June Issue 2013
Classic Film Review: The Great Gatsby
Jack Clayton’s 1974 film adaptation of The Great Gatsby had all the workings of a great film: a seasoned cast that included Robert Redford, Mia Farrow and Sam Waterson, a screenplay by Francis Ford Coppola and an extravagant set. And yet, it failed to make an impact with audiences. Although fans would be pleased to see how closely the film sticks to the novel’s plot, it somehow lacks its life and depth. Adding to that, the unbearably slow pace of scene to scene transitions makes the film a somewhat lacklustre and dull viewing experience.
The Great Gatsby is, for the most part, based on the observations of Nick Carraway (Waterson), a small-time bond salesman who moves to the West Egg, an affluent town in which Long Island’s wealthiest reside. Despite not sharing their wealth, Nick moves with an apparent, outward ease in this crowd.
Through the use of retrospective voice-over, Nick reveals that he wants “no more privileged glimpses into the human heart.” However, he spares his neighbour, the ostentatiously wealthy Jay Gatsby, of this judgement. Gatsby, too, shows an interest in Nick, as a way of getting closer to his glamorous but superficial cousin, Daisy (Farrow).
Perhaps one of the main reasons the film did not make an impact with audiences was that it failed to get inside the minds of the two protagonists, who seem static rather than the complex characters Fitzgerald penned. Redford is particularly lifeless, which is a pity given his acting capabilities. Bruce Dern also seems miscast for the role of Tom Buchanan, coming across as more of a sulking child than a bully, and Mia Farrow’s high-pitched Daisy is more hysterical than tragic.
As with the Jazz Age, everything looks flawless on the surface, from the distinct 1920s flapper wear to the large mansions, but there is a hollowness to the plot and characters. And in the case of this film, that is probably not intentional.
“Can’t repeat the past?” Lets just hope Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation doesn’t repeat Jack Clayton’s mistakes.
This review was originally published in Newsline’s June 2013 issue under the headline “All That Glitters.”
The writer is a journalist and former assistant editor at Newsline.