Madame Bovary (1949) Blu-ray Review

4 Stars A classy film from a classic novel.
Madame Bovary Review

Madame Bovary is a shimmering rendition of a literary classic.

Madame Bovary (1949)
Released: 23 Jan 1950
Rated: Passed
Runtime: 114 min
Director: Vincente Minnelli
Genre: Drama, Romance
Cast: Jennifer Jones, James Mason, Van Heflin
Writer(s): Robert Ardrey, Gustave Flaubert
Plot: A provincial doctor's wife's romantic illusions about life and social status lead her to betray her naive husband, take on lovers, and run up ruinous debts.
IMDB rating: 7.0
MetaScore: N/A

Disc Information
Studio: MGM
Distributed By: Warner Archive
Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
Audio: English 2.0 DTS-HDMA
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 1 Hr. 54 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray
Case Type: keep case
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Region: All
Release Date: 12/12/2023
MSRP: $21.99

The Production: 4/5

Having brought to the screen fairly faithful film versions of literary classics from A Tale of Two Cities and Anna Karenina to Mutiny on the Bounty and The Yearling, MGM triumphed once again with Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary. Directed with customary style and elegance by Vincente Minnelli and with a multi-talented star-laden cast, Madame Bovary was an artistic triumph but a box-office flop. Despite the book’s notoriety upon publication, the title character’s many indiscretions didn’t seem to matter much to mid-20th century audiences.

In 1857, French author Gustave Flaubert (James Mason) is hauled into court to defend his latest publication Madame Bovary from charges of obscenity. Flaubert narrates his story of tormented Emma Bovary (Jennifer Jones), a lower middle-class woman who lives only for the chic, stylish, and sophisticated that she dreams of constantly and which she strives tirelessly to achieve. She marries a plain country doctor (Van Heflin) in the hopes that she can turn his mundane practice into one that will bring fame and riches to them both, but she doesn’t count on his unambitious and unassuming nature. With her husband no help in her desire to rise in social class, she begins a series of affairs with attractive young men who have greater ambition and who offer promises of the rich life she dreams of: first with law clerk Leon Dupuis (Christopher Kent) and then with fashionable bachelor Rodolphe Boulanger (Louis Jourdan). She borrows heavily from the local draper and couturier Lhereux (Frank Allenby) in order to appeal to the men she desires, but in living in her dreamy fantasies of the moment, Madame Bovary doesn’t stop to realize the ruinous debts she’s piling up that someone will have to make good.

By framing the story of Madame Bovary with the courtroom scenes of Flaubert’s justifying his creation, screenwriter Robert Ardrey allows his narrator a chance to make crystal clear the diametric opposites of Emma’s fantastical dreams of a luxurious life with richly appointed homes, gorgeous gowns, and attractive men clamoring for her favors with the harsh reality of the more mundane existence to which she’s been relegated. Vincente Minnelli is the perfect director to bring such a dichotomy to the screen letting us see both the vulgarity of the villagers with whom Emma must consort and to occasionally dabble in the upper-class extravagances Emma so covets. It all comes to a climactic head in the film’s most masterful and celebrated sequence, a gala ball given by the Marquis D’Andervilliers (Paul Cavanagh) where Emma, dressed in a spectacular gown and the focus of many clamoring young men, is whisked onto the dance floor by the handsome Rodolphe Boulanger to participate in a swirling waltz (courtesy of the glorious Miklos Rozsa) that Minnelli’s camera captures in its infinite, breathless ecstasy. After this brilliant sequence, disrupted by her drunken, uncouth husband who’s felt out of place from the beginning, there’s pretty much no place for Emma to go but down as dream after dream crumbles right when she thinks her time to triumph has arrived. Of course, with the stringent Production Code of the time, Emma’s affairs have been handled discreetly on screen with only suggestions of her seductive desperation robbing the adaptation of added dimension, but that’s no fault of the filmmakers.

After earning an Oscar nomination playing against type as the tempestuous Pearl Chavez in Duel in the Sun, Academy Award-winner Jennifer Jones once again shows her versatility playing a woman clearly with dissociative disorder whose fantasies of beautiful ladies and fashionable gentlemen don’t jive with the harsh realities of the world in which she’s living. With a loving husband and the admiration of those around her, it’s hard to feel much sympathy for her selfishness and ultimate downfall, but Jones plays it with all stops out. Van Heflin is very fine as the doting husband and doctor fully aware of his own shortcomings and happy with the cards life has dealt him. His story is the film’s real tragedy. Louis Jourdan brings his handsome face and figure to be a perfectly respectable Rodolphe Boulanger, and Christopher Kent is likewise ardent and aspiring as the young Leon Dupuis. Gladys Cooper gets a choice moment or two as Dupuis’ knowing and calculating mother, and Frank Allenby is subdued in his villainy as the scheming Lhereux. Ellen Corby has a juicy supporting role as the Bovary nursemaid Félicité, and you’ll recognize Harry Morgan as the town’s lame street sweeper Hyppolite. In the bookended court scenes, James Mason nobly intones the author’s intentions in creating the character of Emma Bovary.

Video: 5/5

3D Rating: NA

The film’s theatrical aspect ratio of 1.37:1 is faithfully rendered in this 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Sharpness is excellent in all respects, and the grayscale brings out all of the gorgeousness of Walter Plunkett’s many elaborate gowns for Madame Bovary. There are no age-related visual artifacts to mar the viewing experience. The movie has been divided into 40 chapters.

Audio: 5/5

The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono sound mix offers a fine aural reproduction of the film’s original soundtrack. Dialogue has been immaculately recorded and is presented with clarity and preciseness. Miklos Rozsa’s brooding and exhilarating background score is crisply and alluringly presented. There are no distracting artifacts like hiss, pops, crackle, or flutter.

Special Features: 3/5

Some of the Best (42:18, HD): in celebration of the studio’s 25th anniversary, Lionel Barrymore hosts a retrospective look at some of MGM’s greatest achievements. Some of the years ascribed to the movies are a little off (the silent Ben-Hur was not produced in 1927 but two years earlier), but the clips are fun. Barrymore also offers a sneak peek at some of the films coming up in 1949 of which Madame Bovary is one. We also get to see clips from the giant party for the 25th anniversary that was excerpted in That’s Entertainment! and images of the stars who were not present to have their pictures taken there.

Love That Pup (7:37, HD): 1949 Tom and Jerry animated short.

Theatrical Trailer (3:07, HD)

Overall: 4/5

Vincente Minnelli’s Madame Bovary offers a fascinating glimpse at the greedy, ambitiously social climbing Emma Bovary who seems to poison the lives of all in her orbit, and the new Warner Archive Blu-ray disc offers a glittering rendition of the 1949 film. Recommended!

Matt has been reviewing films and television professionally since 1974 and has been a member of Home Theater Forum’s reviewing staff since 2007, his reviews now numbering close to three thousand. During those years, he has also been a junior and senior high school English teacher earning numerous entries into Who’s Who Among America’s Educators and spent many years treading the community theater boards as an actor in everything from Agatha Christie mysteries to Stephen Sondheim musicals.

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Broomy

Stunt Coordinator
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Oct 29, 2023
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Matthew
Finally got round to buying the December WAC titles and your great review has inspired me to watch this first out of those. MGM in the golden age really was a wonder, where even their flops are magnificent. We’ll never see the like of it again.
 
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