Mortdecai Question #6 - Book vs. Movie

by Kyril Bonfiglioli

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Mortdecai Question #6 - Book vs. Movie

Unread postby Liz » Sat Feb 28, 2015 6:04 pm

Granted that the movie was really inspired by “Don’t Point that Thing at Me,” the first Mortdecai novel, did you recognize anything from the "Moustache Mystery" in the movie?

Compare and contrast the movie to the book?

Did the movie keep the same flavour?
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Re: Mortdecai Question #6 - Book vs. Movie

Unread postby nebraska » Sun Mar 01, 2015 12:04 pm

The obvious constant between the book and the movie was the mustache - Charlie's love for it, Johanna's hatred of it. I loved the many ways Charlie found to described and praise the mustache in the book -- I don't think the movie was able to adequately capture that passion.

We have already discussed the difference in Jock and Johanna's importance to the plot between the two. The plot itself was completely different. Anyone who read the book and expected the movie to be the same story would have been disappointed! It seems like the movie should have been named something else to clear up that confusion, even though the mustache was important in both. And although I "saw" Johnny physically when I read about Charlie, and I "saw" Gwyneth and Paul when I read about Johanna and Jock, the book characters seemed a little colder, a little more distant than they did in the movie. I think it is the movie's "cuddle" factor firefly alluded to. :mortdecaiheart:

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Re: Mortdecai Question #6 - Book vs. Movie

Unread postby fireflydances » Sun Mar 01, 2015 2:09 pm

I agree with nebraska. The movie was a mash-up. Obviously someone saw great potential in the very visually arresting moustache but not in the plot. And I have to agree. The book's plot was very academic, and not particularly active. (Notice that they did lift parts of the trip to Russia however.) Its my sense that book #4 (Great Moustache Mystery) is tamer than the other three, less dark, less bitingly satirical. But that is a guess from an outsider who bought the other three but hasn't had time to do more than pick at them.

I think the book and the movie share at least one weakness -- plot. We've read that plot wasn't Bonfiglioli's strong point, and that can work perfectly well in a novel. Particularly one so fixed on the use and abuse of language. But I do believe movies need a hard snap to them plot-wise, particularly this genre of movie TODAY, as opposed to thirty or forty years ago. (Pink Panther films never seemed particularly strong in plot either.)

I mentioned language above and I'd like to come back to that. So much of the book's charm lies in Charlie's verbal acrobatics. He is always speaking to the reader or commenting to someone, and the words he uses, and the multitude of references and allusions and the general "I-am-a-d*amn-sight-more-intelligent-than-you-and-don't-you-forget-it" quality to his comments are part of what made the book fun. You are running down the hill after Charlie, google search in hand, and just trying to keep up with him while laughing at what he is doing. I don't think Americans in particular could have dealt with the combat style word games and so the beauty of Charlie had to be compressed, downsized if you will. We are thus left with critics complaining about repetition. I know the original script was considered quite good. So, did they keep true to the script or not? And what compromises were made in the interests of attracting a wider, if dumber, audience. Needless to say, it didn't work.
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Re: Mortdecai Question #6 - Book vs. Movie

Unread postby nebraska » Sun Mar 01, 2015 2:48 pm

fireflydances wrote: You are running down the hill after Charlie, google search in hand, and just trying to keep up with him while laughing at what he is doing. I don't think Americans in particular could have dealt with the combat style word games and so the beauty of Charlie had to be compressed, downsized if you will. We are thus left with critics complaining about repetition. I know the original script was considered quite good. So, did they keep true to the script or not? And what compromises were made in the interests of attracting a wider, if dumber, audience. Needless to say, it didn't work.

That explains a lot :cool: , the dumbing down of the Movie Charlie is what bothered me. He lost his spark while he became cuddly, and it didn't work for me. Movie Charlie was fun and Johnny is pleasant to look at, but Movie Charlie wasn't the calibre of Book Charlie.

