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Is the Movie Better (Sometimes) Than the Book? You Be the Judge.

June 26th, 2013
Judith · Staff Recommendations

Going to the Movies has been a popular American past time for over 100 years. However, the Westchester Library System only began to circulate movies as video tapes in the mid 1980s. Movies, both video tapes, DVDs and Blu-rays are now an integral part of the Westchester Library System’s collection and consequently the Harrison Public Library’s collection.

Many of the most popular movies are based on popular books both contemporary fiction and historical fiction. Also if a well-known book such as The Great Gatsby has been made into a movie such as the recent movie version by Baz Luhrmann, people often take the book out before going to the movie.

For my Bibliography I have decided to write about Historical Fiction and movies made from specific titles. I shall begin with the TIME both the book and movie take place and NOT when the book was written or when the movie was produced.

The Other Boleyn Girl (2008) is based on the book with the same name by Philippa Gregory. Did Henry VIII the much married English monarch have an affair with Anne Boleyn’s sister? According to both the movie and the book, he did have an affair with Mary Boleyn. However, the only thing we truly know is that Mary Boleyn was the only Boleyn sibling to die in bed. Her sister Queen Anne Boleyn was beheaded for alleged adultery with her own brother among other men but Anne had the last laugh; her daughter Elizabeth became England’s greatest queen but Mary saved her head. Both Scarlett Johansson who played Mary Boleyn and Natalie Portman who played Anne Boleyn are very convincing as sisters fighting for the attention of the same man.

The Girl with a Pearl Earring (2003) is truly an exquisite rendering of the book with the same name by Tracy Chevalier. The viewer is practically transported back in time to the middle of the 1600’s to the house of the painter Johannes Vermeer and the circumstances that led a kitchen maid to pose for one of Vermeer’s most famous paintings. Scarlett Johansson portrayed the maid while Colin Firth portrayed the painter. The Girl with a Pearl Earring is a beautiful production not just for the excellent acting but also for the beautiful exterior and interior scenes. The viewer is almost part of a Vermeer painting.

Forever Amber (1947) is based on the book with the same name by Kathleen Winsor. The book Forever Amber was considered quite risque when it was published in 1944. It is the story of Amber St. Claire who literally slept her way to become one of the many mistresses of Charles 11 of England, also known as The Merry Monarch. The book was well researched and actually is a good introduction to English History in the middle and late 1600’s. The movie is interesting but it is a tame version of the book. However, it does cover the main plot of the book. Linda Darnell played Amber.

Drums Along the Mohawk (1939) is based on the bookwith the same name by Walter D. Edmonds. The movie richly captures the flavor of Colonial Life in the Mohawk Valley of upstate New York during the American Revolution. Because the book is so long with so many different characters the movie Drums Along the Mohawk is almost a synopsis of the book. Many characters from the book are not in the movie and unlike the movie, the book Drums Along the Mohawkis mildly sympathetic to the Loyalist or Tories (those people who stayed loyal to the Crown during the American Revolution). I think Drums Along the Mohawk would do very well as a mini-series. Henry Fonda and Claudette Colbert are the main actors.

Gettysburg (1993)is based the book The Killer Angelsby Michael Shaara. The Killer Angels was published in 1974 and it was written by Michael Shaara after he and his family visited the Gettysburg battle ground in the early 1970’s. The Killer Angels is considered one of the best novels about the American Civil War and it won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1975. The Killer Angelsreveals almost more about the Battle of Gettysburg than most non-fiction books and it is easier to read than most non-fiction books on the Civil War. The movie Gettysburg is almost four hours long but it is well worth it. The viewer is transported back in time to July 1863 to the little town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania where the terrible and bloody battle was fought over a period of three days. What is especially impressive about Gettysburgis how much the actors looked just like the real people they were portraying. Thus Tom Berenger who played Confederate General James Longstreet was made just to look like James Longstreet while Jeff Daniels looked just like Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain of the 20th Maine whose actions helped the Union win the Battle of Gettysburg.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945) is based on the bookwith the same name by Betty Smith and it was directed by Elia Kazan.A Tree Grows in Brooklyn starred Dorthy McGuire, James Dunn (who won an Academy Award) and Peggy Ann Garner (who received a special award for children actors). Peggy Ann Garner played the sensitive Francine Nolan the daughter of the practical and hardworking Katie Nolan (the daughter of Austrian immigrants) while James Dunn played Johnny Nolan the charming but impractical son of Irish immigrants. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is an excellent film and it is an excellent portrayal of life in a Brooklyn tenement in the early 20th Century. However, the filmA Tree Grows in Brooklyn only covers about half the book. In the book A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Francine grows up and plans to attend the University of Michigan. Still the film is very good and perhaps, Elia Kazan wanted to concentrate on the best parts of the book.

The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) is based on the book The Bridge Over the River Kwai written by Pierre Boulle in 1954 and it was translated into English by Xan Fielding. It is perhaps ironic that one of the greatest novels about the British during the Second World War was written by a Frenchman who did not speak much English but Pierre Boulee who had worked on a rubber plantation in Malaya during the 1930’s decribed the British character very well indeed. While the movie followed the book fairly well certain things were changed. For example, the character William Holden played was an English cavalry officer not an American sailor and there were no pretty English nurses in the book. Alec Guinness played the English colonel who helped build the bridge as a morale exercise while William Holden and Jack Hawkins plotted to destroy the bridge. The movie ends with the destruction of the bridge over the Kwai River and we are left wondering whether Alec Guinness actually tried to detonate the explosives before he was killed. Sessue Jayakaw is excellent as the Japanese colonel trying to understand those mysterious British.

In conclusion: is the movie better (sometimes) than the book? You be the judge.


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