Faulkner has got to be one of the most difficult novelists to bring to the screen. Although his thematic strokes of family, caste, race, and decadence can be well-portrayed, his idiosyncratic style can derail a lot of adaptations. The movie’s about Faulkner’s Compson family: Jason, Quentin and her mom, Caddy, Ben, Caroline, and Howard played, respectively, by Yul Brynner, Joanne Woodward, Margaret Leighton, Jack Warden, Francois Rosay, and Howard Beal. We also have Earl Snopes (Albert Dekker), Luster is Steven Perry, there’s the maid Dilsey (Ethel Waters), and a carnival roustabout Charlie Busch (Stuart Whitman).
Howard’s been up all night in the supremely decrepit mansion. Meanwhile, Quentin arrives in Jefferson. She says she’s running away from Jason, “prowling” as she puts it; but she’s quickly back at the mansion. Dilsey is harried by the semi-invalid Caroline. Dilsey relates that Quentin’s mother abandoned her the day she was born. Jason bursts in.
He upbraids Quentin, apparently, she’s been ditching school. “We are too good for them” Caroline tells Jason of the step-family. At his store, Snopes, the owner, gives Jason a bad time, which seems to be habitual. Meanwhile, Quentin checks out the pawn shop. Out in the square, there’s a band advertising the upcoming carnival. So far, there’s no two people who get along–except maybe Quentin and Howard, who are both outcasts.
Very nastily, the carnival boss uses Ben and Luster to advertise the ‘Freak Show.’ Quentin is captivated by the show-off carny Charlie. They flirt. When he asks about her family, she gives a list: “My crazy grandmother, my keeper, or maybe my mama who left me day I was born.” Back by the store, Caddy appears. Jason’s welcoming comment “You’re older.” She wants to see Quentin. Anyway, he agrees.
At dinner, the scenery seems more tasty than the food. Quentin aptly sums her mood to Jason “Nobody would suffer at all if it weren’t for you.” His equally apt response “Don’t you think I’m human enough for this menagerie?” At least he takes her to see her mom…’see’ in the sense of stopping and driving away. His point was that she was “unfit,” as she admits; it really helps Quentin’s self-esteem to be used as a prop. Strangely though, he agrees to have Caddy come for an actual visit.
Howard’s happy, Caroline sure isn’t. She’s welcomed by Howard, Ben, and most poignantly, Quentin. Charlie comes calling at the house–according to him, she’s a lousy kisser. Naturally, he brings a bottle of liquor. Ben sees them making out–something he’s filing for future use. Finally, Caddy, Quentin, Howard, and Jason have an actual sit-down talk, with just a little bit of yelling. Jason reminds them that he’s the only one of them that works.
There seems a slight thaw in the Jason/Quentin relationship. Howard and Caddy tootle down to the river. Howard feels betrayed “You’re the instrument of our disgrace!” That is, when they were younger, he had to stand for a lot of taunting because of Caddy–indiscretions, presumably. And she’s not done; in Snopes’ store, she hangs around long enough to get seduced.
Now, Jason’s at daggers drawn, as it were. He knocks Earl around for messing with Caddy, and then runs Charlie away from Quentin. For unfathomable reasons he finishes up by kissing Quentin. But he’s taking the higher ground by not kicking Caddy out. On the sly, Quentin goes to see Charlie; “I’m no paper doll!” she tells him, astonished that he was afraid of Jason. Nonetheless, they plan to elope. Jason has to rescue her from Ben, who was obviously unhappy with her choice of partners.
Jason figures to institutionalize Ben. He’s sort of the personification of the old family; a relic, and a loose-cannon. Quentin splits, and, Jason goes after her. Fittingly, the carnival is pulling out. Jason confronts Charlie with a dilemma: take Quentin, or the $3k cash in her suitcase (arguably money Jason witheld from Quentin).
“You woulda come to the end of the money, but I’d have gone on forever” she accurately surmises, as, when it comes down to it, he’s unsurprisingly not all that keen on her. He leaves, and not only that, he leaves without the money. Another ten steps in reconciliation between Quentin and Jason. And she gets use of the money. Jason now judges her as just fine: she’s strong enough to deal with life, and with him, unlike everyone else in the family.
Woodward does a great job shifting moods: from her obvious, impish delight upon reuniting with her mom, using her seductive charm with Charlie, and flinging her unfiltered rage against Jason. Leighton’s role has one note, or rather page, from a Blanche DuBois helpless hypochondriac state. Brynner, who would seem to be miscast here, actually does very well. He projects a forceful, steady strength that impresses everyone. He’s also got a streak of class, naturally, and not just by inheritance. Of all the characters, only Jason and Quentin change.
They both learn about each other, and lose some bitterness. This was a bit better than I thought it would be; the strong performances keep our interest.
Farmermouse was helping himself to a piece of that cake shown in the first kitchen scene; he gives The Sound and the Fury seven carnival rides.