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Thursday, May 16, 2013

Movie Review: Anna Karenina (1948) d. Julien Duvivier

Vivien Leigh as Anna Karenina in the 1948 film

Movie Review:
 Anna Karenina (1948)
 d. Julien Duvivier
starring Vivien Leigh as Anna Karenina
viewed on Hulu Plus

    I had a bit of a revelation last night when a friend logged me into her trial Hulu Plus account.  This is on the heels of Wii related break through, where a 25 year old woman sat down with my Wii counsel for five seconds and showed me that I could download Youtube, Amazon streaming and Hulu Plus onto my Wii a la Netflix.  I mention this because I had been watching Netflix on my Wii for three years without realizing I could get Youtube, Amazon & Hulu Plus- literally had no idea.

  I'd known that Criterion Collection had left Netflix for Hulu Plus, but until last night I didn't realize that there are literally a 1000 Criterion Collection sponsored titles (not all of them are straight Criterion Collection films.)  For years I've wanted to have a filmic counterpart to my ambition to read all 1001 books listed in the 1001 Books To Read Before You Die (2006 edition) and I've always thought the Criterion Collection would be a great counterpart.  And now it is here.  If you look at the list of Criterion Collection titles on Wikipedia,  you'll see that it's not the strictly canonical effort that 1001 Books To Read Before You Die purports to be.  For example, the 100th Criterion Collection title is called, "Beastie Boys Video Anthology."  Interesting, perhaps.  Canonical? No way.

 It's funny, whenever I mention to people (rarely now because I know what people think) that I'm reading all 1001 Books of the 1001 Books Before You Die, I get weird stare and occasionally open condescension or hostility.  And then, in the next breath, the same person will tell me they've watched all 300 episodes of some television show- in a week- 10 episodes at a time- and that, I guess, is normal now.  It seems to me that if I'm going to "waste" a large part of my life consuming culture, I'm better off focusing more on timeless classics, and less on successful network sitcoms from the 90s- I am excluding the Friends TV series from that list- because I would totally watch that.

  Of course the first film I watched was one that Criterion Collection is streaming on Hulu Plus, but is not actually a card-carrying member of the Criterion Collection itself,  Julien Duvivier's 1948 adaptation of Anna Karenina, starring Vivien "You Know Her From Gone With The Wind" Leigh as Anna.  Vivien Leigh was as "A List" as you get in 1948: Gone With The Wind was out in 1939, and her turn as Blanche in Streetcar Named Desire was three years in the future.  Before Anna Karenina she played Cleopatra in Caesar and Cleopatra.

  The director, Julien Duvivier is, according to IMDB, "the most neglected of the "Big Five" of classic French cinema (the other four being Jean Renoir, Rene Clair, Jacques Feyder, and Marcel Carne), partly due to the uneven quality of his work.  The only Julien Duvivier film I had seen prior to last night was the classic Pepe Le Moko.  Anna Karenina then is what you would call a late career misfire.  According to the Wikipedia entry on the film, the budget was 700k British pounds and the B.O. gross was 150k- so that is a loss of a half million pounds right there.  Chalk it up to the sumptuous back drop/scenery.

  Not to be snobby or contrarian, but I almost preferred the 1948 version to the recent Keira Knightley starring version from 2012, simply because Vivian Leigh was splendid.  Her eyes really do flash with hatred when she looks at her husband.  The photograph above is a screen cap from the scene when her husband enters the grand stand during the horse race, right before Count Vronsky is thrown from his horse and Anna Karenina freaks out because she thinks he's dead.

 All the other plots from Anna Karenina the book other then the main story of the Alexi/Alexi/Anna triangle are ruthlessly suppressed   Specifically, the Konstantin Levin/Kitty Scherbatsky marriage plot is cut down to roughly three minutes of screen time. I thought Kieron Moore as Count Vronsky was quite good.  In fact, I liked almost everything about this version, except for the obvious plot consolidation, and it's a bit of a mystery to me why it's critical reputation isn't higher a half century later.

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