Sunday, November 8, 2009

Adapting Jim Thompson

UPDATE: Looks like they have removed the trailed to the new version of The Killer Inside Me from YouTube. At least we can still enjoy the clips from the other Thompson adaptations at the bottom of the post!


Thanks to Paul D. Brazill for pointing out the blog Bukowski's Basement, which featured a link to a trailer on YouTube for the upcoming adaptation of Jim Thompson's The Killer Inside Me, directed by Michael Winterbottom (The Road to Guantanamo and Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story), and scripted by Winterbottom and John Curran (whose only other screenwriting credit according to IMDB is a 2004 movie called Down Rusty Down). It stars Casey Affleck as Sheriff Lou Ford, Kate Hudson as the "good girl" Amy Stanton, and Jessica Alba as the prostitute Joyce Lakeland. It certainly looks better than the 1976 adaptation with Stacy Keach that was directed by Burt Kennedy. Previously I co-wrote with Mark Asch an essay on all of the Jim Thompson adaptations for Moving Image Source. Here's what we had to say about that version:
Burt Kennedy’s 1976 adaptation of the book exposes Hollywood as completely unprepared for the challenge... Kennedy’s Lou is an ant, at the mercy of his illness whenever it’s triggered by a dripping faucet. As in Spellbound (1945), traumatic memory triggers psychosis; for Thompson, paranoid schizophrenia is just how Lou’s wired... Further flattening Thompson’s conception is the casting of Stacy Keach—charmless as old dumb Lou from Kalamazoo, wooden as the cunning sadist inside, tone-deaf when calibrating different elements within the same scene.
Trailers aren't often accurate reflections of what the final product will be, so I'm still unsure of how this adaptation will turn out. Thompson's novels pose a particular challenge in that they often rely on the tension between a seemingly normal social mask and the violent desires and thoughts running through the character's mind. Not only is this difficult to do on film without resorting to obvious methods like voice-over narration, but Thompson's characters are frequently so vile and repulsive that it is hard for actors to embody them the way they come across in Thompson's books.

The four best adaptations in my opinion are Maggie Greenwald's The Kill-Off (1989), Alain Corneau's Serie Noire (1979) (based on A Hell of a Woman), Bertrand Tavernier's Coup de torchon (1981) (based on Pop. 1280), and Stephen Frear's The Grifters (written by Donald Westlake).There isn't a trailer for The Kill-Off online, but I found clips for the other three films on YouTube. Of the four, only Coup de torchon and The Grifters are on DVD, but the other two are well worth tracking down.


  1. That definitely looks interesting. Pretty brutal.

  2. Nice to see you back, mate. It's a cracking trailer but SPOILER heavy,I think! Great piece,BTW. I also love The Kill-Off. A great neglected film.


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