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THE SUN ALSO RISES was 20th Century Fox's big-budget 'prestige' film
for 1957, based on one of Hemingway's best-known novels, shot on
location in Paris and Mexico (substituting for Spain), and starring the
studio's long-reigning superstar, Tyrone Power, surrounded by some of
the screen's most legendary actors (Ava Gardner, Errol Flynn, Mel
Ferrer, and Eddie Albert). With all the talent assembled in front of
and behind the camera, producer Darryl F. Zanuck felt confident that
the film would be an enduring classic for both his own independent
company, and his studio.
It wasn't, unfortunately...
The problem with the film was a fundamental one; the 'Lost Generation' Hemingway wrote of were disillusioned young Americans, who, shattered by the horror and brutality of a meaningless 'Great War', lost their innocence, and became a 'live fast, die young' crowd of expatriates, settling in Paris. These were men and women in their twenties and thirties...yet the actors chosen to portray them were all ten to twenty years older! The most glaring example of this can be seen in the film's star, Tyrone Power. As newspaperman Jake Barnes, a vet whose war injuries render him impotent, unable to satisfy the woman he loves (Ava Gardner), and, therefore, the 'perfect' observer of his love's romantic entanglements with other men, Power seems more a victim of a midlife crisis than a young man devastated about losing his manhood. In his next-to-last film, Power, at 44, was aging badly, his hair thinning and his slender, 'movie idol' good looks surrendering to a middle-aged paunch. Only when he smiles do the years seem to lift, a bit, and a ghost of the "too handsome to be true" younger man appears. Adding to his physical deterioration was an undiagnosed heart condition, which would kill him, in less than two years.
His co-star, Ava Gardner, at 35, was going through a decline, as well, but, as with her character, Lady Brett Ashley, her vices were the cause of her self-destruction. Both Brett and Ava were hedonistic women too fond of booze, bullfighters, and nightlife, and in Ava's case, once-classic features were beginning to develop bags and wrinkles that makeup and lighting couldn't hide. Seeing Power, Mel Ferrer, Flynn, and young future film mogul Robert Evans (as a bullfighter), all lusting after her can lead a viewer to wonder if the War had impaired everyone's eyesight, as well as their judgment!
Coming off best are Errol Flynn and Eddie Albert. Flynn, at 48, long past his 'glamorous' prime (he and Power had been Hollywood's best-looking 'swashbucklers' of the early 40s), had become a very credible character actor, usually portraying variations of himself. His 'Mike Campbell', an alcoholic who is impoverished but still clinging to his pride, was, sadly, a dead-on assessment of Errol Flynn, as well. Like Power, he would be dead in two years, a victim of his own excesses. On the other hand, Eddie Albert, at 49, had long been health-conscious, and his performance as a drunk was simply good acting; paired with Flynn, they 'steal' the film, particularly during the famous Pamplona bull run, when the duo flee for their lives (while guzzling wine), and Flynn attempts to use a bad check as a cape to 'fight' a bull!
The drama seems overdrawn, the romance lacks 'fire', and the resolution is a hollow one. Even with the pretty scenery, Hugo Friedhofer's soaring film score, and Henry King's skill as a director, THE SUN ALSO RISES fails to generate more than a curiosity value, at the sight of so many actors, past their prime, trying to seem youthful and dynamic.
The studio just released the film on DVD; seeing photos of Power, Flynn, and Gardner between takes, and hearing director Henry King's audio reminiscences of the production are possibly more entertaining than the feature, itself!
This is a depressing movie on several levels, the first being the
actual story, about the "Lost Generation" after World War I hanging out
in Europe and being drunk and/or unhappy and disillusioned. For me it's
one of those movies to watch when you really want to dwell on life's
misery and wax philosophical and feel like there's something romantic
The second depressing thing is the casting, which is a major problem. Tyrone Power had been the most important star at 20th Century Fox for many years - in fact, when he became a star in the late 1930s, each film he made was a bigger hit than the one before. He literally kept the studio solvent. He was cast in this film at the age of 42 which was near the end of his life. He and the rest of the actors are all too old. I suppose to have made it with younger actors would have made it less of a big movie, but in fact, people like Jeffrey Hunter, Robert Wagner (both Fox actors) and Natalie Wood were closer to the right age. But you can see how that would have made it seem a lighter film.
