Books/Magazines

Book Vs. Movie: A Place in the Sun (1951) & An American Tragedy (1931)

Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift in A Place in the Sun.

On March 30, 1908, Chester Gillette was executed after being convicted of the murder of Grace Brown. Gillette was the son of religious parents who were members of The Salvation Army and he later moved to New York to work in a skirt factory owned by his uncle. While working there, he began having an affair with fellow Grace, a fellow factory employee. When she became pregnant, she pressured him to marry her, but he kept stringing her along. Reportedly, he was also involved with a young socialite in town. Eventually, Chester agreed to take a trip with Grace to the Adirondack Mountains, presumably to get married. Instead, Chester convinced her to get into a rowboat with him where he hit her over the head and left her to drown.

The court case garnered significant media attention throughout the country and was the inspiration for Theodore Dreiser’s 1925 novel An American Tragedy. An American Tragedy went on to be adapted for the screen twice, first as 1931’s An American Tragedy and again in 1951 as A Place in the Sun.

Book & Movie Differences

The novel An American Tragedy is an extremely lengthy read. (The edition I read was 874 pages.) But neither the 1931 film or A Place in the Sun match the book’s epic length, clocking in at 96 minutes and 122 minutes respectively. Given that discrepancy, there’s naturally much from the book that was lost in translation from book to screen.

The novel is divided into three separate parts. Book 1 covers Clyde Griffiths’ youth in Kansas City as the child of poor street preachers. He’s never spiritually moved by his parents’ work and dreams of having something more in life, envying the people in town who have nicer things. As a teenager, he becomes a bellboy in a luxury hotel, starts making friends with his coworkers, and enjoys the thrill of making good money, choosing to lie to his mother about how much he earns so that he can spend more on himself than on his family. He also starts breaking away from his strict upbringing while going out with his hedonistic new friends and develops a serious weakness for women. One day, as Clyde is returning to town with his friends and some women, the person driving the car (borrowed without permission) fatally hits a young girl. Clyde and most of the others flee the accident scene and leave town. This whole section is largely omitted in A Place in the Sun, aside from Clyde’s mother working in a mission and fact that he didn’t grow up with much money. The 1931 film does include the car accident as well. Book 2 is focused on the main events depicted in both movies, from Clyde meeting his uncle while working as a bellboy and going to work in his uncle’s factory up until Roberta drowns. Book 3 covers the investigation into Roberta’s death, the search leading up to Clyde’s arrest, the trial, and Clyde’s time in prison afterward. It gets into a lot of procedural details of the case, like the political aspirations of the district attorney involved, Clyde’s legal team grasping at straws to build a defense, and the things that happen when a trial turns into a media circus.

(Note: A Place in the Sun changes all the characters’ original names. Clyde Griffiths became George Eastman, Roberta Alden became Alice Tripp, and Sondra Finchley became Angela Vickers. In this article, I use the original names when referencing the novel or the 1931 film and the other names when referencing A Place in the Sun.)

Lobby card for 1931's An American Tragedy featuring Sylvia Sidney and Phillips Holmes.

Over the years, there have been many cases of books/plays being adapted into movies that are highly criticized by their original authors. An American Tragedy (1931) is one of them. In this case, Dreiser and director Josef Von Sternberg and screenwriter Samuel Hoffenstein had differing views on what motivates Clyde Griffiths. Dreiser’s novel has a very heavy sociological perspective and shows Clyde as being highly driven by an obsession with wealth, luxury, and social status stemming from his destitute youth, often being looked at as an object of pity by people who were better off than his family. But Von Sternberg and Hoffenstein didn’t believe this was relevant and in cutting out so much of Book 1 in the film, this whole concept is lost. Dreiser so strongly disagreed with the direction of this adaptation that he (unsuccessfully) sued Paramount to prevent it from being released.

Dreiser passed away in 1945, so he didn’t live to see A Place in the Sun, but it’s likely he would have been critical of that as well since it heavily whitewashes the less palatable aspects of Clyde’s character, including that all-consuming drive for wealth and status. When we first see George in A Place in the Sun, we see he’s simply trying to make his way to a new job opportunity rather than trying to distance himself from a fatal car crash. He’s a handsome young man, the leather jacket he wears gives him a bit of a cool guy vibe, and the beginning largely has an optimistic tone to it. As for his infatuation with Angela, A Place in the Sun makes it seem like that is more about Angela herself than it is about Angela plus everything her upper-class lifestyle represents to him. In the book, it’s very clear that it’s Sondra’s combination of beauty and wealth that makes her the ultimate dream to him.

Despite Dreiser’s objections to the 1931 adaptation, there is quite a bit in it that stays closer to the source material than A Place in the Sun. It follows the text of the book more than the spirit of the book. For one, A Place in the Sun shows Clyde’s wealthy relatives as being warmer to him than they were in the book. Clyde’s cousin Gilbert in particular is highly skeptical of Clyde’s presence, which is reflected a little bit in the 1931 version. It also accurately shows Clyde as being Roberta’s superior when she starts working at the factory. In A Place in the Sun, George and Alice both have menial jobs in the same department, but in the book and the 1931 movie, he had recently been moved over to a supervisory position in the stamping department when Roberta starts working at the factory, which changes the power dynamics of their relationship. It also shows Clyde pressuring Roberta to let him into her room at night. She later relents after he gets angry with her for initially refusing. A Place in the Sun makes this all seem more consensual.

Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor seated in a car in A Place in the Sun.

A Place in the Sun also makes Angela seem like more of a more sincere and viable long-term romantic partner for George. In the book, Sondra’s relationship with Clyde begins as something of a joke to get under the skin of Clyde’s cousin Gilbert, who hadn’t shown any interest in her. But while he does find a place in her social circle, the general consensus among the town’s social elite is that Clyde going to parties with this crowd is one thing. But with little money of his own and a rather vague background, he’s not seen as a suitable potential husband for anyone in that set. Mrs. Finchley tells Sondra that she sees no harm in her spending time with Clyde, but specifically warns her against getting too friendly and Sondra understands that her mother is right. There certainly wasn’t anything like the scene where her father gives his blessing for George to marry her like we see in A Place in the Sun. The book shows that Clyde wants to marry Sondra and tries to convince her to elope, but it’s also clear to readers that any ideas he has about actually making it to the altar are a pipe dream. There also weren’t any dramatic visits from Sondra before Clyde’s execution. The most Clyde got was a brief letter, which was unsigned but clearly from her.

One surprising way A Place in the Sun is actually more accurate to the book than its pre-Code era counterpart is the way it handles the efforts made to get an abortion for Roberta. The novel goes into extensive detail about this, starting with Clyde finding a pharmacist who provides something for Roberta to take, which only succeeds in making her ill. He later gets a tip about a doctor and takes Roberta to see him, but encourages her to go in by herself to seem more sympathetic. The scene with the doctor plays out much as it did in A Place in the Sun. The 1931 version, on the other hand, mostly shows Roberta pressuring Clyde to marry her, but a brief reference to the pharmacist and the doctor comes up during Clyde’s trial.

Montgomery Clift and Shelley Winters in A Place in the Sun.

