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Pride and Prejudice (1940).rtf
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Pride and Prejudice (1940)
Mr. and Mrs. Bennet have five unmarried daughters, and Mrs. Bennet is especially eager to find suitable husbands for them. When the rich single gentlemen Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy come to live nearby, the Bennets have high hopes. But pride, prejudice, and misunderstandings all combine to complicate their relationships and to make happiness difficult.
Greer Garson ... Elizabeth Bennet
Laurence Olivier ... Mr. Darcy
Mary Boland ... Mrs. Bennet
Edna May Oliver ... Lady Catherine de Bourgh
Maureen O'Sullivan ... Jane Bennet
Ann Rutherford ... Lydia Bennet
Frieda Inescort ... Caroline Bingley
Edmund Gwenn ... Mr. Bennet
Karen Morley ... Charlotte Collins
Heather Angel ... Kitty Bennet
Marsha Hunt ... Mary Bennet
Bruce Lester ... Charles Bingley
Edward Ashley ... George Wickham
Melville Cooper ... Mr. Collins
Marten Lamont ... Mr. Denny
Although some of the wit and commentary of Jane Austen's novel has been left out of this MGM production of Pride and Prejudice, what remains is a nice romantic story of the five Bennett sisters and their efforts to find husbands.
Remember this is 19th century Great Britain with all those class distinctions and a crazy law that the Bennett family estate cannot pass through a female. This puts Edmund Gwenn and Mary Boland in a real pickle. They've got five daughters and they'd better get them all wed to respectable people before the Bennetts take leave of this world.
Their closest male heir is Melville Cooper, a cousin who is one ghastly boor of an individual. In the novel, Cooper is a clergyman, not unlike Reverend Ascoyne D'Ascoyne in Kind Hearts and Coronets. But in the days of the Code you could not show a clergyman in a bad light or make him a figure of fun. Still without his profession noted, Cooper turns in a performance that for him is one of two career roles, the other being the sheriff of Nottingham in The Adventures of Robin Hood.
Edmund Gwenn has a wonderful part as the patient Mr. Bennett. Eddie Cantor could have identified with him because he was the father of five daughters and learned patience the hard way also. In addition to the daughters he has Mary Boland and her pretensions to deal with. The chemistry they have is very similar to that which she had with Charlie Ruggles when they were paired in bunch of films in the Thirties.
Mary Boland is perfect casting for Mrs. Bennett, she truly imprints her personality on the part. So does Edna May Oliver as the formidable Lady Catherine DeBoerg. She's a patroness of Melville Cooper, why I can't figure out, but he genuflects at the mention of her name. And he uses her name the way Mattie Ross used her lawyer J. Noble Daggett's name in True Grit.
Lady Catherine is a part also just written for Edna May Oliver. When that woman wasn't formidable on the screen I don't remember. She's also the aunt of Laurence Olivier who is trying to overcome his own class snobbery in courting Greer Garson, one of the five Bennett sisters.
Of course Olivier and Garson are the leads, but Pride and Prejudice depends more and succeeds on the strength of its ensemble of great character players perfectly cast. Olivier himself was not happy during the production as he expected to do this film with his wife Vivien Leigh. Still he's fine in the part as is Garson. She's got more sass in her makeup than her crinolined sisters and Olivier also shows more character than when we first meet him as a typical Regency snob.
I like Pride and Prejudice, but I like it for the performances of Cooper, Boland, Gwenn, and Oliver than for either of the leads. They're good, but they're support is fabulous.
Jane Austen's novel 'Pride and Prejudice' was probably ripe for MGM adaptation during WWII, even with the inevitable changes and rewrites from what she intended (for example, there are hints of romance for all the Bennet daughters by the end, even Mary).
What's good about it? Mainly the casting - Greer Garson is a feisty and cheeky Elizabeth (and this was more than 50 years before Jennifer Ehle played her in a similar way for BBC TV); Laurence Olivier never looked more attractive or brooded with greater effect than here as Darcy; Edna May Oliver is a memorable and prickly Catherine de Bourgh; Edmund Gwenn and Mary Boland are the Bennet parents; and the other Bennet girls are eye-catching and fun (Maureen O'Sullivan as Jane, Ann Rutherford as flighty Lydia, Heather Angel as Kitty, and Marsha Hunt as Mary).
