On the script editor blog today: 10 Films You've Never Heard of Featuring Great Scripts (and why you should know about them...)
1. The Queen of Spades
Although director Thorold Dickinson deserves his share of the credit for the film’s magnificently eerie atmosphere, the script – by Rodney Ackland and Arthur Boys – masterfully adapts a Pushkin short story about gambling and the supernatural in 19th century Russia.
2. The Reckless Moment
Remade quite well as The Deep End in 2001, starring Tilda Swinton, the original is directed with characteristic elegance by Max Ophuls. The script work is equally skilled, Henry Garson and RW Soderborg expertly capturing the brittle dynamic between a mother (Joan Bennett) and her troubled daughter (Geraldine Brooks).
Although written – and directed – by England’s leading playwright, Wetherby remains little seen. David Hare develops this sombre but engaging film around a woman’s twinned experience of memory and regret, moving between the past and the present in the life of a lonely but resilient school teacher (Vanessa Redgrave).
Another directorial debut by a famous playwright, Christopher Hampton’s script is probably superior to his handling of the actual film. An interesting film nonetheless, this uncharacteristically acidic period piece concerns the unlikely affair between two members of the famous Bloomsbury group: Dora Carrington (Emma Thompson) and Lytton Strachey (Jonathon Pryce).
Alain Resnais is a director as famed for his very particular visual style as he is for his collaborations with literary luminaries, in this case playwright David Mercer. In the film, a writer (John Gielgud), drunk and sickly, begins one night to write a novel in which reality and fiction are mashed together. The film is a struggle to describe and would be harder still without David Mercer’s tight structuring and bracing wit.
The triple taboo: a presidential biopic, an, unavoidably, political film and a film written and directed by Oliver Stone. It’s also over three hours. That it works at all is testament not just to Stone’s extraordinary, sometimes overwhelming, resourcefulness as a director but also his screenplay which is both a compendious – if sometimes inaccurate – history as well as a pungent depiction of failure and humiliation.
7. The Servant
Harold Pinter’s script was based on a trashy novel by Robin Maugham, the film was directed by Joseph Losey and the result is one of the most convincingly malicious films made in this country. Metropolitan toff Tony (James Fox) finds his life increasingly dominated by his manservant (Dirk Bogarde, chilling). Some of it looks like dated melodrama but Pinter’s writing gives it an edge of real sordidness.
8. Radio Days
Hard to pick one forgotten Woody Allen comedy – some of his neglected ‘serious films’ are worth a look too – but this joyous tribute to wartime radio shows is wonderfully loose and heartfelt. Woody is absent from the action but he narrates, as the film skips between a family of Jewish neurotics and the various radio stars their youngest son cherishes. It feels almost free-form but that’s because Allen is so perfectly in control.
9. The Long Goodbye
Robert Altman was famously a director who encouraged improvisation and The Long Goodbye – adapted from the Raymond Chandler novel – is a perfect example of improvisation enhancing a film’s mood. How much of Leigh Brackett’s script remains in the finished film is uncertain but equally uncertain is how much Elliot Gould’s jazz-rhythm lead performance was an intended counter-riff on Barret’s original characterisation.
10. Bad Timing
The title is misleading: it’s a struggle to believe there was ever a good moment to intrude on the curdled love affair between Alex (Art Garfunkel) and Milena (Theresa Russell). This is a film of almost surgical unhappiness but whilst director Nic Roeg occasionally shows a clinician’s too-cool professionalism, writer Yale Udoff ensures the characters pulse with yearning and disappointment.