Cast & Crew
In 1857, French author Gustave Flaubert is ordered to stand trial to defend accusations that his novel, Madame Bovary , is "an outrage against public morals and established customs." During the trial, prosecutors argue that the subject of the book, Emma Bovary, is a "disgrace to France and an insult to womanhood," and that the book should be banned for its indecency. In response, Flaubert contends that his story is about forgiveness and that many women like Emma exist in the real world. Flaubert then illustrates his point by telling the court the story of Emma, beginning when she was twenty years old and living a lonely life on her father's farm: One night, a country physician named Charles Bovary arrives at the farm to examine Emma's father, who has an injured leg. Emma, who has spent years living in a convent and fantasizing about love and romance, falls instantly in love with Charles. The two are married a short time later and settle into their modest home in the small town of Yonville, in Normandy. While Charles establishes his practice in the town, Emma sets out to decorate her new home just as she had always dreamed. She is greatly disappointed, however, when her expectations of immediate social prominence are not met. Determined to fulfill another one of her dreams, Emma tells Charles that she wants a child, specifically a boy. Emma is disappointed yet again when, months later, she gives birth to a girl. Emma grows increasingly bored, morbid and depressed in the years that follow, and hardly participates in the upbringing of her daughter, Berthe. She also has a brief affair with a young man named Leon Dupuis, who lives with his mother. Emma is overjoyed one day when she and Charles receive an invitation to attend a ball at the home of the aristocratic Marquis D'Andervilliers. Emma disregards Charles' concerns that they will be out of place at the party, and begins planning her dress. Wearing an exquisite gown chosen by Monsieur Lhereux, a dealer of fine linens, Emma makes a great impression at the ball. While Emma dances through the night, Charles drinks heavily and awkwardly wanders around the party alone. Emma's revelry comes to an abrupt end when Charles makes a drunken appearance on the dance floor and asks her to dance with him. Profoundly embarrassed, Emma insists that Charles take her home. Days later, Leon visits Emma and attempts to resume his affair with her, but the romance is spoiled when Leon's mother arrives with news that she has arranged for her son to study law in Paris. Soon after Leon leaves Yonville, aristocrat Rodolphe Boulanger arrives and attempts to pursue a furtive romance with Emma. Though her marriage continues to deteriorate, Emma believes that she can save it by encouraging Charles to become the rich and famous husband she always wanted. To accomplish this, Emma pressures Charles into agreeing to perform a dangerous but revolutionary operation to repair the legs of the village invalid. Charles refuses the operation at the last minute, however, as he realizes how dangerous it is and how hollow Emma's "storybook fantasies" are. Emma eventually gives up hope of happiness with Charles and continues her romance with Rodolphe. Although she hopes to realize her dream of creating the perfect home with Rodolphe, he calls her obsession with his home an intrusion on his privacy. Emma and Rodolphe's planned elopement to Italy ends in sorrow for Emma when Rodolphe leaves for Italy alone. The rejection leaves Emma distraught, and she spends the next several months in her bed. When Emma recovers from her depression, she and Charles attend the opera in Rouen, where they meet Leon, who is back from Paris. Emma stays alone in Rouen for one night but rejects Leon's attempts to resume their affair. When she returns to Yonville, Emma learns that Charles has left town to attend his father's funeral. During Charles' absence, Lhereux demands that Emma repay her debts to him. Emma goes to Leon to ask for money, but he has nothing to lend her and confesses that he is only a clerk at his law firm. Desperate to repay her debt before Charles returns, Emma visits Rodolphe, who has returned from Italy, and pleads with him for money. When Rodolphe refuses to help her, Emma decides to kill herself and steals some arsenic from a pharmacy. She ingests the arsenic before she returns home, and despite Charles' attempts to save her, dies. After concluding his story about Emma by summing up her legacy, Flaubert is acquitted of all charges against him.
