“And I’m not crazy about yours. I didn’t ask to see you. I don’t mind if you don’t like my manners, I don’t like them myself. They are pretty bad. I grieve over them on long winter evenings”
– Philip Marlowe, in the movie The Big Sleep –
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Not long ago Get Shorty, a movie from 1995 happened to be on TV. I really like John Travolta as the lead character, Chili Palmer. It’s a fun movie and it’s one that got me interested in reading the book on which it was based.
Beyond the entertainment books and films provide, I’ve come to believe most men don’t realize how ‘stories’ affect them. We aren’t very good at self-evaluation, so part of our love of movies and books, maybe even subconsciously, is the idea that stories and characters help us process our feelings.
The obvious advantage a movie has over a book is that you enjoy the story in a compact two hours, often with stunning visuals. The advantage of a novel is the detail that’s laid out on the page. With a book the use of the imagination fills in and adds to the experience. And there’s the extended pleasure that a good book provides as it’s enjoyed over a longer period of time.
So often you hear people say, “The book was so much better than the movie.” In many instances I guess that’s true. Taking a look at the the movies I’ve seen based on books, I thought I would see which side I landed on when it came to the 30 or so movies and books I’ve both seen and read. In my case, because I’m such a big fan of the cinema, in most instances I’ve seen the movie before I gave any thought to reading the book.
There are a few ‘classics’ where I would most definitely say the book was better. Jules Verne’s The Mysterious Island is a favorite book of mine. Captain Cyrus Harding is an awesome fictional character. One of my all time favorites. The 1961 movie is only loosely based on the book. Although I have fond childhood memories of many Saturday afternoon viewings on TV, the film doesn’t hold up to the book.
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson is another great classic. The two film versions I remember seeing include the 1934 version with Wallace Beery and Jackie Cooper which is excellent. The other, Disney’s 1950 version was pretty good too. Both movies are worthy contenders but the book is just terrific and easily comes out on top.
I surprised myself by how much I enjoyed Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (the book). Surprised because as a guy, I considered it the literary version of the ultimate ‘chick flick’ (I blogged about it here). My wife was happy that I sat down with her to watch the 2005 film starring Keira Knightley. The movie was fine, most definitely a chick flick. Still, the book is excellent – far better than the film.
The Big Sleep (1946) is such an amazing movie. It’s number 26 on my Top 40 All Time Favorite movies (the post about the list is here). Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall are terrific together. And Bogart is perfect as Philip Marlowe in this screen version of the Raymond Chandler novel. Also, I was pleasantly surprised by how closely the movie followed the book. It isn’t easy to pick between the book and movie in this case but because of how perfect Bogart and Bacall are, I might lean just a bit towards the film.
Universal Studio’s Classic Horror film Frankenstein (1931) is the one monster movie I most “fondly” remember from childhood. It gave me countless nightmares as a kid. When I read Mary Shelley’s book a few years back I was actually a little disappointed. Boris Karloff will always be the Frankenstein monster in my eyes. The movie easily wins as far as I’m concerned.
The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett is such a good book. In the 1934 film William Powell and Myrna Loy are wonderful as Nick and Nora Charles. It’s been a while since I’ve seen the movie. I’d have to see and read them again to make a decision, so for now that’s a toss-up.
Is it a bad thing that I can’t help but picture the actor or actress that played a character in the movie when I read the book? Such was the case when reading Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. Oskar Werner as the Firemen, Guy Montag and Julie Christie as Clarisse seem to be pretty good casting. Still the book is better.
Again, how can anyone read Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird and not think of Gregory Peck when picturing Atticus Finch in their mind. I did see a play based on the story about a year or so ago but haven’t read the book or seen the movie for 20 years or more. Both are great. So which do I like better? I’d have to check them both out again.
Get Shorty, the 1995 film I referred to at the beginning of this post, is excellent. But I have to admit that picturing John Travolta as Chili Palmer while reading the book, I think contributed to my enjoyment even more. So I would have to say, with a little help from Travolta, Elmore Leonard’s book is better.
Also mentioned at the beginning of this post I said how much I feel stories impact men. More than once on my blog I’ve referenced an excellent post a year or two back on Victoria Dougherty’s “Cold” blog. Her “10 Reasons Why Men Must Start Reading Fiction Again” is superb. She speaks of how men used to read, especially fiction, but not so much any more. Victoria says, “The difference between fiction and non-fiction is the difference between learning morals and learning manners. One will get you through a dinner party and the other will get you through life.” She goes on to say, “The novel has been an unfailing aid in [a man’s] evolution – in learning to love, becoming a husband and a father, being a friend. Doing what is right and understanding the consequences of shirking his morals and ethics.”
Victoria puts it so well I don’t have much else to say at the moment. I’ll end with just saying I have always found encouragement and inspiration in the characters and stories we find in books and movies. I’ll look at a few more in my next post. This one touched mostly on film 50 to 75 years old. I thought I’d split it up and in my next post cover ones a bit more recent, like the last 50 years.
Till then . . .
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Sam: It’s like in the great stories Mr. Frodo, the ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were, and sometimes you didn’t want to know the end because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end it’s only a passing thing this shadow, even darkness must pass. A new day will come, and when the sun shines it’ll shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you, that meant something even if you were too small to understand why. But I think Mr. Frodo, I do understand, I know now folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going because they were holding on to something.
Frodo: What are we holding onto, Sam?
Sam: That there’s some good in the world, Mr. Frodo, and it’s worth fighting for.