Friday 30 September 2022

Movie Review: The Carpetbaggers (1964)

A business-and-romance drama, The Carpetbaggers is fueled by a tortuously obsessed personality.

In the 1920s, Jonas Cord Jr. (George Peppard) inherits his father's chemical business, and proceeds to build an audacious empire centred on the burgeoning airline and film industries. His long-term associates include ex-cowboy Nevada Smith (Alan Ladd), who raised Jonas from a young age, level-headed lawyer McAllister (Lew Ayres), and airplane pilot Buzz Dalton (Ralph Taeger).

A driven workaholic, Jonas also has a tumultuous lustful relationship with his father's young widow Rina Marlowe (Carroll Baker), and eventually turns her into a movie star. He marries - then ignores - Monica Winthrop (Elizabeth Ashley), before courting starlet Jennie Denton (Martha Hyer). Along the way Jonas tangles with sleazy agent Dan Pierce (Bob Cummings) and studio boss Bernard Norman (Martin Balsam). 

Inspired by Howard Hughes, The Carpetbaggers adapts Harold Robbins' novel into an effective cinematic experience. John Michael Hayes wrangles a cohesive but still epic 150 minute screenplay out of the book, and Edward Dmytryk hustles the sprawling narrative along, never dawdling or pausing to contemplate. The outcome is a sustained rhythm mixing business compulsion with warped romance, both propelled by voracious character traits.

The film tackles business issues head-on, and presents Jonas as never likeable but nevertheless fascinating, a demanding cut-throat overachiever and impossible boss, but also a willing and constant learner. The emotional underpinnings for his behaviour are only hinted at, until the suitably bombastic final act revelations. George Peppard fits the role well, his stone cold expressions capturing an antipathy only satisfied when exerting control and achieving domination, consequences be damned.

Dmytryk infuses the aesthetics with the gaudy look of greed and lust, and most of the romantic scenes are dripping with undertones of conquest and egomaniacal seduction. With a lot of ground to cover, the editing demonstrates a preference for bold brevity bordering on choppiness, powered by Elmer Bernstein's brass-and-drums dominated music.

The supporting cast is impressive, from the friendly stoicism of Lew Ayres to the scheming of Martin Balsam and Bob Cummings. Carroll Baker (manipulative), Elizabeth Ashley (hopeful), and Martha Hyer (opportunistic) create a triangle of naturally flawed women grappling with Jonas' troubled psyche. Most notable is Alan Ladd in his final screen role, providing the one robust anchor in a stormy life.

Embracing boardroom and bedroom lubriciousness, The Carpetbaggers crackles with connivance.

All Ace Black Movie Blog Reviews are here.

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