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'The Great Gatsby': Why is it so hard to adapt for the big screen?

Noir guru Alan Rode ponders the challenges of filming the masterpiece.

By Randy Dotinga / May 10, 2013

'The Great Gatsby' stars Leonardo DiCaprio (l.), Carey Mulligan (center), and Joel Edgerton (r.).

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures/AP

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Last year, hundreds of people from Los Angeles and San Francisco to Chicago flocked to see "The Great Gatsby" on the big screen. Many of the filmgoers were in their 20s and 30s, eager to catch a glimpse of Jay, Daisy, Nick and Jordan.

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Never mind that the film's from the era of their grandparents or great-grandparents. Or that it was in black and white. Or that the actors and actresses, including matinee idol Alan Ladd and a fresh-faced Shelley Winters, are mostly remembered by old-timers.

This obscure version of F. Scott Fitzgerald's book drew crowds because it's a film noir, or at least adjacent to film noir. The Noir City series of annual film festivals, devoted to the rediscovery of classic movies, dug up a copy and sent it on the road. "It's a very important film that had inexplicably disappeared," said film historian and biographer Alan K. Rode.

But is it any good? Sort of. I saw the film at the Noir City festival in San Francisco, and found it to be more interesting than captivating.

One of my favorite lines from the book ("You look so cool...," Daisy told Gatsby, "you always look so cool") was missing. The Daisy character was miscast, although Jordan was great, if not the skinny minnie I expected. And the book's plot, as you'll learn below, had an addition or two.

With some exceptions, critics don't much like any of the three surviving "Great Gatsby" movies. That goes for the 1949 version, the 1974 film starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow, and, yes, the new one with Leonardo DiCaprio. The Monitor's Peter Rainer calls the 2013 version "a vast tribute to conspicuous consumption" instead of a "darkling look at the American dream."

There's been one more film version of "Gatsby," a silent movie from 1926. The film is lost, and a strange little trailer that survives suggests its fate might be for the best.

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