“Is it a crime to want things to be beautiful?”
Gustave Flaubert (James Mason) defends his novel Madame Bovary, about a farm girl named Emma (Jennifer Jones) who marries a local doctor (Van Heflin), but is quickly disappointed that her status hasn’t risen sufficiently. Jones racks up debts with a local lender (Frank Allenby) while flirting with a clerk (Alf Kjellin) and eventually having an affair with a shiftless playboy (Louis Jourdan). How will kind Dr. Bovary respond when he learns about the depths of his wife’s deceit?
Vincente Minnelli directed this lavish MGM adaptation of Gustave Flaubert’s “obscene” novel about infidelity, social aspirations, and personal ruin. It’s undeniably challenging to sympathize with Jones’s Emma Bovary — especially given how selfless and kind her husband (Heflin) comes across — which makes it especially hard to watch her continued self-destruction. Her pursuit of attention and “fine things” leads to not only her own downfall, but the ruin of her marriage and an inability to effectively parent her young daughter. The cinematography, sets, and costumes are all top-notch (particularly during the acclaimed “waltz sequence”, which shows Emma at the height of her self-perceived desirability) but viewers may find themselves simply dreading the inevitable outcome. The narrative book-ending of Flaubert defending his novel in court is a unique way to share the historical infamy of this work, but doesn’t do much to actually shift our impressions one way or another.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Robert Plancke’s cinematography
- The expertly crafted waltz sequence
- Fine sets and costumes
- Miklos Rozsa’s score
No, though it’s worth a one-time look.