Saturday, March 8, 2014

A Rose for Emily (1983)

Directed by:
Lyndon Chubbuck

The short story "A Rose for Emily" turned up in a 1930 issue of the magazine Forum, making it the first widely-read short story from acclaimed writer William Faulkner, who'd go on to win a Nobel Prize for Literature, two Pulitzer Prizes and numerous other prestigious awards. Throughout his career, Faulkner would also dabble in TV and film writing, often taking no credit for doing so. After being called hundreds of miles away from home to a movie set only to be fired by MGM for no real reason shortly after arriving, he'd understandably become a little disillusioned with Hollywood... and he was never was all that interested in fame in the first place. In real life, the author much preferred the quiet, rural life; referring to himself in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech as "... just a farmer who likes to tell stories." His most famous cinematic work was helping to script the Bogart / Bacall film noir classic The Big Sleep (1949) for director and close personal friend Howard Hawks. In fact, most of his credited jobs as a screenwriter were for Hawks. Faulkner's stories and novels, perhaps most especially his more acclaimed works, do not lend themselves well to cinematic adaptation. Few directors have tried and most have failed. "A Rose for Emily" is an exception, perhaps because the entire story is only about 5 pages long, but it's a vivid and busy 5 pages that has no issue filling out this 26 minute short subject.

Anjelica Huston stars as Emily Grierson, whose deteriorating mental state we follow from young adulthood until her death. In her early years, she was at the whim of a controlling, domineering father (John Randolph). After he passes away, the virginal Emily is left the home and a faithful servant in Toby (David Downing)... but not much else. Having not had much of a chance to actually live her life or make any kind of lasting or real relationships, Emily falls in love with the first guy who shows her any attention: construction foreman Homer Barron (Jared Martin). Unfortunately, he doesn't seem to be taking the whole thing all that seriously, while she is out buying him monogrammed silver, a wedding dress, a tuxedo... and some arsenic. After finishing up his job, Homer disappears from the small town. Soon after, a bad smell begins seeping into the neighborhood from Emily's home, but the townspeople spread lime around and forget all about it once the smell disappears after a week or two. As the years pass, Emily grows into a reclusive, gray-haired, disheveled spinster who is seen less and less as the years go by, becoming almost an eccentric landmark of the town. After she passes away and relatives show up and begin exploring her dusty home, a grisly and perverse secret is revealed.

I re-read the story in preparation for this review, so I can say without doubt that this adaptation (by H. Kaye Dyal) is perfectly faithful; seldom deviating from its source material. That's both a good thing and a bad thing; good in that it stays true to its source, and is thus respectful to it, and bad in that it adds nothing of note to something that simply works better - and more compactly - on paper. This is nicely-shot and the acting and production values are decent, but there's no real depth to the characters, no element of surprise and the whole thing is extremely predictable. The themes deal with the psychological damage of isolation and loneliness and - most markedly - the dangers of clinging to the past. It's narrated by John Houseman, who reads a good deal (but not all) of the story throughout. Also showing up in small roles are John Carradine as town mayor Colonel Sartoris, Bert Williams as a coroner, Perry Lang as a lazy deputy, Frances Bay as a crazy aunt, James Murtaugh as a pharmacist, Aaron Norris (younger brother of Chuck) and a barely-seen Sally Kirkland as a town gossip. For some reason it's dedicated to the memory of actor Will Geer, who passed away in 1978.

The only official home video issuing that I'm aware of is on the Pyramid Home Video label out of Russia, but a nice quality copy is currently available for viewing on Youtube.

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