Sunday, June 18, 2017

1941: Here Comes Mr. Jordan

Screenplay by Sidney Buchman and Seton I. Miller
Adapted from the play Heaven Can Wait by Harry Segall

Prizefighter Joe "The Flying Pug" Pendleton's soul is prematurely taken from his body when a messenger from heaven sees his plane about to crash and thinks there's no way he can survive. By the time the messenger's boss, Mr. Jordan, realizes that Joe is actually supposed to live for several more decades, his body has been cremated, so they must find a different body for him to inhabit.

This was a pretty faithful adaptation, apart from a few minor changes. I'm not sure why they felt the need to come up with a different title for the movie, since they're pretty much exactly the same story. Max the manager changes his last name from Levene to Corkle, and Mrs. Ames the housekeeper is replaced by Sisk the butler, but neither of these changes really affects the plot. A few scenes are added to the film that were only talked about in the play, like the plane crash and a few boxing matches, as is almost always the case when a play is adapted for the screen. The biggest changes have to do with the person whose body Joe inhabits for most of the story: Farnsworth, whose first name is Jonathan in the play and Bruce in the movie.

In both versions, the reason Joe agrees to become Farnsworth is to help Bette Logan, a young woman whose father is in jail because of a financial scheme Farnsworth orchestrated and then pinned on him. In the play, Farnsworth's plan before he died was to agree to get Mr. Logan out of jail if Bette went away with him for the weekend. Apparently that was too scandalous for the movie; in the adaptation, Farnsworth has no intention of helping her at all. Either way, Joe as Farnsworth gets her father out of jail, no questions asked. Then he decides to get Farnsworth's body "in the pink" (which is his favorite phrase) so he can be a boxer again, until Mr. Jordan tells him he can't be Farnsworth anymore. In the play, this is because Farnsworth's soul is protesting that he hates prizefighting and doesn't want to be remembered this way. In the movie, however, we never hear from Farnsworth in the afterlife; Mr. Jordan merely states that it's time for Joe to find a different body, and we're just supposed to take his word for it. This is probably the most significant change, and I'm not sure why it was necessary. Possibly the screenwriters didn't want a villain like Farnsworth to dictate what the hero did in his body. Or maybe they just wanted to shorten that part to accommodate the extra scenes they added. Regardless, the reason Joe needs to leave doesn't really alter the outcome, so on the whole, the movie is very consistent with the play.

Having watched the 1978 film Heaven Can Wait (which is significantly different from the play and original film, although still unquestionably the same story) many times, I noted that many of the changes from the play to Here Comes Mr. Jordan carried through to the remake. In the later film, the trainer's name is Max Corkle and there's a butler named Sisk instead of a housekeeper, and when Joe has to leave Farnsworth (whose first name is Leo in that version) it's just because Mr. Jordan says "it's time," not because Farnsworth had any say. So that was interesting.

Coming up next: Best Picture and Best Actress winner Mrs. Miniver, based on newspaper columns by Jan Struther, which have conveniently been compiled into a book.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

1940: The Philadelphia Story

Screenplay by Donald Ogden Stewart
Adapted from the play The Philadelphia Story by Philip Barry

Socialite Tracy Lord is about to get married for the second time when she is beset upon by a horde of unwelcome visitors, including a reporter, a photographer, her estranged father, and her ex-husband.

This was an odd experience for me because this is my most-watched movie since I started keeping track, but I had never read the play until now. I was expecting it to be kind of like Pygmalion, with the play almost identical to the film, especially since I knew that Katharine Hepburn had originated the character on Broadway and was instrumental in bringing the story to the screen. However, while the basic story and many of the lines are the same, I was astonished at how many significant changes were made in the adaptation. Due to my unquestionable bias, I think most of the changes were made for the better, but I'm sure a devotee of the play would disagree.

