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Release Date: June 9th, 2023 Movie Release Year: 1949

The Great Gatsby (1949) – Imprint Limited Edition

Overview -

Largely unseen for decades, the rare 1949 version of The Great Gatsby comes to Blu-ray care of Imprint Films, and though it lacks the opulence of subsequent remakes and alters the story due to Production Code constraints, it remains a worthy adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's immortal novel. An esteemed cast led by Alan Ladd as the titular millionaire elevates this strangely fascinating film that will pique the interest of Gatsby fans. A battered transfer dulls enthusiasm for an otherwise classy release that features a number of absorbing extras and slick slipcase packaging. Recommended.


This 1949 movie lavishly takes us on the journey of Jay Gatsby (Alan Ladd) who worked his way from poor fisherman to extravagant millionaire. Travel back in time to the roaring 20s, a time of flappers, bootlegging, art deco architecture, and jazz music, through this classic tale of love and betrayal, deception and mystery.

This Paramount Pictures classic is the second film adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s famous novel and was made before the book became considered an American classic. Once considered a lost film, the master was found in 2012 and has been lovingly restored.

Here for the first time, the film is presented in high definition from a new 4K scan.

Starring: Betty Field, Alan Ladd, Macdonald Carey, and Ruth Hussey.

Worldwide debut on Blu-ray.

  • 1080p High-definition presentation on Blu-ray from a 4K scan of the original negative (2022)
  • NEW Audio Commentary by professor and film scholar Jason A. Ney
  • Alan Ladd: The True Quiet Man – Documentary (1999)
  • Aspect Ratio TBC
  • Audio English LPCM 2.0 Mono
  • Optional English HOH subtitles
  • Limited Edition slipcase on the first 1500 copies with unique artwork

Rating Breakdown
Tech Specs & Release Details
Technical Specs:
Limited Edition slipcase on the first 1500 copies with unique artwork
Video Resolution/Codec:
1080p/AVC MPEG-4
Aspect Ratio(s):
Audio Formats:
English LPCM 2.0 Mono
English HOH
Special Features:
On-stage interview with Alan Ladd’s son, David Ladd, conducted by Alan K. Rode
Release Date:
June 9th, 2023

Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take


Some novels are just plain difficult to film and The Great Gatsby leads the list. Hollywood has tried four times to capture F. Scott Fitzgerald's lyrical portrait of a mysterious millionaire in the Roaring '20s who holds a blazing torch for a ravishing paragon of wealth and frivolity, and at least three of the four screen adaptations have stumbled in their attempts. (The first film version, a 1926 silent, has been deemed lost, so no one really knows how faithful it was to its source. The only remnant of it is a one-minute trailer that can be viewed on YouTube.) Though it's tough to pinpoint why The Great Gatsby presents so many challenges to filmmakers who are so obviously enamored of its colorful Jazz Age backdrop, deeply flawed characters, and opulent aura, I suspect it's because the novel has as many layers as an onion and depicting all the subtle nuances and transmitting all the subtext is a futile task. Most books are better than the films based upon them, but that's especially true of the truly great books, and few in American literature are greater than Gatsby.

Perhaps because the 1974 and 2013 versions of The Great Gatsby faltered in various ways, I expected very little from director Elliott Nugent's 1949 adaptation starring a dapper Alan Ladd as the dashing, doomed Gatsby. Of course there's a lot wrong with this version, too, but I ended up enjoying it far more than I thought I would, despite the myriad instances it strays from and alters Fitzgerald's narrative. Because most of the changes were mandated by the censors and not the brainchild of a brazen screenwriter who felt he could improve Fitzgerald's masterwork, they're easier to forgive, and because this Gatsby favors substance over style (Paramount didn't green-light a Gatsby-esque budget, so glamor and grandeur come at a premium) it's easier to concentrate on the characters and plot. The '49 version is also almost an hour shorter than both the '74 and '13 films, and though its economical approach occasionally compromises the characters, clouds their motivations, and rushes the story, it keeps the movie lean and focused.

