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The Zagat Survey Movie Guide...for the Stage

The Zagats are now rating movies; Filichia takes a look to see how adaptations of stage properties fared. logo

Got a copy of the Zagat Survey Movie Guide, the restaurateurs' new venture into the world of film. Tim and Nina Zagat asked more than 5,300 film fans to chime in with their opinions on what were the 1,000 best movies of all time. But what got me looking through the alphabetically arranged book was to see how many films were originally stage properties.

I enjoyed reading the assessors' comments -- Amadeus "makes classical music seem racy" and The Bad Seed involves a "Ted Bundy in a pinafore." But I stopped short when I saw that Bells Are Ringing made the list. Listen, I'm fond of it, but I wouldn't expect too many Zagat assessors to share my ardor. And imagine my surprise when I came across Camelot. That sent me flipping ahead to the "H's." If Camelot could make it, would Hello, Dolly! too? Migawd, yes! What's next, Paint Your Wagon? (No -- that's where they drew the line.)

I kept going and, by the time I got to the final page, I found that I may have wasted my time clicking off stage adaptations. For at the back of the book is the "Genres" section, which starts with "Action/Adventure" and concludes with "Stage Adaptations." But as it turned out, I did need to make my own survey. Although there are 79 films there, the good people at Zagat either didn't know or forgot such Broadway titles as Agnes of God, Alfie, Anastasia, The Caine Mutiny, Dracula, A Few Good Men, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, No Time for Sergeants, and Sabrina (Fair). (On the other hand, Zagat lists under "Stage Adaptations" The Elephant Man, the film version of which was inspired by but not actually adapted from the play; and Thoroughly Modern Millie, a film for which the stage need not take responsibility.)

Not listed are Gigi or Yentl, perhaps because they weren't strict adaptations in that each was musicalized. But Zagat counts High Society, a musical movie of The Philadelphia Story. Or do they think that High Society originated on Broadway, in the same way that they are mistaken about Thoroughly Modern Millie?

Actually, there are a few more of the chosen 1,000 that could count as stage properties, depending on how you look at it. Sling Blade was expanded from a one-acter called Some Call It a Sling Blade. Granted, A Shot in the Dark on film is wildly different from the hit comedy that played the Booth in 1961-62; Inspector Clouseau was nowhere to be found in that one. But the playwright and producer are distinctly shown in the opening credits. Conversely, One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest acknowledges Dale Wasserman's 1963 play during its end credits.

This sci-fi Tempest, a cult film
classic, made the Zagat list
Getting a little more tangential: Forbidden Planet, the 1955 sci-fi classic, is actually an adaptation of Shakespeare's The Tempest, though it doesn't acknowledge that in the beginning or end titles any more than West Side Story credits Romeo and Juliet. Interestingly enough, though, in the assessors' comments there is the notation that Forbidden Planet is "based on Shakespeare's The Tempest." Congratulations to whomever for knowing or deducing that fact. The movies Babes in Toyland (1934), The Band Wagon, Funny Face, and The Wizard of Oz were originally stage properties, though what wound up on screen was markedly different from what had been on stage. Depending on how you look at it, Around the World in 80 Days could count, too, in that Mike Todd had produced the musical Around the World on Broadway in 1946 and put the basic story, sans songs, before the cameras about a decade later.

Finally, there's Casablanca, adapted from Everybody Comes to Rick's, an unproduced play by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison. Some characters in the original play have the same names as their film counterparts: Rick, Sam, Victor Laszlo, and Yvonne. But Señor Martinez, not Ferrari, owns the Blue Parrot; Major Strasser is Captain Strasser; and Casablanca's police chief isn't Louis Renault but Luis Rinaldo. Most significantly, Ilsa Lund is Lois Meredith, undoubtedly reconfigured when the Swedish Ingrid Bergman was signed for the film. And what of "Play it again, Sam," Hollywood's most famous misquoted line? Casablanca fans know that Ilsa actually asks "Play it, Sam" and Rick demands "Play it!" -- but the four consecutive words "Play it again, Sam" are never uttered in the film. In the play, Burnett and Alison have Rick say, "Play it, you dumb bastard." If the line had stayed in and Woody Allen had used it as the title for his play, would it have cost his movie based on that play(which made the list) a point or two?

Yes, Zagat uses a point system here, too. The ratings are split into four categories called Story, Acting, Production Values, and Overall Score. The highest possible score in each category was 30, but no one scored that; the Number One Picture, The Godfather, finished with 29 in each category. But I'm only going to report on Stage Adaptations. The highest rating for Story was (if you don't count Casablanca's 29) Witness for the Prosecution, which rang in with 28 points, narrowly beating 13 other films with 27: Dial 'M' for Murder, Fiddler on the Roof, Inherit the Wind, The Lion in Winter, A Man for All Seasons, My Fair Lady, On Golden Pond, The Sound of Music, Stalag 17, Wait Until Dark, West Side Story, and -- Shakespeare would be pleased to know -- Henry V (1989) and Romeo and Juliet. (Well, the 1968 Romeo and Juliet got a 27. Strangely enough, the 1996 Baz Luhrman edition got a mere 22. It's the same story, isn't it? Go figure!) The lowest story rating (18) was a tie between Animal Crackers and Bye Bye Birdie, though the latter may have fared better had it used its Broadway libretto instead of that loony screenplay.

The highest rating for acting is a tie among Becket, Brief Encounter, The Lion in Winter, and -- if you care to count it -- One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest, all with 29 points. Evita came in last with 17 points, which we can take as a slap to Madonna's face. The highest rating for Production Values went to The Sound of Music (28), while Educating Rita and The Sunshine Boys brought up the rear with 18.

Milos Forman’s Amadeus, adapted from
Peter Shaffer’s Tony award-winning play
As for overall scores, here are the highest: 29 for Casablanca; 28 for The Lion in Winter (not bad for a play that could only manage 92 performances on Broadway), A Man for All Seasons, The Sound of Music, and The Wizard of Oz; 27 for Brief Encounter, The Caine Mutiny, The King and I, Mister Roberts, My Fair Lady, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, The Philadelphia Story, Stalag 17, A Streetcar Named Desire, West Side Story, and Witness for the Prosecution.

26 for Amadeus, Animal Crackers, Arsenic and Old Lace, The Band Wagon, Becket, Born Yesterday (1950), Cabaret, Fiddler on the Roof, Funny Girl, Gaslight (produced on stage as Angel Street), Harvey, Henry V, His Girl Friday (an adaptation of The Front Page), Inherit the Wind, Key Largo, and Romeo and Juliet (1968).

25 for Auntie Mame, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (Would it have been higher if the real script had been used?), Dial 'M' for Murder, Forbidden Planet, The Miracle Worker, The Music Man, The Odd Couple, Peter Pan (Disney's animated feature -- it was ineligible for acting honors), Sabrina, Sleuth, Sling Blade, Wait Until Dark, and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?.


[To contact Peter Filichia directly, e-mail him at [email protected]]

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