If you were around in 1974, you probably remember that Jack Clayton’s The Great Gatsby (with a screenplay by Francis Ford Coppola, no less) was all set to be the big picture of the year. It was the topic of every film magazine. It spread out over the general media. Department stores were packed with retro (they didn’t call it that then) clothes touting “The Gatsby Look.” All this, mind you, was before the film actually opened. Oh, it did OK, but it neither set the box office nor the clothing world on fire, and its critical reception was cool. Cool is being kind.
Stanley Kauffmann noted, “In sum this picture is a total failure of every requisite sensibility. A long, slow, sickening bore.” Vincent Canby said it was “frivolous without being much fun.” Ebert opined, “The movie is ‘faithful’ to the novel with a vengeance — to what happens in the novel, that is, and not to the feel, mood, and spirit of it.” It was harsh enough that Clayton wrote an article called “I’m Proud of That Film.” I think Ebert probably got nearest the problem. In retrospect, though, the film mostly looks like it was meant to sell a line of fashions more than anything. As drama, it’s just too genteel to be really effective. It plays about like you might imagine a “Classics Illustrated” comic book version would read. Redford was such a wrong-headed choice for Gatsby. He projects no undercurrent of menace or obsession, and for all his qualities Redford is completely unable to look vulnerable, unsure of himself, or insecure in a manner that would account for his overcompensating affectations. Farrow, on the other hand, is just a blank. All that said, I rewatched the film recently and it’s not a bad movie. It’s even a reasonably credible version of the story (if not the characters or themes). But it’s just not exciting.
The Hendersonville Film Society will show The Great Gatsby Sunday, June 2, at 2 p.m. in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing Retirement Community (behind Epic Cinemas), 333 Thompson St., Hendersonville.