Film & Stage Adaptations of Classic Novels

Giant, the 1956 film based on Edna Ferber’s Epic Novel

Giant, the 1956 film, was based on the epic 1952 novel of the same title by Edna Ferber. The saga of a wealthy Texas ranching family, the film starred Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, and James Dean, with appearances by Chill Wills, Mercedes McCambridge, Carroll Baker, Jane Withers, Dennis Hopper, Sal Mineo, and Rod Taylor. Giant was notable for being James Dean’s final film performance before his tragic death in a car accident. He was nominated posthumously for an Academy Award nomination for his portrayal of Jett Rink, a poor but ambitious ranch hand

When Giant was first published, it received some harsh reviews from Southern critics. Like many of Ferber’s dramatic novels, it wove in themes of race and class. Still, it was a blockbuster bestseller, as Ferber’s books inevitably were. The film version of Giant was as big and sprawling as the book, though some of its more controversial aspects were toned down. Read More→


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Jane Eyre — 1943 film based on the novel by Charlotte Brontë

How can Charlotte Brontë’s masterwork, be crammed into a time frame of just over an hour and a half? This feat of compression was accomplished by Hollywood for the 1943 film version of Jane Eyre. To clear up any confusion, the film was released at the end of 1943 in Britain, and had its American release of February, 1944.

Nearly a quarter of the film covers young Jane’s torturous experience at the Lowood School, based on the actual place that Charlotte and her sisters attended in Yorkshire. The experience proved fatal for one of the Brontë sisters, Maria, who became gravely ill and died. That was likely the inspiration, if one can call it that, for the character of Helen Burns, one of Jane’s fellow students who becomes a dear friend. Helen is played by a young and lovely Elizabeth Taylor. She’s uncredited in the cast, but her breakthrough role would come soon after as the star of National Velvet (1944). Read More→


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Rebecca — 1940 Movie Based on the Novel by Daphne du Maurier

The 1940 movie version of Rebecca, based on Daphne du Maurier’s 1938 novel of the same name, was a psychological thriller with nod to the gothic tradition. The black-and-white film, which captured the moody, mysterious feel of the book, was the first American film by director Alfred Hitchcock. Joan Fontaine starred in the role of the naïve young woman who marries a brooding widower Maxim de Winter, portrayed by Laurence Olivier.

Rebecca, the departed first wife of de Winter, is never seen in the film, but casts a powerful shadow over the inhabitants of Manderlay castle. The suspense builds until we learn just why that is. The film was nominated for 11 Academy Awards, and won two, for Best Picture and for Cinematography. Read More→


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1939 Movie Adaptation of Wuthering Heights

The 1939 movie adaptation of Wuthering Heights, based on the novel by Emily Brontë, is considered an American film classic. Produced by Samuel Goldwyn and directed by William Wyler, the screenplay took some liberties with the original stories to streamline it into a film whose run time is less than two hours. It covers barely half of the novel’s 34 chapters, cutting out the second generation of characters.

Wuthering Heights was nominated for eight Academy Awards, but faced stiff competition that year from Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz. Despite the liberties taken with the story, the film retained the dark, brooding mood of the book, and was generally praised by critics. Read More→


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Miniseries and Film Adaptations of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

If you’re the kind of Jane Austen fan who reads Pride and Prejudice every year or two, chances are good that you’ve seen at least one of its miniseries or film adaptations. Considering the unabated reverence for this novel, it’s somewhat surprising that there haven’t been more. For many devotees, there can never be Too Much Jane.

In addition to the miniseries and film adaptations of Pride and Prejudice listed here, there was also a 1967 British TV adaptation which seems to have been lost to time. Which of these have you seen? Which do you think is most faithful to the original spirit of the novel? Read More→


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