When we talk about book-to-film adaptations, we are quick to point out how both pieces of media are different. Some of these differences can lead to insightful conversations between the fans and the casual audience. Other differences can cause a negative reaction, from readers walking out of the theater mid-film to Youtube videos showcasing fans’ rants and complaints. But one topic I haven’t heard addressed is why these changes between book and film likely happened. This topic can be applied to any adaptation. For the sake of my editorial, though, I’m writing about Hallmark Hall of Fame’s The Flamingo Rising. Back in June, I published a list of the top ten movies I’d love to, one day, review. The 2001 Hallmark Hall of Fame movie was on that list. Because I own a copy of Larry Baker’s novel, I thought it would be interesting to read the book after I saw the movie. Now that I’ve consumed both pieces of media, I have gained an understanding for why Hallmark likely made the changes they did. There are four main reasons why The Flamingo Rising’s book is different from its adaptation, which will be explored in this editorial. This article contains spoilers for the story of The Flamingo Rising.
Abraham Isaac Lee is the protagonist of The Flamingo Rising. In Larry Baker’s novel, Abraham takes a biographical approach to telling the story, reflecting on various moments that occurred in his life. He even goes into detail about the history of his parents and Grace’s parents. According to IMDB, Hallmark Hall of Fame’s The Flamingo Rising has an hour and thirty-four-minute run-time. As I’ve said before on 18 Cinema Lane, that run-time gives a film’s creative team only so much time to tell a story. Hallmark Hall of Fame’s adaptation of The Flamingo Rising condensed the events in Abraham’s and his family’s life. The book explains how Hubert, Abraham’s father, purchased the land for The Flamingo Drive-In before Abraham and his sister, Louise, were adopted. While Hubert was a soldier in the Korean War, he sent building plans and business ideas to his wife, Edna, who was put in charge of putting those plans into fruition. The purchase of the land and creation of The Flamingo Drive-In, in the movie, took place long after Hubert left the military and in a shorter amount of time. Both Abraham and Louise are teenagers for the majority of the movie, with only one flashback showing the siblings as babies.
There are many characters in The Flamingo Rising. While reflecting on his life, Abraham takes the time to explain who each person in his life is, as well as giving these people a significant presence in the story. Most of these characters were present in The Flamingo Rising movie. But because the film’s run-time is an hour and thirty-four-minutes, their parts of the story were reduced. Abraham’s sister, Louise, is one of these characters. The book reveals Louise grew up to become an actress, as Abraham claims she had the talent for it. In one scene, Louise expresses interest in flying in Harry “Judge” Lester’s plane. This interest was sparked by a promise Hubert made to his children. The movie’s script, however, never addresses why Louise wants to fly with “Judge”. In fact, the audience never sees her flying in “Judge’s” plane. When it comes to Louise’s acting, it was only mentioned once throughout the movie. During a conversation between Abraham and his friend, Gary, Abraham mentions how his sister wants to be an actress someday.
From what I’ve heard over the years, a typical made-for-TV movie costs somewhere between one to three million dollars. While that sounds like a lot of money to the average movie blogger, that amount is actually on the lower end of the financial spectrum, when it comes to making movies. If the aforementioned millions were the budget for Hallmark Hall of Fame’s The Flamingo Rising, it would explain why some parts of the source material were cut from the movie. In the book, Abraham shares his family had a temperamental dog named Frank. This dog was so unstable, he not only bit Louise, he was forced to live in an empty room above Abraham’s room, due to the dog’s behavior. In the film, however, Frank the dog is nowhere to be seen and is never acknowledged by any of the characters. If a movie’s creative team chooses to include an animal in their production, the training, veterinary care, and other related expenses will need to be factored into the overall budget. Working with an animal trainer also requires time, something the creative team behind The Flamingo Rising only had so much to spend. Therefore, the inclusion of Frank the dog was an expense the adaptation’s creative team likely thought was unnecessary.
