either going to take it upon herself and remove Harge from the situation, or even have Carol convince her to do it. That’s the kind of story twist that I come to expect from a Patricia Highsmith novel. But it didn’t happen like that, it was just a story about a relationship. Which isn’t either of the stories fault. It doesn’t really make sense for me to complain about the story not being something it wasn’t. And I found an explanation about this discrepancy, when I found out that the novel was published under a pseudonym. The story is apparently semi-autobiographical, and since it was published in the 50s, Patrica Highsmith obviously wasn’t going to release it under her own name, because people in the 50s definitely weren’t going to be cool with a semi-autobiographical story about a woman’s lesbian awakening. This wasn’t a Patricia Highsmith novel, not really, so it doesn’t make sense to judge it with that frame. And the fact that this was a story, especially a positive story, about a lesbian relationship published in the 1950s is much more impressive to me than a movie with the same plot in 2015. Yeah, things for gay couples aren’t perfect in 2015, but they’re a hell of a lot better than 1952.

THE VERDICT

Well, I’ve pretty much explained this already, and at risk of repeating myself too much, they’re essentially the exact same. The plot is the same, except for a small change, the characters are the same, and the tone is virtually identical. When I talked about Grapes of Wrath I mentioned that the movie was better if you wanted a positive ending, and the book was better if you wanted a negative ending. But there isn’t even that much of a difference in this. Yeah, the novel is darker, and Therese comes off as an obsessive weirdo while Carol is having this weird mothering relationship with her, but in the end it’s not that much different. The novel made me see them more as damaged people, but in the end they still end up together, and I’m really not sure if either pair have any future together. They still end with Therese seemingly abandoning her career to live with Carol, and become the boring, typical 50s wife that she dreaded being with Richard, and they both don’t really make a judgement about that fact. They’re both good stories, and I suppose it boils down to whether you want to watch it or read it. I will say though, I wouldn’t recommend experiencing them both so close together like I did, because the fact that they’re so identical kind of hurts whichever one you’re experiencing second, because it’s just same-old-same-old at that point, which kind of diminishes from the quality of the story.

Film Library

The Grapes of Wrath vs. The Grapes of Wrath

This may seem like a weird duo to look at, the first one of these I did was with Who Framed Roger Rabbit, which I would say most people didn’t know was based on a book, and this film is obviously based off a book, quite a famous one in fact. The Grapes of Wrath is both an incredibly famous and classic novel, and film. They’re pretty much equally momentous in the American Canon. The main reason that I chose this duo of works is that I wanted to read the Grapes of Wrath, which I’ve somehow managed to skip all these years, and my intention from now on is to do an article like this whenever I read a book that became a movie. I had never seen the Grapes of Wrath, nor read it, and now that I’ve done both, I want to discuss them.

THE FILM

Grapes of Wrath Poster

the Grapes of Wrath (1940)

Written by Nunnally Johnson

directed by John Ford

This is an incredibly fascinating movie. It came out less than a year after the novel was published and became phenomena, jumping on the bandwagon with gusto. It managed to get Tom Ford, a very important and influential director, and was taking a look at a very dark chapter of American history that was frankly still happening when it came out. It’s one of the grittiest, and most realistic looks at the Great Depression in general, and the Dust Bowl in specific that I’ve ever seen. You really get to see the desperation of the human spirit in this film, and the crushing realities of the American Dream gone wrong. It’s a rather jaded film, and I’m frankly shocked that it came out in 1940. It seems like too honest a film to have come from that time. While not overly negative toward America, it was still pretty critical, and as a major Hollywood production in the period of the Hayes Code, it seems amazing that it was allowed to be as dark and miserable as it was. It seems more like a movie made in the 70’s rather than the 40’s. Movies from the 30’s and 40’s are still a pretty big blind spot for me, but from what I’ve seen I would never imagine a movie this topical and biting to get released. Yeah, movies like Citizen Kane are referencing some dark sides of America, but this movie is blatantly talking about things that actually happen, and were happening. It’s crazy. I feel like a movie this topical would even have issues coming out today.

