Retro Heaven

The Sun Also Rises

Review of the film, The Sun Also Rises…

There have been two film versions of Ernest Hemingway’s novel The Sun Also Rises, the first in 1957 and the second in 1984, the latter being, if possible, more forgettable than the first.

I was persuaded by the stellar cast as much as I was by the prospect of a Hemingway adaptation and therein lay my fundamental mistake. Power, Gardner and Flynn were huge stars but each of them ten years (more in Flynn’s case) too old for the parts. It is a film, like the book, which is short on plot and heavy on characters assembled together in Paris and Spain. The famous ‘lost generation’ of post-war young adults trying to make sense of a world ravaged by a great war instead played by middle aged actors struggling to break free from the bars and cafés most of the film is set  in.

The opening scenes begin with Tyrone Power telling a prostitute of his war-induced impotence, the prostitute, played by Bohemian singer Juliette Gréco is given far more screen time than anyone on the film, other than Gréco’s then boyfriend and producer Darryl F. Zannuck thought necessary. It was the first in a series of bad casting decisions by Zannuck who had originally wanted Marilyn Monroe to play the female lead part of Lady Brett! Tyrone Power got the male lead part of Jake Barnes because of his contractual association to Fox who helped to distribute the film.

Ava Gardner, beset with alcohol addiction played Lady Brett, a woman, who, in the novel is gripped by the knowledge she cannot truly have Barnes because of his injury both physically and psychologically. But Gardner lacked the depth of despair the part required, here was a woman who could (and did) have any man she wanted and it shows in the lack of hurt between her and Power. Power’s anguish fails to come through sufficiently to make the main thrust of the story plausible. Hemingway’s love of bull fighting is a focal point of the film, it was difficult to film and equally difficult to watch. It wasn’t done well, the problems are there to see and saved only by Flynn’s drunken antics which would go on to give his career a new lease of life.

The matador scenes could have been more impressive had Zannuck listened to his staff and stars who argued against his choice in Robert Evans, a suit salesman Zannuck had spotted in the El Morocco. The production team had found a champion matador who could have added the gritty realism of a bullfight to seduce Lady Brett in a more believable way but Zannuck’s stubbornness gave us a truly unbelievable character and the fight scenes as well as his seduction of Lady Brett are the poorer for it.

Unsurprisingly, Hemmingway hated it. He is said to have walked out of the film after twenty minutes whilst others associated with the film production question if he ever saw any of it at all. He was never impressed with the script and the casting must have made him shudder. Despite Zannuck’s insistence that he would make a movie true to the novel he fell at the very first hurdle. Hemmingway’s characters were young Americans wandering aimlessly between France and Spain, living fast and loose in an attempt to bury the memories of the war and all of its horrors. Zannuck gave us middle aged and middle class. It could and should have been so much better.

Categories: Retro Heaven

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