I wouldn’t call myself a devoted reader of popular fiction, but in the late ’70s I was heavily into all things Ira Levin (Rosemary’s Baby, The Stepford Wives, Sliver, A Kiss Before Dying, Deathtrap). Authors of his sort are sometimes under-appreciated, but Levin was a gifted craftsman. He really knew how to shape a sentence, a paragraph, a chapter, a story.
I loved The Boys From Brazil — so deliciously written, so crafty and hooky. All through ’77 and most of ’78 I was highly cranked about Franklin Schaffner’s film version, which I anticipated would be the equal of Roman Polanski‘s Rosemary’s Baby (’68). How could it not be?
I also felt a certain personal investment due to Jeremy Black, the younger, blue-eyed brother of ex-girlfriend Sophie Black, having been cast as a clone of the young Adolf Hitler.
Then I attended a press screening of The Boys From Brazil in September of ’78, and was startled — the word is actually “stunned” — by how disappointing it seemed.
Gregory Peck was too mannered and actorish as the evil Josef Mengele, but Laurence Olivier‘s performance as Nazi-hunter Ezra Liberman was steady and invested. The film wasn’t inept or clumsy, exactly, but somehow it never took flight. “How could this have happened?” I wondered, shaking my head. But it became a mediocre film for the most part.
And on top of everything else Schaffner hadn’t given poor Jeremy the right kind of direction in a couple of scenes. What a bummer.
It just goes to show that any adaptation of a catchy, fine-tuned novel can be messed up if there’s a will to do so, and especially if the wrong director is in charge.
Can anyone name similar cases? A novel they were in love with, and then the film came along and the reaction was “what happened?”