Tuesday, February 28, 2012

CATCH-22 (1970)

Classics Revisited Book Group (Posting 20)

There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one's own safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn't, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn't have to; but if he didn't want to he was sane and had to.
Joseph Heller Catch-22

Dobbs: [Over the radio] Help him! Help him!
Yossarian: Help who?
Dobbs: Help the bombardier!
Yossarian: I'm the bombardier, I'm all right.
Dobbs: Then help HIM, help HIM!
From the Mike Nichols film Catch-22

This is my twentieth and final posting for books I’ve done in my Classics Revisited book group that have accompanying movies. Catch-22 (the book) is one of the most famous and most read classics of the last fifty or so years. It features a set of chapters mostly identified by the names of different American bombardiers during World War II in the European theater in the latter stages of World War II. Most of the stories revolve around Captain Yossarian, the seemingly only sane flyer in the whole military who just wants to complete his bombing missions and go home.

The nature of the book seems to not lend itself to film, but after watching it again, this is a case where I actually like the film more than the book. Director Mike Nichols and screenwriter Buck Henry gave the film a dream quality that really works here and the cast led by Alan Arkin is top notch. Part of the problem with the initial run of Catch-22 (the movie) is that it came out the same year as the other anti-establishment military movie M*A*S*H and seemed to get lost in the shuffle or didn’t quite get to the subversive level of the Altman film.

Book or movie? Despite the undeniable humor of the book (My favorite part is Doc Daneeka trying to convince everyone he isn’t dead even though he’s standing right in front of them) and the fact that it does have a lot to say about the insanity that usually accompanies war, I did find the shtick a little repetitive after awhile. I didn’t get that with the movie. I suppose that sometimes having to edit out plot threads and characters can be a good thing.

Well that’s it for the two-month journey into the Classics Revisited Book Group section of this blog. Here are all the books we did for this group presented here if for no other reason than I just like to make lists and hope to add to it in the future.

Hamlet by William Shakespeare
A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
1984 by George Orwell
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Macbeth by William Shakespeare
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare
Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare
King Lear by William Shakespeare
Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare
Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
Go Tell it on the Mountain by James Baldwin
All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren
Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams
The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams
The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett
The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett
On the Road by Jack Kerouac
Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
Night by Elie Weisel
Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
Lolita by Vladamir Nabakov
Short Stories by Edgar Allen Poe
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
As You Like It by William Shakespeare
The Time Machine by H. G. Wells
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers
The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury
Dracula by Bram Stoker
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
True Grit by Charles Portis
The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin by Benjamin Franklin
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

Saturday, February 25, 2012


Classics Revisited Book Group (Posting 19)

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter directed by Robert Ellis Miller
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers

In these book vs. movie posts I’ve done during the last couple of months, I’ve tried not to always pick the book over the movie, but I’m afraid that is just the way it seems to have panned out most of the time. I mean if you want to see a movie that is better than the book you can always watch The Godfather, The Shawshank Redemption, Psycho or The Graduate.

Book or Movie? That being said, I’m still picking The Heart is a Lonely Hunter (the book) over the The Heart is a Lonely Hunter (the film), despite the fact that the film is not at all bad. It’s also interesting that it has never been filmed since that I’m aware of. The film does have Alan Arkin, who is as good as the deaf mute Mr. Singer as Cliff Robertson’s similar role as Charly from the same year. Of course, the story of Heart revolves mainly around the teenaged girl Mick played by Sondra Locke who is coming of age at this time in the rural south in the 30’s .

I first read Carson McCuller’s story in high school and was happy to note that all these years later, it is still thick with the good, the bad and the ugly of growing up in the rural South and holds up quite well. It also made the top twenty of the Modern Library’s top 100 English language novels of the century, so others obviously still like it as well.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

CHARLY (1968)

Classics Revisited Book Group (Posting 18)

Charly directed by Ralph Nelson
Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

Charlie Gordon is a mentally retarded man who has an operation that improves his intelligence to a genius level before he begins to revert back. The novel is told in first person through Charlie’s journals. It sounds like a pretty basic story and maybe it is, but it is also one of my favorite books, which I’ve read many times. Keyes’s device of using the journals of Charlie to tell the story is really what makes the book for me.

However, this device doesn’t translate that well to film and may be what has limited the success of the original film adaptation. This 1968 version does have Cliff Robertson (who really is Charlie to me) and some groovy Ravi Shankar sitar music, but the plot doesn’t flow as successfully as it should.

The more recent television remake with Matthew Modine was even less successful.

Book or Movie? I would definitely choose the book here.

Sunday, February 19, 2012


Classics Revisited Book Group (Posting 17)

A Raisin in the Sun directed by Daniel Petrie
A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry

Lorraine Hansberry’s play about a poor Chicago black family trying to get ahead has been filmed several times, with the most famous adaptation being the 1961 version starring Sidney Poitier. If I’m not mistaken, it was even converted into a musial(called Raisin, of course). It is a strong story, though I didn’t find the ending as satisfying as I would have liked.

Book or movie? Either the book or film is a good start, but I’d like to see this on stage at some point.

Thursday, February 16, 2012


Classics Revisited Book Group (Posting 16)

Treasure Island directed by Victor Fleming
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

The 1931 Treasure Island with Wallace Beery as Long John Silver and Jackie Cooper as Jim Hawkins is the definitive film adaptation for some. Others prefer the Disney version with Robert Newton. There are plenty of other versions out there, whether in animated or graphic novel form. But lets face it; it’s a right of passage for a boy (maybe even for a girl!) to read the original. If you haven’t-you better get to it!