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Re: Mortdecai Question #6 - Book vs. Movie

Unread postby shaman-art » Sun Mar 01, 2015 3:58 pm

fireflydances wrote:I mentioned language above and I'd like to come back to that. So much of the book's charm lies in Charlie's verbal acrobatics. He is always speaking to the reader or commenting to someone, and the words he uses, and the multitude of references and allusions and the general "I-am-a-d*amn-sight-more-intelligent-than-you-and-don't-you-forget-it" quality to his comments are part of what made the book fun. You are running down the hill after Charlie, google search in hand, and just trying to keep up with him while laughing at what he is doing. I don't think Americans in particular could have dealt with the combat style word games and so the beauty of Charlie had to be compressed, downsized if you will. We are thus left with critics complaining about repetition. I know the original script was considered quite good. So, did they keep true to the script or not? And what compromises were made in the interests of attracting a wider, if dumber, audience. Needless to say, it didn't work.


Yes, the language of book Charlie was watered down for movie Charlie. I understand that to a degree. As you perfectly put it, you need Google to understand many of the words that are used in the book. And I wouldn't call us a dumb audience. But when you're sitting in a theatre you can't stop the movie - wait a sec - and look up a word. It's either a hit or a miss.

If you keep following that train of thought sooner or later you run into the problem that only a part of the world wide audience speaks English. It's a big part, but is this enough, considering that many of Johnnys more recent movies made most of their money outside the US?

Nobody around me had ever heard about the Mortdecai books. I've read all 4 and I liked them, but with that I'm pretty alone around here. Reading them told me instantly that it would be difficult to translate those word games into any other language - and that's unfortunately what happened in the German version. German movie Charlie was a different character than English movie Charlie.

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Re: Mortdecai Question #6 - Book vs. Movie

Unread postby fireflydances » Sun Mar 01, 2015 4:37 pm

shaman-art wrote:Yes, the language of book Charlie was watered down for movie Charlie. I understand that to a degree. As you perfectly put it, you need Google to understand many of the words that are used in the book. And I wouldn't call us a dumb audience. But when you're sitting in a theatre you can't stop the movie - wait a sec - and look up a word. It's either a hit or a miss.

As an American I do feel that our society is being continually dumbed down, and I should have been more sensitive to the fact that not everyone would understand what I was trying to say.

If you keep following that train of thought sooner or later you run into the problem that only a part of the world wide audience speaks English. It's a big part, but is this enough, considering that many of Johnnys more recent movies made most of their money outside the US?

Nobody around me had ever heard about the Mortdecai books. I've read all 4 and I liked them, but with that I'm pretty alone around here. Reading them told me instantly that it would be difficult to translate those word games into any other language - and that's unfortunately what happened in the German version. German movie Charlie was a different character than English movie Charlie.


Wow, I did not realize that at all. It really makes me wonder, however, what was the point of trying to transform Charlie into something non-English users would get? Yes, global audience. But, can we make this movie into something that can be globally appreciated given how much the original character's humor was based on language?
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Re: Mortdecai Question #6 - Book vs. Movie

Unread postby shaman-art » Sun Mar 01, 2015 5:39 pm

fireflydances wrote:As an American I do feel that our society is being continually dumbed down, and I should have been more sensitive to the fact that not everyone would understand what I was trying to say.


Oh no, I'm sorry, that's not what I wanted to say. I wanted to say that we here on ONBC are not exactly the average movie goer.

I wonder in general which movies get made and which not - and based on what.
I think with Mortdecai they were afraid that a too language-heavy movie would limit the audience. Maybe they were aware that there are not too many people around who know and appreciate the books. At least not enough for what they need nowadays at the box office.

I like the movie, but I'd love to read the original script to see if they made some substancial changes.

fireflydances wrote:can we make this movie into something that can be globally appreciated given how much the original character's humor was based on language?


It's sad, but I don't think so, at least not if you want movie Charlie to bear at least some resemblance to book Charlie. Book Charlie is well educated, powerfully eloquent - and English. And the targeted movie goer is...what?