The movie follows the Joads, a family living in Oklahoma who are being forced to leave their family farm, and strike West to California, the land of wealth and promise. The film really looks at all the members of the family, but primarily focuses on Tom Joad (Henry Fonda), one of the older children who has recently been released from prison after killing a man in fight. He’s hitchhiking home from the prison, and as he gets close he comes across a strange man named Jim Casy (John Carradine), who used to be a local preacher before Tom went away. Casy is a very strange and manic man, who used to be incredibly passionate about religion, but has lost his faith. He now seems to just be a bum, sitting around doing nothing, trying to find himself. And when Tom comes up to him, the two strike a quick friendship, and Casy comes with Tom to the Joad house, keeping him company. But when they get to the Joad household, he finds it abandoned, and after briefly meeting with a strange neighbor who lives alone in the empty farms, they head to Tom’s Uncle John’s house, where the family is staying. Tom and Casy get to Uncle John’s house, and the family is incredibly psyched to see him. He’s clearly the favorite in the family, to a ridiculous point that must make the other feel terrible. We have Ma (Jane Darwell) and Pa (Russell Simpson) Joad, the leaders of the family, and then there are his Grandparents, his older brother Noah, his younger brothers Al and Winfield, and his Ruthie. He also has a sister, Rosasharn, who is married to man named Connie, and is pregnant. He learns that the family farm was foreclosed upon, and the family was forced to move. Uncle John’s farm is being foreclosed upon as well, so the family has come up with the plan to all pile into a large beat-up truck and head west to California. So Tom and Casy join the family as they get rid of most of their worldly goods, and head off to the West, hoping to not starve along the way.

Grapes of Wrath Truck

They head out, and have a lot of terrible times. Almost immediately Grandpa died, and they have to bury him on the side Route 66, and they just continue to have terrible times getting to California. They run out of food, and even had to haggle at a small diner over a loaf of bread. But they finally get to California, just in time for Grandma to die as well, and Noah to vanish without anyone even mentioning it for the rest of the film. But they quickly find out that things in California aren’t going to be as peaceful and prosperous as they thought. They end up having to spend time in a Hooverville, a sort of shanty town for poor people, realizing that they aren’t the only ones who thought heading to California was a good idea. They stay in the Hooverville for just a night, but some bad shit happens there. The Joads, especially the hotheaded Tom, get involved in an argument with a man claiming to have work and a man who was “agitating” the crowd by talking about fair wages. It leads to a brawl with a deputy, and Tom has to run off since he’s skipped parole, and Casy takes the blame, being arrested and taken away. The family flees the Hooverville, and that punk Connie abandons the family as well. Don’t trust dudes named Connie.

The broken family shamble along until they reach a peach orchard and are offered some work. The orchard seems suspicious however, so after one day of work, Tom sneaks off to try and see what’s going on. It turns out that the orchard used to have plenty of workers, but when their wages were dropped, they went on strike, so the Joads and the other family currently working are scabs, and their wages will soon be dropped as well. Then it just so happens that Casy shows up, and is in charge of the strike, because he somehow made it out there quick enough to establish himself as the leader of a movement. They talk to Tom about how the workers are being abused, and he decides to help them, but they’re raided by cops, which results in Casy being beaten to death by a cop, and Tom killing one. He gets his face bashed in, and returns to the family, who realize they have to leave again, and hide Tom, because he’d be spotted and found to be the man who killed a cop.

Grapes of Wrath Tom

The family sneaks off in the middle of the night, and eventually reach a camp that’s being ran by the Department of Agriculture. It’s a strange type of relief camp, where people displaced by the Dust Bowl can come, and for a small fee, live in peace with actual plumbing and community. The Joad’s are very happy at the government camp, and quickly join the community. However, after seeing the police attempt to stage a brawl in the camp that would lead them credence to come in and destroy it, Tom decides that he’s had enough of the life he’s been leading, and leaves the family, taking off to live like Casy did, wandering around trying to tell people the truth about how horrible people are being treated. He goes and walks the Earth, like Caine from Kung Fu. The family is okay with Tom abandoning them, and for some reason they too decide to leave the wonderful camp, and head off into the unknown, with several members missing or dead, and Ma has a speech about how hopeful they are, so I guess it’s a happy ending.

