Helene Hanff's 84 CHARING CROSS ROAD
(a comparison of the book and the film by Evelyn C. Leeper)

One of the things that I find interesting is the process of adapting a book to film, or more specifically what is added, what is deleted, and what is changed. And so at some point, I started to do a detailed comparison of the book 84 CHARING CROSS ROAD and the movie of the same name.

The first change is that the movie begins after the book finishes, with Helene Hanff flying to England well after the ending of the book, which is then told in flashback. Not only is this added to the book, but it is changed from the fact--in THE DUCHESS OF BLOOMSBURY STREET, Hanff writes that she insisted on a day flight, yet the movie 84 CHARING CROSS ROAD has her on an overnight flight.

One set of additions which works very well is the set of background activities and sound which serve to contrast post-war America and post-war England, and post-war England with 1970s England. For example, when Hanff first enters (in the 1970s) the deserted store that used to be Marks & Co, there is a radio in the background giving a recipe calling for two egg whites, four ounces of sugar, and some "raspberry jam". This may not mean much to the new viewer, but to one familiar with the book it stands in sharp contrast to the rationing of the post-war period, and the joy of someone in being able to make a cake because she received a couple of eggs and some raisins. This shows up again later in the movie when we first see the staff of the store dividing up the food parcel with such joy at seeing these cans, and then it cuts to Hanff shopping in New York, with all sorts of fruit, vegetables, meat, etc., but still complaining because she cannot get pepper salami!

And another addition: while the staff is dividing up the food, someone asks about paintings by Giuseppe Archimbaldo. Archimbaldo is known for his paintings of fruits and vegetables arranged to form human faces (for examples, see http://www.artonline.it/eng/capolavori.asp?IDArtista=88). One can imagine that people who cannot get real fruis and vegetables might find these fascinating.

And of course, Frank Doel says after every dinner, "Very nice. very tasty," whether it was something cooked under strict rationing limitations or after all them were lifted.

Other comments (chronologically):

Hanff's first letter of (10/05/49) mentioned "Barnes & Noble's grimy, marked-up school-boy copies." Not surprisingly, the movie dropped this comment. (When the movie was made in 1987, I think Barnes & Noble did still have its used book annex, but obviously the movie makers did not want to slur it in this fashion. Now the used book annex is gone, and younger people reading the book are probably mystified by the reference.)

(I have previously noted that the mathematics of the order is strange. Doel says that the three Hazlitt essays are in one book and the Stevenson in another, clearing up two-thirds of her problem, while he does not have the Leigh Hunt essays or the Latin Bible. The only way this would work is to count the Hazlitt essays as individual items, but all the Leigh Hunt essays as a single item.)

Watching them wrap the books at Marks & Co in the film, I was struck by the fact that the wrapping would never survive today's postal service.

The letter of 11/3/49 changes "I hope he got it right," to "Is that right?" Why?

The letter of 11/18/49 changes "you mark my words" to "mark my words" and drops "Well, the hell with it. I've been using my Latin teacher's Vulgate, what I imagine I'll do is just not give it back till you find me one of my own"

The references to Brian in the letter of 12/08/49 are changed to a dialogue with Brian. This makes sense, as it allows more dialogue between Hanff and other characters.

The home scenes of the Doels add some characterization, with Doel using Cockney rhyming slang when he says, "How're you getting on, old China?" [China -> China plate = mate]

One change that clarifies things is adding "Newman" to "dear goofy John Henry" in the letter of 03/25/50. (The book seems to be missing the letter where she requests the Oxford Verse and Newman in the first place--unless it was part of the first letter, or an attachment to another). And the film drops, "I have made arrangements with the Easter Bunny to bring you a Egg, he will get over there and find you have died of Inertia." I suppose that including every reference to food parcels from the letters would have over-powered the film. The film also changed "Go find it!" to "Go and find it!"

The film dropped Doel's thank-you letter of 04/07/50 altogether, judging (I would guess) that including Cecily Farr's thank-you covered the territory sufficiently. And even from that it drops the sentence "We should love to have it." and the P.S. entirely.

Considering how important an influence Arthur Quiller-Couch was on Hanff, it is ironic that the film drops "thanks to a Cambridge professor named Quiller-Couch. known as Q, whom I fell over in a library when I was 17," from the Hanff 04/10/50 letter. References to "Q" were also dropped from Hanff's 10/15/50 letter and Doel's 11/01/50 reply, but were left in when Hanff refers to "Q" in regard to Isak Walton's "Lives" in her letter of 02/09/52--viewers these days will probably think it is Bernard Lee's character from James Bond!)

In fact, one annoying things about the film is that it omits a lot of the literary references. When Doel says on 10/20/51, "I can understand how you must have felt when you found your favorite passages missing," the viewer is left somewhat mystified, as the parts of Hanff's 10/15/51 letter where she mentions some missing passages were dropped from the film. But somehow the film finds time to add the characters of Ed and Ginny and the idea of what a Manhattan apartment is like.

One possible goof in the film is that Cecily Farr doesn't warm the pot when she makes tea.

In Hanff's letter of 04/10/50 the film changes "like that" to "places like that," probably to make it sound more grammatical.

The film drops "It is such a long time since we wrote to you I hope you do not think we have forgotten all about your wants," from Doel's 09/20/50 letter, and changes the subsequent "Anyway. . . ." to "This is to let you know . . . . " This is probably to keep the pace moving rather than call attention to large gaps in the timeline. And it drops the description of the first edition of Newman's "University"--good for pacing, but a loss for book- lovers.

Again, references to a food parcel in Hanff's reply of 09/25/50 are dropped. Cecily Farr's letter of 10/02/50 is dropped entirely. While her first thank-you letter rather than Doel's was included earlier, it appears that the filmmakers wanted to concentrate on Hanff and Doel, introducing minor characters such as Ed and Jenny, but not wanting the other staff members at Marks & Co have so much emphasis as to become major characters.

In Hanff's letter of 10/15/50, her wonderful aside to John Henry Newman: "I said to John Henry when he stepped out of it: 'Would you believe a thing like that, Your Eminence?' and he said he wouldn't." I guess they thought even the secondhand relating of Hanff talking to a book was a bit over the top. The first three sentences of her admiration of the volume are also dropped, and "vaguely" changed to "kind of". For some reason the reference to "beautiful type" was dropped; I suppose it is possible that the writers thought that viewers would understand "gleaming leather" and "gold stamping", but have a problem with "beautiful type".

As time progresses, more and more book references are dropped: Quiller-Couch from 10/15/50 and 11/01/50, Pepys from 11/01/50, and Sir Roger de Coverley and Addison & Steele from 02/02/51.

Farr's Yorkshire pudding recipe of 02/21/51 was dropped entirely. I suppose that having recipes from England might have given the impression that things were better off there than they were. And it would slow down the story.

This covers about the first quarter of the book. I'll end for now, but I may resume this at some future point.

[I have previously discussed this book, and in particular tried to figure out just what she originally asked for, in another article.]

					Evelyn C. Leeper
					Copyright 2006 Evelyn C. Leeper