Wild in Bologna

Greetings from Bologna, Italy, where the Cineteca di Bologna’s annual festival of archival films, Il Cinema Ritrovato, is about halfway through. I’ve helped to program a selection of rarely seen Raoul Walsh films, and today had the pleasure of presenting the first public screening of MOMA’s newly restored print of Walsh’s 1932 comic western “Wild Girl.” There are a lot of other interesting series going on here, including a Lois Weber retrospective, a survey of the work of a stylistically accomplished but unabashedly Stalinist Soviet-era director named Ivan Py’rev (curated by Olaf Moeller), films related to the stock market collapse of 1929, a survey of the films of 1912, some rareties from Jean Gremillon, and too much else to mention. It’s really a remarkable event — an opportunity to see some of the latest preservation work from around the world, as well as to pass time with a warm community of journalists, scholars, archivists, distributors and filmmakers. If you ever have a chance to attend, don’t pass it by.

This week’s New York Times column takes the home video release of “The Artist” as an opportunity to encourage readers to see some genuine silent films, with Criterion’s recent release of Chaplin’s “The Gold Rush” serving as a convenient example of same. Here in Bologna, where an open air screening of the 1930 Louise Brooks film “Prix de beaute” can fill the medieval town square, it’s hard to believe that the whole world doesn’t revolve around black and white films. I suspect it would be a nicer place if it did.

169 comments to Wild in Bologna

  • BODY AND SOUL: THE CINEMATIC VISION OF ROBERT ALDRICH by Tony Williams, is sitting right here on my shelf. It’s a very informative book!

    I had no idea “Film Noir: The Directors” even existed. It sounds like a fascinating work. Don’t know who the contributors are, but Internet reviews say there are essays on Joseph H. Lewis, Jacques Tourneur, Raoul Walsh and many others.

  • Patrick Henry (July 3, 2012 at 10:13 am), yes, Joan Bennett did the SUMMER WITH MONIKA thing in WILD GIRL, as did Loretta Young in MAN’S CASTLE, also screened in Bologna, both in mainstream Pre-Code Hollywood movies.

  • Tony Williams

    Alex, I have this version but need time to read it as I’ve recently finished the 1957 hardback edition. Jones was adamant that the hardback was his definitive version and I’m perplexed that the Estate has chosen to bring out this edition. The paperback edition was a travesty and Jones was always giving the original version out to people who visited him in Paris who’d only read the edited paperback edition. The novel itself is a fascinating isight into post-war America and once one has read it the Minelli film version (no matter how good it is as a melodrama) pales by comparision. Jones finally came to like the film version of ETERNITY but he always hated the Minelli film version of RUNNING.

  • Brad Stevens

    According to Open Media’s website, “Five decades later, Some Came Running has been revised and reedited under the direction of the Jones estate to allow for a leaner, tighter read”. Which means that they’ve gone back to the text of the uncut hardback original, then cut it!! Looking at the sample pages available on Amazon, I can see that there’s material missing even in the opening paragraphs of Chapter 1. For example, following the sentence “He was here and he was staying”, the following has been removed: “Youre (sic) a creature of as many moods as you have dollars. No wonder you can never make up your mind”. Also, Jones’ deliberately eccentric spelling and punctuation have been ‘corrected’. Thus in the opening paragraph of Chapter 1, ‘didnt’ has been changed to ‘didn’t’. Let’s hope these people never get their hands on FINNEGAN’S WAKE!

    Fortunately, the not at all lean and tight hardback original can easily be found online, often quite cheaply: there are copies available from Amazon’s dealers for under $20.

  • Tony Williams

    Brad, Thanks very much for this feedback. Yes, Jones deliberately played havoc with grammar and I sense the role of academics in THE JAMES JONES LITERARY SOCIETY responsible for this. You’ve confirmed my worst fears. They are trying to make him respectable for the academy in the same way that neo-conservative Jack London scholars want to eliminate socialism from his work and make him a born-again Jungian!

  • “The novel itself is a fascinating isight into post-war America and once one has read it the Minelli film version (no matter how good it is as a melodrama) pales by comparision. Jones finally came to like the film version of ETERNITY but he always hated the Minelli film version of RUNNING.”