Monday, February 13, 2012


Classics Revisited Book Group (Posting 15)

All the King’s Men directed by Robert Rossen
All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren

The 1949 film version of All the King’s Men seems to not be as respected as it once was. After released, it won several Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Actor for Broderick Crawford as the Huey Long-like politician. But it did not make the 1001 movie book and couldn’t even manage to crack the American Film Institute’s top 100. I admit that this adaptation does seem a little dated now, though the more recent adaptation with Sean Penn (which I haven’t seen) was not successful either.

I think the problem with the adaptations is that Warren’s book is such a well-written character study that it would be difficult for any film to totally recreate it.

Book or Movie? This is one for the books.

Friday, February 10, 2012


Classics Revisited Book Group (Posting 14)

Twelfth Night directed by Trevor Nunn
Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare

Trevor Nunn is a renowned name to many in Shakespeare adaptationland. His version of Macbeth from the 70’s (actually just a filmed version of the stage play with Ian McKellan and Judi Dench) is a bare-bones production favorite of mine. His cinematic version of Twelfth Night goes the opposite way with its elaborate costumes and settings and the casting of several stars including Helena Bonham Carter and Ben Kingsley.

I know a Shakespeare teacher who prefers the filmed stage adaptation of Twelfth Night with Helen Hunt, though that wasn’t available on video last time I checked. Of course, through the magic of YouTube, it probably is now.

Play or movie? Twelfth Night is one of Shakespeare’s most endearing comedies. Read the text and find a version you like. There are certainly a lot of them out there.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012


Classics Revisited Book Group (Posting 13)

Much Ado About Nothing
& As You Like It directed by Kenneth Branagh
Much Ado About Nothing
and As You Like It by William Shakespeare

I have a friend that says I have a “man crush” on actor, director and modern Shakespeare popularizer Kenneth Branagh. I certainly wouldn’t put it that way, but I am a fan of his creative and accessible adaptations. Much Ado About Nothing (1993) is certainly an entertaining film and I don’t see many others trying to do what Branagh does with Shakespeare. The cast of Much Ado is very high profile and features Branagh, Denzel Washington, Emma Thompson, and Michael Keaton, who is quite funny as Dogberry. I even give Keanau Reeves points for trying as the evil Don John. Also in the cast are Branagh regulars Brian Blessed and Richard Briers.

Branagh’s As You Like It from 2007 was not as critically applauded as the Much Ado About Nothing, but I find the transfer of the story to feudal Japan successful and confess to liking this one as well. It also has interesting supporting performances from Alfred Molina, Kevin Kline, Richard Briers and Brian Blessed.

Movies or Play? I think it would be okay to just see the adaptations on this one, but I would never try to discourage the reading of the plays as well. But I don’t have a man crush on Kenneth Branagh! But see Dead Again, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets if you get the chance anyway. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Saturday, February 4, 2012


Classics Revisited Book Group (Posting 12)

Masque of the Red Death directed by Roger Corman
Masque of the Red Death by Edgar Allan Poe

Roger Corman and American International Pictures made several low budget versions of Edgar Allen Poe’s works during the 60’s (mostly starring Vincent Price). I wouldn’t say they were exactly faithful, but don’t forget that many of Poe’s original stories, including Masque of the Red Death, were under twenty pages long, so obvious embellishments were needed. I like the old American International movies overall and it was the first introduction for some of us to the works of Mr. Poe.

Book or Movie?
I would still read the original story over the movie here. But since the original story is eighteen pages long and the Corman movie is 89 minutes long, I think you can make time in your schedule to see both.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012


Classics Revisited Book Group (Posting 11)

The Thin Man directed by W. S. Van Dyke
The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett

If this had been between Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon against John Huston’s film of the same name, I would have gone for the movie.

Book or Movie? In the case of The Thin Man, I’m going to give the nod to Hammett’s original source over the film. It’s not an easy choice. I don’t think there has ever been a screen couple as engaging as William Powell and Myrna Loy as Nick and Nora Charles and the banter between the two of them is the best part of their Thin Man movies.

But here are some sample quotes from Hammett’s The Thin Man:

Tall-over six feet-and one of the thinnest men I’ve ever seen. He must be about fifty now and his hair was almost white when I knew him.Usually needs a haircut, ragged brindle mustache, bites his fingernails.” I pushed the dog away to reach for my drink. (Nick Charles)

You got types?”
“Only you, darling-lanky brunettes with wicked jaws
.” (Nora & Nick)

A lot of fancier yarns come from people trying to tell the truth. It’s not easy once you’re out of the habit.” (Nick Charles)

How do you feel?”
“Terrible. I must have gone to bed sober
.” (Nora & Nick)

That’s why I don’t very often drink, or even smoke. I want to try cocaine, though
because that’s suppose to sharpen the brain, isn’t it
?” (Gilbert Wynant)

She keeps trying and you’ve got to be careful or you’ll find yourself believing her, not because she seems to be telling the truth, but simply because you’re tired of disbelieving her.” (Nick Charles)

I love the quote with the description of “a lanky brunette with wicked jaws,” though I can’t read it without picturing William Powell saying it to a smirking Myrna Loy.