Carrie (1952)

"Very Good"

Carrie (1952) Review


The people at the video store hadn't heard of this movie, naturally confusing it with Brian De Palma's hyperkinetic horror classic Carrie. They should know better. William Wyler's 1952 film is an intense, visual retelling of Theodore Dreiser's first novel Sister Carrie, a sprawling story of a "kept woman" in turn-of -the-century America and how she rises from shy country girl to big-city diva in spite of, or because of, what was then called "moral transgressions." Considered controversial, if not indecent, when Dreiser wrote it in 1900, its publication was delayed for over a decade.

Wyler (who died in 1981) was a master of hybrid movie-making, transforming one masterpiece novel and one serious play after another, into stylized, highly cinematic pictures that made audiences forget they were watching adaptations. His Wuthering Heights may not be true Bronte, but audiences in 1939 cried over Heathcliff and Kathy as if they were Romeo and Juliet; in These Three, he fashioned Lillian Hellman's play The Children's Hour in ways that made a lesbian couple acceptable on screen in 1936; and any one who's seen The Heiress, his version of Washington Square by Henry James, will never forget Olivia de Havilland's haunting portrayal of the lonely, angry, ugly-duckling daughter of a rich and powerful physician. Then there's always Ben-Hur.

Wyler and his screenwriters honed the prosy bulk of Sister Carrie into a heartbreaking love story, bypassing the bad-girl-makes-good angle to focus on George Hurstwood (Laurence Olivier), a middle-aged, wealthy restaurateur who gives up his home in Chicago, his wife, and his children to run off with the young and beautiful Carrie (Jennifer Jones). She's a naïve, mid-west farm girl who's become wise to making-it-in-the-big-city by falling in with a smarmy salesman Charles Drouet (Eddie Albert), pretending to all that she's married. A neighbor asks if she loves him. She says poverty makes love beside the point.

When Carrie and George meet, their passion offers a much-needed supply of understanding vacant from both their lives. They elope simply because they are in love; their bliss is to be away from everyone in their past. At this point the movie changes along with the fates of the characters, turning from soap opera to a revealing emotional portrayal of what happens in the land of happily-ever-after.

George stole money from his restaurant to go to New York and marry Carrie. But his first wife won't divorce, she cuts off his assets, and keeps him from seeing his children. George's theft is discovered and he can't get a job. When Carrie finally leaves him, he spirals into poverty and homelessness while Carrie thrives on the American Dream - training and auditioning and working her way up to become a well-known actress. George is asked "why" at one point, why give up the good life everyone dreams of to go off with "some girl" half his age? He replies with the truth - for love. "Love don't pay the piper," says Charles. "Everyone's got to pay the piper."

Carrie is the story of the profound, even life-threatening price, one pays for being in love. And it's Olivier who makes it work. Jennifer Jones plays Carrie with too much innocence and it's hard to believe she's capable of controlling and manipulating the men in her life. Olivier, on the other hand, is compelling as the hard-suffering George, and we feel every bit of his pain. In the last half, Olivier has little dialogue, expressing the doubt, fear, and desire for Carrie in his body and eyes, his every move telling what he feels. He wants her, he gave it all for her, and he ended up with nothing. It's remarkable acting, better than his showier roles in those well-known Shakespearean movies, and not to be missed.

Now on DVD, the film includes a restored scene deemed to scandalous for its day.



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