Harrison, Stephanie. Adaptations: From Short Story to Big Screen. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2005.
Harrison’s book neither deals directly with Roeg’s film, nor with du Maurier’s short story that inspired it, but it is essential to any analysis of Don’t Look Now. The process by which a director adapts a short story into film is important, because a short story is just that, short. A director must take something that rarely lasts over fifty pages and turn in into a film that usually lasts over two hours. A director must take the story and ‘run with it;’ in some ways making the story his own. Harrison analyzes 35 short stories and the films they spawned. She separates the films and analyses into sections based mainly on genre (Horror, Western, etc.). Don’t Look Now is a hybrid film, so it would not snugly fit in any of the genres that Harrison chooses, but it does have horror, drama, erotica, and auteur elements to it. Harrison describes four different auteurs (Altman, Hitchcock, Kubrick, and Kazan) and their individual styles of adaptation. She calls Altman, for instance, the “translator” (3), because he attempted to stay as true as possible to the original story. There is little to no literature written about Nicholas Roeg, so it is impossible to know whether or not he would fit in with any of the different auteurs.
One point I found very interesting in Harrison’s analysis is her idea that audiences are less hard on films based on short stories for being true to their source material, because “few short stories are embedded in the public’s consciousness in a way that popular novels are” (xvi). In the case of Don’t Look Now, both the story and the film seem to have been lost from the public consciousness (due, in part, to the success of The Exorcist, which was released the same year as Roeg’s film). Harrison’s book, as I said above, never mentions Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now, but by looking at the process by which other writers have adapted short stories, we can get a sense of the different approaches to it and how Roeg many have gone about doing it. Roeg took a fifty-four page short story about a man’s blindness to his abilities and his fate and refashioned it into an unsettling drama/thriller about a married couple and ...
The Dark Side of the Genius lends insight into Hitchcock during the early days of production of Lifeboat. David O. Selznick had worked out a two-picture deal with 20th Century-Fox for Hitchcock to direct Lifeboat and The Keys of the Kingdom. The second film was never made, as Hitchcock delayed starting the productions in a hope to receive more money. In the wake of the political fallout of Lifeboat, it’s unlikely that Fox would have wanted to shell out extra money for such an initially poorly received film.
While Fox pushed screenwriters to script Lifeboat, Hitchcock sought after novelists. Before Steinbeck, Hitchcock tried to convince Ernest Hemingway to take the project. Hemingway declined. Lifeboat is known as a picture Hitchcock saw as one of his cinematic challenges, putting him under the constraints of a single set and compositions of mainly close-up and medium shots. However, it seems as if he was also enamored with the idea of working with the additional constraint of creative input from an artist as well-respected and a name as well known as his.
With two deaths in Hitchcock’s family around the time of the production of Lifeboat, the theme of sudden loss and tragedy seems like a likely inspiration for the film to focus on the aftermath of a steady ship being thrown into turmoil. The impact of the deaths in Hitchcock’s own new concern towards mortality can be seen in the rapid weight loss regiment he undertook before Lifeboat’s production. The aftermath of this can be seen in the Reduco newspaper add in which he appears in the before and after picture, slimming down one-hundred pounds.
The book features an anecdote about lead Tallulah Bankhead’s exhibitionist behavior on the set of Lifeboat. As magazines sought to do features on the film, reporters and the studio higher-ups were not nearly as pleased as the male crew members about Bankhead’s behavior, with one reporter commenting about the rumors of indecent behavior in Hollywood being true. This taken in the context of the era of the PCA shows the careful attention the public paid to not only film content but their production environment and stars’ off-screen “performances.”