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Anna Karenina

Movie Information

In Brief: Julien Duvivier's 1948 version of Anna Karenina has always been overshadowed by Clarence Brown's 1935 Greta Garbo film. Now it's overshadowed by Joe Wright's 2012 version, but it remains a solid — maybe a little stolid — take on Tolstoy's novel. In comparison with the 1935 film, it benefits greatly from the presence of Ralph Richardson as Karenin. Vivien Leigh's Anna is another matter — one of personal taste, I think. Worth a look, but it won't get you as high as the cinematic panache of the other versions.
Genre: Drama
Director: Julien Duvivier (Tales of Manhattan)
Starring: Vivien Leigh, Ralph Richardson, Kieron Moore, Hugh Dempster
Rated: NR

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.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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