Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

`Ethan Frome' Simmers with Tragic Passion the Film Version of Edith Wharton's Novel Adds Literary Weight to Commercial Movie Fare

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

`Ethan Frome' Simmers with Tragic Passion the Film Version of Edith Wharton's Novel Adds Literary Weight to Commercial Movie Fare

Article excerpt

LITERARY adaptations are back in style, and if you haven't noticed the trend, "Ethan Frome" is here to nudge your attention.

Based on a 1911 novel by Edith Wharton, it's the latest in a string of recent films that take their stories, characters, and themes from well-known books that preceded them by decades or even centuries. Examples range from "The Last of the Mohicans" and "Of Mice and Men" to "The Lover" and "Malcolm X," not to mention "Bram Stoker's Dracula" and "The Muppet Christmas Carol."

The fact that a movie is based on a respected book doesn't mean it's a good movie, of course. Hollywood history is littered with low-grade adaptations of excellent novels and stories - and conversely, many a second-rate book has yielded a first-rate movie version.

It has even been suggested that bad books make better movies, since filmmakers don't feel tied down by the original and can let their imaginations fly. Auteurs from Orson Welles to Alfred Hitchcock have made masterpieces from "Touch of Evil" to "Vertigo" based on novels that few spectators ever found reason to read.

Yet it's still heartening when American filmmakers turn to literary sources as they've been doing lately, since it proves that remakes and "high concept" gimmicks aren't all the industry is capable of nowadays. "Ethan Frome" is no groundbreaking film, but its arrival is a refreshing antidote to the big-budget emptiness that marked so many of the holiday season's releases.

The plot of "Ethan Frome" is lurid enough, in its austere and chilly way, to make a juicy-sounding movie project. The title character lives with his perpetually sick and dominating wife, Zeena, on a desolate New England farm. Into their home comes Zeena's young cousin, Mattie Silver, who captures Ethan's heart in a way he's never known before. Passion flares, but in this setting and among these people it's obviously doomed from the start. …

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