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Madame Bovary (1949) (DVD)
Gustave Flaubert's scandalous, banned, classic novel comes to the screen, the story a beautiful French woman whose passion and will are far too great for her time--Madame Bovary. 1857, France. Young Emma (Jennifer Jones) marries an older widower (Van Heflin) to escape her family, but she soon becomes disillusioned with her marriage and her husband. Drawn first into a passionate, if chaste, relationship with young lawyer Leon Dupuis (Alf Kjellin), then a sexual relationship with an aristocrat Rodolphe Boulanger (Louis Jordan) and finally a desperate affair with Dupuis, Emma realizes that she may succeed in her adultery but she will never be able to escape the stifling prison of her time, class and sex. James Mason stars as the author, Gustave Flaubert, in an introduction and epilogue set during the author's obscenity trial. ...]]>
- Vintage Pete Smith specialty short Those Good Old Days
- Classic cartoon Out-Foxed
- Theatrical trailer
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Top customer reviews
March Boy nominations: Picture, Director-Vicente Minnelli, Supporting Actor-Van Heflin, Supporting Actor-Louis Jordan and Black and White Cinematography
Wins: Leading Actress-Jennifer Jones, Black and White Costume Design, Black and White Set Design and Original Score-Miklos Rozsa.
The movie opens with the author, Gustave Flaubert on trial for writing an `offensive' piece of literature. He defends himself by asserting he was making a hard hitting swipe against the shallowness and downright immorality of the Paris Elite. While he admits Emma (the main character) is shallow, selfish, self-destructive and a victim of her own bad choices he also adds it is partly OUR fault as society for encouraging the `fantasy land, dreams-come-true, happily-ever-after, Prince Charming' books because they cultivate a mentality that CANNOT see a person through real life.
"What had we taught her with those romantic novels? Absurd dreams of luxury, fashion and love that never existed. We had taught her to believe in Cinderella. We had taught her that the fairyland was enchanting and the real world was contemptible."
Jennifer Jones' searing, intense portrayal of a woman who takes a trip down the rabbit hole is one of the most heartbreaking performances I have ever seen and I will NEVER understand why she didn't receive a Best Leading Actress nomination. Those who say she was an incompetent actress (lisping, face-twisting, etc.) need to see this movie and eat mud. Her acting is so natural and un-self-conscious, free from mannerisms and tics. Her voice is so soft, creamy and soothing, her delicate heart-shaped face so luminous, her beautiful smile and sparkling eyes which convey emotion so effortlessly--and those luscious gowns were simply MADE for her.
Emma is definitely VERY unlikeable (we are not SUPPOSED to like her, of course) but not so much to the point where I felt completely detached from her plight. It would have been so much easier to portray her as a completely heartless, unremorseful floozy but instead Jones plays her as an everyday, average woman who wants to make a name for herself in society, who wants to improve her livelihood, but unfortunately has bought into the fairy tale lie and uses the wrong methods to achieve aristocracy. (Two wealthy boyfriends and large furniture debts for her husband)
What I love best about her portrayal is how she makes Emma very sweet; good natured and likeable at the beginning and during her first few scenes with her husband Charles.
If she wasn't likeable at first she wouldn't seem real and we wouldn't have such a great story. But everything leading up to the loss of her morals and her ultimate demise is wonderfully foreshadowed throughout--like that speech she makes about the bell tolling to announce "the death of another hour" and when she frantically asks Charles "Do you want me to love you?" when he refuses to become a surgeon to make more money since he doesn't have that range of abilities.
When she realizes she has beggared her husband and daughter and her lovers can't bail her out of her enormous debts she stuffs herself with arsenic because she can never forgive herself let alone look her husband in the face. Her final bedroom scene is a great highlight of character acting where Jennifer Jones once again shows she is more than just a mere pretty face to dress the set--one viewing of this scene with her screaming and writhing in agony as her husband unsuccessfully tries to save her is enough to last a lifetime, it looks so real.
My favorite of her scenes are:
1. Joyfully throwing herself at Charles (her husband) when he proposes to her. He lets her know what she's stepping into though--others are younger, more handsome and charismatic and he is poor and simple yet he loves her in his own honest, heartfelt way...OOOOHHH the FORESHADOWING!!!
2. Her face radiates with light and joy when she tells her husband the morning after the wedding how she's going to make him the nicest little cottage he ever lived in.
3. Crying that she wants a son so he doesn't have to be subjected to social limitations and restraints the way a woman is. She flips out right after her husband throws a party for her and you simply KNOW she is one of those people that can NEVER be satisfied.
4. The uneasy look on her face and way she moves her eyes as she whispers in a low grave tone "Don't Rudolph. Don't. My husband is sitting only thirty feet from that window." when Rudolph is making the moves on her. Even though she's growing apart from her husband she is not yet so wicked that she feels no shame.
5. Shivering all over, unconscious, eyes glazed over in terror, whispering "Rudolph. Rudolph." Right after her husband catches her trying to jump out the window rather than face up to how she was going to elope with Rudolph.
