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Flowers for Algernon

Entry updated 13 May 2024. Tagged: Film.

One of the most widely adapted SF stories, Flowers for Algernon (April 1959 F&SF; exp 1966) by Daniel Keyes charts the progress of retarded Charlie/Charly, who develops a powerful Intelligence becomes a genius, and then slowly reverts to his original condition, after an only partially successful experimental treatment. Algernon, a white Mouse, was Charlie's predecessor in testing the new Uplift treatment; Charlie becomes very fond of him and identifies with him. The story is known worldwide, but has enjoyed particular success in Japan as Algernon ni Hanataba o (novella trans Yuki Inaba February 1961 SF Magazine; novel trans Fusa Obi 1978). There it has become a staple of English language classes and has hence sold over one and a half million copies.

1. The Two Worlds of Charlie Gordon (1961), a Television movie. CBS, in The United States Steel Hour anthology series. Director unknown. Cast includes Cliff Robertson. Written by James Yaffee. Circa 60 minutes. Black and white? Yaffee based his screenplay on the earlier novella version "Flowers for Algernon" (April 1959 F&SF). Owing to network pressure, the ending was rewritten to suggest that Charlie recovered his intelligence by picking up a copy of Paradise Lost at Algernon's graveside. However, actor Cliff Robertson, secure in the knowledge that nobody could interfere with his behaviour on a live television broadcast, made no movements until the credits rolled, thereby preserving Keyes' original ending.

2. Charly (1968). Film. Produced by Cliff Robertson, who also won the Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of the title character. This was the first adaptation after the 1966 book publication (in which the novella was expanded into a novel); it was made largely because Robertson, who had loved doing the television version, subsequently bought the movie rights. Owing to unclear definitions of subsidiary rights in Robertson's contract with Keyes, the two figures would often be at odds over who had the right to authorize subsequent adaptations, resulting in several arbitrations over the years.

3. Flowers for Algernon (1969). Stage play by David Rogers. Based on the novel (1966) and requiring a cast of 27, the play seemed almost designed for use in schools, where its existence helped the prose version endure as a teaching aid.

4. Charlie and Algernon (1978). Musical by Charles Strouse, based on the play by David Rogers, premiered in 1978 in Canada, went to England (London West End) in 1979, starring Michael Crawford, and had a fairly brief Broadway run in 1980 starring P J Benjamin. Strouse's score artfully mirrored the style of Keyes' original in musical form, beginning with simplistic nursery tunes, before blossoming into varied musical styles as Charlie's intelligence increases. The peak of his development is marked by a song that verges on an operatic aria.

5. Flowers for Algernon (1988). Album by the Japanese pop star Kyōsuke Himuro. Although the title of the album was plainly inspired by Keyes's story, the only direct reference is on the second track, "Dear Algernon", subsequently released as a single, with a cover of "Suffragette City" by David Bowie on the B-side (see SF Music).

6. Flowers for Algernon (1991 UK). Radio play, BBC Radio 4. Script by Bert Coules. Cast includes Tom Courteney as Charlie. 60 minutes. Script later published as The Play of Daniel Keyes' Flowers for Algernon (1993).

7. Gikyoku: Algernon ni Hanataba o ["The Play: A Bouquet for Algernon"] (1992). Japanese stage play, credited to Keyes and Jun Kikuchi. The production was first mounted in Tokyo by the Sanbyakunin Theatre with Shigeru Ushiyama and Keiko Aizawa in the leading roles. Published as Gikyoku: Algernon ni Hanataba o (Tokyo: Hayakawa Shobō, 1992) [pb/]. The production was revived in Tokyo in 2005, and again in Taipei, Republic of China, in 2006.

8. Algernon ni Hanataba o (1995). Japanese Radio play, NHK FM. Directed by Mamoru Chiba, Script by Izumi Tsujikawa. Cast includes Tomoko Mariya and Yoshio Ōhashi. 60 minutes.

9. Flowers for Algernon (2000 US). Made-for-television film (2000). Alliance Atlantis Communications, Citadel Entertainment, Storyline Entertainment, for CBS. Produced and directed Jeff Bleckner. Teleplay John Pielmeier. Cast includes Matthew Modine, Ron Rifkin and Kelli Williams. 92 minutes. Colour.

The teleplay of Flowers for Algernon is moderately true to Keyes's novel, in terms of its series of events. However, the careful balance that Keyes kept between the demands of Intelligence and feeling is almost destroyed. The film's emotional commitment to the world of feeling comes close to arguing that the heart is so much more important than the head, that it is better to be a happy moron than a worried achiever. Thus the horrifying pathos of the original story's ending is gravely softened. That is not to say that the film is a failure: the writer and director know (cynically?) just which buttons to press, and the film has many of its audience wiping their eyes. Also, the dumbing-down of the story is partly counteracted by the very professional performances given by the leading players, Modine (Charlie) and Williams (Alice), who at the outset is Charlie's teacher in a special class for people of subnormal intelligence, but who becomes his lover. The two lend sophisticated nuances to a teleplay that scarcely deserves them.

10. Algernon ni Hanataba o (2002). Japanese tv series. Kansai TV/Fuji TV. Cast includes Miho Kannō and Yūsuke Santamaria. Directed by Kihiko Shinjo. Written by Yoshikazu Okada. This 11-part TV adaptation keeps to the plot of the 1966 novel, but localizes character names such as the retarded Haru Fujishima (Santamaria) and his eventual love interest Elina Tōya (Kannō). The choice of the lead character's name seems to have been inspired by another famous SF ingenue, HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).

11. Anyong Hanneunim ["Hello God"] (2006) South Korean television series. KBS. Cast includes Yu Geon and Gi Mokbin. Directed by Ji Youngsu, screenplay by Gang Eungyeong. Colour.

12. Des Fleurs Pour Algernon. (2006 France). Television movie. Cast includes Julien Boisselier and Helene de Fougerolles. Directed by David Delrieux, Written by Anne Giafferi. Colour. In this French version, Charlie kills Algernon to spare him the degeneration that he knows is coming for both of them.

13. Holeulone (2006 Belgium). Dance performance for two, with animation. Dame de Pic/Compagnie Karine Ponties. [PN/JonC]

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