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French author Gustave Flaubert is on trial for writing the "indecent" novel "Madame Bovary." To prove that he wrote a moral tale, Flaubert narrates the story of beautiful Emma Bovary, an adulteress who destroyed the lives of everyone she came in contact with. Written by
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The Breen Office opposed the film, saying that it had too many controversies and innuendo; everything from the make-up to the kissing scenes had to be slightly toned down to appease the censors. See more »
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Though I'm sure that the various French dramatizations of Madame Bovary are probably superior to this film, this English language version that MGM did in 1949 is as good as any we would have gotten from Hollywood. of that era. Jennifer Jones, Van Heflin, Louis Jourdan, and James Mason were unfortunately hampered by the Code in this version.
MGM's version incorporates the author right into his story. James Mason plays Gustave Flaubert and the film opens with him on trial for authoring indecent material as the French censors of the day saw Madame Bovary. While on the witness stand defending his work, he tells the story of his creation Emma Bovary, a girl with silly romantic notions who brings tragedy all around because of them.
Jennifer Jones is Emma and imagine Bernadette Soubirous who instead of having a divine experience has the misfortune to have other things peak her interest as an adolescent. She reads a whole lot of romantic novels who give her exaggerated notions about the nature of love.
She lives in a pretty dull town in Normandy which was also where Flaubert himself hailed from and which he satirizes in acid in this work. She marries solid, dependable Van Heflin who's a doctor and who she hopes will give her a better life.
It's in Heflin's character that the Code watered down what Flaubert was trying to say. Here he's an upright guy, a lot on the dull side, but dependable. In the novel he's as much desiring of social climbing as Jones is. In fact in the film he refuses to perform an operation that might gain him fame and success because he knows he's not qualified to do it. In the novel he does the operation and it ends in disaster all around.
Jones takes lovers Louis Jourdan and Alf Kjellin and runs up bills that put Heflin into financial disaster. All the while refusing to face the truth about life and herself.
Given the Code restrictions director Vincente Minnelli does as best as he can with his cast. James Mason makes a brilliant and erudite Flaubert on the stand. But considering he was on trial for indecency by not showing the alleged indecency to the fullest the Code defeated what could have been a classic.
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