This unloved film from a late-career Elia Kazan is about a young movie producer making his way up the ladder in the foundational years of the industry.
Robert De Niro is Monroe Stahr, a fictionalised version of MGM’s own ‘boy genius’ Irving Thalberg.
Adapted from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s unfinished final novel, the resultant film is understated and solemn in tone, following Monroe as he hustles his way into the studio system, juggling difficult stars and bosses while maintaining his role as production chief.
De Niro gives a coolly restrained performance, recalling Thalberg’s much-discussed quiet charm and willpower. As he politely tells a union organiser played by Jack Nicholson: “I don’t think I have more brains than my writers – I just think that their brains belong to me”.
It’s a film that offers a distinctive and rather romantic look into the mindset of the industry’s earliest moguls, but also one that is itself telling about the unpredictability of film production.
The amount of creative talent on The Last Tycoon is staggering, from a screenplay by Harold Pinter to a stellar cast. But what seemed like a producer’s dream was a critical and commercial flop – defying the expectations of its own most wily and seasoned of producers, Sam Spiegel.
Robert De Niro