By far, one of the key things missing in both film adaptations is detail about the character of Roberta/Alice and what, exactly, Clyde/George saw in her. As I was reading the book, I couldn’t help but feel my heart sink as she was introduced because she was described as being such a lovely woman and I knew that things weren’t going to end well for her. Clyde had been warned to not get involved with the women who work at the factory, and until Roberta came along, he wasn’t really tempted to. Just like Clyde, Roberta came from a poor family and had a religious upbringing. She was a farm girl, like his mother. She’s pretty and when Clyde first meets her, he’s immediately taken with how bright and charming she is. She tries to be a moral and ethical person, but she’s not as uptight as other women with similar backgrounds that Clyde has met. She has a lot of agency over her own life. Also like Clyde, she dreams for something more in life than her destitute background has to offer, but her expectations are more grounded than Clyde’s. While Clyde’s family connections do appeal to her, it’s very clear that she was not actively trying to trap him by having a baby, like some might accuse her of.

The fact that the business owned by Clyde’s/George’s uncle is changed from a collar company in the book and 1931 movie to a bathing suit company in A Place in the Sun doesn’t materially change anything about the overall story, but it does change some of Dreiser’s original symbolism. In the book, it’s said that even cheap collars can add polish and manner to people who wouldn’t have them otherwise, so the collars serve as a metaphor for Clyde’s experience of coming to town to work for his uncle. When he was living with his family in Kansas City, his name made him someone that others looked down upon. But now that he’s in a town where his name is associated with a successful business owner, even being a lesser known member of the family is enough for people to take more interest in him than they would otherwise.

Is the Book Worth Reading?

Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy book cover.

If you’re looking for a light, breezy read, An American Tragedy is definitely not what you want. But if you’re more in the mood for a in-depth character study about ambition, class, and the American dream, An American Tragedy holds up very well. There’s much in it that remains very relevant nearly a century after it was originally published. As long as the book is, I was surprised by how consistently engaging I found it. The only time I really started losing interest was during the some of the stuff about Clyde’s early time in Lycurgus after he moves to work for his uncle. If you’re into crime novels, you may like the third section of the book in particular.

I only began to scratch the surface of everything that is different between the book and its two film adaptations. There’s so much in the book that didn’t make it into either film version, like nearly everything in the first section, why Clyde’s uncle is so eager to help him out, and the efforts of Clyde’s mother to fund an appeal for him, just to name a few. You’ll definitely get a lot of new insights to the characters you know from the movie versions. This is the kind of story that absolutely could be adapted again as a miniseries. That kind of format would allow for more a more faithful adaptation and would be different enough from 1931’s An American Tragedy and A Place in the Sun that it would easily stand as its own work rather than as a movie remake.

Speaking of A Place in the Sun, this article might seem like I’m being hard on the movie. I would just like to note that I’m actually a big fan of the movie. While the 1931 version has more in common with the book, A Place in the Sun is the version I personally prefer. Hands down, A Place in the Sun has the better cast, although I liked Syliva Sidney as Roberta in the 1931 version. Many of the differences between the book and A Place in the Sun can be attributed to the fact that it was made during the production code era and there’s much in the book that is simply not production code friendly.

This review is part of the 2022 Classic Film Summer Reading Challenge hosted by Out of the PastFor more reviews on books related to classic film, be sure to follow the #ClassicFilmReading hashtag on social media.

Book vs. Movie: The Night of the Hunter

While Charles Laughton only directed one movie in his career, The Night of the Hunter, he certainly made it a good one. No list of great movie villains would be complete without Robert Mitchum’s thoroughly menacing performance as Harry Powell. Simply thinking about the way he says the word “children” in that movie is enough to send a chill down the spine. When you add in all that striking cinematography, heavily influenced by German expressionism, the movie becomes a visual masterpiece.

The Night of the Hunter was based on a book by Davis Grubb, first published in 1953. But does the story still hold up without the tour de force that is Robert Mitchum’s performance and the striking cinematography?

Book & Movie Differences

Night of the Hunter was a movie that stayed very close to its source material. It doesn’t follow the book right down to the letter, but the core of the story is there. Most of what was cut were details that flesh out the characters a bit more. For example, the movie makes references to Rachel Cooper having a strained relationship with her son, but the book gives a deeper backstory about how Rachel struggles to relate to her son now that he’s become rather financially successful and leads a lifestyle she can’t fit in with. We also learn more about other crimes Harry Powell had committed before landing in jail with Ben Harper and why Ben Harper had flatly refused to tell anyone, even Willa, about where the money he stole was.

Willa Harper’s courtship with Harry is more drawn out than it is in the movie. Before Harry arrives in town, there’s a scene where Willa and Icey Spoon use a Ouija board to ask about Willa’s next husband, resulting in the board spelling out “cloth.” (The idea that a Ouija board would suggest a man of a cloth as anyone’s future husband, only for that man of the cloth to end up being Harry Powell is a great argument against the use of Ouija boards.) At some point, Willa gives Harry a pocket watch that had belonged to her late husband, which is upsetting to John. On the day of the picnic, the book mentions the children visiting their father’s grave for the first time and a storm occurring later in the day, and Willa misinterprets John’s unusual behavior as being due to those things rather than him not trusting Harry. Willa is shown to have several reservations about her relationship with Harry since she was still mourning her first husband.

After Willa and John do get married, the book has this rather devastating scene where Willa thinks about how even her best nightgown and slippers look worn and that her nice figure is the only nice thing she has to offer her new husband. When she returns to their room, Harry forces her to take off her nightgown, look at herself in the mirror, and viciously verbally degrades her body to her. The movie version of that scene is still brutal, but Willa is at least given a little more dignity.

The book also has a somewhat different ending from the movie. Near the end of the movie, we see a mob descending on the police station where Harry Powell is being held, but officers usher him away to safety just in the nick of time. In the book, Harry isn’t so lucky.

Is the Book Worth Reading?

I’m a big fan of Night of the Hunter, both as a book and a movie. The extra details we get in the book make John Harper a truly fascinating and compelling character. Even though he’s very young, there’s a lot of depth and dimension to him. We get to see how it takes time for him to come around to trusting Rachel Cooper after the trauma of everything he had been through. The book really explores John’s fear and inability to trust the police after they took his father away from him. It’s easy to sense his pure exasperation at feeling like the only one in town to see through Harry Powell and feeling obligated to protect his sister at all costs, even though she often makes it difficult for him to do so purely because she’s simply too young to understand the danger they’re in. Even the one adult in Cresap’s Landing that he does trust, Birdie, ends up being unable to help him just when he needs it most. It was also great getting to explore the character of Willa a bit more.

If you’re a big fan of the movie, you’ll very likely be a big fan of the book. Even if you’re unfamiliar with the movie, the book is still very much worth reading.

This review is part of the 2022 Classic Film Summer Reading Challenge hosted by Out of the PastFor more reviews on books related to classic film, be sure to follow the #ClassicFilmReading hashtag on social media.

