Time: 115 mins.
Rating: Not Rated
Academy Award nomination for Best Art Direction.
SYNOPSIS: A provincial doctor's wife's romantic illusions about life and social status lead her to betray her naive husband, take on lovers and run up ruinous debts.
BOTTOM LINE: After watching this movie it's sad to say that after 150 years not much has changed for women, many of our worst qualities are still alive and well. Flaubert's scandalous tale is a cautionary one that continues to challenge us to want to be more than just a pretty face surrounded by fabulous accesories and devoted men. Jennifer Jones is wonderfully and woefully wicked as Emma Bovary, a young woman who's strong desire for her life to be like a fairy tale turns it into a train wreck of deception, humiliation and tragedy. Her plan is to live like a princess with the best of everything, especially a man who unconditionally adores her. To that end, she marries the first successful man to come along who can take her out of the farmlife she so abhors. Blinded by her need to move up, she fails to see that while Charles Bovary (Heflin) is desperately in love with her, he's not romantic, intelligent or ambitious enough to help her fulfill her desired destiny. Her mind tells her that she should return the love of this kind and generous man, but she needs more out of life then being the country doctor's wife. Her attempts to secure the high life bring her into the arms of several other men who quickly learn it's not them she loves but what their cash can do for her. The loveliness doesn't last long, sending her path downhill pretty fast. With no way to stop her disgrace, she jumps on the express to oblivion, leaving a trail of broken people along the way.
There's nothing subtle about this story, but that's what makes it so engaging. Emma is a freight train of misguided desires, her determination frightening, because you know nothing good is going to come of it. Even so, Jones makes her likable for a good long time despite her selfish, stupid actions. There's something about Emma she's clearly emotionally broken that makes you pity her instead of hate her, leaving you hoping all along the way that she'll finally wake up and see the truth about her life. That she never does is not only fatalistic but realistic as well. It's a great character that spans the spectrum of emotions and Jones, though often overly melodramatic, does the role justice. She is out-of-control after all. Her leading men are a bit lacking in charisma, but I guess that's kind of the point. Who can compare to the model of Prince Charming and come out on top? Both Heflin and Jourdan's characters have the thankless task of trying to make this woman happy and learn to their detriment that it's wholly impossible. Their subtle performances keep the film grounded, adding depth and pathos in stark contrast to Emma's overwhelming personality. In the end, what's great about Emma is she stays true to herself no matter what, which is rare both onscreen and off. Of course, her greed and envy lead to her complete and utter ruin, so ladies look hard and long before you leap into the arms of another man. As proven here, they're generally no better than the one you've already got. If you need to admire the characters in a film, you've definitely come to the wrong place.