The Hollywood Happy Ending

         America takes Hollywood for granted. Our nation of film makers and actors has created some of the most beautiful, meaningful, and thought-provoking pieces of cinema that the world has ever seen. Of course, there will always be movies and stage plays that bomb; but, on the whole, the American film industry has had success in churning out interesting, profitable movies and screen adaptations of written works.

         The novels, novellas and plays that we have covered in class all have their high points and their low points. For example, Eliza Doolittle finally saying, "The rain in Spain stays mainly on the plain" was certainly a high point of George Bernard Shaw's 1913 Pygmalion. Alternately, when Miles finally relents to the ghost of Peter Quint in Henry James's 1898 The Turn of the Screw, the tragic novella has its low point. It is in this respect that these written works imitate the uncertainty of life; by relating to these uncertainties, the reader gets maximum enjoyment out of the written medium. Hollywood has recreated many novels, novellas, and plays into screen adaptations. Some of them work; and some of then do not; but one thing is for certain; the vast majority have a happy Hollywood ending.

         If any one of the authors whose works we have read were to meet the film makers or actors who had adapted his/her work, the major gripe from the author would be about the happy endings. Let us first start with Emily Brontë's 1847 Wuthering Heights. William Wyler's 1839 screen adaptation is close to the original intent of Brontë. Brontë would be pleased; but the producer, Samuel Goldwyn, saw fit to add the very last scene of Heathcliff and Cathy (ghost acted for Laurence Oliver and Merle Oberon) walking side by side up to the clouds--presumably to Heaven. There was nothing in Brontë's novel that suggested such a scene, yet Hollywood saw it fit to embellish the ending to please those 1939 viewers of the film.

         Another example can be found in Shaw's Pygmalion. At the end of the play, Eliza Doolittle leaves Henry Higgins. Shaw leaves no implications of whether or not Eliza will return because the relationship of Henry and Eliza is not suppose to be the main focus of the book. George Bernard Shaw wrote Pygmalion as a way of pointing out the fallacies of society; but, in the musical My Fair Lady, written in 1956 by Frederick Lowe and Alan Lerner and directed as a movie in 1964 by George Cukor, Eliza (Audrey Hepburn) returns to Henry (Rex Harrison); and the viewer is left with the implication that Eliza will "do-little" to leave (no pun intended).

         I think that, if Shaw were to meet Loewe and Lerner, his major criticism would be directed towards the happy ending and why Hollywood felt again that it was necessary. Certainly, life does not always have a happy endings; and personally, I do not think that Shaw intended this play to have one. He wrote Pygmalion to try and cause a change in those that read it, but a satisfying ending is not going to make those readers question themselves and society. Aside from the above, I feel that Shaw would be pleased with My Fair Lady. Rex Harrison and Audrey Hepburn did a very successful job in portraying the characters that Shaw set out to create. The musical was still instrumental in "ridiculing the false values of society," as can be seen in the opulent horse-racing scene.

         The reaction of Hollywood (which is represented by the directors and actors motioned above) should be one of understanding--although it is most likely not always concluded with a happy ending, and presenting the idea that is it is not necessarily the intent of the author.

         The one movie that most faithfully sticks to its original written work is Jack Clayton's 1961 The Innocents. Henry James, who wrote the 1898 novella, The Turn of the Screw, on which the movie is based, should have nothing but praise for Clayton's adaptation. Even after seeing the movie, I still am unsure as to whether no the ghosts really exist.

         All in all, the screen adaptations are effective in recreating the magic written on paper; but the unrealistic Hollywood endings leave a sour taste in the mouths of viewers like myself and the authors of the books from whom the movies were created. This is especially so because the ending of a movie is what leaves the biggest impression upon the viewer.

Jeff Hampton

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