Four adaptations from novel to motion pictures
Gotnick, Esther Gertrude
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The purpose of this thesis is to illustrate the process of transforming a novel into a photoplay and to evaluate the results. By a direct comparison of the novel with the shooting script evidence is found to clarify and support reasons for changes. The four scripts chosen represent high grade productions. However, they vary widely in kind and they demonstrate different techniques in adaptation. These differences in the handling of the materiel range from the needs of visualization to the rigorous regulations of the Hollywood moral code. Chapter I describes and defines the adaptation, referring to discussions by Sidney Howard, Frances Marion, and Sinclair Lewis. Explanations are made concerning the more common patterns for plot, characterization, dialogue, and theme. Several technical terms, later referred to in the script, are defined. Chapter II compares the novel Wuthering Heights with the film of the same name. The script is used as a means of illustrating acts and scenes. This film reduced the novel to half its size keeping the story centered on Heathcliff and Catherine Earnshaw. While the wildness of the atmosphere and the passionate mood are retained, Emily Brontë's note of pessimism and frustration are abandoned for a clear-cut tale of love and vengeance. With such a change in theme, the Byronic character of Heathcliff takes on more sympathetic qualities. Chapter III consists of a similar method of comparison using Liam O'Flaherty's The Informer. The novel is filled with action and motion, factors which aided its transference to the screen. Few changes occur in the actual story but certain characters are whitewashed for moral reasons and a new motive is granted the central figure, Cypo. To simplify audience comprehension of this monstrous creature, he is made a sympathetic character with very human and understandable problems. Through the use of pantomime this novel was directly transferred to the screen, including the most minute and detailed descriptions. Chapter IV - The Grapes of Wrath is an honest and courageous effort to bring truth to the screen via a great novel concerning a national problem - the desperate plight of the migrant workers. The film captures the essential action and meaning of the novel, though cuts were necessary due to time limitations. Centering mainly on the Joads the film version conveys the spirit and dignity of man crushed by circumstances. Screen morality demanded the deletion of obscenities and caused a marked change in the ending. As far as it went, the film was excellently done. There are no distortions in the theme but the film lacks Steinbeck's depth in his presentation of man's love and hunger for land. Chapter V on H. M. Pulham, Esquire is another illustration of a modification of the author's real theme and purpose. The setting is Boston but the decay of its Brahmin caste and the evil of the Puritan influence are present to a very minor degree. Retrospect is used a good deal in filming Harry Pulham's life. The irony of the novel is dulled in the film version which simply tells the story of a somewhat dismayed middle-aged husband who makes one last and futile attempt to recapture his youth. Chapter VI presents conclusions based on these comparisons and analyses. Findings show that, on the whole, the plot, action, dialogue and characterization undergo minor or very necessary changes. The main fault to be found with the novel adaptation is that it retains the story material but overlooks or minimizes the theme. Audience approbation appears to be the single standard. Since this audience represents a cross section of the entire American population what it wants is apt to be far removed from the artistic. Nevertheless, the adaptation should be true to the novel or the novel should not be used. Stories written expressly for the screen may be much more widely used in the future and may be superior to the novel since they are written solely for the film medium. Yet as long as men are writing there will be the novel form. Properly handled, the novel on the screen could bring new worlds to this vast and complex audience. Translation and not transference, a re-thinking of the novel before turning it into a different medium should be the adaptor's effort.
This item was digitized by the Internet Archive. Thesis (M.A.)--Boston University
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