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Serious cineasts, GO AWAY! Watch this film for the pure pleasure of
down and dirty in a potboiler. Lust! Greed! Passion! Murder!
And see Laurence Olivier ham it up like crazy with the goofiest accent you'll ever hear!
Oh, yeah. I forgot ... Hate! Fear! Wealth! Decadence!
Imagine a 1970's TV mini-series with added scenes of nudity and adult language and a somewhat bigger budget and the result is "The Betsy". Based on one of the gazillion cookie-cutter novels of Harold Robbins, the film looks and sounds just like a mini-series that slipped by the censors. Olivier (in the midst of one of his WORST periods for hammy overacting which also includes "The Boys From Brazil" and "The Jazz Singer") is a mega-rich automobile tycoon who has been ousted from his company to live in sedate luxury, albeit in a wheelchair. He follows the racing career of Jones closely and, after a nasty accident, convinces him to come and work for him in creating the third international car (after the Model T Ford and the Volkswagen.) This one is to be called The Betsy after his great-granddaughter Beller. Unfortunately, his nefarious grandson Duvall runs the company and doesn't want something as bothersome as a car to interfere with his profits from diversification into such products as dishwashers. This sets up a heated rivalry between Jones and Duvall. While this contemporary story plays out, Olivier flashes back to the 1930's when he was at his peak of power and he had his way with various women. Here, he contends with wimpy son Rudd and Rudd's lovely wife Ross who will one day give birth to Duvall. The stories play out alternately until the end when various connections detail how one tale is directly related to the other. The cast is fairly stellar for the most part, though few of the actors make any great impact. Olivier speaks in an inane and unexplained accent and overemotes ridiculously throughout. Fortunately, he's still rather entertaining nonetheless as his character gets several amusing things to say in the film. Jones is appealing and considerably more low-key than Olivier (anyone would be!) His fans will be surprised to see him in this traditional leading man type of role (and sporting an impressively chiseled torso.) Duvall (who, for some reason, appears shorter in this film than at any other point in his career!) nibbles his own share of the scenery as he tries to stay afloat in the melodramatics. Alexander retains her dignity as his neglected wife and Ross looks about as good as she ever did as his mother in the flashback scenes. A welcome dose of glamorous bitchery comes in the form of opportunistic and promiscuous Down. Her various high fashion costumes also bring occasional titters. Beller (the same chipmunk who would eventually land on "Dynasty" for a while in the '80's) is an acquired taste. Her Kewpie face and waist-length hair can annoy, yet her bare-everything swimming pool scene has earned her a few fans. She has one particularly ugly canary yellow dress which assaults the senses as well. Many other familiar actors pop in along the way including Swenson, Robert Guillaume's old sparring partner from "Benson". The title car seems a little goofy (people are supposed to drive around in a compact car that has Betsy emblazoned on the side?) and some of the dramatics seem pretty pointless. Maybe it was the time the film was made. The whole thing is a trashed-up precursor to "Dallas" and "Dynasty". There's even a stilted and tentatively presented homosexual relationship thrown into the mix. The sets, budget, costuming and cast elevate it to some degree and there are many unintentional laughs along the way. It is more than a little disconcerting, however, to see "Wuthering Heights" Heathcliff banging a French maid on his bed while his wife is downstairs carrying out a wedding reception for their son!
This is one of my two favorite Bad Movies I Love, the other one being
"Trapped by the Mormons." I watch this after seeing nothing but Italian
Neorealism and French tragedies for a couple weeks, to remind myself of
really bad films look like, and how wonderful they can be when life has
gotten too serious.
Think of this film as being "Dynasty" with a bigger budget. The basic concept is American Excess At Its Finest. If it had been shown during the Communist era in Russia, I'm sure it would have been great propaganda for the evils of capitalism.
"The Betsy" involves cars instead of oil (as in "Dynasty"). Olivier has the Blake Carrington part, except that John Forsythe is much better in the role. (I read Olivier's bio, and in it he does indeed state that when he got older and had to support one current and two former wives, that doing things for the money was a fine thing.) Leslie Anne Down has the Joan Collins role. Katherine Ross has the Linda Evans role. I don't know whose role Tommy Lee Jones has, but it's the General Stud Muffin Deluxe part, and yes, in his youth, he could pull it off.
