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The Dollmaker
by Harriette Arnow
Movie Review

February’s guest panelist, Terry Tucker, sent this note after the bookclub@ket program was taped on January 21, 2000. It includes his reaction to the Jane Fonda movie of The Dollmaker.


I had to hurry away Friday afternoon, and in my haste neglected to thank all of you for being so gracious and kind to the newby substitute on the bookclub panel. I thank you now.

By way of returning the favor, let me warn you about Jane Fonda’s movie made under the title The Dollmaker: Danger! Danger! Do NOT watch this film!

I rented the video, and watched it this weekend. I’m still reeling from what Barbarella-turned-Turner did to Arnow’s work.

After more-or-less faithfully following the story line as far as Detroit and Cassie Marie’s death, the movie then climaxes with Gertie “rebelling” against Clovis! Standing in their project-house kitchen, she delivers herself of a “liberating” speech in which she declares she is tired of being told what to do, first by her mother and then by her husband; moreover, she angrily accuses Clovis of dragging her and the family to Detroit under false pretenses, and of making bad decisions for them; and she allows as how from now on, since they were living on the income from her woodworking, SHE would be making the decisions and telling HIM what to do.

Gertie then proceeds—in a rapid-fire, time-lapsed montage of images—to split the cherrywood block (triumphantly, with swelling music and slow-motion smiles!); to make and sell enough hand-carved dolls to pay off Clovis’s car and trade it for a pickup truck; to load up the family (including the “fugitive” Clovis, hiding on a farm outside of town); and to drive the Nevels clan back to Kentucky ... because, in the movie, Reuben has telephoned Detroit to tell Gertie her father has died and left her the family farm.

Whew! Talk about learning to adapt! Fonda certainly “adapted” Arnow’s storyline ... and turned it into a jig-sawed, machine-sanded, brightly painted piece of trivia suitable for selling cheap in the well-traveled alleyways of American cinematic sentimentality.

Anyone who thinks they can watch the movie and get the “gist” of the book—and thus avoid the reading of it—will be badly misled. We should all resolve never to mention the movie when discussing the book—unless it is to issue the disclaimer that the two are very, very different stories.

Thanks again, and beware!

Terry Tucker

P.S. Incidentally, Jonathan: Clovis and his movie buddies have only one fight with the union busters (during which, we learn through a muttered whisper, one of “them” probably “didn’t get up”). That very same night, they decide to spirit Clovis away to a farm outside of town to escape any possible investigation. There is no recuperation sequence, no vendetta, and no hint of murder with a borrowed knife. Clovis is simply out of the way while Gertie saves the day.


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