While the world at large bemoans the lack of opportunity for women directors, Hollywood has never felt the same reluctance when it comes to female novelists, happily assigning the biggest directors of the era to tackle complex subjects and reinterpret them in filmic code. It’s easy to forget how many films have been adapted from works by women writers, given how frequently the textual basis for famous films has been allowed to go out of print. (Many of the authors mentioned below I came to first through their cinematic mirrors before I came to know them as words.)
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45 feature films
The queen of crime has 45 film adaptations under her belt, with another 3 announced or in production. This giant oeuvre includes at least 7 adaptations of And Then There Were None, filmed all over the world, and with, unfortunately, every version of the title (into the 1980s, a Russian adaptation used a direct translation of the book’s original, and cringe-worthy, title). While most films adapted from Christie’s novels have been British or American productions, there are a number of Soviet and Indian films based on her work. She’s been the darling of various directors—George Pollock directed 4 different films based on her work throughout the 1960s, and now Kenneth Branaugh’s taking his turn revisiting her masterpieces, and yet Christie hasn’t had a single feature film based on her work directed by a woman (the case may be different for tv adaptations—lest we never finish this list, we elected to leave tv for another day). Agatha Christie always pointed to Crooked House as a favorite of her own works and it’s no surprise that Crooked House has been filmed multiple times.
20 feature films
When I started this list, I thought for sure that Highsmith would top it (although I should never have discounted the vast filmography of Dame Christie), but Highsmith, with 20 feature film adaptations under her belt, came in a respectable second place. Many of these are adaptations of her Ripliad: The Talented Mr. Ripley was first brought to screen in 1960 as Plein Soleil/Purple Noon, directed by Réné Clémont, and beyond the argument that occasionally consumes our office as to which adaptation is better, Purple Noon or Anthony Minghella’s slicker, more faithful eponymous 90s adaptation, I think everyone can agree that Tom Ripley was meant to be on-screen. Wim Wenders contributed to the filmed Ripliad with The American Friend, adapted from Ripley’s Game and filmed with an unusual approach to language, switching between English and German. Liliana Cavalli, of Night Porter fame, also took a more recent swing at the same story in her 2002 film Ripley’s Game.
Beyond the Ripliad, Highsmith had quite a few big-name directors attached to her work, including Hitchcock’s incomparable adaptation of Strangers on A Train, and Claude Chabrol’s Le Cri de Hibou/The Cry of the Owl, while not as renowned as some of the other adaptations of her work, is still considered a solid contribution to the canon. We can only hope that the success of Carol leads to even more adaptations of her standalone works.
Finally, if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and parody is the sincerest form of imitation, then we also have to include a shout-out to Danny Devito’s loving parody of Strangers on a Train, simply titled Throw Mama from the Train, a modern classic. (We assume. We still haven’t seen it…)
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Five feature film adaptations
Vera Caspary worked in Hollywood and wrote a number of screenplays as well as treatments, but for the purposes of this list she’s at four feature film adaptions of her separately published work, including three films from the 1930s based on short stories and two films from the 1940s based on her novels Laura and Bedelia, each keeping the same title in film form. Laura, directed by Otto Preminger, is essential viewing to this day (especially in this new era of the girl in the title), while Caspary’s screenwriting talent is on full display in Bedelia, which she adapted herself.
Link to the rest at CrimeReads