From Page to (Sound) Stage

A book that authors especially may find intriguing is Fallen Angels, from 1993. I found it sitting on my sister-in-law’s bookshelf just waiting for me to pounce. It’s a collection of six original noir stories by the masters, each followed by a half-hour script developed from it that aired on Showtime almost 30 years ago (still available on YouTube).

You’ll see from the directors and cast members involved that this was an ambitious project, with Sydney Pollack as executive producer. The hallmarks of noir—jazzy scores, cigarette-smoke veils, shoulder pads—they’re all there.

James Ellroy’s preface explains the stories’ appeal this way: “Hard-boiled fiction, spawned in the violent and flush 1920s, began as a prophecy: This country will most likely crash and burn. If it doesn’t, the price of the political accommodations and human sacrifices made in order to retain a corrupt system will be very, very high. Hard-boiled fiction is about that price.” Something to think about.

The Stories

“I’ll be Waiting” by Raymond Chandler. The teleplay by C Gaby Mitchell clarified some ambiguity in the original, adding significant detail at the end. Tom Hanks directed, and it starred Bruno Kirby as a hotel dick with a deadly dilemma.

“The Frightening Frammis” by Jim Thompson, teleplay by Jon Robin Baitz and Howard A Rodman. Directed by Tom Cruise, it featured Peter Gallagher and Isabella Rossellini. Con artists and grifters lock horns, and the two stories play out differently. I liked the original story better, but the ending might have seemed too pat.

“Dead-End for Delia” by William Campbell Gault, teleplay by Scott Frank. Phil Joanou directed with Gary Oldman, Meg Tilly, Gabrielle Anwar, and Paul Guilfoyle in the leads. A cop’s estranged wife is murdered, and he strikes out with an investigation of his own.

“Murder, Obliquely” by Cornell Woolrich, teleplay by Amanda Silver. Alfonso Cuaron directed stars Laura Dern, Alan Rickman, and Diane Lane. This story of a relationship gone bad was about twice as long as the preceding ones. To fit it into the half-hour format, a lot of cuts were needed. It was interesting to see how they focused on the main event–what stayed and what didn’t. A nice exercise in concision.

“The Quiet Room” by Jonathan Craig, teleplay by Howard A Rodman. Steven Soderbergh directed. Joe Mantegna played a dirty cop and Bonnie Bedelia his equally larcenous partner. This story was about half the length of the others, so had to be drawn out. But it lost no dynamism in the process.

“Since I Don’t Have You” by James Ellroy, teleplay by Steven Katz. Gary Busey plays a Hollywood fixer who serves two masters—real-life gangster Mickey Cohen (James Woods) and Howard Hughes (Tim Matheson). Inevitably, this work “had to produce what lawyers nowadays would call a ‘conflict a’ interest’ Of course it was over a woman” (Aimee Graham). Meeks is from small-town Oklahoma, and the teleplay gives him “country yokel” diction, which the original story did not have (nor need).

If you’ve ever thought about seeing your stories make the leap from page to stage or screen, here’s a chance to see that process in action.

2 thoughts on “From Page to (Sound) Stage

  1. Fascinating book to track down. Thanks for the write up.
    Sad to see Deadly Ink was last weekend and I had no clue. I must’ve fallen off some mailing list. I would have definitely attended and it would have been nice to see you.
    Best to you in 2022.

  2. This sounds like an interesting book. I’ve always been fascinated by the transition a book or story makes when it is filmed. I’ll have to look out for this one in the used bookstores. And these are some stories by some real pulp masters.

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