Madame Bovary


20th Century Fox/Warner Bros.

Mia Wasikowska , Henry Lloyd-Hughes, Ezra Miller,Paul Giamatti, Rhys Ifans, Logan Marshall-Green

Admittedly, I have never read Gustave Flaubert’s classic Madame Bovary so there may be something I am missing.

In mid 1800s France, Emma is first seen in a convent school learning basic home economic skills and practicing to be poised and graceful. Soon she is whisked out of school so she can marry the the man her father has picked out for her, country doctor Charles Bovary. After a simple wedding Emma spends an awkward wedding night with her new husband. He rises early to make his patient rounds leaving Emma with house keeper (Laura Carmichael, Downton Abbey’s Lady Edith) Henrietta. Henrietta is eager to please and agreeable but does not afford Emma much excitement. Emma at first tries to please her husband, making a special dessert, but Charles prefers fruit. She tries to engage her husband in conversation but he gives only clipped one word exchanges. She has suggestions for social outings but her prefers quiet nights at home.

Emma is disappointed that the exciting, passion filled life she dreamed of as a school girl does not come to fruition. Soon, life in the small, provincial town of Yonville  makes her miserable, as she spends her days alone reading or wandering in the garden while Charles tends to patients.

In this mindset of longing, she receives a call from the sly dry goods salesman Monsieur Lheureux. Although tempted, Emma professes she can’t buy new clothes or furniture until she’s discussed it with her husband. Monsieur Lheureux promises her an unlimited supply of credit but Emma still begs off.

As time passes, she meets some of her husbands colleagues, Monsieur Homais, the local pharmacist (Paul Giamatti) and young law student Leon Dupuis (played by the dreamy Ezra Miller, so good in We Need to talk about Kevin). Homais tries to enlist Emma’s help in convincing her husband to do a risky operation on the club-foot of Homais’ servant Hippolyte and become a celebrated surgeon.

Leon is a romantic like Emma. He soon begins calling on Emma when her husband isn’t home to take afternoon strolls. He regales Emma with his dreams of living in Paris and becoming immersed in culture and the arts. It is not long before he professes his love for Emma but she reluctantly turns down his advances saying she is a married woman. Charles loves Emma but he is oblivious to Emma’s melancholy and boredom.

Charles and Emma are invited to a hunting party by the dashing and handsome Marquis d’Andervilliers (Logan Marshall-Green), who had dropped by Doctor Bovary’s house to have one of his servants  treated. He, too, is smitten with Emma but has far more nefarious plans for her. Buoyed by this invitation, Emma summons Monsieur Lheureux to order an expensive outfit for the hunting party–on credit of course. Soon she is in the midst of a passionate affair with the Marquis and buys more and more luxury clothes and items from Monsieur Lheureux all on credit. Dreaming to basque in reflected glory as a famous country surgeon’s wife, she helps to persuade Charles to agree to do the risky surgery on Hippolyte’s club foot, even though Charles has major reservations. Is the surgery a success? Will Emma leave Charles for the Marquis d’Andervilliers? How does Leon Dupuis fit into all of this? And how will Emma pay her astronomical debt to Monsieur Lheureux?

Emma Bovary is supposed to be beautiful and although Mia Wasikowska is attractive she is not beautiful. It’s hard to imagine anyone defying convention for her except as a convenient roll in the hay. It also never seems to occur to her that because she is married she is a convenient and temporary object of desire with no strings. Charles Bovary is supposed to be clumsy and clodding but Henry Lloyd-Hughes is handsome and graceful. Although he is oblivious to Emma’s inner turmoil he is not worthy of the disdain Emma heaps on him. Henrietta is sweet and good company.  So Emma has a handsome, hardworking husband, a nice house, a house keeper and plenty of free time to take up art, cultivate a garden, or any other hobbies she likes, make friends, have babies, etc. It’s hard for me to feel sorry for her or not look on her as an ingrate. This is the problem with the movie. If I read the book I might have a better understanding of Emma and her plight and have more of an appreciation of Wasikowska’s performance. So I just downloaded the book on my kindle.

 Madame Bovary is currently available on Netflix.




United Artists/ Twentieth Century Pictures
Montgomery Clift, Myrna Loy, Deloris Hart, Maureen Stapleton

Nathanial West is not for the faint of heart! His novels are brutal, soul crushing depictions of life in the United States during the Great Depression. Miss Lonelyhearts, on which the film is based, is fraught with themes of alienation as people are reduced to mere cogs in the wheels of mass production, in this case the newspaper business, at the peak of the Industrial Revolution. Whew. That was a mouthful! Even this film, made to the white washing  motion picture production code, Lonelyhearts, is wrought with bleak, dismal depictions of the lives of its desperate characters. These themes still hold true today at the dawn of the Information Age. People have fewer opportunities for interpersonal communication and rely more on email, texting, instant messaging, and social media.

