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Book Report: Leave it to Psmith

Your Humble Blogger reread Leave it to Psmith again recently, which is as good a use of time as any, particularly whilst bathing. I was thinking, as I tend to do when rereading a favorite familiar, about what sort of a movie it would make. I used to muse about who would be great in the various parts, but I haven’t kept up with youngish actors, so that’s less fun for me. Clearly Stephen Fry could, at one point, have been a good Psmith, but those years are well behind him now. There doesn’t seem to have ever been a Psmith film, although various people have played Lord Emsworth including Ralph Richardson and Peter O’Toole (who wasn’t as good as I expected).

This time through, though, I was wondering how a person would go about adapting it to a screenplay. It’s tempting to set the whole thing at Blandings and start it with the arrival of Lord Emsworth, Freddy and Psmith (in disguise) on the train. The London stuff is lovely in the book, but you want to get to Blandings as soon as possible. On reflection, though, I think it’s better to start in the window seats of the Senior Conservative Club, with the man handing Lord Emsworth his spectacles. Then there’s the poet switch, followed by the umbrella business (transferred from the Drones Club scene earlier), the trip to the employment bureau, and the train station meeting with Freddie, with Lord Emsworth meeting them both in the station at the end of the exposition (rather than having Psmith meet Freddie again in the train). Then Blandings. I think that’s fifteen minutes, but you could do it in less, right?

So, Mike and Phyllis Jackson never actually appear. Would that work? They’re lovely, of course, in the book, and since three of the characters get involved in stealing the necklace in the first place to help them out, it seems a shame not to meet them. On the other hand, they may work better as offstage motivators. It’s not just a matter of getting to Blandings quickly, either, it’s limiting the number of characters we have to follow, particularly characters of a similar age and appearance. And I’d be reluctant to have characters appear early in the film and then drop out; McTodd does have to appear briefly, I think, although it’s even more tempting to get rid of him (or to see him only through Lord Emsworth’s blurred vision).

Tricky stuff, tricky stuff. But fun to think about, particularly if one doesn’t have to do anything about it.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,
-Vardibidian.

Comments

Have you ever read the stage version of _Leave it to Psmith_? Seeing how someone adapted the novel to play form might suggest how one would go about adapting it to a screenplay. The WorldCat entries suggest that Wodehouse himself was not the adaptor, but one Ian Hay. The play's subtitle appears to be "A comedy of youth, love, and misadventure, in three acts."

I would think the London stuff would have to be kept: there's far too much necessary plot and character development to let it go. Surely it could be streamlined considerably. The fact must be faced that Wodehouse takes his time setting things up in _Psmith_, and one would lose the later payoff if the setup is dispensed with. The trick, for the filmmaker, would be to make the introductory sequence as entertaining in its own right as Wodehouse does.

I would think that one might actually introduce Phyllis Jackson, Psmith, and Eve Halliday during a silent opening montage, perhaps interspersed with the opening credits, showing each in difficult circumstances, and each writing: Phyllis is penning a letter to Joseph Keeble, Psmith is composing his advertisement, and Eve is seeing the emptiness of her pocketbook and writing to accept the Cataloguist position at Blandings. You could have a fourth bit with McTodd accepting an invitation to Blandings, suggesting that all letters lead to Blandings Castle. Then, cut to Blandings, with Uncle Joe reading the letter from Phyllis. Play the Blandings scene, then head back to London with Freddie and Lord Emsworth, and watch the coincidences unfold.


You could also take a page from the Bond movies, which replace narrative setup with an unrelated extended action sequence. Cut to Uncle Joe skiing down Zermatt backwards, guns blazing...


I haven't read the stage play; I assume (and I was thinking this, too, as I read) that the stage play would be on a single set, probably the library at Blandings. At least, if it were a play, I would be much happier to do it that way. We are used to (or certainly were used to) single-set plays beginning with people coming on and describing all the stuff that happened off-stage that sets up the plot. "A telegram, your ladyship." "Oh, Beech, it's too bad. Roland McTodd, the Canadian poet, has cancelled his visit. And he was to arrive on the three-twenty." "Surely, your ladyship, the Earl is even now arriving with young Mr. Threepwood and another gentleman." "Perhaps taht is Mr. McTodd after all, Beech. After all, I have never met him, and invited him to stay in Blandings Castle by letter. Ask the Earl to bring our guests in directly." "Very good, your Ladyship." etc, etc.

For a film, I do like the idea of a montage of letter-writing, which will not only get some exposition out of the way, but also appeal to the letter-writing set, who are presumably the natural audience of such a film at this point.

The other tack, Michael's, does have a certain appeal, though. Although on the whole I'd rather it be Eve kicking Alpine ass.

Thanks,
-V.


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