Book vs. Movie: The Graduate

As far as film adaptations of books go, The Graduate is something of an unlikely candidate. Generally, books get turned into movies because they were best sellers or were otherwise popular with the general public. The first printing of The Graduate only sold a couple of thousand copies and when one of those copies ended up in the hands of Mike Nichols, he’d never heard of it before. It was sent to him by producer Lawrence Turman and at the time, Mike Nichols hadn’t heard of him, either. But Turman had seen Nichols’s production of Barefoot of the Park and thought he had the right sensibility to direct a movie based on The Graduate. At the time, Nichols hadn’t directed a movie before and while he didn’t think the story was very original, he still wanted to turn it into a movie. Getting The Graduate to the screen was a long process, but once it was finally released, this story from a fairly obscure book suddenly became a cultural phenomenon.

Book & Movie Differences

For the most part, the movie stays pretty close to the original book. Of the most notable differences, there’s a section early on in the book where, after Mrs. Robinson initially propositions him, Benjamin decides to leave town for a bit and ends up traveling further north in the state, where he helps fight a wildfire. After he comes back home, he begins his affair with Mrs. Robinson.

There are several smaller events which happen in the book that don’t occur in the movie, which add some interesting details. Mrs. Robinson seems to be an enigma even to people who know her well. In one scene, Benjamin has a conversation with his father, who says that for as long as he’s known the Robinsons, he’s never been able to fully figure out Mrs. Robinson or trust her. When Benjamin comes to pick Elaine up for their first date, she apologizes for her mother’s strange mood, noting that it was like she had been in a trance that day. In the movie, it’s very clear that Mrs. Robinson is stuck in a loveless marriage, but the book mentions they’re estranged to the point of living on separate sides of the house.

As the story goes on, more differences start coming up, particularly around the point Benjamin decides to go up to find Elaine at school. The book shows him doing things like hemming and hawing over how to approach her. He does things like make a restaurant reservation with the intention of taking Elaine out, but doesn’t follow through. He later ends up at the front desk of her dorm, but stops short of having her called down. At one point, Mrs. Robinson does contact him while he’s in Berkeley. There’s a scene where Benjamin searches a campus cafeteria looking for Elaine and another where Benjamin’s father comes up to see him. After Elaine leaves school to get married, the movie makes references to Elaine expecting a baby, but there isn’t any mention of that in the book. Benjamin also doesn’t have to make that famous dash to find the church where Elaine and Carl are getting married — he manages to find Carl’s apartment and Carl had conveniently left a note on the door for his roommate letting him know exactly where the church is.

Is the Book Worth Reading?

On the whole, I liked the book. However, if I were to choose between the book and the movie, I’d say the movie is my favorite version of the story.

In addition to the fact that the book version of The Graduate wasn’t a commercial success, the style of writing makes it something of an odd choice for a film adaptation. It’s not exactly the most evocative book I’ve ever read. In books like What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? or Now, Voyager, their writers did a great job of creating atmosphere and exploring the inner workings of the characters. The Graduate, on the other hand, is very sparse in those types of details. Instead, it’s largely focused on dialogue. However, I think this style of writing works in this case since it plays into the vibe of someone who is just going through the motions and not finding much meaning in life.

It also helps that the dialogue in the book is excellent. As you read it, it’s so easy to mentally hear those lines in the voices of Dustin Hoffman, Anne Bancroft, Katharine Ross, and William Daniels. At points, I could practically hear the Simon & Garfunkel soundtrack in my mind as I read. Keeping most of those lines from the book was a very good call. The movie take everything that’s good about the book, but introduces some other classic moments, such as the “plastics” line, which wasn’t in the book.

If you’re a big fan of The Graduate, the book is worth checking out, if only for those smaller but interesting differences that come up throughout the book. It’s a fast but enjoyable read.

This review is part of the 2022 Classic Film Summer Reading Challenge hosted by Out of the PastFor more reviews on books related to classic film, be sure to follow the #ClassicFilmReading hashtag on social media.

Book vs. Movie: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)

Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

Even if someone has never seen a Marilyn Monroe movie, they’re likely familiar with one of two images of her: the white subway dress scene from The Seven Year Itch or wearing the pink dress from the “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend” scene from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is certainly one of the first Marilyn Monroe movies I ever remember seeing and it remains one of my all-time favorite movies.

I first saw the movie pretty early on in my process of discovering classic Hollywood and instantly loved it for Marilyn and Jane Russell. But over the years, I also grew to appreciate the work of Anita Loos, who wrote the original story Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, first published in 1925. So, naturally, the book version had been on my to-read list for a very long time.

Book & Movie Differences

The 1953 film version of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is a very loose adaptation of the original story. The movie is closer to the stage musical adaptation, which debuted in 1949, but there are still plenty of differences between the stage musical and the film version. (It’s worth noting that neither the 1953 film or the 1949 stage musical were the first times the story had been adapted for either medium. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes had previously been adapted into a movie released in 1928, which is now considered a lost film. It had also been previously been adapted for the stage as a straight comedy, which premiered in 1926.) But this is the kind of book that makes it easy to take liberties with the material.

First of all, the book is not structured like a traditional narrative novel. Instead, it’s a series of fictional diary entries by Lorelei Lee. Several side characters and events in the book are completely cut for the movie to make it a more focused story. One of the cut events includes Lorelei and Dorothy stopping in England on their way to France and meeting the Prince of Wales, only for Lorelei to be horrified by Dorothy using slang around the Prince. There’s also one story about Lorelei meeting Sigmund Freud, who is unable to analyze her because of her lack of inhibitions, and another story about Lorelei throwing her own belated debutante debut party.

Marilyn Monroe tries on a tiara in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

In all versions of the story, Lorelei’s desire to own a diamond tiara is a significant source of drama. In both the movie and the stage musical, it’s because the tiara belonged to Lady Beekman. But in the book, that tiara never belonged to Lady Beekman. It originally belonged to an unrelated person who was looking to sell it. Since Lorelei couldn’t afford it herself or get Gus to pay for it, she gets Francis Beekman to buy it for her instead. But when Lady Beekman found out her husband had paid for a tiara and knew perfectly well he hadn’t bought any jewelry for her since her wedding ring, she sent some lawyers after Lorelei to get the tiara. But when the lawyers meet up with Lorelei and Dorothy, they let the lawyers have the fun of taking them out on the town since they’d be billing Mrs. Beekman for it anyway as part of their job and Lorelei makes sure they take a replica tiara back instead.

Lorelei’s background is a bit different in the movie than we see in the book. The movie version of Lorelei Lee is a working showgirl, but in the book, she had worked in films before being “educated” by Gus Eisman, who had asked her to give up her film career. The movie also makes absolutely no mention of an incident described in the book where Lorelei attempted to shoot her boss after he tried to assault her, but since it was an act of self-defense, she was free to go.

One change for the movie that I’d really love to hear the reasoning for is the decision to make Mr. Spoffard into a child. In both the book and the stage musical version, Mr. Spoffard is, indeed, an actual adult. The book version of Mr. Spoffard is part of a wealthy, conservative family and is a member of a censorship board that goes through movies and cuts out anything they deem morally objectionable.

Is the Book Worth Reading?