It’s a very intriguing movie that really takes a deep look at a dark topic. This kind of thing really happened, probably more than you would think, and I find that it’s shocking this movie got made. I could see a book being written about how poorly people are being treated out west, that’s the kind of things books had been doing for centuries. But a movie? A movie that was popular, and showed the people who were living at least a better life than the Joads what the world was like for them. It introduced people to the horrors of the Dust Bowl in a relatable way that anyone could understand. The acting was generally fantastic, especially Jane Darwell as the put upon Ma Joad. She carries the family, and the film, keeping all the characters together. Henry Fonda was terrific as Tom Joad, the hotheaded man struggling to find his way in this new world while doing everything he could to keep the family going. But the character that really stole the movie for me was John Carradine as Jim Casy. He played the character with a strange manic quality that made him a very oddball character. He’s so hyperactive and strange, and I find it shocking that they had a character who was questioning his faith in God, and never really found it. The direction of the film was also pretty great. Besides some early scenes that made me worried with obvious sets and matte paintings, there was some great shots of the American west, and the true desperation of the human spirit.

THE BOOK

Grapes of Wrath Novel

John Steinbeck 1939

So last time I did one of these articles, with Who Framed Roger Rabbit, it was a little easier to write this part, because while there were basic plot elements in common between the two, the actual plots were pretty different. It was easy to discuss the differences between the two, but this time? Not so much. The book and the movie are pretty much identical. There are line in the movie that are straight from the book. It’s one of the most faithful book to film adaptations I’ve ever seen, just with some set-pieces shuffled around. The biggest difference between the two is just that the book moves things around, and adds some more to the ending, that makes the story much darker, and more bleak than the movie. So I guess the bulk of this section will be listing the differences, not the plot, because I already did that.

The beginning of the book is very similar to the movie. Tom gets out of jail, meets Casy, and heads to the family farm. They spend a lot more time with Muley, the weirdo living in the abandoned houses, but other than that, it’s pretty spot on. I do like the Casy from the novel much more than the book though. He wasn’t quite as manic, and was more thoughtful, and critical of religion. He apparently left the faith because he had a tendency to have sex with women after preaching, and started to feel a kind of religious cognitive dissonance from that. He’s so much more interesting and entertaining in the book. And they show him struggling to relate to people who think of him only as the preacher, like this line:

“”You Know,” he said, “it’s a nice thing not bein’ a preacher no more. Nobody use’ ta tell stories when I was there, or if they did I couldn’ laugh. An’ I couldn’ cuss. Now I cuss all I want, any time I want, an’ it does a fella good to cuss if he wants to.”

So Tom and Casy get to the Uncle John’s house, meet up with the family, and head out, after drugging Grandpa when he tries not to go. All just like the movie. But then the book starts on a very strange trend, that seemed very interesting. I’ve read Of Mice and Men and East of Eden, and I don’t remember Steinbeck doing anything like this, but he started writing the chapters so that every other one actually had plot, while the opposite chapters would be these strange, rambling, almost stream of conscious monologues that talk about life in the Great Depression. Sometimes the monologue chapters would then wrap up with plot chapters, but mostly they were just kind of random. They had some great quotes in them, but they sometimes felt a little pointless. There was a rambling chapter about the life of a used car dealer, and the bank taking a farm from a family, and about a family trying to get bread from a diner. A lot of the random chapter got put in the movie, with the Joads experiencing them, but in the book, it wasn’t always them. The diner thing for example, had a family with two little boys, so it was obviously not the Joads. They were just kind of strange chapters, that built the world, but could have easily been excised. But in the plot chapters the family makes it West just like the movie. But there are a few differences.

