Good versus Bad Acting

        Even though the two films possess the same storyline, characters, setting, year of release and title, Patrick Garland’s 1973 film version of Henrik Ibsen’s 1879 play, A Doll’s House, greatly exceeds that of Joseph Losey (also made in 1973), mostly because of acting.

                 In Garland’s film, Claire Bloom portrays the energetic and somewhat ignorant Nora Helmer. At first glance, Bloom appears too old for the character, therefore making her youthful prancing a bit awkward. However as the movie unfolds, she expertly displays the manipulation underlying Nora’s flirtatiousness and girlish ways. This sense of scheming intelligence throughout the film makes her decision in the end seem believable. A woman who could discover and use her husband’s weaknesses and affections like she could can believably make the unconventional decision to leave him when she discovers his true nature.

        However, Anthony Hopkins’ portrayal of her husband, Torvald Helmer, carries the story. He plays Torvald as a somewhat jovial man, but he also lets the audience see glimpses of his selfishness, his power, and his cruelty. But, he delivers his most impressive performance at the end, when Nora announces she was leaving him. One could see the pain and disbelief in his eyes, and somehow Hopkins turns a cruel character into one that rips the viewers’ hearts out.

        Losey, however, cast actors who did not capture the depth of Henrik Ibsen’s characters, as did Bloom and Hopkins. In Losey’s version, Jane Fonda portrays Nora Helmer; and, while her appearance seems appropriate and she prances enough to convey Nora’s youthful disposition, she does not display a hint of manipulation. She is simply a thoughtless young woman who discovers one day that her husband is a cruel and selfish creature; and, consequently, she gains ten years of maturity within the span of a two-minute fight with him. David Warner, who played Torvald Helmer, also never seems to grasp the psychological aspect of the character. Yes, he lords over the household and screams and rages when he discovers Nora’s forgery, but he never fully shows the impact of his wife’s desertion. When she closes the door, he looks shocked but not heart-broken, leaving the scene shallow and the audience wondering why they just sat through such a long and depressing movie.

        Frankly, I quite enjoyed Garland’s rendering of Nora’s story; but at the end of Losey’s film, the only distinct impressions I had were that I should definitely visit Norway someday and that I should avoid macaroons at all cost.

Casey Northcutt

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