Far From the Madding Crowd
“Madding” at this time meant “frenzied.” I’ve always wondered about that. This is one of those I missed when new, and I seem to be catching up on a lot of missed big movies lately. So be it. I enjoyed it, but more for the widescreen spectacle than for the story, which I found to be frequently frustrating. But I get that way when I see people making stupid choices, particularly beautiful women. (This was from the glory roadshow days, with an Overture and an Intermission. And considering how many movies are running three hours or more these days, how about reintroducing fifteen-minute intermissions?)
Julie Christie is a headstrong young woman who inherits a farm in Dorset, in the west of England and decides to run it herself. Before this happens she is proposed to by Alan Bates, a shepherd. But she is not in love with him. He is ruined when one of his sheepdogs drives his herd over a cliff, and ends up working for her. Soon after, she flirts with a wealthy landowner, Peter Finch, who is also smitten, but she’s not in love with him, either. She treats him very badly. So who does she fall in love with? Why, the dashing young cad (Terence Stamp) in the dashing red uniform who enthralls her with a dashing phallic display of his sword. (No, a real sword.) He’s already fathered an illegitimate child. Any man alive, and any woman who has been around for a few years, knows instantly that he’s a bounder, but women stupidly go for that stuff, just as men stupidly go for a pretty face and a pair of boobs.
I have always enjoyed seeing how things are done, and this one is full of farming and sheep-ranching lore. At one point her flock of mutton are all getting sick, staggering around, about to die. Bates is sent for, and he arrives with his trusty trocar, which he stabs into the sheep’s sides, releasing a great deal of gas. They have the bloat, which they get if they eat too much clover or other legumes, which is why you need to keep your sheep away from clover. I didn’t know that. It’s a fascinating scene.
The cad marries her, but an old flame turns up, pregnant with his baby. She and the baby die, Julie finds out about it, and she still wants to stay with him, the little idiot. He tells her the dead girl means more to him than she ever will. And still … oh, it’s painful to see an otherwise strong and level-headed woman debase herself with a worthless bastard like him. He swims out into the ocean and is presumed drowned, but he soon turns up again, like a bad penny, in the circus of all places, playing the role of Dick Turpin. Worse, he shows up on the night of Finch’s engagement to Julie, and claims her as his wife. Finch goes bonkers, and shoots his worthless ass. He goes to the gallows, and Julie finally comes to her senses, realizes that Bates was always the one for her, they get married, the end.
Sort of abrupt, and I didn’t like the story all that much. But it kept my interest in portraying a way of life that I couldn’t stand for a week, but had its attractions. I very much liked the circus scenes, and was taken once again with the idea that, in those times, you had to provide your own amusements except for special times when the circus came to town. So everyone sang, both solo and in groups. I find those scenes touching. These days, of course, you’d plug your mix on your iMac into a boom box and let others do the singing.