When Grandpa dies, it’s at a campsite with another couple that was traveling, Ivy and Sairy Wilson, who help bury Grandpa, and then end up joining the Joads for a significant portion of the trip. But they were pretty boring characters. Sairy’s main character trait was that she was sickly, and I don’t think Ivy had anything about him that made him identifiable. They eventually leave the Joads when the realize they’re just slowing them down. One big thing from this area of the book that the movie just kind of glossed over was the departure of the oldest brother, Noah. Now, in the movie Noah was basically a non-entity. I feel like he had one line. In the book, he’s not much better, but Steinbeck explained it away that Noah was mentally challenged. Well, when the family almost gets to California, the family all get in a river, bathing and swimming. Then Tom and Noah start to walk back to the car, and Noah just decides he likes the river, and walks off, to live in the river. And Tom just kind of lets him. But the messed up thing is that no one really seems to care. The guy is mentally challenged, and plans on living off the river. He’s definiately going to die. But the family just kind of says “oh well,” and moves along. This is literally what Ma says when Tom says that Noah left the family:

“Noah was strange. Maybe he’ll have a nice time by the river. Maybe it’s better so. We can’t do no worryin’.”

Anyway, now that Noah is gone, the family cross over into California, deal with Grandma’s body, then make it to the Hooverville. Things play out pretty much like they did in the movie, the hungry kids guilting Ma into giving them scraps, and the fight between the cops that ends with Casy being arrested. And Connie abandons the family, just like the movie. But then we get to the biggest difference between the novel and the movie. In the novel, when the family leave the Hooverville, they go to the Government camp first. Things there are pretty much the same as in the movie, they get there, make friends and get along in the camp well. Tom helps avoid the riot, and things stay nice in the camp. But in the movie that’s where the story ended, they were all happy in the camp and things were great. But in the book, even though they were enjoying the camp, there was just no work. It was safe, and clean, and friendly, but it was still killing them. They thought they were safe, but things were still horrible, so they had to abandon the first place that made them feel like home, and set out to find work. And that’s when they get to the peach orchard.

So the movie flipped the two last parts of the novel, and it makes it so much darker. When they get to the peach orchard things are just like they are in the movie. They move into the hovel, and pick peaches for terrible wages before realizing that they’re scabs. Then Tom goes snooping, finds Casy and they get in the fight with the cops. Casy is killed, and it’s a lot more gruesome than the movie, then Tom kills the cop. They sneak out since Tom has the banged up face and they’ll spot him. But this isn’t the end of the book. Instead the family goes on from the orchard until they find a large cotton field next to an abandoned set of train-cars. The Joads start living in the empty train car, and Tom goes to live by himself in the woods next to the field so that his face can heal. And things actually start to go good for the family. The make good money at the cotton field, are able to eat, and even bond with the other family sharing their car to the point that Al ends up getting engaged with their daughter. But then things get bad, just like the always do. Tom strikes out the walk the Earth just like the movie, but things keep happening to the family. The cotton all gets picked, and they’re stuck without work again, and winter is rapidly approaching. Then the rain starts. It starts raining like crazy, and starts flooding the cars. And to make matters worse, Rosasharn goes into labor. Then the book ends with on a crazy dark note, with Rosasharn having a stillborn baby and their meager train car home being washed away. They end up hiding in a barn where they encounter a dying man that Rosasharn feeds with her breastmilk. The end!

This book was really good. It’s kind of obvious, it being a lingering classic of American literature, but it’s really good. The characters are great, and the plot is devastating. I really enjoy John Steinbeck, and while I still like East of Eden better, this book really grabbed a hold of me. One of the things about the novel that was really interesting to me was the bitter hatred for banks and technology the book seemed to have. It really painted the banks as the true villains of the novel, and the incoming technology such as tractors as the weapons the banks were using to put down the common man. Here are some of my favorite quotes Steinbeck wrote about the two topics:

“A bank isn’t like a man. Or an owner with fifty thousand acres, he isn’t like a man either. That’s the monster.”

