There are various works by authors in fiction and non-fiction which result in award winning novels. But the magic of books and the strength of the content can be realized even better when they are adapted into movies. Many such books were adapted into Hollywood Oscar winning movies. Prize winning books or not, when their stories are adapted by brilliant movie makers many of such stories in a sense become Oscar winning novels. Here is a brief summary of the many novels and books which went into becoming Academy Award winning movies for Best Picture from 1927 to 1950. You will not only create a list of nice movies to watch but also a list of books you got to read.
All Quiet on the Western Front
All Quiet on the Western Front, a 1929 novel by Erich Maria Remarque was adapted into a movie by the same name in 1930 by producer Carl Leammle Jr. and directed by Lewis Milestone. The novel in a fictionalized way showed the plight of German soldiers during World War 1. On its release in 1930 the book was a huge success and sold one and a half million copies. In his own words Erich had described the impact of war on the masses as - “destroyed by war, even though it might have escaped its shells.” The film adaptation of the novel became the first to win the Academy Awards for both Outstanding Production and Direction in the 1929-30 Academy Awards. Besides the two wins, the movie was also nominated in the Best Writing and Best Cinematography section too.
Cimarron, a 1931 movie produced by William LeBaron and Louis Sarecky and directed by Wesley Ruggles was an adaptation of the novel by the same name written by Edna Ferber. The main theme of the novel and movie was the Oklahoma Land Rush of 1889 which led many travellers to grab free government land in the Oklahoma territory. The novel published in 1929 was Edna Ferber’s third successful novel. It was highly acclaimed right from its reception. The film adaptation not only won the Oscar for best movie, but also for Best Writing - Adaptation and Best Art Direction by Howard Estabrook and Max Ree respectively. Richard Dix and Irene Dunne who played the primary characters Yancey Cravat and Sabra Cravat were also nominated in the Best Actor and Best Actress category. The movie was also nominated for Best Director and Edward Cronjager was nominated in the Best Cinematography category.
Menchem im Hotel
Menchem im Hotel was a 1929 German novel by Vicki Baum which portrayed the lives of people in Berlin and their mental state in the 1920s in a fictionalized account. The novel was first made into the play Grand Hotel in 1930 by William A. Drake. Eventually this play was adapted under the same name into the big screen by producer Irving Thalberg and director Edmund Goulding. This film has a distinct aspect of winning the Academy Award for Best Picture without being nominated in any other category.
Night Bus was a 1933 short story by Samuel Hopkins Adams. It tells the story of a spoiled heiress of millions who escapes from her father and falls in love with a reporter. Though a short story, it deemed to have a lot of potential and Frank Capra in association with Harry Cohn decided to adapt the story into a movie and also direct the same. Eventually the movie was released in 1934 and titled as ‘It Happened One Night’. The movie adaptation went on to win the five major Academy Awards which is considered as a unique feat for any movie. Besides the best picture category, Frank Capra won the Best Director award. Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert who played the protagonists Peter Warne and Ellen Andrews won the awards for Best Actor and Best Actress respectively. Robert Riskin won the Academy award for Best Writing, Adaptation.
Mutiny on the Bounty
Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall’s 1932 novel Mutiny on the Bounty was based on the mutiny against the commanding officer, Lieutenant William Bligh of Bounty in 1789. The novel eventually became first of the three novels of ‘The Bounty Trilogy’. Frank Lloyed co produced the movie adaptation of the novel along with Irving Thalberg while also wearing the director’s cap. The film adaptation won the Academy Award for Best Picture in the 8th Academy Awards. A fun fact about the movie adaptation was that three actors from the movie Clark Gable who played Fletcher Christian, Charles Laughton who played Captain Bligh and Franchot Tone as Byam were nominated in the Best Actor category. The movie also had nominations in the Best Director category (Frank Lloyd), Best Writing Screenplay (Jules Furthman, Talbot Jennings and Carey Wilson), Best Music Scoring (Nat W. Finston and Herbert Stothart) and Best Film Editing (Margaret Booth) categories.
