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Cuba, December 1958: The professional gambler Jack visits Havana to organize a big Poker game. On the ship he meets Roberta and falls in love with her. Shortly after they arrive in Cuba, ... See full summary »
Nick Carraway, a young Midwesterner now living on Long Island, finds himself fascinated by the mysterious past and lavish lifestyle of his neighbour, the nouveau riche Jay Gatsby. He is ... See full summary »
Nick Carraway, a young Midwesterner now living on Long Island, finds himself fascinated by the mysterious past and lavish lifestyle of his neighbor, the nouveau riche Jay Gatsby. He is drawn into Gatsby's circle, becoming a witness to obsession and tragedy. Written by
How to Mow Down a Millionaire, or, The Worst Waif.
Looking as if it were plucked from the dreaming ear of an impressionable adolescent with Fitzgerald's novel half-open on his bedstand -- and sometimes sounding, alas, as if it were scored by the guy who did episode #93 of Kojak -- there is no reason why this 1974 adaptation of The Great Gatsby shouldn't be better regarded than it is, or even included among other masterpieces of the fertile period. Well, maybe one: Mia Farrow gives an execrable, vaporish performance as Daisy Buchanan that will make you get down on your knees and thank god that we only have to deal with Gwyneth Paltrow. In a way, though, even Farrow's neuroting fits, because this is Fitzgerald as seen through a Tennesee Williams filter. The character of Myrtle's husband, a cipher in the book, is here a sweaty man in overalls who squeezes an oily rag in his hand whenever he stresses out over his wife's infidelities, which is pretty much all the time. What we film folk might call the Karl Malden character.
Unbeknownst to many, this movie was written by Francis Ford Coppola, and is another crown jewel to add to his annus mirabilis of 1974, when he also wrote and directed The Conversation and The Godfather Part II. And what did you do last year? Here he does a wonderfully subtle job with a thankless task, excising most of the celebrated prose passages and too-famous scenes. There's nothing worse than seeing desperate actors try to bring tension to overly familiar texts -- I can never stifle a groan when any actor says "To be or not to be" -- unless of course it's doing reverent voiceovers of Great American Literature. Both of these fatal errors are mostly avoided, but for anyone who wishes the movie were more faithful, they retain the scene where Daisy weeps over Gatsby's shirts. This episode has an intuitive poetic psychology in the book, but goes over like a lead balloon on screen because we expect clearer motivation from flesh and blood people. Such are the limitations of film. But to keep himself interested, and to prevent the proceedings from feeling too dutiful, Coppola gives strange, heretical tweaks to his notorious source throughout, including an assassination scene that likens Gatsby, brilliantly, to JFK.
I don't know much about director Jack Clayton, except that he also did an ace adaptation of Turn of the Screw, retitled The Innocents... But maybe that's enough. This guy FEELS literature. Nothing in this movie looks less than how you idealized it -- even the sunsets are Jazz Age. Robert Redford, too, perhaps sensing he was born to play this role, doesn't fold under pressure but gives a shrewdly understated performance to match the underwritten character, somehow keeping the myth of Gatsby alive despite his all-too-solid presence. In the scene where we first meet him in his office, his solitude framed by the noises of the revellers down in the garden, he projects both neediness and the intimidating force field that comes with extreme wealth, seemingly without doing anything.
A reviewer below me wondered why the men in this movie would go for the shrill, plain women, and suggested there was a gay subtext. Cool. Then the casting of Mia Farrow is subversive instead of insane. I have to admit, when Sam Waterston as Nick Carraway tells Gatsby "You're better than the whole lot of 'em put together!" his delivery has something, shall we say, flamboyant about it, especially in comparison to his wooden restraint hitherto. It's almost as if he stored up all his energy for that one line, to force us to see what a key moment it is between these two young men, and perhaps what's lost when Gatsby meets his end later the same afternoon. But enough speculation. Here's a movie open to any and all interpretations -- sexual, political, poetical.
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