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Kazan and Pinter's THE LAST TYCOON is disjointed, uneven, and strangely memorable -- rather like an oddly unsettling, hazily recalled dream.
Robert De Niro, in a quietly amazing performance, disappears into the title character of Monroe Stahr, a workaholic Hollywood producer who is, in Keats's phrase, "half in love with easeful death." (This understated movie is from the same year as De Niro's flashy bravura turn in Martin Scorsese's TAXI DRIVER.)
Most of the supporting cast is excellent, including Robert Mitchum and Ray Milland as a couple of Shakespearean-knavish villains, Jack Nicholson, Donald Pleasence, Theresa Russell, and Dana Andrews.
Ingrid Boulting is beautiful but somewhat less satisfactory as Stahr's love interest, Kathleen Moore. In fairness, however, her role is deliberately written as something of an enigma: Kathleen Moore is a blank movie screen onto which Stahr, a near-solipsist, projects fantasies and memories of his deceased wife.
The various elements of THE LAST TYCOON never quite cohere into a whole, but several scenes have stuck in my memory ever since I first saw it years ago. Among them:
Stahr's mock-lecture to the misfit screenwriter Boxley (Donald
Pleasence), beginning: "You've been fighting duels all day..."
Kathleen Moore telling Stahr, over the insistent crash of the surf at
his unfinished ocean-front mansion, "I want ... a quiet life"
Stahr's informal evening meeting with a labor-union organizer (Jack
Nicholson), during which the privately despondent movie producer grows increasingly drunk and belligerent; and ...
The closing ten minutes or so of the film, which take on an almost
surreal quality: Disembodied lines of dialogue from earlier scenes recur; Stahr repeats his earlier speech to Boxley, only now as a soliloquy addressed directly to the camera; and then -- murmuring "I don't want to lose you" -- he seems to hallucinate a vision of Kathleen as she moves on to a new life without him.
Only Jeanne Moreau and Tony Curtis struck me as jarringly miscast in their parts. They -- and their comic-pathetic scenes as insecure movie idols -- seemed to belong to another movie entirely.
THE LAST TYCOON is an uneven work but most assuredly has its merits.
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