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Friday Film Review: Pride and Prejudice (1940)

Friday Film Review: Pride and Prejudice (1940)

Pride and Prejudice (1940)

Genre: Romance

Grade: C+/B-

What?! A grade less than fabulous for one of Jane’s masterpieces? Sorry but yes. While I enjoyed some aspects of this interpretation there are just too many eye popping, “oh, tell me they didn’t just do that!” issues for me to overlook. Had I seen this before some of the more recent TV/Film versions of the story, I would probably have cheerfully overlooked or not even noticed the face-palm moments but as it is, Hollywood did a number on it.

“Mr. and Mrs. Bennet have five unmarried daughters, and Mrs. Bennet is especially eager to find suitable husbands for them. When the rich single gentlemen Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy come to live nearby, the Bennets have high hopes. But pride, prejudice, and misunderstandings all combine to complicate their relationships and to make happiness difficult.”

With a running time of just under two hours, some things have to be cut or combined in order to hit the high points of the plot. The film opens with Mrs. Bennett, Jane and Elizabeth picking out fabric for new evening gowns for the local Assembly dance when out of the shop window they see the arrival of a fine carriage conveying the new inhabitants of Netherfield through Meryton. Mrs. Bennett wastes little time in finding out who the two gentlemen are and – more importantly, that they’re not married. She and Lady Lucas are like two bloodhounds on the scent which results in a funny carriage race between the two sets of women in order for them to get their menfolk to call at Netherfield first.

At the Assembly Ball, a compression takes place with Elizabeth meeting and flirting with Wickham after a smouldering and haughty Darcy initially denigrates the assembly then reluctantly asks her to dance. The Bingley Ball is transformed into an afternoon garden party while Jane’s trip to London is removed altogether. We get the full impact of Melville Cooper as Mr. Collins annoying the Bennets with his bumbling presence before his cackhanded proposal to Elizabeth then the film fast forwards to her trip to see the newly married Charlotte. Lady Catherine de Bourgh is as condescending as ever but Elizabeth’s trip to Hunsford appears to be shortened and she travels back home with the Collins where they discover Lydia’s elopement with Wickham.

The entire Lake Country trip is eliminated, Georgiana never appears and Elizabeth only learns of Wickham’s true past with the Darcy family after Darcy appears at Longbourne to offer his services in finding Lydia. After he leaves, Elizabeth confesses his proposal to Jane and admits she loves him. A rather lengthy time elapses before Lydia and Wickham are found during which the Bennetts prepare to move to another part of the country to escape the condemnation heaped upon them due to Lydia’s behavior. Lady Catherine shows up at Longbourne only minutes after the Wickhams to rake Elizabeth over the coals and then proceeds to do a 180 degree turn from the novel after which both Darcy and Bingley show up and propose to their lady-loves.

As I said, if I didn’t know what was supposed to happen, these cuts and changes wouldn’t have bothered me. As it is, I can actually live with a lot of the cuts and compressions since the high points of the story are still maintained. One cut actually works better for me. In the 1995 version, Elizabeth doesn’t begin to change her opinion of Darcy until after she sees his magnificent house which in my opinion always made her appear a touch mercenary after her lofty arguments turning down his initial proposal. Here, she starts to change – or admit her change – after Darcy unselfishly reveals the true reasons behind his dislike of Wickham and nobly offers to help find Lydia. What I absolutely did not like is how Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s character and her actions are changed at the end of the movie. When her real motives for visiting the Bennet family at Longbourne are revealed, it somehow lessens Lizzie’s verbal jousting triumph. Darcy’s final proposal also melts into mushiness and seems out of character. Yes, I expect true love from him but not sappy, puppy eyed emotion.

The 1830s costumes are another issue with this movie but at least they stay consistently off throughout the film. Meryton is also as perfect as only a studio backlot could be. Perhaps the clodhopping dancing at the Assembly Ball is supposed to show how far from London high society the Netherfield party is but my sneaking suspicion is that Hollywood simply couldn’t be bothered to have these people look polished. And while we’re wearing clothes from the wrong era, we might as well throw in some period incorrect dances such as the polka and mazurka while we’re at it. The background music is typical of a movie made at this time tending towards lush violins and sap.

I find the casting fairly good except for the fact that Garson looks too old as Elizabeth. Other than that, I think she does a good job in the role. But can someone tell me, does Lizzie resort to tears as much as is shown here? Olivier is as haughty as anyone could want – for the first half of the film. But after that he tends to show his emotions a touch too much with his “My Darling” proposal and public smooch. In private with Elizabeth? – sure, show me the passion. In front of everyone else? – not so much PDA. I don’t have any complaints about the other actors and particularly enjoyed Melville Cooper as Mr. Collins and Edna Mae Oliver as Lady Catherine – even if I don’t like how her character was changed. Mary Boland does a nice flighty Mrs. Bennet while Edmund Gwenn does a serviceable Mr. Bennet. I did keep expecting Maureen O’Sullivan to show up in a leopard print short dress, though.

Given what I’d heard about this version, I actually ended up liking it more than I thought I would. I’m not such a Austen purist that I can’t enjoy what’s here but I can’t help but wish that they’d at least done a better job with the costumes. The essence of the plot is retained though it seemed to me that Hollywood was going for a more screwballish first part and melodramatic ending. Taken for what’s actually here, it’s okay. As a faithful adaptation of the book, I think there are better ones to see.


