Sunday, October 27, 2013

Broadway Flops on Film

Very few plays make it onto film these days, and even fewer stage musicals.

But there was a time when the studios depended seriously on Broadway as a source for its prestige productions. (There's been a curious flipflop in the past two decades with the B movie - action films and action comedies - now being given the lavish adornments once reserved for message/Oscar films exclusively.) Hollywood had such an unquenchable need to film plays that even stage productions that were flops and folded quickly (but were not necessarily bad) quickly became movies.

To name a few...

"Little Murders"

Written by the popular acerbic cartoonist Jules Feiffer, the very dark "Little Murders" opened at the Booth Theater on April 18th, 1967, playing a total of seven performances. The play starred singer Barbara Cook (in a decidedly non-singing role) and Elliott Gould, just before he hit Hollywood with William Friedkin's "The Night They Raided Minsky's" and Paul Mazursky's "Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice."

Feiffer comically chronicled what happens when a gung-ho all-American girl brings an inarguably unAmerican guy (a self-described "apathist" who photographs dog excrement for a living) home to meet her family - an oblivious mother, a father embarrassed by his name (it's Carroll) and a brother who wants to be a woman, played by Ruth White, John Randolph and David Steinberg, respectively. Exacerbating the tension are such modern travials as power outages, a garbage strike and serial murders.

Heyward Hale Broun, Phil Leeds and Dick Schaal rounded out the cast, under the direction of George Sherman.

A subsequent 1969 staging at the Circle in the Square also starred Gould and Steinberg, along with Linda Lavin, Vincent Gardenia and Donald Sutherland in the role of a hippie cleric.

Gould, of course, recreated his role for the 1971 film, which was gamely directed by Alan Arkin who also assumed the role of the quickly uncoiling detective investigating the murders. The wonderful Marcia Rodd (and exactly what happened to her?) is a standout in the Cook role of Patsy; Elizabeth Wilson and an encoring Gardenia play her parents and Jon Korkes her brother, and Sutherland was back on board as the minister.

"The Seven Descents of Myrtle"/"Last of the Mobile Hotshots"

Tennessee Williams' "The Seven Descents of Myrtle" had a tryout at the Walnut Street Theater in Philadelphia and opened March 27th, 1968 at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, with a cast consisting of Estelle Parsons, Harry Gaurdino and Brian Bedford, under the direction of José Quintero.

OK, here goes: Williams' play is about Lot (Bedford), a tubercular, impotent transvestite who has taken a wife named Myrtle (Parsons) who, in turn, is a prostitute and former showgirl, the sole survivor of the Five Memphis Hot Shots. Myrtle lives to nurse Lot back to health but Lot cares only about stealing the family property from his multiracial half-brother, Chicken (Guardino).

Naturally, Chicken is attracted to Myrtle.

"The Seven Descents of Myrtle" closed after 29 performances.

Sidney Lumet directed the 1970 film version, which was retitled "Last of the Mobile Hotshots" and was one of the few prestige films of that era to be rated X by the MPAA. Lynn Redgrave starred as Myrtle, James Coburn as Lot (renamed Jeb actually for the film), and Robert Hooks as Chicken.

The film was made in New Orleans and St. Francisville, Louisiana, but forget the scenery. All that counted here was the idea of James Coburn playing a transvestite.

"A Loss of Roses"/"The Stripper"

William Inge's "A Loss of Roses," which opened December 7th, 1959, at the Eugene O'Neill Theater and closed after 25 performances, remains Warren Beatty's only Broadway appearance. His co-stars were dancer Carol Haney (in a decidedly undancing performance), Betty Field, Robert Webber, James O'Rear, Margaret Braidwood and Michael J. Pollard who, of course, would appear with Beatty in Arthur Penn's "Bonnie and Clyde."

Daniel Mann directed.

Its plot revolves around Lila (Haney), a sensitive, aging showgirl for a series of shows staged by a Madame Olga. When her boyfriend, Rick (Beatty), steals the show's boxoffice receipts, Lila is fired and opts to change her life. But then Rick returns.
For the 1963 film, directed by Franklin J. Schafner, Joanne Woodward and Richard Beymer play Lila and Rick, with Webber and Pollard recreating their stage roles. The rest of the cast includes Claire Trevor, Carol Lynley, Louis Nye and ... Gypsy Rose Lee as Madam Olga.
"Silent Night, Lonely Night"
The estimable Robert Anderson (who penned "Tea and Sympathy" and "I Never Sang for My Father") wrote this lovely play about two lonely people - played by Henry Fonda and Barbara Bel Geddes - who have a chance meeting as a cozy New England inn during the Christmas holiday.

