Thursday, July 17, 2014

Get Carter, or what crime movies are just about as good as the novels from which they are adapted?

I've started reading Syndicate Books' reprint of Ted Lewis' 1970 crime novel Get Carter (first published as Jack's Return Home), and I'll want to read it slowly because it's so good.

Few crime writers could inject menace and desperation into small talk the way Lewis did, and he had a fine eye for period detail — the Hammond organ in the bar at the Cecil, for instance. Does anything say 1960s like the cheesy warbling of a Hammond?

This new edition of the novel, to be published in September, includes an introduction by Mike Hodges, who directed the celebrated 1971 film adaptation, starring Michael Caine and chosen by the Guardian/Observer in 2010 as the seventh-best crime movie of all time. (Its top crime film is Chinatown, so the list is by no means perfect, but still ... )

Hodges is both forthright about the changes he made and highly respectful and deeply admiring of Lewis' novel. And that raises this interesting question: What other crime movie adaptations rank as high in critical and popular esteem as do the novels on which they are based as do Lewis' Get Carter and Hodges'? The closest example I can think of is The Maltese Falcon. How about you?

© Peter Rozovsky 2014

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12 Comments:

Blogger Todd Mason said...

STRANGERS ON A TRAIN certainly comes to mind, along with (to a lesser extent) several other Highsmith adaptations. THE LONG GOODBYE certainly has its detractors as a film (and, for that matter, as a novel) but the fans are probably more numerous; THE BIG SLEEP perhaps even moreso (the earlier film). THE PLAYER.

July 17, 2014  
Blogger Todd Mason said...

Ha. Too early. I was conflating the Mitchum Marlowe film with SLEEP...something I should look into now...

July 17, 2014  
Blogger Mack Lundy said...

How about The Grifters? I'm a great fan of the Thompson novel and I think the film captures the tone of the novel very well. Love Anjelica Huston as Lily.

July 17, 2014  
Blogger Mack Lundy said...

And speaking of Jim Thompson, The Killer Inside Me (2010) was an excellent adaptation of Thompson's book. Casey Affleck captured my mental image of Lou Ford. I think viewers had a hard time seeing Thompson's violence come to life on the screen but I enjoy both the book and film.

July 17, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Todd: Thanks for the reminder to finally read that copy of "Strangers on a Train" that I have lying around the house. I've long had a high respect for the movie.

One thing I'll look for is the changes Hitchcock made from the book. He was among the freest of adapters, almost always to the movie's advantage. "The Thirty-nine Steps" and "Rear Window" come to mind.

In re your Chandler examples, the movies have their fans, Hawks' "Big Sleep," especially, but I think it's safe to say that the novels rank higher.

July 17, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Mack, "The Grifters" may be a rare movie adaptation that is better than its source. I tried to read it when I was one a Thompson kick some time ago, and I found the writing unbearably clumsy. But the movie is excellent. (It probably did not hurt that Donald Westlake wrote the screenplay.)

July 17, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Mack: I haven't seen the movie verso. but I mentioned it in a post I put up after reading The KIller Inside Me.

I liked the novel a lot, though of what I've read, Pop. 1280 is unquestionably Thomson's best. And it appears that I tried to read The Grifters a year or two my Thompson binge, not during it. Having read more of his work since, I may be prepared to try The Grifters again.

July 17, 2014  
Blogger Mack Lundy said...

Peter, Pop 1280 is my absolute favorite Jim Thompson. Killer Inside Me and Pop 1280 represent the beginning and end of Pop 1280 with the latter as the culmination of his writing. I think it is perfect. Since this thread is about films adaptations, have you seen the Bertrand Tavernier's adaptation of Pop 1280, Coup de Torchon? If you haven't, it is worth a watch. The action is transferred to dusty town in French West Africa on the eve of WWI but it is still a pretty faithful adaptation though with a weird ending. The Criterion edition has a terrific commentary about noir by the director.

July 17, 2014  
Blogger Mack Lundy said...

Interesting trivia about Pop 1280. In James Sallis' Cypress Grove, the main character, John Turner, is being taken to meet someone and on the drive he observes a sign outside of a town, Pop 1280. He said it is a reference to Thompson's book.

July 17, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

And this new edition of Get Carter, or at least the ARC of it, includes a blurb from James Salis.

I'm glad you're with me on Pop 1280. My memory tells me it is, indeed, just about perfect. I have somehow managed to avoid seeing Coup de Torchon, though it has been recommended to me several times. I shall try to remedy this. And Thompson adaptations are no strangers to weird endings. See The Getaway.

July 17, 2014  
Blogger Todd Mason said...

I think you underestimate the esteem that particularly THE BIG SLEEP the film is held in. Likewise, to a somewhat lesser extent, a few of the others.

July 22, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Todd, I love the Hawks/Bogart/Vickers/Bacall Big Sleep, and I have written about it often here. I just don't recall its being ranked among the best crime movies ever as often as I recall the book's being ranked among the best crime novels ever. But that could be an inaccurate impression. Speaking of The Big Sleep and one of its locations ...

July 22, 2014  

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