This past week-end I watched the original 1962 movie Cape Fear, which was based upon the novel The Executioner by John D. MacDonald, starring Robert Mitchum and Gregory Peck. Directed by J. Lee Thompson, it is a true classic set in a time period long ago when things were different or were they?
As I sat enthralled in the intrigue and mystery I couldn’t help but think about the recent article I read about the republishing of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer, (read here), and felt a sensation of fear overcome me, not because of the movie, but because of being a writer.
How do the two connect? Censorship. Did you know that J. Lee Thompson had to meet with a censor to go over areas of the script they felt were “dangerous” and to suggest ways in which to portray them differently? By doing so, the entire image of Max Cady’s character would have been changed, thus, changing what John D. MacDonald’s intent was as the author of The Executioner and James Webb’s intent was as the script writer for Cape Fear. Thankfully, Director J. Lee Thompson did a great job of telling the writer’s story despite the strong censorship at the time (even the ending had to be made happier than the writer’s version). In 1991 Martin Scorsese remade Cape Fear, paying homage to the original version.
I’m not out to debate the meaning behind making Huckleberry Finn or Tom Sawyer “politically correct” nor am I out to debate the meaning behind the words being censored I am, however, out to debate the censorship of an author’s work. Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer were set in a time and place in history that existed; a time in which Samuel Langhorne Clemens lived to tell it as he knew it. Every word written in these great classics are words Samuel Clemens; writing as Mark Twain, pondered over, struggled with or worked endless hours to get just right so his story could be told.
Think about this the next time you sit down to write your next story: Will what you have to say be changed in the future to fit someone else’s view on “how” you should have said it according to their time. Now, what scares you as a writer?
Until next time,
Keep on thriving, keep on striving and keep on writing!
The Unknown Author