†††††††† In an age where, thanks to the Internet, it is easy for practically anyone to be a film critic, we should not lose sight of the main purpose of a movie. That purpose is to entertain. So many popular movies today get slammed by so-called film critics yet continue to rake in hundreds of millions of dollars at the box office. That being said, I also think that film adaptations of novels and plays, such as the ones viewed in this class, should not stray so far away from the essence of the original work that the viewer is left sorry he or she had ever watched the film.
†††††††† The 1961 film The Innocents, directed by Jack Clayton, is an example of a film that strays too far away from the original work. In Henry James's 1898 novella, The Turn of the Screw, the reader is presented with questions that he or she constantly thinks about throughout the book. Are the ghosts real or not? James does not spoonfeed the reader with an answer to this question. One can make perfectly valid arguments for and against the existence of the ghosts. The fact that it is left up to the reader to decide is what makes The Turn of the Screw a classic work.
†††††††† Clayton's The Innocents, however, leaves too little to the audience's imagination. I was thoroughly convinced by the end of the film that the ghosts, Peter Quint (Peter Wyngarde) and Miss Jessel (Clytie Jessop), are real simply by the way in which they are presented. For instance, the governess, Miss Giddens (Deborah Kerr), hears a ghostly voice in the yard minutes after she arrives at the house. Also, how else could she have described the man she saw on the balcony with such detail before seeing an actual photograph of him? The give and take that was present in my mind while reading the book was lost in Clayton's adaptation.
†††††††† A much better adaptation from book to film is Anthony Asquith and Leslie Howard's 1938 film Pygmalion. Based on George Bernard Shaw's 1913 play Pygmalion, the film certainly keeps the audience entertained and does not stray too far from the source material. Shaw's play was never intended to be a romance with a happy ending, though the film version gives us a taste of that when Eliza (Wendy Hiller) returns to Higgins (Leslie Howard) at the end. Today's version would most likely have Eliza and Higgins embrace or kiss in the final scene, but this version give us a perfect balance. Eliza leaves the house, but then she returns. Howard's Higgins gives the viewer a sense that he is happy to see Eliza by his facial expressions and body language. But, in the final line of the movie, he still keeps true to Shaw's version of Higgins. "Where the devil are my slippers?" is a perfect ending to, in my opinion, a perfect film adaptation.
†††††††† The 1964 film My Fair Lady, directed by George Cukor, is another film adaptation of Shaw's play that is a good adaptation, though in a different way. I have not been shy in writing about my dislike of musicals in general and of My Fair Lady in particular. But Cukor's film does succeed in what I think is the main function of a movie: to entertain. The movie is a huge production and has obviously been entertaining audiences for the past forty-one years. The film, actually based on Alan J. Lerner and Frederick Loewe's 1956 play of the same title, is full of witty dialogue and bright performances by all the actors. Upon thinking about this movie, I am reminded of the telephone game that most of us have played at one time or another. One person starts by telling someone a story. Then that person tells the story to the next person and so on down the line. By the time the last person in line tells his version of the story, it is quite different than the original. Cukor's My Fair Lady is based on Lerner's play, which was based on Shaw's book. Throw in an hour's worth of original musical numbers, and you get the film My Fair Lady.
†††††††† All in all, I think most of the films in this class were entertaining in one way or another. Some plays, such as Pygmalion and My Fair Lady work well when adapted to film. Some, such as The Innocents do not do the original work justice. Maybe we should read a few reviews before spending twenty dollars going to the movies to see the next film adaptation of our favorite book.