Film & Stage Adaptations of Classic Novels

How Gentleman’s Agreement (1947 film) Smashed Hollywood Taboos

When Darryl Zanuck was considering making Laura Z. Hobson’s 1947 best-seller about “genteel” anti-Semitism, Gentleman’s Agreement, he faced a common dilemma: At the time, there were significant number of powerful Jews in Hollywood. As studio heads, they were reluctant to plead for Jewish causes. They even avoided the topic of what had happened with the genocide of European Jews, before, during, and just after the war. Serious social issues were generally avoided because they weren’t good box office business. In tough times, especially, audiences wanted an escape.

Zanuck wasn’t Jewish, but he found the book compelling. Though it was thought-provoking, it managed to avoid making readers too uncomfortable. Coming out right on the heels of the book, the film also managed to straddle entertainment and enlightenment. In an in-depth 2017 article on the film, the year in which it celebrated its 70th anniversary, Saul Austerlitz wrote, “it was a strange mix of daring and cowardice.” 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 anti-Semitism in post-World War II New York City and environs.

Though it showed only a narrow slice of “upper crust” anti-Semitism, 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. Though the film seems tame by today’s standards, it smashed Hollywood taboos by dealing with the topic of anti-Semitism. Read More→

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My Brilliant Career (1979 film)

The 1979 movie My Brilliant Career  was largely true to the first novel of the same name by Australian author Miles Franklin. It was published in 1901, when the author was just 18. The novel’s protagonist, Sybilla Melvyn, is a headstrong, creative young woman who fights convention, wishing to assert her independence and become a writer. Starring Judy Davis and Sam Neill, and directed by Gillian Armstrong, the film enjoyed positive reviews and won a number of awards. Here is one such review that appeared after its American release.

From the original review in the Chatham Press (NJ), July, 1980 by Miriam Congdon: My Brilliant Career is a beautifully crafted and poignant Australian film with deft touches of humor. The “career” in the title belongs to a high-spirited, independent girl of perhaps 16. Sybilla longs to be a pianist, or an artist, or a writer — anything creative. Read More→

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National Velvet (1944 Film) Comes to the Big Screen

From the original 1944 review by Jack O’Brien, AP Drama Editor: The new MGM film, “National Velvet,” is enchantingly reminiscent of “Lassie Come Home.” Like the latter, it concerns an animal —  this time a racehorse. Unlike it, however, the principal role is not the animal’s. A little girl, Elizabeth Taylor, wraps up the picture and walks away with it right under the nose of a great film larcenist, Mickey Rooney.

“National Velvet” is an adaptation of the novel of the same name by Enid BagnoldThe theme is simple: a young girl acquires a horse and eventually enters it in the Grand National Sweepstakes. Read More→

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Mr. Skeffington (1944 film)

Elizabeth von Arnim went by various pen names throughout her career, perhaps explaining why her reputation wasn’t quite as cemented in her lifetime as was that of some of her contemporaries. A writer of incision and great wit, two of her novels became well-known films. The first was Mr. Skeffington (1940). Much later, The Enchanted April (1922) was adapted into the 1991 film Enchanted April .

Here is a review of the Americanized and significantly altered  1944 film version of Mr. Skeffington starring Bette Davis and Claude Rains.

Bette Davis in Leading Role in ‘Mr. Skeffington’

From the original review in the Muscatine Journal, November, 1944: Bette Davis appears in the role of Fanny Trellis, incredibly vain and incredibly beautiful in Warner Brothers’ offering, “Mr. Skeffington. Read More→

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