“But them sons-a-bitches at their desks, they jus’ chopped folks in two for their margin a profit.”

“But the machine man, driving a dead tractor on land he does not know and love, understands only chemistry; and he is contemptuous of the land and of himself.”

THE VERDICT

So I think the final verdict between whether the book or the movie was better, goes down to personal taste. The stories are so similar, and the characters are all the same, so it really boils down to the type of story you like. The film shuffles the events of the novel around so that it’s a more optimistic story. Yeah, it’s still a dark story, but by the end of the movie I felt confident that good things were going to happen to the Joads. Not great things, but it seemed to imply that they were going to get out of their string of terrible luck. But the book? It’s so dark. It just gets darker and darker until it pretty much snuffs out all chances of hope. The book still ends with the Joads setting out, and Tom starting to walk the Earth, but man do I not feel confident that good things are coming for them in the novel. They’re both great stories, and I would recommend experiencing both, but I feel like which one you’ll enjoy more comes down to whether you like your depressing stories to stay depressing, or have a happy twist.

Film Library

Who Framed Roger Rabbit vs. Who Censored Roger Rabbit

Hello and welcome to the first installment of Film Library, a series of articles devoted to films based on novels. I’ll look at the film and the novel, then decide whether or not the film was an accurate adaptation, and answer the age old questions: Was the book better than the movie?

THE FILM

Movie_poster_who_framed_roger_rabbit

Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

1988

Directed by Robert Zemeckis

Written by Jeffrey Price and Peter Seaman

This is one of the most inventive, clever movies I’ve ever seen. It combines two things I really love in movies, ridiculous cartoon performances and noir detectives, and blended them together in a seemingly impossible combination. This movie has great acting, fantastic direction and effects, music, and humor, creating a movie unlike anything I’ve ever seen before or since. Full of surreal images and humor, this movie creates a hilarious world to experience, peppered with scenes of dramatic noir sensibilities. It’s a tremendous film that defies any sort of expectations, becoming one of the weirdest and funniest movies I’ve ever seen.
The plot of the movie essentially is a take on a classic noir detective story, something that Chandler or Hammett would write. It’s full of intrigue, double crosses, schemes, and murder. But at the same time, it’s full of colorful cartoon characters. You have hard edged private eyes and down on their luck bartenders mingling with dancing hippos and penguin waiters, creating a surreal world that seems close to ours, but still completely alien. One of the things that makes this movie work is the fact that it’s played deadpan. They never once act like it’s weird that cartoon characters are alive and inhabit the same world as humans, that’s just how things are. They’re just actors, using their unique talents to film cartoons. Toons definitely seem to be mocked by humans, forced to live in their own little Toon Town and made the butt of jokes by the rest of humanity, but at the same time, they have some of the same jobs as everyone else, like bartenders and cabbies (even though he physically is the cab).

who-framed-roger-rabbit-bob-hoskins-roger-rabbit-cab

Private eye Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins) is hired by a popular cartoon film mogal named Maroon to find evidence that their star Roger Rabbit’s wife is cheating on him. Valiant follows Rabbit’s wife Jessica, a sultry femme fetale styled human, and manages to catch her in a somewhat amorous situation with the owner of Toon Town and the ACME Corporation (here meaning a game of patty-cake),  Marvin Acme. Roger loses his cool with the revelation of his wife’s infidelity, and after swearing revenge runs into the night. The next morning, Marvin Acme is found dead, crushed to death by a giant safe, and Roger is the number one suspect, being hunted by the evil Judge Doom (Christopher Lloyd), who is looking to execute Roger with his new Toon killing liquid he calls ‘the Dip,’  which is essentially just paint thinner . Roger comes to Valiant for help, claiming that he had nothing to do with the murder, and thus begins a madcap ride through 1940’s Los Angeles and Toon Town to help prove Roger’s innocence and find the missing will for Marvin Acme which would prove that the Toons are now in charge of Toon Town, and keep him alive from the murderous intentions of the evil Judge Doom. In the end, it’s revealed that Doom is behind everything, planning on demolishing Toon Town  the Dip  so that he can help put a freeway through LA, becoming rich and powerful. Valiant and Roger manage to stop Doom however, finding out that he himself is a Toon, and killing Doom with his own Dip, at which point Toon Town is given back to the Toons, and everyone lives happily ever after.