In Power's case, I have read several comments here about how bad he looked. Were he alive, I'm sure he would thank you, as his fondest desire in life was to lose his looks. As far as he was concerned, his impossibly beautiful appearance wrecked his acting ambitions. The funny part of it is, in candids taken during the filming, one of which is included in Mai Zetterling's All Those Tomorrows (she was his then girlfriend and on the set with him) he looks absolutely fantastic, healthy and tanned, not at all what is being described here. He also had all his hair for those who seemed to think he was balding. His hair was downright luxuriant in Solomon and Sheba, the film he was making when he died. In fact, in photos taken one hour before he died, he looked better than he did in "The Sun Also Rises." Go figure. Zetterling states that he reported to the set daily on 3 hours sleep and took pills to stay awake to attend social functions that he felt were necessary. He told Zetterling that he was pretty impressed with how bad Errol Flynn looked. Apparently he was envious. Zetterling felt once filming started that he looked exhausted and haggard, but he didn't seem to care. Frankly, I thought he looked fine, particularly in the beginning of the movie. I think you can tell the scenes where he was running on no sleep. And as far as looking bad, what about Ava Gardner? At 35, she was a mess. Someone in the comments said that with all these men chasing after Brett, people would think the war had made everyone's eyesight dim. That's really not so - Gardner until the day she died had men falling for her right and left, including the husband of one interviewer who brought her flowers every day his wife spoke with Gardner. She was a very magnetic and sexy woman, and we can assume Brett Ashley had the same gifts.
That all being said, the ages are wrong but the acting is right, even if it comes not from disillusioned youth but disillusioned middle age. This is particularly true of Power as the impotent Jake Barnes and Gardner as Lady Ashley. I would think as far as the emotions, the roles were very close to their own lives at that point. Power felt he had achieved nothing; he was supporting wives he no longer loved who lived in houses he paid for and would never enter, and he was only proud of a few films. In the last years of his film-making, Tyrone Power turned in some wonderful performances in this movie, Abandon Ship, and Witness for the Prosecution. A shame he wasn't able to continue and do the sorts of roles he wanted.
Gardner's activities are well documented. She drank all night and slept all day and bullfighters were her thing, though "my man Frank" as she called him was always in the background.
Flynn and Eddie Albert are terrific - the dissipation was starting to pay off well for Errol Flynn, but unfortunately he wouldn't live long enough to make much money from it. These two had the showiest roles - in fact, in a somewhat lifeless film, they lifted it up. Mel Ferrer's character wasn't sufficiently fleshed out to tell if he was doing a good job or not.
If you can put the ages aside, this is a good, not very good, and not great film - but great as far as production values and acting. Hemingway is very difficult to put on screen, as we all know from sitting through films based on his books and stories.
A final note: For those who didn't like Power's performance, consider Jake's wild enthusiasm over the bullfights. While Power was making Blood & Sand, he actually had to attend a bullfight. Of course, a great deal was made of him and he was sitting with his wife, Annabella, down front and center. Unfortunately he became violently ill over the whole thing. In order to leave with some dignity, Annabella said she was sick so they could get out of there. So give the man some credit - Jake sure did look like he was enjoying himself.
There are several films from the '40's to the '60's that I prefer to
experience, rather than jump into Pauline Kael's skin. Let her
successors dissect and occasionally say something of pith.
George Herbert said, "Time is the rider that breaks youth."