When I encounter other people who have seen this movie and tell them it's my favorite, oftentimes I hear the same complaint: there's too much talking, and hardly any action. While I can't disagree, after reading the play I noticed a lot more action in the film, or, if not action, at least a lot more scene changes. The play is set entirely in the Lords' house - granted, in several different rooms, but essentially it's all in one place. Compare that with the film, which, while mainly set at their house, also has scenes at a magazine office, a library, and other people's houses. The film also explores parts of the Lords' house not seen in the play, like the stables and the pool. It's not surprising from a practical standpoint that the play would have so few settings compared to the movie, but I still found it intriguing how the story was altered to accommodate these extra locations. For instance, in both versions there's a big party at Uncle Willie's house the night before the wedding. In the play, we only hear characters discussing the party afterwards, whereas in the film, we see some of what happens at the party, which flows better into what happens later. Speaking of which, the swimming pool has an important role in both versions after this party, but in the film this is foreshadowed by setting an earlier scene at the pool, which was set elsewhere in the play.

The change of settings, while interesting, was kind of to be expected. The change that really surprised me was the omission from the film of a character who figures prominently in the play: Alexander "Sandy" Lord, Tracy's brother. In both versions, Tracy has a brother named Junius, who is mentioned but never makes an appearance. In the play, her other brother Sandy is the one responsible for bringing the reporter and photographer to the house to keep their publisher from running a scandalous story about Mr. Lord. Then later Sandy comes up with the idea to write a scandalous story about the publisher so no one has to write a story about either Tracy's wedding or their father. How could a character who facilitates such crucial aspects of the plot be completely eliminated from the story, you ask? Simple: the film gives these tasks to C.K. Dexter Haven, Tracy's ex-husband. Personally, I think this was a stroke of genius, no offense to Sandy, or Philip Barry. The thing is, the play ends essentially the same way as the movie, but I feel like that ending makes way more sense if Dexter was trying to help Tracy from the beginning. We don't see Dexter very much in the play, and he's kind of under-developed. Similarly, while Sandy does a lot in the play, we don't get a very good sense of who he is either. But blending them into one character creates a new, multi-dimensional, realistic person who greatly enhances the story. I don't know how Donald Ogden Stewart came up with the rather bizarre idea of combining the brother and the ex-husband, but it works remarkably well.

Beyond this, there are a few other minor changes. Some of the lines are exactly the same, but the lines around them are different, slightly altering their meaning, which I found fascinating. Also, the play has several PG-rated swear words that were replaced with G-rated swear words in the film, which I assume was just to comply with the Hays code. Otherwise, the story and most of the characters are fairly consistent, and the inconsistencies mainly serve to make the movie stronger; thus this is the epitome of a well-adapted screenplay. But really, given how much I love this film, how could I think otherwise?

Another interesting tidbit: In 1956, The Philadelphia Story was remade into a musical called High Society, and while that version has many significant differences from the original story (it's not even set in Philadelphia, for one thing), I did notice that several lines from the play that were cut from the 1940 version made their way into the 1956 version. But there's no Sandy in the musical either.

Next up: Here Comes Mr. Jordan, based on the play Heaven Can Wait by Harry Segall. I haven't seen or read either of those, but I have seen the 1978 remake, so I'm excited to see how the original compares.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

1939: Gone with the Wind

Screenplay by Sidney Howard
Adapted from the novel Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

This Civil War/Reconstruction-era story is centered around Scarlett O'Hara, who grew up on a plantation in Georgia. Despite having all the young men in the area wrapped around her finger, Scarlett has eyes only for Ashley Wilkes, who seems to feel the same way about her but nevertheless marries his cousin Melanie, as their family expects. Resourceful and determined, Scarlett makes it through the war and reconstruction better than most of her neighbors, but even though she marries three different men and makes a small fortune for herself, she never stops longing for Ashley. Consequently, she stubbornly refuses to see what is plain to the rest of the world: she is clearly much better suited for her third husband, the roguish, practical Rhett Butler, than the honorable, daydreaming Ashley Wilkes.

