D. H. Lawrence: Fifty Years on Film

By Louis K. Greiff | Go to book overview

3
Sons and Lovers: Flight from
the [S]mothering Text

The 1960 screen version of Sons and Lovers appeared over a decade after The Rocking Horse Winner, yet resembles its predecessor in a number of ways. Like Anthony Pelissier's effort, it is another relatively short, careful British production filmed in black and white. Yet the challenges of adaptation facing its director, Jack Cardiff, were absolutely the reverse of those Pelissier encountered. Pelissier needed to spin out and finesse a fifteen-page short story into a featurelength film. Cardiff, on the other hand, confronted a heavyweight novel, well over four hundred pages long, with the prospect of squeezing it into a movie about the same length as Pelissier's. This, in fact, is exactly what he did. The finished print of Sons and Lovers, including a scene excised by the censors, amounts to ninety-nine minutes of film — a paltry eight-minute increase in running time over Rocking Horse. 1

The skills that Cardiff brought to this project — and to the challenge of effective adaptation — were primarily camera-related. Sons and Lovers was only his third directorial assignment, but he had a series of major successes behind him as director of photography, with credits including The Red Shoes, The African Queen, and War and Peace. Cardiff's official director of photography for Sons was Freddie Francis, an equally prominent and experienced cinematographer. Despite this, Cardiff was preoccupied with the photographic challenges of Sons, as a 1960 interview with Films and Filming reveals. Here, he discusses his decision to use black-and-white film with the Cinemascope camera, a combination suggestive of ambivalent transition between old and new technology. His remarks, however, reveal that he was experimenting with technique even in his choice to shoot in

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