Monday, November 13, 2023

All-Star Downer: ‘The Sun Also Rises’ 1957

Ava Gardner & Tyrone Power as Ernest Hemingway's troubled lovers Brett Ashley
& Jake Barnes in 1957's "The Sun Also Rises."

The last hurrah of the studio system, as demonstrated by 20th Century Fox’s roving mogul Darryl F. Zanuck, was still firmly in thrall with the making of The Sun Also Rises. While this adaptation is basically faithful to the story, Zanuck made a big-budget, wide-screen epic, with superstars and exotic locales to draw in TV watching audiences—which went against the spirit of Ernest Hemingway's personal story.

The biggest misstep was box-office stars miscast not just because of their age—but how badly they were aging. The 40-something stars hired to play lost 30-ish thrill seekers looked more like a mid-life crisis ride into the sunset than The Sun Also Rises.

The lost generation? Tyrone Power, Ava Gardner, Mel Ferrer, Eddie Albert,
& Errol Flynn star in the 1957 film version of "The Sun Also Rises."

In the 1950s, Hollywood seemed taken with Ernest Hemingway once again. Fox filmed ‘53’s The Snows of Kilimanjaro and ‘57’s The Sun Also Rises. David O. Selznick produced a mammoth remake of A Farewell to Arms in ’57. And Spencer Tracy starred in ‘58’s The Old Man and the Sea. They received mixed to bad reviews, though Snows and Farewell made much money, likely due to their leading men, Gregory Peck and Rock Hudson. Irascible Ernest Hemingway didn’t have much good to say about any of these adaptations, especially since he wasn’t receiving any profits, but he was particularly scathing about The Sun Also Rises.

Jake Barnes suffers a serious war injury that leaves him impotent, which drives
 Barnes & Brett Ashley apart, played by Tyrone Power & Ava Gardner.

It’s a shame that director John Huston got sidetracked on another Hemingway adaptation, A Farewell to Arms. He was fired early on by producer and mega-meddler David O. Selznick, who was obsessed with his star/wife, Jennifer Jones. Huston, a like-minded Hemingway pal, might have brought more grit to The Sun Also Rises. And Huston would have deftly handled alpha male Zanuck and the varied cast. Or at the least, wouldn't it be pretty to think so? Fox’s favorite studio director Henry King was chosen and did a solid if safe job.

Hemingway mocked the film’s locales, but they're quite lovely, though he was right that this adaptation feels like a tourist version of Hemingway’s “lost generation.” That was Zanuck's shrewd way of attracting audiences, but there’s surprisingly little passion in this literary adaptation. The impression I got was that in exchange for saying outright that the hero Jake Barnes is impotent after a war injury, the film treads lightly regarding the subsequent consequences in Jake’s life.

Tyrone Power as Jake Barnes, in the flashback scenes as an injured soldier, in 1957's "The Sun Also Rises." Except for his age, Power is well-cast as Jake.

Tyrone Power as Jake sports boxy, heavy suits and trench coats that look mighty hot for summery Paris and Pamplona. Similarly, his pajamas and heavy bathrobe look like they're meant for a New England winter. When Robert Cohn (Mel Ferrer) chats with Jake in the gym, he changes into a robe just to walk from the locker room to a nearby shower. These are telltale signs of how this adaptation is so buttoned-up. Especially with Lady Brett, who has men doggedly following her in a pack, yet there's barely a kiss in this movie!

Why is Tyrone Power hiding in cover ups like trench coats or jammies & bathrobes
in 1957's summer-set "The Sun Also Rises?" A puzzlement!
Tyrone Power as Jake Barnes. 

As Lady Brett, Ava Gardner's occasional displayed high spirits should have been encouraged more, but is made to act as the remorseful “bad” girl. Errol Flynn's unrepentant reprobate offers more authenticity, looking swingin’ and sweaty while living it up in Spain. In fact, Ava and Errol’s bantering scenes breathe a little life into the movie.

Tyrone Power as Jake Barnes, when he sees former flame Brett Ashley again,
in 1957's "The Sun Also Rises."

Though no longer Fox's number one leading man, Tyrone Power was brought back at 43 to play Jake Barnes. While Power’s looks were prematurely aged, he is solid as melancholy Jake. Ty was Fox's version of MGM's Robert Taylor, but was always far more sensitive and empathetic than wooden Bob. Power’s warmth is a huge plus here. It's really a shame this wasn't filmed at Fox in the late '40s when Ty was trying hard to broaden his range with The Razor's Edge and Nightmare Alley, he would have been utterly perfect. 

Errol Flynn is most fitting as Mike Campbell in 1957's "The Sun Also Rises."

Errol Flynn as Mike Campbell stole the reviews from the mixed reception The Sun Also Rises received upon release. Flynn’s at his natural best and captures Mike’s mercurial charm and cruelty. Errol also captures the rueful romantic and melancholy aspects of the character, too. However, it's shocking to see Flynn at age 47 looking like an old man, with his ravaged face, tired eyes, and thickened waistline. Errol and Ty were two of the most beautiful men ever in film and it's a shock beyond miscasting to see them both lacking their sparkling good looks and high spirits. When Flynn runs with the bulls, you half expect to see him drop dead of a heart attack. Sadly, both Power and Flynn died shortly after this film, Ty in 1958 and Errol in 1959.

A touching scene between Tyrone Power & Errol Flynn, as their characters realize
 the party's over, in 1957's "The Sun Also Rises."

Whose bright idea was it to cast Eddie Albert as one of the group, at age 50? While Albert at least looked fit, he was obviously middle-aged. Plus, his good natured stodginess seems out of place here, to say the least! This lost generation is supposed to be just past 30. Hemingway wrote The Sun Also Rises based on his own experiences in WWI and shortly after, and published before Ernest was 27.

