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Mr. Movie: William Faulkner

William Faulkner won the Pulitzer and the Nobel. He worked in Hollywood as a screenwriter for over 20 years because he needed the money. Of his over 50 script contributions, most died without filming. But he did help on two tremendous classics: To Have and Have Not (1944) and The Big Sleep (1946). 


His writing was almost as dense as James Joyce’s and he was not the most accessible of authors.


Adapting his pithy novels and stories to the silver screen was not an easy task. Many tried. Many failed. But some succeeded and there are some very fine movies based on Faulkner’s work.


I will start with my personal favorite. The Reivers (1969) is perhaps the most accessible Faulkner film from probably his most accessible story. OK, reivers are thieves. Steve McQueen stars as Boon Hoggenbeck, a likable ne’er-do-well. He is absolutely smitten with a spanking new 1905 Winton Flyer, owned, unfortunately for Boon, by the powerful Boss McCaslin (Will Geer). Boon steals the car (for the second time) and lights out for Memphis with a kid, Lucius, and a stowaway, Ned. There are many adventures on the way, some harrowing, mostly hilarious.


The Tarnished Angels (1957) is based on the Faulkner novel Pylon. Robert Stack portrays embittered pilot Roger Shumann who grinds out a meager living risking his life as a stunt flyer. Dorothy Malone plays his long-suffering wife Laverne, and Rock Hudson is on board as a reporter writing about them. The stunts are good. The acting not so much, but it is a good story with a less than Hollywoodish ending.


Intruder In The Dust (1949) has a bunch of actors you’ve never heard of except for the always present Will Geer, who plays the sheriff. It’s a really good story about Lucas Beauchamp, a Black man unjustly accused of killling a white man. He may be saved by the town lawyer, an elderly lady and two teenage boys. Of course he is, this is Hollywood! Really good story, though.


The Long Hot Summer (1968) is based on three Faulkner novellas about a drifter wandering into a small Mississippi town and infiltrating a local family. The lobby card says The People, Language and World of Faulkner. Yep. Future married couple Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward are the sparks that flame this one up. Newman is Ben Quick, who happens into the small town and the lives of its principal family.


Barn Burning (1980) has Tommy Lee Jones and not much else to recommend it, but it barely scrapes over the recommended fence.


The Sound and the Fury (1959) stars Yul Brynner as a Southern stud, and that’s about all you need to know. The 2014 version is even worse. As I Lay Dying (2013) is a barking dog.


All of these movies are for grown-ups.