Part of Gatsby's attraction lies in the air of mystery and intrigue swirling about him, but this version leaves almost nothing to the imagination and invents plot points that weren't in Fitzgerald's novel. We learn very early on that Gatsby was a machine-gun-toting bootlegger who fires with abandon and wears a trench coat left over from This Gun for Hire. The screenplay by producer Richard Maibaum (who's best known for co-writing 13 James Bond movies) and Cyril Hume (who co-wrote four Tarzan films) also embellishes the relationship between Gatsby and his benefactor Dan Cody (Henry Hull), but the worst offense is a sanctimonious, present-day prologue featuring an aged Nick Carraway (Macdonald Carey) and Jordan Baker (Ruth Hussey) reflecting on Gatsby's life and quoting a moralistic proverb etched on his tombstone. The prologue reportedly pleased no one, but according to Maibaum was necessary to appease the censors.

The Jazz Age was still in the rear view mirror at the time of the film's production, so you might think this Gatsby might depict it with more insight and accuracy than the other versions, but nothing could be further from the truth. The recent, reckless past was anathema to the censors, who fretted a realistic representation of the debauchery, immorality, and lawlessness that defined the era would spark a Jazz Age renaissance in post-World War II America. As a result, there's far less partying and fast-and-loose living in this version. The censors also required retribution for moral and physical crimes, so the script had to find a way for Daisy and Tom to rue their reprehensible actions and at least try to atone for them. That perspective goes against one of the story's fundamental grains, and though the script handles the dictum as well as it can, the awkward scenes will stick in every Gatsby-lover's craw.

Despite such faults, the film depicts the core romance between Gatsby (Alan Ladd) and lost-love Daisy Buchanan (Betty Field), who's unhappily married to the smug, selfish, judgmental, and filthy rich Tom Buchanan (Barry Sullivan), with the right mix of sensitivity and fatalism. Much of Gatsby's life is a self-made myth, but rather than allowing us to become gradually disillusioned with and disappointed in the former Jimmy Gatz as revelations mount, the script instantly lays his cards on the table and delineates his faults. That engenders sympathy (de rigueur for Hollywood leading men of the era) that makes his tragic end more powerful, but it also makes Gatsby less interesting.

John Farrow was originally slated to direct and it's tough not to imagine how good this version of The Great Gatsby might have been had he not bowed out due to a casting dispute. Farrow wanted the breathtakingly beautiful Gene Tierney for Daisy, but Maibaum felt Field, who memorably played the blowsy Mae in Of Mice and Men and disturbed Cassandra in King's Row, would more fully realize the role. (Ironically, Farrow's daughter Mia would portray Daisy in the 1974 remake opposite Robert Redford.) The head-scratching choice to replace Farrow was Nugent, who previously helmed lightweight comedies with the likes of Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, and Danny Kaye. (How that prepares you for The Great Gatsby is a mystery.) In addition to his relative inexperience with this type of material, Nugent suffered from severe anxiety during shooting and the result is a sometimes clumsily directed feature that lacks the elegance and finesse Gatsby requires.

Luckily, the top-flight cast helps smooth over the rough edges. Though Redford and Leonardo DiCaprio have played the titular character amid much fanfare, the low-key Ladd just might be the greatest Gatsby of all. Ladd's lack of pretense and everyman demeanor make the character more accessible, while his matinee idol looks lend Gatsby the necessary glamor to seduce both Daisy and society at large. He also creates fine chemistry with Field, who deftly shades Daisy's outward gaiety with a brittle skittishness that makes her seem slightly unstable and ready to buckle under the weight of her lavish lifestyle. While Tierney certainly would have brought a remote, unattainable quality to Daisy (and made us understand why Gatsby was so obsessed with her), Field highlights her fragility, disaffection, and impulsivity.

