The Colonial Theatre Tea Garden

The beauty spot of downtown Richmond was, in 1921, the Tea Garden of the brand-new Colonial Theatre. Herein, we recreate the essence of elegance, joy and hauteur that was once found in Virginia's first real picture palace. Bathtub gin is available at the top of the grand ramps.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Since Video Americain, the local video store of great randomness and much joy, went to join the Century and the Valencia in the Big Movie Studio in the Sky, my friend B. and I have been at a loss for what to do on quiet evenings. By "quiet evening," what I probably mean is that either no one's having a party, or I'm still feeling the aftereffects of a non-quiet evening the night before. Either way, sometimes it's just good to chill with a movie.

And, since both of us like old movies, or at least fairly offbeat new ones, Video Americain was just the right place. I always wondered how many actual new-release, popular type things they rented, since I'm fairly sure that most people in Charles Village are also weirdos who like B-horror from 1958.

So it was with great reluctance that we decided to explore Netflix, which at least promises to have a bazillion movies right at your fingertips. And it sort of does; but mostly they're DVDs and you can't just decide right now that you're going to watch a movie. Given my viewing patterns, I need right now.

They do have a fair amount of stuff that's immediately available and streaming, though, so we've tried a couple.

Last night's viewing: A Rage to Live.

You know, it wasn't a terrible movie. With a cast of also-rans in the Hollywood pantheon (Suzanne Pleshette and Ben Gazzara), it's better than I'd expected it to be.
See, here's the problem: I love the original novel, and you know the old saw--if you love the book, run away from the movie. In the case of A Rage To Live, it's not so much that they screw up the story, it's more that they didn't really use much of it at all. It's pretty much a movie named for a book that uses the book's characters, while doing away with 80% of the book's plot. Sort of the same way that Taco Bell is inspired by Mexican food but doesn't really have much to do with actual Mexican food.

John O'Hara's novel is fairly complex, so I'll not get into a plot synopsis, or worse, compare its plot with that of the movie; I've forced too many high school students to do that sort of thing to ever want to do it myself. Besides, since the movie's plot bears so few resemblances to that of the novel, it would be far more effort than it would be worth.

So, my question: Why--particularly in the mid-20th century--did Hollywood insist on doing this with novels? If they'd followed the actual plot of the book, it would still have been a pretty good movie. I have a feeling, since they cast minor stars in the main roles, that they were hoping to trade on the book's popularity anyway, rather than using it as a star vehicle. Thus, people probably went to see it because they'd liked the book, and probably did just what I did last night: spend most of the film thinking, "but that's not what happens!"

I don't want to imply that it's a bad movie, because it's not. It's simply that, other than character names and setting, it doesn't have much to do with the book. The same script could have been used, with different names and a different locale, without bothering to buy the rights to the novel. John O'Hara himself wouldn't have noticed any resemblance.


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