whoframedrogerrabbit-15

Ever since I was a kid I’ve loved this movie. It manages to become both a great noir detective film, and a great animated feature. It has all the right aspects of both. As far as the detective story goes, it’s got the right amount of bizarre plot twists and almost nonsensical motivations to give the same feeling as a Chandler book. They cruise around Los Angeles, letting the city itself be a character. They travel from posh Hollywood offices, to sleazy dive bars, and to Eddie’s tomb of an office. And Eddie Valiant himself is pitch perfect. He’s got the right look, the right style, the right voice, and even the right name. Eddie Valiant sounds like a detective, it’s just such a great name and character. He wears his fedora, keeps his bottle of Wild Turkey in his gun holster, and just generally acts like someone out of a pulp serial. You just really could see Valiant in a more dramatic film, and his performance is right out of something like The Long Goodbye, he’s just a hard boiled private eye, in a world gone mad with Toons. And Roger wonderful as the ridiculous fall guy, too naive and simple to realize that a vast conspiracy has unfolded, leaving him as the scapegoat. Delores’ a great character as well, providing a counter point to Eddie. The type of tough, no-nonsense woman that in the 40’s would have been called a broad, who gives Eddie some soul, and provides some legitimately dramatic scenes, when they’re not sharing the screen with a cartoon rabbit in overalls that is. It’s a well crafted and well paced noir, full of the tropes and general feel of a 40’s detective film that more than likely stared Humphrey Bogart. And at the same time, the movie is a great animated classic. There’s fantastic, Golden Age of Animation style humor and designs, really breathing as much life into these new characters as the old ones that are brought in for sight gags. It’s a world where cartoons are real, and you can hire characters like Dumbo or Betty Boop to appear in your cartoon. The world that they create for the Toons is just fantastic. They have their own personalities, history, and culture in their own little world, and the way they interact and live in the world of humans in fantastic. Plus it’s great seeing pairings that you would normally never see in the real world, like Daffy and Donald duck playing dueling pianos, or Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny sky diving together, which was the first time the two legendary characters ever shared the screen together. A scene that probably launched a generation of slash fic writers.

06762-4

The movie was a huge gamble for the studios, requiring new technology and methods that had never been used before. True, animation and live action had been integrated before, in films like Pete’s Dragon, Mary Poppins, or even seeing Jerry the Mouse dance with Gene Kelly, but the animation had never interacted with the live action to the degree in which it did for this movie. You had the Toon Baby Herman holding a real cigar, a Toon octopus tending bar with real props in all eight tentacles, and numerous instances of humans grabbing or in some way physically assaulting the Toons. You couldn’t just animate over the film in this case, so they had to create several robotic rigs, puppeteers, and other practical effects to make the sets perfect for the Toons to then live in.

THE BOOK

enhanced-buzz-14603-1363035135-9

Who Censored Roger Rabbit?

    Gary K. Wolf

    1981

Roger Rabbit is a classic example of a movie that few realize was actually based on a book. Most people are surprised to learn that Roger Rabbit first found life in the pages of a novel, not on the big screen. The book was written by Gary Wolf, a satiric humorist in a manner that seems to defy genre-classification. Practically every word in the book is dripping with classic hard-boiled noir styling, serving as something between a satire and an homage of the genre. The novel’s narrated by Eddie Valiant, the washed up gumshoe who works right in the heart of Hollywood, where Toons and humans go about their lives, used to the strangeness of this world. Wolf really did a great job recreating the noir writings of Chandler or Spillane, making it really feel like you were reading a cheap pulp from the 40’s, full of lines like:

“I keep my chess books on the floor, my gun in a closet, my dinners in the freezer and my booze under the sink.”