1925 book cover for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

I was quite impressed by how well the book version of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes holds up today. Nearly a century after its initial publication, the smart writing by Anita Loos remains a real pleasure to read. On the whole, the book — like the movie — is light and pure fun; often laugh-out-loud funny. If you’re looking for a good beach read, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is perfect.

Even though the book has very deep roots in the 1920s, complete with references to people like D.W. Griffith, Rudolph Valentino, and Peggy Hopkins Joyce, much of the humor and character tropes are timeless. For example, Lorelei often thinks she’s classier and more refined than Dorothy so it’s always going to be funny to see Lorelei repeatedly be mortified by Dorothy’s sassy, wisecracking nature. (It’s very easy to see why Jane Russell was cast as Dorothy in the movie.) The book also makes fun of people who scour popular media just looking for things to get into a moral outrage about, and there are certainly still plenty of those around today. The fact that the 1953 version of the movie is fully separated from the original 1920s setting and still works very well is a great reflection of how much of it is timeless.

It also helps that Lorelei isn’t actually a dumb blonde, as people may be quick to dismiss her as. While the book makes fun of her self-perception of being a bit more sophisticated than she really is, she’s often shown as being clever and astute in her own distinctive manner.

This review is part of the 2022 Classic Film Summer Reading Challenge hosted by Out of the PastFor more reviews on books related to classic film, be sure to follow the #ClassicFilmReading hashtag on social media.

Book vs. Movie: Now, Voyager

Lobby card featuring Bette Davis and Paul Henreid in Now, Voyager.

The word “iconic” gets thrown around a lot these days, but it’s a word well deserved when you’re talking about someone like Bette Davis. Over the course of her career, she delivered many legendary performances and her sensitive, vulnerable performance as Charlotte Vale in 1942’s Now, Voyager is easily among her best, with Gladys Cooper also turning in one of the all-time great villain performances as Charlotte’s overbearing mother. Now, Voyager has remained popular over the years with good reason, but before it was a successful movie, it was a novel by Olive Higgins Prouty.

Book & Movie Differences

For the most part, the film version of Now, Voyager is a pretty faithful adaptation of the book. It doesn’t follow the book right down to the letter, but most of the key events are covered, just in a more condensed way.

One of the most significant differences between the book and the movie is evident right off the bat. Rather than opening with Dr. Jaquith coming out to the Vale family home to meet with Charlotte before going off to Cascade, the book opens with Charlotte already on the cruise and the events leading up to her time at Cascade are told through flashbacks. Dr. Jaquith is frequently mentioned throughout the book, but we don’t see Charlotte directly interact with him until near the end of the book, after the death of her mother. While the first 20 minutes of the movie is largely the creation of screenwriters, it does establish some key things about Charlotte and her personal history which are covered in the book, like how she needs to hide things from her mother in her room and the romance she had with a ship employee on a past vacation which her mother actively destroyed.

Bette Davis and Paul Henreid stand together on a ship in Now, Voyager.

As for Jerry, the book gets into more depth about his personal life and the state of his marriage. The movie leaves out a scene where he writes a message to his wife from his cabin on the ship which details how very careful he is about choosing his words to avoid upsetting her. It’s also made clear that Jerry has never been able to provide the type of lifestyle his wife desires, which has long been a significant source of stress in his life. Jerry, like Charlotte, has experienced a nervous breakdown in the past, but he was unable to afford to see Dr. Jaquith. The movie really doesn’t touch on Jerry’s economic situation.

The character of Lisa is more substantial in the book as well. In both versions, Lisa is, by far, Charlotte’s biggest supporter in the family. But in the book, she has a larger story arc that makes her something of an aspirational figure to Charlotte, showing her that it’s still possible for her to have the kind of life that she wants for herself. In the beginning of the book, Lisa is recently widowed and had decided to get remarried. During the cruise, Charlotte wears many of Lisa’s clothes, which Lisa lets her keep afterward so that she can start completely fresh with her new husband. After meeting Charlotte upon returning from the cruise, Lisa stays in New York to get married while Charlotte continues on home to prevent Charlotte’s mother from getting too much shocking news at once. By the end of the book, Lisa is expecting another child. While her new baby will be a later in life child much younger than its siblings, just as Charlotte was, Lisa’s baby is very wanted.

The movie mentions that Elliot Livingston is a widower, one thing that isn’t mentioned is that he had seemingly been depressed in the four years since his wife’s death. In the early stages of his relationship with Charlotte, it’s noted that his maids are excited that he’s starting to host casual events at his home again because that’s something that hadn’t been happening in the time since his wife passed away. Between these types of insights about Elliott, Lisa, and Jerry, the book version of Now, Voyager becomes a larger story about people who have experienced hardships in their life helping each other. The recently widowed Lisa helps Charlotte improve her life by getting her to Dr. Jaquith. Jerry’s interest in Charlotte is like a suit of armor that helps her embrace her new life. Charlotte inspires Jerry to make more of an effort in his marriage after the cruise. Charlotte’s relationship with Elliott helps him move on from his late wife. And, of course, Charlotte is able to help Jerry’s daughter, Tina.

Bette Davis and Gladys Cooper in Now, Voyager.

As for Charlotte, what you see in the movie is pretty much what you get in the book. You just get more insights to her feelings and personal history, such as how thrilling it is for her to make an impression on people she meets on the cruise without the influence of the Vale name. Or the fact that when she was younger, her older brothers would refuse to pick her up from activities after one of them was mistaken for her father because of the age difference. However, the movie makes some bigger diversions from the source material near the end of the movie. The movie makes it seem like Charlotte’s return to Cascade is purely a result of blaming herself for the death of her mother. But in the book, Charlotte also loses her entire support system shortly after her mother passes away and becomes very lonely. She hit a stretch of time when virtually her entire newly expanded social circle simply wasn’t around. Even many of the servants from the family home had moved on. When she goes to New York to see Dr. Jaquith, she tries to contact her friends there to no avail. As a last resort, she tries to contact Jerry and does see him at a train station, but she stays hidden when she realizes that he is with his family. She can tell that Jerry is also feeling lonely, and while she can’t speak to him, she finds some comfort in the idea that they’re essentially lonely together.

Claude Rains and Bette Davis in Now, Voyager.

Just as the book begins with some big differences with Dr. Jaquith, we also get some more differences with him near the end of the book. One scene I wish had been included in the movie is a scene where Charlotte sees Dr. Jaquith before her second trip to Cascade, where she laments not having any direction in her life and that the end of her engagement to Elliot means she will never have a home or family of her own. Dr. Jaquith has a very modern perspective and tells her that having a home of her own doesn’t necessarily require a husband and that there are other ways to fulfill her maternal desire without biological children. So when Charlotte meets Tina and wants to work with her, Dr. Jaquith is more receptive to the idea than he is in the movie because he sees that it could be good for her and for Tina, but still has reservations given Charlotte’s relationship with Jerry. (He also plans to start a program for children at Cascade, which he hopes Charlotte will donate to. There’s a brief reference in the movie to a new wing at Cascade that Charlotte is involved with, but it’s never stated that it’s for children.) This scene also gives some extra weight to the ending where we see Charlotte back at the home where her mother lived. While her mother was alive, the home was described as being dark and imposing. But Charlotte has listened to Dr. Jaquith and made it her own — vibrant and full of life, with Lisa’s daughter June often staying with her in addition to Tina. The bustling activity we see at the home at the end of the movie is the norm, not Charlotte simply putting on a show for Dr. Jaquith and Jerry when they visit. The scene with Dr. Jaquith’s advice drives home the idea that Charlotte is now truly leading a rich, fulfilling, well-rounded life, husband or no husband.

