Paramount Studios presents
Carrie (1952) (1952)
"When you're poor, it gets all mixed up. You like the people who are good to you."- Carrie Meeber (Jennifer Jones)
Stars: Laurence Olivier, Jennifer Jones, Miriam Hopkins, Eddie Albert
Director: William Wyler
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (adult themes)
Run Time: 02h:01m:29s
Release Date: 2005-01-18
DVD ReviewNo one needs to tell you Laurence Olivier was one of the finest actors of the 20th century; his work speaks for itself. That he preferred the sanctuary of the stage to the silver screen's hurly-burly is also common knowledge. Yet despite his indifference to cinema, Olivier gave several of his best performances before the camera, which embraced his matinee idol looks and allowed the public a close-up view of his genius. The brooding Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights, the haunted Max de Winter in Rebecca, the tortured Hamlet, and diabolical Richard III are but a few of his memorable film portraits.
Another is George Hurstwood in William Wyler's Carrie. And what you probably don't know is that many critics cite Olivier's brutally realistic, heartbreaking portrayal of a man driven to ruin by an obsessive love as the actor's most dimensional and fascinating screen creation. Though Sir Larry won an Oscar for Hamlet, he was never more down-to-earth or nakedly emotional than in this riveting adaptation of Sister Carrie, Theodore Dreiser's acclaimed naturalistic novel. Olivier's transformation from a well-to-do manager of a ritzy, turn-of-the-century Chicago restaurant to a skid row bum panhandling on the streets of New York is nothing short of breathtaking.
This Carrie bears no resemblance to Stephen King's identically named study of a telekinetic teen, although the title character's power over Hurstwood is so intense, it might seem as if she's mentally manipulating him. As the film begins, young Carrie Meeber (Jennifer Jones) leaves her poor Missouri family to seek her fortune (and hopefully a husband) in Chicago. On the train, she meets city slicker Charlie Druet (Eddie Albert), whose shameless flirting betrays a desire to exploit her provincial innocence. Carrie doesn't initially submit to his advances, but after she's fired from her job at a shoe stitching factory, she turns to him for counsel, and he craftily seduces her.
Dreiser writes in his novel, "When a girl leaves home at eighteen, she does one of two things. Either she falls into saving hands and becomes better, or she rapidly assumes the cosmopolitan standard of virtue and becomes worse." Carrie chooses the latter and allows Charlie to keep her in comfort, all the while still craving the respectability their illicit relationship lacks. She turns to Hurstwood, a friend of Charlie's, hoping he'll give her the security and untarnished love to which she believes she's entitled. Yet Hurstwood fails to divulge critical personal details—namely that he's married (with practically grown children) to a grasping shrew (Miriam Hopkins) who refuses to divorce him. Over time, Carrie's intoxicating spell clouds his judgment, and in a desperate attempt to break free from his wife and experience the ecstasy of long-elusive love, Hurstwood turns to thievery, taking $10,000 from his restaurant and fleeing with an oblivious Carrie to New York. The couple enjoys a few weeks of happiness before the authorities show up and instigate Hurstwood's dizzying downward spiral.
Dreiser is particularly adept at depicting the great divide between American social classes, and the pitfalls and dangers the poor face as they struggle to elevate themselves and gain admittance to the club. He explores the same themes in An American Tragedy (brilliantly filmed as A Place in the Sun), but Carrie examines them with more subtlety and less judgment. Society is what it is, Dreiser seems to say, and Carrie merely tries to navigate its treacherous waters as best she can. She may not behave in an utterly upstanding manner, but she's generally well-intentioned and takes responsibility for her choices. Hurstwood does the same, but lacks one key element—the resilience of youth.
The downbeat nature of Carrie translated into disappointing box office returns, but a half-century later the film retains its power and emotion. Wyler wisely refrains from any noticeable technique that would compete with the story and performances, but his self-assured hand and keen eye lends Carrie a fluidity that keeps viewers engrossed. The period trimmings are well rendered (the film received Oscar nominations for art direction and costume design), and, as usual, Wyler draws marvelous work from his actors.
Pauline Kael once wrote that Wyler taught Olivier the finer points of screen acting during Wuthering Heights, but it wasn't until Carrie that the actor demonstrated how much he had learned. His performance dominates, but Jones holds her own, contributing a beautifully shaded portrayal that gains steam as the film progresses. As in Since You Went Away and Portrait of Jennie, Jones gracefully evolves from a naïve girl to a mature woman, yet here adds an effective dash of world-weary hardness to the mix. Albert is also especially good as the slick, opportunistic Charlie, and Hopkins (a Wyler favorite) shines as Hurstwood's icy wife.
This DVD edition of Carrie contains a deleted scene (edited back into the print) of a deteriorating Hurstwood in a homeless shelter (or "flophouse"). A title card notes the sequence was cut "due to the political state of affairs in our nation during this era"—a vague explanation that asks more questions than it answers. In any event, the scene is a vital addition to the film, enhancing its impact and offering Olivier another dazzling moment.
Obsession is a well-worn theme in Hollywood, but Carrie examines its destructive nature, as well as the cruelty of society, with candor and style. Olivier, Jones, and Wyler do justice to Dreiser's novel, and make this forgotten gem well worth rediscovering.
Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A
|Aspect Ratio||1.33:1 - Full Frame|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: Paramount's full-screen transfer is a mixed bag. Some scenes enjoy exceptional clarity and detail, while others look faded and grainy. Solid, rich blacks add an appropriate starkness to the film, but more varied gray levels are required to boost contrast and vibrancy. Unfortunately, the source material possesses a fair amount of grit, and some faint, dark vertical lines occasionally intrude. Despite these issues, the transfer remains quite watchable, and the engrossing drama makes it easy to overlook any flaws.
Image Transfer Grade: B
Audio Transfer Review: The two-channel mono track has been nicely cleaned up, with only a couple of errant surface defects remaining. Dialogue is the picture's primary engine, and Olivier and Jones make sure every word is clear and comprehendible. David Raksin's understated score sounds a bit thin, but adds lovely atmosphere to the film.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 17 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Deleted Scenes
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Layers Switch: 01h:07m:19s
Extras Review: Other than the deleted "flophouse" scene mentioned above, no extras enhance the disc.
Extras Grade: D+
Final CommentsAlthough largely ignored at the time of its release, Carrie holds up well and remains an involving and emotionally affecting drama. Laurence Olivier and Jennifer Jones embody Theodore Dreiser's classic characters, and their sensitivity and passion add considerable luster to this heartbreaking romance. Recommended.
David Krauss 2005-01-17