I hadn’t seen Julien Duvivier’s Anna Karenina (1948) in years, and had no intention of it till this screening came up and made it necessary. I originally found it … well, rather a stiff. I pretty much still do, but another look convinced me that it’s not bad, merely on the academic side. As a kind of “Classics Illustrated” version of the book, it’s reasonable. In a literary sense, it’s closer to the book than Clarence Brown’s 1935 Garbo film, which presents Karenin as a two-dimensional villain and all but omits the Levin character. Duvivier’s film — with the help of Ralph Richardson — does give us a much better, more complex Karenin, and only marginalizes Levin (Niall MacGinnis). As cinema, on the other hand, Brown’s film — with its introduction of Anna through the steam and its almost hallucinatory “girl meets train” finale — is certainly more exciting. (Even it pales in comparison to Joe Wright’s ultra-stylized 2012 film.) Duvivier’s film is a somewhat plodding affair, which is odd since plodding is not a word I think of in connection with Duvivier. The central problem, I think, is that Duvivier was trying to make an epic and the budget wasn’t there. Nearly every big scene feels muted — sometimes (like Vronsky’s accident in the horse race) action that should be seen takes place offscreen. It makes the movie feel tentative. And then there’s Vivien Leigh’s Anna. It’s probably a minority opinion, but she seems to me to be playing Scarlett O’Karenina. I don’t believe her for a minute. That’s a huge problem for the title character. You may find her more pleasing. The film itself is better than she is, but it’s never more than good. It’s definitely not very exciting and its climax is shockingly flat. But it’s nothing if not respectable.
The Hendersonville Film Society will show Anna Karenina Sunday, Aug. 11, at 2 p.m. in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing Retirement Community (behind Epic Cinemas), 333 Thompson St., Hendersonville.