The Great Gatsby (1949)
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Ladd was a much better actor than he's generally given credit for, and where Redford made heavy going of showing two levels of the character (wealthy, mysterious Jay Gatsby and hardscrabble Jimmy Gatz), Ladd shifted effortlessly through *four* levels. There's Gatsby, the elegant man of mystery; Gatz, the tough-as-nails racketeer (a screenplay development based on mere hints in the book); Jay, the young man bedazzled by his apparently-limitless wealth; and Jimmy, the little poor boy who never dreamed he could have or deserve so much. And you can always tell which of them is looking through the character's eyes at any given moment.
He didn't get the support he deserved - not from the studio, not from the casting department, and not from the director. Paramount "knew" that any Ladd film was a surefire moneymaker, so they cut every corner they could find. (The film did indeed make money...but not as much as they expected.) The director didn't particularly want to make this film, and his too-casual approach really hurts it. Several key roles are significantly "off" (Betty Field as Daisy, Barry Sullivan as Tom - who is far too suave for the character as written by Fitzgerald, even Macdonald Carey as Nick Carraway, though he tries hard). Several supporting roles were reshaped to align them with the studio's attempt to cash in on a new cycle of gangster films - Lupus (i.e., Wolfsheim) and Klipspringer become Jimmy Gatz's henchmen instead of independent operators. (Klipspringer is played by Elisha Cook, Jr., and allowed to know Gatsby better than anyone else and to comment on him both verbally and musically. He steals every scene that he is in that he doesn't share with Ladd.)
One cameo role from the book was extensively built-up for this version (and completely excised from the 1974 remake): Dan Cody, played by Henry Hull, who is given a Mephistophelean makeup and archly pointed lines like "Old Dan is a devil - but old Dan is always right". He does, in fact, act as a kind of Mephistopheles to Jimmy Gatz's Faust, giving him a warped sense of values that ultimately leads to catastrophe.
Shelley Winters absolutely nailed Myrtle (it already verged on typecasting), and Howard Da Silva could hardly be bettered as her squelched husband George, the proverbial "worm that turns".
In one respect, though, the stingy budget allowed for greater authenticity. Daisy and Jordan really do arrive at Nick's place in a pouring rain, as in the book, and Gatsby really does step out under a rain-spout to create the impression that he too had just arrived (instead of waiting inside for hours, as he had been). In 1974 nobody wanted to damage the actors' elaborate confections, so the weather was pushed aside.
This version is overall less faithful to the book than the 1974 version...but captures its spirit much more accurately.
Because the Robert Redford version was out and available, this version of The Great Gatsby was deep sixed for quite a while. That's a pity because Alan Ladd gave one of his best screen performances in the title role and assessing Ladd as actor isn't fair to him without seeing this film. It would be like it was with John Wayne for decades when Island In The Sky and The High And The Mighty were not available.
Fitzgerald injects himself prominently in the story in the person of Nick Carraway played by MacDonald Carey. Carraway is fascinated by the mysterious Gatsby who has bought one of those rambling mansions on Long Island and now is seeking to break into society. All this because Ladd is still looking for his lost love who is Betty Field, Carey's cousin and also very married now to Barry Sullivan.
Sullivan's maybe rich and old monied, but he's a two timing rat who is out stepping with Shelley Winters, wife of Howard DaSilva who owns a garage. Winters is looking to step up in class herself and sees a meal ticket in Sullivan. But Barry ain't about to ditch Betty for a floozy.
Gatsby is a poor kid who had in drummed into him on a few occasions that money talks. He became a bootlegger because in the economy of the Roaring Twenties that was the way to a fortune. Now he's looking to gain the class that supposedly goes with money. What he doesn't realize is that usually money is laundered through a generation or two before it becomes respectable.
One major change is that Carraway narrates the story from the present 1949 with his wife Ruth Hussey at the gravesite of Jay Gatsby. In the story Hussey's character never marries Carey's character. In fact she herself is no prize as Carey is quite disillusioned with whole lot of the Long Island crowd.
F. Scott Fitzgerald had he lived might not have recognized his work, but I think he would have approved of the way his characters were interpreted by the cast. He tried his own hand at Hollywood screen writing and knew the drill there so to speak.
And next year The Great Gatsby is coming again to the big screen with Leonardo DiCaprio in the title role. I think he might just be the best Gatsby yet. But this one will do.
