Madame Bovary (1949): Jennifer Jones, Louis Jourdan, Van Heflin, James Mason, Alf Kjellin, Gladys Cooper, John Abbott, Gene Lockhart, Harry Morgan, Frank Allenby, Ellen Corby, George Zucco, Eduard Franz, Henri Letondal, Esther Somers, Paul Cavanaugh, Frederic Tozere, Vernon Steele, John Ardizoni, Charles Bancroft, Paul Bryar, David Cavendish, Fred Cordova, George Davis, Edith Evanson, Jack George, Stuart Holmes, Karl Johnson, Gracille LaVinder, Bert LeBaron, Manuel Paris, Lon Poff, Constance Purdy, Phil Schumacher, Helen St. Rayner, Sailor Vincent....Director Vincente Minnelli, Screenplay Robert Ardrey.
French novelist Gustave Flaubert's classic masterpiece has enjoyed a long history of film adaptations. This version, from 1949 and directed by Hollywood legend Vincente Minnelli, however, takes the crown for the most faithful, most unique and interesting adaptation of the book. No, it's not perfect and it is by far the most "Hollywood" of the film versions, and it's but one of many films adapted from 19th century novels released at the end of the 1940's (Anna Karenina with Vivien Leigh and Ralph Richardson and "The Heiress" with Olivia De Havilland are others). The cinematography is grand, the sets and costumes are beautiful, perhaps too beautiful and even so, this is a supreme work of cinema and those who have read and enjoyed Madame Bovary will be sure to appreciate this film. Jennifer Jones stars as the eponymous Madame, the doomed "fallen woman" who seeks escape from her dull provincial life and marriage. Gorgeous Jennifer Jones was once an unknown actress in 30's Hollywood until her marriage to David O. Selznick rocketed her to fame. This is possibly her best performance on film, for compared to the vixenish/innocent characters she portrayed in other films, this particular performance is developed and more challenging for her. Rather than portraying Mme. Bovary as victim of fate we are forced to sympathize with, she goes all out in making her appear spoiled, self-centered and careless. Her addictions ? Living luxuriously as if she were a member of French aristocracy. But the truth is far less glamorous. She married a country doctor, Charles (Van Heflin), and was initially happy. But boredom quickly sets in. Charles is constantly away on house-calls, often in distant locales, and house-frau Emma feels trapped. Seeking to live a rich and exciting life, such as the lives of women she has read about in countless romance novels, she makes friends with prominent Parisians when she sets up a salon in her home. She goes to a ball where she meets Rodolphe Boulanger (Louis Jourdan) who becomes her lover. She gives birth to a girl, when she had wanted a boy (to live vicariously through on account of males being free and women having less rights). She neglects her home and pursues her passions with Rodolphe. Ultimately, Rodolphe has used her and tires of the affair, abandoning her after promising an elopement. Things begin to go downhill from there. She takes up another lover, her husband's friend Leon Dupuis (Alf Kjellin). Because she has furnished the home with expensive furniture, wears costly imported gowns from Paris, debts mount and soon there is no money left to pay the house with. In despair, she drinks arsenic and dies. This is not a pretty story. The addition of Gustav Flaubert's court trial (his book was banned in France) is a superb touch. Flaubert (James Mason) defends himself by stating that Mme. Bovary is a figure straight out of reality and that he was only mirroring reality. Madame Bovary's drowns in her own excesses. Paris, too, could die the same way. Minnelli's film is a winner in many respects. The music by Miklos Rozsa is both touching and dramatic. The cinematography by Robert Planck has the feel of old Hollywood costume epic. The costumes are from veteran Hollywood costume designer Walter Plunkett (of Gone With The Wind). The best touches are found within the film's structure. For instance, at the ball, Emma becomes the center of attention and guests go as far as to break windows when she gasps for air after a dizzying waltz. Louis Jourdan as Rodolphe is perfectly cast, and here he is at the beginning of his long career in film. He may not be doing anything particularly good, but he fits the character's shallowness and selfishness (like Madame Bovary's) quite well. Van Helfin as the long-suffering, betrayed husband is terrific. This film, unfortunately, is one that time has forgot and what a shame. There's so many reasons to preserve it: Vincente Minelli (who would marry Judy Garland and father Liza Minnelli) felt this was one of his early masterpieces and would later go on to make other hit films like "Gigi" (working again with Jourdan). If you must watch one Mme. Bovary film, make it this one. It's also highly recommended for viewing in college English classes reading the book.
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