Monday, July 27, 2015

Five Favorite Western Book-to-Movie Adaptations

It is Legends of Western Cinema Week, folks!  Two of my favorite blogs, A Lantern in Her Hand and Meanwhile, in Rivendell, have teamed up to bring us a week of wonderful western movie fun, which you know makes me as pleased as punch.  They promise to post all kinds of fun things on their own blogs all week, and I've got a couple of posts lined up for my more movie-oriented blog, Hamlette's Soliloquy, too.  But I thought I'd kick my contributions off with a post here about some of my favorite western movies that are based on books I have also read, and kind of how they compare in the two mediums.  (I'm doing them in alphabetical order, not order of how well I like them.)


This one is a little wonky, just because first it was a short story called "The Gift of Cochise" by Louis L'Amour, then they made it into a movie, and then L'Amour wrote a novelization of the movie script.  I've never read the short story, but I've read the novel (my review here), and it's so enjoyable.  Because it's based on the movie, it's exceedingly similar, both in plot and characterization.

Hondo is the story of Hondo Lane (John Wayne), an army scout who happens on an isolated ranch run by Mrs. Lowe (Geraldine Page), who lives there alone with her young son while her ne'er-do-well husband roams around the countryside.  There's an Indian uprising brewing, and Hondo tries to convince Mrs. Lowe to take her son to the fort until things calm down, but she refuses because she say her family and the Apache war chief Vittorio have an agreement to live in peace, and she trusts him.

This story has an unusual love story, a strong (if naive) female lead, and lots of exciting action.  I really like both book and movie!  One advantage the book has, of course, is that you learn more of what both Hondo and Mrs. Lowe are thinking, and their romance grows a little more slowly and believably as a result.

The Mark of Zorro

Johnston McCulley's seminal Zorro story was originally serialized in a pulp magazine back in 1919, with the title "The Curse of Capistrano."  Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. liked it so much he insisted on making a silent movie of it, and he changed the title to The Mark of Zorro for the film.  It was so popular that when the serialized story was collected into book form (my review here), it was published under the same title as the film.

I have not seen the Fairbanks version yet, but I've seen the Tyrone Power adaptation, and it is delicious.  Both book and movie have lots of swashbuckling action, a healthy dollop of romance, and enough thrilling heroics to keep any adventure-lover happy.  Of course, there are oodles of other Zorro adaptations, both TV shows and movies, and numerous novels, including three more by McCulley himself that I haven't read yet.


Another story that was originally serialized!  Man, I wish I'd lived back when western stories in magazines were a common thing.  The titular character in Jack Schaefer's story is a mysterious stranger who rides up to a homestead one day, befriends the family there, and winds up helping them and their neighbors fend off the intimidation tactics of a big, powerful rancher.

I like the movie better than the book, in this case, and it's largely because of the performances by Alan Ladd as Shane and Van Heflin as the homesteader.  They have an awesome friendship, and their chemistry is excellent, something that the book just can't convey quite as easily.  However, the book is really good too.

True Grit

This novel by Charles Portis is a revelation.  The dialect is amazing, the characters are fresh and original, and the plot pounds along at a gallop.  The 1969 movie, starring John Wayne as Rooster Cogburn and Kim Darby as Mattie Ross, fails to live up to the novel, in my humble and dedicated-fan-of-John-Wayne opinion.  The 2010 movie, with Jeff Bridges and Hailee Steinfeld, keeps much closer to the novel's flavor.  I actually didn't read the book until after I'd seen both versions, but even before I read it, I preferred the 2010 adaptation.

True Grit is about a young girl, Mattie Ross, who hires a grizzled and ornery Marshal to help her track down her father's killer.  And she insists on riding with him into all sorts of hazards.  In the 1969 movie, she comes across as stubborn and petulant, but in the book and 2010 film, she is intelligent, self-possessed, and as capable as an adult in almost everything.

The Virginian

Owen Wister's 1902 classic about life in the west set the standard for what we now think of as a western.  The novel is narrated by an unnamed tenderfoot, but the story focuses on Miss Molly Stark, an easterner who goes west to teach school for a large ranch.  She there encounters a man known simply as The Virginian, a sort of knightly, courtly, violent gentleman in cowboy form.  He fascinates her, she entrances him, and an unlikely romance develops oh-so-gradually while the narrator observes them.