I prefer watching Johnny's movies in English because with the dubbing they always lose something. This time I was lucky to catch the only English screening in Hamburg. This is the second movie that badly suffered from untranslatable word games and jokes. The first one was Dark Shadows.

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Re: Mortdecai Question #6 - Book vs. Movie

Unread postby Liz » Mon Mar 02, 2015 12:50 am

Interesting discussion. :-O

I do believe that if you want to make money in a film, you have to consider your audience. I think Mortdecai had to be played the way he was to attract and satisfy audiences.

HOWEVER, did it attract and satisfy audiences in the end? Maybe the critics would have liked it better if movie Charlie had been more like book Charlie. And then if the critics liked it, maybe more people would have gone to see the movie.

Hard to say. But I agree with Shaman-art that you can't be Googling every word and reference while you're watching a movie. Being more faithful to the language of the book might have gone over better in Britain, though.
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Re: Mortdecai Question #6 - Book vs. Movie

Unread postby stroch » Mon Mar 02, 2015 7:18 am

There are a lot of language heavy films that do well at the box office, including those which employ Brit-speak.

I think that the problem of the movie was too heavy a hand with the comedy, and the books suffered from that also. I often found myself putting down the Mortdecai books and turning to something else, not because of the language, but because of the pacing, and in some cases the tone. Individual passages were well written, but they did not hang together as a whole novel.

I preferred the movie, for one thing, for the visuals--the books' visual imagery was not strong, but the movie was excellent. It also was never tedious.
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Re: Mortdecai Question #6 - Book vs. Movie

Unread postby nebraska » Mon Mar 02, 2015 11:15 am

stroch has a point about the pacing in the book. I thought the first few chapters would never get to the point! Fun to read, but frustrating because it seemed to take days to set up the plot. The movie did jump right in.

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Re: Mortdecai Question #6 - Book vs. Movie

Unread postby fireflydances » Mon Mar 02, 2015 1:05 pm

I agree nebraska. I would like to read another book of his just to compare.
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Re: Mortdecai Question #6 - Book vs. Movie

Unread postby shaman-art » Mon Mar 02, 2015 1:44 pm

I've read the trilogy first and I think those books are much more focused on straight storytelling.
The first book for example (Don't point that thing at me) starts with the meeting with Martland (similar to the one we know from the movie when Charlie 'offers' him some nasty and cheap Port, but minus the cheese). It's not even 7 pages long, but long enough to introduce Charlie, Jock, Martland and Spinoza.

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Re: Mortdecai Question #6 - Book vs. Movie

Unread postby Liz » Tue Mar 03, 2015 7:31 pm

The pacing of the book didn't bother me, although I felt it inconsistent. I was more annoyed by having to look up every other word. But I don't blame Bonfiglioli for that. It makes me realize how Americentric I am.

Besides the trip to Russia that Firefly mentioned, I noticed that the murdered art restorer in the movie was named after the murdered professor from the book, Bronwen Fellworthy. And I recognized some exact quotes from the book, but I cannot remember what they were. Did anyone notice that, and remember what the quotes were?
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Re: Mortdecai Question #6 - Book vs. Movie

Unread postby Don Wells » Sat Mar 07, 2015 7:03 pm

Hi. Liz.
I could and still can recall only one direct quote. It's from "Don't Point . . ." rather than "The Great MM Mystery".
In the book it's the British Ambassador to the States who is speaking but in the film it's someone else. In my copy of the trilogy, it's on p.87 and reads:
"The fact that you are quite evidently as drunk as a fiddler's bitch in no way excuses a man of your age looking and behaving like a fugitive from a home for alcoholic music-hall artistes."
More may have been quoted. I don't have the film playing in front of me to check.

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Re: Mortdecai Question #6 - Book vs. Movie

Unread postby Liz » Sat Mar 07, 2015 10:22 pm

Well, good to know that there were quotes from that book too. :cool:
You can't judge a book by its cover.

The only thing that matters is the ending. It's the most important part of the story.


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