Gone with the Wind
Written by Margaret Mitchell, Gone with the Wind was first published in 1936. Slavery, battles and dark sexuality were the main themes of the novel. For this astounding work Margaret Mitchell won the Pultizer prize in 1937. In BBC’s The Big Read poll, Gone with the Wind was listed at number 21. Considering the magnanomity of the book, the movie had to be one that would cast a spell on its viewers. David O. Selznick produced the movie and Victor Fleming directed it. The movie went on to win 10 Academy Awards and had 13 nominations in the 12th Academy Awards in 1939. Besides the best picture win the list of Academy Awards wins and nominations for the movie are as under:
Victor Fleming won the Academy Award for Best Director.
Vivan Leigh’s portrayal of the lead female protagonist Scarlett O’ Hara garnered her the Academy Award for Best Actress.
Hattie McDaniel who portrayed the house servant Mammy won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.
Sidney Howard won the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay.
Ernest Haller and Ray Rennahan won the Academy Award for Best Cinematography, Color.
Academy Award for Best Editing was won by Hal C. Kern and Ray Rennahan.
Lyle Wheeler won the Academy Award for Best Art Direction.
Besides the seven wins mentioned above the movie also received two honorary awards.
William Cameron Menzies won the Special award for the use of color to portray the temperament of the characters. Don Musgrave and Selznick International Pictures were given the Technical Achievement Award.
There were other nominations for the movie:
Clark Gable for his role as a visitor from Charlestone, Rhett Butler was nominated in the Best Actor category.
Oliva de Havilland for her portrayal as Melanie Hamilton was nominated in the Best Supporting Actress category.
The other three nominations were in the categories for Best Visual Effects (Jack Cosgrove, Fred Albin and Arthur Johns), Best Music Original Score (Max Steiner) and Best Sound Recording (Thomas T. Moulton).
Rebecca was an English novel written by the author Daphne Du Maurier and first published in 1938. The book has never went out of publication and has sold millions of copies. The titular character Rebecca in the book is dead before the series of events in the story and mainly revolves around the second wife of her husband Maximilian de Winter. Daphne Du Maurier won the National Book Award in the US for Rebecca in the same year of its first publication. It was a psychological thriller novel and David O. Selznick decided to produce the movie adaptation with the same name which was adapted by Robert E. Sherwood and Joan Harrison. Robert and Joan were eventually nominated in the Academy Awards for Best Adapted Screenplay. It was directed by Alfred Hitchcock and went on to win the 13th Academy Award for Best Picture. The movie was made in black and white and it’s brilliant cinematography garnered George Barnes the Academy Award for the same. Alfred Hitchcock got a nomination for best director. Laurence Oliver who played the role of George Fortescue Maximilian "Maxim" de Winter and Joan Fontaine who played his second wife Mrs. de Winter were also nominated in the Best Actor and Best Actress categories respectively. Judith Anderson for her portrayal as the sinister housekeeper Mrs. Danvers received a nomination for Best Supporting Actress. The film had four other nominations for Best Film Editing (Hal C. Kern), Best Music - Original Score (Franz Waxman), Best Art Direction - Black and White (Lyle R. Wheeler) and Best Special Effects (Jack Cosgrove and Arthur Johns.)
How Green Was My Valley
How Green Was My Valley is a 1939 novel written by Richard Llewellyn. It tells the story of the Morgans family based in South Wales. The family works in mining and the story is from the perspective of one of the sons Huw Morgan who despises their way of lives. The movie adaptation of the novel by the same name was directed by John Ford and went on to win five academy awards. Darryl F. Zanuck’s decision to produce the movie struck the bull’s eye as the movie won the 14th Academy Award for Best Picture in 1941. John Ford received the Best Director Academy Award and Donald Crisp’s portrayal of Gwilym Morgam, Huw’s father garnered him the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. Arthur Charles Miller won the Academy Award for Best Cinematography - Black and White and Richard Day, Nathan H. Juran and Thomas Little for Best Black-and-White Art Direction - Interior Decoration. Besides the wins, Phillip Dunne was nominated in the category for Best Adapted Screenplay while Sara Allgood who played the role of Mrs. Beth Morgan, Huw’s mother was nominated in the category for Best Supporting Actress. The other two nominations were for Best Music - Scoring of a Dramatic Picture (Alfred Newman) and Best Recording Sound (Edmund H. Hansen).
