One of the things I’ve noticed is that novels rarely translate into screenplays and screenplays rarely follow novels int their entirety let alone sequence. In 1967 and 1968 I saw the Alfred Hitchcock Film Rebecca about a dozen times on the big screen. I was intrigued by the film and only a couple of decades later did I read Daphne D’amour’s novel. I must say that I enjoyed the novel more due to the fact that the ninety minutes allotted to Hitchcock’s film was simply not enough to do the justice required by the book. Not that the film was anything less than a work of genius, I must admit that as films go it was one of the great attempts at bringing novels to the attention of the public in terms of visual journeys. But even if Hitchcock had 120 minutes to film the novel it would not have been enough. This is why Masterpiece Theater did such a good job with the Jane Austen novels, they could afford to use serialized chapters so that the book became more fully explored. Of course the effect was to generate such interest in the works of Jane Austen that the sales of her novels as reprints soared. and I must admit that I read every one of her novels. But I can say the same of James Fenimore Cooper after Masterpiece Theater produced The Last Of The Mohicans back in the seventies. I read all the novels Cooper read and I must admit that I could have stopped at number four. Still, a good novel can make a very good screenplay. On the other hand some novels are better left to the written page.
On the other hand not every excellent screenplay has come from a novel. Certainly Casablanca is a great film but it came from the adaptation of a stage play called Everyone Comes To Ricks and even Hollywood took liberties with that storyline. Yet even the cast did not know the story’s end until the premiere. But what a storyline. So Woody stole the ending and made a decent comedy, one of his few (I am not a fan or Woody Allen but he did manage to make a couple of noteworthy movies), to be sure. I love the line, “I never met a dame who didn’t understand a slap in the face or a slug from a forty-five.” His point was that many men are very insecure in dealing with romance and women. So a little theft to underline the importance of being oneself as he essential ingredient to good romance. On the other hand there are two great films that were written as screenplays without regard to being written as novels later by their authors. The first was Graham Green’s screenplay, The third Man which made a very wonderful film. But in filling in the details that film could not do, it still made a most excellent novel. Arthur Clark’s 2001 A Space Odyssey was written as a screenplay and then turned into a novel. Frankly, I really enjoyed the novel more as the exposition made the story line that much clearer. But clearly there were scenes in the film that really added to the story and its sense of humanity.
It is the visual element that sets screenplays apart from the novel. the novelist must labor hard with description and exposition in order to overcome the visual advantage of the film. On the other hand, the film simply cannot get into the head of the character so easily as exposition. And the visual affects of cinematography as it captures the colors and lines of natural environments is just stunning. These visual effects can often set the stage for the action and dialogue that follows in a way that the written page cannot. Certainly David Leans shot on the big screen where we have several people looking at the horizon of the desert and it takes a full five minutes for several figures to appear most minutely and become several recognizable riders with the shimmering heat behind them is something that one writer can capture. One feels the depth and the breath of the desert and its total emptiness. Action and dialogue mean more in film. I find it difficult to translate Faulkner into film. He is best taken in small doses on the big screen.
The point is really that for the most part one can undertake a study of film and screenplay and enjoy the best fruits of each. One must enjoy the comparison of the one to the other and seeing what are the advantages as well as the defects that each has to offer. It is for that reason that when I see an excellent film I search the credits for any possible connection to a novel and if there are, then I buy that novel and read it. W learn so much from seeing what others can do and adapt from one medium to another.