There's a really great '60s TV show based on this book, though it changes around some of the characters (Trampas becomes The Virginian's sidekick instead of his archenemy).  And there are several movie versions, my favorite of which is a wonderful made-for-TV movie version from 2000 that stars Bill Pullman and Diane Lane that sticks close to the original story.  I wholeheartedly recommend it.

That's all for now, folks!  Please visit A Lantern in Her Hand and Meanwhile, in Rivendell for more western movie fun.  Eventually, they'll also have a link list up with all the individual posts from other participating blogs, like this one and the posts I'll be doing later this week on my Soliloquy.  And if you want to get in on the fun, it's not too late to join!


  1. I had absolutely no idea that McCulley had written more Zorror novels! How very exciting, and I definitely loved the original serial series from the magazine. I read it for a library reading program years ago and now have my own copy of it. Such a fun adventure. I saw Tyrone Power as Zorro once and enjoyed him in the role, but I did like Fairbanks a bit more, I think, even though it's been years so I'm a little hazy on the details. But my favorite Zorror is Frank Langella in a version from 1970s. LOVE IT! Who cares that we're talking 70s hair!?

    Hondo is a John Wayne movie I haven't seen, and now must track down. I'm sure my Dad's probably seen it.

    I'm afraid I never cared for Shane, probably because I felt he was moving in on the homesteader's wife. But I can't deny that it's an excellent story, just not quite to my taste.

    And okay, the fact that Bill Pullman was in a remake of The Virginian makes that an absolute must-see for me. How did I not know he was in that movie? Crazy! And I may track down that book to read too since I like the plot concept.

    What a fun "Legends of Western Cinema Week." I'll have to browse through the hosting blogs too! :)

    1. Would you like to know something very sad? Charity sent me a copy of the Langella Zorro like 6 months ago, and I still haven't managed to watch it. Sigh. Maybe next year will be my Year With Zorro, and I'll watch oodles of versions then, like I'm doing with Robin Hood this year!

      I've always felt like he could've moved in on the wife if he wanted -- she certainly doesn't seem adverse to the idea -- but he's much too much of a gentleman to do so.

      The Bill Pullman version of The Virginian is great fun, and not that expensive on DVD! Under $15 on Amazon. I first saw it when it aired on TNT, back when I was in college and had cable, and have watched it probably 8 or 9 times since.

    2. That's right, she did mention sending it to you. Didn't she send you his Dracula too? They're both, to be very blunt, hokey, but I love them anyway.

      I put The Virginian on interlibrary loan and now we'll see if they'll be able to track me down a copy. If all else fails, I will definitely buy it.

    3. Yup, and I watched Dracula on Halloween and got a big kick out of it. Hokey, but not so cheesy as to be laughable.


    Hmm…I think I'll look into "Hondo"…;)

    I've only ever watched the Antonio Banderas version of "The Return of Zorro." :-/ P'raps I should try out the classics, as well. I really did enjoy the AB one; even though it was extremely silly, it was also great fun, I thought.

    True Grit! Yes, I agree about the adaptations--Mattie, for one, is as you said SO annoying and whiny in the '69 version, while in the '10 she's just strong.

    I WANT TO CHECK OUT "THE VIRGINIAN" NOW. It looks splendid. I mean…Bill Pullman and Diane Lane would be pretty darn awesome together, plus the storyline looks intriguing:)

    1. Olivia, Hondo is good! I count it among my Ten Favorite John Wayne Westerns. The book is good too, I quite enjoy it.

      Which Banderas Zorro did you see? The Mask of Zorro or The Legend of Zorro? I adore the first one, but the second one is fun but slight -- if you thought it was silly, you probably saw the second one.

      Definitely try to see that version of The Virginian! I'd like to see the old version with Joel McCrea too.

    2. Olivia! I'm so excited that The Virginian is available on YouTube that I'm replying to everyone who commented about wanting to see it -- you can watch it here!

  3. Awesome! I really like this idea. The only one of these I've read is True Grit (which you know I absolutely revere), but I'm really looking forward to reading The Virginian. I soooo want to watch the movie, but unfortunately I can't find it anywhere. (The copy you sent had sound issues.) :-( It looks SO good! I really liked Bill Pullman as Ed Masterson in Wyatt Earp (1994).

