Screening the Stage: Case Studies of Film Adaptations of Stage Plays and Musicals in the Classical Hollywood Era, 1914-1956

Screening the Stage: Case Studies of Film Adaptations of Stage Plays and Musicals in the Classical Hollywood Era, 1914-1956

by Steven Neale


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Introduced by a comprehensive account of the factors governing the adaptation of stage plays and musicals in Hollywood from the early 1910s to the mid-to-late 1950s, Screening the Stage consists of a series of chapter-length studies of feature-length films, the plays and musicals on which they were based, and their remakes where pertinent. Founded on an awareness of evolving technologies and industrial practices rather than the tenets of adaptation theory, particular attention is paid to the evolving practices of Hollywood as well as to the purport and structure of the plays and stage musicals on which the film versions were based. Each play or musical is contextualized and summarized in detail, and each film is analyzed so as to pinpoint the ways in which they articulate, modify, or rework the former. Examples range from dramas, comedies, melodramas, musicals, operettas, thrillers, westerns and war film, and include The Squaw Man, The Poor Little Rich Girl, The Merry Widow, 7th Heaven, The Cocoanuts, Waterloo Bridge, Stage Door, I Remember Mama, The Pirate, Dial M for Murder and Attack.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780861967261
Publisher: John Libbey Publishing
Publication date: 10/05/2017
Pages: 250
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.20(h) x 0.80(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Steve Neale is Professor Emeritus of Film Studies at the University of Exeter. He is author of Genre and Hollywood, author (with Sheldon Hall) of Epics, Spectacles and Blockbusters: A Hollywood History, editor of The Classical Hollywood Reader, editor (with Frank Krutnik, Brian Neve and Peter Stanfield) of 'Un-American' Hollywood: Politics and Film in the Blacklist, and editor (with John Belton and Sheldon Hall) of Widescreen Worldwide.

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The Squaw Man

The 1914 film version of The Squaw Man was based on a four-act play by Edwin Milton Royle. Itself based on a one-act version written by Royle in 1904, the four-act version premiered at the Wallack's Theatre in New York on 23 October 1905 and ran for 222 performances with a cast that included William Faversham as Captain James Wynnegate (later known as Jim Carston), Selene Johnson as Lady Diana, Mabel Morrison as Nat-u-ritch, William S. Hart as Cash Hawkins, Theodore Roberts as Tabywana, and a number of Ute Indians in minor roles employing 'their own speech and sign language'. The play was roadshown throughout the USA and was performed in London and elsewhere abroad as The White Man, at which point it was novelised by Julie Opp Faversham and went on to form the basis of a 1906 burlesque version entitled The Squawman's Girl of the Golden West. The Squaw Man was revived in the US in 1907, 1908, 1911 and 1921, and provided the basis for The Kentuckian, a single-reel film directed by Wallace McCutcheon in 1908, as well as for the 1914 version and its subsequent remakes. Following the plethora of one-reel and two-reel Westerns produced by companies such as Essanay, Kalem, the New York Motion Picture Company, Pathé West Coast and Selig in the period between 1909 to 1911, the 1914 version also helped inaugurate a trend toward feature-length Westerns.

The Squaw Man was one of number frontier plays written in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. Among the former were The Indian Princess, or La Belle Sauvage (1808) by John Nelson Barker, The Indian Prophesy (1827) by George Washington Parke Curtis, The Lion of the West (1831) by James Kirke Paulding, Across the Continent (1870) by James J. McCloskey, Davy Crockett (1872) by Frank Murdock, The Girl I Left Behind Me (1893) by David Belasco and Franklyn Fyles, and The Cowboy and the Lady (1899) by Clyde Fitch; and among the latter were The Virginian (1904), a stage-play adaptation of Owen Wister's 1902 novel, The Girl of the Golden West (1905) by Belasco, which went on to form the basis of Puccini's 1910 opera, and Billy the Kid (1906) by Walter Woods. While most of the nineteenth century plays came and went, later ones such as The Cowboy and the Lady and The Girl I Left Behind Me formed the basis of one-reel film versions in 1903 and 1908 respectively, and feature-length versions in 1915.

