Classic Books Made into Films, Pt. 1

The staff book group at Williamsburg Regional Library selected books made into films as the theme for our March meeting. Our readers normally choose recent titles, so it was fun and surprising to see that most of the choices this month were classics.

James M. Cain maybe the most frequently adapted writer that modern readers don’t know about, but two of our members selected his books. Cain lived until 1977, but his writing prime was the 1930s and 1940s, and during that time he turned out several classics that worked a noir vein that film makers love. Lisa from our Technical Services division had read Mildred Pierce and Double Indemnity. She loved both of Cain’s books but recommends the 2011 Kate Winslet HBO miniseries over the 1945 Joan Crawford film of Mildred Pierce for its faithfulness to Cain’s original vision. For similar reasons, her preference in versions of Double Indemnity is for the 1944  classic adapted by Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler and starring Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck.

Sheila selected a different Cain work, The Postman Always Rings Twice. Like Lisa, she was pleased with how well the Cain novel held up after over 70 years. Her preference was for the first two films, the Italian Ossessione and the 1946 Lana Turner/John Garfield vehicle over the 1981 Jack Nicholson/Jessica Lange film, which emphasize the steamiest aspects of the story.

Speaking of classics that have stood the test of time, Cela Schmidt is retiring from WRL after 25 years, the last several as head of our Technical Services division. Her even-keeled personality and massive institutional memory are just a few of her wonderful qualities that will be missed. While she’ll continue with our book group, her last selection as an employee was William Goldman’s love letter to the power of story, The Princess Bride. Most people know the delightful 1987 film, adapted by Goldman himself, but his original novel is every bit as charming and funny. The framing story in the film, played wonderfully by Peter Falk and Fred Savage, depicts a grandfather and grandson bonding, despite the grandson’s lack of appreciation for reading, over a good story. In the book, the framing story is different but equally wonderful, a very funny boondoogle which claims that Goldman’s book is derived from his father’s garbled, “good bits” version of an obscure European country study. It’s a masterwork that succeeds as a fantasy, as a satire, as a romance, and as a paean to the power of story.

I’ll write about more of the selections from this meeting next week. Which adapted book would you have brought to the table?

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About the Author:

Neil Hollands is an Adult Services Librarian at Williamsburg Regional Library in Virginia, where he specializes in readers’ advisory and collection development. He is the author of Read On . . . Fantasy Fiction (2007) and Fellowship in a Ring: a Guide for Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Groups (2009).

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