Great Gatsby, The (1949)

“If a smart man sees something he wants, he just stakes his claim to it!”

Synopsis:
A bonds salesman (Macdonald Carey) recounts the story of his second cousin, Daisy Buchanan (Betty Field), who married a womanizing wealthy man (Barry Sullivan) rather than wait for her true love — Jay Gatsby (Alan Ladd) — to return from World War I and make a name for himself. Eleven years later, bootlegger Gatsby purchases a home near Daisy, determined to win back her love; meanwhile, Sullivan carries on an affair with the unhappy wife (Shelley Winters) of a garage shop owner (Howard Da Silva).

Genres:

Review:
Other than a lost silent film from 1926, this hard-to-find flick — made after F. Scott Fitzgerald’s death, but before his book became such a widely-read staple in American high schools — is notable as the first cinematic attempt to translate this classic novel for the screen. Alan Ladd is well-cast as the title character, a self-made millionaire whose love for a “careless” socialite becomes his downfall. Unfortunately, the film itself is rather forgettable, deviating from the novel in its focus on Gatsby’s hard-scrabble past and criminal background as a bootlegger (Elisha Cook, Jr. shows up as one of his employees), and highlighting the potential romance between Nick Carraway (Carey) and a cynical golfer-friend (Ruth Hussey) of the Buchanans. This adaptation remains permanently overshadowed by the big-budget version — co-starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow — released in 1974, which unfortunately also fails to “do justice” to the book and its enduring themes.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • John Seitz’s cinematography

Must See?
No; this one is simply a curiosity for those interested in seeing all available adaptations of the novel.

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One Response to “Great Gatsby, The (1949)”

  1. First viewing. Not must-see – although, yes, fans of the novel may be curious (in spite of its flaws).

    Whether or not this adaptation is a good rendering of the novel may not be the point here. I read it in high school and I don’t remember it well (I can’t say I have much feeling for Fitzgerald’s work in general). Of what I do recall, it may be that – more than the events of the story (as streamlined in this film) – ‘The Great Gatsby’ may be more significant for the way Fitzgerald told his tale. It may be his actual writing that suffers most when brought to the screen.

    This version is certainly more watchable than the 1974 version (which is a sort of torture to sit through). But that’s still not saying much. Enough effort seems to have gone into the production aspect but it’s oddly uninvolving (with the plot feeling like it’s being rushed-through), a fair amount of the dialogue doesn’t sound all that natural and the performances come off as surface-level.

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