Thursday, 15 December 2011

Thriller Novel to Thriller Film

With all the excitement in London with the World Premiere of David Fincher’s US version of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO held at the Leicester Square Odeon on Monday [with world-wide release on 26 December 2012] – I discussed the “old chesnut” of Film Adaptations of thrillers with Elaine Hirsch. She provided an interesting insight, selecting her top 5 thriller adaptations. Elaine’s list will provide controversy, so feel free to comment [below] on your own favourites, as an Ian Fleming advocate I was surprised to see that ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE did not make the list.

Nothing stops the cinematic heart like a well-constructed thriller. Even the best thrill-makers, however—from Alfred Hitchcock to Billy Wilder to Steven Spielberg—have faltered without the right source material. Developing a great movie based on a book requires a bit of luck, good casting, and an intriguing story, which is a much different task than say, completing a master’s degree program. A great novel-to-film thriller adaptation, thanks to the often difficult-to-distill layers of plotting, makes for one tense night at the movies. Let’s take a moment to look back at some literary adaptations that have stood the test of time. Classics beyond repute—and often adapted from long-forgotten novels—these five films are heart-stoppers to cherish.

The Bourne Identity – The first film of the last decade’s action masterpiece trilogy may or may not stand out as your favorite in the trilogy. However, it stands as the cornerstone of a trilogy of literary adaptations that’s left action fans salivating since 2002. Like most of the films on this list, The Bourne Identity runs buck wild from—even ignoring—its source material. The result, however, is a throwback espionage film for the ages. Matt Damon’s underplayed, sometimes robotic performance may be the best in a suspense film since Gary Cooper rocked High Noon.

The Silence of the Lambs – The finest horror film in the American canon, The Silence of the Lambs gets under your skin within minutes. One of the few films to take home the “Big Five” Oscars—for Best Picture, Actor, Actress, Director and Adapted Screenplay, Silence used its literary roots to heady advantage. The horror lies less on disgusting violence (though there’s plenty of than) than airtight close-ups of leads Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins as they play a massively complex game of psychological chess. Hopkins, as Hannibal Lecter, has the most terrifying eyes in the canon of world cinema.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo – Crime novels have made for stellar adaptation material over the years, but The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo stands out as a worldwide cultural phenomenon. On paper, the twist and turns of Steig Larsson’s novel read simply and clearly. On film, those plot mechanics become a grandiose, entrancing mystery, and an indictment of Sweden’s structure.

The Manchurian Candidate – Action master John Frankenheimer boiled Richard Condon’s satirical novel down to its trippiest, weirdest essentials and turned the pulp story into a suspense classic. Frank Sinatra’s perfect performance, the greatest fistfight ever put on film, Angela Lansbury’s Oedipal nightmare of a villainess, and the gut-churning climax make for an unforgettable viewing experience.

The French Connection – Gene Hackman embodied the most hard-boiled detective in film history—forget Humphrey Bogart—in William Friedkin’s adaptation of the true crime novel. The differences between the book and film are profound—there’s no one in the novel called “Popeye Doyle,” and the heart-in-throat elevated railway chase never happened—but the film still stands as a benchmark for action filmmaking.A great thriller often has fine source material. These five thrillers—all suspense classics—are in most cases better remembered than the source material. Not only will these five book-to-movie thrillers provide for ample nostalgic material, they all bring additional layers to their respective stories which will please any thriller fan.

Elaine Hirsch is a freelance journalist with interests in education, history, medicine and videogames. She can be contacted at

Top Photo © 2011 Ali Karim “Publisher Christopher MacLehose and Ali Karim attend the world premiere of David Fincher’s THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO in London Monday 12th December 2011”

1 comment:

Ayo Onatade said...

Mine would be the following although I am not sure that you would class them all as "thrillers" -
Cape Fear (1962),
Casino Royale (2006),
Farewell my Lovely (1975),
The Maltese Falcon (1941) and
The Day of The Jackal(1973).
I seem to have a thing for Robert Mitchum!