This 1949 film does have one strike against it from the outset. The Production Code was still strictly being enforced by the Hays Office. Because of that, some elements of the novel needed to be altered slightly to get it past censors. However, I was thrilled that for the most part the story does follow the book rather closely. It's not perfect in this regard, but is much closer than I'd ever expected.
The story is about a man who suddenly bursts onto the social scene on Long Island during the 1920s. Who he is exactly is unknown to most of his new 'friends', but they know that he sure throws great parties at his enormous mansion. But the viewer is left wondering why why would Gatsby go to so much trouble and expense to buy this old mansion and redecorate it from top to bottom and then use it to throw lavish parties? Who was he trying to impress and how, exactly, did he come by so much money? Through the course of the film you learn the answers to all these things. And, what I appreciated it that although the man is very flawed and in some ways a villain, he is also a tragic character— one you cannot help but like and feel sorry for by the end of the picture.
The direction was quite competent as was the acting. However, the star was clearly the Fitzgerald novel—and it's hard imagining ANY version of the story being anything other than excellent. It really is a nice story and offers a lot of great twists. Plus, most importantly, it is so unique. I was also surprised at what a nice job Ladd did in the film —especially since he generally showed limited range in his films. He tended to be very stoic and non-emotional and generally played the same sort of tough guys in nearly all his films. Here, however, he shows more range and vulnerability than a typical Ladd film. So why did Alan Ladd make such a film? Was he forced to do it by the studio? Well, the truth is quite different. According to Ladd's son, David (who talked about the film before this special screening on Sunday night), it was a project Ladd forced his studio, Paramount, to make. They LOVED having him play gangsters, cowboys and the like but Ladd himself was impressed by the story and insisted he get a chance to do it. Sadly, the film did NOT do very well at the box office and was soon lost—and Ladd returned to making the sorts of films he'd been making--- enjoyable, yes, but also limited in style. It makes you wonder what might have happened to his career had the film been a success.
Overall, this film was a real treat. It's an intelligent film for folks who are looking for something with great depth of feeling and human frailty.
The main problem, in our humble opinion, is the flatness of the finished product. The rise of Jay Gatsby into the world of money and power, doesn't quite come across as being real. Then, there is no electricity between himself and Daisy Buchanan, a woman he desired with all his might. The whole atmosphere of wealth is not too evident, maybe because of budget problems, or who knows what. We have seen more splendid mansions than the ones we are taken to visit in this picture.
Although we know Tom Buchanan loves to stray from his wife, his involvement with the slutty Myrtle is not made too clear, as there is only one scene where he picks her on a highway. Buchanan wanted to keep Daisy as a trophy wife to show to the society circles in which he moved.
Alan Ladd does what he can with the material he is asked to play. There is no charisma on his part. The chemistry between Mr. Ladd and Betty Field is not there at all. Miss Field's Daisy doesn't give the viewer any indication of the love she felt for Jay. The best thing in the film are McDonald Carey as Nick Carraway, the narrator, and Ruth Hussey, a great actress that unfortunately doesn't have much to do. Shirley Winters is only seen briefly as Howard DaSilva's cheating wife.
This is a great American novel that deserves a better screen treatment.
imho the made-for-TV version is the best of the three film versions. Tom especially is perfect, and tells you everything Fitzgerald wanted you to know about the rich. Daisy is good and Nick is excellent. The ambiance is perfect. And it's pretty true to the book. In the big budget big screen version, Redford completely misses the complexity of Gatsby and therefore, even if everything else in the movie had been perfect, (and it wasn't bad!) his lack of tension, conflict, hardness, etc. completely scuttles it.
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.
At least Francis Ford Coppola's wordy screenplay for the 1974 film does eliminate all the flashbacks. However, to do this he has been forced to make Sam Waterston, rather than Gatsby or Daisy, the central character. Waterston does a reasonable job, considering the vapid script. On the other hand, Redford, who makes a surprisingly late entrance, does virtually nothing at all. He plays the character with little charisma and in such a stolidly dead-pan, offhanded way that I assumed his constant use of the expression, "old sport", was deliberately designed to mock or annoy his guests.
It is the story of the mysterious Jay Gatsby whose wealth seems to have been accumulated almost with one end in mind: to win back Daisy, the woman he loved and lost years before.
The famous book had much to say about American society during the 1920's. Some of that feeling comes through in this film, but probably not enough to please people who admire the novel. The film has copped some flack over the years.
