|Posted by Vladimir Mortsgna on January 12, 2019 at 5:15 PM|
Hopscotch did not have much in the way of sudden plot twists that I needed to avoid spoiling. Instead, for the middle installment I will look further into the remarkable fact that Walter Matthau starred in two adaptations of Edgar award winning novels and ask whether he is unique in this (at least so far).
First, some sad news – the author of the Edgar Winner I’m currently discussing passed away between installments. Brian Garfield died at 79 on December 29 of last year. The obituary in the New York Times mentioned Hopscotch briefly and that Garfield was once president of the Mystery Writers Association (the group that gives out the Edgars). But naturally, it spent most of its time on Death Wish, including Garfield’s mixed feelings about the adaptation and the interpretation that it celebrated violence and vengeance. In fact, one of the sequels Garfield wrote, called Death Sentence, directly addressed this by having a protagonist who doesn’t kill the criminals he hunts.
Then, some more sad news. As I continued this entry by turning to the MWA website, I discovered that we lost another great mystery writer in December, Jane Langton, who passed at 95 on December 22nd. I have mentioned her in a few contexts, including her unusual success in both mysteries and childrens’ books. I think I read my first book of hers when I was 10 – she will be missed.
Back to the MWA, in case anyone was concerned about the fact that Brian Garfield was both President and a winner of the top award, no need for fear – he was President well after winning. Raymond Chandler and Margaret Millar are two others who did both (again serving as President after winning the award), and if additional proof of the integrity of the process was needed, note that all three MacDonalds have been President of MWA and none ever won Best Novel even though a shopping list written by either John D or Ross MacDonald would be superior to nearly anything. And if there was any nepotism, Ross M. would have had two chances to benefit, since Margaret Millar was his wife. So, no favoritism in evidence.
Hopscotch is the 23rd Edgar winner for Best Novel. Let’s round up to 25, including 1976’s Promised Land by Robert B. Parker, and 1977’s Catch me, Kill me, by William Hallahan – among that 25 it does appear that only Walter Matthau has been the lead twice. A full 11 of the 25 have never been adapted into film or television, as far as I can tell, though both Fred Ward and Wes Studi have at times portrayed Sergeant Joe Leaphorn of Dance Hall of the Dead, but in different mysteries. A BBC series also adapted the characters of King of a Rainy Country with Barry Foster as the lead, but it did not use the plot of the Edgar winning novel. Three Edgar Winners were adapted into episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including the Beast in View (starring Joan Hackett), Death and the Joyful Woman (Gilbert Roland) and The Hours Before Midnight (Nancy Kelly and Gena Rowlands). The first two seem to have been very loose adaptations, as is customary for Alfred Hitchcock. There was actually a series for Gideon of Gideon’s Fire, starring John Gregson, and parts of the winning book were parts of different episodes, and you may remember Spenser for Hire starring Robert Urich; Promised Land was actually the pilot episode. Another TV series adaptation was The Eighth Circle, in which Ken Clark played the lead for the Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse.
So I count eight Edgar winners left that turned into theatrical releases, starting with The Long Goodbye (1953), which again was an impressive 13th on the MWA’s Top 100 list but apparently waited twenty years to be adapted into the movie starring Elliott Gould (with baseball player Jim Bouton as the character whose demise is being investigated). I would not necessarily thought of Elliott Gould, but I find the rarity of Raymond Chandler adaptations to be intriguing in its own right. Maybe the Philip Marlowe voice, hilarious and mordant, is too much a part of the effectiveness of the books.
Then we wait nine years before the next Edgar winner that was graced with an adaptation, and it’s three in a row; I have seen the first two, and they are both smashing, starting with The Light of Day (1964). This masterpiece was turned into the terrific Topkapi (1964) in the same year, with a stellar cast with Peter Ustinov in the lead. Apparently we needed a comic to play Marlowe but a serious actor was chosen for the comic lead of The Light of Day. However, Ustinov excels, as do Maximillian Schell, Robert Morley, and especially Melinda Mercouri. It’s a loose-ish adaptation but not Hitchcock-loose and it nails the tone and spirit, and, very important in my book, doesn’t change the ending. It was followed by 1965’s The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, which was outstanding, and a very faithful adaptation, exciting and moody. Richard Burton is terrific but what would we expect? You also have Oskar Werner, Claire Bloom, and a very young Sam Wanamaker. I haven’t seen any of the other adaptations, but it is hard to imagine that one being topped.
The third was The Quiller Memorandum (1966) which became The Quiller Memorandum the same year, starring George Segal. A Case of Need (1969) became 1972’s The Carey Treatment with James Coburn in the lead and the ever-present James Hong as the falsely accused doctor. But did we expect a book by Michael Crichton to not be made into a movie?
Then we get into Walter Matthau territory. His star turn in 1971’s winner, The Laughing Policeman, and 1976’s winner, Hopscotch, sandwiches Edward Fox’ chilling turn as the nameless namesake of The Day of the Jackal (1972).
Eight out of 25 is not very many, a low percentage of great novels that actually got turned into movies – and were they great movies? Topkapi, The Spy who Came in from the Cold, and the Day of the Jackal probably were – the others don’t seem to have retained their popularity. Will we see a similar pattern for the next 25 Edgar winners? Of course, The Eye of the Needle is one of the ones to come in a few short years...
Categories: Edgar Winner Reviews (Spoilers)