The Great Gatsby

1974, Movie, PG, 144 mins


The color is rich, the photography superb, and the atmospherics of the roaring twenties are realistically and stunningly in evidence in this film version of F. Scott Fitzgerald's masterpiece novel, but that's it. The script is weak, short-cutted to play up scenes the author intended to be understated, particularly those interminable soft-focus love sequences between Farrow and Redford, the direction is haphazard at best, and the acting is positively abysmal by all parties concerned, except that rendered by da Silva, a wonderful old pro who appeared in the 1949 version of this classic tale. Redford essays Gatsby, the charade-playing gangster who loves married Mia from afar, throwing fabulous parties to get her attention, meeting her secretly in Waterston's cottage, renewing his love for her and she for him, each having loved the other in the bittersweet past of WW I and she having married into wealth, he wedding violence. Dern is the smug wealthy husband and Chiles the purring cousin who arranges the assignation between Farrow and Redford. Black plays Myrtle, cheating wife of garageman Wilson (same name as the character) who is seeing Dern on the side. There's a bit of drama--only a bit--when the Long Island aristocrats meet in a sweaty Plaza hotel suite to drink and confront each other--Redford demanding Farrow leave filthy rich Dern, she undecided, Dern in a rage, and Redford ultimately out in the cold and dead in his swimming pool, the murder victim of Wilson who believes Redford has run over Black on the road when it was actually Farrow. The film is really a disgrace to Fitzgerald's wonderful novel. Director Clayton was all wrong for this film, a British helmsman whose sole thrust was to cover the story with a heavy blanket of hot jazz, bootleg gin, and wild parties where ladies in evening gowns and men in tuxedos jump willy-nilly into pools. Clayton obviously misunderstood the story or ignored it purposely, portraying its fringe images as the main attractions. The Coppola script is a hodge-podge that eliminates important elements of the tale; Coppola completely fails to develop Gatsby's character. Fitzgerald's daughter Scottie Smith was paid a whopping $350,000 for the rights to the novel and Redford jumped at the part of Gatsby when Paramount offered it, later stating: "I wanted Gatsby badly." There was trouble right from the beginning when Paramount initially hired Truman Capote to write the script. Capote's screenplay was rejected quickly when he turned it in, and one report had it that he had portrayed Nick (Waterston's role) as a swishy homosexual and Jordan Baker (the role enacted by Chiles) had been transformed into a snaky lesbian. Indignant, Capote sued the studio but dropped his case after a settlement of $110,000 was made to him. Paramount then hired Coppola who spent all of three weeks adapting the great novel for the screen. Coppola later stated that "Clayton should get co-author credit," since the director reportedly worked on the script. The film cost $13 million to produce and vanished with box office receipts that barely inched over the break-even point. Winner of two Academy Awards: Best Scoring and Best Costume Design. leave a comment

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