Brian Garfield died in January, and all of the obituaries focused on the same thing… “Author of Death Wish”. It’s understandable; Death Wish was his most famous novel, and it spawned a series of ever-more-cartoonish movies as well as being the obvious inspiration for the Marvel Comics antihero The Punisher.
Even the first movie differs greatly from the book, however. The novel is an examination of conscience, with the protagonist struggling with the decision to keep to his pacifistic principles or to commit murder upon people who, by their willingness to commit terrible violence on others, have demonstrated the loss of their fundamental humanity. Of course, taking such action renders a similar judgement about himself, and the protagonist recognizes the ramifications of that dilemma.
This was the story core of the movie that Brian Garfield thought was going to be made in 1974. Obviously, for anyone who’s seen it, that core was jettisoned in favor of a high body count and vigilante justification. Although the film made Garfield famous, it didn’t leave him satisfied.
Learning from that experience, and now having some influence, he arranged to have a level of creative control the next time a movie was made from one of his books… and that book was Hopscotch. It’s a spy thriller which features an experienced CIA operative who is tired of the duplicity and wishes to expose long-denied operations and espionage techniques used not just by the Soviets but also by his own side. The operative writes a book, and then attempts to evade the killers sent by his own agency until the book can be released.
The book is fairly dark and cynical, but the movie is not. It stars Walter Matthau as the disguise-prone CIA retiree who is trying to get his memoirs published without being killed. It’s funny, and this time the changes are intentional, because Garfield co-wrote the screenplay.
There’s one other interesting thing about the movie, though. It’s a spy thriller, but Garfield’s negative experience with Death Wish led him to write the screenplay in the exact opposite way one would expect… not one person dies throughout the course of the film.
Question of the night: What’s your favorite spy/thriller movie?