Magazine article The Spectator

The Tricks of the Transference Trade

Magazine article The Spectator

The Tricks of the Transference Trade

Article excerpt

EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY FICTION ON SCREEN

edited by Robert Mayer

CUP, L47.50, pp. 242, ISBN 0521793165 It's odd the things in novels that get immortalised in film. In Tom Jones (the novel) the episode where our hero eats three pounds of beef before retiring with Mrs Waters is part of Fielding's ironic lexicon; as is her reaction, deploying `the whole Artillery of Love', in ogles, leers and sidelong glances, which `hit only a vast Piece of Beef ... and harmless spent their force'. In the book it is amusing; but in Tony Richardson's film, as Peter Cosgrove argues, it is `the most famous scene'. This is not because the film (screenplay by John Osborne) doesn't work; it does and is hugely entertaining. It is just an indication of the way that tiny events are picked out and become hugely memorable in the translation from one medium to another. At least this episode did exist in the written version. The other major event in the 1963 film which everyone recalls is the hunt, which, though an invention, `yields much more to the audience' than any number of Tom and Sophia scenes. Keen on a spot of anti-blood-sport propaganda, Richardson stuffed his deer with lashings of beef liver to get his hounds really slavering. But the episode grew, in typical 1960s fashion, into a set-piece vignette of bloodthirsty but excited hunters v. animal rights activists with Lady Cranborne (`very spectacular she looked riding side-saddle') careering through the countryside in a thoroughly Fieldingesque manner. It may not have been in the novel, but it captured far more essential qualities of Tom Jones than the much longer and, Martin Battestin notes, clumsier BBC version of 1997.

Defoe fared much the same. In the 18th century there were so many imitations of Robinson Crusoe that, Pat Rogers notes, they represented an entire `sub-branch of continental literature'. On film, however, this valiant capitalist had two great failings, being an instinctive racist and having a total lack of sexual desire. Jack Gold's Man Friday (1975) used Adrian Mitchell's hilarious two-hander to poke fun at him, but, alas, sadly failed. The beautiful surroundings of Manzanillo and Richard Roundtree's winning ways made Peter O'Toole's one-dimensional performance as Crusoe not so much comic as maniacally absurd. Moll Flanders, with her cheerful life not of isolation (she was `Twelve Year a Whore, five times a Wife, whereof once to her own Brother') strikes much nearer the Hollywood path. Kim Novak, plucked for stardom from her career as `Miss Deep Freeze', struck Terence Young as ready to melt in his 1965 movie Amorous Adventures of Moll Flanders. …

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