Monday, May 05, 2014

"The Sun Also Rises" (1957) -- Review and Giveaway!

(This is my contribution to the Power-Mad Blogathon -- go here for the official page listing all the posts!  From here on out, spoilage abounds.)

This may be a strange way to begin a blog post that's part of a blogothon celebrating Tyrone Power's 100th birthday.  But for the first fifteen minutes or so of this movie, I thought Power was horribly miscast.  He was in his forties, with a touch of grey in his hair and a lack of bounce to his step.  Jake Barnes should be in his late twenties, a survivor of the recent Great War, a still-robust young man who thinks nothing of hiking for miles and miles through the mountains to find the ultimate fishing spot.  You see, I'd reread the book prior to watching this movie version so I could compare the two (my review of the book is here), and try as I might, I could not envision Power in the role as I read.

But then we got to the scene where he sees Lady Brett Ashley (Ava Gardner) for the first time in quite a while, and all of a sudden, Power was exactly Jake Barnes and I loved him in the role for the rest of the movie.  The fact that he was older than the character in the book simply added to his world-weariness and the sense that here is a man who has seen and done too much and is annoyed with it all.

Their differing expressions when they see Brett say so much, don't they?

In fact, the cast as a whole is remarkably well suited to their roles.  Ava Gardner is very believable as Brett, a woman with a mannish attitude toward relationships who is unceasingly alluring to men.  Gardner imbues Brett with a glimmer of tears behind her bravado and a ferocious beauty that leaves no questions about why so many men are chasing her.


Mel Ferrar is quite good as Robert Cohn.  He's a love-lorn fool with his heart permanently sewn to his sleeve.  Ferrar uses his sad-puppy eyes and droopy mouth to great effect throughout.


Eddie Albert is, well, Eddie Albert.  You want a smiling guy to cheer everyone up over and over, you get Eddie Albert.  He's fine as Jake's American pal Bill, but not the only person who could have played the role.

Bill saying my favorite line:  "Caffeine, we are here!"

In fact, I think think the best casting choice was Errol Flynn as Brett's long-suffering fiance, Mike Campbell.  Still very dashing twenty years after he ran around rescuing damsels in distress, Flynn really looks like a man who could interest Brett even though he's bankrupt.  Mike is another character it would be easy to either underplay or overplay, but Flynn gives him great balance, not too accepting of Brett's wanderings, but not too worried about them either.  And underlying his determined drinking is an aching sense of loss, that he used to be much more than a drunken, penniless Scotsman bumping around Europe.


And rounding out the cast is the one actor who completely failed my every expectation for the character:  Robert Evans as the bullfighter Pedro Romero.  Sadly, I had envisioned Rudolph Valentino from Blood and Sand (1922), and the truth is, no one was going to live up to Rudy in the role.  But did they have to cast a guy who looked like this when he smiled?

I really didn't buy Brett falling for him.  Seemed more like charity than anything.

Okay, so much for the cast.  Just in case you want to know what the movie is actually about, it's pretty simple:  Jake, Mike, Robert, and Pedro are all in love with Brett Ashley.  Bill isn't.

If you want the longer version, it's this:  Jake and Brett have been in love for years, but a war injury left Jake impotent, and Brett has a voracious sexual appetite, so they've decided it's no use.  Brett is engaged to Mike, has a fling with Robert, then another fling with Pedro.  There's a bunch of bullfighting too.

If you want a much longer, more detailed synopsis, read my book review cuz this is getting plenty long already.

So.  How did I like the movie as compared to the book?  Overall, I like the book better.  But I think that as Hemingway adaptations go, this is pretty good.  Most of the characters look and sound very much like they do in the book.  Chunks of dialog even got used, which pleased me no end -- even my favorite quote about coffee made it in, which I wasn't expecting since it's not integral to the story at all.

Both book and movie are slowly, almost languidly paced, developing emotions and situations over time instead of rushing through everything.  I think the bull fights were actually more exciting in the book, but overall they did a swell job turning a 250-page book into a 130-minute movie.  They did change some things, like adding in a sequence where Bill and Mike drunkenly get caught up in the running of the bulls by mistake.  I think that was supposed to add some comic relief, but I thought it was jarringly out of emotional synch with the rest of the movie.

There are some bigger changes too, like leaving out the fact that Robert Cohn is Jewish.  I found that omission very sensible, as the book gets labeled anti-Semitic a lot, and I feel like his Jewishness really has nothing to do with the story.  They also explicitly stated that Jake Barnes is impotent, which is only implied in the book.  Harder to get across with a movie, maybe.  Or the word wasn't as taboo by 1957 as it was thirty years earlier when the book was published?