6. When the furniture man tells her off towards the end after the skeletons have fallen out of her closet. It was ABOUT TIME she heard the truth about herself. Even the author, Flaubert says at the end "Men do not like the truth, it is brutal, it is inconvenient but they have no power to define it. Truth lives forever. Men do not."
7. Scratching back to Rudolph, all sugary smiles and laughter trying to get him in a good mood before asking him to pay her debts--but he can tell it is merely a façade. Finally she drops the fake act and tells the truth--she needs money. Louis Jordan relishes his line delivery for all it is worth "Money. WHY didn't I REALIZE it was MONEY?"
Van Heflin is absolutely heartbreaking as the husband of a woman who fails to love him back. He is warm-hearted, forgiving and plays the Good Shepherd whenever she's in trouble. He isn't perfect. He isn't handsome, charming, clever or well-spoken but he still strikes me as a man from an era when men got up every morning to make money for the family instead of whining around about little inconveniences the way women do. To be his friend would be an HONOR, to be his wife an EVER GREATER HONOR something Emma cannot grasp. When she eats the arsenic at the end instead of going about his business thinking "YAY! I won't have that worthless grasping woman tied to my leg anymore!" he rushes upstairs and tries to save her. Even though she has cheated on him TWICE he loves her SO MUCH he doesn't WANT her to die. As she is writhing and gasping in pain while the poison claims her body she mutters with all the pathos of the world "Why do you always try to put me back together Charles?" I feel like the Charles/Emma relationship is one of the most powerful portraits of the complicated bond between husband and wife and I challenge anyone who sees this movie to try to gain a deeper understanding of the meaning of "For better or for worse, for rich or for poor, in sickness or in health and forsaking all others."
Louis Jordan is not only jaw droppingly gorgeous as Rudolph--helping us understand Emma's `fall'--but does a terrific job showing the sharp dramatic transformation from a smooth talking, womanizing playboy to an older, wiser more mature gentleman.
My favorite of his scenes is where he dumps Emma when she comes scratching back for money--she's smiling, laughing and talking about the `good old days' and you can tell from those searing, dark, intense, glittering eyes and stony frown that he's looking RIGHT THROUGH HER.
Then he gives her a severe but well deserved tongue lashing when she re-professes her 'love' for him over and over. She asks him why he didn't show up to take her away to his mansion in Paris France like he promised. He replies "I was afraid of you Emma. You ask for something that consumes everything it touches. I didn't want to be destroyed by you."
In other words, he realized what a selfish gold-digger she was. He wouldn't have been able to please her any more than her husband had and therefore it was best to detach himself from her as quickly as possible. "You've brought this on yourself. Why should I share your humiliation? I don't have the money and I cannot help you. Now GET OUT."
Alf Kjellin plays Leon, Emma's second lover who unlike Rudolph does not learn his lesson. At first he seems as hard as a rock but at the end you realize he is only made out of sand.
Miklos Rozsa's music is lush, dramatic and intense and his waltz with the ever ascending and descending arpeggios and octaves is absolutely unforgettable.
Production values (cinematography, sets and costumes) are magnificent.
If you're looking for a movie about characters to admire you've definitely come to the wrong place but if you're looking for a movie that upholds a moral truth to society (in this case, that wonderful feelings and material goods cannot bring fulfillment) and you don't mind the absence of a final note of hope and redemption look no further than Madame Bovary.
What Minnelli so masterfully and ironically captures here is the "dream machine" that drives Madame Bovary (and society) to be dissatisfied with their daily lives, to want and need more and therefore to be perpetually unhappy with what they have. Of course, Minnelli was part of that machine for Hollywood, which is the irony. Here he uses the period-correct analogy of romance novels and magazine ads (and to a lesser extent operas and plays) as vehicles that feed and drive Bovary's dissonance with her reality. (James Mason as Flaubert, too!)
The irony that Flaubert was faulted for denegrating the french woman is fully captured here as well. This version still doesn't get to a real meaty statement of realization that men were not considered immorral or corrupt it they have affairs and forget about their children; but women were. Personally, I think that may have been one of Flaubert's real points - this same behavior would have been tolerated and venerated in a male.
Where this production succeeds so brilinatly over the others I mentioned is in the writing and performance of Emma. She is clearly delineated as being a victim of the commercials of her time - the ultimate consumer, and therefore very identifiable. Jone's own personal charm also factors in here. Her fresh innocence and desire to be liked and to entertain come through the role and make her sweeter. Annis is often a bit self satisfied and Hubbert ice cold, making their Emmas less likable, although perfectly valid and well performed roles, just the difference that writing, production and acting bring to the role.
Minnelli liked women and identified with foibles. He gives a very nice slant to Dr. Bovary, too. (Gives him a little more self knowledge and honor than Flaubert did, which also colors the relationship and the film.) Louis Jordan as her dream man is also colored very nicely here, as being sincerely in love with her and very conflicted. Something he does very well, and this all creates a marvelously satisfying production and package. When you add the great score, you have a very fine film indeed.