Book to Movie: Umney’s Last Case (2006)
Nightmares and Dreamscapes: From the Stories of Stephen King
Writer: April Smith
Directed by Rob Bowman
From Nightmares and Dreamscapes by Stephen King
As with most of the stories adapted in the TNT miniseries, Umney’s Last Case was expanded a great deal to give the character and the plot more development to make for a meaningful one hour episode of television. Writer April Smith sets up Umney’s disorienting experiences on the nightmarish day he finds out who he is, then takes the story in a different direction, giving it a major injection of romance and diverting it from the dark ending King’s story contained.
The King story starts with Umney starting his day and finding that the world as he knew it to exist, day after day, was changing. The newspaper boy was going to quit hocking papers and get the surgery he needed to be able to see again. His favorite restaurant closed. His pal, the elevator attendant was retiring. The floor of his building where he kept his office was being repainted and his secretary quit.
The screen treatment first takes us through what is a normal day for private detective Clyde Umney. He gives his favorite blind newspaper hawker a dime for a three cent paper. He breaks bad news to a wife who suspects her husband is cheating. He plays grab ass with his secretary before heading off to his favorite restaurant to shoot it out with some bad guys in 1938 Los Angeles.
After having established what was a normal day for the private detective, Smith then brings King’s story into the mix and the action unfolds just as it did in his story with Umney learning that he’s nothing more than a character dreamed up by a writer of detective noir fiction.
That writer, in King’s story, came to claim Umney’s life because he lost his wife and son in a tragic accident. In Smith’s teleplay, only the son has died, having drowned during a house party. Sam Landry and his wife are now distant. Landry can’t write anymore and wants to check out of his 1990s existence.
In the story, Landry, who is God himself to Umney for having created him and having complete control over his life and actions, takes over Umney’s life while Umney is sent to the 1990s. Umney begins to master Landry’s lap top computer and has a few story ideas of his own the new Clyde Umney probably isn’t going to like.
In Smith’s story, Umney goes to the 1990s to find Landry’s wife there. Umney tells her who he is. At first, she does not believe, but Umney’s lusty behavior, antiquated speech, and tough guy attitude soon convince her and she falls in love with Umney.
But Clyde Umney is not Sam Landry. Clyde Umney plays grab ass with the girls and decides to play grab ass with the pool cleaner. Linda Landry is devastated. Umney tells her he is who he is and he’s not Sam Landry.
Meanwhile, Sam Landry, meek and mild writer, is struggling to make it in 1930s Los Angeles. He can’t speak the language. He may write detective stories, but he can’t think like a detective. Most importantly, he’s not a tough guy.
Finally, Umney figures out the computer and rights (writes) things and everyone is where they belong. Landry and his wife rediscover their marriage and everybody lives happily ever after.
William H. Macy’s brilliant duel performance as Clyde Umney and Sam Landry saved this episode from being a disaster. Macy, playing to very different characters face to face, really brings to life King’s vision of his story. It was entertaining to watch Macy engage himself in conversation and interact with himself as two different people.
The romantic ending was not a good idea. Smith didn’t do a bad job of writing it, but King’s dark ending would have worked better. Watching Landry suffer through the trials and tribulations that Umney could have dreamed up and hacked out with the laptop would have been entertaining.
Of all of the episodes, this was the weakest. Thank God for William H. Macy’s stellar performance.