HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Have you ever heard Jon Land teach? He is simply a rock star. Incredibly thoughtful, with an astonishing depth of understanding about the essence of thrillers and storytelling. We read books, sure, and, sure, we love movies. But how does that transformation successfully occur? No better person to explain the magic than the creator of the iconic Caitlin Strong thrillers: Jon Land.
THE GODFATHER: According to legend, producer Robert Evans bought the rights to the book before Mario Puzo had even finished it, and proceeded to shepherd a faithful adaptation that many consider to be the best film ever made. Francis Ford Coppola received the lion’s share of the credit for that, but everything he put on the screen is drawn straight out of the book. From the opening wedding reception to the blood-soaked finale, this cinema classic is chock full of the themes that turned a gangster story into a Shakespearean masterpiece.
JAWS: Steven Spielberg diverted just enough from Peter Benchley’s huge bestseller to turn a simple monster movie into a blockbuster that changed film forever. The lack of a working mechanical shark taught audiences that less is more, the scenes shot from the shark’s POV (coupled with the steady beat of the John Williams score) perhaps the most imitated in film. This reinvention of Moby Dick at its heart is an exploration of machismo and the nature of heroism in the hands of a filmmaker discovering his own greatness. T
THE EXORCIST: Perhaps the most faithful adaptation ever, this is also rightfully considered the scariest film ever made. William Peter Blatty’s one-sitting, much-imitated horror tale was adapted by William Friedkin into a masterwork of elegantly paced terror. An exploration of faith set against an archetypal battle between good and evil and featuring some of the most famous scenes and one of the greatest openings in film history.
MARATHON MAN: The film was every bit the equal of William Goldman’s seminal thriller about Nazis in New York menacing grad student Babe Levy, as played by Dustin Hoffman so well that we forgot he was much too old for the role. We lose Goldman’s iconic portrayal of the deadly assassin Scylla from the book, but the torture scene played with Mephistophelean menace by the great Lawrence Oliver is a cinema tour de force that did for going to the dentist what Jaws did for swimming in the ocean. T
THE BOYS FROM BRAZIL: Ira Levin’s cutting edge thriller about Hitler clones running rampant across the globe gave us Lawrence Oliver (again) playing a Nazi hunter who comes to the shattering realization that the Fourth Reich is alive and well under the leadership of Josef Mengele as envisioned by Gregory Peck. An archetypal prologue opens the door to the unraveling of a monstrous mystery pealed back, in book and film, one magical layer at a time.
ROSEMARY’S BABY: Speaking of Ira Levin, he rewrote the rules for the modern horror thriller in this classic that were similarly rewritten by Roman Polanski in the film version. Mia Farrow passed on joining then husband Frank Sinatra in The Detective to play the role that made her a star. She appears in every single scene of this terrifying treatise on urban paranoia where the neighbors next door are witches who want to steal your baby, only to learn it’s even worse than that. And that final scene, when Rosemary meets her baby for the first time, remains one of the most powerful in film history.
THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS: Essentially a sequel to Red Dragon (made into the equally great Manhunter), this masterpiece of psychological horror features true star turns by both Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster faithfully playing Thomas Harris’s Hannibal Lecter and Clarice Starling. A riveting cat-and-mouse game comprised of riveting moments of repartee and, oh man, that scene where Lecter stages his jaw-dropping escape.
THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR: One of the great political thrillers ever made chopped three days from a solid book by James Grady in fashioning the quintessential tale to emerge from the paranoia spurred by Watergate. Like Babe Levy, our hero is an ordinary man caught up in extraordinary circumstances he can’t control but ultimately does. How great is the movie? I’ve probably seen it a dozen times and still can’t make sense of everything. Worth watching just for the final encounter between Redford and Max Von Sydow’s deadly assassin Joubert, so memorable for what follows the line, “It will happen like this…”
JACK REACHER: I’m going on a limb with this one, since so much criticism has been leveled over the diminutive Tom Cruise playing the bruising Jack Reacher in an adaptation of Lee Child’s bestseller One Shot. Size aside, though, Cruise captures Reacher’s stoic sensibility and nomadic, gunfighter mentality that has made him this generation’s James Bond. A throwback to pre-CGI action films.
