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Carrie (1952) Print E-mail
Tuesday, 18 January 2005


Paramount Home Video
MPAA rating: Unrated
starring: Laurence Olivier, Jennifer Jones, Miriam Hopkins, Eddie Albert, Basil Ruysdael, Ray Teal, Barry Kelley, Sara Berner, William Regnolds (Reynolds)
director: William Wyler
film release year: 1952
DVD release year: 2005
film rating: Four Stars
sound/picture rating: Four Stars
reviewed by: Bill Warren

Theodore Dreiser’s first novel, Sister Carrie (1900), was based on the experiences of his sister when she ran off with a married man. The novel was a scandal: Dreiser didn’t “punish” his leading character for her transgressions—she lives with men without marrying them—but instead leaves her on the brink of a stardom she does not really want. Other authors admired Dreiser’s realism and honesty, and he became one of the central figures in the “American Realist” movement.

William Wyler’s film, called simply “Carrie,” shifts the focus from Carrie (Jennifer Jones) to George Hurstwood (Laurence Olivier), the middle-aged bar owner/restaurateur she falls in love with. It was a wise decision: Jones’ performance isn’t bad, but Olivier’s is towering, one of his movie career highlights. His Hurstwood is dignified, intelligent and honest—and also frightened, shy and helpless in the grip of his love of Carrie. The movie becomes the story of Hurstwood’s downfall, and there’s no redemption in sight. (He does not, however, commit suicide as he did in the novel.)

It’s an unusual story for Wyler to tackle in the early 1950s, although movies set in the Gay Nineties had some popularity at the time. He tells the simply story clearly; he doesn’t sell the emotional scenes, he doesn’t give us heroes and heroines, but instead creates a beautiful example of Hollywood naturalism. The score by David Raksin is at times ornate and romantic (though never inappropriate), but the film never is. Wyler is a master of closeups, and with Olivier as the actor, both make the most of them: we’re drawn into a deep affection for the unwise Hurstwood, whose mistakes are of the heart, not the mind. Olivier expresses his deep love of Carrie through his eyes, through hesitant gestures and restrained facial expressions. Hurstwood is mannered and dignfied (except around Carrie), but Olivier’s performance is warm and unguarded. The actor often said that when he made “Wuthering Heights” for Wyler, the director showed him how to act in movies; he learned again in “Carrie.”

Carrie leaves her small town home and moves to Chicago to live with her married sister. On the train, she meets outgoing, cheerful Charles Drouet (Eddie Albert) who flirts with her but realizes he could easily go too far. In Chicago, Carrie gets a job at a shoe factory, but is paid so little her sister and brother-in-law are angry that she’s not contributing to the general coffers. When she injures herself on the job, she’s immediately fired; she looks up Charlie Drouet, who presses $20 on her, asking nothing.

We, but not yet Carrie, see that Charlie is something of a rat where women are concerned. He’s not a thoroughgoing bastard, but he gladly sets Carrie up in an apartment with him, without any mention of marriage. Wyler makes it clear but not obvious that Carrie is sleeping with Charlie, though she’s dismayed to learn the neighbors consider her a kept woman.

Charlie had taken Carrie to dinner at Fitzgerald’s, a popular, plush bar/restaurant managed by Hurstwood. George is very good at his job, well liked by his customers and Fitzgerald (Basil Ruysdael), the owner of the restaurant, but his home life is restricted and without joy. His domineering wife Julie (Miriam Hopkins, excellent as usual) has managed to get all of Hurstwood’s property in her name—because he can’t imagine any other way of living.

But he gradually falls in love with Carrie, keeping this a secret from Charlie and, of course, his own wife. Hurstwood decides to leave Julie, and one night accidentally ends up with $10,000 of his boss’ money. When he discovers Fitzgerald talking with Julie, he tries to give the money back, but the attitudes of both of them are so cold and arrogant that he instead sweeps up Carrie and the two flee to New York, where they are married (without George divorcing Julie).

From this point, the story takes on increasingly darker colorations as Hurstwood’s fortunes fall while Carrie’s rise. When she thinks he intends to return to Chicago with his married son, she leaves—but Hurstwood made no such plans. The ending is moving and unhappy, but appropriate.

The excellent print on the DVD is 121 minutes, while the original theatrical release was 118. The extra footage is of a scene in a flophouse where the homeless, jobless Hurstwood finds shelter. The disc does not include any extras other than optional English subtitles, a serious drawback for a film with a director and cast as prominent as this has. There isn’t even a trailer.

“Carrie” isn’t absolutely top-drawer Wyler—his “The Heiress” of a couple of years earlier is somewhat better—but it’s a treasure from Hollywood’s golden age.

more details
sound format:
Dolby digital mono
aspect ratio:
Full screen (1:1.33)
special features: Optional English subtitles
comments: email us here...
reference system
DVD player: Kenwood DV-403
receiver: Kenwood VR-407
main speakers: Paradigm Atom
center speaker: Paradigm CC-170
rear speakers: Paradigm ADP-70
subwoofer: Paradigm PDR-10
monitor: 36-inch Sony XBR

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