I have never read Hungry Hill: The Novel, but even before I finished watching Hungry Hill: The Film, I’d decided it’s one of the worst novel-to-film adaptations. It’s impossible know what point novel author Daphne Du Maurier was trying to make but it didn’t come through in the film. If she was even just going for an engaging yarn, it didn’t come through. If she was even just going for rank, trite melodrama, it didn’t come through. Hungry Hill: The Film, which is dropping the subtitle from here on, isn’t even successfully melodramatic. It’s not successfully anything.
And maybe the weirdest thing about the film and it being an unsuccessful adaptation is the co-screenwriters… Du Maurier co-wrote the screenplay. She helped gut (based on my read of a synopsis online) her novel and reduce it to….
Not drivel (not exactly). But to the muck. She helped reduce it to the muck.
The first hour ends up being a love triangle between top-billed Margaret Lockwood and brothers Dennis Price and Michael Denison. It doesn’t start as a love triangle involving Lockwood, who takes forever to finally arrive and then doesn’t make things any better. The not better things are Price and Denison’s dad, Cecil Parker; he’s an asshole who pits his kids against each other but clearly favors Denison. Price ends up being the protagonist though, so Parker’s favor means little. Lockwood likes Denison because… he’s rich? At least with Price, she can like his unrestrained passion—Price and Lockwood share some of the flattest, most passionless movie kisses ever caught on celluloid. Especially since Lockwood’s supposed to be a big-time flirt. She’s just a big-time flirt who has zero interest in kissing.
For a while there are also two sisters—Jean Simmons and Barbara Waring. Waring’s around for background scenery and Simmons is there to give Price a chance to be a cool guy even though Parker hates him and Lockwood prefers his brother.
Once the film starts jumping ahead six months every two scenes, it’s only a matter of time before Simmons is presumably going to age out. She’s supposed to be the kid sister, after all. The film ingloriously dumps her and Waring, then remembers to start putting Parker in some old age makeup.
The last thirty or so minutes of Hungry Hill is all about the next heir, Dermot Walsh, clashing with grandfather Parker while mom Lockwood shields him from accountability. The film has lots of time jumps in this last thirty, but they’re rarely identified. Walsh never has to put on old age makeup, though I think his hair style changes. It’s all about him being a self-destructive blue blood alcoholic prick who’s in love with his brother’s fiancée (Eileen Herlie), who leads him on whenever the opportunity presents. There’s like one scene with Herlie and Lockwood (who’s in a bunch of old age makeup but’s still glamorous) and if they’d just chuck the script and have it about them rolling dudes in Monte Carlo or something… well, Hungry Hill would be saved.
Hungry Hill is a multi-generational family epic with no interest in the family or the epic. The time it spends on Price and Lockwood’s… whatever isn’t just absent chemistry, it’s also narratively pointless given the third act. Again, whatever Du Maurier’s point for the story, for her 400-ish page novel, it never comes across. There’s a whole warring families thing between blue blood Parker and working class Arthur Sinclair but it’s never dramatic, which is an astounding failure given how the plot perturbs. It’s all over the title hill, where Parker is putting in a copper mine. Sinclair’s family used to own the land but Parker got it somehow because blue blood vs. working class. The kicker is Parker doesn’t even need the mine’s profits. He just wants to mine. Parker’s thoughtless, exploitative capitalist scum, Sinclair’s an annoying dick. Not exactly the fight of the century.
Price is likable and gives the film’s de facto best performance. Simmons is likable but she’s just there to prop up the mens. Walsh is terrible. Lockwood’s all right, all things considered. All right over all. She’s really boring at the beginning. Director Hurst seems to think her cleavage is the most important thing about her character. Parker’s bad. They’re all playing badly drawn caricatures. The film’s got no time for character development. The first act doesn’t skip months and years every scene but it tends to skip days and weeks. And it’s not like the actors get any help from Hurst, whose direction lacks even the wooden passion of the film’s kisses.
Real quick about Hurst. His direction is pretty bad, but some of it seems to be a lack of budget. At some point there just aren’t any exteriors available and establishing shots are rare—there’s always a lot at the mine though, like it’s the only real exterior they could shoot on. Hurst can show enthusiasm, however. For the fist fights. The film’s got two brawls and one mano a mano. Hurst all of a sudden remembers he can shoot things on an angle when the fists fly. Terrible, terrible angles.
Desmond Dickinson’s photography isn’t very good. Alan Jaggs’s editing makes no impression and is therefor fine. John Greenwood’s music starts out all right but gets utterly detached from the onscreen “drama.” It’s like Greenwood didn’t see the movie. Lucky him.
Hungry Hill does get one interested in the novel, if only to see what it was supposed to be like, though the film version might curse—oh, yeah, there’s a pointless Irish curse thing—anyway, the film version might curse the well. The hill. Doesn’t matter: the hill is an utterly unmemorable peak on a matte painting.
Directed by Brian Desmond Hurst; screenplay by Francis Crowdy, Terence Young, and Daphne Du Maurier, based on the novel by Du Maurier; director of photography, Desmond Dickinson; edited by Alan Jaggs; music by John Greenwood; produced by William Sistrom; released by General Film Distributors.
Starring Margaret Lockwood (Fanny Rosa), Dennis Price (Greyhound John Brodrick), Dermot Walsh (Wild Johnnie Brodrick), Cecil Parker (Copper John Brodrick), Michael Denison (Henry Brodrick), Jean Simmons (Jane Brodrick), Barbara Waring (Barbara Brodrick), Dan O’Herlihy (Harry Brodrick), Eileen Herlie (Katherine), Arthur Sinclair (Morty Donovan), Michael Golden (Sam Donovan), Siobhan McKenna (Kate Donovan), and F.J. McCormick (Old Tim).