Cinematic Adaptations of Books: Some Ramblings

While writing my review of Piccadilly Jim—and comparing it to P G Wodehouse’s book—I was struck by the fact that most of the time, when I watch a film based on a novel I’ve read, I end up feeling let down. What is it, after all, that makes it difficult to recreate the magic of a book onscreen?
No, I’m certainly not saying all cinematic adaptations of books are bad; some are very good, as you’ll see in my list of ‘Goodies’, below. But there are Baddies too, and they, to my mind, far outnumber the Goodies.

When I began thinking about this topic, the first thing that came to mind was: I’m a purist. I like my books to be retained as is even on screen.

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Gumnaam (1965)

For anybody who’s been following my idea of ‘linked posts’ – each post connected to the one before, and to the one after – this probably comes as no surprise. And Then There Were None was based on Agatha Christie’s highly popular novel and play; Gumnaam is, in turn, an adaptation of And Then There Were None. Not a completely faithful adaptation, but a vastly entertaining one, as you’ll see if you scroll through the comments on my And Then There Were None post: most of my readers, even if they’ve not seen the Hollywood film, have had something to say about Gumnaam.

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And Then There Were None (1945)

Since The Train was, all said and done (though I’m not convinced about it) a suspense film, I decided to stick to that genre for this post as well. And Then There Were None is a classic suspense film, based on Agatha Christie’s book of the same name. Christie’s book (originally titled Ten Little Niggers) is supposed to be the best-selling book of all time – 100 million copies sold to date, and with several cinematic adaptations as well.

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Witness for the Prosecution (1957)

“The trial of of Leonard Vole for the murder of Emily French aroused widespread interest. In the first place the prisoner was young and good-looking, then he was accused of a particularly dastardly crime, and there was the further interest of Romaine Heilger, the principal witness for the prosecution…” — Agatha Christie, The Witness for the Prosecution

Tyrone Power’s last full-length appearance on screen (he died while filming Solomon and Sheba a year later), Witness for the Prosecution is also one of his most famous films. Surprisingly, not mainly because of Power—his role in it, though pivotal, is actually quite small—but because of the overall brilliance of the film: the excellent acting, Billy Wilder’s direction, and a very good adaptation of one of Agatha Christie’s best-known short stories.

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