Austen's barbs and fangs are removed from this adaptation, making it a romantic sugar gloop like many other films of the period. Still, providing you expect this, enjoy what's on the screen. MGM did this kind of thing better than other studios of the time, after all.
Viewed solely as a movie, this version of "Pride and Prejudice" is quite enjoyable, and has plenty of strengths. Since it was adapted from a stage play that was in turn based on the novel, it is perhaps inevitable that there would be a lot of differences from the original, both in the characters and in the events (plus a few anachronisms). Most of the time, these fit in all right with the story, but it is hard not to feel that it would have been an even better film if they had stayed closer to the original in the later parts. In all honesty, though, none of this prevents it from being a very good movie in its own right.
For the most part, the main story is the familiar one, following the hopes and anxieties of the Bennet family as they look for husbands for their five daughters. Greer Garson might be slightly different from the Elizabeth of the novel, but she is very appealing, and her character is quite effective. Laurence Olivier works very well as the prideful Darcy. Most of the supporting cast also is good, especially Edmund Gwenn as the perpetually bemused Mr. Bennet. It does a good job of illustrating the main themes in the relationships amongst the characters, while also providing many light and humorous moments. It's an entertaining and effective mix that makes it a satisfying movie despite the departures from the novel.
Is the 1995 television version superior? Yes - every historical period is better recreated since Stanley Kubrick took up the reins with Barry Lyndon in the mid 1970s. Lighting, dress, authentic settings, more faithful adaptations - though not better acting. In the last thirty years, we've been treated to the re-making of all that Hollywood and television had adapted from much of Thackeray, Austen, Balzac, Dickens, Eliot, Hardy, James, Wharton, Twain, Zola, DeMaupassant, even Leopardi. and in virtually every case, the movies are more faithful to their books, the spirit better represented.
Why? I think because movies and television have been more segmented. In 1940, Hollywood was appealing to everyone attending their weekly movies - from the 8 year old girl to the 60 year old man, from the miner to the mine owner, banker and sewer worker. In America alone, 90 million people attended the movies EACH WEEK in the early 1940s. As a result, Hollywood felt it had to appeal to all - and that some aspects of classics could be made more palatable in making them more mainstream.
"Horrors" say the purists. Well, I don't think so - but yes I do prefer the more recent version (of everything).
And yet this is a delightful, charming, humorous, moving film. Greer Garson and Maureen O'Sullivan, Laurence Olivier, Frieda Inescourt (what a voice!), Edna May Oliver, Gwenn and all the rest of the cast are fun, great fun to watch.
In watching this movie, you're watching Hollywood at its top at the time - the same studio that produced the Wizard of Oz and Gone With the Wind in the years immediately preceding this. And you get to see the glowing Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier.
So, this is very enjoyable - except to the purists.
* The studio's first choice for Darcy was Clark Gable.
* Many costumes designed by Walter Plunkett for Gone with the Wind (1939) were used again the following year in this film for some of the large crowd scenes, although Adrian created the gowns for the principals in this film. A modest budget partially explains why the costumes are not at all accurate for the assumed period of the film and reusing Plunkett's elaborate fashions saved MGM money in making this film.
* Frieda Inescort, who plays ultra-snob Caroline Bingley, was suffering from multiple sclerosis at the time she made this film.
* Vivien Leigh was passed over for the role of Elizabeth Bennett in favor of Greer Garson.
* Phil Silvers was asked to screen test for a role as a vicar despite having a strong New York accent. It turned out to be a cruel prank by studio executives who passed the screen test around Hollywood. In his autobiography, Silvers says "These three minutes were perhaps the funniest I've ever done."
* According to Edward Maeder, Adrian, the costume designer, asked director Robert Z. Leonard to place the film in a later time period than that of the novel so that the costumes might be more opulent than those of Jane Austen's time.
* In keeping with the style of screwball comedies, the ad campaign for the film warned, "Bachelors beware! Five gorgeous beauties are on a madcap manhunt!"