The MovingPicture House
*Faulkner’s Screenplays   *Adaptations

William Faulkner
and Motion Pictures

     Movies and I don't agree chronologically. In Oxford there is one show at seven o'clock, and the town goes to bed at nine-thirty. It's not that I don't like the movies, but my life just isn't regulated that way.
-----William Faulkner

Faulkner as Screenwriter

William Faulkner first went to Hollywood in 1932 because his income as a novelist was woefully insufficient to maintain his increasing number of dependents. After signing a six-week contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, with the understanding that his contract could be extended if necessary, Faulkner began his relationship with tinseltown that lasted, off and on, for well over a decade.

Faulkner’s favorite director in Hollywood — and the director with whom he wrote five of his six credited screenplays — was Howard Hawks, who had known Faulkner’s work since the time of his first novel, Soldiers' Pay. His brother, William Hawks, an agent in Hollywood, brought to Howard's attention Faulkner’s World War I short story "Turn About" and both agreed it would make a good movie. Howard bought the screen rights to the story and invited Faulkner to write the screenplay. When Joan Crawford became available and studio bosses wanted her in the film to boost its box office potential, Faulkner invented a role for her. The film, released as Today We Live in 1933, was Faulkner’s first screenwriting credit.

Faulkner was released from MGM in 1933 but returned to Hollywood briefly in 1934 to work with Hawks on Sutter's Gold, a western. Hawks eventually decided against the project but asked Faulkner to collaborate on another war movie, The Road to Glory. In December 1935, Faulkner became a contract writer at Twentieth-Century Fox, where he would work intermittently in 1937.

Faulkner’s only screenwriting credit for a non-Hawks film was for Slave Ship in 1937, a project he worked on while at Fox when Hawks had moved to another studio. Faulkner claimed his role in the film was as "a motion picture doctor," reworking parts already written by others.

Faulkner returned to Hollywood in 1942 to write for Warner Brothers, a job he would maintain intermittently until 1945. It was at Warner Brothers that he wrote the two films for which his reputation as a screenwriter would be secure: his adaptations of Ernest Hemingway's novel To Have and Have Not and Raymond Chandler's detective novel The Big Sleep, both of which were directed by Hawks. In addition to these credited screenplays, Faulkner also wrote several scenes for Air Force, a film Hawks was directing but whose screenplay had been written by someone else.

In 1944, Faulkner also contributed to United Artists' The Southerner (1945), directed by a French filmmaker Faulkner respected, Jean Renoir (director of Grand Illusion). Faulkner received no screen credit because technically he was under contract to Warner Brothers (thus barring him from working for another studio), but Faulkner later told Malcolm Cowley that The Southerner represented the best work he ever did on a movie script. The film went on to win the Grand Prize at the 1946 Venice Film Festival.

The last theatrical film for which Faulkner received screen credit was Howard Hawks's film Land of the Pharaohs, released by Warner Brothers in 1955.

In addition to his work for the movies, Faulkner wrote several pieces for television in the early 1950s. He wrote an adaptation of his short story "The Brooch," which was produced as a half-hour segment and broadcast on The Lux Video Theatre on April 2, 1953. Because it was performed live, no film or videotape copy exists today, but by most accounts, it was a less-than-exceptional production, in part because Faulkner replaced his story's downbeat ending with a more positive conclusion to appease the show's sponsors. Other Faulkner television adaptations of his short stories during this time include "Shall Not Perish," broadcast February 11, 1954, also on the The Lux Video Theatre, and "The Tall Men."

The last television production on which Faulkner’s name appeared as screenwriter was The Graduation Dress, a script he co-wrote with Joan Williams (his protégé and lover) in 1952. It was belatedly acquired by The General Electric Theater and broadcast in 1960.
Faulkner’s Screenplays
Adaptations of Faulkner’s Fiction

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