I make no claim to know all of the best novels that have been made into films. To do so would be as spurious a claim as saying I’ve read every work of fiction published and put onto the big screen. I do, however, have several favorites that have stuck out in my mind over the years. Disclaimer, I have not read any of the Godfather novels, so as great as the films are, I cannot judge whether they measure up to Mario Puzo’s writing.
A Clockwork Orange
This film is delivers on every level from the directing (not surprisingly by one of the greatest film directors of all time, Stanley Kubrick) to the acting, cinematography, and the soundtrack. The film also uses the unique Nadsat dialect that author Anthony Burgess created for his dystopian novel. Warning for the faint of heart, for all of its successes, the book and the film are violent and dark.
Empire of the Sun
Again, not surprisingly a film from one of the greatest directors of all time, Steven Spielberg. It is astounding how well the film recreates pre-war Shanghai and draws us into the world of the abandoned young British boy Jamie (based on the autobiography of author James Ballard) who must navigate the harsh realities of life in a Japanese POW camp on his own.
No Country for Old Men
The Coen brothers took a sharp turn from their usual zany, quirky comedies to direct this dark thriller about a local drug war in 1980 Texas, written by novelist Cormac McCarthy. The acting of Javier Bardem, who plays the arch-villain, is so superb that it overshadows the almost equally good portrayals by Josh Brolin and Tommy Lee Jones.
To Kill a Mockingbird
This seminal American novel by Harper Lee captured the nation’s attention during the civil rights struggle of the 1960s. Gregory Peck’s fantastic portrayal of attorney Atticus Finch probably did as much to bring this issue to the attention of the American public as did the novel.
Along the lines of Dr. Zhivago, this is the portrayal of two young lovers separated by class, external circumstances and ultimately war. Director Joe Wright brings Ian McEwan’s wonderful novel to life with a dramatic musical score and amazing cinematography. Wright captures the chaos of Dunkirk more effectively in 15 minutes of screen time than Christopher Nolan does in two hours in his homonymous film from 2017.
In grade school I read this book by William Armstrong about a black sharecropper family in Depression-era Georgia and it made me cry. It awoke me to the plight of underprivileged people for the first time. The film version is equally powerful, with a wonderful performance by lately departed actress Cicely Tyson.
Hilary Jordan’s novel Mudbound was recently made into a very compelling movie on Netflix. I must confess, I found the novel through the movie, which is the opposite of how it usually happens. Mudbound, the story of two recently returned WWII vets (one black, one white) in Jim Crow-era Mississippi takes on a variety of salient topics. The movie, like the novel, is graphic and visceral. Director Dee Rees did a wonderful job bringing the novel to life on the screen.