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Not Great Hemingway, but a Memorable Misfire!
on March 30, 2007
"The Sun Also Rises" was 20th Century Fox's big-budget 'prestige' film
for 1957, based on Ernest Hemingway's first novel, shot on location in Paris and Mexico (substituting for Spain), and starring the studio's long-reigning superstar, Tyrone Power, surrounded by legendary actors (Ava Gardner, Errol Flynn, Mel Ferrer, and Eddie Albert). With all the talent assembled in front of and behind the camera, producer Darryl F. Zanuck felt confident that the film would be an enduring classic for both his own independent company, and his studio.
It wasn't, unfortunately...
The film's problem was a fundamental one; the 'Lost Generation'
Hemingway wrote of were disillusioned young Americans, who, shattered
by the horror and brutality of the 'Great War', lost their innocence, and became a 'live fast, die young' crowd of expatriates, settling in Paris. These were men and women still in their twenties and thirties...yet the film's stars were all ten to twenty years older! The most glaring case can be seen in the film's star, Tyrone Power. As newspaperman Jake Barnes, a vet whose war injuries render him impotent, unable to satisfy the woman he loves (Ava Gardner), and, therefore, the 'perfect' observer of her romantic entanglements with other men, Power seems more a victim of a midlife crisis than a young man devastated about losing his manhood. In his next-to-last film, Power, at 44, was aging badly, his hair thinning and his slender, 'movie idol' good looks surrendering to a middle-aged paunch. Only when he smiles do the years seem to lift, a bit, and the "too handsome to be true" younger man appears. Adding to his physical deterioration was an undiagnosed heart condition, which would kill him, in less than two years.
His co-star, Ava Gardner, at 35, was going through a decline, as well, but, like her character, Lady Brett Ashley, her vices were the cause of her self-destruction. Both Brett and Ava were hedonistic women too fond of booze, bullfighters, and nightlife, and Ava's once-classic features were beginning to develop bags and wrinkles that makeup and lighting couldn't hide.
Coming off best are Errol Flynn and Eddie Albert. Flynn, at 48, long past his 'glamorous' prime (he and Power had been Hollywood's best-looking 'swashbucklers' of the early 40s), had become a very credible character actor, usually portraying variations of himself. His 'Mike Campbell', an alcoholic, impoverished but clinging to his pride, was, sadly, a dead-on assessment of Errol Flynn, as well. Like Power, he would be dead in two years, a victim of his own excesses. On the other hand, Eddie Albert, at 49, had long been health-conscious, and his performance as a drunk was simply good acting; paired with Flynn, they 'steal' the film, particularly during the famous Pamplona bull run, when the duo flee for their lives (while guzzling wine), and Flynn attempts to use a bad check as a cape to 'fight' a bull!
The drama seems overdrawn, the romance lacks 'fire', Robert Evans as a young bullfighter is dreadful, and the resolution is a hollow one. Even with the gorgeous scenery, Hugo Friedhofer's soaring film score, and Henry King's skill as a director, the film fails to generate more than a curiosity value, at the sight of so many actors, past their prime, trying to seem youthful and dynamic.
The DVD offers many 'added features', including 'behind the scenes' photos of Power, Flynn, and Gardner, and director Henry King's audio reminiscences of the production, possibly more entertaining than the feature, itself.
All-in-all, an ambitious misfire!