Is the Book Worth Reading?

Now, Voyager is the kind of book I didn’t want to finish reading. The movie has long been one of my all-time favorites and I loved the book every bit as much. I’d been wanting to read the novel version of Now, Voyager for a long time and I couldn’t be happier that I finally did so. It’s been a real pleasure to spend so much time with such a thoughtful, beautifully told story. Even though I already knew the basic story from the movie, I loved getting all the additional insights and details the book provides.

The novel Now, Voyager was first published in 1941 as part of Olive Higgins Prouty’s series of books about the Vale family of Boston. Reading Now, Voyager has gotten me interested in finding copies of the other books in the series, particularly 1938’s Lisa Vale. I already liked the character of Lisa since she seemed to be such an ally to Charlotte in the movie, but the extra detail we get about her in the book made me want to explore that character some more.

When I read books that were adapted into films, I often have an easy time seeing why certain people are cast in certain roles. When I read Wife vs. Secretary last summer, I could absolutely picture someone at MGM reading it and insisting that they get the film rights because it would be a perfect vehicle for Myrna Loy. With Now, Voyager, I felt like the part of Dora Pickford, Mrs. Vale’s nurse, was practically written with Mary Wickes in mind. As iconic as both Bette Davis and Gladys Cooper are as Charlotte and her mother, Mary Wickes is always a delight and it’s really easy to read her part in the book and think, “This is pure Mary Wickes gold.”

This review is part of the 2022 Classic Film Summer Reading Challenge hosted by Out of the PastFor more reviews on books related to classic film, be sure to follow the #ClassicFilmReading hashtag on social media.

Book Vs. Movie: What Ever Happened to Baby Jane

Bette Davis and Joan Crawford in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane.

If you mention either Bette Davis or Joan Crawford, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane is bound to be one of the first movies people think of. Beyond its initial success after its release in 1962, its following of loyal fans has steadily grown over the decades thanks to the enduring appeal of Davis and Crawford together (and their oft-debated rivalry). In 2017, the FX series Feud: Bette and Joan once again renewed interest in the movie. But before it was a successful movie, it was a novel by Henry Farrell.

Book & Movie Differences

For the most part, the film version of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane stays pretty faithful to the book. Most of the differences are small, but often very interesting. For example, the timeline in the book is a little different than what we see in the movie. In the first scene of the movie where young Jane Hudson misbehaves after one of her performances, Blanche seems to be fairly close in age to Jane. But in the book, Blanche is just a baby when that incident occurs. The movie version of that scene combines two different events from the book — the misbehavior in front of the crowd and a later incident when young Blanche interrupts one of Jane’s rehearsals on the beach by trying to dance like Jane, which their father yells at Blanche for and their mother consoles her afterward.

Young Jane Hudson poses next to a doll designed after her.

Other details from the book add a little more insight to the history between Jane and Blanche. We find out that their parents had died during the 1918 flu pandemic. After the death of their parents, they went to live with an aunt who adored Blanche and was focused on helping her become a star in the movies. Once Blanche becomes a big star, it’s said that Jane only has parts in Blanche’s films rather than getting to star in her own movies as seen in the movie. There’s also less debate over whether it’s Blanche or Jane who paid for the house. It’s made very clear that Blanche had bought the house, but Jane does slip at one point and call it her house while talking to Elvira, who is quick to correct her.

We also get some great details for the present day side of the story that we don’t get in the movie. At times, Jane seems even more menacing than she does in the movie. There’s no doubt about whether Jane had been aware of Blanche’s plan to sell the house — Blanche had the chilling realization that Jane was listening in on the extension during her call to discuss it with their business manager as it happened. The whole concept of old stars finding new fame through television has a slightly more important role in the book. Not only does it bring attention back to Blanche, it’s ultimately what inspires Jane to try and revive her old act because she had seen that other former vaudevillians like Jimmy Durante and Buster Keaton were finding success on television.

One of the most significant differences is that the book gives Blanche quite a bit more attention than she gets in the movie. The version of Blanche that we see in the book is more inwardly complex. It focuses a lot on her inner thoughts, her frustrations with her physical condition, and her conflicted feelings about seeing her old movies on TV. While she is touched to (eventually) realize that she was getting fan mail because of it — which included one letter from an actor she had once been in a studio-arranged relationship with — she also worries that the renewed interest in her career would also lead to renewed interest in the accident and that people might dig up some details that had been covered up by the studio back in the day. A big motivation for deciding to sell the house is that she feels like staying there is a way of clinging to the past.

The book has a lot of details about the house that definitely reflect the “stuck in the past” aspect. In the movie, there’s a reference to the house once being owned by Rudolph Valentino, but the book says it’s located in a neighborhood that had once been popular among movie stars and Blanche was now the only star left. The rehearsal room we see Jane spending time in had been originally built for Blanche to give her space to prepare for her movies. We also get an explanation for why the house has those grates on the windows. Most surprisingly, the book mentions a set detail I’ve been obsessed with ever since I first noticed it — the fact that Jane has an empty picture frame on display. We don’t find out why, exactly, this empty frame is sitting out, but Edwin notices it while looking around the house and wonders what happened to the picture that was once in it, if it had been removed in a fit of anger or grief. (Speaking of Edwin, his opportunistic nature is shown a lot more in the book. He evaluates items in Blanche and Jane’s house like he’s an appraiser on Antiques Roadshow and every guest is bringing in something good.)

Throughout the book, there are several other differences from the movie, but a lot of them don’t really make a big difference in the grand scheme of things. For example, rather than Blanche and Jane living next door to a mother and daughter like we see in the movie, their neighbor in the book is a woman who recently moved to the neighborhood who watches one of Blanche’s movies on TV with a friend. (In the 1991 version with Vanessa and Lynn Redgrave, the neighbors are again changed to a married couple.) Many of the biggest differences come rather late in the book. After Edwin finds out about Blanche and flees the house, Jane realizes that he’s going to tell the police and tries to run him down with her car, attracting the attention of other people in the neighborhood. Blanche also makes some efforts to get help which end up being devastatingly futile.

During the beach scene, does it make a significant difference that police are alerted to Blanche and Jane’s presence by beachgoer annoyed by Jane’s parking job in the movie and by a couple at a nearby beach house after Jane blocks their driveway in the movie? No, but it is interesting that in the book, police approach Jane at the beach while she’s trying to call the police herself.

Is the Book Worth Reading?

Book cover for the first edition of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane.

In a word, yes. I absolutely loved this book. Whether you’ve seen the movie many times before, never seen it at all, or maybe only know of it through Feud: Bette and Joan, it’s the kind of book that anyone might enjoy. For those in the camp of having seen the movie many times, the differences between the book at the movie are enough to make things interesting without deterring too much from the core story. And for those who have either never seen the movie, it’s simply a very solid and engaging story. Henry Farrell keeps things moving along at a nice pace and with lots of great evocative writing.