    I always found the film version of “From Here to Eternity” vastly inferior to the novel. Of course the censorship of the day wouldn’t allow for treating all the sexual and racial issues raised, and the political conservatism of the Eisenhower era precluded inclusion of the full stockade episode and the criticism of the “organization man” played out in the relationship of Capt.Holmes and the general.

    Formally, the Minnelli version of “Some Came Running” is on another plane compared to Zinneman’s mise-en-scene. As a film “Some Came Running” is far more nuanced than the movie version of “From Here to Eternity.”

  • “‘Five decades later, Some Came Running has been revised and reedited under the direction of the Jones estate to allow for a leaner, tighter read’. Which means that they’ve gone back to the text of the uncut hardback original, then cut it!!”

    Strangely enough, the selfsame Jones estate restored deleted material to “From Here to Eternity” last year. Since the restored material had to do with sex scenes and the reasons given for the cuts in “Some Came Running” are to make it a “tighter read”, I suspect the motives of the estate are more commercial than artistic.

  • Tony Williams

    I would agree with the last few comments, especially the penultimate one. Minelli is far superior to Zinneman but adapting RUNNING is equivalent to trying to film WAR AND PEACE. Aprt from dean Martin’s performance as ‘Bama Jones hated the film version. The deleted material in ETERNITY involved mostly the f and c words as well as Maggio’s liaison with local gays. But one can read between the lines in the published edition to see what Jones was hinting at and enough material exists in that version concerning gayness to see that the cuts were not that drastic. Wasn’t the director’s cut of CALIGULA far shorter than the Guccione edition, a first in most director cut editions?

  • Brad Stevens

    “Wasn’t the director’s cut of CALIGULA far shorter than the Guccione edition, a first in most director cut editions?”

    This happens quite often, actually. The director’s cuts of BLADE RUNNER, DARLING LILI and REVOLUTION are all shorter than the studio versions, and I’m sure there are many other examples. There’s isn’t really any director’s cut of CALIGULA, but the shorter version conforms more precisely to the director’s intentions, and eliminates the hardcore footage shot by Guccione.

  • Alex

    Sure, great materials — the Brig, the ruanchy poetry — are torn from ETERNITY by Zinneman at all and RUNNING is reduced to few vivid characters and strong drinking scenes by Minnelli and Company, but if one wants to knock films for debasing Jones novels, let them be the film versions of THIN RED LINE, Marton’s for its thin, anemic renditions Jone’s adrenalin rush of a rich battlefield collective consciousness, Malick’s for his misframing a good go at capturing that rich rush by placing it within the utterly un-Jonesian and overwrought bookends of his wildly recast Christian mystic Pvt. Witt.

  • Alex

    Ooops, that should be “stockade’ insread of “brig,” though “brig” does call to mind Jonas Mekas’ superb THE BRIG, a nice antidote to Zinnemann and Taradash’s balk Re military justice.

  • “This happens quite often, actually. The director’s cuts of BLADE RUNNER, DARLING LILI and REVOLUTION are all shorter than the studio versions, and I’m sure there are many other examples.”

    Among those other examples are the television versions of several Roger Corman pictures that had running times of under 70 minutes; additional footage was added to bring them closer to 90 minutes. Also Carpenter’s “Halloween” had a couple of additional scenes that Carpenter himself shot for the broadcast version.

  • “if one wants to knock films for debasing Jones novels, let them be the film versions of THIN RED LINE, Marton’s for its thin, anemic renditions Jone’s adrenalin rush of a rich battlefield collective consciousness, Malick’s for his misframing a good go at capturing that rich rush by placing it within the utterly un-Jonesian and overwrought bookends of his wildly recast Christian mystic Pvt. Witt.”

    Jones was alive to see Andrew Marton’s version of “The Thin Red Line” and I’m sure his opinion of it is recorded somewhere. As for Malick’s version, it certainly does depart from Jones as drastically as the Zinneman/Taradash version of “Eternity” (and has anyone seen the multi-part TV adaptation?)in tone and outlook, but I found Malick’s take more Whitmanic than Christian, and for that reason more acceptable. There is the physical reality of war and also the the transcendent “life force” present in Whitman’s Civil War poems like “The Wound Dresser.”