Angi O. Poulos
Charles De Ravenne
Helen St. Rayner
Pandro S. Berman
Standish J. Lambert
S. C. Manatt
Richard A. Pefferle
Jack Martin Smith
Edwin B. Willis
Best Art Direction
Madame Bovary (1949)
In Madame Bovary (1949), producer Pandro S. Berman, director Vincente Minnelli, and screenwriter Robert Ardrey finessed the issue of Emma Bovary's adultery not only by dealing with the lovemaking very discreetly, but by framing the story with Flaubert's trial. As Flaubert, James Mason explains to the judges why Madame Bovary is a tragic figure who pays dearly for her sins. Berman and Minnelli had Lana Turner in mind for the role of Emma, but industry censors suggested that Turner's erotic screen persona might not make her the wisest choice. They suggested that the filmmakers choose someone with a more ladylike image.
Jennifer Jones had won an Academy Award for playing a saint in The Song of Bernadette (1943). But she also projected a neurotic intensity onscreen that Berman and Minnelli thought would be right for the part. MGM began negotiations with David O. Selznick, to whom Jones was under contract. Selznick liked the idea, but on the condition that MGM also use two of his contract actors in the film, both playing Emma Bovary's lovers: Louis Jourdan, and Swedish actor Alf Kjellin, who made his American film debut in Madame Bovary under the name of Christopher Kent. Van Heflin, playing Emma's husband, was the only MGM contract actor to play a leading role in Madame Bovary.
Selznick, Jones' mentor and soon-to-be husband, was not involved in the production of Madame Bovary. But as usual, he tried to micromanage every aspect, firing off lengthy daily memos on everything from the script to the shape of his beloved's eyebrows. Berman and Minnelli gave in on the eyebrows, and ignored the rest. The high-strung Jones, meanwhile, was delivering an exquisite performance, but sometimes she would get too deeply into character. In a scene with the little girl playing her daughter, the girl refused to be affectionate toward Jones. Jones reacted by running off the set, crying, "she doesn't like me, she thinks I'm terrible. Nobody likes me." Not only were Emma Bovary's neuroses mirrored by the film's leading lady, they also reflected the turmoil of Minnelli's private life, as his wife Judy Garland collapsed in a mental breakdown, and Minnelli was too involved in the film to give her the attention she required.
The production values for Madame Bovary were as lavish as MGM's new austerity would allow. The art department recycled the studio's English village set into a French one so cleverly that Madame Bovary was nominated for an Academy Award for art direction and set design. If the elegant furnishings and Emma's wardrobe were a tad too grand for provincial French society, well, that was the MGM way, and as it happened, they suited Emma's grandiose fantasies.
They certainly suited the centerpiece of Madame Bovary, the breathtaking ball sequence. As Stephen Harvey noted in his study of Minnelli's work, Directed by Vincente Minnelli, the director planned it as carefully as any production number in his musicals. He had composer Miklos Rozsa compose what Minnelli called a "neurotic waltz with an accelerating tempo" to which Jones and Jourdan whirled around in a dazzling, vertiginous dance, the camera swirling with them faster and faster. Minnelli said it was among the most difficult sequences he'd ever directed. Time Magazine called it "a wonderfully skilled projection of Emma's half-swooning sense of her own seductiveness." That review, and many others, were equally rapturous about the film's directing, script, Robert Planck's masterful cinematography, and Jones' performance. There have been later television and film adaptations of Madame Bovary, notably Claude Chabrol's 1991 version starring Isabelle Huppert, but most critics agree that none of them convey the passion, yearning and tragedy of Emma Bovary as poignantly as this one.