Mrs. Miniver a 1939 novel written by Joyce Anstruther under his pen name Jan Struther which illustrates how the life of an ordinary English housewife is changed because of World War II. While the stories were initially published as a series of columns in The Times newspaper in 1937, it took two more years for the book version to be compiled. The movie version produced by Sidney Franklin which won the 15th Academy Award for Best Picture in 1942 was directed by William Wyler who also won the Academy Award for Best Director. Greer Garson for her titular role of Mrs. Kay Miniver won the Academy Award for Best Actress. Teresa Wright for her portrayal of Carol Beldon won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. George Froeschel, James Hilton, Claudine West and Arthur Wimperis who adapted the novel and wrote the screenplay of the movie won the Academy Award for Best Screenplay. Joseph Ruttenberg won the Academy Award for Best Cinematography - Black and White for Mrs. Miniver. Besides the wins, Walter Pidgeon was nominated for his role as Mrs. Miniver’s husband Clam Miniver in the Best Actor Category. Henry Travers who played the role of Mr. Ballard was nominated in the Best Supporting Actor’s category. May Whitty was also nominated in the category of Best Supporting Actress for her role as Lady Beldon. The other three nominations were for Best Effects - Special Effects (A. Arnold Gillespie, Warren Newcombe and Douglas Shearer ), Best Film Editing (Harold F. Kress) and Best Sound Recording (Douglas Shearer).
The Lost Weekend
Charles R. Jackson’s first novel The Lost Weekend published in 1944 tells the story of Don Birnam a talented but alcoholic drinker. Charles R. Jackson became a well known name in the literary world as the novel quickly became a bestseller. Eventually in the very next year the novel was adapted into a movie by the same name. Produced by Charles Brackett and directed by Billy Wilder; the movie went on to win the Academy Awards both in the categories of Best Picture and Best Director at 18th Academy Awards in 1945. Ray Billand who played the protagonist Don Birnam won the Academy Award for Best Actor while Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett also won the Academy Award for their joint effort in the screenplay of the movie. The other three nominations were for Best Cinematography - Black and White (John F. Seitz), Best Music (Miklos Rozsa) and Best Editing (Doane Harrison).
Published in 1947, Gentleman's Agreement a novel by Laura Z. Hobson went on to become a New York Time's bestseller in the same year. It narrates the Anti-Semitism that lies in the United States. Philip Green the protagonist of the story is a new writer for a national magazine. He is given the task to write an article on the Anti-Semitism that lies in the United States. He decides to write a first hand experience of the same and the story revolves around the turmoil that his life goes through with this decision. In the movie adaptation of the book Gregory Peck brilliantly portrayed the role of Philip Schuyler Green and for the same he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor in the 20th Academy Awards in 1947. However, the movie produced by Darryl F. Zanuck won the Academy Award for Best Picture and Elia Kazan who directed the movie won the Oscar for Best Director. Celeste Holm who played the role of Anne Dettrey, Philip's friend bagged the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. Anne Revere who played the role of Mrs. Green, Philip's mother was also nominated in the Best Supporting Actress' Category. For her portrayal of Kathy Lucy, Phil's girlfriend Dorothy McGuire was nominated in the Best Actress Category. Moss Hart who wrote the screenplay and Harmon Jones who was the editor were also nominated in the Best Screenplay and Best Editing Categories.
All the King's Men
Written by Robert Penn Warren, All the King's Men bagged Robert Warren the Pultizer prize in 1947. Modern Library ranks it 36th greatest novel of the 20th century. First published in 1946, All the King's Men is a narration by Jack Burden a political reporter who comes to work for the Governer Willie Stark in 1930. The central theme of the novel was that all actions have consequences and you cannot just be a bystander. Produced and directed by Robert Rossen the movie won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1949 and Robert Rossen was also nominated in the category for Best Director. Broderick Crawford who played the role of the governor Willie Stark won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance. Mercedes McCambridge who played the role of Sadie Burke, Stark's campaign assistant who is in love with him, won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. John Ireland's role as Jack Burden bagged him a nomination for Best Supporting Actor in the 22nd Academy Awards. The other two nominations were for Best Writing Screenplay again by Robert Rossen and Best Film Editing for Robert Parrish.
This was the first part of a series of articles on the books that have been made into Academy Award Winning Movies for Best Picture. A simple study of the Academy Award Winning Movies for Best Picture will make you realize that most of these movies were adapted from books. To keep the list concise I have deliberately not added plays, broadway musicals and short stories which were not credited by the movie makers. Further articles will be coming up on the remaining movies too which were adapted from novels and nonfictions eventually becoming in a way Oscar winning novels.