From Page to Screen
Is it just me, or does almost every critically acclaimed new movie seem to be based on a book? A Man Called Otto (based on Fredrik Backman’s A Man Called Ove), Women Talking (based on Miriam Toews’ novel of the same name), and Where the Crawdads Sing (based on the bestseller by Delia Owens) are just three recent examples, all shown to rapturous receptions at the Bronxville Picture House. In fact, this widespread adaptation of literary works is a long-standing tradition in Hollywood, making any attempt to select the best of the bunch a fool’s errand if ever there was one. But we’ll accept the challenge nonetheless, offering here, in chronological order, six of our all-time favorites, every of them based on authentically good, if not great, books:
- Strangers on a Train (1952). Based on one of Patricia Highsmith’s most unforgettable thrillers, this tale of would-be murderers meeting on a train and making a diabolical pact to dispose of one another’s victims is gripping from start to finish, just as one would expect from the master of suspense Alfred Hitchcock.
- To Kill a Mockingbird (1962). Harper Lee’s classic, still read by millions of school kids every year, was adapted into a genuine film classic, starring Gregory Peck in perhaps his finest role as attorney and father Atticus Finch struggling with the racism of his small southern town while attempting to raise his two children.
- The Godfather (1972). A classic book—and bestseller—by Mario Puzo was adapted by Francis Ford Coppola into perhaps the greatest movie of all time, with Marlon Brando and Al Pacino bringing Mafia kingpins Don Corleone and his son, Michael, to vivid life on the silver screen. When Puzo and Coppola collaborated on new material stretching both backward and forward in time to produce Godfather Part II (1974), with Robert DeNiro as the young Don Corleone, the series moved from simply great to positively iconic.
- One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975). Ken Kesey’s novel about brutality and cruelty inside a mental hospital became an Academy Award-winning movie—the film took all five major awards: best picture, best actor, best actress, best director, and best screenplay)—with Jack Nicholson simply irresistible as rebel Randle McMurphy facing off against sadistic Nurse Ratched, played by Louise Fletcher.
- Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001). We could have named any one of the eight movies in the blockbuster series based on the hugely popular books by J.K. Rowling—each has its own fans—but all of them share a wonderful cast led by Daniel Radcliffe as Harry, and Rupert Grint and Emma Watson as his two beloved friends at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry under the watchful eye of headmaster Albus Dumbledore (Richard Harris, then Michael Gambon) and gruff but lovable Rubeus Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane). Audiences of all ages were enchanted.
- Little Women (2019). The nineteenth-century classic by Louisa May Alcott has been adapted many times, but never more effectively than by screenwriter and director Greta Gerwig, who assembled a stellar cast led by Saoirse Ronan as Jo March, one of four sisters growing up in Concord, Massachusetts before and after the Civil War. The film was widely praised for its winning ensemble and received six Academy Award nominations, including Ronan’s nomination as best actress.
We are fully aware that these six films represent but a tiny fraction of the wonderful Hollywood adaptations of classic books, so in hopes of saving ourselves from outraged fans of other fine literary-based movies, here is our list of extremely worthy honorable mentions: Frankenstein (1931), The Wizard of Oz (1939), The Grapes of Wrath (1940), Great Expectations (1946), The Silence of the Lambs (1991), Schindler’s List (1993), The Shawshank Redemption (1994), The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999), The Lord of the Rings (2001–2003), No Country for Old Men (2007), and Atonement (2007).
One final, entirely self-serving, note: If you find yourself curious about any of the wonderful books that were source material for these terrific films, come on by Womrath Bookshop and pick up a copy or two. Happy reading! Happy viewing!
Morin Bishop, Womrath Bookshop