The Sun Also Rises for TV

updated 09/03/1984 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/03/1984 01:00AM

In 1957 Tyrone Power and Ava Gardner starred in a movie version of The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway's classic 1920s evocation of the "lost generation"—those World War I survivors who tried to find meaning in life but instead found numbness in drink, sex and blood sport. The movie was hardly a huge success. Gardner made more headlines for her dalliances with matadors than for her performance. In one of his first film roles Robert Evans, the modern-day producer, greased his hair to play a bullfighter. At the time Hemingway called the movie "pretty disappointing, and that's being gracious.... It looked pretty silly." Since then Hollywood has kept its distance from the Nobel Prize winner's famous novel.

Until now. Late this fall NBC Will present a four-hour miniseries version with younger actors—Jane Seymour, 33, Hart Bochner, 27, Robert Garradine, 30, and Iah Charleson, 35, among them—who, it is claimed, will be truer to Hemingway's youthful characters than were Gardner and Power. Indeed, says screenwriter Robert L. Joseph, the NBC version will evoke the master's spirit: "Its soul, its ambience is Hemingway," he insists. Period costumes are being used, and the series is being shot on location. Why it even uses live bulls for the famous running of the bulls in Segovia.

Segovia?

The book, of course, made an international sensation of the week-long bullfighting festival of Pamplona, but the producers decided that Pamplona doesn't look much like it did in the 1920s, so they moved. Some of the Paris scenes are shot in Versailles for the same reason. Oh, and those bullfights—too bloody for television; but in the close-up shots you'll occasionally see a stuffed contraption on wheels that looks like a bull. NBC also added to the story line a new scene set in World War I, and they enlarged the part of the count and Leonard Nimoy took it. But, as Joseph explains, "It's Hemingway's book used in a different technique. I'm not changing the book, I'm just putting it into a different art form."

Perhaps the closest thing to the Hemingway spirit in this production is Seymour, who plays Lady Brett Ashley. "I love to be one of the boys," declares Seymour, who gamely brought daughter Katie, 2½, and her nanny along for the shooting. Third husband David Flynn, who is a Hollywood business manager, has flown in once to the Paris location, and they've twice met at their 15th-century manor house in England during the 12-week shoot. She plays Brett in a Karl Lagerfeld wardrobe, her waist-length hair tucked under a wig; and she wears her enthusiasm on her sleeve. "One of the beauties of the role is that Lady Brett is desperately everything—desperately happy or desperately miserable or desperately in love. She's very feminine, but she can drink men under the table. She can watch bullfights and be accepted as one of the gang."

Seymour herself can watch bullfights—she saw her first as a child—but Hart Bochner's stomach churns when he sees one. As the emasculated Jake Barnes, Bochner sees himself as a "passive hero" with a sensitivity that mirrors his own. "I can't even fish," he claims, "because I don't like the idea of taking another life."

Robert Carradine may steal the show as Robert Cohn, the punctiliously obnoxious former Princeton boxing champ who lacks the Hemingway-esque virtue of grace under pressure as he falls in love with the promiscuous Brett. He learned to box for the part. Now, he says, "I know just enough about boxing to get myself hurt."

The changes in the character of the count will offend Hemingway purists the most. Nimoy's character doesn't even appear in the novel's Spanish scenes, but in the miniseries the count has been given a pivotal role in those scenes. "The need for a suspense line was obvious," says Nimoy, 53. "Without it you have a lovely mood piece, which is what the book was. It needs a climactic moment, which is what the count provides."

Maybe the editing for TV will work and prevent the miniseries from becoming an $8 million embarrassment. As Jake Barnes tells Lady Brett in the novel's famous last line: "Isn't it pretty to think so?"

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