Hans Christian Andersen (1952): With exceptions, authors’ lives are rarely as dramatic as the worlds they invented. That’s why they became authors. This poses a problem for filmmakers. Apart from dubious claims of secret royal lineage and some homoerotic correspondences, the life of Danish storyteller Hans Christian Andersen isn’t terribly interesting. On the other hand, he did write The Ugly Duckling, Thumbelina and The Little Mermaid. For this splashy musical, the writing team—which included Ben Hecht and Moss Hart—decided instead to make “a fairytale about the storyteller” (played by Danny Kaye), whose parade of lies routinely segues into more faithful representations of his work.
The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm (1962): Like Hans Christian Andersen, this George Pal spectacular mixed bullshit biopic-ing with recreations of their tales. Not that you have many chances to see it: filmed in three-screen Cinerama, its source allegedly fell into disrepair, although TCM airs a nice copy bi-annually and word has spread of a 65mm negative, waiting to be struck.
Time After Time (1979): What if H.G. Wells (Malcolm McDowell) had invented a time machine himself? And then used it to pursue Jack the Ripper to 1979 San Francisco? As charming as its premise is ludicrous, Nicholas Meyer’s comic thriller is made all the better by the palpable chemistry between McDowell and female lead Mary Steenburgen (who subsequently married).
Gothic (1986): The famed time Mary Shelley, in company with Lord Byron and John William Polidori, dreamt up Frankenstein has cropped up in Bride of Frankenstein, Haunted Summer and Roger Corman’s Frankenstein Unbound, boasting Michael Hutchence as Percy Shelley. Ken Russell also made predictable mincemeat out of it, whipping out an orgy of decadence and haunted house shenanigans that, as with most of his “historical” films, never happened.
Kafka (1991): Upon scoring a hit and the Palme d’Or with Sex, Lies and Videotape, Steven Soderbergh proceeded to alienate most with this moody, B&W ode to Franz Kafka (Jeremy Irons, predictably nervy), in which the nobody author runs afoul of a not-exactly-Kafkaesque plot. As far as author fan fiction goes, it fares better than …
The Raven (2012): Roger Corman made a pretty penny popping out faithless Poe adaptations in the ’60s. Then again, he never had the writer himself (here, John Cusack) solve Poe-inspired crimes. ■
Matt Damon delivers in "The Martian"