  • Mark Gross

    “I found Malick’s take more Whitmanic than Christian, and for that reason more acceptable. There is the physical reality of war and also the the transcendent “life force” present in Whitman’s Civil War poems like “The Wound Dresser.””

    X, I don’t think I’ve seen anyone compare Mallick to Whitman before, and that’s a very good point, especially in terms of the “transcendent life force” which seems to become more and more important in Malick’s work, to the point where it seem to “transcend” the characters and the narrative as well.

    It’s true that Malick’s version of THE THIN RED LINE in its focus on an almost mystical view of nature that becomes a parallel visual trope alongside the battle is very Whitmanesque. I just finished reading the Jones novel for the first time since high school. Watching Malick’s film again made much more sense, almost as if Malick were having a conversation with Jones. There is a strong emphasis on the jungle in the beginning of Jones’ book also, but I agree that Malick transforms these passages into something quite different, and pre-Christian.

    Anyway, it turns out Malick’s film is much closer to Jones’ novel then I remembered. Of course, the scenes that meant the most to Jones and were the most autobiographical, such as the hand to hand combat with the Japanese solider, are missing from Malick’s film. However, these scenes are present in the Criterion edition as outtakes, and they are the best scenes in the film, both in terms of understanding the characters and also as cinema.

  • Tony Williams

    The strongest argument for Jones’s interest in karma and theosophy is in Steven Carter’s JAMES JONES: AN AMERICAN LITERARY ORIENTALIST, University of Illinois Press, 1997 (9)? Whether we can see Jones as being in the tradition of Emerson and others is a subject for further debate.

    Thanks for the reference to those out-takes since the Japanese soldier combat is crucial to the novel. It would certainly conflict with Malick’s vision since it comes from the grim, everyday world of battlefield combat. However, concerning the Andrew Marton version, Jones was very aware that it was an independent, low-budget film and wrote a letter to the director thanking him for the attempt he had made in undertaking this first film version. Jones did work on screenplays and John Berry and Nicholas Ray were frequent guests at his house in Paris. In fact, if you access an early documentary on youtube you will see Ray playing cards with Jones and other guests.

  • Mark Gross

    “Thanks for the reference to those out-takes since the Japanese soldier combat is crucial to the novel. It would certainly conflict with Malick’s vision since it comes from the grim, everyday world of battlefield combat.”

    Thanks, Tony, for the recommending the book. Of course, Jones’ whole point in writing THE THIN RED LINE was to focus on the “grim, everyday world of battlefield combat” which does run counter to what you call “Malick’s vision,” so I guess Malick’s version of THE THIN RED LINE is faithful to the book but with a very different focus. For me it was fascinating reading the book and then watching Mallick’s film, for it placed the incidents and characters of Jones’ novel in a very different perspective
    that I found very helpful in understanding the book and Jones’ reason for writing it.

    As far as Marton’s film is concerned, I haven’t seen it since I was 14, but I remember respecting it, even though because it was very low budget, a great deal of what is in the novel couldn’t be filmed. On the other hand, my memory is that the soldiers are closer to the characters in the book in Marton’s version, especially Keir Dullea, whose performance has stayed with me all these years.

  • Never read the Some Came Running novel, but I have always found Shirley MacLaine character evolution really astonishing: the dialogue with the teacher, when she suddenly steals the leading role, is simply unforgettable.

  • Alex Hicks

    With it mystic-Witt framing, which seems to me to hit an explicitly Christian note of “salvation” at Witt’s death scene, Malick’s version depart FAR more drastically from Jones’ LINE than did the Zinnemann/Taradash version from Jones’ ETERNITY.

    It’s really an appropriation of LINE as raw material for Malick’s own expressive ends, where the Zinnemann/Taradash version is a straight Classical Hollywood Cinema rendition — necessary condensation accepted –of Jones’ very CHC-compatible naturalistic melodramatic narrative. Not only does the whole sacred/cosmic/Gnostic side of Malick’s dominate the film by framing it; it intrudes imperiously throughout the film where any parallels in Jones consist of very brief reveries and epiphanies. Moreover, the novel’s long wrap up of the Island campaign following the taking of the Elephant is entirely excised in a condensation as radical as the excising of the stockade portions of the Zinnemann/Taradash ETERNITY.