You may be wondering why Fabby would choose a such a dark depressing movie to review. Well sometimes these movies can be cathartic. Misery loves company and all that.

This sanitized updated (to the 1950s) version has great impact due to the intense performance by Montgomery Clift.  This film was made about a year after Montgomery Clift fell asleep at the wheel.and smashed his car into a telephone pole after leaving a dinner party at the home of Elizabeth Taylor. He had to have massive facial reconstruction surgeries, which gave him a harder more chiseled look, in comparison to his original handsome, angelic appearance.  This dramatic changer of appearance actually works in this film.

Before and After


Also in the film is the beautiful Deloris Hart, who famously left her acting career and a fiance in 1963 to become a Nun, a story that was recounted in the documentary God is Bigger than Elvis. Yes, Miss Hart did co-star with “The King” in the film Loving You.

Deloris Hart


Fun fact! Sister Deloris’ Benedictine Abbey of Regina Laudis in Bethlehem, Connecticut is where actress Patricia Neal went to seek solace when her marriage to Raold Dahl (acclaimed children’s author who is known for the novels Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Big Peach, and Matilda among others. For a complete bibliography look here) ended in divorce Also, he was a complete douche who divorced Neal, a woman who bore him five children (she carried one child during and after she suffered a debilitating stroke and had to learn to walk and talk again) for his young assistant named Felicity. Also, in Fabby’s opinion, Raold Dahl is a boorish, sexist misogynist rube.

Neal visited the Abbey many times, converted to Catholicism, and is buried there.

Maureen Stapleton (fourth cousin to Jean Stapleton) was nominated for an Academy Award for this, her first film.

But I digress.

The film opens up in a bar because people in the 1950s drank and smoked…a lot. Adam White (Montgomery Clift) is invited by Florence Shrike (Myrna Loy) to sit and have a drink.  White declines the drink because he doesn’t do well with alcohol but agrees to have a chat. He’s looking for a job and Florence Strike just happens to be the wife of William Strike (played by Robert Ryan in a great performance as the deliciously smarmy and sadistic editor of the Chronicle newspaper). Shrike arrives at the bar to meet his wife ( Florence doesn’t work and spends a lot of time sitting in the bar waiting for her lout of a husband to show up) and is introduced to White. Strike wonders how White knew to find him in that particular bar and White tells him because it’s close to the paper’s office building. BRILLIANT! He asks White to write an audition piece for the paper and White writes an article about meeting the boorish Strike and being witness to the cruel and insulting way he treats his wife.  Instead of offending him, Strike is amused by the article (aren’t all women supposed to be treated badly?) and White is hired. He is given the task of writing the Miss Lonelyhearts advice-to-the-lovelorn column.

Justy (Deloris Hart), White’s virginal fiance is thrilled with the news. She wants to get married and out of her household where she works full-time and cooks and cleans (women’s work) for her father and younger brothers. Who needs that?

As time progresses, White finds himself consumed with the problems of his letter writers.  He asks Strike for a different position at the paper but Strike, who enjoys watching the intense young reporter suffer, refuses. He mocks White’s empathy (manly men do not empathize) for his readers and the emotional toll it takes on him. Strike orders him to contact the letter writers to confirm their stories.  Having personal contact with his readers is more than White can bear and he goes back to drinking (in the bar near the newspaper where Mrs. Strike apparently lives and has her own personal booth). The bar also has a snazzy jagged jazzy jukebox that plays in the background which adds to Whites angst.
He does a lot of head holding and bulging eyes.

One of the readers he contacts is Fay Doyle (played by Maureen Stapleton who gives a wonderful performance as the blowsy, dingy unfulfilled house wife) Doyle confides in White that her husband came home from “the war” (not sure if it was WWII or Korea) and that she and her husband are no longer intimate. Then Doyle practically jumps White (not an exaggeration) and they have sexy time.
This now adds guilt to Whites list of problems. White rejects Doyle’s request for another “meeting” and she becomes furious!

Also, White has a deep dark secret about his past that he keeps from everyone including Justy.

So, what is White’s secret? Will he ever get out of his debilitating assignment at the paper or be driven mad? Will Strikes’ mocking incite White to violence?  Will White and Justy’s relationship survive? Will Justy’s dad and brothers learn to take care of themselves? Will Strike ever meet his wife on time? And what is Doyle’s diabolical plot for revenge? You have to watch the movie to find out. Luckily it’s free on youtube!