3 December 2014

Agatha Christie praises Billy Wilder

There are many examples of movie adaptations that were hated by the original author. For instance, Ernest Hemingway is said to have disliked all of the adaptations of his short stories and novels, in particular the 1932 version of "A Farewell to Arms"; Ayn Rand hated the movie adaptation of "The Fountainhead" (1949) even though she had written the screenplay herself; and Tennessee Williams was none too happy with the 1958 film version of his play "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof", seeing that the homosexual elements had been removed for the film. On the other hand, there are also authors who were pleased with the adaptation of their work. Harper Lee, for instance, thought that the film version of "To Kill a Mockingbird" (1962) was "one of the best translations of a book to film ever made", and -apart from some minor criticisms- Margaret Mitchell was content with "Gone with the Wind" (1939). 

In 1957, Billy Wilder adapted Agatha Christie's play "Witness for the Prosecution", based on Christie's own short story. Agatha Christie was very happy with Wilder's adaptation and reportedly said it was the best adaptation ever done of her work. Wilder had followed the basic story of Christie's play, but also made several changes giving the film his personal signature. The most significant change was the addition of the character Nurse Plimsoll, played by Elsa Lanchester whose scenes with husband Charles Laughton are imbued with Wilder's delightful sense of humour. "Witness for the Prosecution" became a big hit, praised by audiences and critics alike. And Agatha Christie herself enjoyed it so much that she wrote Wilder the following note (shown below).

Billy Wilder (left), and a publicity still for "Witness for the Prosecution" with Elsa Lanchester and Charles Laughton.
Celebrated author Agatha Christie sold the rights to her play "Witness for the Prosecution" for $435,000.
Source: heritage auctions/ image reproduced with permission

Transcript:

Dec 11

Dear Billy Wilder

Larry Bachman tells me that you never heard whether I liked your picture Witness for the Prosecution. 
Well- I did.
What's more- I enjoyed it - a thing I never suspected to when seeing a film made from one of my books or books [?] !
You did a wonderful job + I admire that film very much still. 
Most people do.
So let me make amends.
Yours,
Agatha Christie

4 comments:

  1. How lovely of Ms. Christie to let Mr. Wilder know how she felt. He must have been very pleased.

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  2. How delightful! Wilder may have admired "the Lubitsch touch" but he had quite a "touch" of his own. Agree with Ms. Christie, by the way.

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  3. I agree too, Wilder certainly did a fine job. Thanks for visiting!

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