Each one is there for personal, troubling reasons.

The play, directed by Peter Glenville and co-starring Lois Nettleton, Bill Berger, Peter De Vise and Eda Hainemann, opened at the Morosco Theater on December 28th, 1959 and was snapped up immediately by Universal which then let the project linger for ten years.

The film version of "Silent Night, Lonely Night," directed by Daniel Petrie, was not made for theaters, but for TV. Nevertheless, it's an excellent movie, intimate and involving. Lloyd Bridges (outstanding) and Shirley Jones (an Emmy nominee) took over the Fonda-Bel Geddes roles, Carrie Snodgress played the Nettleton part and Lynn Carlin and Cloris Leachman showed up in roles created for the film by adapter John Vlahos, who wisely retained most of Anderson's script. Its dialogue is nearly verbetim.
"My Sweet Charlie"

David Westheimer's play "My Sweet Charlie" - a study in race relations - opened in tryout at the Forrest Theatre in Philadelphia on November 8th, 1966 before moving to New York's Longacre Theater onn December 6th, 1966, where it closed after 31 performances.

The actor Howard Da Silva ("They Live By Night," "The Great Gatsby," "The Blue Dahlia," "The Lost Weekend" and "1776" among many other films) directed a cast that included Louis Gossett, Jr. in the title role, Bonnie Bedelia, John Randolph and Sarah Cunningham.

Gossett's Charlie Roberts is a black New York lawyer accused - falsely - of murder in a small Texas town. He finds a vacant house where he hides out and this is where he meets Marlene (Bedelia), an artless, uneducated young woman who has been shunned by her father for being pregnant.

They become allies and unlikely friends.

The 1971 TV film version, also produced by Universal, was adapted by the then-hot team of William Link and Richard Levinson and directed by the great Lamont Johnson on location in Port Bolivar, Texas.

"My Sweet Charlie" was hugely popular as a film, thanks in large part to the affecting lead performances of Al Freeman, Jr. and Patty Duke. Ford Rainey took over the Randolph role.

(Artwork: Flyer art for the off-Broadway production of "Little Murders" and Marcia Rodd and Elliott Gould in the film version; Playbill for "The Seven Descents of Myrtle" and the poster for its movie version, "Last of the Mobile Hotshots"; Playbill for "A Loss of Roses" and the poster art for its film version, retitled "The Stripper"; Playbill for "Silent Night, Lonely Night" and the dustjacket for the VHS of the movie version, and the flyer for the Philadelphia tryout of "My Sweet Charlie" and the dustjacket for the video of the film)


larryk said...

I love the film version of "Little Murders." Gould is great and it's really well directed. How did Arkin go from this to "Fire Sale."

You left off Lumet's 1972 "Child's Play," but maybe you talked about that film earlier this year.

joe baltake said...


Yes, I did write about Lumet's "Child's Play" - in my October 10th post. Check it out. The difference, however, is that "Child's Play" was not a Broadway flop. It had a substantial run.

David G. said...

"My Sweet Charlie" is one of my favorite TV movies. I knew it was based on a play but had no idea that the play was not a success on stage. I guess had it been a hit, Universal would have made it for theaters. But I'm not complaining. I'm glad they made it!

larryk said...

I did just notice that Lumet's "Child's Play" is now available for downloading through Amazon... as is another lost 1970's film Frank Perry's "Man on a Swing."

larryk said...

"My Sweet Charlie" was such a hit on television that Universal did try a minimal theatrical release.

joe baltake said...

Yes, I remember the brief theatrical release of "Charlie." Universal probabaly regretted that it did not give this fine little film the prestige of a theatrical showing. "Man on a Swing" is, of course, not based on a play - successful, failed or otherwise - but it is indeed a lost movie. Thanks for reminding me of it.

larryk said...

I know "Man on a Swing" isn't a play... but I got so excited about finding "Child's Play" that I went searching for other movies I'd seen but time forget. Still no "T.R. Baskin."

joe baltake said...

"T.R. Baskin." Ah, yes. Larry, you are bringing up some nice, forgotten films (although I had a difficult time with Candy Bergen in that film). BTW, I have a great source that helps locating such films. Let me know if you need it.

larryk said...