I think Alan Ladd made a good Gatsby. He is quietly spoken, which belies the things we learn that he has done in his life, which include bootlegging as well as showing leadership and bravery on the battlefield in WW1. Ladd's unsmiling, serious demeanour gives his Gatsby a sense of hidden depths, but Ladd also gives him vulnerability, especially where Daisy is concerned.
Betty Field was an interesting choice for Daisy. The makers of all the versions of the story realised that Daisy has to project something more than pure glamour. Here is F. Scott's Fitzgerald's description of her: "Her face was sad and lovely with bright things in it, bright eyes and a bright passionate mouth a conscientious expression Slenderly, languidly an expression of unthoughtful sadness".
There was controversy over the choice of Betty Field. Apparently the original director quit when the beautiful Gene Tierney wasn't cast in the part. Betty Field, not a typical beauty, was a subtler choice. This film treats Daisy more sympathetically than in the book, her act of betrayal at the end comes as a shock although this is where the filmmakers made the most changes, spelling things out where F. Scott Fitzgerald was more oblique.
The production of the film is adequate if somewhat studio bound, although it is the performances that make or break this film. Familiar Hollywood faces filled out the supporting roles, but the role of Gatsby was critical. As far as I'm concerned, I think Alan Ladd was never better cast. It usually isn't considered his best movie, but I feel it probably is.
The story has enough going for it to make all the movie interpretations interesting. When all is said and done, this one holds up pretty well.
It has been a while since I read the novel, so I was able to detach myself from the source material enough to watch the film from that vantage point. And I have to say, I believe this greatly aided in my enjoyment of the picture. I'm not saying it is a perfect film by far, but as a stand alone film, it is better than the average B melodrama of the period.
However, once I finished the film I began to make comparisons to the novel, which is definitely in my personal all-time top 10 books, and that's where the film went from an 8 to a 7 or 6. Like many of the previous posters mentioned, the film does drastically diminish Gatsby's mystery by laying out his background early on in the story. And this does detract from what most people love about the book. Also, the script does not take enough advantage of it's source material and the wonderful prose of Fitzgerald.
I personally did not find the film extremely miscast and the leads were not a problem for me. Granted they are not what I envisioned Gatsby and Daisy being like when I read Fitzgerald's work, but in my opinion they are able to make the roles work. I thought the secondary leads and the character parts were for the most part well cast and that the actors each made the roles their own.
The problem with the film is that it IS based on the novel. And contrary as to how I was able to watch the film, one should be able to critique this film based on the vantage of comparing it to the novel. If this weren't the case, then the film should never have been titled "The Great Gatsby". So, if one is able to watch the film without constant comparisons to the novel, I think they will better enjoy the viewing experience, but that doesn't excuse the film's shortcomings when it comes to living up to its source material.
There are some misfires in the casting though, the biggest problem being Betty Field's vacuous and almost too sympathetic Daisy, thankfully she doesn't play her too stridently like Mia Farrow did but it was a bland performance that dilutes the character. Barry Robinson is more ideal physically than Bruce Dern but the oily and brutish attitudes and mannerisms are not there(which Dern nailed), he comes across as too suave. The film doesn't look too bad, it is nicely shot and the costumes and sets are very 20s but there is also too much of a film-noir element, if you aren't familiar with the story and book beforehand you'd be convinced that it was like a mystery thriller instead. Visually there is a sense of period but the attitudes not so much, stripping away at the danger, excitement and fun of the Jazz Age(that would be true actually on reflection of both versions). Most of the story is fine, but the ending is a cop-out and it would have been wiser to keep Gatsby a mysterious figure rather than saying off the bat who and what he is and where he came from, which misses the point really of what makes the story itself so alluring, that the character is essentially an enigma. The final third disappoints, reading too much of run-of-the-mill 40s melodrama. Overall, not really a good film but it is also not a bad one, in a way it's a mixed bag. Now onto seeing the TV and Baz Luhrmann versions, Lurhmann's looks as though it could go either way but the TV version looks really promising. 5/10 Bethany Cox
Scott Fitzgerald was upset on a couple of occasions how his novels were adapted for the screen by Hollywood's screenwriters, and - although he was dead long before this movie was done - he might have been right to complain, judging by this film's naive script. Or, maybe his novels are even sillier and more naive than this film, and were actually improved upon by the screen adaptations. Or, the films are pretty much like the novels. I could, of course, read this particular novel to find out, but I just can't be bothered. Fitzgerald's name doesn't exactly inspire me to read any of his books (and I don't mean the way his name sounds.) He was certainly no Heller, Clavell, or Twain. More like Hemingway a lot of noise about nothing.