"Stand By Me" (Rob Reiner, 1986) "Stand By Me" just might be the best film ever adapted from a Stephen King story, in fine company with Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining," Brian DePalma's "Carrie," Frank Darabont's "The Shawshank Redempton" and "The Green Mile," David Cronenberg's "The Dead Zone," and (of course) "Children of the Corn V: Fields of Terror."**
King's collection of novellas "Different Seasons" came at a particularly inspired point in King's early career; each story is a gem, sitting outside of his then-established genre of horror writing, but still full of incident and character that could produce goose-flesh, or laughter. And the writing is sublime. Of the four stories included, only the "tale told in passing"--"The Breathing Method"--has not been filmed. The others--"Apt Pupil" was an indifferent Bryan Singer sophomore effort, and the classic "Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption" was the sublime Darabont film. But "The Body"--the story of boys of summer--was filmed first, as "Stand By Me." It's cast of young actors (River Phoenix, Jerry O'Connell, Wil Wheaton, and Corey Feldman, along with Keifer Sutherland, Casey Siemaszko, and John Cusack--who'd starred in Reiner's "The Sure Thing") would become established film players, with Phoenix breaking out early before his death at the age of 23. His death gives the resolution of the story an extra pang it didn't have when it was first released.
The story is of four 12 year old boys living in King's omnipresent town of Castle Rock (Maine in the story, Oregon in the film), who set out to find the body of Ray Brower--a kid who disappeared, and is gossiped to have been hit by a train--during an idyllic summer, made less so by the kids' circumstances at home, and their harassment by town bullies. Finding no real comfort anywhere, the outsiders set out to find the body in the wilderness for an adventure, and they are tested by Nature and their own natures.
"Stand By Me" is not so much a "coming-of-age" story as its been pigeon-holed, but a "coming-to-terms"...with one's lot in life, with those who threaten, and with the way life has a way of testing your mettle, and your sense of justice.
Robe Reiner has had a run of bad luck with his recent films clicking with the public. But "Stand By Me" was right in the middle of a superb run of well-done comedy films before his ernestness became a bit heavy-handed for most Americans' tastes.
There's an axiom in Hollywood that says, "You're only as good as your last film." But there's the "Billy Wilder corollary:" Really, you're only as good as your best film."
Given that, its only a matter of time before Reiner finds his audience again. Or they find him.
* And it should be mentioned and acknowledged that the Olaiya Land, one of the founders of the cause, inadvertently inspired the name of this blog back in the day. Thanks again, Olaiya.
** Kidding, kidding...