Hopscotch – Based on the Book By Brian Garfield

Hopscotch, 1980, Directed by Ronald Neame, Produced by Edie & Ely Landau Inc.

TCM | Amazon

The screenplay for Hopscotch was written by Brian Garfield, who wrote the book the movie is based on.

Amazon

“Hopscotch never pretended to be anything but a light-hearted comedy,” Ronald Neame, Director. “It’s a comedy-thriller.”

“We wanted to show that you could tell a suspense story like this where no one gets killed,” Brian Garfield, writer.

They did. And it’s wonderful.

Roger Ebert once called Hopscotch, starring Walter Matthau as Miles Kendig and Glenda Jackson as Isobel von Schmidt,  “pleasant.” I call it a pure delight. Laughter and suspense are hand-in-hand throughout the movie, and they carry the plot along with them perfectly. I saw this movie for the first time recently, and have since watched it several times because it is such a pleasure. I’m writing this in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic and I can’t tell you how much I just love being lost inside the Hopscotch world right now. This escape factor is a good illustration of why movies like these are so important to me.

Ned Beatty plays Kendig’s nemesis, G.P. Myerson. He’s the new head man at the CIA department Kendig works in and is an arrogant, nincompoop bureaucrat. Beatty is great in making us despise him right from the start. The tension begins with Myerson being upset with Kendig. Seems Kendig had a chance to “dismantle” the Russian network in Germany (and make Myerson look good because of it) but didn’t. Kendig didn’t arrest the top Russian spy Myerson wanted him too because he thought it was a better idea to keep a relationship with him so they could better keep an eye on what he was up to. Myerson uses the incident as a reason to take the aging Kendig out of the field….and out of his way. He sends him to a desk job and Kendig is devastated. After thinking about it for what seemed like a second, and a suggestion from that same Russian friend/counterpart, Kendig decides to write his memoirs instead of take that desk job.

He immediately flies to Austria to meet with Isobel, a former love, to ask for her help. Kendig meeting Isobel at a restaurant, and the detailed conversation they have about wine, reveals the plot, and chemistry between the two that makes the movie doubly satisfying. You can’t help but root for them from the very beginning.  Isobel was not a character in the book and was created just for the movie. Thanks to her,  he’s able to implement his plan to perfection. It’s a little more complicated than that in the book when he tries to do it without her.

It took some convincing, Isobel wasn’t supportive at first, but Myles pouted until she gave in (who wouldn’t?) and got him a typewriter.

With Mozart records playing in the background, Kendig began to write about his detailed CIA missions. He sent the CIA, and other spy agencies in the world, one chapter at a time as he completed them. It drove Myerson crazy. Kendig realized, as he wrote, that he’d never go back. This realization amped up his game. He led them on a chase across the U.S. and Europe, always one step ahead of them and everything they assumed he’d do.

“Writing this makes me realize I’ll never go back.” Watch this portrait of Myerson through the scenes in the house. It goes from this smile to frowns as Kendig makes things worse for him.

At that first meeting in Myerson’s office, Kendig overheard him talking to his wife about their vacant house in Savannah, Georgia. Of course that house became an entry on Kendig’s agenda of mayhem! He rented it, used it as a place to write a couple more chapters…..and to provoke Myerson, who had to call in in the FBI for help. That had to hurt. And then it got worse for Myerson. Together, the FBI and CIA gassed and shot up the house, destroying it, while assuming Kendig was inside. They proved they were out to kill him. He wasn’t wasn’t inside. Another clever ploy.

Kendig keeps writing and sending out chapters one by one while hopping back and forth over two continents. Meanwhile, the CIA becomes more and more desperate to stop him.

“What are you trying to prove?” – CIA Agent Cutter (Sam Waterston)

“I’m just trying to have some fun,” Kendig.

Boy is it fun to watch him accomplish this. Every single thing that happens is specifically planned for a result that takes them to the next thing that makes the CIA look foolish. Everything is carefully laid out to create the most mayhem. He is successful on all accounts. It’s suspenseful, yes, but it’s hilarious too…..and extremely satisfying to watch.

