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'The Great Gatsby': Why is it so hard to adapt for the big screen?

Noir guru Alan Rode ponders the challenges of filming the masterpiece.

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She's multi-faceted, and it's difficult for an actress to wrap themselves around an interpretation.
Q: It's perhaps appropriate that Fitzgerald himself, creator of a book that's famously hard to film, didn't have any luck in the screenwriting business. What happened on that front?
A: He went to Hollywood and was a complete flop as a screenwriter, completely hopeless. He was a very fragile guy, and he became a massive alcoholic. He was just not in good shape and fell apart as a person.

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Screenwriting is a much different and perhaps more torturous than writing a novel.
Q: Why do people still identify with noir, whether in classic books or classic movies?
A: It's timeless. You have people who are doing the wrong thing, and they know they're doing the wrong thing. But they're compelled to do it anyway.

People end up paying the price one way or another. It's like what Barbara Stanwyck says to Fred MacMurray in "Double Indemnity": "We're going to ride the trolley to the end of the line."
Q: That makes "Great Gatsby" sound like a noir, doesn't it?
A: I wouldn't list the 1949 movie as a film noir, or the book as a noir novel.

But they're definitely noir-stained.

Want to watch the 1949 version of "The Great Gatsby" for yourself? You can catch the film in several parts on YouTube. Start here.
For more on noir fiction, check out my previous Monitor stories in which I interviewed the screenwriter behind HBO's "Mildred Pierce," asked crime fiction authors about their favorite noir books-turned-movies, took a bus tour of James M. Cain's Los Angeles, and talked to Eddie "Czar of Noir" Muller about noir fiction.
I also interviewed a book editor about a long-lost Cain novel and explored the debate over what counts as a noir movie.

Randy Dotinga is a Monitor contributor.


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