Cinemalphabet: G is for The Great Gatsby (1974)
Ever since hearing Baz Luhrmann plans to remake The Great Gatsy in 3-D I have been casually interested in revisiting the 70s 2D version. I can’t say this film is a fave or that I even like F. Scott much. I do know that the cast of this film: Redford, Farrow, Bruce Dern, Sam Waterston, Lois Chiles and great character actor Edward Herrmann is pretty fantastic (because they’re all so pretty and not necessarily because the acting’s pretty) and reason enough to consider giving this movie a spin. That said, the movie is okay, which means as a Francis Ford Coppola script, it’s a disappointment. But it’s worth considering as nothing more as a convenient way to see a lot of actors when they were young all at the same time.
The acting is the first thing that tends to elicit criticism from me. Mia Farrow and Bob got the bulk of the nastiness. Farrow’s harpy overacting provided an interesting contrast to Bob’s solid birch wooden acting. Bruce Dern and Lois Chiles are really the only actors who seem to be there in the moment. That’s the mediocre acting. Now the good acting is solely the domain of Sam Waterston who seems resigned to the fate of having this entire hot mess rest on his slouchy shoulders.
Roger Ebert is much kinder to the acting:
Oh, we’re told, to be sure: The sound track contains narration by Nick that is based pretty closely on his narration in the novel. But we don’t feel. We’ve been distanced by the movie’s overproduction. Even the actors seem somewhat cowed by the occasion; an exception is Bruce Dern, who just goes ahead and gives us a convincing Tom Buchanan. We don’t have to be told the ways in which Tom is indifferent to human feeling, because we can sense them. But we can’t penetrate the mystery of Gatsby. Nor, to be honest, can we quite understand what’s so special about Daisy Buchanan. Not as she’s played by Mia Farrow, all squeaks and narcissism and empty sophistication. In the novel, Gatsby never understands that he is too good for Daisy. In the movie, we never understand why he thought she was good enough for him. And that’s what’s missing.
Throughout the film it’s hard not to wonder if Coppola has actually read the novel on which his screenplay is based, as much of the script lacks the punch that fans of the novel (I’m not one) have come to love. Of course the physicality and trappings of affluence are on point; but that’s not a difficult element to translate to the screen. The emotional tone is off and while the novel and film adaptation isn’t exactly a black comedy, much of its failings make me laugh as though I was watching an episode of Soap.
It will be interesting to see how Luhrmann will overcome the clunkiness inherent in attempting to translate the distinctive prose while also trying to bring the narrative into the 21st century. The cast – Leo, Tobey and Carey Mulligan – already suggest things are not going to be improved much and things will be pretty much business as usual. As for this 3D business; perhaps it will prove a distracting element redirecting the audience’s attention away from the shortcomings of the film, the way a flapper’s swinging fringe dress can distract from her meager dancing skills.