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Catalog Archive / Fall 2023

Somerset Maugham and the Cinema

Wisconsin Film Studies
Patrick McGilligan, Series Editor

“An astute and thought-provoking account of Somerset Maugham’s relationship to cinema. Comprehensive in scope, Calder’s book gathers together basic production information, chiefly on scripting and casting, on a large number of films derived from the works of one of the most popular and prolific writers of the twentieth century.”
—Russell Campbell, author of Marked Women: Prostitutes and Prostitution in the Cinema

On the celebrated author whose stories dominated the Golden Age of Hollywood

William Somerset Maugham (1874–1965) was one of the most prominent and productive authors of the twentieth century—and his works have been among the most cinematically transformed in history. For more than five decades, adaptations of his plays, stories, and novels dominated movie theaters and, later, television screens. More than ninety individual works were filmed, and for many filmgoers his name was a greater draw than that of the director. Works such as Of Human Bondage, “The Letter,” The Painted Veil, “Rain,” The Razor’s Edge, and others were produced multiple times, with starring roles sought by actors like Bette Davis, Gloria Swanson, Greta Garbo, Lionel Barrymore, Charles Laughton, and Bill Murray.

This study of the famous author explores the relationship between literature and film, what is involved in adaptation, and how best to judge films based on celebrated books. Robert Calder, the world’s leading scholar of Maugham’s work, offers fascinating production histories, insight into both fortunate and misguided casting decisions, shrewd analyses of performances and film techniques, and summaries of public and critical responses. Maugham’s characters were often conflicted, iconoclastic, and morally out of step with their times, which may have accounted for the popularity of his fiction. Most of Maugham’s works could be adapted to satisfy the tastes of moviegoers and the demands of the Hays Office censors, if not the expectations of their author.


Robert Calder. Robert Calder is an emeritus professor of English at the University of Saskatchewan. Considered by many to be the leading authority on Somerset Maugham, he is the author of several books, including W. Somerset Maugham and the Quest for Freedom and Willie: The Life of W. Somerset Maugham.




“A thorough, well-researched study of all the films (and TV shows) based on Maugham, together with sharp critical appraisals and information about their production and initial reception. I learned something on almost every page.”
—James Naremore, author of More than Night: Film Noir in Its Contexts



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Table of Contents


List of Illustrations
1 Maugham, Hollywood, and Screenwriting
2 A New Industry Finds Gold in Somerset: The Silent Era
3 Swanson, Crawford, and Hayworth: Rain
4 Eagels and Davis: Evil behind the Smile: The Letter
5 Rebellious Wives, Secret Agents, and Beach Bums: Early Sound and the 1930s
6 Bette Davis’s Corrosive Mildred: Of Human Bondage
7 Garbo Speaks Maugham: The Painted Veil
8 Fascism, Bigamy, and the Creative Spirit: The 1940s
9 The Greatest Generation’s Quest: The Razor’s Edge
10 Life in Short Sharp Strokes: The Omnibus Films
11 Twenty-First-Century Perspectives: Up at the Villa and Being Julia
12 Looking Back and Looking Ahead

Appendix: Film Productions of Maugham Works


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February 2024
306 pp. 6 x 9
24 b/w illus.

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Cloth $79.95 S
ISBN 9780299346201
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