For instance, has anyone ever noticed that David Lynch’s BLUE VELVET and Sergio Leone’s A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS have almost the same basic plot idea? In both films, the protagonist encounters a helpless woman whose husband and child have been kidnapped by bad guys. But what these director/writers did with the basic concept resulted in two films so different from each other, hardly anyone has noticed they’re built around the same story idea.
In Lynch’s movie, rescuing the woman (Isabella Rossellini) from her predicament is the central problem that has to be solved. In Leone’s film, it’s more complicated in that Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name pits himself against two rival gangs, and the problem of the helpless woman and her family is more of a subplot. Lynch focuses on the bizarre and psychotic situation Rossellini is in, filling his plot idea with strange characters (Dennis Hopper’s Frank, the strangest), weird sound effects and bizarre scenes of madness and perversion.
I’ve seen both these films several times and it wasn’t until watching BLUE VELVET on cable last night that I noticed the similarity. Was Lynch “inspired” by the Leone film? I wouldn’t go so far as to say he might have stolen Leone’s idea. After all, Leone appropriated the entire story of A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS from Akira Kurosawa’s YOJIMBO. And it is said Kurosawa “borrowed” the framework of the YOJIMBO story from Dashiell Hammett’s “Red Harvest.”
Looking through some reviews of BLUE VELVET on iMDB, I didn’t come across any that mentioned the similarity. Maybe at the time the film came out reviewers were too shocked by Lynch’s treatment of the story. Even all this time later it’s still a shocker.
If there’s something to be learned from this, I suppose, it’s that if you’re a writer you don’t necessarily have to come up with a new idea (Hollywood hasn’t had one in years.) You just need to find a new and different way to write up an old one.
Yes, indeed. Ideas are funny things.