This is exactly what I was talking about in my intro post when I said, "a great adaptation should capture the spirit of the original story without feeling confined by it." Given that the novel is 1,037 pages long, it's amazing to me how faithful the film is to the original story. Almost all of the major plot points remain, and the novel and the film unquestionably have the same heart. I think a lot of credit belongs to the acting, particularly Vivien Leigh's incredible Oscar-winning performance as Scarlett, which I blogged about here. In a one-second glance, Leigh conveys multi-paragraph descriptions of Scarlett's thoughts and feelings. Of course, this only goes so far, so it was still necessary to make a few cuts. In my opinion, they made the right ones.

In general, I think the changes can be divided into two categories. The first is changes to minor characters. The novel goes into significant detail about all the O'Haras' neighbors and several Atlanta families and how the war and reconstruction affected them. The film includes some of these, but often multiple characters were combined into one, and some were eliminated altogether. To be honest, I got most of them mixed up when I was reading the book, so this is no significant loss. There are enough minor county people and townspeople to further the main characters' stories and convey the widespread affects of historical events without bogging down the story too much, so the film unquestionably succeeded there. Slightly more controversial is the elimination of Scarlett's first two children. Scarlett doesn't really pay very much attention to them, so they're not crucial to the story, but there are a couple of plot points that aren't quite the same without them. In the book, Scarlett has a son before helping Melanie give birth, which means two things: Scarlett actually had some knowledge of childbirth to help her in the book, unlike in the movie in which she literally has no clue what she's doing; and there was much more urgency for Scarlett to leave Atlanta in the book, with her own child's safety to think about, which explains not only Melanie's intense gratitude that Scarlett doesn't abandon her, but also how much weight a promise to Ashley carries with Scarlett. The movie is slightly lacking without these, but it still pretty much works. Scarlett's second child really only matters in the book when she's pregnant with her, which is when she's building up her mills (in the book she has two mills, in the movie only one, but that's immaterial). In both versions, the town is scandalized that a woman, particularly one with a husband to support her, is working outside the home. In the book the scandal is heightened by the fact that she is appearing in public while obviously pregnant, which was not done at the time. This pregnancy is also what convinces Ashley to help her at the mill and is another example of Rhett going out of his way to be nice to her, but the movie is fine without this. The final minor character change is the elimination of two ragged ex-soldiers who help Scarlett after the war: one at Tara and the other in Atlanta. The movie does a good job of modifying the plot so that their characters become unnecessary, but they do have a couple of lines that were just too good to not include, and the film gives those to other characters. Interestingly, most of these lines are given to Mammy, whose shrewdness is very similar to theirs, so it works remarkably well. Mammy also absorbs the purpose of a couple of other slave characters from the book who didn't make it into the movie, so she's more important in the film than in the novel, which is definitely not a bad thing because she's one of the best characters.

The second category of changes are those that make the movie a lot cleaner than the book. Several conversations in the novel, particularly between Rhett and Scarlett, are fairly sexually explicit, if not by today's standards, at least by 1939 Hollywood's standards; thus they were unsurprisingly removed or modified. The film actually has more sexual content than one might expect for that time, but significantly less than the book. I think the biggest impact this has on the story is in the movie Rhett tells Scarlett that he loves her several times early on, so it seems kind of odd that Scarlett doesn't think that he loves her. By contrast, in the book, he doesn't say he loves her until towards the end, but he repeatedly says that he "wants" her. I guess that's what film Scarlett infers when he says "love," but it's interesting to me that they felt the need to change the word anyway. There are a few other instances of sexual content being toned down or eliminated, but the most significant cleaning up the movie does is in regards to racism. People who have only seen the film without reading the book might be surprised to know that the movie is drastically less racist than the book, since the movie is plenty racist. I think any story about the American Civil War from the perspective of the South has to be inherently racist to some degree, but it's fascinating the way the filmmakers toned it down. For instance, the book uses the N-word many times, although most of the more proper characters discourage its use, but the film doesn't use it at all. The KKK features prominently in the book, and it's portrayed as the only method of law and order protecting the women of Atlanta; the movie never mentions it by name, although it had to kind of keep it to explain how Scarlett's second husband died, but it makes that sound like a one-time raid on Shantytown rather than an organized group. The book goes on and on about how bad freedom was for the slaves who were dependent on their owners; the movie shows a couple shots of loafing black men on the streets of Atlanta, but that's about it. Overall, the movie is a lot more focused on the main characters' stories than the turmoil of the South as its society was overthrown, so it stands to reason that it would eliminate some of the long passages glorifying the South's traditions. In this way, it seems like the film had enough racism to satisfy racists, while cutting back enough to satisfy non-racist fans of the story, thereby satisfying everyone, which could partly explain the film's immense success. But that's pure speculation on my part.