Carey is a little bland as Nick, but the character is more of a bystander here than in other versions. Hussey, who played the acerbic photographer in The Philadelphia Story to perfection, channels her best Katharine Hepburn as the sardonic party girl Jordan, while Sullivan projects just the right amount of arrogance and silver-spoon sense of privilege as the gruff, philandering Tom. Howard Da Silva, who would portray Meyer Wolfsheim in the 1974 version, is a bit too mild-mannered as the cuckolded gas station owner Wilson, but a young Shelley Winters really goes to town as his loud-mouthed, trampy wife Myrtle. Winters' raw, slightly histrionic turn steals the show, and her final close-up, followed by a process shot that's both shocking and laughable, is devastating. Ed Begley and Elisha Cook Jr. also appear as Gatsby's shady cronies.

All three surviving Gatsby films are so different, it's hard to rank them, but the 1949 version, though a victim of its times, holds up surprisingly well and is even credited with spurring a Fitzgerald renaissance that continues to this day. (The author's sad decline and death a decade before all but destroyed his reputation and made Paramount leery of mounting The Great Gatsby at all. The studio postponed production numerous times until Ladd, who desperately wanted to play the role to prove he was more than a garden variety tough guy, threatened to go on suspension if the film wasn't prioritized.) Despite rumors to the contrary, the movie was a big success, but when Paramount decided to remake Gatsby in 1974, it effectively rendered the '49 version obsolete, so it's a real treat to be able to finally see this long-suppressed film that many fans worried might be lost. It's far from perfect, but then again, so are the remakes that followed it.

Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray 
The 1949 version of The Great Gatsby arrives on Blu-ray packaged in a clear case inside a glossy cardboard slipcase. Video codec is 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 and audio is LPCM 2.0 mono. Once the disc is inserted into the player, the static menu with music immediately pops up; no previews or promos precede it.

Video Review


The packaging heralds a "2022 4K scan from the original camera negative," but what it neglects to tell the consumer is that absolutely no clean-up whatsoever has been performed on the print. Yes, we are lucky that the 1949 version of The Great Gatsby still exists in any form and to quote a familiar adage, beggars can't be choosers, but - and here's another adage - buyer beware, because Imprint missed a golden opportunity to restore this film to its original splendor. Much of the source is a shambles and the cost of repairing it is surely astronomical. A niche company such as Imprint likely can't afford the hefty price tag, and while I applaud the release of this rare title on Blu-ray, it's hard not to rue the disappointing picture quality. We've lost the 1926 silent version of The Great Gatsby; we need to restore and preserve the 1949 version so it can stand proudly alongside its 1974 and 2013 counterparts.

The amount of print damage fluctuates during the film, but when it's bad, it's pretty awful. Flurries of marks, scratches, vertical lines, and small blotches, along with a few more severe blemishes, distract from the strong clarity and contrast that distinguish the image. Grain is quite evident and overwhelms the picture at times, but deep blacks, bright, well-defined whites, and decently varied grays anchor the frame. Good shadow delineation enhances the movie's noir flavor, however crush creeps in from time to time. Background details are a tad diffused, and though close-ups are sharp enough, they often lack the wow factor. Despite its rather low budget, The Great Gatsby flaunts a fair degree of opulence, but all the issues afflicting the transfer make it seem like faded grandeur instead. Cinematographer John F. Seitz earned a total of seven Oscar nominations during his 40-year career for such iconic classics as Double Indemnity and Sunset Blvd., but the beauty of his work is largely lost here.

Though this rendering of The Great Gatsby leaves a lot to be desired, the film is still worth watching, even in this state of relative disrepair. Here's hoping somewhere down the line it gets the proper remastering it so richly deserves.

Audio Review


The audio is better than the video, but the LPCM 2.0 mono track isn't as clean and crisp as it should be. Generally, the track outputs clear, well-modulated sound, but a few errant pops and some crackle occasionally crop up. A wide dynamic scale handles all the highs and lows of eight-time Oscar nominee Robert Emmett Dolan's music score without any distortion and all the dialogue is easy to comprehend. Sonic accents like gunfire, revving car engines, and screeching wheels are potent and subtleties like footsteps and rain enhance the atmosphere. Though a bit more vibrancy would have added more vitality to the track, especially during the party scene, the audio is good enough for a movie of this vintage.

