Film & Stage Adaptations of Classic Novels

The Wedding: a Mini-series (1998)

The Wedding , a mini-series that premiered on television in 1998, speaks to the intersections of race, gender and class oppression plaguing America in the mid-1950’s. Based on Dorothy West‘s novel The Wedding,  it starred Halle Berry, Eric Thal and Lynn Whitfield. The miniseries was adapted into a screenplay by Lisa Jones and produced by Oprah Winfrey’s company, Harpo Productions.

The setting of Martha’s Vineyard shows one aspect of wealth available to the main character, Shelby Cole. This character, played by Halle Berry, has access to the privilege of being mixed-race, from an upper-middle class home life and through her relationship with Meade Hall (played by Eric Thal), a white jazz pianist and composer. Read More→

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Betty Smith’s “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” on the Screen

From the original article in The Havre Daily News, July 27, 1945:  Hailed as the perfect filming of a great best seller. Millions eagerly await film version of Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn; choice of cast provoked nation-wide interest and speculation.

With the release of the eagerly awaited 20th Century-Fox film version of Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, the best-selling book in years will — judging by unprecedented Hollywood preview acclaim — become the best-loved picture of a lifetime.

The first copy of Betty Smith’s tender and heartwarming story of the Nolans of Brooklyn had not yet rolled off the presses when 20th Century-Fox acquired the screen rights at the urging of producer Louis D. Lighton. Read More→

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Classic Films Based on Fiction by Women Authors

It’s surprising how many classic films are based on novels by women authors. Here’s just a small sampling.

Cimarron (1931) was based on the 1929 novel by Edna Ferber, starring Richard Dix and Irene Dunne. Centered on the story of the Oklahoma land rush that began in 1889, it was the first Western to have won Best Picture, and would be the last for nearly 60 years, until Dances with Wolves received the same honor. A true epic, the film was quite expensive to make and was more of a critical than commercial success. The film was remade in 1960, also titled Cimarron, and though not as well-received as the original, became better known by way of regular broadcasts on television. This is one of several films based on Edna Ferber’s works. See Giant, up ahead; others include Show Boat, Saratoga Trunk, and So Big. Read More→

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Gone With the Wind (1939 film)

The 1939 film Gone With the Wind  was a faithful adaptation of the epic novel by Margaret Mitchell. It starred Vivien Leigh, a British stage actress who turned out to be perfect for the role of complicated Scarlett O’Hara. Ms. Leigh, who was cast after scores of actresses vied for the role, won for Best Actress, as did Hattie McDaniel for her portrayal of Mammie. The perfectly cast Clark Gable (as Rhett Butler) and Olivia de Havilland (as Melanie Wilkes) were nominated but didn’t win. The film won the year’s Best Picture and Best Director, among many other award categories.

The film’s legacy has been mixed — some critics of its the time and through the years have criticized the stereotypical portrayal of blacks and romanticism of the old South and slavery. Still, it’s hard to resist the Scarlett — in all of her flawed glory — and her tumultuous relationship with Rhett. Read More→

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Gentleman’s Agreement (1947 film)

Gentleman’s Agreement is a 1947 film based on the novel of the same name by Laura Z. Hobson, who doubted any publisher would want to take it on, let alone that it would become an award-winning film. It’s the story of Philip Schuyler Green, a journalist who poses as a Jew in order to investigate antisemitism in post-World War II New York City and environs.

Though it showed only a narrow slice of “upper crust” antisemitism, the film sensitively explores the topic and is quite true to the book. Gentleman’s Agreement won Best Picture of 1947, with its director, Elia Kazan, getting the award for Best Director. Gregory Peck won for Best Actor, Dorothy Maguire for Best Actress. Read More→

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