Anyway, the acting from Tyrone Power, Ava Gardner, and Erroll Flynn was just superb.  What those three could do with a slight lowering of eyelids or a glance to the side, a smile at the wrong moment, a hesitation during a sentence -- heady stuff, I tell you.  This is well worth seeing just to watch three pros at work.

Tyrone hard at work playing Jake being hard at work.

Is this movie family friendly?  Well, no bad language, as I recall.  No actual bedroom scenes or adult dialog, everything there is implied.  Some violence, with one fist fight and lots of bull fights.  No blood or dead animals shown in the bullfights, though.  As clean as it can be, with the subject matter, I'd say!

But overall, this isn't a movie I want to watch over and over.  Which means... I'm going to give away my copy!  I bought it brand-new, only watched it once, and it could be yours!  Just enter the giveaway below for your chance to win!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

This giveaway runs from today through the end of Sunday, May 11, 2014. I'll draw a winner on May 12. PLEASE be sure you've provided a CURRENT email address to this Rafflecopter widget so that when I email the winner, they actually get the notification that they've won! This is open world-wide. If the winner doesn't respond to my notification within one week (by May 19, 2014, in other words), I will draw a different winner and the first one will be out of luck.

And don't forget to read all the other entries into this blogathon!  Click on this button to find the list if you didn't follow my earlier link :-)

22 comments:

  1. Errol Flynn was my favorite part of this movie. I loved how he played his character. There were so many subtle facets to his character. Tyrone Power was also really good. But yeah... that guy playing the bullfighter... wow. He seemed so miscast and unattractive.

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    1. I did a bit of superficial research on this while writing my review, and it seems Power, Gardner, and Flynn all kept begging to have Evans replaced, but the director insisted, "The kid stays in the picture." Evans later became movie producer, and produced things like The Godfather and Chinatown and The Phantom! And wrote an autobiography he titled The Kid Stays in the Picture...

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  2. I've never taken the time to see this one, but as I read this, I'm wondering why. What a great cast here, and the plot sounds very interesting. I'll be hunting this one down pronto. Thanks for the inspiration!

    Clayton @ Claytonology

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    1. I think it's definitely worth seeing, especially if you're a fan of any of the principals. Thanks for stopping by!

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  3. One of my all time favorites and the challenges of bringing Hemingway on screen seem almost daunting- his books are wonderful but the films based on them are fairly poor. The Sun Also Rises is by far (in my opinion) the best attempt so far.

    Flynn too is my favorite of the picture, though at this point he is to great extent merely playing himself.

    Still great fun!

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    1. I agree that Hemingway is difficult to translate to film. The only adaptation of his works that I've liked well enough to own so far is To Have and Have Not, and that barely qualifies as an adaptation because it's so very different from the book. More like "inspired by" the book, lol.

      And yes, Flynn definitely has a self-aware thing going on here, that he's portraying a version of himself, with two much-younger girls on his arms at one point, lots of booze and cigarettes and so on. But it works really well for the character.

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  4. Hamlette, thank you so much for this terrific entry to the blogathon. It was great having you aboard to celebrate Power's 100th birthday.

    I've come to the conclusion that I am not much of a Hemingway fan. Other than the John Garfield and Audie Murphy versions of "To Have and Have Not," I've never really cared for any of the film adaptions of his works. Much as I love Gary Cooper, I could barely make it through "For Whom the Bell Tolls," and even last week, I struggled to make it through "The Snows of Kilimanjaro." I'm giving "A Farewell to Arms" another try this week, as it is on the TCM schedule for Gary Cooper's birthday. Still, though, I want to give this a try, even if just for the terrific cast.

    Maybe it's my age, but I think Power is absolutely perfect in that first photo you've included. I think he was beautiful young, but as he aged, he developed a masculine maturity that I find very appealing. So, that's another reason to see this movie.

    Thanks, also, for offering the giveaway. That is very generous of you.

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    1. Thank you and Patty for hosting it!

      I know a lot of people who aren't Hemingway fans -- we can still be friends :-) I like his books much better than the movies made from them. In fact, the only movie made from one of his works that I really love is To Have and Have Not, and that bears very little resemblance to the book at all. I haven't seen the Audie Murphy version (The Gun Runners, right?), but I don't care for Bell (book or movie, actually), Snows is bland despite Gregory Peck, and Farewell is dull.

      Anyway, I think Tyrone Power was delightful in this, broody and handsome. Watching him here is a treat.