    Oh yeah, and reading through your Hondo description...isn't Geraldine Page the actress who plays that old woman in Vicksburg in The Blue and the Gray? ;-P

    1. And that's why I'm slowly replacing my VHS tapes with DVDs -- their picture and sound degrade over time, and then they're just taking up space. Sorry about that! You can get it for under $15 on Amazon right now, so maybe put it on your Christmas wish list or something? But hey, at least you have the book to tide you over!

      And yup, Geraldine Page plays Mrs. Lovelace, who doesn't want John to do her out of her fair share of horse meat. That cracks me up.

    2. Mrs. Lovelace! That's her name. :-D I love John in that scene. Well, I love John in any scene...basically anything John does, I'm gonna love it.

    3. He's perfectly marvelous, that's all.

    4. EMMA! You can watch The Virginian on YouTube! Full movie is here. Now you know.

  4. I didn't realize Zorro started in a magazine! I thought the book The Mark of Zorro was the original but I guess little did I know. ;) I only just found out last week on Heidi's blog that there was another The Mark of Zorro besides the one with Tyrone Power! I'm so behind the times! ;)
    I do love the Tyrone Power one soooooo much!
    My Dad and I were arguing over where it was Zorro or the Scarlet Pimpernel who was the original fop/outlaw and I was saying it was The Scarlet Pimpernel and he said it was Zorro so then I looked up the dates of the books and I saw The Scarlet Pimpernel was published first so I was right! So now I had to go re-look up the dates to make sure I was still right and I was! ;)

    1. Lois, yup, started out serialized in a pulp magazine. I didn't know that either, until I read The Mark of Zorro last year, and my copy had all kinds of cool history of the character, various adaptations, etc.

      Yup, TSP was first :-) Good for you!

  5. I've been away this past week on vacation without any internet, so now I have to catch up on this party. :-)
    I love westerns! I haven't read a lot of western books, but I've seen a ton of TV shows and movies. For almost all of these movies, I had no idea that there were even books.
    Hondo is one of the few John Wayne movies I haven't seen (along with The Man Who shot Liberty Valance). What was it like compared to John Wayne's other westerns?
    I haven't seen the Douglas Fairbank's version either. I think it's on amazon prime, but there are so many other movies that are on my to be watched list, that I've just let it slip down my list. I love the Tyrone Power version, though! I love all the sword fights!
    Shane is also a book!!! I fell in love with the movie. I'm not sure why, but everything in it felt so perfect. I really liked the bond between Shane and the homesteader in the movie, so even though I'm sure I'll like the book, I'll miss that one element.
    I'm am going to have to see the 2010 version of True Grit, especially since it's closer to the book. :-) My Mom and I watch Rooster Cogburn and The Lady recently, and that was also really good. I loved watching Katherine Hepburn and John Wayne together.
    I've seen a couple of episodes from The Virginian TV show, but they were rarely on TV, so I wasn't able to watch it. I'm glad to hear there's a movie! Hopefully, I'll be able to find it at the library. :-)

    1. Ekaterina, aren't westerns deeelicious? I cannot get enough of them. Ever.

      Hondo and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance are two of my favorite John Wayne westerns. Hondo is earnest and exciting, but not especially deep. So rather like Chisum and El Dorado in tone -- not a lot of humor. TMWSLV is very serious and deep. More like The Searchers and Red River, but not as dark as either of those.

      Yes, I have the Douglas Fairbanks version on my Prime watch list, but then I found a copy of it and Don Q, Son of Zorro together for an irresistible price and got it. And Tyrone's is delicious. Did you know that Basil Rathbone was actually a proficient swordsman, and he did that stunt with the candles for reals?

      Oh, Shane is awesome. If you like Van Heflin as the homesteader in that, have you seen 3:10 to Yuma yet? I'm doing a big review of it on my other blog in a day or two. And I didn't mean the bond isn't there in the book, they totally have that "trust you with my life; trust you with my wife" thing going on. It's just not as palpable or something as in the movie.

      I like Rooster Cogburn and the Lady better than the John Wayne version of True Grit. The humor is cute, and they wrangle well together.

      This Virginian movie is not much like the show, really, though James Drury is in it in a different role, which I found fun :-) Sadly, Doug McClure had died a few years earlier. I hope you can find it!

