As the only literate Reject, it’s my duty to find the latest, the greatest and the untouched classics that would make great source material for film adaptations. I read so you don’t have to.
This week, Print to Projector presents the story of a young man named Michael Rogers who’s ambitious but lacks focus. He wants the entire world, but he also wants to settle down into his dream home with the woman he loves. He finds her – a beautiful, poor little rich girl named Ellie – while window shopping at a land auction for a tract called Gypsy’s Acre. They fall in love, build a gorgeous house, and set up shop on cursed land. Of course, it isn’t long until that curse comes crashing down on Ellie’s head.
“In my end is my beginning…”
“Endless Night” is one of Agatha Christie’s best works, but it’s also unlike anything else she ever wrote. Forgoing the formula that made her famous – introducing a few characters, taking them through the mundane and the mysterious, placing a body at their feet, and having someone solve the whole mess in time for tea – she instead takes on the role of a narrator so that we can get intimately close with the man who is about to lose his wife in a tragic turn of events.
Michael Rogers is the ideal. He’s carefree and lively, and he’s clever enough to get by on his wits and his gambling luck. When he sees Ellie standing on a hill, he falls instantly for her, and even when he realizes they come from different worlds, he tries not to let her immense wealth get in the way of them finding happiness.
Fortunately, there are plenty of other people that want to get in the way of their happiness. A controlling assistant, a horde of financial advisers who seem less than honorable, a few relatives who seem desperate to cash in on their bloodline, and even Michael’s own mother who disapproves of his lifestyle and of him marrying outside his station in life.
On most nights, Ellie pulls out her guitar and sings a tune to a William Blake poem:
Every night and every morn,
Some to misery are born,
Every morn and every night,
Some are born to sweet delight,
Some are born to sweet delight,
Some are born to endless night.
When Ellie’s body is found in the woods near their palatial home, Michael is left with the song ringing in his ears and a handful of suspects that wanted her dead – including the creepy old Gypsy woman who warned them to stay away.
The standard mystery formula can’t be thrown out completely here. After all, there’s a murder, a host of suspects, and more than a few clues to lead everyone to the right conclusion.
However, it also has one of the best twists of any of her novels. If done correctly, the film version could go down as the kind of film you don’t talk about with friends unless they’ve seen it.
Oddly enough, the novel was previously adapted into a film back in 1972, but the movie is atrociously bad, so inept, and so blasphemous to the nature of Christie’s writing, that it’s easy enough to pretend that it doesn’t exist. In fact, it should be forgotten because it’s tagline spoils the entire movie. That’s just the tagline.
This was in an era where film advertising told audiences the entire movie as a means to get them into the theater. That might work for romance, but it’s a travesty for mystery fans.
Plus, the film is just plain awful.
Writing: There doesn’t seem to be much stock in the slow burn of a classic thriller anymore. These type of stories, especially Christie’s, are relegated to the world of Masterpiece Mystery on your local PBS and BBC stations. However, it wasn’t too long ago that this sort of intrigue had a warm place on the big screen. Just a few years back, a strange film of a similar nature was released to strong praise. That movie was What Lies Beneath, and its writer Clark Gregg (who you probably recognize as Agent Coulson in the Iron Man movies) would be perfect to adapt the source material here.
Directing: It’s intimate. It’s personal. It’s got everything that a good mystery has including some depth for the true main characters. Even with Christie’s dry writing style, and even though it’s predicted in the first pages, there’s still a profound sense of loss when Ellie dies. The killer must be found. Ultimately, the balance of high class inertia and brutality has to be found in a director who understands both well. Christopher Nolan has tackled similar source material before, and his talents would be sharp here, but a more realistic choice would be City of God and Constant Gardener director Fernando Meirelles. Quietness with an intensity is something he does incredibly well.
Cillian Murphy as Michael Rogers: Murphy is just young enough to play the world traveler ready to settle down, he’s got a wild streak to his acting, but he’s also refined enough (read: Irish) to take on the charm needed here. Michael is a frustrated character who is finally finding everything he wants, and he doesn’t know exactly how to deal with it. He’s smarter than he pretends to be, but it’s also clear that he loves Ellie beyond words. Her death leads him running after the killer.
Rachel McAdams as Ellie Rogers: The young American girl who has been shielded from the real world all her life. She’s fragile, brunette, and even though she’s naive in some ways, she’s still sharp as a switchblade when it comes to the reality of her wealth and the role she has to play.
Diane Kruger as Greta: Greta is the best thing that ever happened to Ellie. She’s capable, strong, and she keeps Ellie’s family from getting too close. She also has too much control over Ellie, and it’s unclear what her intentions are. When Michael and Ellie marry, Greta – the blonde-haired Valkyrie – finds a way to stay close by.
Lukas Haas as Santonix: Haas displayed a keen sense of refined oddity as The Pin in the movie Brick. He would reprise that here as Santonix, the brilliant architect who designs Michael and Ellie’s house. He’s also a sick man with not long to live and a constant source of wisdom or nonsense depending on the point of view.
Kenneth Branagh as Stanford Lloyd: Mr. Lloyd is a financier of sorts, but his motives seem more self-centric than professional, especially when it comes to Ellie’s vast fortune. He’s the quiet type that assures that everything is in order, but he’s probably taking money off the top of every arrangement.
Michael Gambon as Major Phillpot: Burdened by knowledge, Phillpot is a local in the town where Michael and Ellie settle down, and he advises on the cruel nature of the old gypsy woman who likes to frighten outsiders and be generally crazy. He also seems to know an awful lot about the land that Michael has built on.
Jurgen Prochnow as Mr. Lippincott: Prochnow is a veteran whose work is always incredible, and as Lippincott – the lawyer who handles all of Ellie’s affairs – he would bring an air of professionalism and unease. There is a lot of power in being the one handling the will of someone with a lot of money, and even though Lippincott seems above board, he also seems to know something about Greta that he won’t reveal.
…and Geraldine McEwan as the Old Gypsy Woman: McEwan is the second scariest thing about Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, and it’s not unfair to assume she’s only gotten scarier. (McEwan also happened to play iconic Christie character Miss Marple for several specials (a fact I did not know before choosing her.))
Who Owns It:
EMI and HBO were both partly responsible for the atrocity that was the 1972 film, but it’s more likely the case that either the rights are in turn around, that it’s part of some random studio’s library, or that the estate regained the rights after a time lapse from non-use of the property. A film version hasn’t been made in almost 40 years (if you even count the original), but it was also released as a graphic novel in 2008.
This would make a stellar, jump-to-your-feet thriller that would have audiences talking at the digital water cooler the next morning. It’s dark and moody, but it’s also full of life and the reminders of what price is paid whenever someone is taken from this world. There is a sense of awe to Christie’s work, but it’s admittedly a bit too pallid to translate to the cineplex. This novel, however, would translate like a tailored dress on a new bride. It would also surprise people who think a mystery has to be all chill and no thrill.
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