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  5. I love Tyrone in this role, though the whole cast is too old. I think it may have been felt that to cast it correctly would have it a lesser film -- it would have starred younger actors who just didn't have the gravitas of Power, Flynn, and the rest of them.

    I think Errol Flynn was well cast, but I will never see this as any great acting feat. He played himself.

    The actors were too old, but their emotions were spot on. Power during this film was involved and living with Mai Zetterling and he was burning the candle at both ends, staying up until all hours and going to the studio on two hours sleep. She told him he didn't look good, and he shrugged. He didn't care. When one sees him in candids during that period, he looks fabulous. I thought he looked good in this film, though I am such a Power nut I could tell the scenes where he thought it was a good idea to party until dawn. P.S. I first saw this on Saturday Night at the Movies when I was a mere child and crazy about Tyrone Power -- and I didn't have any idea what it meant to be impotent!

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    1. Well, yes, Flynn was mostly playing himself, which made casting him pretty genius since he embodies the character so nicely and lends it some lovely gravitas and self-deprecating humor.

      I'm so glad the studio didn't feel bound to cast actors who were the right age, as I think the seriousness of the movie really needed more seasoned and mature people in the roles.

      And I love that old movies trust an adult audience to be intelligent and don't belabor subjects that will fly right over the heads of children who don't need to understand them yet! Even though you didn't know what "impotent" meant (as a kid I would have said it meant "helpless"), you still enjoyed the movie -- today, it would be R-rated and we'd never be able to let our kids watch it.

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  6. I greatly enjoyed your very perceptive review. I disagree that the anti-Semitism in the book is unimportant. I think Hemingway was making a central point about acceptance and nonacceptance in society. As with "The Razors Edge," the screenplay is too timid and the actors too old to be convincing in translating a best-selling book to the screen.

    BB

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    1. Intriguing! I hadn't thought of it that way, but repeatedly pointing out that Cohn is Jewish does highlight his status on the fringe of society -- it makes Brett's going off with him a much more daring move, in a way, for one thing.

      In the movie, they do repeatedly put him on the outside of the group. If everyone's at a table, he's a little apart, or even behind them. Subtle ways to still show he's "other" without defining what sort of "other" he is.

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  7. I would have liked this film much more, I think, had it been made 10 years earlier and directed by John Huston, who really had a gift for literary adaptations. I've always thought Ty, Ava and Flynn were just a tad too careworn for their roles - but ten years earlier - perfect. Not to say their acting isn't up to par, all three of them give fine performances.

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    1. John Huston would have made a good director for this, indeed!

      I think if you forget they're supposed to be in their '20s, it works fine, but that could be just me.

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  8. Hamlette, I think you're right about forgetting about the ages. The Jewish thing is interesting In my own research, I've found that anti-Semitism was rampant and blatant back then everywhere, so I'm not surprised there was a big deal made of it in the book, which I am now confessing I haven't read. As far as Robert Evans, everyone tried to get him replaced, and a big deal was made of the fact that Power's was the first signature! However, Bob Evans always said that if he ever came back as anyone, he'd want to be Tyrone Power.

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    1. Yes, from my own historical reading I know how big a deal anti-Semitism was, and maybe Hemingway was trying to highlight that and get people to realize how often someone's Jewishness was held against them or used as an excuse for their behavior. Or maybe he was just reporting how things were. Who knows.

      And I did read that about Robert Evans. He named his autobiography The Kid Stays in the Picture after what the director of this said to all the other actors over and over.

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  9. this sounds like a very interesting movie and i really want to see it now! I would love to win this personally because I love Errol Flynn! I have only seen him in Robin Hood and have always wanted to see him in something else!

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    1. Isn't Flynn delightful as Robin Hood? I really liked him in The Sea Hawk too, but I've only seen him in 5 or 6 things myself.

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  10. Hi, Hamlette! I may be a little late, but I really enjoyed your review. I was at first surprised with how Ty aged. But he was perfect in the movie anyway. And Ava, wow. If someday I want to cut my hair short, I want it to look exactly like her in this movie.
    Kisses!

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    1. I'm still making my way to all the blogathon entries too!

      And yes, Tyrone does show his age a bit here. But his acting more than makes up for it. And Ava is definitely Wow here! Her hair is fantastic, I agree.

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  11. You already know I'm not crazy about the book, but I'm with you on the film. I think it was superbly cast...and made a very faithful adaptation (if you accept from the beginning that a film cannot capture everything).

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    1. Adaptations MUST be different from the books in some respect -- translating between mediums always involves making changes. I think this one was very effectively done.

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Agree or disagree? That is the question...

(Rudeness and vulgar language will not be tolerated.)