5 Vintage Books Turned into Classic Films
As a reader and writer, books are enriching and will always have a place in my heart that other mediums will never be able to replace. That said, I am also a fan of the movies and have had some of my own novels adapted into films and television series, including The War of the Roses, Random Hearts, and The Sunset Gang. I think one of the greatest fears of any author is having the adaptation fall short of the original work, but when the adaptation hits the nail on the head, it really is an amazing thing. Here I put together a list of vintage (and classic) books that, in my opinion, were adapted into movies I will never forget and helped inspire my dream of seeing my novels on the big screen. Pick up the book and then watch the movie to see for yourself. I bet you will be pleased with the selection.
- All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
This novel set during WWI portrays the physical and mental toll of war on soldiers on the battlefield and in civilian society. I may be biased as I am a veteran myself, but I believe this is an amazing film adaptation. The novel itself was great; it did outstandingly well, selling millions of copies before being turned into an Academy Award-winning movie of the same name. I was quite young when I saw this movie and remember it vividly, particularly the last scene when Paul Bäumer (Lew Ayres) reached for a butterfly and was shot dead. Seeing such a stark film at a young age has probably had a deep impact on my own work.
- Zhivago by Boris Pasternak
This book is set during the Russian Revolution of 1905 up to the Civil War, exposing the violence and debauchery of Communist Russia. It had to be smuggled out of Russia and published in Italy, as implicitly anti-communist and critical literature was subdued by the USSR (imagine a real-life 1984 and Fahrenheit 451, but less futuristic). A year after its publication, Pasternak won the Nobel Prize in Literature, and as you may imagine, this was resented by the USSR. There is one outstanding scene that will always stick with me of a train going through the stark winter landscape with the steam engine puffing smoke. I grew up in the era of steam engines, and I believe this scene is one of the inspirations that led me to write my novel Trans-Siberian Express, a Cold War-era love story.
- For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway
Hemingway is a literary genius and one of my many writing inspirations. He took the title For Whom the Bell Tolls from the prose work of poet John Donne’s Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, which is mostly about Donne’s convalescence, reflecting on death, birth, and sin. Published in 1940, Hemingway’s narrative follows the protagonist Robert Jordan, a young American man part of an anti-fascist guerrilla unit during the Spanish Civil War. This is Hemingway’s best novel, in my opinion, and was turned into an outstanding movie that was nominated for nine Academy Awards. This film is the best love rendition that I have seen on the big screen. It is likely because of the casting of Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman at their prime, making the narrative so poignant and believable. In the scene in the novel that resonates with me, Jordan and Maria make love in a meadow, and he famously asks her, “Did thee feel the earth move?” I have always felt this line perfectly describes what it means to be in the arms of one’s lover. This movie, especially this scene, has lingered in my mind, and perhaps it is the reason why so many of my books are, at heart, love stories.
- Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham
Critics alike agree that this is Maugham’s greatest masterpiece, it being said that much of the novel is autobiographic, although Maugham himself claimed that more of it was “pure invention.” I grew up loving the works of Maugham, particularly Of Human Bondage. The novel is full of internal turmoil and tastefully unrequited love as Philip slowly becomes more and more disillusioned as his dreams, aspirations, and love end in tragedy. You have probably noticed that most of my book-to-movie picks are war-driven, but this one has so much internal turmoil within the protagonist that it has just as much conflict and as many stakes as my other nominations. Of Human Bondage was made into a movie three times, the first one (1934) being, in my opinion, the best, starring Leslie Howard and Bette Davis. Just like the novel, it’s a doomed love story full of misery felt by a love-struck Philip (Howard), unable to elicit a similar feeling from Mildred (Davis). Unrequited love is another theme that moves my sentimental heart, permeating many of the characters in my books about the nature of love and its mysteries.
- Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
Great Expectations is one of the most brilliant novels ever written, perhaps right after War and Peace, in my opinion. The 1946 version is the best film adaptation ever created, in my opinion. The movie is a condensed version of the novel and varies significantly from the novel’s series of events and morals. The movie is more acutely a tale of love-pining than the novel (Dickens’s book largely explores Victorian social class and ambition), which always pulls at my heartstrings. If you read the novel and then watched the original film adaptation, you’ll be amazed at how much changes as the medium shifts, but both have a poignant love story between Pip and Estella.
I’ve been reading my entire life and have always closely compared the novels to their adaptations. This is my list of the top five books-to-movies, so now that I’ve named my favorite film adaptations, what are yours?
Warren Adler currently has several of his works in the process of being adapted into films: television series by Grey Eagle Films, including Trans-Siberian Express, Target Churchill, and The Fiona Fitzgerald Mystery Series.
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