At the core of both the novel and the film is a story about different types of people and how they react when their world is turned upside-down. Margaret Mitchell created a rich story full of complex and realistic characters that had the potential to transfer perfectly from the page to the screen if placed in the proper hands, and luckily, that's precisely what happened.

Stay tuned for my very favorite movie of all time, The Philadelphia Story, based on the play by Philip Barry.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

1938: Pygmalion

Screenplay by Ian Dalrymple, Cecil Lewis, W.P. Lipscomb, and George Bernard Shaw
Adapted from the play Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw

A professor of phonetics, Henry Higgins, claims that he can pass a common flower girl, Eliza Doolittle, off as a duchess in a few months by teaching her to speak properly, and then proceeds to prove it.

This is the first time that a screenplay that won this award was written by the author of the original material, although Shaw apparently had help re-writing it for the screen. Unsurprisingly, this is definitely the most faithful adaptation so far. The vast majority of the lines are word-for-word the same, although naturally a few lines are eliminated, and a couple of scenes are added. The film shows more of Higgins teaching Eliza to talk between her arrival at his house and their outing to his mother's than the play, which barely shows any. The play also jumps straight from the fiasco at Henry's mother's house, where Eliza drops a shocking b-bomb (that is, she uses the word "bloody"), to the Embassy ball; the film adds more teaching in between. While I'm sure Shaw had some profound dramatic reason for not showing this in the play, it's helpful to see more of Eliza's journey to appreciate how hard both she and Henry work to make her presentable. These scenes are completely consistent with the play, and one could easily imagine them happening off stage. Overall, despite these changes, the movie follows the play extremely closely throughout, up until the very end, which is suddenly, startlingly different.

Spoiler alert: here's how they end. Towards the end in both versions, everyone is once again at Henry's mother's house, including Eliza's father, who has just announced his forthcoming wedding. Everyone except Henry plans to attend. Henry is upset because Eliza has asserted that she's not going back to his house to keep track of his stuff and bring him his slippers like she had been doing. No, she intends to leave him and marry Freddy, a silly young man who has fallen in love with her. The play ends with Eliza and Mrs. Higgins leaving to attend Mr. Doolittle's wedding, and Henry laughing about the thought of her marrying Freddy. There is also a rather long epilogue to the play in which Shaw explains that Eliza does in fact marry Freddy and open up a flower shop with him. In the movie, however, Eliza is going to go to her father's wedding, but then Freddy shows up in a car and they drive away together. Henry storms home and starts throwing things, accidentally turning on the first record he made of Eliza's voice. He turns it off, but then she says the next line, and he looks over to see her standing there, and says, "Where the devil are my slippers?" Even though I was kind of expecting this, it still made me angry that she would go back to him after he'd treated her so abominably. Even though Freddy's kind of a doofus, I still found it refreshing for her to end up with him in the play.

Reading this play and watching this film was utterly fascinating for me, since I had done neither before this project. I knew that the musical My Fair Lady, the film version of which won Best Picture in 1964, was based on this story, but I had no idea how closely. Reading the play, I was astonished at how much of the dialogue was exactly the same as the musical. But even more fascinating was that almost everything the movie added that wasn't in the play ended up in My Fair Lady, like "The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain." And then of course the film ends exactly the way the musical does (hence I was kind of expecting it). Pygmalion is so similar to My Fair Lady that, though I knew it wasn't a musical, I still kept feeling like we were about to hear the songs in the score, and having to remind myself that they hadn't been written yet. If you've seen My Fair Lady, imagine removing the songs and replacing the Ascot part with a scene at Henry's mother's house, and that's Pygmalion. Nevertheless, it's fun to see how the story evolved slightly from play to film to musical, and I'm very glad this project gave me an appreciation of that progression.

