Break out your flapper dresses and gin cocktails because it’s time for another installment of Classic Movie Monday, where I sift through Netflix’s Classic section so you aren’t stuck watching paint dry. This week I took a look at the 1974 version of The Great Gatsby. The film is based on the novel of the same name by F. Scott Fitzgerald, one of my all time favorites, and is a much better adaptation than the highly stylized 2013 Baz Luhrmann film.
If you didn’t graduate from high school and/or hate fantastic books, The Great Gatsby is the story of Nick Carraway, a recent transplant to New York’s nouveau riche West Egg (a fictional village on Long Island). Nick’s humble cottage is right next door to the mansion of Jay Gatsby, a mysterious man who throws lavish parties every weekend. When Nick decides to visit his cousin Daisy and her husband on the neighboring East Egg (old money), a history between Daisy and Nick’s mysterious neighbor begins to reveal itself.
Soon Nick is put in the uncomfortable position of being an accomplice in Tom’s affair with the garage attendant’s wife Myrtle (Karen Black) AND Daisy’s affair with Gatsby. On the plus side, Nick’s summer is an eventful one: sex, murder, and run ins with famous (real life) gangsters all make appearances in his Summer of 1922.
The Great Gatsby criticizes the idealistic “American Dream”, showing the downside of vapid materialism and the illusion that anyone can simply start over and rebuild themselves from scratch. The film is set in the midst of the “Roaring 20s” and we see wealth and excess has a negative impact on many of the characters, whether they are newly rich (Gatsby), or have always had money (Tom).
Each and every one of the actors in this film do a wonderful job. I’ve always found Mia Farrow to be incredibly annoying, so she nails Daisy. Sam Waterston is the perfect Nick and Robert Redford is an obvious choice for Americana-handsome Jay Gatsby. Bruce Dern is really able to capture the supreme assholiness of Tom Buchanan so well that I almost forget I really like him every time I watch this movie.
If you’re the type that spends their weekend going to dance clubs and are easily distracted by shiny objects, go ahead and skip this version and go straight to the Baz Luhrmann film. You’ll like the soundtrack, all the pretty lights and won’t be bogged down by plot or the desire to analyze. If you’re more interested in the story of The Great Gatsby and acting that isn’t overshadowed by sequins, this is really the adaptation for you.
Here’s some trivia to tide you over until the next Gatsby party:
- Truman Capote was the original screenwriter and in his draft, Nick was homosexual and Daisy’s friend/Nick’s love interest Jordan Baker was a vindictive lesbian.
- Francis Ford Coppola finished the screenplay in three weeks after Capote was fired from the project.
- Many of the male extras in the film were recruited from Naval War College because military officers had the same haircuts as men in the 1920s.
- Robert Towne was offered the chance to write the screenplay but refused because he didn’t want to be known as, “the unknown Hollywood screenwriter who fucked up a literary classic.” He wrote Chinatown instead.