The Sun Also Rises

THE SUN ALSO RISES, that is true, but it didn’t shine all that brightly on the hazy 1957 adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s seminal 1926 novel, with not enough heat generated over 129 minutes to compensate for the distracting glare of its faults.

Don’t try to tell me how to live with myself! I know all about that. It’s just living with other people that gets to be tough once in a while.”

1922: caught in the amber of ennui between disillusionment from ‘The Great War’ and the hedonism of the Jazz Age, ‘The Lost Generation’ of rootless ex-pats haunt European capitals and playgrounds, amusing and abusing themselves and each other, trying to make sense of the senseless.

Rendered impotent by a war wound, Paris-based journalist ‘Jake Barnes’ (Tyrone Power) is one of several men caught in the gravity pull of capricious, trouble-teasing ‘Brett Ashley’ (Ava Gardner). She carries a torch for Jake, yet can’t keep from toying with insecure writer ‘Robert Cohn’ (Mel Ferrer), jaded wastrel ‘Mike Campbell’ (Errol Flynn) and finally ‘Pedro Romero’ (Robert Evans), a naïve young bullfighter the ceaselessly partying crew meet up with in Pamplona, Spain. ‘Bill Gorton’ (Eddie Albert), another writer pal of Jake’s, tags along. Bistros, bullfights and bedrooms set the table for emotional showdowns.

Despite a handsome $3,500,000 production and able work from most of the cast, it moves in fits and starts, not least because Hemingway’s stylization is a hard fit for screen adaptations. Peter Viertel wrote the script, but ‘Papa’s dialogue that works on the page tracks stilted when spoken. Viertel also did the screenplay for the following year’s Hemingway adaptation The Old Man And The Sea, with similar transition woes. Much of the resonance the novel held for readers in the 1920s left audiences three decades-on shrugging, and the mood is downbeat to start with. Hemingway, never fond of any movies made from work, was less than pleased, and much complaining came in (and continues in nearly every review you can bother with) over the ages of the cast relative to their characters in the novel. Fair enough, with Power, 42, Gardner, 34, Ferrer, 39, Flynn, 47, and Albert, 50 (and yet the liveliest in the group). *

Still, with the exception of Ferrer—who flatlines as usual—it’s hard to dismiss the star wattage, and the postmortem sense of ironic mirroring of what Power, Gardner, Flynn and producer Zanuck were experiencing in their own lives at the time. Power had told intimates his life “was empty, almost purposeless”; Zanuck had left Hollywood for Europe (and a succession of mistresses), and Gardner was practically a walking incarnation of Brett, down to the bullfighters. As Gardner biographer Lee Server puts it “they were a curious, ironic reflection of the young drifters in the movie they had come to make, a veritable Lost Generation of Hollywood exiles.” Power and Gardner are fine, Albert solid, but top honors go to Flynn. Playing the bitter, bon vivant buffoon Campbell, the actor’s personal journey to oblivion came out through his pores, conveying dissolution, charm as a façade for loneliness, hedonism covering a madly spinning internal compass. He followed with two similarly effective performances in Too Much, Too Soon and The Roots Of Heaven, before the sad capstone of Cuban Rebel Girls brought his wild ride to a close.

Besides the flatiron of Ferrer, the casting and acting that really hurts is Robert Evans, plucked by Zanuck from obscurity. Power, Gardner, Albert and Hemingway all objected to his being picked, but Zanuck prevailed with “The kid stays in the picture”. That line later served as title for Evans autobio after his own successful, tumultuous run as a high-powered producer. Evans brief acting career was a joke; he’s pathetic in this movie, they may as well have used Jerry Lewis.

Apart from splicing in the famous running of the bulls (and trampling of idiots), most of the Pamplona scenes were filmed in Mexico, with French location work done in Paris and Biarritz. Directed by studio veteran Henry King, the last of 11 pictures he made starring Power, going back to Lloyds Of London 21 years earlier.  Providing small pleasures in brief appearances are Gregory Ratoff, Juliette Gréco (effective as a Montmartre “working girl”), Marcel Dalio and Henry Daniell.

* Hemingway: “I saw as much of Darryl Zanuck’s splashy Cook’s tour of Europe’s lost generation bistros, bullfights, and more bistros… It’s pretty disappointing and that’s being gracious. Most of my story was set in Pamplona so they shot the film in Mexico. You’re meant to be in Spain and all you see walking around are nothing but Mexicans… It looked pretty silly. The bulls were mighty small for a start, and it looked like they had big horns on them for the day. I guess the best thing about the film was Errol Flynn.”  As to Gardner, he grudgingly told her “I guess you’ll do. You’ve got some vestiges of class.”

Zanuck, firing back: “That was a kind of lousy thing to say about my picture before the reviews came out…I think a writer is entitled to criticize if there is a complete distortion. But if he sees that there has been a serious attempt to put his story on the screen, even if it failed in some instances, he doesn’t have the right to destroy publicly something he’s been paid money for… Over 60% of the dialogue in the picture is out of Hemingway’s book… We treated it as something Holy… We showed the script to him and he made some changes. We even showed it to him again after the changes were made… If the picture doesn’t satisfy Hemingway he should read the book again… because the book won’t satisfy him.”

The grosses totaled $8,600,000, ranking 24th for the year. It’s certainly better than 1957’s other Hemingway adaptation, A Farewell To Arms.

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