It’s not a very long book, so if you’re looking for a quick summer read, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane is well worth your time. Fortunately, this one is still quite easy to find at a reasonable price.

This review is part of the 2022 Classic Film Summer Reading Challenge hosted by Out of the PastFor more reviews on books related to classic film, be sure to follow the #ClassicFilmReading hashtag on social media.

Book vs. Movie: The Divorcee

The Divorcee Movie Poster.

When you’re talking about essential films from the pre-Code era, 1930’s The Divorcee easily ranks near the top of the list, along with movies like Red-Headed Woman, Baby Face, and The Story of Temple Drake. But by the time the movie was released, it wasn’t the first time the story had made an impact on pop culture. The Divorcee is based on the 1929 novel Ex-Wife by Ursula Parrot. Her story about a woman who engages in a series of affairs after her marriage ends was so scandalous at the time that it was initially published anonymously and ultimately helped set the stage for many other stories about single women that would come in later years. So how do the book and the movie compare?

Book vs. Movie Differences

As was the case for A Free Soul, The Divorcee is a pretty loose adaptation of its source material. They’re both about a woman who sees several different men after her marriage ends, which is caused by her having an affair with her husband’s best friend. Eventually, she falls in love with a man who is married to a woman he feels obligated to stay married to after she is disfigured in a car accident he caused. She decides that partying and seeing many different men isn’t right for her and later decides to settle down. That’s about as far as the similarities go.

Chester Morris and Norma Shearer in The Divorcee.

If you watched The Divorcee and thought the character of Ted (played by Chester Morris, named Peter in the book) was a real piece of work, the movie version of the character is actually the significantly more likeable version of the character. I didn’t even get 20 pages into the book before I was rooting for Pat (named Jerry in the movie, played by Norma Shearer) to have no regrets about this marriage ending because he is so jaw-droppingly awful. While Jerry and Ted are childless in the movie, Pat and Peter do have a baby in the book. However, Peter wasn’t exactly thrilled about parenthood and when their infant son dies unexpectedly, Peter is unbothered and can’t understand why Pat struggles with the loss. He’s just happy to have a thin wife again. When Pat and Peter spend an evening together years later, the subject of their deceased child comes up and his response is basically, “You’re still going on about that?” The book also details some domestic violence from Peter, most notably an incident when Peter threw Pat through a glass door, causing injuries serious enough to require stitches. (Don’t worry — even though Jerry and Ted get back together at the end of movie, Pat does not get back together with Peter at the end of the book.)

Perhaps the most famous scene from The Divorcee is the one where Jerry tells Ted off for his double standards and tells him that from then on, he is the only man her door is closed to. That does not happen in the book. While The Divorcee very explicitly calls out double standards regarding infidelity, Ex-Wife doesn’t quite take the same angle. Instead, it depicts Pat and Peter as being a couple who got married young, didn’t really know what they were doing, and weren’t really ready to settle down.

In the book, it’s said that Pat and Peter were frequently out on the town and both engaged in behavior that made the other jealous. The book doesn’t even specifically say that Ted had been cheating on Pat. Instead, it talks about him acquiring “two or three slightly misunderstood pretty wives” who would often invite him to spend time with them and mentions that he’d often be flirty with other women at parties, which made Pat jealous, but she never called him out on it. When she has her affair with her husband’s best friend, it’s not specifically in retaliation for him cheating on her.

Chester Morris and Norma Shearer in The Divorcee.

While their marriage promptly ends afterwards in the movie, there’s a much longer gap between the time Peter leaves Pat and the official divorce. After Pat owns up to her affair, there’s a time when they try to work through it but it all falls apart after someone Pat knows comes to visit, tells Peter some lies about Pat’s past, and Peter decides he wants out because he thinks he’s in love with Pat’s (former) friend.

There is quite a bit of content in the book that never made it into the movie. In the book, Pat moves in with her friend Lucia (and subsequently with another friend, Helena) and the two of them often go out to parties together. Lucia had been through a divorce herself, so she frequently gives advice to Pat, but all of this is cut from the movie. And, for obvious reasons, a storyline about Pat needing to get an illegal abortion, resulting in her being asked out by the physician she trusted to escort her to the appointment, wasn’t even alluded to the movie.

In the book, we also see more of Pat’s day-to-day life, like her career as a fashion copywriter. Unlike Helen from Wife vs. Secretary, Pat views her job as something of a necessity, not something she does because she genuinely loves it. She also becomes something of a mentor to a younger writer who she works with for a while and Pat helps her both with her career and her personal life. And when Pat meets with the wife of the man she had been seeing who had been disfigured in a car accident, Pat ends up becoming a good friend of hers. Pat not only makes it possible for her to start over with her husband, Pat helps her get new clothing and face masks, giving her the confidence she needs to fully embrace this new start in her life.

Is the Book Worth Reading?

Ursula Parrot Ex-Wife Book Cover.

With The Divorcee being one of the most essential of all pre-Codes, I thought this was going to be a situation where the book was even more scandalous than the movie. And in many ways, it is. But in the end, I feel like this is a rare case where the 1930s Hollywood version of the story actually feels more modern by todays standards.

Ex-Wife is a rather fascinating product of its time. It feels quite modern in some respects. Like the part where Pat and Lucia talk about what it means to be an ex-wife and Lucia assures her that not all divorced women are necessarily ex-wives; that you’re not really an ex-wife as long as you don’t let it become a defining trait. I could absolutely picture a similar scene in a more modern movie. But while a sentiment like that may seem refreshing on the surface for a book first published in 1929, there are plenty of more old fashioned attitudes mixed in. The real reason Lucia doesn’t want Pat to wallow in being ex-wife is because she insists that getting back out there and trying to find a new husband is the best thing to do, even though Pat isn’t really in a hurry to remarry. She tells Pat platitudes like how all attractive women are given a certain number of pieces of gold and that it’s no big deal to squander a few of them, but after a certain point, you better start saving for old age. (Pat wasn’t even 30 years old by the end of the book.)

What I most sorely missed in the book was the condemnation of double standards and Pat getting the chance to really tell off her husband. Those parts specifically are what make the movie resonate strongly with many viewers over 90 years later. Without that aspect, it feels like the book just doesn’t pack the same punch that the movie does.

It’s very easy to understand why Ex-Wife caused quite the scandal when it was first published. It does, indeed, still hold the power to shock, but likely for different reasons. Pat’s string of affairs after the end of her marriage seems far less shocking today than than how generally horrible some of the men in Pat’s life are — specifically Peter.

Overall, I liked the book and Ursula Parrot’s writing style. The way it’s written, it reads like the inner thoughts of someone who has been through an difficult event and is trying to process everything that came along with it. It’s not always polished, but it’s absolutely perfect for this type of story. And if you’re interested in stories about life in New York City during the 1920s, there’s a whole lot to like about this book.

This review is part of the 2021 Classic Film Summer Reading Challenge hosted by Out of the PastFor more reviews on books related to classic film, be sure to follow the #ClassicFilmReading hashtag on social media.

