The 1925 book The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald had always fascinated me. (Penguin Books Ltd; New Edition May 25, 1989). I read it many times over. I also watched every film and TV movie adapted from the book. All except for the 1926 Silent film version. There are no more prints of that film to be found.
According to the online website, Internet Movie Database (IMDB). Several actors listed have portrayed the central character of Jay Gatsby. They include, Kang Kyeong-Joon 2007, Richard T. Jones 2002, Toby Stephens 2000 (TV movie), Robert Redford 1974, Alan Ladd 1949 and Warner Baxter 1926. There will now be a 2012 film adaptation starring Leonardo DiCaprio as Gatsby.
My favorite film version is the 1949 black and white production. (Universal studios home video 1998). 1940’s movie star Alan Ladd portrayed the lead role of Jay Gatsby. This film adaptation stays true to the character of Jay and omits specific details from the book. I was introduced to this movie version in the third paper bound 1980 reprint called, The Films of the Forties by Tony Thomas. (Published by Citadel press in 1975).
The movie opens with a married couple visiting the graveside of Jay Gatsby (Alan Ladd). They place flowers and reflect upon how they met Jay before his death. A series of quick flashbacks return to a carefree youth in early 1920’s jazz New York and alcohol prohibition. Jay then enters onscreen holding a machine gun as a bootleg gangster who buys and sells illegal alcohol underground. It is how he acquires a vast amount of money.
Jay returns to the West Egg of Long Island, New York. He buys a mansion and holds lavish parties. He also stands on his porch looking across the water bay to the East Egg of Long Island where rich society lives. He stares at a specific mansion where Daisy resides with whom he had always loved. There is a dock next to that house with a light that shines brightly every night.
Jay served in World War I and wanted to marry Daisy, but only after he made some money. He wanted to be worthy of her respect when he returned. She did not wait for him and married a rich arrogant man named Tom. He neglects Daisy and their daughter by having an affair with a cheap blonde named Myrtle.
Jay invites Daisy to one of his fancy parties to show off his mansion and money. Their love it seems is renewed and Tom gets jealous. Jay asks Daisy to leave Tom and an argument ensues. Some truth is revealed while Daisy tells Tom the inevitable.
Jay and Daisy end up in the same car. She is driving and accidentally runs down Myrtle who thinks it is Tom’s car. Jay convinces Daisy to tell the police that he was the driver. He hides the car at his mansion. Myrtle’s husband George seeks out that car brandishing a gun. Jay runs back to Daisy and finds that she has chosen Tom over him. Jay is later fatally shot by George.
My main questions regarding the book and this 1949 movie still lingers. Did Daisy love either man or did she just love money? Did Tom love only his money and the power that consumed him? Did Jay love Daisy or the idea that money could win her over? I think he did love her, but realized that money was not the answer for happiness. It was right before he met his fate.
I enjoyed this movie version because Alan Ladd created a sad portrait of Jay Gatsby that is very powerful in the book. There is a deep loneliness in his eyes from beginning to end. It is masked by disillusionment created by the desperate need for money. (Photo by Penguin Classic Books 1989).