    I do not mean to say that there is not wonderful cinema in Malick’s film, or that the whole might be affirmed by viewers more favorably affected by Malick’s transformation as a novel work than I am.

    The early 1980s TV version is a far more faithful adaptation than the Zinnemann/Taradash, at least in coverage of basic plot material if not in capture of every eloquently obscene riff or sharp social criticism. It’s directorially far below Zinnemmann’s CHC mastery and, despite many fine performances nowhere near the casting coup –indeed ensmpbel of great performances and great individual and ensemble moments that Zinnemann’s version remains, but it’s good retro-TFV viewing and one nice reprise of the ETERNITY experience.

  • For anyone interested, a friend Moen came back from Il Cinema Ritrovato, and wrote a festival review, which he contributed to my website. Here it is, and it looks like he really liked the Walsh and the Gremillon films : http://torontofilmreview.blogspot.ca/2012/07/in-search-of-treasures-by-moen-mohamed.html

  • Junko Yasutani

    About adaptation of novel to movie, sometimes not faithful but good movie, sometimes faithful but bad movie, but original novel is not harmed by movie adaptation.

    FROM HERE TO ETERNITY movie is romance story about non-conformist in rigid institution with woman from disreputable background with parallel of adulterous love affair. That is all. Novel is about many subject contained in metaphor of colonial military outpost standing for America. Novel is deep, movie version is shallow.

    I have not read SOME CAME RUNNING novel, but movie is great movie even if bad adaptation.

    Since Raoul Walsh is mentioned, his version of THE NAKED AND THE DEAD is good movie, fair adaptation (because of censorship)but still treating authority theme of novel well.

  • Barry Putterman

    Does anybody here remember the great Jerry Lewis recording of the song “The Book Was So Much Better Than the Movie?”

    This is one of those issue which never seems to go away. The novel “Some Came Running” is, as I recall, well over a thousand pages. And, as Tony says, adapting it is somewhat akin to adapting “War and Peace.” No doubt thankfully for all concerned, Tolstoy was not around to see the King Vidor movie. Nor was Dickens around to see the Cukor version of DAVID COPPERFIELD.

    If I was James Jones, I would probably hate the Minnelli film. If I was Norman Mailer, I would probably hate the Walsh film. But I’m not James Jones or Norman Mailer and neither is anybody else here.

    My own view is closer to Junko’s. “Othello” is a play and “Otello” is an opera. The play doesn’t have Verdi’s music and the opera doesn’t have Shakespeare’s language. You can fault both the play and the opera for what they don’t have. Or, you can enjoy both the play and the opera for what they do have.

  • Alex

    Well put, Barry.

  • Barry Putterman

    Much obliged Alex. As I recall, you are a big fan of the Vidor WAR AND PEACE despite the fact that, even at a well over three hours running time, it still left out a few passages from the book.

  • Alex

    Barry,

    Only a couple. The complexity of the W&P narrative is much exagerated by people who’ve never read the book and don’t realize that much of it consists rum– inations on the Napoleon, serfdom, and accident in history — not to speak of the weather– that a screen writer may ignore. Vidor worked off a masterly scenario– right up there with Taradash’s one for ETERNITY (which, I’ve heard, is a long story unabridged).

  • Barry Putterman

    Alex, that is an interesting point. When you take out all of the matarial about the whaling industry from “Moby Dick,” you are pretty much left with the story that gets told on stage and screen. Which is not to say that all of that material in “Moby Dick” or “War and Peace” is exraneous to the artistry of those novels. It is simply that it constitutes the sort of material which can be executed in the form of a novel but not in the form of a narrative film.

    On the other hand, if a picture really is worth a thousand words, then possible Tolstoy and Vidor come out pretty much even.

  • Peter Henne

    Tony and Brad, You got me so interested in Jones’ novel and how it was adapted into Minnelli’s film that I tracked down and purchased a fairly cheap copy of the 1957 hardcover edition. Thanks for sparking my interest. By the way, the novel by the other writer with the first name of James that Brad cited is spelled FINNEGANS WAKE, without the possessive colon. Joyce played havoc with punctuation.