Book vs. Movie: A Free Soul

A Free Soul Lobby Card Clark Gable and Norma Shearer.

Without a doubt, 1931’s A Free Soul is a pre-Code essential. The story about a woman romantically torn between her conventionally respectable boyfriend and a known underworld figure is perfect pre-Code material all by itself, but when you add in the smarmy charm of a young Clark Gable and Norma Shearer wearing some very slinky evening gowns and robes, it’s pure gold. Lionel Barrymore also took home a Best Actor Academy Award for his performance and the movie proved to be a big hit for MGM. But before A Free Soul was a hit movie, it was a book by Adela Rogers St. Johns first published in 1927. So how do they compare?

Book & Movie Differences

To call the film version of A Free Soul a loose adaptation of the book is putting it mildly. They both feature a criminal defense lawyer and his daughter, whom he is very close with. The father, Stephen (played by Lionel Barrymore), struggles with alcoholism while his daughter, Jan (played by Norma Shearer), falls in love with a notorious gambler. They agree to a wager where they each give up what they love and take a trip to put things behind them, but the father struggles to give up drinking and later disappears for a while. Eventually, the father comes back to take care of a big trial because of a murder involving someone the daughter had been seeing. That’s about where the similarities end.

Clark Gable and Norma Shearer in A Free Soul.

Perhaps the most significant difference between the book and the movie is the fact that the roles of Ace Wilfong (played by Clark Gable) and Dwight Sutro (played by Leslie Howard) are essentially switched. In the movie, Jan and Dwight are happy together until Ace comes along and Jan can’t resist his more dangerous allure. But in the book, Dwight had been out of the country for a few years and when he comes back to San Francisco and finds out Jan had gotten married, that doesn’t stop him from trying to see if he can start something up with her again. And since Jan is a bit lonely because of the hours Ace keeps, it’s easy for her to go along with it. When Ace finds out about it, he shoots Dwight in his home.

In the movie, we only see Jan as an adult, but the book paints a much larger picture of her life and her relationship with her father. The book tells stories about Jan’s childhood and teenage years. We find out that Jan has been dealing with Stephen’s alcoholism much longer than the movie suggests. For example, the book details an incident when 13-year-old Jan comes home in a cab in the early morning hours because Stephen had brought her to a gambling house, then got drunk and forgot about her, forcing her to find her own way home. We also learn why Jan’s mother wasn’t in the picture and why Stephen was determined to raise her in the unconventional manner that he had.

The book also gives us a more of a look at Ace Wilfong’s life, going back to the first time he crossed paths with Stephen and Jan Ashe when Ace was just a kid selling violets on the street and looked up to Stephen as a personal hero. We also learn more about Ace’s family, particularly his sister who has a rather rocky relationship with Jan because of jealousy over her marriage to Ace.

The character of Ace Wilfong is a great example of how, even in the pre-Code era, characters like gangsters, gamblers, and criminals needed to be written in certain ways in movies to avoid glorifying them. In the book, Ace doesn’t seem like that bad of a guy — aside from the part where he shoots Dwight, of course. Yes, Ace is a gambler, but he’s described as something of a respectable gambler. He seems to genuinely adore Jan and mentions wanting to eventually get out of gambling and into something more legitimate. Even when facing the death penalty, Ace remains loyal to Stephen when all logic and reason would tell him to work with a lawyer who isn’t just coming off of a long drinking binge. The movie version of Ace is rougher and more aggressive.

Is the Book Worth Reading?

Out of all the books I’ve read as part of the summer reading challenge, A Free Soul is the one where I most strongly prefer the movie over the book. The film version of A Free Soul is a strong, well-paced drama with some great performances. The book has a much slower pace and it takes a long time before you get to the parts that are most related to what happens in the movie. It’s a very slow burn, reaching its most exciting point with the events leading up to Ace shooting Dwight. I usually don’t mind a book that takes time to build to something and the parts that were good were enjoyable, but you have to get through a lot of other material to get to that point.

On the whole, it wasn’t my favorite book by any means, but I’m glad I was at least able to check it out for the sake of my own curiosity. Perhaps if you’re A Free Soul superfan and love the characters so much that you want to spend more time with them and get to know them more in depth, then it may be worth tracking down a copy of the book. But while the same thing can be said of Fast Times at Ridgemont High, I don’t know that anyone has the same level of affection for characters like Jan Ashe and Ace Wilfong that they have for Jeff Spicoli.

This review is part of the 2021 Classic Film Summer Reading Challenge hosted by Out of the PastFor more reviews on books related to classic film, be sure to follow the #ClassicFilmReading hashtag on social media.

Book vs. Movie: Grand Hotel

Grand Hotel 1932 movie poster.

Grand Hotel holds a very unique place in film history. It’s credited with popularizing the concept of the all-star ensemble cast. It has the distinction of being the only movie to ever win the Best Picture Academy Award without being nominated in any other category. It was the first time Lionel and John Barrymore appeared in a movie together. And it’s the movie where Greta Garbo delivered the infamous line, “I want to be alone,” which remains one of the most famous movie quotes of all time.

In addition to all of that, Grand Hotel has also been a successful stage play. Both the movie and the play were based on Vicki Baum’s 1929 hit novel Menschen im Hotel. So how does the book compare to the movie?

Book & Movie Differences

On the whole, the film version of Grand Hotel isn’t hugely different from the book. There are differences to be found, but a lot of them are pretty minor. Some of the more significant changes involve the timeline of events. For example, Garbo’s Grusinskaya checks out of the hotel at the very end of the film, but she leaves about a third of the way into the book. And Flaemmchen, played by Joan Crawford, is introduced very early in the movie, but she doesn’t come into the book until quite a bit later. In the book, Preysing (played by Wallace Beery in the film) doesn’t even actually need to have Flaemmchen working for him at all because he finds out that the business talks in Manchester had broken off before she was brought on to help; he just kept moving forward in an attempt to save face. The same thing happens in the movie, but Preysing gets the news after Flaemmchen has already started working for him.

Lionel Barrymore, Joan Crawford, and John Barrymore in Grand Hotel.

In the movie, all of the action happens either within the hotel or in the area immediately outside of the hotel, but the book gives some of the characters a chance to get out and explore a bit more. A good part of the book covers Kringelein (Lionel Barrymore in the film) and Gaigern (John Barrymore in the movie) going out on the town doing things like getting a new suit for Kringelein, driving fast in a car, going up in an airplane, watching a boxing match, and going to a gambling house. Even though this is a notable part of the book, a lot of that is reduced to one sentence in the movie. The book also spends more time with Gusinskaya at her ballet performances and covers Gaigern going to one of her shows to learn more about her routine. It also covers Kringelein and Dr. Otternschlag (Lewis Stone in the film) attending one of her sparsely-attended performances.

The book also gives you the chance to spend some time with some of the characters in ways you don’t get to in the movie, which helps you understand them better. We learn more about why, exactly, Kringelein was so determined to spend his remaining days living in luxury. Preysing is painted more clearly as being a respected family man going off the rails. In the case of Grusinskaya, it describes her sitting in her dressing room after a performance like a boxer after a fight, follows her as she roams through the streets of Berlin after walking out of a performance, and details the relationship she has with her body.

