Thursday, June 3, 2010

Guy Kibbee as Babbitt

Kibbee is Babbit but too many liberties taken with novel

By Doug Gibson

I too, have waited years to see the screen adaptation of my favorite novel. I am grateful TCM aired the film. Overall, though, the film adaptation fails because it veers too far away from the plot in the second half of the film.

First, the good: Kibbee captures Babbitt almost perfectly as Lewis describes him. The scene where his fellow lodgers/businessmen play a practical joke on Babbitt may be apocryphal, but it is true to Lewis' novel. For a half hour, the film is more or less faithful to the novel. The bad: Once Zilla is shot by Paul, Lewis' novel is thrown away for an ego-trip script devised by a ham screenwriter.

I don't know how Lewis stood watching it. It is ridiculous to have lonely widow Tanis Judique blackmail George, and even more ridiculous to have Babbitt's wife and son come to his rescue. That is far away from the novel as can be.

Also, the film discarded the real reason for Babbitt's alienation, which was political, and sparked by Babbitt's disillusion after Paul's arrest and jailing. Still, I enjoyed the film. I agree that a remake would be a good idea, but I would prefer a period piece set in the 1920s, rather than making it current. The political and social obstacles Babbitt dealt with don't exist today.

Also, it was nice to see Hattie McDaniel in the film. Why was she uncredited. Was she subtly Jim-Crowed? I also notice there is a 1924 silent Babbitt considered lost. That's a shame. Final grade: 6 out of 10

The New York Times reviewed Babbitt in 1934. The reviewer accurately described it as a "liberal" version of the book and noted that the filmmakers, First National Pictures, chose to make the serious dilemmas facing Babbitt in the novel as "broad-humored entertainment." Reviewer Andre Sennwald wrote, "Although the cinemized "Babbitt" lacks the remorseless irony of the printed page, it is in its own right a skillfully managed motion picture which regards the immortal George F. with a human and sympathetic eye. As a comedy of commercial manners, it succeeds in being an enjoyable entertainment, and it is performed by the excellent Guy Kibbee with his customary humor and veracity."

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