There are a handful of reasons that lead to the adaptation and publication of movie novelizations, whether it’s a publisher looking to cash in on hot new film or a studio hoping to add a little class to their marketing push for a new release, but no matter how they came to be it’s rare for one of these books to become wildly successful. There are certainly cases of novelizations making it big; Curtis Richards’ Halloween went through a few print runs and the Star Wars and Alien novels have been newly available in print for almost 30 years, but most fizzle out a few months after the film leaves theaters and were then relegated to discount bins and eventually obscurity on used bookstore shelves. Recently we stumbled on a tweet by film writer and historian Jason Bailey where he highlighted the unlikely success of the novelization of Brian De Palma’s 1983 magnum opus Scarface. Bailey shared a clipping of a New York Daily News article written by Bruce Chadwick from September 4th, 1983 that talked about the circumstances that led to the Scarface novelization hitting the best seller lists months before anyone even had a chance to see the film.
The piece details some interesting aspects of the release, in particular that the author, Paul Monette, went above and beyond what was expected by the publisher. When they received the manuscript they were taken aback by how great it was and then it spurred them to push up the release of the novel a half a year earlier than they had planned. Monette, who also wrote the novelization for Werner Herzog’s 1979 Nosferatu, the Vampyre, is probably best known for his memoirs, Borrowed Time and Becoming a Man: Half a Life Story where he wrote about coming to terms with homosexuality, living with AIDS and the life and death of his long term partner Roger Horwitz, who succumbed to the AIDS virus in 1986. Like some of the best novelizations, Scarface eclipses the film to an extent because it was free to expand on the story (written for the screen by Oliver Stone) and characters, adding richness to the rise and fall of Tony Montana.
Luckily, because of the books success, for those that want to check out the novel it’s relatively easy to come across copies pretty cheaply.