Greta Garbo in Grand Hotel.

It’s been said that Greta Garbo was reluctant to play Grusinskaya in the film version of Grand Hotel because she thought she was too old for the part. But when you read the book, you realize that Garbo was actually much too young. In the book, we learn that Grusinskaya has an eight-year-old grandchild. Many mentions are made about the signs of aging on her skin and Gaigern notes that she has scars from a facelift. On a related note, Gaigern is described is being younger than John Barrymore was when he made the film.

Is the Book Worth Reading?

Book cover of Grand Hotel by Vicki Baum.

For the most part, I enjoyed the book. As I said, the movie follows the book pretty well, but the book is just different enough to make it feel like you’re getting something new from it. But with that said, I know the movie version of Grand Hotel isn’t everyone’s cup of tea and even if you do like the movie, the book can drag at times.

The fact that we get to spend more time with individual characters works well at times and not so well at others. I loved the parts about Grusinskaya and the part when Gaigern is trying to sneak into her hotel room was very engaging. But then there were times when I was really struggling to keep my interest up. For example, I never once watched Grand Hotel and found myself wishing I could learn about Preysing’s business dealings in more detail, but that’s something the book gave me whether I wanted it or not. And I’m not exactly disappointed that most of the information about Kringelein’s big day out on the town with Gaigern was summed up more succinctly in the movie version.

The changes in pacing for the movie make the movie version my preferred version of the story, but when the book is at its best, it’s excellent and it’s easy to understand why it remains such an influential story several decades after its initial publication.

This review is part of the 2021 Classic Film Summer Reading Challenge hosted by Out of the PastFor more reviews on books related to classic film, be sure to follow the #ClassicFilmReading hashtag on social media.

Book vs. Movie: Wife vs. Secretary

Wife vs. Secretary Movie Poster

When the movie Wife vs. Secretary was released in 1936, it represented a big turning point in the career of Jean Harlow. In the early 1930s, she was famous for her bombshell image, exemplified by her performances as characters like Vantine in Red Dust, Kitty Packard in Dinner at Eight, and Lil in Red-Headed Woman. But by the mid-1930s, it was time for a change and her on-screen image began to soften. In Red-Headed Woman, she played a secretary who relentlessly pursued her married boss and broke up his marriage. But Helen, her character in Wife vs. Secretary, was the complete antithesis of Lil from Red-Headed Woman.

In Wife vs. Secretary, Jean Harlow plays Helen, the faithful secretary to Van Stanhophe, played by Clark Gable. Despite rumors and speculation about Helen’s relationship with her boss, Van is very happily married and is faithful to his wife Linda, played by Myrna Loy. Linda has no reason not to believe that Van and Helen’s relationship is strictly business, but over time, comments made by other people begin to erode her confidence and it eventually takes a toll on their marriage.

Before Wife vs. Secretary was a hit movie, it was a popular story by Faith Baldwin, originally published in Cosmopolitan magazine in 1935. So, how do the book and the movie compare?

Book & Movie Differences

Overall, Wife vs. Secretary pretty closely follows the core story laid out in the book. It doesn’t follow the book to the letter, but most of the main plot points are there. However, there are some very significant changes, particularly involving the character of Helen’s boyfriend, Dave, played by James Stewart in the movie.

Jean Harlow and Jimmy Stewart in Wife vs. Secretary.

In the movie, we see that Dave is extremely insecure about Helen’s career and her relationship with Van. When Dave gets a raise at work, the first thing he does after telling her the news is ask her to quit her job so that they can get married. Despite the tension this causes between Helen and Dave, they are able to reconcile their differences. In the book, this story arc is completely different. The book version of Dave feels so insecure about Helen’s relationship with Van that he steals money from the company he works for so that he can buy a new car and seem more impressive to Helen. Of course, Dave gets caught and ends up in a legal mess, which results in Helen getting hit by a car while walking to meet a lawyer because she was so distracted by the situation. When Van finds out, he uses his connections to get the charges against Dave dropped and makes arrangements for him to get a new job in South America so that he can start over, which Dave goes through with.

Clark Gable and Jean Harlow in Wife vs. Secretary.

When we see Helen and Van together in the movie, it’s more clear to viewers that their relationship is strictly business. In the book, more details are included that make the reader question if perhaps there really are deeper feelings between them. For example, early in the story, it’s mentioned that Helen kept newspaper clippings about her boss in a scrapbook. And when Helen is in the hospital, Van goes to visit her and gives her a kiss at one point, which Linda witnesses.

Even though both the book and the movie end in the same general way, with Van and Linda reconciling, how they reach that point differs. In the movie, Helen visits Linda right before Linda is set to leave for a trip and admits that she loves Van but warns Linda that if she leaves now, it’s inevitable that he’s going to rebound with her and he’d never love her as much as he loves Linda. This allows Linda and Van to get back together and sets things up for Helen and Dave to get back together. In the book, Linda shows up at the office and while she’s there, she has a chance to get a glimpse at what Van is like when he’s at work and realizes that who he is at work and who he is when he’s with her are like two different people. Helen admits that she does love Van, but strictly for who he is when he’s at work and she values her job too much to let that change. In the end, Helen and Linda agree that it’s possible for the two of them to love the different sides of the same man while coexisting peacefully. But since Dave went off to South America in the book, Helen doesn’t reconcile with him and instead continues to find more satisfaction in her career than her romantic life.

Is the Book Worth Reading?

Wife vs. Secretary pulp book cover.

Wife vs. Secretary is a total gem of a movie and the book is very enjoyable as well. A very quick, light read that’s perfect for when you’re trying to relax on a hot summer day. If you’re a fan of vintage career girl stories along the lines of The Best of Everything, you’d probably enjoy Wife vs. Secretary. Since I adore the cast of the movie, that remains my favorite version of the story. And when you read the book, it’s easy to see why the main characters were cast the way they were in the movie. Linda in particular was practically written with Myrna Loy in mind. I liked Faith Baldwin’s style of writing so I’m really glad that my copy of the book also included two other novels she wrote so that I can read more of her work.

What I liked most about the book is that Helen is an unapologetic career woman; highly capable at what she does, savvy at handling difficult situations, and loves being able to do it. Depictions of women who highly value their careers are commonplace today, but considering the story Wife vs. Secretary was first published in 1935, Faith Baldwin’s decision to let Helen be so willing to make her career a priority in her life without vilifying her or making her seem cold and heartless in any way was refreshing. In the end, she explains to Linda that when Van succeeds, she feels like she succeeds by extension and she’d rather have 10 years of that than 20 years of being Van’s wife.

Even though I’ve long been a fan of the movie, I always thought the title did it a disservice because a name like Wife vs. Secretary suggests something more slapstick or screwball when the story is really much smarter than that. After reading the book, my opinion of the title remains the same.

This review is part of the 2021 Classic Film Summer Reading Challenge hosted by Out of the PastFor more reviews on books related to classic film, be sure to follow the #ClassicFilmReading hashtag on social media.