Brian Garfield also wrote Death Wish in 1972. It was turned into a movie starring Charles Bronson in 1974 with Wendell Mayes writing the screenplay. In an interview for Hopscotch, Garfield implied he hadn’t been too happy with “other books that had gone to movies” so he took a bigger role in this one. It worked. He helped give us a terrific movie.  “The motivation for the main character is that he wants to have fun instead of a desk job,” he said. “This movie was a delight all the way around.”

I agree.

P.S. The Criterion Collection DVD is terrific and includes interviews with Ronald Deame, Brian Garfield and Walter Matthau.

The Thin Man – Based on the Book By Dashiell Hammett

The Thin Man – 1934, MGM – Directed by W.S. Van Dyke, starring Myrna Loy  & WIlliam Powell

A scene from the movie:

Nick: “I’m a hero. I was shot twice in the Tribune.”

Nora: “I read where you were shot five times in the tabloids.”

Nick: “It’s not true. He didn’t come anywhere near my tabloids.”

Same scene from the book:

“We had the afternoon papers sent up. Morelli, it seemed, had shot me — twice for one of the papers and three times for another–when I tried to arrest him for Julia Wolf’s murder, and I was too near death to see anybody or be moved to a hospital.”

And that perfectly illustrates the difference between the book and the movie.

I saw The Thin Man movie a gazillion times before I read the book.  It was one of the first classic movies I ever saw when my Grandmother had it on on her tiny black and white TV one day and made me watch it because she was a huge Myrna Loy fan. It wasn’t the first classic film I ever saw, His Girl Friday gets that honor (also with Grandma), but it is my favorite one. I immediately fell in love with Nick Charles and his wife, Nora……(and WIlliam Powell and Myrna Loy)….and still watch this movie again and again after all these years. My love for all six of these films continually grows, but the first one has its own special place in the corner of my heart and I’ll never get enough of it.

The 1943 paperback my Grandfather gave me. Oh how I treasure this! (The original story was published in 1933 in Redbook)

I’m not so sure I would have seen the movie if I’d read the book first. It’s good, it’s just nothing at all like the movie and would appeal to a different audience. The Thin Man, by Dashiell Hammett and its movie both have the same plot: a retired detective is roped into a murder investigation while he’s on vacation. The movie’s funny, the book isn’t. The writers Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich  turned the book into a movie filled with a lot of laughs and feel-good moments that the book just doesn’t have. The movie is a cosmopolitan 1930’s murder-mystery, with light-hearted moments that can make your heart melt and muscles relax. Yeah, it’s that good.

Depending on what you’re in the mood for, the movie or the book has you covered. Though there are some smiles in the book, it’s more of a hard-boiled crime story that suspense novel fans would be attracted to. In the book laughs are few and far between, and most of them feel forced to me, unlike the movie where I still find myself giggling at the banter between the characters even after all these years of watching it. The organization of the book is completely different than the movie, scenes are in a different order and there are quite a few scenes we don’t even see in the movie. The Jorgensen family is so much more annoying in the book, (probably because they play a bigger role) especially Dorothy. Ugh! Other characters like Morelli and Studsy have a bigger presence too. Nick’s drinking is front and center in the book, just like the movie…

…and spoiler alert:

Asta is a girl in the book.

I’m still not over that.

There’s some merit to each version, but in this case I think the movie is more entertaining. That script is hilarious!  I will always, always, always love the movie and it’s five sequels. They are my go-to classic movies whenever I need to laugh and feel good. Bill and Myrna never let me down. The movie is a more concise, organized version of the story in the book, which leaves lots of room for on-screen mystery, martinis and quips that make the movie so darn entertaining. The book is wonderful if you’re in need of a good crime-drama. I read a lot of those too, but in this case I find the movie to be exactly what I need every time I see it.

I can’t honestly say that if you loved the book you’ll love the movie, or vice versa. But, I’m sure glad I’ve done both. Have you read it? What do you think?

Next on my reading list is The Maltese Falcon by Hammett.  I’m looking forward to reading the book that another one of my favorite movies is based on. Have you read the book or seen the movie? What do you think?