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OK, Then Demi Yells, 'Gimme an A. . .'

November 05, 1995|David Ehrenstein | David Ehrenstein is an occasional contributor to Calendar

Bombing at the box office with breathtaking suddenness, "The Scarlet Letter," directed by Roland Joffe and starring Demi Moore, is sure to be cited as an object lesson of what the fates can have in store for Hollywood when it attempts a "free adaptation" of a literary classic.

On the other hand, maybe Joffe and company didn't go far enough.

Back in 1961 in "Little Me," his classic spoof of Hollywood autobiographies, Patrick Dennis outlined a "Scarlet Letter" far more daring than Demi's, starring "B" movie queen "Belle Poitrine."

"What I did to 'The Scarlet Letter' is now history," "Belle" relates breathlessly. "I have been both lauded and criticized for 'taking liberties' with the work of 'Nat' Hawthorne, who was the only person involved not to make any comments, either 'pro' or 'con,' about my film. Suffice it to say that I transformed it from a dusty classic, about dead people in a dead age, to a vital, living story about a girl everyone could understand."

In other words, a college musical in which Hester Prynne is a co-ed who falls in love with Brick Barclay ("Belle" didn't care for the name "Nat" had chosen), the captain of the football team.

At "a beautiful formal ball held in his fraternity house" she drinks "too much 'spiked' punch" and allows him to "take liberties with her that she would otherwise not have permitted."

All ends happily at the football game when cheerleader Hester collapses and Brick sees the error of his ways, agrees to marry her and scores a touchdown.

"I felt it brought a real message home to the youth of America," "Belle" concludes. And who's to say she isn't right?

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