Sunday, August 02, 2020

Tonight's Movie: Pride and Prejudice (1940) - A Warner Archive Blu-ray Review

"Perfect" is an adjective which applies to a select number of movies, and MGM's PRIDE AND PREJUDICE (1940), just released on Blu-ray by the Warner Archive, certainly qualifies.

Surely, we might mention that it abridges the classic Jane Austen novel, that Greer Garson was in reality too old for Elizabeth Bennet, or that MGM chose anachronistic costumes the studio considered more attractive than Regency-era gowns...but in the end, none of that really matters.

What's on screen, produced by Hunt Stromberg and directed by Robert Z. Leonard, is sheer cinematic bliss, played by a superlative cast.

The story probably needs little introduction, as we follow the romances of the five marriageable Bennet daughters in the English countryside.

Eldest daughter Jane (Maureen O'Sullivan) falls in love with a newcomer to the area, well-off Mr. Bingley (Bruce Lester). Her sister Elizabeth (Greer Garson) struggles with attraction to Bingley's haughty friend, Mr. Darcy (Laurence Olivier), who gradually reveals hidden depths.

Middle sister Mary (Marsha Hunt) is a socially awkward bookworm who entertains family and friends with off-key musical performances, while younger sisters Kitty (Heather Angel) and Lydia (Ann Rutherford) are crazy for any man in uniform. The behavior of all three younger girls and their marriage-minded mother (Mary Boland) frequently embarrasses Elizabeth, Jane, and their long-suffering father (Edmund Gwenn).

Elizabeth must also contend with the proposal of their stuffy cousin Mr. Collins (Melville Cooper), who is due to inherit the family home upon Mr. Bennet's death. Fortunately he quickly turns his attentions to Elizabeth's dear friend, Charlotte Lucas (Karen Morley, seen here with Garson).

Edna May Oliver is also on hand in a scene-stealing role as Mr. Collins' oft-referenced patron, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, with Frieda Inescort as Mr. Bingley's icy sister, Edward Ashley as wicked Mr. Wickham, May Beatty as Aunt Philips, and Marjorie Wood and E.E. Clive as Charlotte's parents.

The performances are universally on point, with particular kudos due to Garson's elegant, intelligent, and sly Elizabeth and to Olivier's Darcy, who lets us know without words that "still waters run deep." The look he throws back to Elizabeth after he bids her farewell and sets off in search of Wickham breaks my heart, and his final scene with Elizabeth fills my heart with joy. These two are well matched and will have a beautiful life together.

The screenplay by Aldous Huxley (BRAVE NEW WORLD) and Jane Murfin, adapted by Helen Jerome from Austen's book, is wonderful, managing to retain the essence of the story and many of Austen's great lines in a 118-minute film. Characters such as Georgiana Darcy or Aunt Gardiner are omitted, yet honestly, we don't really miss them.

I enjoy what later, sometimes more complete screen versions brought to the story -- I reviewed the 2005 version -- but just as with MGM's brief but wonderful A CHRISTMAS CAROL (1938), sometimes less can be more.

I had the joy of discussing this film with Marsha Hunt in 2011, and she told me that she had to practice extensively to sing out of tune, as her parents were musicians and she was quite musical herself. She found it very challenging! I love her gawky body language, craning her neck forward and squinting her eyes, and how unafraid she was to be silly.

That 2011 screening was a special evening indeed as although I didn't meet her, I also saw another of the Bennet sisters, Ann Rutherford, in attendance.

If a black and white film can be described as "sumptuous," this film certainly qualifies, as photographed by Karl Freund. It's shown off to good effect on the Warner Archive Blu-ray, which has an excellent picture and sound, with the clipped British accents coming through clearly.

According to preservationist Robert Harris at Home Theater Forum, the print is from "a gorgeous scan of a safety fine grain master, in turn derived from the original nitrate camera negative, lost to decomp c. 1970."

The disc includes a short and cartoon which were on the original DVD release, along with the trailer.

Most highly recommended.

May 2021 Update: Please visit Pride and Prejudice: A Photo Gallery.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray.


Blogger barrylane said...

Agreed on all points, but add -- sexy as hell.

6:04 PM  
Blogger Vienna said...

You describe it perfectly, Laura, “sheer cinematic bliss”. Such a perfect cast.

1:25 AM  
Blogger Caftan Woman said...

Everything works so beautifully!

Years ago, I settled on the couch to enjoy Pride and Prejudice for the umpteenth time when my daughter strolled in with a friend who had never heard of Austen or any of the people in this old black and white movie. They joined me and we had another classic convert.

5:31 AM  
Blogger Irene said...

Pride and Prejudice - one of my favorite stories and my favorite version is the PBS one. I did see the more recent one that came out as a feature length film and felt it depicted the family and the way they lived more accurately. I also loved the camera work on it, especially one of the ball scenes following Elizabeth as she went from room to room. But for me it didn't have the heart that the PBS version had. For some reason I have never seen the 1940 version. Just from the stills you posted alone I could tell that period correct costumer snobs would have a field day with this version! Because you had mentioned this on your Twitter account the other day, I discovered the library has this available and I have ordered it. So looking forward to seeing this version. I am hoping I like it as well as I liked that older version of Little Women with Katherine Hepburn that you reviewed.

10:30 AM  
Blogger Hamlette (Rachel) said...


I'm always so annoyed by the Janeites who turn their noses up at this movie and refuse to watch it because "the costumes are all wrong." WHO CARES? The acting and script are superb, and it's a delicious movie, whether you know and love the book (like I do) or don't (like a few friends of mine).

4:06 PM  
Blogger barrylane said...

I agree with you. The costumes are not 'wrong' they are derived from a more attractive period.
It is only a movie about the past. Just imagine smelling these people in 1810? The actors, we presume, wash.

7:45 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks to you all for your comments. I'm delighted to know so many of you join me in loving this film. And how great that you were able to introduce someone to the classics via this film, Caftan Woman!

Irene, I hope very much you'll enjoy it. I'm so glad you liked LITTLE WOMEN (1933)!

I hope more people will try out the movie thanks to this new Blu-ray. :)

Best wishes,

4:45 PM  
Anonymous Tony Wendice said...

I think as a movie it's a very well produced, slick MGM production. But as an adaptation of the great Austen novel, it's a dud. No one is cast correctly but I think this was true of many great novel adaptations during the classic film period. I also think it is well worth seeing, however.

7:04 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

I definitely appreciate more complete (and perhaps more accurately cast) later productions of this book, but oh, how I love this movie! Glad that you find it well worth seeing despite your reservations as an adaptation.

Best wishes,

8:04 PM  
Blogger Irene said...

The DVD came in and I picked it up yesterday at the library. I did enjoy this version for what it was - Pride and Prejudice set in the Civil War era - haha. Even some of the music running through it!!! But I thought for an abridged version it did very well. Of course the ending with Darcy's aunt setting the whole thing up was way off! I thought the actress who played Lady D was spot on - looked snobbish, acted snobbish. I always love Edmund Gwen in just about anything he was in. So overall PBS is still and will probably always be my favorite but I certainly enjoyed this for what it was and the time (1940) is was made in. Thanks for recommending it :)

7:38 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Irene, I enjoyed hearing what you thought of this version! So glad you could check it out. The supporting players you mention are really so good. Thanks for letting me know what you thought!

Best wishes,

9:26 PM  

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