In this guest post, Andrew Dix discusses ten cinematic adaptations of US novels
Film, right from its beginnings very late in the nineteenth century, has been obsessed with literature. Literary adaptation appealed to early filmmakers as a source of cultural respectability: the first movies were shown in venues of popular entertainment such as fairgrounds and circuses, and an association with literature, it was felt, would give film greater artistic prestige. Literature, and novels in particular, also offered a ready source of stories to feed the new medium’s appetite for narrative material.
It was not only English, French and other European novels that proved attractive to these pioneering filmmakers, but American novels too. The earliest screen version of Uncle Tom’s Cabin appeared in 1903, condensing Harriet Beecher Stowe’s long novel into nineteen minutes. Louisa M. Alcott’s Little Women made the first of many appearances on film in 1917; Twain’s Huckleberry Finn debuted in cinemas in 1920. Herman Melville’s Moby Dick was adapted for the first time in 1926, as a silent movie entitled The Sea Beast. There are several curious things about this adaptation, one being that it was remade as a ‘talkie’ four years later (this time called Moby Dick), another that it invented a half-brother for Captain Ahab and gave him the unlikely name of Derek.