Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Johnathan Lethem Picks

Ran across a 1999 Salon piece by Johnathan Lethem in which he picks "Five terrific novels overshadowed by their film versions."

Lethem's list:

True Grit
Endless Love
They Shoot Horses, Don't They?
The Manchuran Candidate
The Hustler and The Man Who Fell to Earth

Ed here:

Though True Grit as a movie was a true crowd pleaser--not that there's anything wrong with that--it lacked the mythic quality of the book. This book was a Journey; the movie was a journey.

Endless Love--didn't see, didn't read. (Lethem thinks this is a major American novel, which he compares to Philip Roth and Richard Yates. Hell, I'd be happy to be compared to Yates' mailman.)

They Shoot Horses, Don't They?--Lethem likes this movie much more than I do. I thought it was a melodramatic botch. They Shoot Horses is as good and important as anything by James M. Cain (who, for me, was far better than either Hammett or Chandler.) But you sure can't prove it in America. In Europe it's exalted. Here it's almost totally forgotten.

The Manchurian Candidate--I agree with Lethem that novel and film were Richard Condon at his best. I also agree that the neglected Winter Kills was another Condon masterpiece, book and movie. Lethem pretty much dismisses the rest of Condon's novels but I think he's wrong in at least one case, Prizzi's Honor being, if nothing more, impeccable entertainment.

The Hustler and The Man Who Fell To Earth--Walter Tevis never got his due. His problem, on a smaller scale, was that of Graham Greene's. The lit crowd thought he was too popular and the popular crowd thought he was too lit. I also agree with Lethem's assertion that with the Hustler follow up, The Color of Money, Scorcese was nuts to throw out most of the book--though given thatt we now know that Tom Cruise tends to take over any project he's on...maybe it was Cruise (why pick on somebody as cute and sweet as Katie Holmes, Cruise...can't you Hwood power boys leave anything or anybody unsullied?) who rewrote the script to enhance his own role. Tevis was a wonderful writer. I know half a dozen people who knew him well from his Iowa City days and they say that he was a wonderful man s well. Lung cancer in his mid-fifties and a career criminally ignored.

3 Comments:

Blogger Bill said...

Glad to see a "comments" section here. I'm not sure what Lethem meant, but nobody who's read the novels True Grit, They Shoot Horses, Don't They?, The Manchurian Candidate, or The Hustler is going to think the movies overshadow them. Maybe people who haven't read the books feel that way, or maybe that's the public percerption, but it's sure not mine.

5:25 PM  
Blogger Juri said...

Yes, but you always have to tell the people that it's the book they made the film out of. And in that sense, the films overshadow the book. (I don't think I have managed anyone to read True Grit, even though I've praised it more highly than any other book.)

One book still: The Ox-Bow Incident. I haven't seen the film for a long time, but Van Tilburg Clark's novel is a masterpiece.

1:41 AM  
Blogger Craig Clarke said...

Another great Tevis novel is The Queen's Gambit. I came across it in my teens (when I was first getting interested in chess) and was stunned by the story. It has stuck in my head ever since, and I owe it to myself to reread it someday.

6:05 AM  

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