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Nick Carraway, a young Midwesterner now living on Long Island, finds himself fascinated by the mysterious past and lavish lifetyle of his landlord, the nouveau riche Jay Gatsby. He is drawn into Gatsby's circle, becoming a witness to obsession and tragedy. Written by
A great book? Yes. A great cast? Rather hit-and-miss. Great motion picture? Not really
It is very difficult to tell which is better between the 1974 and 1949 versions, both have their good merits but both suffer from major problems. The 1974 film has the better production values and better supporting cast, and it is more faithful in detail to the book. The 1949 film though is closer in spirit, has the better Gatsby and there is more depth. The book is a sentimental favourite and is a great book, though maybe not one of the all-time great literary classics. This film is not great really, but it is not bad either. There are things that do work in its favour, Alan Ladd may not be the best of actors but still brings an enigmatic and mysterious presence while not being too restrained, there is even room for him to play to his strengths. The script can over-explain itself sometimes but there is more of a feeling of Fitzgerald's prose especially in the first third, and the story has a much brisker pace(the 1974 film was dull and overlong) and is generally much closer in spirit and depth, if not the details, to the later version, which came across as too dry and too faithful. The music in both films captures the spirit of the music of the 20s beautifully. Shelley Winters nails it as Myrtle, Ruth Hussey is entrancing while never too bland, Howard Da Silva is a touching George(though the character is more tormented in the later version) and MacDonald Carey's Nick is dignified as the character who kind of is the glue of the narrative.
There are some misfires in the casting though, the biggest problem being Betty Field's vacuous and almost too sympathetic Daisy, thankfully she doesn't play her too stridently like Mia Farrow did but it was a bland performance that dilutes the character. Barry Robinson is more ideal physically than Bruce Dern but the oily and brutish attitudes and mannerisms are not there(which Dern nailed), he comes across as too suave. The film doesn't look too bad, it is nicely shot and the costumes and sets are very 20s but there is also too much of a film-noir element, if you aren't familiar with the story and book beforehand you'd be convinced that it was like a mystery thriller instead. Visually there is a sense of period but the attitudes not so much, stripping away at the danger, excitement and fun of the Jazz Age(that would be true actually on reflection of both versions). Most of the story is fine, but the ending is a cop-out and it would have been wiser to keep Gatsby a mysterious figure rather than saying off the bat who and what he is and where he came from, which misses the point really of what makes the story itself so alluring, that the character is essentially an enigma. The final third disappoints, reading too much of run-of-the-mill 40s melodrama. Overall, not really a good film but it is also not a bad one, in a way it's a mixed bag. Now onto seeing the TV and Baz Luhrmann versions, Lurhmann's looks as though it could go either way but the TV version looks really promising. 5/10 Bethany Cox
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