Or

“Anyone Seeing her like this, elfin and vulnerable, might be tempted to write her off as a harmless piece of fluff. Until you saw her eyes. The kind of cool, luminous eyes that peek out at you through the jungle shrubbery and size you up for lunch.”

The world that Wolf creates is quite bizarre. It’s set in the then modern day of the early eighties, where humans live side by side with Toons, a strange race of creatures that have been around as long as humanity can remember, even being present at the landing of the Mayflower. But the Toons in this world are very different from the Toons of the film. Here Toons primarily speak through physical speech bubbles, which float around them, conveying their emotions with the font and size of the words, forcing the humans to read their every thought. By using tremendous willpower, Toons can suppress their word balloons and speak audibly, but few can actually accomplish this. They can also, under immense concentration, create duplicates of themselves that fall apart after a few hours called Dopels, that primarily serve as stunt doubles for the Hollywood Toons. Here, instead of staring in cartoons, the Toons get their photos taken, and become living comic book panels, and those who can’t get jobs in the comic industry, get normal jobs, just like anyone else.
The novel opens up with Eddie Valiant accepting a case from Roger Rabbit, the second banana to a popular character called Baby Herman. Roger is sick of being the co-star of the comic, and claims that his managers the DeGreasy brothers, are violating his contract by not allowing him to have his own title. Valiant begins investigating, but gets several conflicting stories. Roger’s photographer Carol is conviced that the DeGreasy’s a scum bags and are screwing Roger over, but the DeGreasy brothers insist that Roger’s insane, claiming that the seperation from his wife Jessica has caused him to go off the deep end. But after Eddie is about to give up the case, things get complicated when Rocco DeGreasy, the brains behind the DeGreasy brothers, is found dead, and Roger is the most likely suspect. Yet things get even more complicated when Roger is found dead in his home the next morning, his home trashed, his body atop his speech bubble that held his final words. After Eddie is questioned by both a human and a Toon cop, he heads back to his office, and is amazed to find Roger Rabbit there waiting for him. It turns out the alive Roger is the dopel of the original, who had been created right before the shooting to run an errand. Together Eddie and the dopel of Roger attempt to solve the murders before Roger falls apart. Roger and Eddie search the ruined house, but find the only thing missing is an old teapot of Rogers. The two begin investigating the murders, but Eddie quickly find that almost everyone involved in the case is more interested in the missing teapot that the actual murderers, with Dominick DeGreasy and Jessica Rabbit, the humanoid Toon wife of Roger both trying to convince Eddie to find the teapot for them. It becomes clear that Wolf is using this teapot in a similar way that Dashiel Hammet used the Maltese Falcon, as a MacGuffin that drives the plot along. Wolf even gives this teapot a ridiculous backstory, similar to the Falcon:

“In the early tenth century, a dying gourmet potentate wanted to provide for his royal chef. So he had the palace artisan construct for him a solid gold teakettle, inlaid with a single, huge blue-white diamond and a multitude of other slightly smaller but equally precious stones. Several hundred years later this priceless teakettle fell into the hands of the Templar Knight.”

