A new blu-ray of the stilted 1974 Robert Redford—Mia Farrow version of The Great Gatsby — a precursor to Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation, in theaters May 10 — is a reminder that greatness doesn’t always make the leap from page to screen. But it can, as proven by these big-screen gems based on classic 20th-century novels.
1. LOLITA (1962)
”How did they ever make a movie of Lolita?” rightly asked the poster for Stanley Kubrick’s take on the controversial Vladimir Nabokov novel. The Hays Code made depicting an urbane predator like Humbert Humbert difficult, but Kubrick managed a masterpiece.
2. HOWARDS END (1992)
The exceedingly lovely film of E.M. Forster’s novel was a career best for James Ivory and Ismail Merchant, the duo who practically filmed an entire library of Penguin Classics.
3. DELIVERANCE (1972)
When a movie eclipses its source, it’s usually something pulpy like Psycho or Jaws. However, John Boorman’s harrowing backwoods- banjo horror film took an excellent James Dickey novel and made it into a white-knuckle whitewater classic.
4. THE MALTESE FALCON (1941)
Late in his career, John Huston got literary, filming work by Flannery O’Connor, Rudyard Kipling, and James Joyce. Those movies are good, but his iconic debut based on Dashiell Hammett’s noir is the stuff dreams are made of.
5. THE AGE OF INNOCENCE (1993)
Edith Wharton’s New York and Martin Scorsese’s New York seem a world apart, yet the director adapted Wharton’s tale of love and marriage — and the difference between them — without losing its wit or emotional resonance.