  • MOBY DICK and WAR AND PEACE are both extremely well-written books, and I don’t find anything superfluous in them. Screenwriters have boiled down their storylines very well, but from both novels they have also eliminated a lot of superb story material. In MOBY DICK there are thrilling semi-independent chapters that could inspire entire movies. In WAR AND PEACE even from Sergei Bondarchuk’s six hour film adaptation a lot of the story is missing: most of Nikolai Rostov’s story, the story of Anatoli and Mary, Pierre Bezukhov’s experiences with Freemasonry, and the conclusion, the follow-up of the stories during 1812-1820.

  • Tony Williams

    Junko, It has been years since I viewed Walsh’s THE NAKED AND THE DEAD but I remember that nice Lt. Cliff Robertson survives at the end and Aldo Ray’s nasty Sergeant Croft does not – unlike the novel, But does he not reappear in the guise of Sgt. Montana in Mann’s MEN IN WAR (1957)? I believe Philip Yordan (with Bem Maddow) scripted it and did not Yordan write the screenplay for the 1962 version of THE THIN RED LINE?

    Censorship in 1955 does not allow Lili St. Cyr to perform her act to its logical conclusions in Walsh’s film.

  • Barry Putterman

    Tony, it is possible that you have the chronology a bit confused. 1955 is the year of Walsh’s version of BATTLE CRY, in which Aldo Ray played the nice Pfc. Andy Hookens. I’m not sure whether THE NAKED AND THE DEAD was shot before or after MEN IN WAR since it got caught up in the collapse of RKO and eventually was released by Warners in 1958. And ultimately, can anybody be certain about what Philip Yordan actually wrote and what he merely took credit for?

    But on the central point, you are dead on. In Mailer’s novel Hearn (Robertson) dies well before the end of the story and Croft (Ray) takes the climactic action. The irony, for me at least, is that I find that Mailer’s Croft would have been a perfect Walshian hero had the film stuck a bit closer to the book.

  • Tony Williams

    Barry, I’m on a very basic computer away from reference books located elsewhere and can not totally rely on my memory so you may be correct. You’re also right about the Yordan credits but I’ve read (perhaps in Philip Kemp’s FILM COMMENT article on MEN IN WAR) that Maddow did contribute to the screenplay. Yes, Aldo did play a nice guy in BATTLE CRY, a pro-war movie.

    Anway, it must have been a blow to Norman in not seeing Lili NAKED and the “wrong man” ending up DEAD. Such are the pitfalls of screen adaptations.

  • Robert Garrick

    Barry makes his point in an amusing way, as usual, but it’s important to say it bluntly: A film director has no obligation to be faithful to his source material.

    A film can subvert its literary source, and delete most of it, and still be superior to that source. An example for me is John Ford’s “Grapes of Wrath.” The Steinbeck book won the Nobel Prize, but the Ford film is better.

    It used to drive me crazy when a film critic would see a film and then, before writing the review, read the book on which it was based. Then, in the review, the critic would outline all of the ways in which the film departed from the book, as if that were a problem, somehow.

    It can be interesting, and instructive, to compare a film with its source. But the fact of a film’s departure from its source, by itself, means nothing qualitatively.

  • Alex

    To elaborate…

    The Vidor et al. approach to a narrative film of “War and Peace” as the entwined Nildungsromanen of Andre, Pierre and Natasha seems perfectly conceived and excellently realized to me. Ditto for Minnelli et al.’s approach to “Some Came Running” as the intersecting interludes of Dave Hirsh, Bama Dillert and and Ginnie Moorehead one year in the somewhat inhospitable Parkman Illinois.

    John Ford great film of “Grapes of Wrath” may be better than the Steinbeck novel but the careless un-reality of the a number of its sound set scenes (e.g., Casy’s first rant to Tom in one of Ford’s recurrent paper mache groves) that contrast so abysmally with Toland’s coin-edge-sharp documentary vision and the centering of the film’s message on Ma Joad’s populist harangues (sentimental as the miners marching off Broadway-like to work in Hi-Ho-ish “Top of the morning” solidarity in “How Green was My Valley” )compromise the effort for me.

