Elia Kazan is an Oscar-winning filmmaker but nothing here is able to save this adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Last Tycoon.
In releasing the film on Blu-ray, it comes from a brand new HD master from a 4K scan of the original 35mm camera negative. The film’s release in 1976 came over two decades after Kazan’s second Oscar for directing and 13 years after his final directing nomination. Unfortunately, Kazan just wasn’t the same filmmaker by this point. It would mark his final feature film as a director and thus ending a remarkable career. Still, the film is one of the few stains on the resume of editor Richard Marks. I’d even argue screenwriter Harold Pinter as well. My curiosity about the film was not enough to overcome its many flaws. This was a film that was starting to put me to sleep about an hour into its 123-minute run time.
While I admit to being curious about the film because of F. Scott Fitzgerald basing Monroe Stahr (Robert De Niro) on the late Irving Thalberg, the film just is not good. Pat Brady (Robert Mitchum) is a stand-in for MGM’s Louis B. Mayer. But even at that, both friends and family, including Thalberg’s widow Norma Shearer, is not at all similar to that of Stahr. That’s something to keep in mind while watching the film. The film’s plot sees Brady’s college-aged daughter, Cecilia (Theresa Russell), falling for Stahr. Maybe the film not being good is because of the novel being unfinished when it was posthumously published in 1941?
I’d be remiss if I did not mention this: Stahr is a Jewish character and this would not be the only time that a Jewish role is whitewashed by De Niro. He would do the same thing years later in Martin Scorsese’s 1995 crime drama, Casino. If you’re coming into the film with an idea of whitewashing Jewish roles as being a modern invention, it has a systemic past in Hollywood. A letter to AMPAS also touches on this while discussing the exclusion of Jews in recent diversity requirements. De Niro was only three years removed from Mean Streets at this point so surely Kazan or producer Sam Spiegel could have found a Jewish actor for the role.
The Last Tycoon may be a mild curiosity because of both Fitzgerald and Thalberg but it’s not a good film.
- NEW Audio Commentary by Film Historian/Author Joseph McBride, Editor of Filmmakers on Filmmaking
DIRECTOR: Elia Kazan
SCREENWRITER: Harold Pinter
CAST: Robert De Niro, Tony Curtis, Robert Mitchum, Jeanne Moreau, Jack Nicholson, Donald Pleasence, Ray Milland, Dana Andrews, and introducing Ingrid Boulting, Theresa Russell, Peter Strauss, Tige Andrews, Morgan Farley, John Carradine, Jeff Corey
Paramount Pictures released The Last Tycoon in theaters on November 17, 1976. Grade: 2.5/5
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