Friday, October 26, 2007

The Comedians

About a month and a half and five books ago, I read Graham Greene's grim dramatic novel, The Comedians. It was a riveting portrait of Haiti at the beginning of its turmoil, like Havana just before and after the coup. It's a story about love and jealousy and the faces people put on to get along.

It was an amazing book and it affected me deeply.

A quick check of Graham Greene's IMDb profile revealed that a film version had been made and that he'd penned the screenplay himself. The leads were Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor and the supporting cast was rounded out with Sir Alec Guinness, Lillian Gish, Peter Ustinov and James Earl Jones. It was a movie I had to see. I love Graham Greene adaptations on film (The Third Man and The Fallen Idol being two of my favorite movies ever) and I just had to see how they did this one.

It was a bit of a pain to get a copy of it as it's only available in a Richard Burton-Elizabeth Taylor box set but eBay yielded a stand-alone copy of the film for a preposterously good price.

The film is a generally faithful adaptation of the novel. A seriously condensed version, but generally faithful nonetheless.

The film is pretty good, although I'm disappointed to report it's no masterpiece. The weak link? Elizabeth Taylor. Everyone in the film is pretty much acting circles around her. It was quite apparent to me that she was somehow the Julia Roberts of her time. Generally pretty, but just not very good. And it seemed as though since she was cutting her rate to be in the film, they were going to include her in every frame the could. Which outbalanced the film. It seems as though the adaptation condensed everything in the novel but her scenes, so she was in the film disproportionately.

Richard Burton was cast perfectly. He was very much a Graham Greene sort of chap, a depressed romantic, bumbling his way through events much larger than him with his only care in the world a woman that he can't have. Unfortunately, Elizabeth Taylor manages to suck the life from the film. Which is interesting because she had absolutely no chemistry with Richard Burton and they were married at the time.

The rest of the cast was nothing short of astonishing. Alec Guinness had the strongest supporting performance as Major Jones. He played a sniveling, but likable, con-man sort of fellow who tries his hardest to convince everyone that he was a hero of the conflict in Burma. The rest of the cast fell into line accordingly. James Earl Jones presided over one of the hardest scenes to watch in an operating room.... Man.... That was a great scene.

I think the other thing that the film missed was the emotional core of the book, the out and out jealousy. The director really didn't seem to grasp the feeling of the end of the novel and it seemed to do the film a disservice.

Don't get me wrong, the film is worth checking out. It's pretty good and certainly better than 90% of the crap that is coming out of Hollywood these days.

I'd say it's a solid 6, 7 tops out of 10.

1 comment:

NateDredge said...

Thanks. I’d been curious about this one.