Monday, June 27, 2005

Same Character, Different Faces

I've been spending some of my spare time lately on light and semi-light reading, escaping from the regular world (and TV viewing) to the printed page. On the nonfiction side was a Bobby Darin biography; the fiction has included Philip Roth, a couple of Robert B. Parker's Spenser mysteries and ''The Godfather Returns.''
I have read and enjoyed the Spenser novels since long before they inspired the TV series ''Spenser: For Hire''(starring Robert Urich) and as TV movies (starring Urich and later Joe Mantegna). In stores Tuesday you can find a DVD set of four of Urich's movies, based on specific Parker novels.
Although I liked Urich as an actor, I had a hard time seeing him as Spenser. The Spenser I had seen when I first read the books more closely resembled the burly, battered-looking Parker; Urich always seemed a little too good-looking for Spenser. But now there are times when I read Parker and I hear Urich, especially when Spenser is in an extended run of wisecracking.
I know that books and movies are separate creatures, but they can still overlap in our memory banks. When I read ''The Godfather Returns,'' a revival of the Corleone saga by novelist Mark Winegardner, I heard echoes not only of original author Mario Puzo but of the Francis Coppola movies -- right down to wondering how a line would have sounded coming from, say, Al Pacino.
I didn't like the novel -- which covers years between the movies -- but it was hard to judge it on its own merits since it had such a heavy literary and cinematic past. (Reading the book, I kept wanting to go look at ''The Godfather, Part II'' instead.) Of course, if we were meant to judge it on its own merits, it wouldn't have been called ''The Godfather Returns.''

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