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Saturday, April 30, 2016

MADAME BOVARY (1949)

Emma Bovary’s journey from page to screen is surprisingly well-traveled considering all the difficulties. Madame’s personality fascinates & appalls in the Flaubert novel, but can seem little more than coarse & stupidly willful when acted out. (It might work better as ballet, opera or silent film.) In numerous dramatizations, her appeal (to us and for the characters in the story) seems arbitrary, there simply to move the tragic plot. That said, this posh M-G-M version works better than most, with unmissable set pieces, including an astonishment of a ball sequence set to a terrifying La Valse by composer Miklós Rózsa. The film was a major step for director Vincente Minnelli, moving him up to first-class dramatic vehicles alongside the famous musicals. Yet it’s that very musical experience that technically grounds his audacious waltz sequence. Robert Ardrey’s script is cleverly (if a little too conveniently) structured around the indecency case Flaubert (a world-weary James Mason) won for his book. While as the ruinous lady, Jennifer Jones makes rare good use of her sickly neurotic beauty (slightly corrupt from every angle) as she urges husband (Van Heflin) and lovers (Louis Jourdan, Kent Montgomery - aka Alf Kjellin) down various paths of moral & financial destruction. Reduced to a cautionary tale, the film may be Bovary-Lite, but compelling within its limited terms.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: The DVD comes with an entirely inappropriate, but hilarious Tex Avery DROOPY cartoon, loaded with far-out metaphysical gags and a tea-drinking fox who talks like Ronald Colman. Hopefully, it wasn’t shown at the feature’s theatrical engagements.

DOUBLE-BILL: Max Ophüls' entirely successful LETTER FROM AN UNKNOWN WOMAN/’48, has many similar elements (including M. Jourdan) and a story that translates beautifully to the screen.

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