David Lynch first made a name for himself on the midnight movie circuit with 1977’s surrealist nightmare Eraserhead, which he wrote and directed while studying at the American Film Institute (AFI). The filmmaker then chose 1980’s The Elephant Man as the follow-up to his first feature-length film. This, however, wasn’t his original intention.
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After their popular romantic comedy House Calls (1978), Walther Matthau and Glenda Jackson reteamed for 1980’s Hopscotch, thus proving it was possible to make a film of Julio Cortazar’s milestone of mischievous modernism.
Just kidding. The film was actually based on a serious novel by Brian Garfield, best known as the author of Death Wish. The author strongly objected to the violent vigilante drama made from that novel, as he felt the film sent the opposite message of what he’d written, and he insisted on being involved in adapting his Edgar-winning Best Novel Hopscotch for the screen. He wrote the first screenplay with Bryan Forbes for the latter to direct with star Warren Beatty, and as projects will, that plan dissolved and reconfigured until he was revising it considerably for director Ronald Neame and star Walter Matthau.
Given that many people know American novels, to the extent that they know them, from the film versions (if any) more than from reading them, most people know Ernest Hemingway’s 1937 novel To Have and Have Not from Howard Hawks’ 1944 film, which introduced Lauren Bacall to a dazzled world and an equally bewitched Humphrey Bogart. At 19, she slinked across the screen, all hair and elbows, and delivered come-hither lines like “You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? You just put your lips together and blow.”
Less well known, unfortunately, is the 1950 remake, which happens to be a much more faithful adaption and therefore more pleasing to Hemingway and his readers. It’s ironic, then, that it uses a different title, The Breaking Point, probably in an effort to avoid unfair comparisons to the previous hit. Criterion has now issued that remake on Blu-ray for the delectation of fans of Hemingway, of excellent noir films, and of intense star John Garfield who, as always, is basically playing John Garfield.
Editor’s Note: Originally published 7 September 2009.
Jerry Lewis remains an elusive cinematic figure. For most, he’s a joke, the punchline to a slam on the foolish French, or the kooky caricature of a nerd screeching “HEY LAAAAADY!” at the top of their nasal voice. Others have a more proper perspective, recognizing both his work with former partner Dean Martin (they remain the biggest phenomenon and unquantifiable gold standard in the now dead art of night club entertainment) and his tireless efforts on behalf of muscular dystrophy (summed up by this weekend’s telethon). But when it comes to film, especially those he’s personally written and directed, he stays a fool, a jester as jerk de-evovling the artform into nothing more than senseless silly slapstick. It doesn’t matter that Lewis authored one of the standard textbooks on the craft (The Total Film-Maker, 1971), or conceived technical innovations that revolutionized the production process.
This cheap, creepy, simple TV movie was never forgotten by those who caught it because it effectively pares its fears into one compact little bone in the throat. The movie’s live wire, or raw nerve, or whatever you call the thing that makes it rise above its limits, is the feminist element of the disbelieved “hysterical woman”, someone poised between restless wifery and women’s lib.