Anyhow, this is the perfect film to see when you've had a bad week and need pure, stupid escapist fare -- sort of like why we all were addicted to "Dynasty" and "Dallas" for years!
I bought this film because I LOVE Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones, and it was packed with other great names. The movie misses its mark at every chance. It fails to bring you into caring about the characters, the passion, the evil, etc. I don't know how it could miss with the people involved, but it does. Just the description of the movie was gripping, but the viewing failed to deliver. The era was fascinating. The sets were beautiful. The music was blah. The drama was off center. You should see the chemistry of Jones and Duvall in "Lonesome Dove" to see what is missing in this film. I'm glad I have this chance to comment, as I was dying to tell someone who cares.
One of the Star Trek sequels has Harold Robbins and Jacqueline Susann
referred to as the "Old Masters." Personally, I'm betting that The
Carpetbaggers or The Betsy will not be on a high school English class
reading list in about 200 years.
The Betsy, by the way, refers to both Kathleen Beller's character and a newly designed car named for her by her great grandfather the patriarch of an automobile pioneer family. Said patriarch is played by none other than Sir Laurence Olivier, arguably the greatest actor the English speaking world has ever produced.
He was certainly thought of as that at the time The Betsy was made. He had nothing to prove as a player in 1978, but Olivier was concerned about leaving a nice sizable estate for his children. So he did take on projects like these that were guaranteed box office.
I have to say Olivier's Loren Hardiman was an offbeat part for him. Prominent in the Olivier bag of thespian tricks is a great ear for accents. Hard to believe that this is the same actor who gave us definitive film versions of Hamlet, Richard III, and Othello.
In filming one of Harold Robbins empire and scandal novels all you can do is ham it up. And following Lord Olivier's cue the rest of the cast hams it up big time. I'm surprised no one in television thought of this as a Dallas like series.
The Betsy has the usual business double dealing and sexual peccadilloes that saturate a Robbins epic. If that's your taste you'll love The Betsy.
An errant thought just struck me. What if someone had thought to hire Sir Laurence Olivier as Jock Ewing in Dallas. I think he'd have done it for the right price and he could have pulled it off.
Laurence Olivier is the multi-millionaire head of a family, who's rich due to the family business, making cars. Larry wants to make a new car whose engine would be environmentally safe. He needs Tommy Lee Jones' (a race car driver) assistance in creating the engine. And, that begins the present day plot. There are flashbacks that show just how and why things are the way they are today. The presence of Katharine Ross and Kathleen Beller make this feel like Dynasty. And, Robert Duvall is Larry's grandson who'll stop at nothing to stop the development of "The Betsy," which is what Larry named the engine. The movie is nothing like "The Oscar" in that it's not flashy or campy; and, it doesn't have any it's-so-bad-it's good value to it. Instead, you get the impression they tried to take themselves seriously and in doing so, only emphasized the fact these are not nice people and it gives the movie a kind of seedy, mean quality to it. Its love scenes add to its trashy feel to it and not entirely in a good way. The music is so understated, mellow, and refined, it sounds like some "Godfather" copy. All in all, once you've seen the ending, you may want to see it again, knowing what you know. But, it's not much to really write home about.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Having read Harold Robbins' book on the sly in high school, I certainly expected nothing but trash from this movie, albeit served with style--come on, most of you saw it to see if Olivier could pull it off. And pull it off he did, hammy acting all the way, and it sure looks as if he enjoyed it too. He plays (parodies is more like it) the patriarch, wanting to leave his legacy with a dream car called The Betsy, named after great-granddaughter Kathleen Beller. He engages the services of Jones, whose father saved his life years back and to whom he feels a certain responsibility, but runs into trouble with his grandson Duvall. Duvall hates granddad with a vengeance, and here's why: the night he witnessed his homosexual father kill himself, the 7-year old Duvall runs to his mother's room to tell her, only to see his grandfather in bed with her. How's that for family issues? Duvall vows to kill granddad's dreams at the directors' board meeting, only to be out-voted by his wife, who is just about fed up with his blatant affair with the stunningly stylish Down, who is also secretly seeing Jones (Down, that is). You still with me? Beller then manages to seduce Jones on the night of her 21st birthday, and afterwards, great-grandfather gives her the keys to the kingdom. After some scenes with the car (with Betsy emblazoned on its entire side--now who would want a car like that?), Jones manages to get Duvall's wife and Betsy's POA, with the backing of his late father's friend mafioso "Uncle" Joe Warren, and elects himself President of the company. The movie ends with Olivier walking (he's supposed to be in a wheelchair after a stroke) into the new president's office with a giant smirk on his face, since cocky Jones clearly got more than he bargained for, as mafioso Joe Warren is now part of the board of directors, and it seems only Olivier can reel him in. At least that's how I understood the ending--I've yet to reread the book to see if I got that last part right! So if you haven't seen the movie yet, don't expect Wuthering Heights please, it's hams, trash and sex all the way.