    2. Now I am definitely going to have to watch Hondo and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, especially TMWSLV. After I had commented earlier, I went to the library where they were having and book sale. I ended up finding the book Hondo and being very surprised because I was just looking at it on your blog. Needless to say, I bought it before anyone else could see it. :-) Would you recommend reading the book or watching the movie first?

      I did not know that Basil Rathbone was a swordsman. Wow. I guess all of the swordsmanship done in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) was all him too. That is a really neat piece of trivia. I love gathering random bits of trivia. The trivia makes the movie more interesting to watch.

      I have not seen 3:10 to Yuma. I haven't really seen any newer westerns, mostly the classic ones. My family doesn't watch a lot of newer movies. How would you compare old westerns to the newer ones?

      I liked True Grit a lot, but I think I loved Rooster Cogburn better. Maybe that's because I just love Katherine Hepburn. She might not have been the most moral person in real life, but she was a great actress with a enjoyable sense of humor. :-)

      I couldn't find the movie at the library, but I did find it on YouTube. :-) James Drury's in it! Oh, Wow. This will be fun. Which character does he play?

    3. How awesome that you stumbled on a copy of Hondo right after reading this! Serendipity. Honestly, the book and movie are so very similar that I think it doesn't matter which you consume first.

      I believe Rathbone did all his own fencing in both Zorro and Robin Hood, while Tyrone Power had a fencing double for the trickier parts as Zorro. Dunno about Errol Flynn.

      And sorry, I should've been more clear. I meant have you seen the original 3:10 to Yuma from 1957 that has Van Heflin in it, since you enjoyed Shane, which he's also in. I don't bother with the 2007 remake. It's quite violent, and the ending doesn't work at all for me. However, I know some people who like it a lot. But I wholeheartedly recommend the original, and I'm working on a really long, in-depth post about it on my other blog for this blog party.

      On a whole, I prefer old westerns -- anything made before 1970. After 1970, they got a lot more cynical, less heroic. Possibly more realistic, I suppose, but not as satisfying to me. There are some exceptions, though. I love Silverado (1985), Tombstone (1993), The Quick and the Dead (1995), and The Lone Ranger (2013). I also really liked True Grit (2010) and Rango (2011). But all of them feel like throwbacks to the earlier era.

      James Drury's just one of the ranch hands, IIRC -- I haven't seen it in at least 4 years. You'll recognize him from those eyebrows and voice :-) Still darkly handsome at 66! That's cool that it's on YouTube!

    4. Here is the scene that James Drury's in.

  6. Hey, I didn't know there was such a recent movie adaptation of the Virginian--the Bill Pullman and Diane Lane one. I'll definitely have to see that! I didn't really like the book too much, for some reason, but I bet the movie would be lots of fun (especially since we wouldn't have to deal with that weird narrator. I just . . . didn't like him :) )

    1. I can see how that narrator could annoy people. He does have quite an interesting tone and perspective, doesn't he? I'm so glad I'm able to introduce a bunch of people to that adaptation through this post, because it definitely deserves watching.

    2. BTW, Jessica, Ekaterina just clued me in that the 2000 Virginian is on YouTube! The whole thing, it's here.

    3. WHAAAAAATTTT? Okay, I'll try to see it as soon as possible :)

      (That may be a little while 'cause my laptop is still in the shop and I'm accumulating quite a long list of Movies I Want To See When It Returns.)

    4. Oh, I know how frustrating that can be! I manage to watch 1-2 movies a week, so my backlog is immense.

  7. Hmm. I had the opposite reaction to "Shane": I read the book first and really liked it, then saw the movie and was disappointed because the character of Shane was so different. Alan Ladd was fine, but nothing like the description of Shane in the novel. Plus, as I recall, I found the kid in the movie really annoying.

    1. Well, Lynn, then isn't it a good thing we have both book and movie so we're both pleased? :-)

    2. Yep- and I'll give the movie another shot one of these days... my opinion may improve upon a second viewing.

    3. That would be cool! You never know :-) I know sometimes I just have to get used to how they're going to handle a character or other aspect of the story, and then I'm all good on a second viewing.

    4. Oh, and Lynn, the kid doesn't bug me in that movie much, but I know lots of people who find Brandon de Wilde to be nigh unto nausea-inducing, so you are not alone in that estimation!


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