The relationship between the film industry and the book publishing business has a history dating back to the dawn of cinema. From Gone with the Wind to The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (and including, of course, the recent dearth of superhero tent poles), many, if not most, of the best films ever made have been drawn from the printed page. Now, I respect the innumerable unproduced spec scripts floating around; I myself am author of several! There are, however, a number of novels that deserve adaptation to the big screen. Here are five I believe deserve cinematic treatment:
1. One Hand Clapping (by Anthony Burgess)
Author of the legendary A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess explores the themes of money and corruption in this tale of a young, working class couple in the UK who experience a sudden financial windfall. The slow-witted husband is gifted with a photographic memory which helps him on a game show, but also somehow allows him to parlay their winnings into a small fortune betting on horse races. The previously loving wife, and the story’s humble narrator, is suddenly given the chance to have it all, but decides “it all” simply isn’t enough. I’ve heard that Francis Ford Coppola owns the rights to this book. If so, he needs to either make the film or surrender the rights to someone who will. Kept small and put in the hands of a visually innovative UK up-and-coming filmmaker (perhaps with Emma Watson and Rupert Grint as the young couple?), One Hand Clapping could easily become a fiendishly fun indie success story.
2. PT 109 (by Robert J. Donovan)
WWII movies may be on the downswing after their powerful resurgence in the wake of Spielberg’s Saving Pvt. Ryan (1998), but I’m of the opinion that true tales of resilience and survival never go out of style. In August of 1943, the P.T. 109 was struck and ran over by the Japanese destroyer, Amagiri. John F. Kennedy and the other survivors became castaways in enemy territory; burnt, broken, without food or any means of communication for days. Kennedy’s adventure as the young captain of the US Navy patrol torpedo boat 109 in the Solomon Islands is a story ripe for re-telling. Yes, a forgettable film version exists; it was made in 1963 with Cliff Robertson as JFK. Unfortunately, it has descended into obscurity, much like the 1964 production of The Thin Red Line. With solid studio funding and a respect for the source material -- two things that rarely go hand-in-hand -- a PT 109 remake could easily amount to Oscar gold, as well as a solid career boost for the young actor chosen to play the 35th President of the United States in his youthful Navy days.
3. Breakfast At Tiffany’s (by Truman Capote)
Okay, Coppola, here’s the pitch: Lay down your claim to One Hand Clapping and pick up the rights to Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s, then give those rights to your daughter, Sofia, for Christmas. Deal? Done! Yes, it would be yet another remake, but the 1961 film was terribly compromised by the restrictive mores of its day; consequently, a serious film of Capote’s tragic New York party girl, Holly Golightly, has yet to be done. There are plenty of fine young actors these days who could capably take up the roles of Holly Golightly, and the homosexual writer, Paul Varjak (yes, in the novel he’s gay), the only man with whom Holly has a genuine, caring relationship. Honestly, I can think of no other writer/director better suited to take on this project than Sofia Coppola. From The Virgin Suicides to The Bling Ring, Ms. Coppola has made a career out of lensing stories of young women in turmoil, so this project would fit well into her filmography. As a long-time fan of her work, I know she has at least one magnum opus in her; perhaps Breakfast at Tiffany’s is the next major success.
4. Stranger In A Strange Land (by Robert A. Heinlein)
If there was ever a cult-classic science fiction novel demanding to be put on the big screen, it must be Heinlein’s 1961 groundbreaker, Stranger in a Strange Land. The book chronicles the life of Valentine Michael Smith, a human orphan raised on Mars with the alien Martians’ philosophy, as he feels his way toward an understanding of Earth’s materialistic and spiritually corrupt, human culture. Given this book’s curious sexuality and irreverent themes, I can see why most, if not all, major studios might balk at giving this project the $100-$200 Million likely required to adequately achieve Heinlein’s vision on screen. At best, this film would demand an “R” rating from the MPAA, but the book is a work of genius that has truly left its mark on not only the science fiction genre, but American literature as a whole. My only hope is that there’s at least one brave soul in LA with the cojones to say: “To hell with losing the tween-ager ticket sales! We’re making this picture the way it deserves to be made! I KNOW we’ll reap the benefits at the box office -- and at the Oscars!” Yeah, well, I grok hope springs eternal.
5. Gerald’s Game (by Stephen King)
I have heard that there was an attempt in the 1990’s to get this disturbing and introspective work of Stephen King’s on film. The deal breaker was that no bankable actress was willing to play this story’s protagonist: a woman handcuffed, topless no less, to a bed for 90% of her screen time. The story focuses on Jessie Burlingame, the woman secured to a bed when her husband dies of a heart attack in the midst of bondage play. Trapped on the bed of their secluded vacation house for many days (and nights), Jessie finds herself terrorized -- not only by a stray dog that gets into the house, or the creepily enigmatic “Space Cowboy,” but also the recollections of her childhood’s incestuous incident with her father. Like Stranger in a Strange Land, this novel explores themes that will likely make most LA studio heads more than little bit nervous. Fortunately, unlike Heinlein’s book, Gerald’s Game could easily be a small independent film that could achieve both critical and financial success. Filmed in Black & White, Jessie turns from a topless woman on a bed into the symbolic ghost of her own inner – and outer - demons.