Pride and Prejudice (1940)
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MGM production chief Irving Thalberg had bought the rights to a stage adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen's witty novel about romance threatened by class differences in 19th-century England, as a vehicle for his wife, Norma Shearer. Thalberg's sudden death in 1936 put the project on hold, although Louis B. Mayer considered following through with Shearer and Clark Gable, Melvyn Douglas or Robert Donat in the leads. Somewhere along the way, it was decided that George Cukor would direct. Then there was a switch in leading ladies, from Shearer to Greer Garson'either because Shearer withdrew or, according to other sources, Mayer decided the plum part should go to his new protegee. As it turned out, the movie set Garson firmly on the path toward becoming Shearer's successor as MGM's reigning "Great Lady."
Laurence Olivier, fresh from his successes in Wuthering Heights (1939) and Rebecca (1940), signed on as Garson's co-star reluctantly, because he was convinced that Vivien Leigh (whom he married in 1940) was the ideal leading lady. Olivier was further dismayed when Cukor, Leigh's favored director from Gone With the Wind (1939), was taken off Pride and Prejudice to direct Joan Crawford in Susan and God (1940). But the new director, Robert Z. Leonard, rose to the occasion and, with the benefit of a script polished by famed British novelist Aldous Huxley, turned Pride and Prejudice into a sparkling success. Huxley later claimed that he had accepted the assignment only for the money, and that his salary not only supported him in the U.S. for a year but allowed him to send funds to needy friends in England during World War II.
Production Designer Cedric Gibbons, winner of 37 Academy Award nominations and a dozen of the awards, including one for Pride and Prejudice (1940), was the man who designed the Oscar' statuette back in 1928. Louis B. Mayer, Gibbons' boss at MGM, had come up with the idea of creating an Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. As Academy members prepared to present their first awards on May 26, 1929, Mayer assigned Gibbons the task of creating the award itself. During an Academy board meeting, as he listened to members discussing the five branches of their organization, Gibbons sketched his idea for the statuette: a naked man plunging a sword into a reel of film, with the five holes in the reel representing the Academy branches. Gibbons, considered by many the movies' most important and production designer, ruled over the design offices of MGM for decades, with his name appearing on some 1500 films'many of which he served in a supervisory capacity. But his own original designs were many and influential.
Gibbons shared his Oscar® win for Pride and Prejudice's black and white art direction with Paul Groesse, one of his outstanding associates. Groesse also partnered Gibbons in Oscar® wins for The Yearling (1946) and Little Women (1949). Gibbons' other Oscar®-winning production designs include those for The Bridge of San Luis Rey (1929), The Merry Widow (1935), Gaslight (1944) and Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956).
Producer: Hunt Stromberg
Director: Robert Z. Leonard
Screenplay: Jane Murfin, Aldous Huxley, from Jane Austen novel
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, Paul Groesse
Cinematography: Karl W. Freund
Editing: Robert J. Kern
Costume Design: Adrian, Gile Steele
Original Music: Robert J. Kern
Cast: Greer Garson (Elizabeth Bennet), Laurence Olivier (Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy), Mary Boland (Mrs. Bennet), Edna May Oliver (Lady Catherine de Bourgh), Edmund Gwenn (Mr. Bennet), Maureen O'Sullivan (Jane Bennet), Ann Rutherford (Lydia Bennet), Melville Cooper (Mr. Collins).
BW-118m. Closed captioning. Descriptive Video.
by Roger Fristoe