Coming up next is the epic, 4-hour long, Best Picture-winning, Best Actress-winning Gone with the Wind! The novel by Margaret Mitchell is over 1,000 pages, so it will probably take me a while to get through it, but I'm sure it will be an easier read than Zola and His Time, so that's something.

Monday, April 17, 2017

1937: The Life of Emile Zola

Screenplay by Heinz Herald, Geza Herczeg, and Norman Reilly Raine
Adapted from the book Zola and his Time by Matthew Josephson

Emile Zola was a French author and activist who took France - and much of the rest of the world - by storm in the second half of the 19th century, first by the controversial novels he published, and later by his defense of a wrongfully imprisoned army captain.

Back in 2010 when I watched this movie for my Best Picture blog, I noted that the title was misleading, since the movie glossed over most of Zola's life and focused mainly on the Dreyfus Affair. At the time, I asserted, "But it shouldn't have been done any other way." I am here to tell you now, after having slogged through the 521 pages of Zola and His Time, that I don't think I've ever written a more accurate sentence. Perhaps if I were more familiar with Zola's works, I would have appreciated reading all the dry, specific details of how he came up with each idea, how each book was received, and what Matthew Josephson personally thought of each one, but as it was, I found most of it interminably dull. I don't think that a book has ever literally put me to sleep before, but this one did. The book was split into four parts, and not until the last one, beginning about 400 pages in, was the Dreyfus Affair touched upon. And that's when the story actually gets interesting. It therefore stands to reason that this is the main focus of the film. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the screenplay was adapted from Zola and His Time Book Four: "Crusade", since so little of the first three parts makes its way into the film, and that which does is drastically changed.

The book makes much of Zola's instrumental role in the beginning of the so-called Naturalist movement, which claimed that everything could be explained by science. He was particularly fascinated by reproduction, which featured prominently in his works, explaining why they were so controversial. He spent most of his life writing a 20 volume series about one family through the generations. While each book had its own theme and specific focus, the family tree is what held them all together. This is completely ignored in the movie, which doesn't even mention naturalism once (production codes, perhaps?). The film makes it seem as if each of his works was a crusade of its own, with the sole purpose of exposing some deep injustice. The book makes it clear that, at least at the start, Zola's purpose was to observe the world and report his findings, not necessarily to inflame the masses, although that's what kept happening. The film focuses mostly on his volume about the army, and ties it into the Dreyfus Affair; the book gives that volume no more emphasis than the others.

While the book gives a dry, textbook-like account of a man's life, the film tells the dramatic story of a gross miscarriage of justice that is (spoiler alert) eventually overturned. As that is by far the most fascinating aspect - by which I mean the only fascinating aspect - of the book, it was not only appropriate, but absolutely necessary, to adapt it this way. Though far from the most riveting film ever made, it's also far from the most boring, which I consider an immense achievement after reading that book. This is one of those rare cases when the movie is actually significantly better than the book it's adapted from.

In fairness, though, I must point out the one aspect that the book did better: the issue of antisemitism. Captain Dreyfus was a Jewish officer at a time when the Catholic church was struggling to regain power in France. An easy way to regain power is to unite people over a common enemy, and non-Catholics, particularly Jews, were a convenient target. This is pretty much the only reason Dreyfus was suspected and convicted of a crime he had nothing to do with. The film very briefly shows a ledger with Dreyfus's name next to "Religion: Jew", and right afterwards someone comments, "How did he get to be an officer?" but that's the only time this is mentioned. The book goes into great detail explaining the feeling of the country at the time and Zola's disgust with antisemitism. As usual, it was a bit more than necessary, but it helped explain both why Zola was ultimately persuaded to speak out and why most of the country was so vehemently against both him and Dreyfus. This also contributes to the drama and the fighting for justice theme that the movie clings to, so at first it seems a little odd that the film would downplay this so much. But here's the thing: the book was published in 1928; the movie was made in 1937. The book still talks about "the World War" as if humanity had learned its lesson, as if nothing like that could ever happen again. But by the time the movie was made, there was a lot of unrest in Europe, much of which was centered around antisemitism. I'm far from a history expert, but it seems to me that Hollywood didn't want to alienate anyone by being openly anti-antisemitic, since the U.S. was trying to stay out of another war at that point. So the movie focuses on the miscarriage of justice aspect while avoiding as much as possible the bigotry aspect. But at least they didn't eliminate it completely. And ten years later the Best Picture Winner was entirely devoted to condemning antisemitism, even though it still avoided mentioning the Holocaust that had just happened, so...progress?

