In 1925, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s third novel, The Great Gatsby, was released to the public. The tragic story of millionaire Jay Gatsby, his love for Daisy Buchanan, the jealousy of husband Tom, and the rousing decadence of Jazz Age was on full display through Fitzgerald’s imaginative prose. It would take time for it to be recognized as a classic, especially in the years following Fitzgerald’s death in 1940.
Before Australian director Baz Luhrmann dared to take on Gatsby, three other films and one TV-movie had looked to become the ultimate adaptation of Fitzgerald’s story. One was filmed in the silent era, another was done on the cusp of the 1950s, a third featured an ensemble cast well-recognized today with a screenplay penned by an Oscar winner, and the fourth version had an Oscar winner in the role of Daisy. While each of those films had their share of success and failure, Luhrmann’s test for his adaptation to be the ultimate Great Gatsby movie will come in December.
The first screen version of The Great Gatsby came from Paramount Pictures in 1926, one year after the novel’s publication. It would feature Warner Baxter in the title role, three years away from winning the Best Actor Academy Award for his role in In Old Arizona. It would also feature Georgia Hale (Charlie Chaplin’s co-star in The Gold Rush) as Myrtle Wilson, the doomed wife of auto mechanic George Wilson – who was played by future screen legend William Powell. Despite the star power, the film is considered lost, save for a trailer that was later preserved and included in a DVD box set for preserved films.
In 1949, Paramount tried again with another version of Gatsby – getting a pre-Shane Alan Ladd in the title role and Betty Field as Daisy Buchanan. Some other notable stars include future two-time Oscar winner Shelley Winters as Myrtle Wilson, Howard da Silva (1776) as George Wilson, future Days of Our Lives icon Macdonald Carey as the story’s narrator Nick Carraway, and Oscar nominee Ruth Hussey (The Philadelphia Story) as Nick’s love interest, Jordan Baker. This version has not seen the light of day of DVD.
25 years after the 1949 Gatsby, a new version would be done by Paramount – and would feature Oscar nominee Jack Clayton (Room at the Top) as the film’s director. Robert Redford was cast as Gatsby, with Mia Farrow as his Daisy. Joining those top stars were Bruce Dern as Tom Buchanan, Sam Waterston as Nick Carraway and Karen Black as Myrtle; even Howard da Silva returned to the story for this version – this time as Meyer Wolfsheim. For this version, Francis Ford Coppola was brought in to write the screenplay; it was one of three films he wrote that was released in 1974 (The Conversation and The Godfather: Part II being the other two). While critical reaction was mixed, the film was a mild box office hit – and earned two Oscars for its music and costumes.
There has been an adaptation of The Great Gatsby for television, when A&E broadcast it on their network in 2000. Academy Award winner Mira Sorvino (Mighty Aphrodite) starred as Daisy Buchanan, while Paul Rudd was tapped as Nick Carraway. For this version, British actor Toby Stephens was brought in to play the title role. For the 1920s world of New York, this version was filmed in Montreal, Canada. Even with some high-profile names, it was considered a somewhat forgettable run of Gatsby.
For his new adaptation of Gatsby, Luhrmann enlists Leonardo DiCaprio (his leading man in 1996’s Romeo + Juliet) in the title role. He also gets Tobey Maguire as Nick, Carey Mulligan as Daisy, Isla Fisher as Myrtle Wilson and Indian cinema legend Amitabh Bachchan in his first Hollywood film as Meyer Wolfsheim. The director would use his homeland of Australia as the setting for 1920s New York, utilizing computer effects to add to the backdrop.
The trailer for Luhrmann’s new Gatsby was released, and the beginning of it seemed to display flashes of his Oscar-winning film Moulin Rouge! – especially with the outrageousness of the Jazz Age party scenes. From the first glances, it seems DiCaprio and Mulligan seem to fit into the characters flawlessly – yet the real star of the trailer may very well be Bachchan as the gambling kingpin Meyer Wolfshein. One of the intriguing things in the trailer is the use of Jack White’s cover of the U2 song “Love is Blindness,” reminding die-hard Luhrmann fans of his use of anachronistic music through Moulin Rouge! The trailer does show Art Deco-inspired titles throughout, and no surprise – the film will also be released in 3D, with the original plan for Warner Brothers (the film’s distributor) to release it for Christmas.
UPDATE (August 6, 2012): Several sources (including The Hollywood Reporter and Entertainment Weekly) have reported The Great Gatsby’s release date has been pushed back to Summer 2013. There has been no word on the reason for the delay, but Warner executives insist there are no problems with Luhrmann’s work on the film – and that they want to give it the best possible audience. So the trailer released earlier this year will remain the only cinematic proof of Luhrmann’s vision for at least a few months longer.