  • Barry Putterman

    I must say that there is really no easy way to deal with this conundrum. I read “The Naked and the Dead” at a very early age and it meant quite a lot to me. I saw the Walsh film much later and simply could not reconcile myself to what had been done to the book. Not just the characters played by Ray and Robertson, but all of the characters. Mailer went into all of them in such depth and developed the tensions between them all with such complexity. And then the film gave us the standard Hollywood World War II platoon. I never mined that in , say, OBJECTIVE BURMA. But OBJECTIVE BURMA didn’t advertise itself to be “The Naked and the Dead”

    Over time I have come to appreciate the Walsh film for its own virtues. But what am I supposed to do? Deny myself great books which are simply unadaptable to narrative film as written? Deny myself screen adaptations of great books which might be wonderful films on their own terms?

    Thinking in terms of jazz could be a conceivable way to deal with this. You listen to something and it sounds great. And then you hear an alternate take and it sounds very different, but it also sounds great. But sometimes you hear something and it hits you where you live and you just don’t want to hear it done any other way. Regardless of the possibilities.

  • Tony Williams

    Barry has really put his finger on the button. Yes, a director has no obligation to be faitful to his source material and we are all here familiar with that misleading “discourse of fidelity” that elevates the source material above the adaptation. But the issue here is how does the adaptation work. It does not really have to be faithful to the source material but in other instances the question of missed opportunities arises.

    Before reading SOME CAME RUNNING, I liked the film both as a well styled Minelli melodrama as well as some performances such as Dino’s ‘Bama, Arthur Kennedy as Frank, and Shirley as Ginnie. Although the Parkman celebration towards the end of the film that results in the death of Ginnie certaily evokes the “hysteria” that Dave Hirsch recognizes as being historically based, it falls far short of Jones’s definition of what really motivates this celebratory escape. As a result, I can’t look at the film in the way I did before since I find the Dave-Gwen relationship laughable as opposed to its original rendition. Yes, Shirley is great as Ginnie but she is not the Ginnie of the book and ends up as the film’s sacrificial victim, not Dave.

    Again, issues of censorship would be in the minds of those who adapted it and the adaptation happened too quickly after the appearance of the book. A later TV mini-series could do the material justice but when I think of that crude version of FROM HERE TO ETERNITY that appeared several decades ago and well as that brief sequel where Prewitt’s brother arrives in Hawaii to woo Lorene, I shudder!

    I’m now going to get that Criterion DVD of THE THIN RED LINE as it appears that Malick made certain choices in his adaptation that parallel a certain type of academic discourse preferring the transcendental interpretations over other challenging readings that place the text in its historical setting. I’m thinking primarily of the academic Jungian school of Jack London criticism here as opposed to those such as Trotsky who saw the merits of THE IRON HEEL, a book that is of more relevance today than before.

  • David Cohen

    I shared Barry’s initial experience with THE NAKED AND THE DEAD and I also have to come to appreciate the film, though nowhere near as much as I appreciate the book. Of course, in the mid-1950s, there’s no way that much of Norman Mailer’s material would have withstood the censors; presumably when it was purchased to be a movie, it was purchased because it was a famous book with a sexy title. Even if Raoul Walsh had wanted to make the exact statement(s) Mailer made, he couldn’t have …

    All that means, well, I don’t know exactly what it means.

  • “I’m now going to get that Criterion DVD of THE THIN RED LINE as it appears that Malick made certain choices in his adaptation that parallel a certain type of academic discourse preferring the transcendental interpretations over other challenging readings that place the text in its historical setting.”

    It seems to me that Malick’s sensibility favors the transcendental without dabbling in Jungian psycho-mythology. Moreover, it’s nature that transcends the human universe and not the spiritual. On the other hand Bill Krohn (who went to school with him)argues that Malick is a Gnostic, and the sermon on Job in “The Tree of Life” argues for that interpretation.

  • Tony Williams

    Yes, I think he is far removed from the Jungian discourse and that Bill Krohn is probably correct. I’ve read somewhere that Harvey Keitel is also interested in Gnosticism. Well, at least, it causes less harm than Scientology!

  • “I’m thinking primarily of the academic Jungian school of Jack London criticism here as opposed to those such as Trotsky who saw the merits of THE IRON HEEL, a book that is of more relevance today than before.”

