Read the Book or See the Movie?

Once upon a time I wrote a post about book vs movie (or TV) adaptations, and since then I've come across a few more.  Here's a live list in no particular order.

Call the Midwife

Verdict: TV show!  The show is inspired by Jennifer Worth's three memoirs but doesn't tie itself down to them.  It uses the premise and a few of the stories and then does its own thing.  The show deals with dark topics but each episodes resolves into "life is wonderful and everything's gonna be alright".  Worth pulls no punches in recounting the misery of human life and hopelessness that she witnessed as a midwife, and at time I felt miserable and hopeless while reading.

To give you an example of the differences between the book and show, Dr. Turner gets exactly one sentence in the book and is never mentioned again.  One of the major story lines on the TV show is about a nun who leaves the order to get married.  The real story was a total buzzkill.  Yes she left the the 1980s because she had a problem with the ordination of women in the Church of England so she converted to Catholicism.  I'll take the TV show's fictional version of the story for both of these characters.

His Dark Materials

Verdict: TV show!  The show and the book are very similar, but I don't feel that I would have been able to "get into" the book without the visual of the TV show.  I just wanted "a little more" so I was more than happy to read the retelling of the story, but honestly the books aren't giving me anything that I didn't get from the show. Up for debate: it's going to be a while until the 3rd season comes out, so should I wait for it or should I go ahead and read the 3rd book????

Mildred Pierce

Verdict: book!  Just in case you're not familiar, it's about a depression era housewife who kicks her deadbeat husband out and bootstraps her way from nothing to success only to be faced with...well that's enough of a preview, go read the book if you want to know what she's faced with.  But the main character is simply awesome and the story telling and the writing are tiiight and oh so satisfying.  The original movie was hampered by the censorship code and they had to leave a ton of stuff out.  I'm a "sometimes" fan of Joan Crawford in that there are a few movies that I love her in and a lot of movies where I feel like she's trying too hard.  I like her in this one but just not as much as the fictional Mildred.  A few years ago there was a mini series with Kate Winslet, but my gripe with this version is that they just "photographed the book" without bringing in anything new...the book is still better.


Verdict: TV show!  I saw the show and then read the first book and started the second one before I realized that the show and the books were identical.  I've quipped before that the book doesn't have Sam Heugan with his shirt off, and I'll add that it also doesn't have Caitrionia Balfe with her shirt off, so that's two more reasons to use the books as door stoppers and watch the show.


Verdict: both...but I give the edge to the books.  I think you should watch the show because it's a good story with great actors, but I feel that the TV show shortchanged Deborah Feldman's real life story.

The Girl on the Train

Verdict: the book is better but I also enjoyed the movie.  The movie doesn't really do anything except retell the book but it has some really fun actors.  All the kudos to Emily Blunt, it's always fun to see Lisa Kudrow, and I'd forgotten that Laura Prepon and Allison Janney were in it.  There's an actor that I can't stand but he plays the bad guy so I even like him in this one.  

I have a few "come on now" groaners for the movie which I'll try to tell you about without giving spoilers.

  • In the book Rachel is practically broke and has to reach out to her mom for money.  In the movie it's all good because Rachel has alimony???  Just saying that I'm not familiar with DINK divorces that result in either party getting enough alimony to be their sole source of income years after the divorce.
  • The movie never tells us why the bad guy is bad.   The book builds from Megan is missing==>Rachel has a lot of events in her life that don't make sense==>ah this is all part of a pattern in the killer's M.O. that dates back to his childhood, we have a complete character fleshed out.  In the movie the bad guy does what he does to Rachel because????  It's never explained.

Orange is the New Black

Verdict: both!  Yes the book is way better and it was painful to watch the TV show keep coming up with excuses to keep Piper in jail BUT they gave us Crazy Eyes so they are forgiven.  I think I watched the first three seasons of the show before the story line got too ridiculous for me.  Actually forget both the show and the book, the kitten parody is where it's at:

And Then There Were None

Verdict: book!  There have been many movie and TV versions, but all of them mess up the ending so as far as I'm concerned there is still room for another version.  The 2016 TV show is by far the best version with the #2 spot going to the 1945 movie.  The book's ending is nothing short of genius, and I was nothing short of furious when the TV show, which got everything else right, shied away from the book's ending.

Double Indemnity 

Verdict: both!!!!  The book is just as spicy as Mildred Pierce and the movie doesn't have any problem getting the story on to the screen while staying on the right side of the censors.  The book's biggest problem is that it doesn't have Barbara Stanwyck, but the author did the best he could;-)


Verdict: both!!!  The book and the movie are nearly identical EXCEPT for one small detail in what happened to Rebecca that completely changes the narrator's motivation.  The movie was gorgeously shot and the book is gorgeously written.

In a Lonely Place

Verdict: argh I can't decide.  Both are good, but the movie takes a completely different direction with the story.  Honestly  the book is probably better but I saw the movie first so that's where my heart lies.

Book - Journey into the mind of a serial killer.  Dix Steel is a youngish wannabe screen writer living in his conveniently-out-of-the-country-hmm-no-one-has-heard-from-him-in-a-while-friend's very nice apartment in Hollywood.  Dix is also a serial killer who is 100% in control of his world and things are looking up because he's just reconnected with an old friend who's the police detective investigating the killings and he's met a sexy young starlet.  But as time goes on, both his friend and the sexy young starlet start to distance from him.  But why when everything is going so well and he's getting away with it?

Movie - The dark side of Hollywood or "when Humphrey Bogart is the producer and the star, we will make the story fit him and by the way it's the 50's so he can't be a serial killer".  Dix Steel is a very-much-not-young legit screenwriter with a serious anger issue that's got his career on the downturn.  One night he picks up a young woman and is seen by his sexy less-young-than-the-book starlet neighbor saying goodnight to her and watching her walk away into the night.  The next day the woman is found murdered and his sexy neighbor gives him both an alibi and a cup of sugar.

Sexy Neighbor knows what she saw: the woman walked away so Dix can't be the killer.  But there's evidence that says otherwise and his anger problem is off the hook - did she really she what she thinks she saw?


Verdict: the book is the clear winner but the movie has a lot going for it as well.  My vote is read the book first and then see the movie.

The Big Sleep

Verdict: both!!!  I recommend seeing the movie and then reading the book.  The movie has Bogart and Bacall, but the book has details that couldn't be brought into the movie due to censorship.  It's fun to see what's hinted at and what just gets dropped in and not explained because they can't (example: there's a  bookshop that doesn't sell any books in the movie, but you have to read the book to find out why). 

The Handmaid's Tale

Verdict: for me personally, it's the book.  That's because I read it first.  The show got off to a strong start but started to drag, as is typical for short books that get adapted into multi season TV shows.  However I think that if I hadn't read the book I would have been more interested in the TV show.

The Maltese Falcon

Verdict: movie but also read the book! 

Oh wait I have to tell you which movie...I mean specifically the 1941 version, which was the third time (!) the book was filmed.  Hollywood might have needed some trial and error to get it right, but once they got there, they got there.  Specific order: 1941 movie>book>1931 movie and the 1936 movie doesn't even get a space on the board.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

Verdict: c'mon you know it's the book, though the movie has some merits.  Oh hey I wrote a whole post on this.

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