Throughout the month of June, Turner Classic Movies is celebrating the upcoming Tony Awards (Sun. June 12) by spotlighting stage to screen adaptations two nights a week. Wednesday evenings-Thursday mornings they will show adaptations of plays, and Thursday evenings-Friday mornings they will show adaptations of musicals.
Last week, I published a list of the musical adaptations I consider to be the best. For this week, here is a list of the best adaptations of Broadway plays. In order to be considered for this list, a film must be a version of a play that has appeared on Broadway at some time or another, regardless of when the play was written. If the movie airs on TCM this month, I will note that in the description so you catch it on TV. With each description, I also include a link to a video with a trailer for the film.
Maxwell Anderson’s play appeared on broadway in 1954-55. It was based on a novel by William March. Mervyn LeRoy directed the film version starring Patty McCormack, Nancy Kelly, and Eileen Heckart. The movie had to tame down some of the violence of the book and play for a 1956 movie audience, but it maintains the intense nature of a creepy, “perfect” 11-year-old girl who happens to be a serial killer.
TCM: Thursday, June 23 at 6:45AM EST
9. The Children’s Hour (1961)
Lillian Hellman’s play has been on broadway twice: 1934-36 and 1952-53. William Wyler directed this movie version (as well as an earlier one entitled These Three in which the story was dramatically altered to remove the topic of homosexuality from the story, since that was not allowed in American film according to the Hayes’ Code still in effect when the first film version was released in 1936) starring Shirley MacLaine, Audrey Hepburn, Miriam Hopkins, Faye Bainter, and James Garner.
8. The Women (1939)
Clare Boothe Luce’s play has been on Broadway three times: 1936-38, 1973, and 2001-02. George Cuckor directed the first movie version (there was a far inferior remake in 2008) starring Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, and Rosalind Russell. Both the play and movie are groundbreakers with entirely female casts. Characters discussed about men that male characters are developed, even though they are never seen.
TCM: Today at 3:45PM EST
Patrick Kearney’s play An American Tragedy was based on the Theodor Dreiser novel of the same title. George Stevens directed this movie version with a new title starring Montgomery Clift, Elizabeth Taylor, and Shelly Winters. There was also a 1931 film adaptation using the original title that I have not yet seen. A Place in the Sun is a morality play confronting its audience with the questions of whether or not intention to harm another person is itself harmful and whether or not a sin of omission is as damaging as sinful action.
TCM: A Place in the Sun does not air this month for the stage-to-screen spotlight, but it can be seen Sat. Aug. 6 at 10:30PM EST.
6. A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1935)
While predating Broadway by almost 300 years, Shakespeare’s comedic fantasy of fairies, demigods, and a donkey/man has run on Broadway eleven times: 1826, 1903, 1906, 1910, 1915, 1920, 1927, 1932, 1954, 1971, and 1996. Many movie versions have also been made, the best of which is the 1935 film directed by William Dieterle and Max Reinhardt starring James Cagney, Dick Powell, Mickey Rooney, Ross Alexander, Olivia de Havilland, and Joe E. Brown.
TCM: Thursday, June 29 at 12:45AM EST
5. Amadeus (1984)
Peter Shaffer’s play has been on Broadway twice: 1980-83 and 1999-2000, the first time starring Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker) as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Milos Forman directed the movie version starring Tom Hulce, F. Murray Abraham, and Elizabeth Berridge. The fictionalized rivalry between Mozart and fellow composer Antonio Salieri. While history shows that it is unlikely that the two men ever even met each other, the fantasy created gives a powerful picture of the end results of obsession and envy.
R.I.P. Peter Shaffer. The playwright passed away on Monday of this week at the age of 90.
4. On Golden Pond (1981)
Ernest Thompson’s play has been on Broadway three times: 1978-79, 1979, and 2005. Mark Rydell directed the movie version starring Henry Fonda, Katharine Hepburn, Jane Fonda, Doug McKeon, and Dabney Coleman. On Golden Pond is a warm, hilarious, and ernest movie about family relationships in their most raw form. The real-life father/daughter Fondas claimed to have found healing in their relationship through playing the roles of the fictional father/daughter Thayers.
3. 12 Angry Men (1957)
Reginald Ross’ play was first performed in 1954. It did not make its Broadway debut, however, for 50 years but it did run on Broadway for six months between 2004 and 2005. Sidney Lumet directed the movie version starring Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, and Martin Balsam.
2. Grand Hotel (1932)
William Blake’s play appeared on Broadway in 1930-31. Edmund Goulding directed the movie version starring Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, Wallace Beery, John Barrymore, and Lionel Barrymore. Several disparate stories gradually interlock as they all center around guests of the Grand Hotel.
Donald Bevan and Edmund Trzcinski wrote the comedic WWII prison camp thriller that appeared on Broadway in 1951-52. Billy Wilder directed the movie version starring William Holden, Otto Preminger, Robert Strauss, Harvey Lembeck, and Peter Graves. Sadly, it is best known today for paving the way for one of the worst sitcoms ever put on TV, “Hogan’s Heroes,” but the film in an unquestionable masterwork.
TCM: Though not in one of the official stage-to-screen time slots, Stalag 17 does appear on TCM this month, Saturday June 10 at 12:00AM EST.