    Trotsky was a very sharp critic of literature who saw the value of bourgeois works as well as revolutionary and avant garde productions. After all, he did co-author the pamphlet “For an Independent Revolutionary Art” with Andre Breton.

  • Brief note:
    J. Hoberman has a well-done piece on Robert Siodmak in the NY Times:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/08/movies/robert-siodmak-retrospective-at-film-forum.html?ref=movies

    There is a quote in it from Jean-Pierre Coursodon.

  • Tony Williams

    Unfortunately, Hoberman does not mention that Cornell Woolrich wrote the original novel and that much of the film’s visual delirium comes from the author himself. Mike Nevins’s excellent biography FIRST YOU DREAM, THEN YOU DIE is indipensable for noting connections between Wollrich and film noir. STREET OF CHANCE (1942) derived from THE BLACK CURTAIN is an excellent example of this connection.

  • Robert Garrick

    Jim Hoberman mentions two Siodmak films with Nazi allusions, but he leaves out the most obvious one: “The Spiral Staircase.”

    That film’s villain, played by George Brent, has a thin moustache and tousled hair, and he kills women who are “imperfect” somehow–they’re mute, or they have a club foot, or whatever. It’s an obvious Hitler analogy–a little too obvious. The film was made in 1945.

    Still the film is a bravura piece of style. The murder of Rhonda Fleming, about halfway through, is for me the most spectacular expressionistic sequence in all of the American cinema.

    Yes, I know that’s saying a lot. But the candle, the old house, the stairway, the cellar, the gust of wind, the music, the thing Siodmak does with the murderer’s eye–it’s all there. It’s beautiful to watch.

    There are other great, similar sequences in better films. The fruit cellar scene in “Psycho,” for example. But if I were preparing a documentary on gothic expressionism, I would include that Rhonda Fleming murder as Exhibit A. In her important book “The Haunted Screen” Lotte Eisner writes about “shadows and stairs” as hallmarks of expressionism, and for me Siodmak, from 1944 to 1949 (from “Phantom Lady” to “Criss Cross”) was its greatest practitioner in America. For that short time, he was as important and productive as any director working in the United States.

  • Robert Garrick

    Tony Williams, we should make clear that the “original novel” you’re talking about is “Phantom Lady,” written by Woolrich under his pseudonym William Irish.

    The first half of “Phantom Lady” (1944) is one breathtaking expressionistic scene after another. But the second half is disappointing. The plot had to rear its ugly head; the mystery had to be resolved; and much of the last half hour of the film is pretty ordinary.

    Woolrich’s stories and novels don’t seem to be particularly cinematic when you read them. But the proof is in the pudding: They were made into successful, atmospheric films, over and over again. Of the many films derived from a Woolrich source, my two favorites are “Rear Window” (1954) and “The Leopard Man” (1943), but there are at least twenty others and almost all of them are worth seeing.

  • Gregg Rickman

    Speaking of “The Naked and the Dead,” Mailer’s novel was in the public consciousness enough to allow the line in Fleischer’s ARMORED CAR ROBBERY (caught recently per the recommendation of Barry, I believe)as Don McGuire imagines Adele Jergens’ marriage to the Douglas Fowley character: “Imagine a dish like this married to a mug like Benny McBride. The naked and the dead.”

    If I love a book the film adaptation is always unsatisfactory, as what I’m particularly drawn to in a novel probably has little to do with its plot or characterization (which literary adaptations will try to get right if at all conscientious). The film will have to stand alone, with special qualities of its own, to move me.

  • Gregg Rickman

    Credit where credit is due: ARMORED CAR ROBBERY’s screenplay is by Earl Felton and Gerald Drayson Adams, from a story by Robert Angus and Robert Leeds.

  • Alex

    Walsh’s NAKED AND THE DEAD is a good film because the final long sequence, the “Patrol” sequence is great despite botching of all the “Patrol”‘s plot and allegorical functions vis-a-vis Mailer’s original (esp.the trumping of rational liberal Capt. Hearn by psychopathic, fascist-thugish Sgt. Croft). It’s no better than that because is makes nothing of the powerful Cummings-Hearn-Croft-Dalleson dramatic core of the book, much less of the book’s dystopian vision of the Military and the impending Peace — and, understandingly (as with Vidor dropping Tolstoy’s historical refctions and Minnelli dropping Jones’s Emersonian transformation of Dave Hirsch) nothing at all of Mailer’s Time-Machine extension into the Depression and WWII years of Dos Passos’ social and linquistic cross-section of the U.S.A.