Lady Brett and her wolf pack! From left: Mel Ferrer, Eddie Albert, Errol Flynn, & Tyrone Power, with Ava Gardner center. 1957's "The Sun Also Rises."

Mel Ferrer was one of those actors given the build-up as a leading man, but was destined to be cast as a villain, what with his skeletal face and cold demeanor. Mel was a star character actor, at best. But Ferrer was fit and fresh here, just three years younger than Power. The difference is distinctly noticeable, though watching 6’ 3” Mel at 40 acting like a petulant school boy over Brett is rather ridiculous.

Mel Ferrer hardly seemed boyish and petulant as Cohn in "The Sun Also Rises."

Ava Gardner, as Lady Brett Ashley, got lumped into the "too old" category critique as a knee-jerk generalization. Ava had just turned 34 when filming started in early '57—which was the age of Jake, Brett, and Robert in the novel. And while she was no longer the fresh starlet of a decade prior ala The Killers and The Hucksters, she still looked magnificent. Her wild child lifestyle did betray some telltale signs beneath the eyes, but they often did, much to the MGM makeup department’s consternation. However, Gardner’s streamlined faux-1920s wardrobe shows off her whippet slim figure and there are some stellar star close-ups that show off her magnificent bone structure. And she certainly is well-cast as a charismatic hedonist. I think Ava’s acting is naturalistic and mostly understated; Gardner was a great friend and admirer of Hemingway and did her best.

Our first look at Ava Gardner as Brett Ashley in 1957's "The Sun Also Rises."

Ava Gardner looks in fine form as Lady Brett when she re-enters Jake Barnes' life
in 1957's "The Sun Also Rises."

Last and least, Robert Evans is absurd as Pedro. Can you imagine a handsome NYC Jewish boy cast as a Spanish bullfighter today? He looks like a Mouseketeer with his bullfighter's cap, making goony faces at Ava’s Brett in the spectators’ stand! Let’s just say he fared better later as a flamboyant film producer.

Seriously, why didn't Darryl F. Zanuck ask Ava for recommendations on handsome bullfighters, instead of insisting on Robert Evans for "The Sun Also Rises?"

As with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Hollywood never quite did Ernest Hemingway justice. As for The Sun Also Rises, it’s worthwhile and watchable if you can get past the over-age cast and the over-discreet storytelling when it should have been passionate.

A far better Tyrone Power film, with the star as another WWI veteran torn between the love of a willful woman and trying to adjust to post-war life, is The Razor’s Edge. My take here:

Here’s my appreciation of the great Ava Gardner:


Ava Gardner and her fabulous jawline, in 1957's "The Sun Also Rises."



  1. Hi I agree with much of what you said. I think Zanuck wanted a big movie. It would have seemed a smaller film with young stars like Robert Wagner.

    At the time of this film, Tyrone Power was exhausted. He was living with Mai Zetterling and coming off a stage tour of Devil’s Disciples plus a very difficult filming of Seven Days Away. He had no regard for his looks and burned the candle at both ends. You cannot do that after 25. He was also suffering from depression and the beginnings of heart disease. Frankly I thought in some scenes he looked fine.All those stars look older today than their counterparts now.

    Power was offered Witness for the Prosecution and turned it down. He wanted to do stage work. The deal to film Witness fell through; the producer wanted Him for 2 films.They went back to him with more money and gross percentage.

    Well now we’re talking really tired and really sick, by the time of Witness. He looked so much better when he made Solomon and Sheba as he had a vacation and new wife. We know what happened then.

    1. Actually, Fox had a number of younger stars that might have played these roles... good point! And good points regarding Ty's work schedule. I just knew that he had been working hard and playing hard as as a Fox star for two decades. More than anything, the heavy smoking plus the hereditary heart disease was a deadly combo, I think. A shame.
      Thanks for writing, Rick

  2. This is not an easy film to watch. Mainly, other than Ava Gardner, everyone is too old for their respectable roles. Tyrone Powers' star persona is just not enough to compensate for the loss of his youthful look. Flynn got quite a good review although he looks pretty awful. The TV version with Jane Seymour is not great but at least everyone did not look that old.

  3. I have never seen this. And I'm a big fan of Errol and Ava! Somehow it always looked like the the reverse of kids playing dress-up -- Older people playing "kids!" I think one reason I avoided it, too, was because for so long it would pop up on TV in a ratty, cropped, panned & scanned rendition that did neither the stars nor the cinematography/settings any favors. Maybe sometime I'll give it a whirl in high-def widescreen. I never got Robert Evans' alleged handsomeness.... Maybe his draw came from something we can't see. Ha ha! It was one thing for Norma to pick him to play Irving Thalberg, but these other parts...?! He looks foolish as a matador. I will say he made a convincing jerk in "The Best of Everything." Yet, for me, a too obvious one. Loved "The Kid Stays in the Picture," though. Old as he was, Eddie Albert aged really well for someone of his era. I guess he kind of aged prematurely, like so many, but he was frozen at that point for so long that when he actually GOT old, he looked terrific for his age! I mean, he was actually sort of foxy as a senior in the late-'70s/early '80s! Am I making ANY sense? LOL Thanks.

    1. TGIF, Poseidon? Hollywood was and still is notorious for having established stars "play younger." Of the cast, Ava was actually the right age and looked fab, I thought. There's a beautiful, recent HD version free on YouTube. As for Robert Evans--my dad called that mystery allure "hidden talents!" The first time i saw him in matador gear, I burst out laughing! Eddie Albert was actually fairly clean living guy, so no surprise he looked at least healthy compared to Power and especially Flynn. I found Mel Ferrer not only miscast, but repellent... what did Audrey Hepburn see in HIM? Hidden talents?! Cheers and always great to hear from you. Rick