Techniques / Literary Precedents
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 291
O. Henry's writing is irrevocably linked with the surprise ending. Indeed, the term "O. Henry ending" has entered the literary vocabulary. However, the O. Henry ending was not merely something tacked onto the body of the story to astound the reader, it was a natural illumination of character. The surprise ending was an expression of his philosophy of life. Take, for instance, the well-known "The Gift of the Magi," the second story of The Four Million. The surprise ending not only epitomizes the character of these two self-sacrificing lovers, but it also epitomizes the character of love itself, the very theme of O. Henry's story. Theme and character are embodied in the surprise that really is not a surprise lurking at the end.
In the same way the climax of "The Love-Philtre of Ikey Schoenstein" drives home the point of the story. Ikey, using his wiles, tries to trick his rival and gain the heart of his beloved. But his rival, more honest than Ikey, adheres to the philosophy "if you get the girl get her on the square." At the surprising conclusion, Ikey discovers that he has failed precisely because he is not on the square. Ikey may not be any wiser, but the readers are.
O. Henry's works have been most closely identified with the short fiction of Guy de Maupassant and Anton Chekhov. All three were prolific in the shorter forms, writing stories frequently of the lower class, and often using the slice of life story for revelation. But there is an amorality about Maupassant and a fatalism about Chekhov that O. Henry would have been unable to accept. Many American writers have attempted to emulate the slangy storytelling of O. Henry, few as successfully as Ring Lardner.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 269
The best-known adaptation of the stories of O. Henry is a 1952 film titled O. Henry's Full House, released by Twentieth Century Fox. Cast and production were first-rate. John Steinbeck introduced the five stories: "The Cop and the Anthem," screenplay by Lamar Trotti, directed by Henry Koster, starring Charles Laughton, David Wayne, and Marilyn Monroe; "The Clarion Call," screenplay by Richard Breen, directed by Henry Hathaway; starring Dale Robertson and Richard Widmark; "The Last Leaf," screenplay by Ivan Coff and Ben Roberts, directed by Jean Negulesco, starring Anne Baxter, Jean Peters, and Gregory Ratoff; "The Ransom of Red Chief," screenplay by Nunnally Johnson, directed by Howard Hawks, starring Fred Allen and Oscar Levant; and "The Gift of the Magi," screenplay by Walter Bullock, directed by Henry King, starring Jeanne Crain and Farley Granger.
Hollywood has also extensively used the O. Henry character The Cisco Kid in twenty-three films — sound and silents — with varying degrees of authenticity. Besides films, there was also a 1950s television series, The Cisco Kid, starring Duncan Renaldo.
A number of O. Henry stories have been filmed over the years. Most are just titles, now, but a few are still remembered: The Green Door, 1917; An American Live Wire, 1918; Everybody's Girl, 1918; You're Fired, 1919; Alias Jimmy Valentine, 1920; The Texan, 1930; Doctor Rhythm, 1938; Llano Kid, 1940; Black Eagle, 1948; and The Big Chief, April 1960.
In 1957 there was a television series based upon the short stories of O. Henry. It was titled The O. Henry Playhouse. The thirty-minute anthology, hosted by Thomas Mitchell, lasted for thirty-nine episodes. Among the stories adapted for the small screen were "Georgia's Ruling," "Between Rounds," and "Hearts and Hands."