When Sweden & Hitchcock Left Home
Aggiornamento: 13 apr
Our film lecturer, James Kendall, found the Swedish movie of 2009, Män som hatar kvinnor, (Men who hate women) directed by Niels Arden Oplev and its American remake, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, 2011, directed by David Fincher, ideal raw material for his look in depth at the transposition of novels into films. Both were based on the 2005 Swedish novel by Steig Larsson. Kendall showed how the original movie kept to a straightforward recital of the story while the remake had more camera flourishes that built up a dense atmosphere. This raised the question of whether the Swedish director, working with a homegrown, admired novel, felt obliged to stay very close to the story line of the book so as not to offend his national audience. Could the American remake aimed at an international public claim more freedom in adapting its script? Kendall pointed out how the acting of Opley’s heroine was much more natural than that of Fincher’s. Which raised another interesting question of whether the Swedish director aimed to present a recognisable compatriot, whereas the American offered to his world audience a stranger figure, more fascinating than natural.
Two members of Kendall’s team probed further how literary texts became movies. They examined how Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, the popular 1938 British novel, had fared in two film versions. Alfred Hitchcock made his Rebecca in 1940, his first American film. Ben Wheatley directed another in 2020 for Netflix. Both were advertised as “based on” the novel and demonstrated how elastic any base could become over time. It wasn’t only that the hero was forbidden in 1940 by the Hollywood Production Code to kill his first wife and not be punished. That could be glossed over by an accidental knock on her head. But changes in politically correctness worked havoc with what Hitchcock had made of the novel. His Joan Fontaine was a lily who wilted not only before Judith Anderson’s sorceress glare but at the least utterance from Laurence Olivier’s stern baritone. Fontaine pulled herself together and ran about in the dark to buck him up when Larry lost his grip for a spell after his stagey confession. However, she was back in his arms like a crushed petal for the happy ending.
For her part, Wheatley’s Third Millennium perky heroine remembers she’s a role model and unstoppable. She breaks into a doctor’s office to save her husband who, sadly, has suffered a sharp decline in eighty years. He’s not only styleless but seems incapable of not merely murdering a wife but avoiding a hissy fit as he watches one die accidentally. Wheatley also inflicts him with sleepwalking in period underwear, which Hitchcock didn’t dare impose on Olivier who would have told him, “I do Macbeth. My wife does that trick.”
Weighing up the two Rebeccas, our examiners preferred the Hitchcock. Although it wasn’t one of his best or more personal films, it had pace. There was a steady flow of suspenseful moments and not simply one big overworked wow of a finale. And though gooey, it bore the stamp of style. It also boasted George Sanders, the Cad King of Hollywood Brits. He comes out tops in a scene-stealing rumble with Olivier. The grumpy look on the Shakespearian’s face wasn’t about fighting off a murder charge but being upstaged by Sander’s imperial sneer.
James Kendall’s visits to the Berkeley Circle answer many questions but inevitably ask more. We shall try to keep them all in mind while hoping for his quick return.