The idea of producing a feature-length film version of The Squaw Man appears to have been mooted by Jesse L. Lasky and Cecil B. DeMille in 1913. Cecil was the youngest member of a famous theatrical family. His father (Henry C. de Mille) and his elder brother (William de Mille) were both successful playwrights ('de Mille' was the family spelling, but Cecil used 'DeMille' as his professional name), and Cecil also wrote plays and helped manage the family's theatrical agency. While doing so, Cecil cemented a lasting friendship with Lasky, who at this point produced vaudeville shows and stage plays exclusively. But as is noted in the introduction, the prospects for stage plays in 1913 were particularly bleak, and well aware of new film companies such as the Famous Players Motion Picture Company, Arthur Friend, Samuel Goldfish (later Goldwyn), and Lasky and DeMille decided to establish the Jesse L. Lasky Feature Play Company along similar lines. The company was capitalised at $20,000 and The Squaw Man was chosen as the basis for its first feature-length film, possibly because some of DeMille's earlier plays, among them The Stampede and The Royal Mounted, dealt sympathetically with Native American characters and themes.

The Play

The storyline and settings of Royle's play can be summarised as follows. Act One takes place at Maudesly Towers, the English estate of the Earl of Kerhill, which Royle describes as a 'court' that looks out on 'a typical English park'. The house, which is on the left, 'is one of the timber edifices of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries', and across the back and on the right lie 'the ruins of an abbey of a much older date'. Amidst those present at the mansion there is much talk of noblesse oblige and the forthcoming donation of twenty thousand pounds to charity by the officers of the 16 Lancers. However, amidst the cant and double-dealing that marks the upper classes, it emerges that Henry, the Earl's son and Captain James Wynnegate's brother, has used the money to engage in a swindle on the stock exchange, and on learning that Henry has lost the money, James takes the blame in order to spare Henry's wife Diana, with whom he is in love. Forced to leave England in disgrace, James takes Diana's hand, 'looks lovingly into her eyes', then 'turns away and starts through the park' as the curtain falls.

Act Two takes place two years later in the Long Horn Saloon in Maverick, a cow town on the Union Pacific Railroad in Wyoming. A train has just arrived outside and its observation car is in view through the saloon window. Calling himself Jim Carston, Wynnegate is now a rancher, and some of his hands are in the saloon when he sends them a message advising them to avoid the villainous Cash Hawkins and his henchmen. Tourists from the train enter the saloon as Hawkins joins his men in a plan to swindle cattle from Taby-wana, chief of the Utes. Nat-u-rich, Taby-wana's daughter, appears in the doorway, and as Hawkins plies her father with alcohol she decides to intervene. But at this point Jim enters and prevents Hawkins from molesting Nat-u-ritch, and as Nat-uritch leaves with her father, Henry, Diana and Sir John Applegate enter the saloon from the train outside. In order to conceal his presence Jim steps back into the crowd. But as Hawkins makes more trouble, Jim intervenes and is recognised by Diana and the others. Diana and Jim begin to converse. But the train is ready to leave and their conversation is truncated. Jim buries his head in his hands and Nat-u-ritch looks on in sorrow. Then Hawkins re-enters and brandishes his guns, and unbeknown to all those present, he is shot and killed not by Jim, but by Nat-u-ritch, who walks over to Jim, kneels at his side, touches his hand, and simply says 'Me killum'.

For Richard Wattenberg, Act Two articulates 'Jim's descent into the world of western American savagery'. But the limitations of English nobility have already been exposed in Act One, and the dichotomies of savagery and civilisation are further blurred by the presence and the actions of Nat-u-ritch and Taby-wana, who represent 'native savagery' but also occupy their own social space, and who, in the case of Nat-u-ritch, help dispense justice by killing Cash Hawkins, the most uncivilised character in the play. These paradoxes also mark Acts Three and Four. Act Three is set in the dooryard at Jim's ranch, which is The ranch is 'flanked on one side by an adobe stable with a loft for the storage of hay. In front of the stable, and standing some feet back of it is the Carston ranch house'. It is now 'seven years after the killing of Cash Hawkins' and the ranch 'is in a state of partial dilapidation'. A ranch hand called Big Bill is braiding strands of buckskin with young Hal, the son of Carston and Nat-u-ritch, and other hands drift in one by one, most of them worried about the falling price of cattle and the dismal prospects for work and wages. The ranch hands leave and Sheriff Hardy and his deputies arrive and are put up for the night. They are joined by Baco White, an Indian interpreter, then by Tabywana. It appears that a stranger has been making enquiries as to Jim's whereabouts, and it emerges that Malcolm Petrie, a representative of the Kerhill family, has been searching for Jim, who is the holder to the family title now that Henry is dead. Aware of Diana's faith in him, and recalling the pleasures of England and the Kerhill estate, Jim is elated. But the strains of Native American music and the sounds of Hal calling for his father draw our attention to the entry of Nat-u-ritch, the woman who killed Cash Hawkins, the woman who nursed Jim through a fever following an accident in the snow, and the woman who gave birth to their son. Jim declares that 'I cannot go!' But his mind is changed by Petrie, who persuades him that Hal should have an education befitting his role as the future Earl of Kerhill. Nat-u-ritch is devastated and Hal is confused, and it is at this point that Diana arrives with Applegate and 'takes Hal to her heart'.

