25 March 2021

The Movie was Better

It is a universal truth that a novel is always better than any movie made of it.  Except when it isn't.  These are rare.  There is an endless list of bad movies made of excellent books, from every freaking version of Anna Karenina, War and Peace, and other classics.  I would include The Great Gatsby, but I liked the original - I thought Redford was as opaque as Gatsby should be, Bruce Dern sufficiently rough, etc. - the only problem, as always, was Daisy.  It's my belief that the only way to make a "perfect" Gatsby would be to pull a Bunuel and have two different actresses play Daisy:  one actress for every time we see Daisy through Gatsby's eyes (romantic, beautiful, etc.) and another actress for the real, shallow Daisy everyone else knows. 

But there are a few movies that are equal to if not better than their source material.  My list:

  • The African Queen - novel by E. M. Forster, movie directed by John Huston and starring, of course, Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn.  
  • Speaking of Bogart, there's Casablanca - has anybody ever actually read the play, Everybody Comes to Rick's?  
  • The Third Man - Graham Greene wrote the novella at the same time he wrote the screenplay, but just keep watching the movie, okay? 
  • Lonesome Dove - I infinitely prefer the miniseries, with Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones, to the book.  But, to tell you a deep dark secret, I think a lot of Larry McMurtry's books make better movies than the books themselves.  Including The Last Picture Show.
  • In an opinion that could get me banned from Australia, I think the miniseries Cloudstreet is better than the book.  
  • Picnic at Hanging Rock.  Trust me.  
  • Miss Marple, as played by Joan Hickson, in Nemesis is fantastic, and the script as a whole is as close to a perfect transmutation from the page as I've ever seen.  
  • Any movie version of Ivanhoe.
  • 2001:  A Space Odyssey - pretty good sci-fi novel, iconic movie.

So, what are some of your choices?

BTW:  I would have done more of these, but my husband had a medical emergency and I've spent the last 3 days at the hospital with him.  He's back home now, for good hopefully, so… sort of back to normal.


  1. I hope your husband is feeling much better! Interesting subject. I would add to your list: The Paper Chase. The Birds is better than the short story it is based on, but that's hardly fair. A Christmas Story is better than the Jean Shepherd stories it was combined from. One note: Arthur C. Clarke co-wrote the movie 2001 with Kubrick and then wrote the novel, so it's more novelization than book-to-movie.

  2. Glad your husband is home. Hope he stays well.

    My choice is always The Princess Bride. I know people adore the book, but I barely got through it. The movie, however, is a classic.

    1. I'm going to have to shack up with someone with a television and NetFlix account if I'm ever going to see this movie!

    2. I don't have NetFlix, but I do have it on Blu-Ray. Just bring dinner. :)

  3. 2001 popped to my mind first thing. As Rob mentioned, the novel was written along side the book, but prior to that, Clarke had written a short story the others are loosely based upon.

    Bogart movies, d'accord.

    Joan Hickson IS Miss Marple, so much so I can't abide anyone else. Somewhere in St. Mary Mead she set up housekeeping with David Suchet.

    Eve, I hope you and your husband are doing well now. Stay safe.

  4. I wish your husband a speedy recovery, Eve.

    Interesting choices. The African Queen and Casablanca are among my favorite movies, but I haven't read the books. Joan Hickson is indeed a great actress in the role of Miss Marple. Her portrayal of Miss Marple in Sleeping Murder is superb, and a nice contrast to the near-hysterical Australian girl.

    Perhaps we can turn this subject around, too. Are there movies you haven't watched and will not watch, because you like the book too much? I like Tolkien's The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, but never saw the movies. I like JRR Rowlings's Harry Potter books, but shied away from the movie adaptations. I don't want my memory to be stained with film images when I reread those books. So, I stay clear of them. Perhaps I'm missing a lot of fun, but I'm more of a book lover than a film lover.

  5. Eve, here’s to your husband’s full recovery.

    I would add Midnight Cowboy and The Graduate to the list. Lifeless novels, but spectacular films.

  6. Glad to hear your husband is home, Eve. I hope things continue to go well. FWIW, the Great Gatsby film with Redford is the SECOND version. It was filmed in 1949 with Alan Ladd as Gatsby. I don't remember who else was in it, and it wasn't very true to the novel.

    I have to add Rear Window to your list. Cornell Woolrich's short story features his plodding and wooden prose, but Hitchcock saw the possibilities, and the various camera angles give the story more energy and movement. For the record, I'm not a Woolrich fan in general. I think The Bride Wore Black is overrated, too.

    Definitely agree on Ivanhoe. Walter Scott is only slightly more readable than George Eliot. I haven't looked at the film in years, but how about They Shoot Horses, Don't They? The book was amazing, though, so my memory may be unreliable here. It often is now...

  7. Thank you everyone! Josh, I totally agree about both Midnight Cowboy and The Graduate. And Rob, you're right about A Christmas Story.
    Anne, the first thing that leaped to mind of a miniseries I started but refused to finish was Lark Rise to Candleford - the book was / is infinitely better. And I absolutely refused to watch Cranford, even with Judi Dench in it. The book is sacred to me.

  8. Love this stuff. I would add L.A. Confidential, Dances with Wolves, and Forrest Gump to the "movies were better" list. In the "as good as" category might be The Silence of the Lambs and Jurassic Park.

    Best to your husband, Eve.

  9. Good list!

    I would add The Last of the Mohicans, which turns the most boring "adventure" series ever written into a thrilling and riveting film.

  10. Kiti and I wish you and Alan the best.

  11. As usual, Great Job Eve. Thank you for all your help the last 3 days. I certainly married the right person. I really liked what Karen in Ohio said and I totally agree with her. I also liked what Steve said about Rear Window and They Shoot Horses, Don't They? Thank all of you for the good wishes.

  12. The movie version of the kids' book Harriet the Spy, starring Rosie O'Donnell, is dreadful, but the book is fantastic.

    Thank you for the article Eve, & glad you're feeling better Allan. Stay well.

  13. Eve I hope both you and your husband are relaxing and feeling wonderful! I will add the movie "The Thin Man" to the list. Hammett's novel has some padding, including a chapter where Nick Charles literally pulls a book off a shelf and reads an entry on cannibalism! Also, the book is a bit downbeat while the movie is wonderfully funny.


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