Book purists often aghast at films' casts


November 18, 2001|By Knight Ridder / Tribune

"Scarlett O'Hara was not beautiful," wrote Margaret Mitchell in the opening lines of Gone With the Wind. But that didn't stop David O. Selznick from casting Vivien Leigh, who was, in the part.

Lovers of the novel were appalled. Just as, when the casts for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and The Fellowship of the Ring (opening in December) were announced, some devotees of the novels of J.K. Rowling and J.R.R. Tolkien howled.

Lots of people, when they read novels, imagine them as movies, which leads to disappointment when the novels become films.

"In film, the director has selected for you what you're going to see, how it looks, who the characters are and what their faces look like," says writer T. Coraghessan Boyle. "In reading it, you select it yourself."

Without further ado, some Hollywood casting that worked:

* W.C. Fields as Mr. Micawber, David Copperfield (1935) -- No one who has seen this wonderful George Cukor film can read Dickens' novel without hearing Fields' drawl in everything Micawber says.

* Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) -- Novelist Harper Lee, who based the character on her own father, thought Peck, who won an Oscar, was perfect in the role.

* Emma Thompson as Elinor Dashwood, Sense and Sensibility (1995) -- Even though the 30-something Thompson was really too old to play Jane Austen's heroine, she brings it off with her intelligent performance and her Oscar-winning screenplay.

* Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones, Bridget Jones's Diary (2001) -- The Brits were aghast that this ... this Texan should play their beloved Bridget. Well, we were wrong to be upset when the British Leigh was cast as Scarlett, so now we're even.

Some casting that didn't work:

* Spencer Tracy as Dr. Jekyll / Mr. Hyde, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941) -- The only thing sillier than casting this most American, most guy-next-door of actors as the Victorian mad scientist would be casting Dustin Hoffman as Capt. Hook or Julia Roberts as Tinkerbell or ... Oh. Right. Never mind.

* Henry Fonda as Pierre Bezuhov, War and Peace (1956) -- The rail-thin Fonda is all wrong as the portly, clumsy Pierre. The definitive Pierre is Sergei Bondarchuk, in the spectacular 1968 Soviet film.

* Gregory Peck as Capt. Ahab, Moby Dick (1956) -- "Abraham Lincoln with a peg leg," scoffed one critic. Peck lacked the demonic force of the mad whale hunter.

* Bruce Willis as Peter Fallow, The Bonfire of the Vanities (1990) -- Almost no reader of the book imagined Tom Hanks as Master of the Universe Sherman McCoy, but even worse was the casting of Willis as a character who in the novel was a sleazy Brit journalist -- just the part for Gary Oldman.

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