As some people will already know, the two things I love talking about are books and films. I have wanted to create a series centring on both for a while now, one that wasn’t my monthly round-ups. And so, I decided to start ‘Book vs Film’ where I talk about novels and their film adaptations, and ultimately decide which one is better. Each one will revolve around an actor and actress, and who better to kick things off than Montgomery Clift.
Clift is possibly my favourite actor. He is so compelling to watch and even when he is not the main focus of the scene I still find myself looking at him. All of his characters feel realistic; they don’t feel like melodramatic, heightened versions of people, they feel like people. He had a much more subtle acting style than his peers, and indeed, some actors working today. Coupled with the fact that 17th October would have been Clift’s 100th birthday (spoiler alert: Random Book Quiz on Saturday may be loosely connected to this) he seems the obvious choice for the Book vs Film post.
Despite only starring in 17 movies during his career, a whopping 11 of them were adaptations of novels, plays, and short stories. Because this post would be longer than War & Peace if I attempted all 11, I’ve picked perhaps 3 of Clift’s most famous films: From Here to Eternity (1953), A Place in the Sun (1951) and The Young Lions (1958).
So here we go – I’ve read 3 books and watched their film adaptations starring Montgomery Clift. But which one did I like more?
From Here to Eternity
Plot: Set at Schofield Barracks in Hawaii, 1941, soldier and bugler Robert E. Lee ‘Prew’ Prewitt arrives to his new posting in G Company. However, upon arrival he discovers that the Commanding Officer has only chosen him for his ability to box, something Prew refuses to participate in. As a result, he is targeted and harassed by members of the boxing team. Meanwhile, First Sergeant Warden begins an affair with the Commanding Officer’s wife Karen and Prew falls in love with prostitute Lorene as the attack on Pearl Harbour looms closer…
Thoughts: Both versions of From Here to Eternity are great but very different. Maggio (played by Frank Sinatra) has a much greater part in the film, whilst in the book he is very much a secondary character. I much preferred book Maggio – his character arc was far more interesting, and Sinatra always felt like he was playing himself. The rest of the main cast – Clift, Burt Lancaster, Deborah Kerr, and Donna Reed – fare much better in their respective roles, though admittedly it was a tad bizarre to hear Reed’s Lorene referred to as a ‘nightclub hostess’. It is understandable due to the Hays Code warning filmmakers about showing ‘the sale of women, or of a woman selling her virtue’, but in 2020 it’s odd. In fact, the film version as a whole could be described as ‘tame’: the swearing, mentions of prostitution, STIS, and homosexuality in the novel are completely removed. The two relationships mentioned in the plot also feel more developed in the book; the reader sees the highs and lows of both whilst in the film that only briefly occurs in a couple of scenes.
Book vs Film: Probably the book. While I do enjoy the film, the book feels a lot more realistic in terms of dialogue and tackles a lot of heavier subjects than its movie counterpart. Like I mentioned, the restrictions on filmmakers during this period probably meant they were unable to highlight certain topics, but I will still give the edge to the book.
An American Tragedy/ A Place in the Sun
Plot: Theodore Dreiser’s novel follows Clyde Griffiths (George Eastman in the film) who is raised by his strict religious parents to help in their missionary work. Following a tragic incident which forces Clyde to leave Kansas City for Chicago, he meets his wealthy uncle Samuel. Taking pity on his nephew, Samuel offers him a job in a clothes factory and Clyde happily accepts. However, he quickly finds himself in a love triangle between factory worker Roberta (Alice) and wealthy socialite Sondra (Angela).
Thoughts: Dreiser’s novel is incredibly melodramatic, with one things after another constantly happening to Clyde. He is a very unsympathetic character, especially with the incident in the first half of the novel. His actions regarding that I found abhorrent, and it was really hard trying to muster up any other emotion. Even the ending made me a little cold. In A Place in the Sun, because it skips the first section of the novel out, I found George more engaging. Obviously, he also does terrible things but he was also strangely relatable, especially in his wanting to better himself. I also really enjoyed Elizabeth Taylor as Angela, she had a wonderful mix of glamour and innocence, and it was clear why George would want to be with her. Shelley Winters as Alice wasn’t as convincing. At first she was a milquetoast, then by the end she was downright annoying and whiny. Alice should have our sympathies, but she was such a bland character it was hard to feel anything. She was just there; present only for the plot but given no real personality of her own.
Book vs Film: Controversial opinion, but I preferred the film A Place in the Sun. It filleted a lot out of the novel, and it felt a lot more cohesive because of that. Looking back, An American Tragedy probably didn’t need to be as long as it was. And as much as I didn’t like Winters, both Clift and Taylor gave great performances.
The Young Lions
Plot: Set during World War Two, The Young Lions follows the lives of three soldiers. Christian Diestl, worried about his future, joins the Nazi Party. Noah Ackerman and Michael Whitacre join the American army; Ackerman, who is Jewish, suffers anti-Semitism from his fellow officers whilst Whitacre seems to be having a mid-life crisis. We watch these three as they struggle to survive the war and eventually their lives intertwine.
Thoughts: I have saved the hardest one to decide until last; both book and film versions of The Young Lions have different pros and cons. I much preferred how Christian was portrayed in the book. Brando (with some form of ‘German’ accent) played him a lot more sympathetically, and while his portrayal was interesting to watch, it didn’t make his character stand out against Clift’s or Dean Martin’s. There was no contrast in the characters, no opposition, whilst in the book Christian always feels like a different entity. He becomes hardened the longer he is exposed to war, and that was fascinating to contemplate how he lost his humanity. Yet I really liked Martin’s performance, he captured Michael’s anxiety over life and his reluctance of warfare very well. I liked Michael’s arc in the film more too. Clift’s Noah was also great, though I found his relationship with Hope (Hope Lange) very sudden. They only have a handful of scenes together so there wasn’t enough time to fully develop it in front of the audience – though I know of at least one scene that got cut.
Book vs Film: Sorry Monty, but I’m going with the book. Ask me tomorrow, and I might switch back to the film. The movie has a lot going for it and would highly recommend it for those into war dramas. But the characters arcs were depicted a lot better in the Irwin Shaw’s novel, and the ending I found much more satisfying.
Hope you enjoyed this post! Let me know what you think of this new series and any improvements you think I can make. Also, if there are any actors/actresses you would like to see me do, then leave me a comment below.