There is a sense of apprehension every time a one hears that someone is making a film of a favorite book.  There have been so many poor adaptations over the years that it is hard to believe that a film will do a great novel justice, as there are a number of obstacles to overcome – the length of a book, the multiple themes and place and time.  It takes not only a fine director and cast, but a studio willing to allow the author’s vision to come out on the screen.  Too often, a book is simplified or even misrepresented (the normally brilliant Scorsese’s Gangs of New York is an example).  Nonetheless, when they succeed, it is a truly rewarding experience.  Here are five great novels adapted successfully for the screen on satellite TV.

1. L.A. Confidential.  James Ellroy was known for his hardboiled style so rooted in the past and director Curtis Hanson decided to go through with a period piece in the classic format.  One of the most successful neo-noirs (on par with Chinatown), L.A. Confidential features great work by Guy Pearce and Russell Crowe.  See it on HBO in high definition.

2. The Maltese Falcon.  Is there a pattern forming here?  Crime novels have always seemed easier to adapt to the screen, even literary ones like this Dashiell Hammett classic.  With a script that got all of the good parts out of the book and an ideal cast (including Humphrey Bogart, Peter Lorre and Sidney Greenstreet), director John Huston’s debut was Hollywood at its best.  Even Hammett was said to be pleased – a rare thing for authors seeing their work on-screen.

3. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.  Ken Kesey’s novel has that anti-establishment feeling so pervasive in Beat Generation fiction and no actor has personified that feeling better than Jack Nicholson.  A man the Beats would feel comfortable representing them in any film, Nicholson delivers one of his signature performances in an excellent adaptation.  From director Milos Forman, it is one of the gems of 1970s American movies playing on satellite TV.

4. Heart of Darkness.  As dramatic a shift in time and place from the original as possible, Coppola took the classic Conrad novel and made it work for the Vietnam War.  And who better than Marlon Brando to play the imperious Kurtz?  Notorious for the difficulties involved in shooting, Apocalypse Now is one of the best American war movies ever made.  See the uncut version in high definition on the Independent Film Channel.

5. To Kill a Mockingbird.  Harper Lee’s spectacular novel got the perfect treatment in this adaptation.  Director Robert Mulligan pressed all the right buttons, keeping the sense of childlike awe and mysterious undercurrent in the book while framing every shot in exquisite black and white.  Gregory Peck has never been better in one of the highlights of TCM’s film archive on satellite TV.

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