So Eddie begins playing Jessica and Dominick against each other, finding out that a sleazy transvestite comic creator named Sid Sleaze had been trying to blackmail the DeGreasy brothers with a pornographic comic he made starring Jessica, and that Rocco’s son and Carol the photographer were trying to ruin the DeGreasy company and start their own together. At this point, the novel was very intense and well written, it was weaving the noir and the ridiculous satire together perfectly. But then the plot took a hard turn into weirdness. It turned out that the teakettle was actually a magic lantern that held a genie, and that the DeGreasy brothers had once been humanoid Toons, who used the genie’s magic to make them human, and Dominick needed it back, because the spell was wearing off, and he was reverting back to being a Toon. After finding this out, Eddie gets the teakettle, and gives it to DeGreasy, who is then killed by the vindictive genie who lived in Roger Rabbits teakettle. I’m seriously not making this up. We learn that the genie was the one who killed Roger, becuase Roger had accidentally used the genie by speaking the magic words without intending to, making him famous and getting him Jessica. At this point Eddie had run Carol and Rocco’s son out of town, both DeGreasy’s were dead, and Jessica was revealed to be behind trying to destroy the DeGreasy’s for her own gain. By then the only remaining mystery was who actually killed Rocco DeGreasy and set this whole insane story in motion. And this twist, I really didn’t see coming. It was actually Roger. Roger created his dopel as a way to create an alibi, and killed Rocco DeGreasy for screwing him over, and taking Jessica from him. He then planned to frame Eddie for the murder, but his own death got things botched. Roger’s dopel expressed regret to Eddie, and says that he truly loved being his partner, before dissolving into dust, erasing both parts of Roger Rabbit from the world.

The End.
Overall, I found this book really enjoyable. True, the ending got rather ridiculous with evil genies and Toons becoming humans, but in the end, the book was really solid. It was a great balance of hardboiled detective noir and zany cartoon antics. It was a little shocking to read these clae classic characters from the film engaging in these darker plots. It was genuinely strange to read Roger’s death as something like:

  “Triangular flaps, the kind you get when you push a pencil through a piece of paper, ringed a gaping bullet hole in Roger’s back.”

That’s just rough. The whole book was full of amazing lines, great characters, and a generally fun story, ignoring the evil genie.

THE VERDICT

So now the question remains, was the film an accurate adaptation of the novel? Well I think the fact that even the titles are different gives you the answer. The movie is similar to the book, but quite different. However, I don’t think that was a bad thing. They’re both great stories, and I really enjoyed both of them. Honestly, I don’t think the book could have worked as a straight adaptation. The word balloons and comic book character just wouldn’t have worked in film as well as making the Toons cartoons, and using the Disney, Warner Brothers, and Tex Avery characters. True, the plot is different, and the characterization are a little off between mediums, but I think the main thing you had to worry about when it came to adapting Who Censored Roger Rabbit? was getting the mood and the world right. And I think the film got that down perfectly. It really was a topsy turvey world where a classic Marlowe-esque detective could get a case working for a cartoon rabbit.
But there are some differences between the two that I think is really interesting. First of all, the Roger Rabbit of the novel is much smarter than the Roger of the film. Halfway through the novel, when Roger is trying to bond with Eddie, he gives this rather touching line:

“”I could never figure that,” said Roger. “I mean why humans don’t like Toons. We’re no different from humans, not really. We have different mannerisms, and different physical makeups, and a different way of taking, butwe  have the same emotions. We love ad hate and laugh and cry exactly the same way humans do.”

Roger was a capable character, hell, he came up with the plan to murder Rocco and frame Eddie using his dopel. The movie Roger could never come up with something like that. But when seeing Roger in the film, I think it made more sense to make him a bumbling fool, like a real cartoon.
Yet the main thing that I think is missing from the movies is the strange motif that runs through the novel that makes it seem like Wolf was trying to compare Toons with minorities. Even though it was taking place in the early eighties, the novel had frequent references to things like Toon’s only bathrooms, or Toon only elevators, making it seem like they’re segregated. There’s even a strange part where people are in an uproar because they’re letting Toons join the NFL and people think they’re ruining the game. They made it clear that while Toon and humans lived together, they were not treated equal.

“The police force contains one division of humans and one of Toons, with each faction investigating only crimes committed against its own kind.”  

It just seems weird to me that the movie that actually took place in a period of real racial segregation would drop the racial metaphor. Maybe it was because the movie was more marketed to the whole family, and racism is probably a little too much for the little kids, or at least that’s what Disney thought.

In the end, despite their differences, I think both stories are solid, and that the film succeeding in bringing the world that Gary Wolf created to the silver screen, even if they lost the exact story in the process. Even though it was the movie that created some hardcore nightmare fuel.

Gah! Kill it with fire!
Gah! Kill it with fire!