The Last Tycoon (1976)


Bil’s rating (out of 5):   BB.  

USA, 1976.  .  Screenplay by , based on the novel by .  Cinematography by .  Produced by .  Music by .  Production Design by .  Costume Design by , .  Film Editing by

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s stories frequently take place in the glow of that green light shining from the end of Daisy’s dock, so whatever the subject matter (poverty, doomed romance, career trouble) there’s always a sense of patient and poetic beauty to the manner in which it is relayed.  This rhythm has rarely translated well to film, something that director Elia Kazan and screenwriter Harold Pinter did not disprove when making this adaptation of the great author’s last (and unfinished novel) just two years after Jack Clayton’s disastrous adaptation of his most famous one gives a surprisingly unmotivated performance as an Irving Thalberg-like film producer in Hollywood’s golden age, whose bold strokes of creative genius, which cost plenty but make even more in profits, are starting to be seen as megalomania by his colleagues.  as rival studio executive and as east coast lawyer are capitulating much easier to the greedy New York offices, who want to get rid of this Boy Wonder and his crazy ideas (which include choosing to put prestige above profit on the odd film project) and focus solely on receipts.  De Niro’s Monroe Stahr is distracted from any concern over his career by his fascination with a woman he spots visiting the lot on a guided tour (played beautifully by ) who reminds him of the Jean Harlow-esque starlet he was once in love with, and his fascination with her occupies all his time and energy.  Whatever conflict between love and work is being suggested never actually happens on screen, the lovers have some wonderful scenes of calm erotic connection that doesn’t seem to either be distracting Stahr from his work or inspiring it.  The whole thing plays out with absolutely no tension or atmosphere, wasting the efforts of a superb cast (which also includes , , and a young in a small role) on a drama that is never dramatic.  Its recreation of Hollywood’s yesteryear is only sporadically convincing, with as a diva movie star and  as her leading man in a Casablanca type film that has no resemblance to the style of acting or directing of the time (and whether or not it’s an example of Stahr being good at his job or dropping the ball is never clear either).  The takeaway is the amazing production design, which deservedly received the film’s sole Oscar nomination, otherwise you’re better served by the problematic but far more memorable The Day of the Locust.

Academy Award Nomination:  Best Art Direction

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