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Robert Z. Leonard
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
This is the second film version of the novel. I have not viewed the 1926 version, but since it is a silent film, and the novel is so chatty, I can hardly think it captures Fitzgerald's vision. The 1974 (3rd) version suffers from two or three problems that overwhelm the lovely props and costumes - an abysmal score, the debatable effect of Redford's grin, and casting mousy Mia Farrow as money-voiced Daisy - a role she cannot fill. Sam Waterson and Bruce Dern are well cast but then mostly have to stand around rather than play off their contrasting physical types. Karen Black perfectly embodies the excess vitality that motivates Tom's adultery. The 2000 A&E/Granada (4th) version comes closer with a more believable Daisy (Mira Sorvino) and an equally everyman Nick (Paul Rudd), but not a better Jay, and then focuses too much on the furniture of Gatsby's criminal activities. It boasts a real Owl Eyes, too. The 1949 version is not perfect either; we can only hope the 2012-oops!-2013 version finally nails it. The '49 version casts Nick as a bit of a dull boy, and fails most by insisting on "squaring" everything, losing in the process the essential melancholy, unfulfilled longing, and insulted morality of the novel. Perhaps it's an artifact of the period, America embracing a sanitized Freudian relativism, putting the Second WW behind it like the First, but this time too sober to try anything like the Roaring 20s. Betty Field is a convincing Daisy, though she falls pretty far from a Louisville débutante. Jordan is not nearly arch enough, Tom not nearly imposing enough. And Dr. TJ Eckleburg...well Gatsby's henchman can't resist explicating a symbol the audience should be allowed to figure out for itself. After an unsteady start, the pace of the film proceeds very well through most of the scenes of the novel, sadly failing to give Shelley Winters the screen time to better develop her Myrtle Wilson. And here's Howard da Silva suitably muted as Wilson, Ed Begley too muted as "Lupus"(Wolfsheim), and Elisha Cook, Jr in an expanded Klipspringer role. In fact, it's almost as if the film makers wanted to write Nick out and replace him with Klipsringer, but didn't dare. They should have, because Cook brings more to the screen than Macdonald Carey. All in all, a very workmanlike adaptation, making use of much of the novel's narration by transforming it into passable dialog, and though the shot composition is a bit straight-on, the camera-work is strong and the editing spot on.
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