Whew. I really hope there aren't too many more books like this that inspired Best Adapted Screenplay winners, or I may never get through this project. Next up is Pygmalion, based on the play by George Bernard Shaw, which I'm assuming is a much faster read than this was.

Monday, March 6, 2017

1935: The Informer

Screenplay by Dudley Nichols
Adapted from the novel The Informer by Liam O'Flaherty

When penniless, dim-witted Gypo Nolan is approached by his best friend, Frankie McPhillip, who has been in hiding because there's a price on his head, Gypo betrays him for cash without pausing to think about the consequences. But informers are dangerous to the Revolutionary Organization, to which Gypo and Frankie once belonged, and its leaders are determined to discover and exterminate the culprit.

I don't know a whole lot about the Irish Civil War, so I'm not sure I fully understood the context of this story. Even so, it was very stressful, both to read and to watch. I couldn't condone Gypo's actions, but also couldn't help feeling sorry for him. I kept trying to tell him to stop spending his money so obviously, to lay low so no one would suspect him, but he didn't listen to me in either the book or the movie. Consequently, this is definitely not one of my favorite movies (or books), but as far as adapted screenplays go, it's pretty good.

The story is essentially the same in both versions, with a few notable changes, almost all of which served to make the major characters more likable in the film. The movie starts with Gypo's girlfriend, Katie, berating him for having no money and wishing for £20, which would be enough to take them to America. As it happens, £20 is exactly the price the police are offering for information regarding Frankie's whereabouts. In the book, however, he has no such plan for the funds, never mentions going to America, and doesn't even seem to really care about Katie all that much. After Gypo's meeting with Frankie in the book, all he can think about is how he has no money for a bed for the night, and somehow convinces himself that the only way to get it is by informing, which is blatantly not true. The movie makes his betrayal more understandable; there's no way he'd be able to get £20 any other way, and since this was an American-made movie, of course he'd want to come to America, right? But in the book, he doesn't need anywhere near £20, and the narrator mentions several alternative ways he could have gotten enough for a bed, but for some reason, they don't occur to Gypo. This is just one of several instances when the movie tweaks situations and motives to make not only Gypo, but also Frankie, Katie, and Dan (the leader of the Organization) more relatable and comprehensible. Most of the characters in the book are pretty despicable, which I think was part of the point of the story, but I can certainly understand the temptation to make them a little better for the film.

Otherwise, it's a pretty faithful adaptation. A lot of the dialogue is taken directly from the novel. There are several introspective passages in the book that put us inside the heads of various characters, and I thought the movie did a good job of showing Gypo's thoughts in particular, especially when he's making the decision at the beginning. The wanted poster that he initially tears down keeps following him, and he starts seeing it everywhere, and this visual and the actor's reactions are more than enough to capture pages of Gypo wrestling with himself. Later, when he's on his spending spree, the movie introduces a man who follows him around and encourages him. This character is not in the novel, and he has no name in the movie, so part of me thought he wasn't actually real, since pretty much everything he said or did was something Gypo thought in the book. But other characters interacted with him, so I guess he was supposed to actually be there, and not a figment of Gypo's drunken imagination, which would have been interesting. Regardless, this character helps bring Gypo's thoughts to life the way the narrator does in the book, which works quite well. Overall, I was quite impressed with how the movie dealt with scenes that I didn't think would lend themselves to film, so if for no other reason, that's why it deserved this award.

