Today we finished viewing the 1974 adaptation of The Great Gatsby. This production was directed by Jack Clayton and based on a screenplay by Francis Ford Coppola (of The Godfather).
I say “finished”… yes, this was our second sitting. At 146 minutes, this is a loooooong movie for such a short novel. And we felt it. The script, to its credit, is extremely true to the source—much of the dialogue is word-for-word. But, as I’ve learned over the years, an accurate adaptation does not a good movie make, especially if it is lacking in the areas of cinematography or just editing. One reaches a point where you ask yourself, why not read the book instead?
I read the book again recently, and one thing is for sure, it is nice to see a tasteful film version. My biggest gripe with the 2013 Leonardo DiCaprio Gatsby was that it is anything but tasteful…a lot of vulgarity (to the point I turned it off halfway in embarrassment and finished it later alone 😅). By comparison, the 1974 movie is more refined, still glamorous but not raunchy. It’s just… poorly paced and boring in parts, especially the first half.
On to characters… The two Gatsbys are both convincing, but rather different. Robert Redford plays up the gentler, war-veteran side of Jay, the handsome first love with a wistful longing for Daisy. DiCaprio, on the other hand, exudes more of the bootlegger with a dubious past and dangerous obsession.
I really didn’t care for Daisy in either production. Nothing against Carey Mulligan or Mia Farrow, but neither one really has the screen presence and charisma that Daisy needs, IMHO. Between the two, I’d probably give a slight edge to Mia, but her affected way of talking is more annoying than endearing.
As for Nick Carraway, Sam Waterston’s performance (1974) blew me away. He really saves the movie in many ways from being a total bore. I couldn’t stand Nick in the 2013 film (sorry, Tobey Maguire fans!), but it may have had more to do with the cringy narration than the casting. There’s narration in the older film, too, but it’s done so much better, featuring more lines from the book instead of ramblings about alcohol.
My other critique of the 2013 script is that it is so… cartoonish, for lack of a better word. It’s a shame, because I did somewhat like the second half of the film, where things get more serious by nature of the plot. But as a whole, it’s just lacking the poetry of Fitzgerald, which, for all its faults, the older adaptation manages to convey.
Last thought… when it comes to aesthetics, the older version makes some effort towards “believable glitz,” while the newer film amps up the sets in a very theatrical/operatic style. I don’t like sets that look too pristine and orchestrated, even if that’s the intention, but a little style and art makes for a better movie. So I think my ideal Gatsby aesthetic is somewhere in-between the two… think Downton Abbey, or pretty much any BBC production from the mid-2000s. Indeed, if the 70s version had been made today, I think it would be right on the money. (um, no pun intended.)
That said, here’s a few stills from 2013 which certainly make for nice eye candy: