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Laramie Movie Scope:
Pride and Prejudice (1940)

A disappointment to those who expect their Austen unadulterated

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by Patrick Ivers, Film Critic
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(1940; b/w) After so many faithful versions having been filmed of Jane Austen's best-known novel over the past few decades, Director Robert Z. Leonard's "Once upon a time" take from a liberal adaptation by Aldous Huxley and Jane Murfin often looks and sounds as silly as Mr Bennet's wife and girls costumed in antebellum gowns (with bosoms well concealed). A disappointment to those who expect their Austen unadulterated.

Our story begins in Hartfordshire as Mrs Bennet (Mary Boland) and her daughters Jane (Maureen O'Sullivan) and Elizabeth (Greer Garson) in a dress shop notice a commotion about two carriages with the new tenants to Netherfield across the street - Mr Darcy (Laurence Olivier), a bachelor worth ?10,000 a year, and Charles Bingley (Bruce Lester), worth ?5,000 annually, with his sister Caroline (Frieda Inescort).

Racing back home, Mrs Bennet implores her husband (Edmund Gwenn) to make haste to make acquaintance with the new arrivals for the benefit of their girls, whom she fears will end up penniless spinsters. Lacking a male heir, Mr Bennet's entire estate must pass, upon his passing, to his sycophantic cousin Mr Collins (Melville Cooper). Referring to his daughters as "the silliest girls in England," Mr Bennet informs his family of his having already made introductions and welcome to the gentlemen.

At the assembly ball Mr Darcy comes across as severe in manner, supercilious and odious of personality: "I'm in no humor tonight to give consequences to the middle class at play" for "every Hotentot can dance." Nevertheless, he requests of Elizabeth a dance; but she after observing Mr Darcy's "insolence and bad manners," and preferring the company of George Wickham, a military officer, turns down Mr Darcy's offer.

Jane, riding in the rain to the Bingleys, catches cold and spends the week in their care recovering. Mr Collins, arriving at Longbourn for a visit with his cousins, considers which of the Bennet maids might become his bride. At the Bingleys' party at Netherfield, Elizabeth demonstrates her superiority at archery with the invulnerable, impassive Mr Darcy, who compliments her for her "courage and loyalty" in defending Mr Wickham, though his own estimate of the man is beneath contempt. As "a rational creature speaking the truth from her heart," Elizabeth refuses Mr Collins's offer of marriage, prompting her mother to scold her for being foolish and headstrong.

Creating some disappointment in the Bennet household, the proud, arrogant (but dishonorable?) Mr Darcy and the Bingleys depart for London, where Charles is expected to wed Mr Darcy's sister Georgiana (whom we never see). Charlotte (Karen Morley), who says to Elizabeth that happiness is a matter of chance, marries Mr Collins, despite his defects of character.

Following an invitation to Rosings from Lady Catherine de Bourgh (Edna May Oliver) for a dinner party with her daughter Anne (Gia Kent), the Collinses, Col Fitzwilliams, and her nephew Mr Darcy, Elizabeth discovers that Mr Darcy was partly responsible for Charles Bingley's abandoning his earlier attentions to her sister Jane. Thus, when Mr Darcy, apparently having overcome his aversion for her family, professes his love and proposes marriage to Elizabeth, she refuses him for his selfish disregard of others' feelings, for his injustice and betrayal (so she believes) of Mr Wickham.

However, soon after terrible news invades the Bennet home of 16-year-old Lydia's having run off to London with Mr Wickham, whose gambling debts also come to light. Mr Darcy then discloses to Elizabeth the tale of his own sister's near-scandalous affair with Mr Wickham.

Serving in an ambassadorial capacity, Lady Catherine makes a trip to see Elizabeth, informing the young woman of Mr Darcy munificent act of charity but warning her that she has the power to strip Mr Darcy of every shilling of his inheritance if he displeases her, demanding a promise from Elizabeth never to accept a proposal of marriage from him. The obstinate heroine, however, refuses to refuse to marry him.

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Copyright © 2008 Patrick Ivers. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Patrick Ivers can be reached via e-mail at nora's email address at juno. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

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