The History of Adaptations
Moving on my Lost in Translation look at the history of movie adaptations, this month is a look at the Forties. I’m still using the compiled list at Filmsite.org as a base. By using what was popular, I hope that the movie titles are familiar to readers to give an idea of how beloved films came about. There may still be surprises, like 1930’s Ingagi, which did well but has not been seen since because of controversy surrounding it.
The Forties can be split into two periods. The first, covering World War II, started in 1939 and ended in 1945. The beginning of the war also marked the end of the Great Depression as factories stepped up to supply material to the forces in Europe and, after 1942, the Pacific. Even though the US entered the war late, American companies were selling equipment to Allied countries for their war effort. The result was two-fold. First, people started to have money again and could afford to go out for a night on the town, even with rationing in effect. Second, with loved ones overseas fighting, the movies were a way to escape worries.
The second half of the decade, the post-war era, saw soldiers return home and take advantage of various programs to get a career outside the military. No longer having to build equipment for the war, factories changed gears to produce goods for the civilian market. With the economy booming, Hollywood was in a good position to provide a reason to go out. The post-war era also saw a baby boom along with the economic boom.
Movie technology continued to advance. Colour was still expensive but seeing more use, particularly in animation. Stock footage from the war was available. Stereo sound started to get used in theatres. The popular movies tended to be lighter fare, as seen below.
Pinocchio – Disney’s animated adaptation of the 1883 children’s book, The Adventures of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi.
Fantasia – an original feature from Disney featuring animation set to classical music. Fantasia was the first movie recorded in stereo.
Sergeant York – the biography of Alvin York and thus an adaptation, for the purposes of the analysis.
Bambi – another Disney animated adaptation, this time based on Bambi, A Life in the Woods by Felix Salten.
Mrs. Miniver – original. The movie spawned a sequel called The Miniver Story in 1950 which had the same cast.
For Whom the Bell Tolls – adaptation of the novel by Ernest Hemingway
This Is the Army – adapted from the stage musical. The movie was used as a morale booster overseas.
A Guy Named Joe – original. Steven Spielberg would go on to remake this film as Always in 1989, changing the backdrop from World War II to aerial firefighting.
Going My Way – original.
Meet Me in St. Louis – a Judy Garland musical that was based on short stories by Sally Benson originally published in The New Yorker.
The Bells of St Mary’s – a sequel to 1944’s Going My Way, above.
Mom and Dad (aka The Family Story in the UK) – original. Mom and Dad was a sex hygiene exploitation film about the dangers of premarital sex and the lack of sex education. Reefer Madness for sex.
Song of the South – a Disney animated adaptation based on the Uncle Remus stories. Disney has not released the film to home video.
The Best Years of Our Lives – adaptation based on novella /Glory for Me/ by MacKinlay Kantor who served as a war correspondent.
Duel in the Sun – adaptation based on the novel by Niven Busch. The movie was a Western starring Gregory Peck.
Forever Amber – adaptation based on the novel by Kathleen Winsor.
Unconquered – adaptation based on the Neil Swanson novel.
Welcome Stranger – original.
Road to Rio – the fifth movie in the /Road to …/ series. The seven movies made in the series were an excuse to have Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, and Dorothy Lamour together on-screen.
The Red Shoes – adapted from the story by Hans Christian Andersen.
Easter Parade – original musical.
Red River – original. The movie was a Western starring John Wayne and was based on the first cattle drive on the Chisholm Trail.
Samson and Delilah – adapted from the story in the Bible.
Of the twenty-three movies listed above, eight were originals, two were sequels, and thirteen were adapted from a previous work. In comparison with the Thirties, the percentage of adaptations to the overall count is about the same. The question of sequels is now at hand. For the purposes of analysis, do sequels count as an adaptation or a continuation of a previous film?
Whatever the decision I make now will be followed with the remaining decades. In general, the amount of time between the original and the sequel will make the difference. Having the same cast also leads to being a continuation. With The Bells of St. Mary’s, it appeared a year after Going My Way, thus is a continuation. Looking at Road to Rio, it’s part of a series that existed solely to have Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, and Dorothy Lamour together. Audiences went to see them, not necessarily the stories. With that in mind, I’ll place Road to Rio as a continuation and not an adaptation.
Westerns start showing up in the latter half of the decade, beginning their domination of entertainment. Filming on-site becomes easier, with cameras built that can be taken away from studios. Bing Crosby is also popular, starring in four of the movies above – Going My Way, The Bells of St. Mary’s, Road to Rio, and Welcome Stranger, along with at least one other movie per year in the decade. Musicals are still around, and, especially with Crosby, having an actor known for singing allows for songs to be added to the story.
Disney is still using children’s stories and folk tales for its animated features, with three of the four movies being adaptations. Fantasia went a different route, a number of animated shorts brought together through the use of classical music. With the other adaptations, the main source is the written word. Seven movies were based on a novels, novellas, or short stories. The remaining three adaptations were based on a Bible story, a stage musical, and a life story. Compared to the Thirties, the number of stage works dropped considerably. There aren’t any adaptations of adaptations as there were in the previous decade. Film is coming into its own as a medium, with its own approaches. Adaptations were made, but they were direct from a source instead of being filtered through a stage play.
Adaptations still were made, but remakes didn’t reach the levels of popularity the above movies had. Part of the reason may be the relatively few movies that were released in the Twenties and Thirties; compared to today. Even Frankenstein went back to the source instead of the earlier adaptation.
Next week, returning to reviews.
This article was originally published to Muse Hack.
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