Friday Film Review: Shelter

Friday Film Review: Shelter

Shelter (2007)

Genre: GLBT Romance

Grade: B

This movie had been mentioned so many times on other movie reviews here and at Netflix that I knew I needed to see it. I’m probably going to disappoint a lot of people with my grade but while I liked it, it ultimately comes across to me as a candy fluff film. Sweet, likeable, nice while it lasts but not something that will stick with me very long.

“Forced to give up his dreams of art school, Zach (Trevor Wright) spends his days working a dead-end job and helping his needy sister (Tina Holmes) care for her son (Jackson Wurth). In his free time he surfs, draws and hangs out with his best friend, Gabe (Ross Thomas), who lives on the wealthy side of town. When Gabe’s older brother, Shaun (Brad Rowe), returns home, he is drawn to Zach’s selflessness and talent. Zach falls in love with Shaun while struggling to reconcile his own desires with the needs of his family.”

This is an indie movie that doesn’t look like one. I’ve watched a lot of Indie films and usually end up accepting the shortcuts the directors are forced to deal with. From what the director and two main actors say in the commentary, the film was shot in three weeks, mostly on location with certain scenes being grabbed and filmed when the opportunity was there. Honestly, except for the subject matter, it’s not obvious. Or not *that* obvious. Some scenes – like Zach and his girlfriend Tori on a bluff at the beach or Zach and Shaun talking in the garden at Shaun’s parents’ house – were shot racing for the last bit of sun and are absolutely beautiful. The montage shots of the ocean are lovely too – even if I’m not sure why those shots are there beyond showing that Zach loves to surf. Some directors actually thrive under tight shooting conditions and – at least in this case – Jonah Markowitz is one of them.

“Shelter” has a great sense of place and culture. These are surfers living in SoCal. Gabe is almost a stereotype of it and I could easily see him calling everyone “Duuuuude” and actually meaning it. He, Zach and Shaun come across as natural young men – interested in surfing, drinking beer, telling jokes and getting laid. Zach and his sister Jeanne ooze a working class vibe. Life has obviously not been as easy for them as for Shaun and Gabe and it shows – from the slightly run down SUV Zach drives to the ratty house with a concrete back yard to Jeanne’s hard edge desperation to get out of there, whatever the cost.

The film doesn’t deal in obvious gay stereotypes. There are no drag queens, no queer best friends, decorating is never mentioned and the fashion sense is young male grab-whatever-shirt-doesn’t-smell-the-most. There is no sashaying, no limp wrists, no clubbing – in fact there is no camp at all. Zach and Shaun could be any sexual orientation males. It’s obviously a gay themed movie but it doesn’t come across to me as one that is being strictly marketed to the GLBT community – it’s very open to anyone and a film that I think anyone can enjoy.

So, what could I possibly find to harsh about and call fluff? Shaun is out and comfortable about his sexuality. Zach has had a long term girlfriend even if hints are dropped that their relationship isn’t rosy – tepid and more like friends is a good way to describe it – but has he ever thought about being attracted to men? I didn’t get that feeling and his acceptance of his new sexual reality seems too easy. Yeah, he wavers a touch and push-pulls a tiny bit but those scenes seem more obligatory than visceral. Shaun is also extremely accommodating of Zach’s am I/aren’t I? moments – perhaps because he’s older and already been through it. Still he’s waiting with open arms and a lack of “are you sure *this* time as opposed to the others.” Were I he, I’d be a little wary for a bit longer.

The movie also avoids getting too deeply into conflicts. Zach is afraid of what others will say if his new relationship becomes known. He’s f*cking his best friend’s older brother and that best friend is obviously into p*ssy. But when Gabe and Zach finally talk, Gabe is all “fine, it’s cool, I’m the one you used to come talk to, is it true guys give the best head, are you attracted to that guy walking down the street?” easy with it. Even the whole “you’re involved with my sibling” aspect of it is glossed over. Jeanne seems like she’s going to be the major sticking point after she says things like she doesn’t want her son around Shaun or “why are you spending all this time with Shaun/you’re not a fag, are you?” to Zach. But in the major, final scene of the film, she caves and says almost nothing. Even Tori, Zach’s girlfriend, seems hardly to care. And we never see any scenes of these people finding out for sure about Zach’s new reality. Each of them somehow seems to already know what’s going on when they finally have these conversations with Zach. That’s some gossip grapevine going on in this town.

One thing I do like is how what turns out to be the main source of conflict isn’t the typical gay movie one. Zach’s character toys with the dreaded martyr syndrome. He puts off his dreams of going to art school in order to work a lousy, low paying job. His older sister plays on his sense of responsibility to pawn off the care of her 5 year old son while she goes out and parties all night. I like the relationship between Zach and his nephew Cody – who is an incredibly unselfconscious young actor – and the final resolution of who keeps Cody and what his future might be is positive. What makes this whole subplot a win for me is that this could happen to anyone, anywhere. It says that not every crisis in a GLBT life revolves around AIDS/coming out/discrimination.

This is a positive take on coming out movies. It’s got characters to care about, is lovely to look at with swirling ocean waves and gorgeous sunsets, offers some humor and laughs, ends on a positive note and no one dies. But it also skims over a lot of conflict potential like a stone skipping across water and all the characters seem way too accepting of gays. Sure this would be great if this was always how it happens in real life but as portrayed, it’s like a gay friendly AU. It’s head and shoulders above lots of other gay movies I’ve seen, yet I can’t help but say if I were watching the same movie only with hetero characters, I’d have been left feeling ultimately let down with the fluff factor.