He looked death in the face and lived to write again. Now the master of the macabre shares with EW fave adaptations from his chilling body of work.
Toward the end of his life, James M. Cain (Double Indemnity, The Postman Always Rings Twice, and Mildred Pierce, among others) granted an interview to a young college journalist. During the course of the interview, the young writer moaned about how the movies had ruined Cain’s books. The old pro spun around in his chair and pointed to the shelf behind his desk. ”The movies didn’t ruin any of them,” he snapped. ”They’re all right up there.”
That sums up my philosophy on the subject of turning books into film—specifically my books—very neatly. I’ve hardly ever said no when someone offered to buy the rights to one of my novels, feeling that even the best movies are gone from theaters in a couple of months, and the bad ones rarely last longer than a couple of weeks (well, there was The Phantom Menace, but I have an idea that was more about lawyers and contracts than it was filmmakers and exhibitors). Even at your local video store, films migrate onto the back shelves pretty rapidly. Books last longer, and no film ever changed so much as a single word of a single novel. And besides, I love the movies—always have, always will. My first trip out after being smacked by a van and almost killed was to the movies (Deep Blue Sea, as a matter of fact; I went in my wheelchair and loved every minute of it).
The worst that can happen is that the critics are mean and the movie tanks. Best case? The Green Mile is the best case. It’s great Hollywood entertainment, full of character, life, and wonder. Full of emotion, too—those big, operatic sweeps of feeling that make going to a good movie one of life’s real pleasures. The critics may not agree, but films that are actually entertaining always seem to make them nervous. Critics like what’s cool. I like what’s hot and spicy.
Have I liked all the films adapted from my work? Good Christ, no. I made one stinker myself (Maximum Overdrive) and have gritted my teeth through a good many others. The worst are those that spawn sequels seemingly without number (please, please let there be no Carrie 3), but even those have their charms; I sort of liked Children of the Corn: Urban Harvest (I can’t remember if that was No. 3 or No. 4), and you’ve got to like at least the titles of the Sometimes They Come Back sequels: Sometimes They Come Back…Again and Sometimes They Come Back…for More. I’m rooting for at least one final film in this series: Sometimes They Come Back…for Courteous Service and Low, Low Prices.
I’m asked frequently what my favorite adaptations are, and since EW and EW readers seem to love lists, here’s my personal top 10:
—THE GREEN MILE By turns grim and hilarious, dense with plot and emotion. Movies are rarely as good as books. This one is.
—STAND BY ME From a novella in a collection of mine called Different Seasons (from the same book as Shawshank Redemption, just in case you want to pick one up—they make wonderful Christmas presents). I think it’s Rob Reiner’s best, most deeply felt movie, and every time I watch it I get pissed at River Phoenix for killing himself with dope. I like it because when I watch it, I feel the way I did when I was writing it. In a word, good.