Monday, July 05, 2010

Final Call for Kastner

I was saddened to read about the passing of legendary film producer Elliott Kastner. He died in London on June 30 at age 80, after an extended battle with cancer.

Fans of thrillers and crime fiction have no doubt stumbled across many of the films Kastner made during his career. He adapted several novels by Alistair MacLean for the screen, including Where Eagles Dare (1968) and Breakheart Pass (1975). He was also behind the 1966 movie Harper, based on Ross Macdonald’s first Lew Archer novel, The Moving Target (1949), and turned three of Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe investigations into films. Kastner deserves credit as well for the 1987 adaptation of William Hjortsberg’s novel Falling Angel into Angel Heart. One of his less well-known but certainly interesting projects was director Donald Cammell’s The White of the Eye (1987), which was based on a 1983 work by Andrew Klavan (writing with his playwright brother, Laurence, as “Margaret Tracey”), with an added splash of Russ Meyer.

The New York Times offers its own précis of Kastner work:
Mr. Kastner, who began his professional career as a literary agent, was known for drafting accomplished novelists and playwrights into the screenwriting trade. He produced films from novels by Vladimir Nabokov (“Laughter in the Dark,” 1969) and Iris Murdoch (“A Severed Head,” 1970).

His first film, “Bus Riley’s Back in Town” (1965), about a young man who returns to his small town from Navy service to find that his former girlfriend has married another man, was made from an original screenplay by the playwright William Inge (though Inge took his name off the finished product). For his next (made with Jerry Gershwin, one of his frequent producing partners), he bought the rights to “The Moving Target,” a detective novel by Ross Macdonald, and hired an up-and-coming novelist, William Goldman, to write his first solo screenplay. The finished film, “Harper,” starred Paul Newman in one of his star-making roles. (Mr. Goldman went on to win two Oscars for screenwriting, for “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” and “All the President’s Men.”)

“Where Eagles Dare” (1968), a World War II drama starring Richard Burton, about the rescue of an American officer captured by the Nazis, was the first screenplay written by the novelist Alistair MacLean. “Rancho Deluxe” (1975), a comic western starring Jeff Bridges, was the first screenplay by the novelist Thomas McGuane, and the first of three films on which Mr. Kastner collaborated with Mr. McGuane. The others were “92 in the Shade” and “The Missouri Breaks,” which starred Marlon Brando as a highly eccentric killer hired to dispatch a band of cattle rustlers led by Jack Nicholson.

Mr. Kastner relished many of his partnerships. He made three movies with Brando and five with Burton, including “Equus” (1977), based on the psychological stage drama by Peter Shaffer, who wrote the screenplay.

In the 1970s, Mr. Kastner also indulged an affection for noir material, producing (with others) adaptations of three of Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe novels: one with Elliott Gould as Marlowe, a contemporary update of “The Long Goodbye” (1973), and two with Robert Mitchum, “Farewell, My Lovely” (1975)--a remake of the 1944 film “Murder, My Sweet” with Dick Powell--and “The Big Sleep” (1978), another remake, set in England, of the 1946 original with Humphrey Bogart.
The full Times piece can be found here.

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