The final act takes place in the same setting. It is early morning and Sheriff Hardy is informed that Nat-u-ritch has disappeared. Observed by Taby-wana, Hardy enters the house then exits with a revolver that he is convinced belongs to Nat-u-ritch – and that he is equally convinced was used to kill Cash Hawkins. Jim is informed but insists that 'There are cases, Sheriff, where justice is superior to the law. And a white man's court is a bad place for justice to the Indian. Fortunately for all of us, Nat-u-ritch has disappeared. You couldn't arrest her, Sheriff – not while I live'. Diana enters a few moments later. She wants to know what is meant by the term 'Squaw Man', and on being told, she is sympathetic. But assuming the advantages of an aristocratic upbringing in England, she says that the boy must go 'home with us'. At this point Taby-wana enters and informs Jim that Nat-u-ritch has disappeared. Jim explains that Nat-u-ritch might be arrested for the murder of Hawkins, and as the cowboys arrive with leaving presents for Hal, we catch her watching the proceedings from the loft above. Hal leaves with Diana, and Jim is heartbroken. Nat-u-ritch looks down in sorrow, then re-enters the house and returns with the revolver used to kill Hawkins in her hand. As she does so, she spots Hal's moccasins, picks them up, presses them to her breast, and leaves. Jim enters the farmhouse to rest. But on discovering that the revolver in farmhouse has vanished, he rushes out again. Jim draws his own revolver. But as he does so, we hear the sound of a gunshot off stage. A dramatic pause ensues. Then Taby-wana enters with the body of Nat-u-ritch in his arms. The stage directions indicate that she is holding Hal's moccasins in her hand, and as Taby-wana brings her body to Jim, Diana ensures that Hal cannot see it. 'Poor little mother!' says Jim, and as he repeats these words, the curtain slowly falls.

As John Tibbetts points out, the play tries 'to combine naturalistic concerns (the regional settings in Utah) with the more traditional form of the well made play'. He also notes that 'Royle was determined to put the "real Indian" on the stage', hence the casting 'of at least one authentic Ute Indian to insure the proper dialogue and speech inflection', and hence Royle's sympathy for the native characters alongside his 'satiric jabs' at 'Englishmen and their titles'. Tibbetts also notes the extent to which actions such as Jim's discovery that Hawkins is a cattle rustler, Nat-u-rich's rescue of Jim from a snowbound mountain ravine, and Nat-u-rich's suicide, take place off stage and are therefore reliant on expository dialogue. 'The one moment of real physical action', he writes, 'is the barroom confrontation in Act Two between Wynnegate and Hawkins'.

The Squaw Man (1914)

