See It Instead: The Great Gatsby

See It Instead: The Great Gatsby Edition

Sometimes a movie comes along and makes you aware of an itch you never knew you had.  Perhaps a review piqued your interest, or you’d rather stay in and pay yourself $10 for a small popcorn and watch a movie on the cheap.  Perhaps you’re valiantly struggling through your queue on Netflix or Amazon Prime, and need a wise, cultured voice to direct you to where the real movie viewing gold is hiding amidst the Sharktopusses and serial killer biopics.  Well, look no further.  See It Instead is here to take today’s new releases and guide you to what you should really be watching. See it instead: The Great Gatsby

“pictured:  not what you should be watching.”

See It Instead: The Great Gatsby (2013)

In theaters now is Baz Lurhmann’s vision of the classic tale of ill fated love and extravagance in the Jazz Era.  Packed with star power courtesy of a vaguely orange hued Leonardo DiCaprio, this movie has plenty of sights and sounds to grab your attention, but if you’re looking for other options to slake your thirst for flappers and bathtub gin, we’ve got you covered.  Here are three movies you may have missed that will all deliver the goods.

1.  The safe pick:  The Great Gatsby (1974)

See it instead: The Great Gatsby

Director Jack Clayton’s version of the gold haired Gatsby features Robert Redford in the title role, and has Mia Farrow as his beloved Daisy.  A canny and slightly cynical Nick Carraway, ably played by Law and Order’s Sam Waterston (back before his perpetual silver hair had set in,) presides over a decidedly more sombre story of impossible love and feckless socialites.

Redford is both charming and aloof to good effect, creating a mysterious millionaire who seems to only approach the mortals around him when in pursuit of his all-conquering quest for Daisy.  He looks the part and carries the feigned gallantry of Gatsby off, and his performance is only marred by the fact that Redford is certainly not the young man Fitzgerald envisioned.  Whenever Redford takes Daisy’s hand, you can see that make-up can only disguise his age so much.  It is a minor concern, but slightly jarring.

Mia Farrow is unremarkable as Daisy, and it is a shame that no director has dared to portray anything but a subdued and empty-headed Daisy, when you can feel such antipathy to her lot in life via the novel’s speech about being a beautiful little fool.  Daisy is ripe for a re-imagining.

The movie really shines on the strength of Waterston’s Nick, who possesses Fitzgerald’s growing disillusionment with the supposed virtues of the frivolous culture around him.  This jaundice makes his attachment to Gatsby all the more genuine, as you can feel that it is heartfelt attachment to a disreputable scoundrel who he nevertheless deigns “better the whole rotten bunch of them put together.”

2.  The lighthearted pick:  Johnny Dangerously (1984)

See it instead The Great Gatsby - Johnny DangerouslyThis odd ball comedy stars a young Michael Keaton as Johnny Kelly/Dangerously, a one-time street urchin whose quick wits save the life of a New York gang boss, played to a tee by Peter Boyle (Young Frankenstein.)  Taken under his wing, Dangerously begins a life of organized crime in the era of prohibition and racketeering, rising quickly through his wit and charisma, and the utter ineptitude of the toughs and goombas surrounding him, all while trying to pay for the ludicrously escalating medical costs of his dear old mother (a grey haired Maureen Stapleton, who in the movie has yet to celebrate her 30th birthday) and to keep his innocent younger brother on the straight and narrow.

When the slapstick gang war escalates to a toilet bomb scaring the cajones (almost literally) off of the Boss, Johnny is made the main man, and must settle the turf war, woo a sultry bar singer (Marilu Henner,) avoid the murderous intentions of his scheming subordinate (Joe Piscopo, as a comically emasculated Danny Vermin,) and dodge the new hot shot DA in town…his little brother, Tommy.

This movie features mafia stereotypes (the competing mob boss curses all the lousy ice-holes, and mother foggers in broken English,)  delightful cameos (Dom DeLuise as the Pope is a real stand out,) and mad cap action, combined with absurd break away pieces like a public service announcement:  “Your Testicles and You,” reminiscent of a Kentucky Fried Movie bit.  If you want to see a lighter take on the hooch smuggling and numbers running that made Jay Gatsby his fortune, check out Johnny Dangerously.

3.  The Unconventional Pick:  Scarface (1932)

See it instead: The Great Gatsby - ScarfaceOn the flip side of Johnny Dangerously, you can watch the original gangster movie:  Scarface.  A terse look at the rise of the Chicago mobster in all his Tommy Gun glory, it was so violent for the times that producer Howard Hughes (yes, the Howard Hughes loosely portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio in the Aviator…see it all comes around full circle) had to re-cut the movie:  a public service announcement placard is placed at the beginning to assure the audience that the following violence was actually based on real Chicago happenings, and that it is meant as an indictment of gangster rule, not a celebration of it.

Anyone who has seen Al Pacino’s remake knows the general story:  young tough, Tony, with a penchant for violence comes to town and begins a merciless rise to the top via murder and mayhem, this time centered around the distribution of prohibition beer, not yayo.  When Tony discovers a Thompson machine gun (the first ever filmed in a movie) after a botched attempt on his life, the glee with which actor Paul Muni portrays Tony trying out his new toy is one of the best scenes in cinema (“watch out boys, I’m going to spit!”)

Boris Karloff plays the rival gang boss who Tony must wrest control of the beer trafficking business from, and is a revelation to viewers who only know him as Frankenstein’s monster.   The real juice of the movie, however, comes from the doomed relationship between Tony and his sister Cesca (actress  Ann Dvorak,) as Tony’s violent attempts to keep her away from the darker side of life all collapse into a final blood bath.  Though somewhat tame by today’s standards, the visceral feel of the violence, and the mad dog energy of Muni’s Tony make this a must see gangster film.

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  1. See It Instead: Wilford Brimley Edition.
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