All the principal characters in this sad tale are broken. In their dissipation and aimless, joyless pursuits, they didn't stand for much of anything. It has been said that the cast was just too old for these roles. But they looked perfect for their roles, a group of people who were caught in a tepid tide pool, waiting to be washed out to sea. They were all tarnished goods.
I was especially impressed by Errol Flynn's performance. Of all of them, he was the most pitiful. Remember the song, "Tired of living and scared of dying?" That's him-a far cry from Captain Peter Blood.
Next is Robert Cohn (Mel Ferrer). He was a rich aimless child, eager to fasten himself to others, like a limpet. College had done nothing for him, except to make him an even greater useless snob. Then Lady Brett transformed him into a swine before casting him aside, because 'she couldn't stand his damned suffering.' After a crushing defeat at the hands of Brett and her bullfighter, he wisely headed home to Frances, if she would still have him.
Now we come to Jake and Lady Brett Ashley. These two truly loved one another, but in a very unhealthy way. She lost a husband to the Great War and never recovered. He gave "more then his life" to the war. His impotence was probably not the real reason Brett would not marry him, nor he, her. Damaged goods.
This film is excellent. Important, as is the book, emotional Tours De Force. Hemmingway is incredible.
Because of one weak link -- the unfulfilled love between Jake (Ty Power) and
Brett (Ava Gardner) -- a series of futile events take place, also of
unrequited love that each involved player has to deal with, some through
anger others through forgetfulness in partying and drink. However, Saturday
night revelry runs its course and relentlessly a Monday morning awaits
It's a kind of roller-coaster ride at first where the individuals seem so intent on taking from life all they can get from it, as if they were soon to leave it behind, an aftermath no doubt of the First War when most had no tomorrows to live or plan for.
I've seen this movie many times and it still draws my attention, that's how excellent the actors and settings are, not to mention the spectacular photography of the Pamplona bull run (always dangerous and still so even to this day) and the pageantry of the bullfight scenes in the ring.
This is one movie that I easily recall most scenes from because they are so much a part of how real life is and not how we wish it could be. A thoughtful tale of life's experiences.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
'The Sun Also Rises' is a movie in which a lot happens and nothing happens. Maybe it would be better to say, nothing means anything. Which may be the point Ernest Hemingway was trying to make in the novel the film is based on. We follow a group of people, some who have known each other and some who have just met, as they make their way on a sort of moveable feast (sorry, couldn't resist) across France and Spain. They make witty conversation, argue, eat, drink a lot, go to the bullfights, fall in and out of love, and occasionally come to blows. Lady Brett Ashley (Ava Gardner) is more or less in love with Jake (Tyrone Power) but over the course of the movie manages to flirt, have affairs, or become engaged to just about every other prominent male character. They include Robert (Mel Ferrer), Mike (Errol Flynn), Bill (Eddie Albert), and Pedro (Robert Evans). I suppose depending on one's mood, one could read any number of meanings into the plot: the hopelessness of love, the eccentricities of human nature, the futility of life itself, or maybe that the best thing one can do in trying to deal with any of these is to get drunk in as many different places as possible. The novel, as I recall, had a good deal more style than the film and was worth reading simply for the enjoyment of Hemingway's tough, spare prose and dialogue. It didn't add up to much but it was a good read. The movie is tedious and pointless for the most part, and badly cast. The characters seem too old, and hence foolish, for traipsing around Paris and San Sebastian to no purpose. The bloated screenplay makes it seem as though their ramblings and besotted adventures MUST have some meaning, but when it's all over, it's apparent they don't. There is an interesting bit of casting in Errol Flynn portraying playboy Mike Campbell, the drunkest of all, who has a memorable line when he explains that he went bankrupt "two ways- gradually and all of a sudden." As has been pointed out, Flynn seems to be almost playing himself, and his scenes are the best. But they are not enough to sustain 'The Sun Also Rises,' a film that takes over two hours to arrive nowhere.
