|Emma (Jones) wants a more exciting life and husband (Heflin)|
"A man can change his life if he wants to ..."
Published in France in 1857, Gustave Flaubert's brilliant novel "Madame Bovary" was accused of being an "outrage against public morals" and the author put on trial (and acquitted). This film version of the book begins with James Mason as Flaubert in the courtroom, explaining his creation, and then proceeding to [unnecessarily] narrate the early sequences of the movie. Farm girl Emma (Jennifer Jones) meets and falls in love -- or so she thinks -- with a simple, unambitious country doctor named Bovary (Van Heflin). But her day to day life is tedious and lacks color, and she realizes she is living with the wrong man, kind but dull. Her need for passion and excitement is even more energized when the couple are invited to a ball at the home of the Marquis D'Andervilliers (Paul Cavanagh) and she sees how wealthy people live and realizes how many men find her attractive. Guilt-wracked and initially resistant, she is drawn into affairs with Rodolphe Boulanger (Louis Jourdan), who shatters her, and later a young lawyer named Leon (Christopher Kent, who later became the director, Alf Kjellin). Meanwhile her taste for the finer things in life means that her debts are adding up alarmingly, but it may be her husband who has to pay the piper. Emma isn't evil, but her dissatisfaction with her life with Bovary makes her susceptible to, shall we say, outside stimuli. Madame Bovary is pretty faithful to the novel, despite a couple of changes. In the book Dr. Bovary is pressured to operate on the clubfooted Hippolyte (Harry Morgan, herein known as Henry) with almost tragic results, while in the film he wisely realizes that he hasn't the skill of a surgeon, making him somewhat more sympathetic. The more licentious scenes of the novel, such as Emma and Leon driving all around town in a carriage obviously having sex in the back behind lowered blinds, have been jettisoned. Although Madame Bovary could have been better cast -- Heflin never comes off as that dull or unattractive and Jones isn't the perfect Emma, although Jourdan is fine -- the actors are still quite good, including those of the large supporting cast, which includes George Zucco as Leon's boss; Gladys Cooper as his mother; Ellen Corby as the maid, Felicite; Mason as Flaubert; and especially Frank Allenby as the slimy salesman, Lhereux. The film is well directed by Minelli and has a nice score by Miklos Rozsa. Kjellin/Kent later appeared in Ice Station Zebra and directed the telefilm Deadly Dream.
Verdict: Certainly not the masterpiece that the novel is, but on it's own terms vivid and entertaining, with Jones in very good form. ***.