The Great Gatsby (1949)

Fans of the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel who only know Jay Gatsby on screen as Robert Redford or Leonardo DiCaprio may be surprised by how faithful the generally underrated Alan Ladd is to the author’s original conception in this rarely seen adaptation. The performance may be one of Ladd’s most personal and deeply felt. Like the film’s title character, Ladd had risen from poverty and often felt out of place after making it to the top. The actor was also deeply committed to the film. When his studio, Paramount, dragged their heels on the project, he threatened to go on suspension until they gave it a start date. Some of the changes from the original plot can be startling, particularly the development of Gatsby’s bootlegging, which adds noir elements to the film. But Ladd, Shelley Winters (as doomed jazz baby Myrtle), Howard Da Silva (as her jealous husband) and Elisha Cook, Jr. (as Gatsby’s right-hand man, a role added to the film) are spot-on in capturing the Jazz Age and its discontents.

Dir. Elliott Nugent

In attendance: David Ladd