Sunday, May 22, 2011

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One Good Turn...: Adapted Screenplay, 1974

We're up to the last leg of our grand 1974 tribute. Will we make it in time? Probably; tomorrow's my day off. For now, let's talk about works inspired by other works.

Mordecai Richler and Lionel Chetwynd for The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, adapted from the novel by Richler

Two hours with an itchy Richard Dreyfuss scrimping and lying for every penny he can better be damn interesting. It really is throughout a lot of it, but then every now and then it decides to throw subtlety out the window and directly address the issues of greed, materialism, the American Dream and antisemitism by, you know, naming them in very on-the-nose conversations. But for the most part, it's an interesting story, though I do think it's waaaaaaay bloated. Also, I don't even remember how he got into films. It was pretty vague.

Mario Puzo & Francis Ford Coppola for The Godfather: Part II, adapted from the novel by Mario Puzo

Puzo and Coppola give us two arcs to follow. The main one concerns Michael Corleone's further descension into evil as he expands the family business to Nevada and Cuba while facing betrayal within the family and a senate investigation. My love of cinematic senate committees certainly helps, but the relationship between Fredo and Michael is the real selling-point here. Forget the miscarriage, forget Bruno V. Gazzo; this one is all about the conflict between a younger brother in control and an older brother who always falls short. This is the story that wins Best Picture. Cazale and Pacino are selling the hell out of it, sure, but the big scene written for them -- "I'm smart! Not like everyone says, like dumb!" -- is surely one of the best-written moments in the series. I'm also rather fond of all the Hyman Roth scenes.

The second plot is the part adapted from Puzo's original novel, in which we witness Vito Corleone's rise to power in early 20th-century New York. The decision to juxtapose these humble beginnings with Michael's dealings with high-powered senators and the Cuban government is an intriguing, make no mistake, but it tends to interrupt the flow of the main narrative. Perhaps what keeps me from fully embracing this section is the lack of time given to it. Surely it's deserving of its own film entirely, the better to explore the era and get to know Vito. Its inclusion here seems a little forced, as though Coppola and Puzo are too insistent on making the Corleone saga the Great American Epic.

Julian Barry for Lenny, adapted from his play

First and foremost, I am impressed by the characterizations, from the sweet and sad Honey to the enabling Sally to the confused yet caring Artie. Oh, and of course there's Lenny, whose written with enough consistency to make a fully-developed character but loosely enough to reflect on whoever is narrating. The script is without judgment, and the structure of the story -- Lenny's life as conveyed in interviews with his nearest and dearest -- allows for truths, half-truths and legends to get all mixed together, giving us joy, laughter, anger and deep sadness. Barry's work is funny and, more importantly, the extent that one relates to a comic provocateur who OD'd. This movie really is pretty perfect.  

Paul Dehn for Murder on the Orient Express, adapted from the novel by Agatha Christie

Dehn deepens the characters/suspects, keeping each interview with Poirot from feeling same-old or episodic. One really must credit Dehn for getting Bergman her Oscar, for his rendering of Greta Ohllson is far deeper and more complicated than in Christie's original. He doesn't take the proceedings too seriously -- an element that sort of bogged down the recent television version -- and allows the characters to engage in witty repartee throughout (Poirot's interrogation of Vanessa Redgrave is an excellent example).

Of course, Dehn is not perfect. I think his characterization of Anthony Perkins' role is tired, for one. He also gives too many hints to the solution throughout the film, and he clearly has no idea what to do with Bianchi (Martin Balsam) or some of the suspects. Should those ten minutes really kill the remaining 120 of fun, though? Of course not.

Mel Brooks & Gene Wilder for Young Frankenstein, adapted from the Universal films and the novel by Mary Shelley

It's obvious Wilder and Brooks have great affection for their spoof material; indeed, this is not a parody so much as it is a tribute with a sense of humor. It's a sharp contrast to the kitchen-sink approach of Blazing Saddles: Young Frankenstein is not only hilarious and intelligent, but it's also genuinely moving in places. The monologue at the end is a perfect example of this, as is the scene just preceding the famous "Puttin' on the Ritz" number. Every character gets their great moment, whether it's Inga's knockers, Frau Blucher's confession, Elizabeth's seduction, or Inspector Kemp's game of darts. I also love the subtlety of certain gags: when young Frederick Frankenstein (pronounced Fronkensteen) is taking trains to get to Transylvania, the conversation a couple has on the German train is an exact translation of the conversation a couple has on the American one.


Oscar was feeling the love for the gangster drama, and so The Godfather: Part II won here. Were I to check off a box on my ballot, though, the Oscar would go to...

I suggest you put on a tie

1 comment:

TomS said...

Hey Walter, the series has been so interesting, a great reminder of my Oscar "salad days".

Your selection of "Young Frankenstein" is inspired! It's smart and hilarious, and honors the original old films while playfully turning them on their ear.

I must admit, my favorite parts of "Godfather II" were the period scenes involving Vito and his beginnings...

Never cared much for "Duddy Kravitz" was well-written, but a surprising nominee...I loved the Bar Mitzvah movie, though!

"Orient Express" had the benefit of strong Agatha Christie material. Really well-worked for the screen, and loads of fun.

"Lenny" I am sorry to say I never saw performed live. The movie's screenplay handles the tricky chronology and transitions beautifully. I would love to read it....More on this one later, of course.