05 October 2015

Good Books and Old Movies, Part I

by Susan Rogers Cooper

I've been honored over the past few years to be asked to teach classes at Austin's Lifetime Learning Institute. This is a wonderful organization for people 55+ to take classes in just about anything and for a very nominal fee. I've taught classes on writing the mystery a couple of times, which is always fun – especially when I'm able to dazzle my students with guest speakers like Jan Grape and Joan Hess.

This semester I'm teaching a class called: “The Mystery: From Novel to Film.” We read the book, we watch the movie. And we compare and contrast. Our first book was John Buchan's “The Thirty-Nine Steps,” and, of course, we watched the Hitchcock movie version. There were a lot of differences, the main being that in the book there were no women – in the movie there were plenty. I preferred the movie myself. As did a lot of the class.

Our second movie was the William Powell and Myrna Loy version of Dashiel Hammett's “The Thin Man.” After rereading the book, I noted that the alcohol consumption was even higher in the book than in the movie, and those people could drink!

Tomorrow we watch the 1974 version of Dame Agatha's “Murder on the Orient Express,” with Albert Finney as Hercule. I'm rereading the book now and have come full circle in my appreciation of Christie's talent. She was amazing. Even knowing the ending, I'm still fascinated with how she got there.

It's going to take two classes to watch all of that very long movie, but the next, and last, movie will star two of my favorite actors in the film version of a book by one of my favorite writers: the Bogart and Bacall version of Raymond Chandler's “The Big Sleep.”

Teaching this class has given me a chance to reread some classic mysteries and re-watch some wonderful old movies. I'm already thinking about next semester and what new treasures I can share.

Any suggestions?


  1. Jeez, Susan, I wish I was in Austin so I could take your class. Some great movies and books there.

    People often say the book is better than the movie. And it often is. But not always. Sometimes the movie is actually better. And sometimes it's just different because movies are different "beast" than books and a visual medium.

    Anyway, the class sounds like great fun!

  2. How about Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice?

  3. Yes, the Cain books are amazing & quite short, which helps when teaching a class, & the movies Janice mentioned are as good or even better than the books they were based on. You might run across a movie called "The Man Who Wasn't There" ... got good reviews, but is basically a "Double Indemnity" rip-off.

  4. While not a classic mystery, the film Gone Girl impressed me by adhering remarkably well to Gillian Flynn's novel. It was only later, someone pointed out that Gillian Flynn was also the movie's screenwriter.

  5. I recently read The Silence of the Lambs. Having seen the movie several times in the past, I thought I noticed an interesting change in the sequence of events, between the book and film, so I watched the film again. Interesting to note that the senator's daughter is kidnapped a bit earlier in the film than in the book, I believe, and that the film condenses Starling's examination of the senator's daughter's bedroom, and her later examination of the first victim's bedroom, into one exam of a single location. I think an argument might be made that the film's changes increased overall tension without losing much. At any rate, such a statement might elicit a good discussion/argument in your class, should you choose to use this book-film pairing.

    Additionally, some dialogue spoken by Crawford (the FBI Behavioral Science guru) in the book, is instead spoken by the doctor who oversees Lecter's confinement. I think this has a distinct impact on the meaning of those words, and on our view of Lecter perhaps. This also might intrigue students into a good discussion.


Welcome. Please feel free to comment.

Our corporate secretary is notoriously lax when it comes to comments trapped in the spam folder. It may take Velma a few days to notice, usually after digging in a bottom drawer for a packet of seamed hose, a .38, her flask, or a cigarette.

She’s also sarcastically flip-lipped, but where else can a P.I. find a gal who can wield a candlestick phone, a typewriter, and a gat all at the same time? So bear with us, we value your comment. Once she finishes her Fatima Long Gold.

You can format HTML codes of <b>bold</b>, <i>italics</i>, and links: <a href="https://about.me/SleuthSayers">SleuthSayers</a>