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Jay Gatsby (Robert Redford), a handsome millionaire, with a mysterious past and current connections in the business of bootlegging and gambling, tries to crash into Long Island society to steal Daisy Buchanan (Mia Farrow), the golden girl he had once loved and lost, from her boorish husband Tom (Bruce Dern). Blind to the consequences of meddling in the affairs of the masters and mistresses of old money, Gatsby’s obsessive love for Daisy eventually leads to tragedy.

Review by Keith Lofthouse:
The third of four films to attempt F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “unfilmable” book wrought as much rancour behind the scenes that raged in the novel about the soulless 1920s society Fitzgerald despaired of. Robert Evans, the head of production at Paramount, heeded the craving of his actress wife Ali McGraw who was desperate to play Daisy … except that nobody else wanted her. Warren Beatty and Jack Nicholson would only sign if McGraw agreed to a smaller part and Marlon Brando (who was 20 years too old for the role anyway) wanted too much money. The domestic squabbling was settled when McGraw filed for divorce due to her affair with Steve McQueen who, ironically, was Evans’ own choice for Gatsby.

But the jostling continued. Candice Bergen, Katharine Ross and Faye Dunaway tested for Daisy. British director Jack Clayton (also an Evans choice) trialled Farrow in London. Evans liked her “mystical quality;” Clayton found her “vulnerable and fragile,” but Francis Ford Coppola, who churned out a screenplay in just three weeks after the incumbent Truman Capote tried to turn key characters into homosexuals, only saw Farrow as being too ethereal and too lightweight. And he was right. It was ludicrous to imagine the handsome Gatsby mooning for years over this insipid coquette and hosting glitzy parties in the hope of attracting her attention. Obsessively he seeks to re-ignite the flames of a past passion when - take one look at her - she is really more likely to douse them. Redford himself was too smooth; too urbane to truly affect the rough edges of the enigmatic character that the author never fully fleshed out in his book.

Though the screenplay is faithful to Fitzgerald, too little is revealed of Gatsby’s Midwest origins, so Redford is caught short, scrambling for the nuances that are so essential for understanding what made Gatsby tick. His performance is often compared unfavourably with Alan Ladd’s more thoughtful reading in the 1949 version, even if, in the physical sense at least, Redford seems right at home gracing the manicured mansions of the idle rich. The film grinds on oblivious to notions of pace and purpose as it dwells on an age of hedonism and parties. Bruce Dern makes impact as Daisy’s callous husband, while Karen Black, with lust seeping from every pore, scores as the unfortunate Myrtle Wilson. Sam Waterston gives an intelligent, restrained performance as Gatsby’s neighbour, Nick Carraway, serving as observer, narrator and finally, as judge.

Clayton directs, not without evidence of subtlety, symbolism and some flair, stoking up the thematic contrast between the haves and the not-quite-haves, most effectively with a cut from the sumptuous feast underway in the Gatsby kitchen to the sad steak sizzling in Nick’s frying pan. It is Nick who, in a single word more meaningful (if not more resonant than “Rosebud”) sums up the sickness of a society gone to seed. …“Daisy,” he sighs by way of a damning reproach. Daisy, he might have said, you are heartless, devious…and deadly.

Published December 4, 2003

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(U.S. 1974)

CAST: Robert Redford, Mia Farrow, Bruce Dern, Karen Black

DIRECTOR: Jack Clayton

SCRIPT: Francis Ford Coppola

RUNNING TIME: 143 minutes

PRESENTATION: Widescreen 16:9; Dolby Digital English 5.1



DVD RELEASE: December 4, 2003

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