Carrie (William Wyler, 1952)

It’s taken me most of the day to watch this, it’s so grim: Carrie (Jennifer Jones) leaves the farm to be exploited in the big city, working in a factory where she’s forced to work so fast she gets a needle through her finger and gets fired. Soon she’s got no wages to give to her nasty brother-in-law. Desperate, she gets taken advantage of by a smooth fast-talking salesman (Eddie Albert) and he tricks her into living with him though he never keeps his promise to marry her. She then falls for George Hurstwood (Laurence Olivier) and runs off to marry him, though he fails to tell her he’s already married with two grown children and has robbed his workplace of 10,000 so he can be with her. The film changes focus as events catch up with them. The theft – which George saw as a temporary loan – is discovered and has made him unemployable; the first wife (Miriam Hopkins, glorious here), has all the marital property in her name and won’t even give him a divorce much less a cent. Thus begins George’s descent, and he goes down, and down, and down, right to the doss-house he gets kicked out of; until this viewer could barely stand it. Carrie, so proper at the beginning, a wised-up and successful actress at the end, tries to help him. He’d only come to the theatre she’s so successful at for a glimpse and for a hand-out, but leaves with the reassurance of her love and thoughts of suicide by gas in his future.
Did anyone think this would be a hit? It’s marvellous though, so I’m glad the filmmakers conned someone into thinking it might be. Wyler films in medium to long shot so that the environment is always part of the frame, a context and a history to the action. It’s quite beautiful; and Olivier, whom I don’t like on film, is here better than I’ve ever seen him. A great movie. Based on the Theodore Dreiser novel, Sister Carrie.

José Arroyo

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