How to Make a Good 'Great Gatsby' Movie: A Guide for Baz Luhrmann

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Paramount

1949: Gatsby with sound

In 1949, the first Gatsby adaption with sound was released by Paramount, with Betty Field as Daisy and Alan Ladd as Gatsby. But that movie hardly resembled the novel. Here, as in later versions, Fitzgerald's thematically-complex narrative was reduced to a Romeo and Juliet love affair. As the New York Times wrote when the film came out, "[W]ith particular emphasis upon the aspects of the sentimental romance... most of the tragic implications and bitter ironies of Mr. Fitzgerald's work have gone by the board in allowing for the generous exhibition of Mr. Ladd.". Critics noted that Field was miscast—too self-assured and strong for Daisy—and that the ironically upbeat '20s vibe of the book had been replaced with an oddly dark, noir-like mood. Gatsby's bootlegging, much as it would be in the later two films, was also exaggerated for dramatic effect, so that he looks more like a gangster than the nonviolent character of the book. In short, Fitzgerald's work was remolded to fit what was popular at the time.

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Adam Eaglin is a New York-based writer and editor. He previously worked in The Atlantic's Boston office.

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