by Martin Hafer
I recently wrote a short series of articles about wonderful plays that were written for television back in the 1950s. Believe it or not, some of the very best writing was being done in New York City by TV writers–not folks off in Hollywood. A new generation of genius screenwriters were churning out amazing scripts–and many of them were being broadcast LIVE, yes live, on television! And, I hope many of you have taken my recommendations to see these great old films.
Now I don’t want to talk the subject to death, so I have decided on one last article–and in it I’d briefly talk about two more exceptional teleplays and the movies they spawned. I will try to be brief…so bear with me!
Days of Wine and Roses was written by J.P. Miller and is a heartbreaking story of a man who is an alcoholic. It’s not just heartbreaking because of what it does to him but because his wife is pulled into his illness as well…and she ends up a full-blown alcoholic too. It is NOT a happy sort of film. Despite a happy-ish ending for one, by the time the teleplay is over, the other has slid even deeper into drinking and the only way out seems like death. I know, I know…NOT happy stuff. However, I used to work in a drug and alcohol treatment facility and I love Miller’s story because it is so gritty and real. Unlike the famous 1940s film, The Lost Weekend, there is no magical ending. In fact, the story never really even ends in a traditional sense. But the script is also amazing because of the dialog and the characters–they are so filled with passion, realism and heart.
Not surprisingly, a few years later, Blake Edwards decided to bring the story to the big screen. And, instead of Cliff Robertson and Piper Laurie (who were just great in the original), he had Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick (who were every bit as good). And, it didn’t hurt that in addition the film sported an Oscar-winning theme song by Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer. But, I must say, that BOTH versions are about equally distinguished.
Another excellent teleplay that you should look for is Requiem for a Heavyweight. It’s an early screenplay from Rod Serling–perhaps the best TV writer of his age. In the original teleplay (broadcast on Playhouse 90), Jack Palance delivers the performance of his career as a boxer who is past his prime and ready to retire…but to what?! The guy is broke, battered and practically without skills other than his ability to beat people to a pulp. Fortunately, a nice employment counselor takes pity on him and helps him find a sense of direction. This was such a success that the BBC made their own version for TV in the UK the following year! And, a few years later, Serling adapted his script for a Hollywood version starring Anthony Quinn. Now up until this story, I’ve always found the TV and movie versions to be of the same or nearly the same quality. Well, this is NOT the case with Requiem for a Heavyweight. The TV version is significantly better and I like that it ends on a positive note. The movie, on the other hand, is rather depressing by the time the film ends…realistic but depressing. And, surprisingly, Palance did a better job in the leading role.
So how can you get these wonderful teleplays? Many are available to view online or download for free from archive.org–a site devoted to public domain recordings. And, they are also sometimes available to buy or rent. Both Criterion and Koch have released several sets of teleplays–and they make for terrific viewing or as gifts. And, the Hollywood versions are very easy to find through the usual sources (such as Amazon and Netflix). Give them a try–and let me know what you think. I’m pretty confident you won’t be disappointed if you love great dramas.
Days of Wine and Roses:
Original Teleplay: A
Movie Remake: A
Requiem for a Heavyweight:
Original Teleplay: A
Movie Remake: B+