Madame Bovary (1949 film)

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Madame Bovary
Theatrical release poster
Directed byVincente Minnelli
Screenplay byRobert Ardrey
Based onMadame Bovary
1857 novel
by Gustave Flaubert
Produced byPandro S. Berman
StarringJennifer Jones
Van Heflin
Louis Jourdan
James Mason
Narrated byJames Mason
CinematographyRobert H. Planck
Edited byFerris Webster
Music byMiklós Rózsa
Distributed byMetro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date
August 25, 1949 (1949-08-25) (New York)[1]
Running time
106 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$2,016,000[2]

Madame Bovary is a 1949 American romantic drama film adaptation of the classic 1857 novel of the same name by Gustave Flaubert. It stars Jennifer Jones, James Mason, Van Heflin, Louis Jourdan, Alf Kjellin (billed as Christopher Kent), Gene Lockhart, Frank Allenby and Gladys Cooper.

It was directed by Vincente Minnelli and produced by Pandro S. Berman, from a screenplay by Robert Ardrey based on the Flaubert novel. The music score was by Miklós Rózsa, the cinematography by Robert H. Planck and the art direction by Cedric Gibbons and Jack Martin Smith.

The film was a project of the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios and Lana Turner was set to star, but when pregnancy forced her to withdraw, Jones stepped into the title role. Production ran from mid-December 1948 to mid-March 1949 and the film premiered the following August.[1]

The story of the adulterous wife who destroys the lives of many presented censorship issues with the Motion Picture Production Code. A plot device which structured the story around author Flaubert's obscenity trial was developed to placate the censors. The highlight of the film is an elaborately choreographed ball sequence set to composer Miklós Rózsa's lush film score.

The film received an Academy Award nomination for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration in 1950 for Cedric Gibbons, Jack Martin Smith, Edwin B. Willis and Richard Pefferle.[3]


In an 1850s Paris courtroom, author Gustave Flaubert (James Mason) attempts to prevent the banning of his novel Madame Bovary. His accusers have described the book's title character as shocking and immoral. Flaubert counters with a narration of Bovary's story from his own realist perspective. Thus, we are introduced to 20-year-old Emma (Jennifer Jones), a lonely woman who fantasizes a perfect life for herself. She falls in love with Dr. Charles Bovary (Van Heflin). The two are married and move into a small house in Normandy which Emma re-decorates lavishly, incurring much debt. Emma, bemoaning her lack of social status, tells Charles she wants a baby boy, someone not confined in accordance with restoration France's repressive cultural norms. Instead, Emma gives birth to a girl, Berthe. She soon tires of her role as mother and leaves Berthe's upbringing to her nanny (Ellen Corby). Unhappy with her life, Emma embarks on a relationship with Leon Dupuis (Alf Kjellin), but his mother (Gladys Cooper) induces him to move to Paris and enroll in law school.

After Charles fails to match her lofty expectations of "heroic country doctor", Emma succumbs to the advances of aristocrat Rodolphe Boulanger (Louis Jourdan), who then abandons her. A heartbroken Emma attempts suicide, but Charles intervenes. She endures several months of severe depression, but eventually recovers. Sometime after, Emma and Charles attend an opera in nearby Rouen. There, they encounter Leon, who has returned from Paris. Leon brags of attaining his law credentials and earning a lot of money. At first Emma rejects Leon's subsequent attempts to renew their affair, but she finally consents. When Emma returns home, she finds that the Bovarys' outstanding remodeling debts have come back to haunt them when their house is put up for sale to satisfy creditors. One of them offers to forgive Emma's debts in exchange for sexual favors. She refuses, deciding instead to approach Leon for money. However, Leon admits he has no money to lend her, confessing that he is only a law clerk. Finally, Emma turns to Rodolphe, but he flatly refuses to help. Rather than endure shame for what she has caused, Emma breaks into the village apothecary and swallows arsenic. Although Charles attempts to save her, Emma dies. The film then returns to Flaubert and the courtroom. In the end, it is decided the author's novel will not be blocked from publication.



Lana Turner says it was the only film she turned down at MGM in her time there. She says she "got myself suspended. And it was a stinker!"[4]


Reviews from critics were mixed. Bosley Crowther of The New York Times was mostly positive, calling it a "faithful transcription" of the novel with an understanding of the protagonist "beautifully and tenderly put forth in the patient unfolding of the story which a cohort of talents has contrived." Crowther suggested, however, that Jones was "a little bit light for supporting the anguish of this classic dame."[5] Variety called the film "interesting to watch but hard to feel. It is a curiously unemotional account of some rather basic emotions and this failure to plumb beneath its characters lessens the broad, general appeal somewhat. However, the surface treatment of Vincente Minnelli's direction is slick and attractively presented." [6] Richard L. Coe of The Washington Post called it a "persuasive picture", with Jones "bringing a depth of acting infrequently seen on the screen and a performance that far outweighs any of her previous ones."[7] Edwin Schallert of the Los Angeles Times wrote, "If one is patient with the slowness of 'Madame Bovary' he or she will find unique interest in this picture because in treatment and character it is well off the beaten path in Hollywood productions." However, Schallert found Jones to be "erratic in the quality of her presentation. She is pictorial on all occasions, surprisingly fine at times, very uncertain and wavering in her delineation at others."[8] Harrison's Reports published a negative review, calling the direction "heavy-handed" and the story "very unpleasant and slow-moving, and not one of the principal characters wins any sympathy, not even the heroine's ill-treated husband, a weakling who humbly accepts her sinning."[9] Philip Hamburger of The New Yorker called it "a dull-witted adaptation of the Flaubert classic. As interpreted by Miss Jones, Mme. Bovary could be Mme. X or Mme. Defarge, or Mme. Typhoid Mary, so amateurish and flaccid was her acting."[10]

According to MGM records the film earned $1,132,000 in the US and Canada and $884,000 overseas resulting in a loss of $910,000.[2][11]

The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:


  1. ^ a b "Madame Bovary". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. Retrieved June 4, 2018.
  2. ^ a b c The Eddie Mannix Ledger, Los Angeles: Margaret Herrick Library, Center for Motion Picture Study.
  3. ^ "Madame Bovary (1949)". Movies & TV Dept. The New York Times. 2012. Archived from the original on 2012-10-18. Retrieved January 8, 2010.
  4. ^ Smith, Cecil (Sep 15, 1957). "Busy Lana Turner Recalls When She Was Little Jodie: Lana Turner Recalls When She Was Just Little Jodie". Los Angeles Times. p. E1.
  5. ^ Crowther, Bosley (August 26, 1949). "The Screen In Review". The New York Times: 15.
  6. ^ "Madame Bovary". Variety: 16. August 3, 1949.
  7. ^ Coe, Richard L. (August 22, 1949). "Jennifer Jones As Mme. Bovary". The Washington Post: 10.
  8. ^ Schallert, Edwin (September 19, 1949). "'Madame Bovary' Unique Venture in Adaptation". Los Angeles Times: 31.
  9. ^ "'Madame Bovary' with Jennifer Jones, Van Heflin and James Mason". Harrison's Reports: 126. August 6, 1949.
  10. ^ Hamburger, Philip (September 3, 1949). "The Current Cinema". The New Yorker: 61.
  11. ^ "Top Grossers of 1949". Variety. 4 January 1950. p. 59.
  12. ^ "AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-06.
  • Epstein, Edward J. (1995). Portrait of Jennifer. New York, Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-671-74056-3.
  • Minnelli, Vincente (1990). I Remember It Well. New York, Samuel French ISBN 0-573-60607-2.

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