Friday, 25 January 2013

The Last Tycoon (1976)

In 1976 Elia Kazan was prepared to release his final film, The Last Tycoon. His previous two films, The Arrangement and The Visitors were not well received. Unfortunately, neither was The Last Tycoon. The film was based on a novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald of the same title. This was a difficult adaptation as Fitzgerald had died before the novel could be completed. Luckily for any fans the entire plot was mapped out.

Peter Bogdanovich turned down a chance to direct. After that, Mike Nicholas was hired to direct and he intended to hire Dustin Hoffman in the lead role as Monroe Stahr. After Nicholas was removed from directing The Last Tycoon, producer Sam Spiegel was left with no option but to track down an old friend who was practically retired. That old friend was Elia Kazan who never expected to be making anymore films.

The Last Tycoon currently holds a 47% on Rotten Tomatoes and a 6.3 on IMDb (putting it as Kazan's lowest ranking film. In Kazan's autobiography he wrote that part of the film's considered lack of quality was due to Sam Spiegel. It is said that Spiegel had a father respectful "father and son" relationship with the film's screenwriter, Harold Pinter. Perhaps it was respect and common decency among filmmakers that tore The Last Tycoon apart. Actually, I shouldn't say that because I felt it was an alright film.

Monroe Stahr was based off a close friend of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Irving Thalberg. He was a film producer who had his hay-day in the 20s. He is best known for Laugh, Clown, Laugh. It seems that Kazan and De Niro tried to keep The Last Tycoon as close as possible to what F. Scott Fitzgerald wanted. In fact, the final note that Fitzgerald ever wrote on the topic of "The Last Tycoon" (the novel that is) was the following "ACTION IS CHARACTER". Kazan and De Niro tried as hard as possible to follow this code, and personally I feel they succeeded.

The Last Tycoon is driven by a legendary cast. In the lead role we have Robert De Niro. In supporting roles we have the legendary Robert Mitchum and Ingrid Boulting. The rest of The Last Tycoon's cast were mainly extended cameos. Tony Curtis and Jeanne Moreau play the aging actors in a film Monroe is producing. Donald Pleasence is in one short scene as a alcoholic screenwriter who gets fired. Ray Milland, Dana Andrews and Anjelica Huston also star in this greatly acted drama.

The Last Tycoon takes place in the golden age of cinema. Monroe Stahr is a young and handsome film producer. His life seems to revolve solely around his work. He lives in the constant battle between actors, directors and screenwriters. One day while attending a high-class party he notices a woman who he is suddenly struck by as looking like someone from his past.

And so begins a short-lived romance between Monroe and this woman, Kathleen Moore. After learning that she is really engaged to be married to another man, Monroe enters a state of depression. As he begins to drink his life slowly falls apart. There is no more order in his life. Monroe finally snaps in a well-acted climactic scene where he beats up a screenwriter.

The Last Tycoon suffers from a clearly emotionless love story. the film is driven by this love story, that never feels sincere. However, I wouldn't call this a flaw of the film as it was writen that way in the original novel. That stort of unrealistic romance is common in Fitzgerald's novels (see "This Side of Paradise). What doesn't work about the romance in The Last Tycoon is perhaps the suddenness or perhaps it is the lack of character development in the character of Kathleen Moore (played mediocorely by Ingrid Boulting). We see her only in scenes with De Niro where she acts as if she just watched a bunch of Tallulah Bankhead  films and thought that is how you act. There is no realism in Ingrid Boulting's potrayl, only class.

I would very much like to congragulate Elia Kazan on bringing back acspects on classic films. For example, there are several scenes where we watch as Monroe carefully watches the black and white film that stars Tony Curtis and Jeanne Moreau. It was an entertaining tribute that I do not beleive was in that book, at least not in the same way as it it shown in the film.

Action is character. A perfect role that was perfectly followed in this film... in the case of De Niro's character. He is the only actor that does not seem like he is being acted. I am not desputing the talent of the cast, I am desputing the talent of screenwriter Harold Pinter. In writing The  Last Tycoon he failed to add any emotion aside from Monroe. Perhaps Kathleen was also an attempt to add realism, if so, Pinter failed even more. The Last Tycoon never digs as deep as everyone on the set was trying hard for it to. Perhaps The Last Tycoon would be a smarter film if it were an hour or so longer. The films as it is is too simple. It feels like it should be some sort of epic on the topic of film production. As well, adding more time to the film would allow for Kazan to add character development and maybe even more great cameos.

There is a fair degree of bad writing in the film. However, that is made up for by great cameos. There are many moments when you look at the screen and say "Ha! That's Jack Nicholson!" or "...oh my! Is that Tony Curtis?". Elia Kazan knew what he was doing when he hired actors. Every actor who was cast best defines that role they were hired for (even though Harold Pinter barely lets us understand each character).

I would like to say that The Last Tycoon is not this massive cinematic dissapointment it's reputatino has taken. Perhaps it was not exactly The Godfather-esque film everyone seemed to be hoping for. However, Elia Kazan clearly put a lot into maknig his last film a meomerable one. Still I can't help but think he sold out... slighly. From hiring all major actors to big extravangte sets it seems as if Kazan may have been after the same thing as all the other producers in The Last Tycoon. Money.

The Last Tycoon,
Directed by: Elia Kazan,
Starring: Robert De Niro, Robert Mitchum and  Ingrid Boulting
7.5/10 (B+)

1. Baby Doll
2. Panic in the Streets
3. Splendor in the Grass
4. The Last Tycoon
5. Boomerang!
6. Pinky
7. The Arrangement


  1. I agree with your assessment of the movie.

    "Monroe Stahr was based off a close friend of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Irving Thalberg. He was a film producer who had his hay-day in the 20s."

    Actually, Thalberg's heyday stretched through most of his career at MGM - especially between 1925 and 1932.

  2. Viva Zapata! You are totally wrong about the film and about Jean Peters. The film portrays Zapata mostly as he was in real life -and he was certainly not a coward. In regards to Jean Peters, she does a fine acting job. This according to most critics. Elia Kazan did not want her in the picture. Perhaps because he was attracted to her and she refused to have an affair with him. He was secretly having an affair with Marilyn Monroe at the time, and she and Jean were close friends. The film's rushes were sent to Fox, and those who viewed them (Darryl Zanuck included) were amazed at the acting capabilities of this professional actress (this is well documented ant the Motion Picture Archives section in L.A.). Sorry to disagree with you. Though Peters has been much underrated, she was a very competent actress. And she is quite believable in Zapata.