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Saturday, December 31, 2016

PRIDE AND PREJUDICE (1940)

Golden-Age Hollywood meets Jane Austen in this highly massaged, but very entertaining, reduction of the novel, revised by (of all people) Aldous Huxley from a stage adaptation. Everything happens at once here, with characterizations bumped up (or flattened if you’re a stickler) into easily readable ‘types.’ Yet it certainly works on its own terms, unexpectedly zippy for an M-G-M prestige package from director Robert Z. Leonard. It's also exceptionally well-shot by Karl Freund (whose meager credit listing is more like a snub) and hilariously costumed as a series of Regency gaffes by Adrian. (Greer Garson gets a reprieve in a sort of hunting outfit with a plaid sash late in the going.) The basic story remains: Five dowry-poor Bennett girls in a home they’re about to lose; fresh beaux in town, rich dandies & dashing officers; class divisions, parental complications; and witty observations for the opposites attract lead couple. Narrative streamlining dampens the Austen tone, emphasizing sweet, minimizing sour, but the range of personalities comes over, with two great comic vulgarians in Mary Boland’s cunningly transparent Mother Bennett, and Edna May Oliver’s dowager dragon-lady. Plus spectacular disdain, yielding (a bit too quickly) to gobsmacked rapture from Laurence Olivier's Mr. Darcy, getting effects thru precise enunciation others couldn’t achieve with a three-page soliloquy. As the pretty sister, Maureen O’Sullivan is . . . very pretty; and even Garson comes within striking distance of an actual human being. (Though that lady-like vocal tone of hers could curdle a glass of sherry.)

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Having run out of Austen titles to adapt (or re-adapt), producers now turn to spin-offs. Zombie Jane Austen? Really? So why hasn’t someone thought to follow Lydia Bennett in her mad flight to London, without benefit of marriage, to that Mr. Wickham blackguard?

ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: Herbert Stothart, least interesting of major studio Hollywood music directors, was still swiping classical music tags long after his peers had largely abandoned the practice. It often feels like cheating, but here, in a coach racing scene, a lift from Smetana’s THE BARTERED BRIDE is apt & funny.

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