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The Game of X: 06/25/22

The Game of X

The Game of X by Robert Sheckley is about an American looking to extend his visa in France and ends up becoming an international spy in the process. It's also one of those books that you might never guess was adapted into a film because it's so very different from the resulting movie.

William P. Nye has tried everything he can think of to land a job he can stick to while in France. His money is running out, as has his visa. Soon he's going to be a penniless illegal. That's when his friend George who works for the CIA offers him a job he can't refuse: become the mysterious Mr. X and meet a man who has important intel from the Iron Curtain.

The meeting goes as planned. William has fun. He thinks that's it until the man he met wants to defect. But he'll only do it if Mr. X helps him do it). The plan ultimately involves shenanigans in Venice and the Italian alps. And if you're a Gen X person, you might now be making a squinty face and thinking, "hey that plot sounds familiar!"

Enter Walt Disney Productions. If you've seen more than one Disney live action film you know they very rarely make a straight up adaptation of a property the option. Disney writes things by committee, working through gags to mark the timing of scenes in films, rather than trying to translate something faithfully from one medium to another.

So a historical fantasy about a man cursed to become a dog, aka The Hound of Florence (1923) becomes The Shaggy Dog (1959). This time, an amateur spy trying to help a man defect via a confusing trip to Venice, becomes Condorman (1981).

In the Disney version, a successful comic book author living in Paris is roped in by his CIA friend to help with the two missions I've described. But there's also a pretty woman involved to give him a love interest and his name has been changed to Woody.

Nearly all the vehicles and get rendezvous / getaway plans from the novel are in the film — if you squint. But everything has been redone to be Condorman themed and the airplane near the end of film becomes a Romani caravan / Condormobile in the same vein as the Batmobile.

Now the question that flows naturally from this revelation: which is better? The book or the film? Honestly in this case, the two are so very different, I'm not sure. Plus I'm running up against childhood nostalgia. As stupid as the film is, I like it. Robert Sheckley's novella is just as stupid, just differently so. It's just a fun as what it became at Disney's hands.

Five stars

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