10 novels that successfully transition from page to screen
Published: Friday, April 29, 2011 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, April 28, 2011 at 7:49 p.m.
In Hollywood, movies made from classic books are like a fresh sheet of bubble wrap or a bowl of ice cream that beckons at midnight: irresistible.
The latest is a new take of “Jane Eyre,” which opens in Gainesville and Ocala theaters today.
Not every page-to-screen venture is successful. The 1995 version of “The Scarlet Letter,” starring Demi Moore, left behind a stench so foul that noses still wrinkle involuntarily upon recollection.
Still, at least you know they're starting with good material.
These 10 literary leaps hit the mark and may even make you want to go read or reread the books afterward.
‘All the King's Men' (1949)
Willie Stark (Broderick Crawford) starts as a candidate for county treasurer railing against shady dealings. Though he loses that race, he becomes a local hero and eventually makes it all the way to the governor's mansion. As his power grows, he turns into the kind of man he once stood on the corner warning people about.
When Emma (Gwyneth Paltrow) decides to play matchmaker to her friend Harriet (Toni Collette), she has the aim of an archer who has been blindfolded and spun around. When she's not making a mess of that, Emma is matching wits with the handsome, clear-headed Mr. Knightley (Jeremy Northam). Paltrow has a light comedic touch and is perfectly cast as Jane Austen's central character.
‘Grapes of Wrath' (1940)
Tom Joad (Henry Fonda) gets out of prison just in time to find out that his family has been forced off their land in Oklahoma and is heading to California to chase an offer to pick fruit. After a rough journey West, they find more people than jobs and a system stacked against them. This film, like the book, is a treasure.
‘Lord of the Flies' (1963)
When a plane crashes on a deserted island, a group of boys must fend for themselves. Eventually the boys divide into two camps. Some stick with Ralph (James Aubrey), a sensible boy who was initially elected chief. Others go with Jack, who is wild but knows how to hunt and promises protection. As the tension builds between the two tribes, order completely breaks down. Perhaps the most unsettling thing about this movie is how much of society you can recognize in it.
‘Nicholas Nickleby' (2002)
When Nicholas (Charlie Hunnam) loses his father at 19, he goes with his mother and younger sister to ask his uncle (Christopher Plummer) for help. Ralph Nickleby offers anything but, sending Nicholas to teach at a nightmarish boys home. Nicholas helps a crippled boy named Smike (Jamie Bell), rushes in to defend his sister's honor when needed, and goes toe to toe with his dastardly uncle. Nicholas is a gentleman in both name and deed.
‘Of Mice and Men' (1939)
George (Burgess Meredith, Rocky's future trainer) and his slow but strong travel companion Lennie (Lon Chaney Jr.) have just escaped one fine mess and are looking to start over at a ranch. They do their best to sidestep Curley, the boss's jealous son, and his young wife, a whole other form of trouble, while dreaming of having their own place. Other film versions of John Steinbeck's novel have followed, but this one, made not long after it was written, offers something that can never fully be recreated: a snapshot of the period.
'Sense and Sensibility' (1995)
Sisters Elinor (Emma Thompson) and Marianne (Kate Winslet) approach life differently: one with passion and abandon, the other with reserve and practicality. Elinor forms a connection with the kind Edward (Hugh Grant) while Marianne sets her heart on the irreverent Mr. Willoughby (Greg Wise). Both sisters encounter some unwelcome shocks and joys along the way. Thompson's Oscar-winning screenplay really does Jane Austen proud.
'The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter' (1968)
When Mr. Singer (Alan Arkin), who is deaf and mute, moves to a new town, he ends up changing the lives of everyone around him. From Dr. Copeland (Percy Rodrigues), a proud black doctor, to Mick (Sondra Locke), a girl who loves music but isn't given the chance to fulfill her dreams, everyone comes to confide in Mr. Singer, yet no one really knows the pain in his own life.
'To Kill a Mockingbird' (1962)
Who hasn't wished for a father like Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck)? Or wondered what it would be like to be his children Jem and Scout and have a mysterious neighbor like Boo Radley? It's impossible to think of Harper Lee's Atticus, a good man who defends a black man falsely accused of raping a white woman, without picturing Peck. The two are forever intertwined. All these years later, the lessons Atticus imparts still ring true.
'The Yearling' (1946)
All young Jody (Claude Jarman Jr.) wants is a pet of his own, and he has plenty to choose from since his family has carved out an existence in the backwoods of Florida. He gets his wish when his father, Penny (Gregory Peck), lets him have a fawn he names Flag. But with that pet comes a hard lesson and a lot of growing up.
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