Director: Vincente Minnelli
Producer: Pandro S. Berman
Screenplay: Robert Ardrey, based on the novel by Gustave Flaubert
Cinematography: Robert Planck
Editor: Ferris Webster
Costume Design: Walter Plunkett
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, Jack Martin Smith; sets, Edwin B. Willis, Richard A. Pefferle
Music: Miklos Rozsa
Principal Cast: Jennifer Jones (Emma Bovary), James Mason (Gustave Flaubert), Van Heflin (Charles Bovary), Louis Jourdan (Rodolphe Boulanger), Alf Kjellin [as Christopher Kent] (Leon Dupuis), Gene Lockhart (Homais), Frank Allenby (L'Heureux), Gladys Cooper (Mme. Dupuis), Ellen Corby (Felicite)
BW-115m. Closed captioning.
by Margarita Landazuri
Madame Bovary (1949)
She had learned to be a woman for whom experience would always be a prison, and freedom would lie always beyond the horizon.- Gustave Flaubert
To declare that men have absolute power over truth is blasphemy -- and the last illusion. Truth lives forever. Men do not.- Gustave Flaubert
Could it have been otherwise? She had wept no doubt in the early morning hours. Was Emma the first bride to weep while the bridegroom slept? Or the last? Tristin, Lancelot, love in a Scotch cottage, love in a Swiss chalet...- Gustave Flaubert
Is it a crime to want things to be beautiful?- Emma Bovary
Do you know, Charles, why the clock strikes? To announce the death of another hour.- Emma Bovary
Onscreen credits include a written acknowledgment stating that actors Jennifer Jones, Louis Jourdan and Christopher Kent appeared in the film "by arrangement with David O. Selznick." In the opening credits, James Mason is listed last, and his credit reads "portraying Gustave Flaubert, the author." In the closing credits, however, Mason is listed second. The film also contains the following written epilogue: "Gustave Flaubert's acquittal, almost a century ago, was a triumphant moment in the history of the free mind. His masterpiece, Madame Bovary, became a part of our heritage, to live-like truth itself-forever." Flaubert's novel was first published in installments under the title "Madame Bovary: Moeurs de province," in Revue de Paris magazine (1 October-15 December 1856). Following the first publication of Madame Bovary, the French government charged Flaubert with writing an immoral story. Flaubert stood trial in January and February of 1857, and narrowly escaped conviction. Voice-over narration spoken by James Mason as "Flaubert" is heard intermittently throughout the picture.
According to an October 1947 Hollywood Reporter news item, M-G-M "leased" the screen treatment of Madame Bovary from writer Robert Ardrey for $10,000 a year. An August 1948 Hollywood Reporter news item indicates that Lana Turner was originally set for the title role. The film marked the American motion picture debut of Swedish actor Alf Kjellin, who was billed as Christopher Kent. According to modern sources, Selznick agreed to loan out Jones on the condition that M-G-M also use Kjellin and Jourdan for the film. According to memos reprinted in a modern source, Selznick, who married Jones in 1949, sent several memos to M-G-M throughout the course of the production, advising the studio on details ranging from Jones's makeup to the development of her character. Modern sourcess add that Selznick was reportedly instrumental in the firing of Dotty Ponedel, a makeup artist assigned to Jones.
The film received an Academy Award nomination in the category of Best Art Direction and Set Decoration. Among the many other screen adaptations of Flaubert's novel are: the 1932 Allied Pictures Corp. film Unholy Love, directed by Albert Ray and starring H. B. Warner and Lila Lee (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films 1931-40; F3.4867); the 1934 French film Madame Bovery, directed by Jean Renoir and starring Valentine Tessier and Pierre Renoir; the 1937 German film directed by Gerhard Lamprecht and starring Pola Negri; the 1969 German-Italian production Madame Bovary (Play the Game or Leave the Bed), directed by John Scott and starring Edwige Fenech; the BBC/Time-Life production televised as part of PBS's Masterpiece Theatre in 1976, directed by Rodney Bennett and starring Francesca Annis and Tom Conti; and the 1991 French film directed by Claude Chabrol and starring Isabelle Huppert and Jean-Francois Balmer. A stage adaptation of Flaubert's novel, written and directed by Benn W. Levy, opened in New York on November 16, 1938 and starred Constance Cummings and Eric Portman.