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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
It's important to remember that this 2nd adaptation (after a lost silent version) was made after Fitzgerald died but before he--and in particular this novel--entered the American literary canon. Ergo it plays havoc with the book, immediately de-mystifying Gatsby's roots and otherwise inserting lots of crude "explanatory" flashbacks. In the fashion of the era it was made in, there's practically no attempt at period-correct fashions and decor, as it was thought then that any evocation at a just-prior period's style would be taken by audiences as "old-fashioned."
The most obvious problem is Betty Field's charisma-free Daisy. Daisy should indeed be shallow, but also so enchanting that we understand why Gatsby tracked her down. (Mia Farrow might have been miscast in the 1974 remake, but at least she understood/tried to evoke exactly those qualities.) Field just doesn't have the stuff--she's generic and vacuous in a Hollywood ingénue way. (It's no surprise that she immediately went into TV work after this role--presumably no one was shouting for her to take another big-screen lead.)
Alan Ladd is an interesting choice for Gatsby, though the film just isn't intelligent enough to effectively push him outside his usual acting comfort zone. Still, he gives a respectable performance in this flawed context. Future TV star Macdonald Carey brings zilch to Nick Carraway, unlike the excellent later Sam Waterston or Paul Rudd.
A fair amount of dialogue and the basic narrative arc remain from the novel, but there are also numerous instances where the movie vulgarizes Fitzgerald by needing to "explain" every last story/character nuance rather than letting us intuit them. It might appear a fairly interesting if misfired vehicle for Ladd if it weren't such a huge betrayal of a novel we've since come to hold sacrosanct. Of course, at the time, Hollywood was only looking for cheap sources of storytelling melodrama--and "The Great Gatsby" must have come very cheap.
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