Film & Stage Adaptations of Classic Novels

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 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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Biopic Films Inspired by Women Authors’ Lives

Lots of films have been made from novels by the classic women authors on this site, as you’ll see by linking to this site’s Filmography. But there are also a number of biopic films inspired by the lives of women authors themselves. Some take more literary license than others, but most can at least be an introduction to the author, her life and work:

Julia –  (1971) – Based on the experiences of playwright Lillian Hellman. As a friend of the titled Julia, she assists her with anti-Nazi resistance work in pre-WWII Germany and Austria. Serious doubt has been cast about the veracity of this story, yet it still makes for good filmmaking.

Portrait of a Marriage (1992) – This film explores the unconventional marriage of Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson. Though devoted to one another, they were free to follow their passions. She preferred women; and Nicolson preferred men. Famously, Vita and Virginia Woolf had what has long been accepted as at least an emotional affair. Read More→

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Quiz: Who Are the Women Authors Behind These 12 Classic Films?

Lots of us know that the film version of Gone with the Wind was based on the epic novel of the same title by Margaret Mitchell, and that To Kill a Mockingbird was a faithful rendition of Harper Lee’s classic. Little Women has been the subject of a number of film versions, and most of us, at least us book nerds, know Louisa May Alcott by name quite well. Will there never be an end to filmed versions of the Brontë sisters’ novels, or those of Jane Austen?

There are many other classic films based on classic novels by women, whose titles are firmly planted in cultural history. But the connection to the authors who created them is often lost. See if you know who wrote the novels upon which these twelve classic films were based — you’ll find the answers at the very end. Read More→

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Edna Ferber’s Showboat, from Stage to Screen

Show Boat (1936) began in 1927 as a revolutionary stage musical, with music by Jerome Kern and book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II. Based on Edna Ferber’s best-selling novel of the same name, the musical follows the lives of the performers, stagehands, and dockworkers on the Cotton Blossom, a showboat on the Mississippi River, beginning in the late nineteenth century.

With themes including racial prejudice and enduring love, the musical contributed such classics as “Ol’ Man River,” “Make Believe,” and “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man” to the American songbook.

The arrival of Show Boat was a historic moment in the history of American Theater. The show was a radical departure in musical storytelling and rose above the operettas and light musicals that were in vogue at the time, and it was an equally radical concept when applied to film. Read More→

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