Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5. USA, 1949. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Screenplay by Robert Ardrey, based on the novel by Gustave Flaubert. Cinematography by Robert H. Planck. Produced by Pandro S. Berman. Music by Miklos Rozsa. Production Design by Cedric Gibbons, Jack Martin Smith. Costume Design by Walter Plunkett, Valles. Film Editing by Ferris Webster. Academy Awards 1949.
Vincente Minnelli’s sumptous adaptation of the classic Gustave Flaubert novel suffers when it opens and closes with Flaubert himself (played by James Mason) defending his work in a public courtroom. Presumably this was to give forties film audiences a chance to understand the original novel in its historical context, but it was probably also a way to assuage viewers that in case they didn’t enjoy watching a movie that glorified an adulteress, there were other “decent” folk out there like them who felt the same way. Jennifer Jones gives one of her more bearable performances as the headstrong, frivolous teenager who practically destroys her entire world when the dreams she conjured up in her childhood bedroom are nowhere near the reality that she discovers upon her youthful marriage to a provincial doctor (Van Heflin). To overcome her frustration and boredom with being a country wife, she takes on a lover (Louis Jourdan) in the hopes of running off with him. If you can handle the melodramatic story, you’ll enjoy some of the more inspired visual sequences that were created by Minnelli’s exceptional skill: the ballroom dance complete with the smashing of windows to cool its guests down is a classic, as is the climactic moment where Jones awaits her lover’s carriage that she hopes is coming to take her away forever. The 1991 remake with Isabelle Huppert is far superior, particularly as Huppert’s being older gives the plot a little more dramatic weight.