Movies Based on Classic Literature (No Poems, No Plays)

TMP

Thursday Movie Picks seemed tough this week at first. How many adaptations of really great books come close to doing their source material justice? I’m just proud of myself that I was able to come up with 3 without any Jane Austen.

grapes of wrath

The Grapes of Wrath (1940)– Probably my all-time favourite adaptation of a novel, director John Ford is just the right amount of faithful to Steinbeck’s classic. Screenwriter Nunnally Johnson was smart enough to know when best to let scenes play out nearly word for word as it did in the novel just as well as he knew when to let the movie when changes were needed. IN 10 Movie Moments That Took My Breath Away, I listed Ma Joad’s burning of the old family photos as one of my all-time favourite scenes but now wish I had used the penny candy scene. There are so many perfect scenes in one of my favourite movies based on one of my favourite books.

apocalypse-now

Apocalypse Now (1979)– Francis Ford Coppola put his career and sanity on the linein his re-imagining of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness set during the Vietnam War. With all the script and cast changes that plagued the production, it’s a Hollywood miracle that Apocalypse Now is even watchable, let alone an American classic. Even the Marlon Brando part works for me.

clueless

Clueless (1995)– It’s easy to forget that Clueless is a modern adaptation of… damn. Okay, I guess I couldn’t completely escape Jane Austen. It’s supposed to be an adaptation of Emma, the only book of my three picks that I have not read, so I’m not sure how faithful it is. I’m guessing not very. But it is hilarious, quotable, and one of the few teen comedies I can think of that encourages us to learn a new word every day. It also features a young Paul Rudd (who has barely changed), an adorable Brittany Murphy, and a scene-stealing performance by Dan Hedaya.

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30 thoughts on “Movies Based on Classic Literature (No Poems, No Plays)

  1. Jay

    Grapes of Wrath is excellent in any medium.
    I don’t think of Apocalypse Now as an adaptation, probably because I haven’t read the book. Crazy movie though.
    Clueless I might object to. ‘Vaguely inspired by in a totally gross and vulgar way’, maybe. Adaptation not so much. But it is a fun movie, really freezes the 90s for posterity. Hard to imagine I’ve been crushing on Paul Rudd for this long. I was SO mad when Baz Luhrmann cast him as the goofball Prince in Romeo + Juliet.

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    1. mattasshole Post author

      I read Heart of Darkness only after seeing Apocalypse Now at least once. It’s actually a really interesting read if you’ve already seen the movie.
      Yes, Paul Rudd’s casting in Romeo and Juliet was unfortunate. Josh in Clueless is much more the Paul Rudd that I know.

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  2. Mysterious Bibliophile

    Great choices! I didn’t even think about The Grapes of Wrath. I love the fact that you chose 2 unconventional adaptations, Clueless and Apocalypse Now. I read Heart of Darkness about 3 times in high school and college. The horror! The horror!

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    1. mattasshole Post author

      I think the unconventional adaptations are easier to endorse because they avoid comparison with the source materia. Few filmmakers can measure up to, say, Dickens or Fitzgerald.

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    1. mattasshole Post author

      I don’t think I’ve read a single Jane Austen novel. I actually would have seriously considered LOTR but I already picked it when we were doing… Movies Based on Novels for Young Adults, I think. Come to think of it, it would have fit better here but I really needed to stretch for young adult novels.

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    1. mattasshole Post author

      I just looked at your 3 picks and the only one I’ve read is The Scarlet Letter. I studied it in a college English class and even with my prof’s guidance it was not an easy or very exciting read. Easy A is a very loose adaptation but it’s a movie I like a lot so I’m glad you picked it.

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    1. mattasshole Post author

      You’re welcome but sorry for reading your mind. I need to work on my boudnaries.
      I’m glad you liked my picks because I feel pretty strongly about all three of them. Thanks for stopping by, Harlon.

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  3. Brittani

    I haven’t seen the first two, but it’s fun seeing Clueless pop up. I really should see/read the other two though. I’m surprised I’ve gotten this far without doing either.

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    1. mattasshole Post author

      I can’t believe how much I like Clueless.
      I recommened both movies and both books. I actually highly recommened you do what i did which was to watch Apocalypse Now before reading Heart of Darkness.

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  4. mattasshole Post author

    Thank you, Cindy. Believe it or not, To Kill a Mockingbird may not have made my top 3 but I did manage to watch it this week, correcting a huge oversight of mine in that I had never seen it. It has been years since I read the book but seemed like a very good adaptation. If I remember the book properly though I think the ending is a little watered down.

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  5. joelnox

    Steinbeck is my favorite author but The Grapes of Wrath is the only one of his books I had trouble getting through, the movie though is quite wonderful. Haven’t seen Apocalypse Now but Clueless is so much fun. It keeps the spirit of Austen’s Emma with a sly twist.

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    1. mattasshole Post author

      That’s really interesting, especially with you liking Steinbeck so much. I find GOW to be one of the most readable classics I’ve ever read. What’s your favourite Steinbeck novel? I guess I should start with Of Mice and Men which I have to admit I have never read.

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      1. joelnox

        Of Mice and Men is a great place to start, it’s a breeze to read. My favorite Steinbeck, East of Eden, is also my favorite book. I rarely re-read books no matter how much I like them, there are just too many others to get to, but I’ve read East of Eden three times. It’s just so beautifully written.

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      1. joelnox

        I love the Dean version of East of Eden. Of his three lead performances it is by far my favorite-much deeper than the ones in Rebel or Giant though those are quality work as well. I had already picked it for a previous theme, father/son relationships, and I don’t double dip but even if I were to I wouldn’t have selected it because it only covers the second half of the book. Now best adaptations of half a classic, yes but by focusing on that section they sidelined one of the great female characters in literature. In the first half of the novel Cal & Aron’s mother Kate then known alternately as Catherine and Cathy is a the focus, a wonderfully complex and dangerous woman. There was a mini-series that encompasses the entire book in the early eighties that suffers somewhat from the acting of the male lead but has an absolutely riveting performance from Jane Seymour as Cathy/Kate. She is AMAZING, the best she’s ever been and I can’t imagine anyone improving on her work. It’s requires a commitment of time but is on DVD.

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  6. reocochran

    My favorite Gregory Peck movie is “Roman Holiday” for fun and romance. My favorite serious one is, “To Kill a Mockingbird.” For movies like “Clueless,” I enjoy “13 Going on 30” and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” Your suggestions are all entertainment plus πŸ™‚

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    1. mattasshole Post author

      Thanks! I just watched To Kill a Mockingbird for the first time this week. I also checked out 13 Going on 30 when we were doing teen comedies a few months ago and, even though it didn’t make my list, I was surprised how much I liked it.

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  7. Wendell

    Apocalypse Now is a magnificent movie. Still haven’t watched Clueless all the way through. Haven’t gotte around to Grapes of Wrath at all. Shame on me. Great picks.

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  8. themesongsteve

    Great choices all. I do think Dickens has been done on film excellently by David Lean: Great Expectations & Oliver Twist. Another offbeat choice would be Adaptation (about doing an adaptation of the book The Orchid Thief).

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