  • David Cohen

    Well-stated Alex

    The film that fully disabused me of the notion of an adaptation being true was FIELD OF DREAMS, where everything that was provocative and fascinating about W.P. Kinsella’s “Shoeless Joe” was turned into mush so Kevin Costner could play an everyman reconnecting with his dead dad. That disappointment was compounded when I read how much Kinsella liked (or, at least, claimed to like) the movie.

  • I agree with J. Hoberman and the commentators here about Robert Siodmak. We did a Siodmak tribute in Helsinki three months ago, also with 9 films, but with a different selection than the Film Forum, from THE PHANTOM LADY to THE FILE ON THELMA JORDON. It was fascinating to realize how different those films are. Although most of Siodmak’s 1944-1950 movies were produced by Universal, Siodmak also worked for Fox (CRY OF THE CITY), MGM (THE GREAT SINNER), RKO (THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE), Inter-John (THE DARK MIRROR) and Wallis-Hazen (THELMA JORDON). Elwood Bredell may have set the standard for Siodmak’s noir cinematography, but the other cinemagraphers were great, as well (Paul Ivano, Milton Krasner, Frank Planer, George Barnes, Nick Musuraca and many others). Miklos Rozsa was perhaps the best composer in those movies, but Dimitri Tiomkin, Alfred Newman, Bronislau Kaper, Roy Webb, Hans Salter, and Frank Skinner were fine, too. The unity of sensibility despite such different production circumstances is evident. Ella Raines, the Howard Hawks discovery, seems to have been an inspiration for Siodmak, personally, like the characters she plays are in the plots of four of his films. The most memorable performance is still Burt Lancaster’s in THE KILLERS. It was a privilege to see it in a gloriously photochemical Universal Studios print.

  • The film that fully disabused me of the notion of an adaptation being true was FIELD OF DREAMS, where everything that was provocative and fascinating about W.P. Kinsella’s “Shoeless Joe” was turned into mush so Kevin Costner could play an everyman reconnecting with his dead dad. That disappointment was compounded when I read how much Kinsella liked (or, at least, claimed to like) the movie.

    You know, I’ve always been told that FIELD OF DREAMS is a matter of taste. You either loved it or you hate it. The general consensus among people who discuss the film seems to be split right down the middle, either you buy the plot or you don’t. Case in point was the split by Siskel and Ebert in their review of the film in which Roger Like it and Gene didn’t.

    Don’t cast me out, but I bought the plot hook, line and sinker. Perhaps that may have something to do with the fact that I know almost nothing about the history of baseball. I don’t know what Joe Jackson was like in real life, so I may have been able to watch the film unvarnished. It takes a leap of faith to give yourself to a plot that ridiculous, and I may be that person but I was very moved by it.

  • Barry Putterman

    Oddly enough, I read the novel “Phantom Lady” not long ago. Of course, I’ve long been familiar with the Siodmak film, so the book didn’t throw me off rhythm. But the novel is, shall we say, unconventional. Much of it is told from the viewpoint of a character who, for all practical purposes, is the accused man’s best friend racing against time to clear his name. At the climax it is revealed that much information has been withheld from us and this character is actually the mad killer.

    The film did its best to smooth that out by not telling any of the story from his viewpoint and dropping hints along the way that there was something “wrong” about this fellow. This can, as Robert feels, be said to hurt the film. A film done as Woolrich had structured it would have been unthinkable in 1944. And even in these days of incoherent plots, would probably not be attempted today. Tony mentioned STREET OF CHANCE (1942) and that also has a plot where the character who seemingly is there to help the accused man turns out to be the killer. But I haven’t read Woolrich’s original on that one and I don’t know he presented the story in that case.

    Opinions will vary as to whether Woolrich was producing radical art, was a nut case himself, or was simply incompetent in relation to certain basics of storytelling. Pretty much as opinions vary regarding Edgar G. Ulmer. Of course, none of those three possibilities are mutually exclusive. He (and Ulmer) may well be all of the above.