Thank you. You are correct: Candy Bergen doesn't work as a lead. I found some guy in England who sends me stuff like George C Scott's "The Last Run" and Paul Newman's "WUSA." I think that is how I wound up on this blog.... your lost classics. Here is another lost beauty I found: "Getting Straight" on Google Video -

And if you live in Los Angeles, Curtis Hansen and Elliot Gould are having a screening of Bergman's "The Touch " On Nov 22.

joe baltake said...


Try A Million and One World-Wide Video at

Just scrowl down to "Get Free Information Now" and keyboard in the title of the film you're trying to locate. I've had great luck with it.

Daryl Chin said...

There's a little confusion about the plot of A LOSS OF ROSES (renamed THE STRIPPER for its movie version, which was Franklin Schaffner's first theatrical movie after more than a decade's worth of work on TV). Lila (Carol Haney in the play, Joanne Woodward - still her finest performance - in the movie) gets dumped by the thieving Rick (played by Robert Webber in play and film) and so gets stranded in the small town where she grew up, where she moves in with her neighbor (claire Trevor in the movie) whose son she used to babysit. That's the role that William Inge wrote for the young Warren Beatty (replaced by Richard Beymer in the movie).

There is (of course) a mutual attraction (Inge loved these situations of older women getting all hot and bothered by young men, cf. Lola eyeing Turk in COME BACK LITTLE SHEBA, the schoolteacher Rosemary making a fool of herself in PICNIC, the various women throwing themselves at Berry-Berry in ALL FALL DOWN), and somehow it winds up with Lila being forced to strip at some sleazy convention. (I think...) But it's been a long, long time since i've seen this.

Just a side note: William Inge had a habit of finding straight boys that he would fall in love with, and then try to promote their careers. (When he died, his sister commented that he had done this ever since grade school, and Inge was so inhibited that he would never even touch those boys, but would follow them around, do their homework for them, and just pine with unrequited love.) Warren Beatty was certainly one of them; the last would be Nick Nolte, but by then, Inge was so far gone in terms of his depression and alcoholism that Inge never did finish writing the star vehicle for his protege (which is what the play A LOSS OF ROSES and the screenplay SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS were for Beatty).

(Jane Fonda brought this up at the AFI Lifetime Achievement tribute for Beatty; she mentioned that she met Beatty in the late 1950s, when he seemed to be the centerpiece of a group of really smart gay men, including Inge, Jose Quintero, Tennessee Williams, so she assumed that he was so handsome and smart that he must be gay, until they went out on a date and he proved otherwise.)

But i know that you have already written about DARK AT THE TOP OF THE STARS, which remains maybe the best of the Inge adaptations, with great performances by Robert Preston, Dorothy McGuire, Eve Arden, Shirley Knight, Angela Lansbury (it's one of her favorites of the movies she did). In DARK AT THE TOP OF THE STAIRS, there was another of Inge's "golden boys", this time played by Lee Kinsolving; this time, Inge went and named the character "Sammy Golden"!

joe baltake said...


Thanks, as usual, for being a trove of information. Admittedly, I never saw the play "A Loss of Roses," but I did see "The Stripper" - eons ago. My memory of it is really hazy at this point, except for Woodward's exceptional performance. However, I remember liking it.

Thanks, also, for the dish on Beatty and how he was the center of attraction for men, as well as women. Makes sense.

Yes, I did write about "The Dark at the Top of the Stairs" - on August 26th, 2007. Here's the link:

Ed Howard said...

Little Murders is an amazing piece of work, one of the darkest satires imaginable. It's also an amazing showcase for some truly deranged monologues, both from Lou Jacobi (as the Judge) and Donald Sutherland (as a hippie preacher). Feiffer's other play-into-film, Carnal Knowledge (directed by Mike Nichols), is almost as bleak and darkly funny, though not nearly as surreal -- its bleakness is entirely constrained to realistic depictions of romantic relationships. Feiffer is a great talent, both in film and in his consistently razor-sharp Village Voice strip.

Ralph DeLuca said...

I too enjoy the film version of "Little Murders". Gould is usually entertaining in every film role.

Ralph DeLuca
Madison, NJ

New York Ticket Broker said...

Yeah, first you buy their <a href="”>Broadway theatre tickets</a><br> and then you buy tickets to see the movie and it all ends up costing a small fortune. I'll stick to nights out at the park.