The winner of 1936 was the final original screenplay that didn't get its own separate category, so that will be the last year I'll skip. Next on this blog will be 1937's Best Picture Winner, The Life of Emile Zola, based on the book Zola and His Time by Matthew Josephson.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

1934: It Happened One Night

Screenplay by Robert Riskin
Adapted from the short story "Night Bus" by Samuel Hopkins Adams

An heiress runs away from Florida toward the aviator she's in love with (of whom her father disapproves) in New York. She meets a man on the bus whom she initially despises, and who doesn't think much better of her, but through their adventures and misadventures they ultimately fall for each other.

I'm not sure why Robert Riskin, or whoever was in charge of this decision, felt the need to change the title from "Night Bus" to It Happened One Night, especially since it actually happens over the course of several nights, but that's only one of several random details changed in this adaptation. The heiress Elspeth Andrews for some reason became Ellen Andrews. Mr. Shapley, who recognized her on the bus, changed his first name from Horace to Oscar. But the man she falls in love with is Peter Warne in both versions. Instead of living on potatoes, the film gives them carrots instead. None of these changes really makes a big difference in the grand scheme of the story; I'm just confused about why the filmmakers thought they were necessary.

There were other changes, however, that I totally understand. The stakes are much higher for both the main characters in the movie than in the short story, in several ways. In the original story, Peter is an unemployed jack-of-all-trades looking for a job. He doesn't know who Elspeth is until she tells him, and then he isn't all that interested. He just helps her out because he feels bad for her. Movie Peter, however, is a recently-fired reporter who knows exactly who Ellen is, and wants to stick with her all the way to New York so he can have an exclusive story to shove in his former boss's face. Elspeth is intending to elope with King, the flyer, whereas Ellen has already married him, but was whisked away by her father before the marriage was consummated. This adds an additional complication at the end because Peter and Ellen have to wait for her marriage to be annulled, which isn't an issue in "Night Bus." In the short story, they always have a little money left, and Peter even has an extra $10 socked away, but in the movie they run out of cash entirely, which leads to more problems. Hollywood has always loved drama, and higher stakes lead to greater drama, thus these changes make sense. Sometimes movies go over-the-top with the drama, but I don't think that applies in this case, and I kind of like the added tension here.

The difference between adapting a novel into a feature film and adapting a short story into a feature film is in the former, cuts almost always have to be made, whereas in the latter, additions almost always need to be made. So I wasn't surprised to find several conversations and scenes added for the movie. What did surprise me was that some of the film's best moments were not actually in "Night Bus" at all, including the iconic hitchhiking scene. Granted, they do hitchhike in the short story, and the outcome is essentially the same, but the process is glossed over. In It Happened One Night, Peter tries to show off his hitchhiking skills, but no one stops until Ellen steps up to the side of the road and shows off her leg, proving that, as she puts it, "the limb is mightier than the thumb."

The hitchhiking example is consistent with most of the other additions in that it makes her a lot sassier, and him a lot cockier, than they were in the short story. Far from turning Peter and Elspeth/Ellen into caricatures, which could easily have happened, these changes actually do a great job of adding dimension to the characters and making them seem more realistic. The premise and the plot of "Night Bus" are intriguing, but I couldn't quite see the characters as actual people. It Happened One Night brings them to life with Oscar-winning performances by Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert and plenty of additional dialogue that there just wasn't room for in the short story. Although "short" is a relative term, as the story is about 60 pages long. Anyway, my point is, the movie fleshed out the characters and story to make them more dramatic, entertaining, and believable, which I think is exactly what an adapted screenplay should do. Maybe I'm biased because I've seen the movie so many times, but apart from the unnecessary name changes I thought the story was adapted very well.

The following year's winner was The Informer, based on the novel by Liam O'Flaherty. Apparently screenwriter Dudley Nichols initially declined the Oscar, but then accepted it a few years later, for some reason. For the purposes of this blog, I don't care whether Oscars are accepted; as long as they're awarded, I'm counting them. So that will be coming up next.