Wednesday, 25 June 2008

The Sun Also Rises (1956)

The Hemingway novel is one of my favorite books and, seeing how bad most adaptations of Hemingway's works are, especially threatening when one considers the barely-there quality of this novel's narrative, this film held out little promise. Well, it's not so bad as it might have been - Rock Hudson isn't in sight - but it's far from the incandescence of the novel, either. Compare the overcharged ebullience of the book's opening dance hall scenes to this film's stiff-assed reproduction of those scenes. Director Henry King tries to maintain a subtlety in the proceedings, but too much so - everything's in place, but the film never shows any vital signs. Casting perennial woodentops Tyrone Power, Mel Ferrer and Ava Gardner, doesn't help. Errol Flynn nails the drunk Mike Campbell precisely, in his mixture of abuse, self-pity, and pathos, and Robert Evans shows some minatory charm, even if he doesn't exactly look tough enough to sell ice cream, nevermind be a matador. The adaptation and expansion are clumsy, as the script is inserted with scenes of Jake Barnes' time in the hospital after his war injury, when he came to know Lady Brett Ashley and was informed of his impotence. Yet it neglects aspects that are vital to the drama as it plays out in the novel - excising Brett's history with her nightmarish first husband, and Robert Cohn's more juvenile aspects. This removes his status as the book's archetypal American Boy-Man, and softens his assault on the bullfighter, which renders him, peculiarly, looking much like the film's hero.

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