Turner Classic Movies has come through again with the recent cable premiere of a fascinating movie I didn’t even know existed: a 1962 film treatment of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender Is The Night starring Jason Robards as psychiatrist Dick Diver and Jennifer Jones as his tragic patient and wife Nicole Diver.
It’s a glamour production all the way, opening with a champagne splash of bad music as the camera sweeps across the sunny vistas of the French Riviera, where most of the action between the enigmatic hero and his skittish lover takes place. Tender is the Night is Fitzgerald’s “other Gatsby”; it’s just as romantic and just as scenic, with just a shade off the sparkle, and like The Great Gatsby it presents F. Scott Fitzgerald’s nearly brutal self-portrait (Jay Gatsby the foolish millionaire, Dick Diver the decadent gigolo) as well as a cutting portrait of his wife Zelda (the impossible Daisy Buchanan, of course, and the literally insane Nicole Diver).
So this is another doomed romance, and I recommend it for the elegant dialogue, the occasional poignant Fitzgerald touch (as when Dick and Nicole’s Scottie-look-alike young daughter becomes ill after drinking whisky they’d thoughtlessly left on a table) and the powerful, surprising resolution. But I wish the acting were better; Jennifer Jones shows the dramatic range of a Barbie doll in a role with infinite possibility, and Jason Robards has no fire. I’d love to see what, say, Vivien Leigh and Humphrey Bogart could have done with these roles.
Tender is the Night was directed by Hollywood journeyman Henry King, who also directed major Hemingway films like The Sun Also Rises and The Old Man and the Sea.
While we’re talking literary film on cable, I have to mention a Michael Almereyda version of Hamlet from 2000 that’s making the rounds again. I’ve written about this film before, and after another viewing I like it no less. It’s a modern-day treatment of the classic play set in corporate midtown Manhattan but with Shakespeare’s original dialogue intact. Ethan Hawke plays the melancholy prince as a bitter, vulnerable slacker, which sounds about right to me, and Julia Stiles nearly steals the show as a moody Ophelia with an apartment in the East Village. Kyle MacLachlan, Diane Verona and Bill Murray are also good, and this is probably my second-favorite film version of Hamlet, just a notch below Laurence Olivier’s canonical treatment (and I’ve seen quite a few). If you only watch one Shakespeare movie a year, make this the one.