Hello, everybody. Joe Morella and Frank Segers, your classic movie guys so inspired by the introduction of the recent movie version of The Great Gatsby that we at asked our BOOKS2MOVIES maven Larry Michie to re-examine F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1922 novel.
Larry is sometimes a contrarian, and you’ll be interested to read what he writes about the book that is the basis of not one but four separate films including the current one with Leonardo DiCaprio (above).
“Gatsby” is the saga of an ambitious young man of the 1920’s, a nouveau rich outsider of murky origin who tosses lavish parties on his Long Island estate, and nurses a life-long love for the aristocratic Daisy Buchanan — despite her marriage to the very rich and very boorish Tom Buchanan.
Fitzgerald’s novel isn’t lengthy, a crisp 180 pages or so in paperback, and here’s Larry’s assessment:
The first grumpy thing I have to say is that I have never liked “The Great Gatsby.” I’ve read it several times over many years, and it still makes me squirm. That said, the Fitzgerald novel is widely revered; perhaps taught in many university classes and seminars.
For me, the vile husband of Daisy is revolting, and Gatsby himself makes me want to throw up.
He calls every respectable male ‘Old Sport.’ Apparently he picked up that stupidity from some Englishman. Furthermore, Gatsby glibly tells Nick Carraway, the one sane character in the novel, that he was educated at Oxford, where all the men of his family were educated.
By Nick’s understanding, Gatsby was born as James Gatz, of North Dakota. At least there were some murmurs that Gatsby was importing liquor during prohibition, the one quality the man might have had that would have won my approval.
A few more bits and pieces, if you so desire: Nick Carraway is the character in the novel who is chums with Gatsby. The East Egg and West Egg houses are basically out at the end of Long Island. Nick Carraway commutes to Manhattan, where he, not very successfully in the midst of the depression, attempts to make a living by selling stocks and bonds. Good luck, Nick.
Also: Everyone knows that Daisy’s husband, Tom Buchanan, has a woman stashed away in New York. Just for good measure, Mr. Buchanan, was a muscular brute who was a successful football player at Yale.
Depending on what his studies were, one might be startled. Consider Buchanan’s words: “Civilization is going to pieces… Have you read ‘The Rise of the Coloured Empires’…. The idea is if we don’t look out the white race will be… will be utterly submerged. It’s all scientific stuff; it’s been proved.”
So there’s the guy who married Daisy.
Thanks, Larry. Since we haven’t caught up with the latest screen edition of The Great Gatsby, we went back and took a look at the 1974 Paramount version starring Robert Redford, Mia Farrow, Bruce Dern, Karen Black and Sam Waterston.
This obviously was a “prestige” Hollywood production at the time, produced by Broadway impresario David Merrick (huge name back then but all but forgotten today) with a script by none other than Francis Ford Coppola. The director, Jack Clayton, adopted a workmanlike approach to his subject, and Douglas Slocombe’s cinematography is big on gauzy lushness.
This adaptation of the Fitzgerald is generally good to look at (Ralph Lauren designed the stunning period costumes). The performances range from the very lively (Dern is excellent as the boorish Tom Buchanan) to Indian-store wooden. Redford is great to look at but fails in every way to create an emotionally evocative Jay Gatsby.
A bit of casting trivia: Paramount was the recipient of several pitches from a powerful agent (the late Sue Mengers) on behalf of client Barbra Streisand. She would make a “perfect” Daisy, pleaded Mengers. The role went to Farrow who does a creditable job managing her characters mental and emotional swings.
In Frank’s book, Bruce Dern — 38 when he played nasty Tom in this film — steals the show. Therefore, it’s heartening to hear that the 77-year-old veteran, reduced to B-level horror movies in recent years, won the best actor citation at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival for his role as an alcoholic father in director Alexander Payne’s new black-and-white film, Nebraska.
Mucho congrats to a much underrated actor.