Location scouting is a film-making component also affected by a creative team’s budget. Like I said in my editorial, ‘Redwood Curtain’: From Stage to Screen, a location scout might not be able to secure a location similar to one described in the source material. Even if they succeeded, there’s a process in order to film at a residential building, especially if it’s someone’s real-life home. This process, along with the budget, is the probable reason why the funeral home has a different appearance in the movie than described in the book. Larry Baker’s novel gives the West Funeral Home the look of a “Southern plantation style house”, complete with white columns and Jeffersonian arches. The Home also contains a garage full of hearses and limousines. The Flamingo Rising’s adaptation gives the funeral home a different exterior. Referred to as the Knight Funeral Home in the movie, the facility boasts a bungalow style in a dark green hue. The Home’s garage is not shown on-screen. However, the Home itself does feature a full-sized porch. The funeral home’s interior has more appearances in the book than in the movie. In fact, the only time the Lee family enter the Knight Funeral Home is shortly after Edna dies. For those two scenes, the creative team may have filmed them on a set, away from the building that portrayed the funeral home.
Appropriateness of Content
For many years, Hallmark garnered a reputation for presenting themselves as a “family-friendly” company. This has been reflected in their programming, including their Hallmark Hall of Fame productions. As someone who’s read The Flamingo Rising book, I’ll be the first person to say there are some parts of the story that are not “Hallmark appropriate”. One of these parts is Louise’s social life. Abraham, in the novel, recalls how, one night at The Flamingo Drive-In, Louise snuck out with some male college students. During this interaction, these males attempt to take advantage of her. Even though Louise is saved just in time by some of the drive-in’s employees, the ordeal is a frightening one. This event is not included in the movie. The only older characters Louise is friends with are Polly and Alice, who all happen to work at the drive-in. It should also be noted that Abraham and Gary are the only male characters Louise hangs out with in the film.
Louise’s story was not the only one to change in Hallmark’s efforts to keep the adaptation “Hallmark appropriate”. Polly, an employee of The Flamingo Drive-In, is a very problematic character in the book. A reason for this is due to her racism. Polly expresses how she didn’t like her high school becoming integrated. She also thinks Abraham is “too brown”, causing Abraham to have self-image related issues. Even though Polly’s role in the movie is smaller, she never comes across as racist. In fact, racism is never addressed in the film. Polly, along with Alice, appear to get along with both Abraham and Louise. Alice, throughout her time at the drive-in, gives Abraham advice and looks out for him, like an older sibling would look out for their younger brother or sister.
When an author creates a story, they sometimes don’t consider how that work could be translated to film or television. If that author’s work does receive an adaptation, the casting can dictate how the story changes. Abraham describes Alice Kite, in the book, as being “as tall as my mother”. Edna is six feet tall in the novel. Because of her height, Alice wore baggy jeans and shirts, never shorts. Elizabeth McGovern and Angela Bettis were cast as Edna and Alice in the Hallmark Hall of Fame adaptation. According to IMDB, Elizabeth is 5’7, while Angela is 5’3. Alice wardrobe’s, in the movie, included tank tops and shorts. This creative decision was likely made to compliment Angela’s height.
In both the book and movie, Grace looks like her mother. Turner, Grace’s father, tells Edna, in the film, “she looks just like her”, referring to his daughter’s resemblance of his late wife. But Grace’s mother never makes an on-screen appearance, as she dies before the movie’s events. Therefore, The Flamingo Rising’s creative team cast an actress that resembled the actor portraying Turner. William Hurt portrayed the owner of Knight Funeral Home. He appears blonde in the film, despite his character having “coal-black hair” in the book. Erin Broderick was cast as Grace, though it isn’t known if Erin or William was recruited to the movie first.
When I reviewed the Hallmark Hall of Fame movie, O Pioneers!, back in July, I said that story should have been adapted into a multi-part mini-series or a television show. That’s because I felt an hour and thirty-seven minutes was not enough time to tell a story with that many moving parts. I feel similarly about The Flamingo Rising. Because Abraham, in the book, is reflecting on his life, there are a lot of characters and plot points included in the text. With the Hallmark Hall of Fame adaptation being an hour and thirty-four-minutes, Larry Baker’s story was forced to be condensed.
There are several parts of The Flamingo Rising book that were either omitted or changed in the adaptation, due to these parts not being “Hallmark appropriate”. With that said, it makes wonder why Hallmark Hall of Fame chose to adapt Larry Baker’s novel over a story that was more “Hallmark appropriate”? This situation kind of reminds me of when Hallmark Channel adapted At Home in Mitford. Last September, I reviewed the 2017 film for one of my double features. After reading the book and watching its adaptation, I came to the conclusion the network was attempting to fit a round peg into a square hole, trying so hard to fit At Home in Mitford into their brand of film-making. Perhaps something similar happened to The Flamingo Rising, causing history to repeat itself sixteen years later?
Have fun at the movies!