Carrie (William Wyler / U.S., 1952):

No, not that Carrie, though an originally excised shot -- an extended overhead track that inspects a seedy flophouse’s compartments before landing on the destitute protagonist -- may have taught De Palma a thing or two. Before that, William Wyler shows how it’s done in a deep-focus panning shot that breaks the screen into parallel frames, Carrie (Jennifer Jones) in the foreground bistro and George Hurstwood (Laurence Olivier) in the background saloon. She’s a provincial gal who arrives in fin-de-siècle Chicago full of dreams but promptly gets her finger caught at the shoe factory’s sewing machine and, only realizing it too late, becomes a hearty traveling salesman’s (Eddie Albert) kept woman. Olivier’s respected restaurateur lives near the elite, yet feels hollow. "What are you looking for," his boss asks. "Everything." Carrie revives his fire, in a fervid impulse the two run off together with embezzled funds: "This much happiness I’m going to have," he tells his wife (Miriam Hopkins), then pauses for a hefty second at the bedroom door before leaving home and reputation behind. Modulating from James to Dreiser, Wyler’s severities escalate into cruelties. The couple enjoys a brief luxurious fantasy at a New York hotel, a bonds company sleuth (a pitch-perfect sketch by Ray Teal) introduces unforgiving reality. From then on, it’s a comprehensive portrait, in dolorous long takes, of the bourgeois’ revulsion of poverty, a feeling that Wyler expresses more successfully than the characters’ corroding love. (Compare the film’s dismayed descent to Vidor’s emotional flights and tailspins in The Crowd.) Other than a flash of spent anger while on her back after a miscarriage ("I’m still young. And I’m going to live. Somehow"), Carrie has the Dreiser laundered out of her, and Jones beams, frowns and sniffles accordingly. Oliver, meanwhile, offers fantastic slices of desire, shame and horror, pouring an entire life in the way George picks up a hairpin or, finally, a quarter. A social critique becomes here a two-hour punishment session for passion, as told to a kid who mock-fiddles an imaginary violin. With Basil Ruysdael, and Sara Berner. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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