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Tender Is the Night

F. Scott Fitzgerald


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Tender Is the Night
(1962, DVD)
Buy in U.K.

  1962 Tender Is the Night
dir. Henry King, writ. Ivan Moffat, featuring Jennifer Jones, Jason Robards, Tom Ewing, Joan Fontaine, Jill St. John

Tender Is the Night

The movies screwed up poor Scott Fitzgerald in more ways than one. His novels generally translated very badly to the silver screen. Plus, his attempts to write for the movies himself pretty well flopped, perhaps ruining what was left of his talent by that time in his life. His last great literary works were cynical stories of a screenwriter's experiences and an unfinished novel about Hollywood.

Tender is the Night, based on one of his two greatest novels, was not made until three decades after the book's publication and two decades after the author's death. And the result was far different work from Fitzgerald's novel. It was a critical and popular flop at the time—although it's come up in critics' estimation somewhat since then.

Much was made at the time of Jennifer Jones's age. Rather than Nicole being the beautiful young patient of psychiatrist Dick Diver (Jason Robards), she appears close to the doctor's age. Actually Jones was older than Robards, in her forties, although she does appear younger than that. But this is not important to the story.

What is more important to the story is that the time period seems to be all askew. It's hard to tell this is supposed to be the 1920s, which Fitzgerald had a gift for depicting. The music, the fashions, the cars, the way people talk and act in this film—it's all mixed up, spanning the twenties through to the fifties. And, although we're told over and over again "Look, we're on the French Riviera, now we're in the Alps...." as the ex-patriate Divers roam around on an endless vacation (no one has to work), we never get a sense of the crazy, over-the-top lifestyle that Fitzgerald put under his critical microscope. Yes, we get a couple of carefully crafted, supposedly madcap scenes at dinner parties and in a bar, but they seem drained of real craziness.

All the Fitzgerald touches are missing: the eye for telling detail, the quirky unbelievable little things that happen in real life, the lively bantering dialogue—even major events such as a murder and a scandal. What is left is mainly melodrama. As a novel Tender Is the Night has little overarching drama but is saved by brilliant writing. As a movie, without that writing, it's an unremarkable man-gets-woman, man-loses-woman story, stretched out to more than two hours.

Don't get me wrong. Jones and Robards, along with a supporting cast that includes Joan Fontaine and Tom Ewell, terrific actors all, provide some very good moments with the material they are given. Early on—right around the time it becomes apparent that all is not well in the Diver family, that Nicole has inner demons—viewers may get the pleasant feeling they are in for a great emotional ride. But then very little else transpires that could not be predicted at that point. The novel kept us too preoccupied to notice, but the film drags us through every inevitable turn without redeeming distraction.

This 1962 film version of Tender Is the Night seems not be available in North America in any consumer-friendly format. Only in Europe. Which is appropriate somehow.

— Eric

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© Copyright 2010 Eric McMillan. All rights reserved.

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