Thursday, November 12, 2015

Graham Greene: Two Novels, Four Films

Reid's Reader discusses Greene's novels The End of the Affair and The Quiet American as well as the film adaptations. To quote: 
At one time or another, nearly all of Greene’s novels were filmed. The only ones I can think of that were never filmed were It’s A Battlefield (1934) and A Burnt-Out Case (1960), but all the others got the business. Wikipedia informs me that, exclusive of TV adaptations, 29 films have been made from Greene’s novels and stories. Greene had a very pragmatic attitude to these films. On the whole, once the screen rights were sold, he allowed the filmmakers to do whatever they pleased – although he reserved the right to criticise the results. (I have this information from Quentin Falk’s guide to Greene-based films, facetiously entitled Travels in Greeneland, published in 2000.)
Five of Greene’s novels have been filmed twice. They include The End of the Affair, and to compare the two films tells us much about how attitudes to Greene changed.
The first film version was released in 1955, directed by Edward Dmytryk and filmed in black and white. I have only the vaguest recollection of this film, which I saw on television years ago, although I have subsequently seen a few short clips from it on Youtube. It starred Deborah Kerr as Sarah Miles but, to woo the American box-office, it cast the American Van Johnson as Bendrix. Greene was appalled by this casting and said very rude things about the film. I cannot imagine the under-talented Van Johnson as a hard-bitten and cynical novelist. Apparently the 1955 film left much of the God stuff intact, but (given the censorship of the day) toned down the nature of the affair so that audiences could almost believe it was a passing flirtation.
Having read the novel as a kid, I re-read it in 1999 when I was a film-reviewer and ahead of the release of Neil Jordan’s re-make. The re-make made the fullest of the affair and Ralph Fiennes was perfectly cast as a cynical Bendrix. But – oh woe! – the American box-office still had to be placated, so this time it was an American, Julianne Moore, who played Sarah Miles. Her acting was adequate, but with the novel fresh in my mind, I noted how the story had now been skewed another way. To extend the sex stuff, the film had Bendrix and Sarah getting together for another fling once he learns the news that she is dying. There is no such reunion in the novel, but the director was able to have Sarah state her motives in dialogue rather than having Bendrix discover them in her diary. The 1999 film missed the novel’s touching scenes between Sarah and the atheist Smythe, because it eliminated Smythe from the story and merged his character with the novel’s quite separate character of a priest. This meant there could be only very abridged discussions on theological matters. Also the birthmark “miracle” was presented more peremptorily and crudely than it is in the novel, and transferred to another minor character.
My chief impression was that the theological element embarrassed those who produced the re-make. What they wanted was a doomed love story in a wartime setting, and that essentially is what they produced. (Read more.)

No comments: