Changing Literature to Appease Cinematic Audiences

     Many times the screenwriters or director decides to change certain elements of literary work to make the film more liked by viewers. Sometimes the changes are very subtle, but most of the time the changes are drastic, particularly the ending.

     The 1913 play Pygmalion, by George Bernard Shaw, poses the question of whether the two main characters should remain together at the end. The play is purposely ambiguous; however, when planning and making the film version of Pygmalion, the producer, Gabriel Pascal, and the directors, Anthony Asquith and Leslie Howard, who also starred in the role of Henry Higgins, have the couple, Eliza and Higgins remain together at the end. She returns, and he simply asks, "Eliza, where the devil are my slippers?" The audience could infer that she just wanted to make amends after their agreement, but mostly people assume Eliza (Wendy Hiller) and Higgins have decided they were meant to be together. The same thing happened in the 1964 musical cinematic version, My Fair Lady, directed by George Cukor and starring Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison, and based on Alan J. Lerner and Frederick Loewe's 1956 musical play.

     Another film where the ending was changed was A Streetcar Named Desire, directed in 1951 by Elia Kazan. In the original 1947 play by Tennesssee Williams, Stella sends her sister away to an asylum; and the scene ends with her holding her baby sitting on her front steps, crying hysterically, while her husband, Stanley, comforts her. Stanley's character in the play was a loud, abusive man who eventually drove Stella's sister, Blanche, crazy by raping her. Because of this, the people in charge of the film version, starring Marlon Brando, decided Stella should not stay with Stanley. The final scene shows Stella, played by Kin Hunter, on the front steps, holding her baby, asserting that they will not ever come back, as Stanley screams in the background. This has no real effect because I think the audience would infer that Stella was finally fed up with Stanley and would want to leave him, but the directors did not even want to entertain the notion that Stella would stay.

     Sometimes the ending of film is so drastic that the audience truly wished the author had originally intended it that way. In the 1880 book, Washington Square, by Henry James, Catherine is approached by her once-abandoning fiancé, and he asks her to love him again. She explains to him very politely that she does not want to see him again and asks him not even to come back. He leaves angry. William Wyler, the director of the 1949 film version The Heiress, based on Ruth and Augustus Goetz's 1947 play, agreed with the playwrights that Catherine's fiancé needed to be punished a bit more. The Heiress ends with Catherine (Olivia de Havilland) telling Morris (Montgomery Clift) that she will run away with him, as they had planned, and asks him to pick her up at midnight. However, when Morris arrives, she tells her maid, Maria (Vanessa Brown), to bolt the door. The scene ends with Morris screaming her name and beating on the door as she strides triumphantly up the long staircase.

     Sometimes a change enhances a story, and sometimes it ruins it. This is a cycle that has originated from the very beginning of the motion picture industry. Directors should us more discretion before taking a piece of literary art and changing things.

Brandi Williams

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