THE FURY: John Farris’ taut, twisty paranormal thriller as reimagined by Brian DePalma, this might be the best Hitchcock film Hitchcock didn’t make. Blessed by a haunting score by John Williams, this perfectly paced shocker contains as many memorable scenes as any movie of its kind. Way ahead of its time and distinguished by a brilliantly villainous turn by the great John Cassavetes that will blow your mind (Pun intended!).
SEVEN DAYS IN MAY: A screenplay by the great Rod Serling from the novel by Fletcher Knebel, and star turns by Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas as antagonists, imagines a coup d’etat in Washington that remains shockingly credible to this day. This one spawned numerous lesser imitations that didn’t even come close to measuring up to an all-too plausible plot to realize the unthinkable.
THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE: Joseph Sargent’s adaptation wondrously captures the furious pace of John Godey’s starkly original tale of high-end thugs who hijack a subway car. A great caper tale turned into quintessential crime noir thanks to virtuoso performances by Walter Matthau and Robert Shaw trading barbs amid the ideal blend of humor and thrills. Oh, and by the way, skip the remake. Please. Okay, those are my picks. Now, how about yours? Any you’d like to add?
HANK: Well--LOVE these! But adding: Day of the Jackal! (The real one, with Edward Fox.) (Speaking of skip the remake…) C’mon Jon, you left that one out so I could embrace it, right? A perfect perfect story, and one of the few movies that lures you to fully root for the bad guy. Plus, we know from moment one that DeGaulle doesn’t get assassinated—but every time we see the movie, we wonder—will this be the time The Jackal succeeds? Love it!
As you well know, the book is Six Days of the Condor--Hollywood cut it to three. I have told James Grady I would not be writing today without his book.
Got to agree about Rosemary’s Baby. And I had no idea my idol Rod Serling wrote Seven Days in May. So life-changing for me back then. Is there a movie of On the Beach?
And can you come over? I have never seen The Fury. But enough about me. I could talk about his forever. How about you, Femmes and readers?
Jon Land is the USA Today bestselling author of 38 novels, including eight titles in the critically acclaimed Caitlin Strong series: Strong Enough to Die, Strong Justice, Strong at the Break, Strong Vengeance, Strong Rain Falling (winner of the 2014 International Book Award and 2013 USA Best Book Award for Mystery-Suspense), Strong Darkness (winner of the 2014 USA Books Best Book Award and the 2015 International Book Award for Thriller and Strong Light of Day which won the 2016 International Book Award for Best Thriller-Adventure, the 2015 Books and Author Award for Best Mystery Thriller, and the 2016 Beverly Hills Book Award for Best Mystery. The latest title in the series is Strong Cold Dead, was published on October 4 and about which Booklist said, “Thrillers don’t get any better than this,” in a starred review. Land has also teamed with multiple New York Times bestselling author Heather Graham on a new sci-fi series, the first of which, The Rising, will be published by Forge in January of 2017. He is a 1979 graduate of Brown University and lives in Providence, Rhode Island.
ISIS comes to Texas in the 8th thriller to feature Caitlin Strong.
In her storied career as a Texas Ranger, Caitlin has confronted all manner of evil, but nothing that’s prepared her for the terrorist group’s pursuit of a devastating weapon on Lone Star State soil. The land in question lies on an Indian reservation where a drilling operation steeped in mystery and controversy is about to commence under the auspices of billionaire Cray Rawls.
But Rawls is only one of Caitlin’s problems. The fact that her own surrogate son Dylan, the oldest boy of her reformed outlaw lover Cort Wesley Masters, has joined the Natives protesting the incursion onto their land demands her involvement, even before she realizes such noble ends are actually cloaking nefarious means in their own right. There’s also a twisted genius who’s uncovered the true secrets of that land, a young man with whom Caitlin shares a past now in a position to deliver Armageddon from Texas’ canyonlands.
To save millions from a horrible fate at the hands of ISIS, Caitlin and Cort Wesley must sort through a web of death and deceit as tangled as the blood-soaked grounds of the reservation that hold an ancient secret. A secret that’s the source of a battle rooted in the past and now destined to determine the shape of the future.