Great Expectations (1946)

I am very behind on writing up things I’ve watched, I think I saw 6 movies last week and have only written up two of them so I’m laying a bit of catch up at the moment which also means i might not remember some of them perfectly.

This adaptation of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations by David Lean is the most iconic telling of the story outside of it’s book form. I will admit that I didn’t finish reading the book, but what I did read I actually really loved, the prose has so much character as does the narration. This is obviously something that can’t really be carried over in the film form and for me, that was where this adaptation faltered. I felt as though it tried to be too literal of a transposition in a lot of ways, the most notable example being the scene where Pip steals the food and tools from his sister and Joe. In the book, due to Pip’s guilty conscience, every sound from floorboards or every look from a cow feels as though they were speaking directly to him. I think it says something along the lines of ‘the floorboards creaked as if they were shouting’ (obviously terribly paraphrased but hey, the important thing is that it’s just a suggestion, not literal voices. The film version gives the floorboards, the food and the cows actual, individual voices, turning the scene into a humourous moment, at least for a modern audience. This is just one example of what I think to be a bigger issue in the film, which is that it doesn’t utilise the modes of expression exclusive to film because it tries too hard to be loyal to the novel.

There was some clever framing in shots throughout the film and Lean does a good job of telling the story in a coherent and accessible way without losing too much.

The Masque of the Red Death (1964)

There’s not a huge amount I feel I can really say about Roger Corman’s adaptation of Edgar Allen Poe’s short stories ‘The Masque of the Red Death’ and ‘Hop-frog’ and that’s because its a film without a huge amount of substance. In so far as it’s faithfulness to the texts, it takes huge liberties and the majority of the characters are inventions of the film, but really that’s necessary coming from such sparsely detailed texts, but they capture the spirit and main plot points faithfully.

The film has an original heroine and audience surrogate in Francesca, a young christian peasant girl who is taken in by the nefarious Prospero. Prospero is the only named character in the story ‘The Masque of the Red Death’, but is given no characterisation, for the flm, the character seems to be largely derived from the nameless king in ‘Hop-frog’ with a healthy dollop of satanism. It becomes essentially a morality tale between these two opposed characters, with such side characters as Juliana (played by Hazel Court who does her best with such kitsch material) a mistress of satan, Gino who is Francesca’s boyfriend and Francesca’s father. Francesca is taken under Prospero’s wing and clothed with the best clothes and given the best food in the hopes he may conver her to Satanism whilst Francesca plays along in order to try and save Gino and her father. All the while Prosero throws wild hedonistic parties with the nobles he has barricaded in his castle to rotect against the red death afflicting the surounding villages. Its at these parties where we are introduced to Hop Toad and Esmerelda, re-imaginings of Hop-Frog and Tripetta, when Prospero’s advisor strikes Esmerelda, Hop-Toad vows revenge. This story line is ancillary to the main narrative of the film, like a b-plot on a TV show but it captures the mythic spirit of the story well as well as providing us with a 8 year old girl being dubbed over by a 30 year old woman which is just great. The entire film is incredibly kitschy in this same vein and to an extent films don’t quite reach anymore, it has some light leanings into the exploitation genre ut it does have artistic ambitions. Roger Corman had a great fondness for Poe’s work and clearly wanted to do it justice, not only is the narrative a clever adaptation and expansion of the stories, the cinematography is actually good with fantastic pathecolor throughout. Even the wackier sequences such as Juliana’s dream after her stanic ritual is rooted in some cultural ntions of exoticism. That being said, the film totally glazes over any symbolic meaning behind the 7 different coloured rooms, a key feature from the story and the film is at the end of the day, a camp b-movie.