Tyrone Power was the quintessential choice for the Jake Barnes role. Ava Gardner was superb as the modern day Aphrodite. Errol Flynn and Eddie Albert were charming and added just the right amount of comic relief along with being terrific as the supporting cast. Mel Ferrer added to the opposite end of the spectrum. His dramatic scenes gave us the reality check needed to keep the movie from going to far in one direction. The background scenes were absolutely beatiful! Paris, Spain, the bull fights! Finally the movie shows just how post-war people can lose direction in their lives while looking for love in all the wrong places. This was story telling at it's best!
This was made in 1957, when Ty Power was 43, and getting a bit dull and
paunchy. The whole cast was a mite ripe for the film. If the same cast had
made it ten years earlier, it would have been a real treat.
Problem is, in 1947, none of that cast had put themselves through enough agony to convey the world-weariness of Hemingway's 20-something crew. Power was still a one dimensional pretty boy, although morphing into a real actor with films like Razor's Edge and Nightmare Alley; Ava Gardner was a slick chick on the MGM lot who had been married to Mickey Rooney, but otherwise didn't have a lot of movie experience. Errol Flynn was deteriorating noticeably, but hadn't acquired the self-knowledge he demonstrated in The Sun Also Rises.
If the Cast of '57 could have conveyed their panache in '47, it might have worked really well. As it is, only Flynn really rises to the occasion. Ironically, he steals the film in a distinctly supporting role. He is the only one who captures the tragedy of a misspent life - the others just seem cranky and self indulgent.
It was great to see 2 of Hollywood's film idols on a film together. Tyrone did look tired in this movie. Errol and Eddie Albert as two drunks were very funny. Tyrone, as always, was great as a jaded WWI veteran. Ava Gardner was also very interesting to watch and I thought she played her character very well. The bullfighting was very graphic for its time, however, the actor who played the bullfighter couldn't act.
What can one say about a movie which has so many stars in its cast, was directed by Henry King, has excellent scenes of bullfighting, and great scenery? With all its faults, it is quite worth seeing. I was impressed with the performances of Errol Flynn, which was basically playing himself and Robert Evans. Even though Evans barely speaks, he is able to show the fear the bullfighter feels and his portrayal of Pedro Romero is faultless. Mel Ferrer is a convincing Cohn, a man who tries too hard, and suffers too much. Tyrone Power is at his best as Barnes, a writer that became impotent due to war wounds, and is a resigned observer of the affairs of Lady Brett(Ava Gardner), his great love. Brett is a hedonistic woman who tries to compensate her impossible love for Barnes. Is there a solution for them, the film asks and gives a slight hint of an an answer by mentioning religion. It is a film you enjoy while it lasts, but leaves you with an empty feeling.
I've always loved this book. I saw this movie the last time when I was in a college Literature class. My memory was that it was a Cinemascope film on a conventional screen. When Tyrone Power got into bed, the bed was about three feet long, as was his body. Anyway, I now remember that this is pretty much a dull film. It is talky and not very well edited. While the bullfight scenes were interesting, they were narrated by Power so we would know what was going on. The one thing that was personal is Ava Gardner. I couldn't take my eyes off her. Especially when she was in her party girl mode, she is utterly striking. I also enjoyed Errol Flynn, the Hemingway of the story. His character has some life. Power as Jake Barnes is a limp fish in this one. He is so laid back that he wet-blankets every scene. Of course, a war injury has left him impotent and he will never have Lady Brett. This sad fact is there in the beginning and everyone knows, so he has pretty much given up. There are a couple times when he thaws out, but it is hard to feel a lot of sympathy for him. In the book, he is portrayed in such sad terms. I'd forgotten that Robert Evans played the bullfighter, Romero. I am haunted by his cockeyed look as he peers into the crowd. It is the strangest look. One thing that does come out of this is that I have decided not to become a bullfighter anytime soon. This film hasn't been available for a long time, so when it was released, I got it right away. It was just out of curiosity and I have to admit I was disappointed.
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