Special Features


Imprint assembles a substantive supplemental package that examines both the film and its star.

  • Audio Commentary - Professor and film scholar Jason A. Ney sits down for this absorbing and informative commentary that probes every nook and cranny of The Great Gatsby. Ney cites The Great Gatsby as his favorite book and calls the 1949 film version of Fitzgerald's novel the "most intriguing interpretation of its source material." He provides extensive facts and trivia about the movie's production, points out the myriad differences between the book and screenplay, chronicles the censorship battles that plagued the project, analyzes the story, notes the challenges Ladd's height - or lack thereof - posed, and looks at the similarities between Ladd and Gatsby. Other topics include director Nugent's debilitating anxiety during shooting, Paramount's muddled marketing campaign, and the film's Citizen Kane-like narrative structure. Ney deftly mixes facts with anecdotes and presents a balanced, thoughtful assessment of this often fascinating screen adaptation.

  • Documentary: Alan Ladd: The True Quiet Man (SD, 57 minutes) - This reverent 1998 profile of Ladd covers the actor's humble beginnings, troubled mother, chronic alcoholism, notable pictures, and early death at age 50, as well as the challenges and insecurities he grappled with over his height. Actors Lizabeth Scott, Mona Freeman, and Don Murray, director Edward Dmytryk, and son David Ladd, who co-starred with his father in The Proud Rebel, are among those who share their reminiscences of and affection for Ladd and dissect his personality. Clips from several movies are included, but are sadly culled from trailers.

  • Sarah Churchwell on The Great Gatsby (HD, 22 minutes) - Professor Churchwell classifies The Great Gatsby as "a novel about reality failing to live up to potential," so it's understandable, she says, that the various film versions, which realize the novel, fail to live up to their own potential as well. In this interesting interview, Churchwell discusses the stage adaptation of The Great Gatsby, 1926 silent film, and renaissance of Fitzgerald after World War II. She also talks about the casting of Ladd, evaluates the performances of Ladd and Field (who she feels was somewhat miscast), and addresses the censorship issues that severely altered the tone and plot of the 1949 screen adaptation.

  • Christina Newland on The Great Gatsby (HD, 14 minutes) - The film critic and writer covers some of the same territory as Churchwell, but also looks at the period in which the 1949 version of Gatsby was produced, how the picture was marketed, and some of the differences between the novel and film. Newland defends the casting of Field, admires Ladd's portrayal, and touches upon the parallels between Ladd's life and Gatsby's.

  • Interview with David Ladd (HD, 25 minutes) - Writer and film historian Alan K. Rode conducted this live interview with Alan Ladd's son David after a 2012 screening of The Great Gatsby. Ladd talks about the box office failure of the film (although Ney disputes that in his commentary), the importance of the movie to the Ladd family, and how the collapse of the studio system severely impacted his father's life. He also discusses the Ladd family legacy, briefly chronicles his own career as a child actor and producer, and reveals his dad turned down several Billy Wilder films, including Double IndemnitySunset Blvd.Stalag 17, Ace in the Hole, and Sabrina.

Final Thoughts

The 1949 version of The Great Gatsby is far from perfect and devotees of the novel may cry foul over the narrative alterations, but there's still a lot to like about this Golden Age adaptation that puts a unique spin on the material. Top-notch performances distinguish director Eliott Nugent's uneven film, but a transfer that's marred by severe print damage and audio that could use some clean-up dull the luster of Imprint's limited edition release. An excellent array of supplements and classy packaging are plusses, but fans might want to wait for another company to remaster this Gatsby before making a purchase. Though the disc leaves a lot to be desired, the movie's rarity makes it worthy of an endorsement. Recommended.