DeMille was given a day's tuition in film production at the Edison studio in New York, and following the appointment of Oscar Apfel, an experienced director, and Alfred Gondolfini, an experienced cameraman, Dustin Farnum was cast as Jim and Winifred Kingston as Diana. The team set out for Flagstaff, and according to DeMille and subsequent scholars, Apfel and DeMille wrote a scenario for the film version of The Squaw Man on the train to Flagstaff in Arizona. The process of adaptation is not recorded. But it is clear that Apfel and DeMille understood that actions and settings were key and that dialogue had to be trimmed to a minimum, and this is reflected in the final thirty-five-page script. On arriving at Flagstaff, the team was disappointed. DeMille was unimpressed by the light and thought that the terrain was insufficiently varied,and Farnum suggested that they go on to Los Angeles, which was close to varied terrain and which was already becoming a major centre for film production. The team arrived there on 20 December 1913, and L. L. Burns and Harry Revier agreed to lease their studio at the corner of Selma Avenue and Vine Street for $250 dollars a month. They also agreed to enlarge its facilities, build a second stage, and develop and tint and tone a negative and positive print. At this point 'DeMille and Apfel settled down to a preproduction schedule that lasted all of seven days'. Red Wing, a Winnebago Indian whose native name was 'Ah-Hoo-Sooch-Winga' and who had already appeared in a number of Westerns, was assigned the role of Nat-u-Ritch. (The 'r' was capitalised in both the titles and the credits). Joseph Singleton was assigned the role of Tabywana (without the hyphen) and Billy Elmer the role of Cash Hawkins. And Monroe Salisbury, Dick La Reno, Monroe Salisbury, Fred Montagu and a girl called Carmen (who was billed as Baby DeRou) were assigned the roles of Henry, Bill, Petrie and Hal respectively.

As Richard S. Birchard points out, the 'extent of DeMille's involvement with the direction of the picture is unclear. A photograph taken on the first day of shooting clearly shows Oscar Apfel directing, while DeMille stands with the other members of the company offstage. Surviving prints give the credit "Produced by Oscar C. Apfel and Cecil B. DeMillle" (the word "producer" meant director in 1914), but the main titles are from an early reissue ... It would be another three months after the completion of The Squaw Man before DeMille had a solo outing as a director'. Shooting began at a manor house in the West Adams district, which stood in for Maudesly Towers. The first title announces that 'Henry, Earl of Kerhill, and his cousin, Capt. James Wynnegate, are made trustees for the Orphan Fund of the 16 Lancers', and is followed by a medium long shot of upper-class men around a table and another standing at the back with a number of servants. The man at the back delivers the news about the fund and everyone applauds, and at this point the storyline deviates from the play by cutting to Diane, Henry and their friends at a racetrack. It transpires that Henry has bet on a loser, and markedly shaken, he writes out an IOU. The IOU is signed by James (henceforth Jim) as well, and from this point on Jim's immediate fate is sealed.

Back at Maudesly Towers, Henry is anxious about the IOU. He is also concerned about the friendship between Jim and Diana, and a shot encompassing all of three of them serves to lay out the narrative tensions. Henry's misdemeanours become apparent to Diana and her mother, and noblesse oblige (which here consists of deceit and lies) dictates that Jim assume Henry's guilt. Jim packs his suitcase and Diana invites Jim to kiss her goodbye. Gallantly refusing to do so, Jim leaves, and the final shots of this sequence begin with Henry at his desk surrounded by family members and members of the fund. Henry 'discovers' the cheque and exclaims that his signature his been forged by Jim. A servant is sent to Jim's room. But Jim is nowhere to be found, and at this point we cut to a title informing us that 'Jim Engages Passage to America'. In the play, Jim leaves in disgrace at the end of Act One and we next encounter him as a rancher in a saloon in Wyoming two years later. This is a startling juxtaposition, and is marked by contrasts of all sorts. But in the film we are presented with a number of intervening segments (most of them framed and edited in the style of alternation established in the film's initial scenes), and these segments serve to cement the bond between Jim and his mother (who draws money from a bank to help him pay his passage to the USA) and to establish Jim's love of children (he befriends a young girl and her mother as they set sail on a schooner). They also underline Jim's courage and physical prowess when he captures a detective who is trailing him for embezzling the fund, and when he subsequently helps the girl, her mother, the detective and the crew to abandon ship following an outbreak of fire. Some of these events appear to lack completion in the DVD version. But Jim and the others are 'Picked By An American Bound Vessel' and we cut to a series of shots (all of them taken at sea and most of them framed in long-shot) as they are all duly rescued.


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Table of Contents

1. The Squaw Man
2. The Poor Little Rich Girl
3. The Merry Widow
4. 7th Heaven and Seventh Heaven
5. The Cocoanuts
6. Street Scene
7. Waterloo Bridge
8. Stage Door
9. The Pirate
10. I Remember Mama
11. Dial M for Murder
12. Attack
Bibliography; Index

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