The Great Gatsby (1974)

Nick Carraway (Sam Waterston) leaves the mid-west to live in New York. While there he meets his neighbor Jay Gatsby (Robert Redford) and connects with him. Nick soon finds out that Gatsby wants to connect with his former lover Daisy (Mia Farrow).

Director: Jack Clayton

Cast: Robert Redford, Mia Farrow, Sam Waterston, Bruce Dern, Lois Chiles, Karen Black, Scott Wilson

MPAA Rating: PG for mild language and adult situations

Fun Fact: A few names were considered for the role of Gatsby. Warren Beatty was considered, but he also wanted directing duties with it. Steve McQueen was also considered for the role but was rejected.

The Great Gatsby is one of my favorite novels to read. Ever since I first read it in high school for American literature, I was hooked on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece. It gave me a glimpse of what life was like in the 1920’s where everything was basically a party. People looked like they were out having a good time and loaded with money. I read the novel every few years I read the novel, and this was one of the year’s that I decided to pick it up and give it another go. I decided why not check one of the film versions? I saw the 1974 back in high school as it was the only widely available version at that time (2005) before the 2013 version was even considered to be made.

Francis Ford Coppola wrote the screenplay to this version and I have to give quite a bit of credit here. The film is one of the more accurate adaptions of a novel that I have seen. When it comes to adapting novels, the writer has to pick and chose what should go into the movie or cut from it. A lot of the dialogue used in the novel is used and many major scenes are as well. This is both a good thing and a bad thing for this film though. Coppola had to create dialogue for some scenes between Daisy and Gatsby, since Nick is the narrator of the novel, he does not have access to the conversations they have in the novel. With all of this going on, the film goes at a slower pace and it is an instance where something is going for a little too long. The film is almost two and a half hours long, and it would have been alright to cut some of the more repetitive scenes from the script. We get quite a bit of scenes with Daisy and Gatsby and they could have cut around two or three of those and the movie would have flowed a little bit better.

With the script and a novel of source material at hand, director Jack Clayton presents us a mixed bag of visuals to are honestly more on the bland side. In his novel Fitzgerald gives us vivid detail on what life was like in the 1920’s. Gatsby’s parties are written in such detail that the reader is transported from where they are and put in the middle of the party. The party scenes presented in this film are underwhelming. We just have scenes of people dancing and it is not that exciting. There are certain scenes that I think Clayton should have reshot because they come off as awkward. Clayton does not get any emotion from the characters and it is a shame because it is an emotional story. Some visuals that deserves praise is the set pieces and costumes. It gives the film an authentic look of the 1920’s. When viewing the film, I was transported to a different era and loved seen everything from the costumes, cars, and the buildings that brought it to life.

We also get a mixed bag of performances from the whole cast. Looking at the cast list there are a lot of talented and legendary names to it. Robert Redford was fine as Gatsby, but he has no chemistry with Mia Farrow. There is no emotion between them as when they characters reunite for the first time, nothing really happens. Farrow has stated that it was personal reasons as Redford would be in his trailer after filming so they did not really get to know each other off set so that could be the reason they were off. I always thought that Bruce Dern was miscast as Tom as in the novel Tom is described as a hulking athlete and Dern is slimmer in size. That does not stop Dern from really brining the character and his horrible qualities to life though. Dern delivers the best performance through line deliver and actions and I had started to warm up to his performance over the years. Sam Waterston was great as Nick and I enjoyed every minute he was on screen. He was everything I pictured in Nick as we go into this new world with him. Lois Chiles has limited screen time, but she delivers a fine performance as Jordan Baker.

Overall, as an adaption of one of my favorite novels, The Great Gatsby from 1974 is a mixed bag of film making. We get some nice visuals that make the 1920’s authentic and the script is one of the more faithful adaptations of a novel. While it mirrors the novel closely, we lack something that is deep from the novel and that is emotion. Our two lead characters that the story is based around had no emotion to it. The relationship between the two is monotone and that is one of the bigger crimes. The problem is that most of supporting cast outshines the two leads, especially Bruce Dern. While Dern does not match the novel description, he shines through his actions and line delivery. I would only recommend this film if you want to see an accurate adaptation, but be prepared, the film will drag for some people.

Verdict: Middle Ground

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