At any rate, American classics have faired reasonably well in film: Grapes of Wrath and Moby-Dick (the Ray Bradbury/John Huston version), for example. The Last of the Mohicans and The Scarlet Letterboth with Daniel Day-Lewisare equal to their textual origins. Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye was wonderfully realized by Robert Altman with Elliot Gould. Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon had Bogart, Sidney Greenstreet, and Peter Lorre. Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird was wonderfully represented by Robert Mulligan with Gregory Peck (and Robert Duvall as Boo Radley).
Here are some more noteworthy film/novel couples:
- Our Man in Havana (auth. Graham Greene, dir. Sir Carol Reed): Alec Guinness is perfectly cast in the revolutionary rat’s nest of Batista’s Havana; Ernie Kovacs has a cameo.
- The Tailor From Panama (auth. John le Carré, dir. John Moorman): Spoof of Greene’s Our Man in Havana; Geoffrey Rush and Pierce Brosnan give the story some ballast.
- The Conformist (auth. Alberto Moravia, dir. Bernardo Bertolucci): A poignant, soul-searching story with Jean-Louis Trintignant playing the subtle title role with precision.
- Man on Fire (auth. A.J. Quinnell, dir. Tony Scott): Denzel Washington is the man, Christopher Walken lends a fine hand, and Mexico City is photogenic on many levels. Rachel Ticotin (seen all too rarely) and Giancarlo Giannini provide some nice support in minor roles.
- 92 in the Shade (auth./dir. Thomas McGuane): This movie was fun in 1975, which is the first and last time I saw it. Does it hold up as well as McGuane’s writing? Someone let me know.
- Out of Sight (auth. Elmore Leonard, dir. Stephen Soderberg): Does justice to Leonard’s finely tuned humor. The castGeorge Clooney. Jennifer Lopez, Ving Rhames, Albert Brooks, Don Cheadle, and Dennis Farinaare pitch-perfect.
- Catch-22 (auth. Joseph Heller, dir. Mike Nichols): My first contemporaneous viewing left me underwhelmed but subsequent auditions have raised the valence of this film with its all-star cast of Orson Welles, Alan Arkin, Jon Voigt, Richard Benjamin, Charles Grodin, and Art Garfunkel.
- The Unbearable Lightness of Being (auth. Milan Kundera, dir. Phillip Kaufman): Juliet Binoche, Lena Olin, and Daniel Day-Lewis try to live in Soviet-violated Czechoslovakia. It’s a pathetic existence but all too real.
- One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (auth. Ken Kesey, dir. Milos Forman): Kesey’s novel was perfect anti-authoritarian elixir. And what’s to be said about Jack Nicholson? Will Sampson does a nice turn as the big, quiet Chief Bromden.
- Before Night Falls (auth. Reinaldo Arenas, dir. Julian Schnabel): Everything about this film of Cuban writer Arenas’s memoir is perfectcasting, montage, music, lightingI mean perfect. Javier Bardem is amazing: His credence as a gay poet in revolutionary Cuba is off any scale of measurement. Perfect.
- No Country for Old Men (auth. Cormac McCarthy, dir. Joel and Ethan Coen): An outstanding drama with Tommy Lee Jones and Javier Badem. No doubt you’ve heard of it.
- The Constant Gardener (auth. John le Carré, dir. Fernando Meirelles): Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz stumble into sleazy, globalized, racist exploitation just the way le Carré wrote it, sans any preachiness.
- The English Patient (auth. Michael Ondaatje, dir. Anthony Minghella): Pretty decent movie especially since it was considered almost impossible to cinematize the narrative of Ondaatje’s novel. Of course that impossibility resides in the premise that adapting must be parroting.
- The Quiet American (auth. Graham Greene, dir. Phillip Noyce): Michael Caine delivers one of his typically delicately nuanced performances as an ageing, circa 1954 British foreign correspondent in Saigon who doesn’t want to leave and whose love for his Vietnamese mistress is a skillfully dramatized dilemmaespecially as a young Ivy League consultant played by Brendan Fraser complicates both the personal and the political.
- Spider (auth. Patrick McGrath, dir. David Cronenberg): This is a hinky, awkward story about a schizophrenic man who as a youth saw his father murder his mother. How could it not be off-center?
- In The Cut (auth. Susanna Moore, dir. Jane Campion): Moore’s novel about Manhattan homicide detectives bristled with primordial urgency. Meg Ryan woke up for this role and didn’t try to make it cute.
- The Razor’s Edge (auth. Somerset Maugham, dir. John Byrum): Rich people in Chicagoland (Lake Forest, Ill.) enter the Great War. Lives are lost. Lives change. Bill Murray plays a disillusioned American in search of himselfin Paris, India, and Nepal. This is a pretty good film with a wonderfully savvy performance by Murray.
- The 25th Hour (auth. David Benioff, dir. Spike Lee): Ed Norton and a dog dominate this Manhattan story. Brian Cox does an artful turn as a suffering father.