Friday, July 18, 2014

Remembering Jane Austen: "Pride and Prejudice"

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 243 (of 2006) by Leroy Douresseaux

Pride and Prejudice (1940) – B&W
Running time:  118 minutes (1 hour, 58 minutes)
DIRECTOR:  Robert Z. Leonard
WRITERS:  Aldous Huxley and Jane Murfin (based upon Helen Jerome’s dramatization of Jane Austen’s novel)
PRODUCER:  Hunt Stromberg
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Karl Freund
EDITOR:  Robert Kern
COMPOSER:  Herbert Stothart
Academy Award winner

COMEDY/DRAMA/ROMANCE

Starring:  Greer Garson, Laurence Olivier, Mary Boland, Edna May Oliver, Maureen O’Sullivan, Ann Rutherford, Frieda Inescort, Edmund Gwenn, Karen Morely, Heather Angel, Marsha Hunt, Bruce Lester, Edward Ashley, and Melville Cooper

The subject of this movie review is Pride and Prejudice, a 1940 comedy, drama, and romance from director Robert Z. Leonard (The Great Ziegfeld).  The film is based on Pride and Prejudice, the novel by Jane Austen that was first published in 1813.

However, the screenplay is adapted from Pride and Prejudice: A Sentimental Comedy Written in Three Acts.  This was a stage adaptation of Austen’s novel that was written by Helen Jerome and was played on Broadway in 1935.  Aldous Huxley, the English writer who is best known for his novel, Brave New World (1932), is one of this film’s two screenwriters.  The 1940 film also deviates from the novel, including a change in the time period in which the story takes place.

Status-conscious Mrs. Bennet (Mary Boland) is eager to marry her five daughters, while Mr. Bennet (Edmund Gwenn) would just love a peaceful home.  The Bennets however are middle class and “penniless,” so when two upper class men become interested in her eldest daughters, Elizabeth (Greer Garson) and Jane (Maureen O’Sullivan), a furious class war begins.

The strong-willed Elizabeth or Lizzy runs up against the proud and arrogant Mr. Darcy (Laurence Olivier), a man with a large fortune.  Jane falls for Charles Bingley (Bruce Lester), whose sister, Caroline (Frieda Inescort), holds the Bennets in disdain.  Although she continuously rebuffs her suitor, Lizzy can’t help but be attracted to the smoldering Darcy, even if she is prejudiced against his prideful ways.

Warner Bros.’s DVD box set of MGM literary adaptation, Motion Picture Masterpieces, offers many delights, and I’ve been waiting a long time for one in particular: Pride and Prejudice, MGM’s adaptation of Jane Austen’s much-loved (and much filmed) novel.  This version is largely unfaithful to Austen’s book (being as the movie is adapted from an adaptation of the original novel), but this is still highly entertaining.  The film is a comic romance and light drama, with Austen’s biting insults turned into witty banter fit for a comedy and romance.  Mannered melodrama also passes as dramatic turmoil and conflict.  Still, this lively movie almost makes one forget literary accuracies.  I found myself thrilling to the amusing twists, childish feuds, and slight class warfare, as I waited for the inevitable happy ending.

Greer Garson plays Lizzy Bennet as a strong and independent woman who can give both severe and playful rebukes.  Initially, Laurence Olivier’s Mr. Darcy comes across as supremely aloof.  That is before he turns the character more benign than petty, and Darcy’s off-putting aloofness becomes delightfully aloof.  Until the 1990’s, Olivier can be considered the supreme cinematic interpreter of an Austen male character.

Surprisingly, MGM, in a bid to keep Pride and Prejudice’s budget modest, reused many of the costumes Walter Plunkett designed for Gone with the Wind, so some of women of Pride and Prejudice look like Southern belles.  However, famed MGM designer Adrian created gowns for the film’s principals, and Gile Steele designed handsome and lavish suits for the men.  Pride and Prejudice won an Oscar for its art direction (for a black and white film), and the movie’s setting and backdrops represent the best of what MGM’s 1930’s-40’s dream factory could do when it came to production values.

So when such gorgeous production values are added to witty repartee, lovable characters, and bubbly comic romance, the viewer usually gets a winner and that is what Pride and Prejudice is – a winner and a personal favorite of mine.

7 of 10
A-

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Updated:  Friday, July 18, 2014

NOTES:
1941 Academy Awards, USA:  1 win: “Best Art Direction, Black-and-White” (Cedric Gibbons and Paul Groesse)

The text is copyright © 2014 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this site for syndication rights and fees.



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