As decadently bad as the book and premise of this movie is, there was something somewhat entertaining in this mawkish soap-opera put to film,which is why I bought this film once(that's right!). Maybe it was the sex scenes-Ms.Down and Mr.Jones' love scene was particularly well done and seductive-or the full body shot of Ms.Beller(I'm guessing full body shots,pubes and all,were somewhat rare in mainstream cinema in 1978),but the plotlines of conflict inside and outside of the Hardemann family over three generations were at least nominally interesting. Still,I found the pacing dreadfully slow and ,hence,the subject line of my review. I imagine why Sir Larry took this roll,as well as many others in the late 70s and early 80s(I'm surprised the guy from Cincinnati who reviewed the film didn't mention "Clash of the Titans"!)was because not too many dignified leading man roles were being afforded to stately older English theatre-trained actors at the time and he had to take what he could get. Five out of ten stars.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I vaguely remembered seeing this film somewhere years ago. I had really
remembered Kathleen Beller's gratuitous nude scene, included when such
scenes were quite rare in a major theatrical release. When I found the
DVD in the remainder bin, I grabbed the last copy left in the pile.
I can't say that I enjoyed the plot, given that the plot was very thin underfoot. Other comments have noted the parallels to some of the trashy night time TV soap operas of that period. Really, this film could have been a pilot episode for a big-budget TV soap opera. If only they hadn't prematurely rolled up a lot of the potential plot themes.
No, this was a nostalgia trip back to the excesses of the '70s. I got to see all those non-stellar styling exercises Detroit was foisting off on the American public, in the face of their increasing buying resistance. Here indeed was an early stage in the downfall of Detroit.
Then we had that ridiculously disguised Mercedes limousine wearing an outlandish grille to conceal its origin. I don't think a New Orleans pimp would feel comfortable driving such a monstrosity.
The real high point was the ridiculously hammy performance of Lawrence Olivier. He really got to let loose in a role that set no limit on how outlandish and trashy his portrayal would get. What unknown director would have the nerve to tell Sir Larry he was chewing too much on the scenery? That scene showing Olivier on top of the maid was a real hoot, a high point in a stellar career! On further viewing of this film, it became apparent to me that a stand-in for Olivier actually was filming this scene.
Then there was a brash young Texan Tommy Lee Jones trying to pass himself off as a third-generation Italian-American. Tommy, somehow I can't see you growing up Italian.
Then there was a much thinner Edward Herrman. He is now best known for flogging Dodge trucks and cars and voice overs on public TV nature programs. Oh well, a guy has to make a living.
I believe the film did tone down some of the original plot in the novel. As I recall Loren Hardeman not only had an incestuous relationship with his daughter-in-law, but fathered her child. So he was not the boy's grandfather, but actually his father.
Well, I am glad I have the DVD in the collection. It is a great antidote for pretentious films that take themselves too seriously. It made me want to look up Kathleen Beller on the IMDb and maybe catch some of her other efforts.
Among all the novels written by Harold Robbins, this is my favorite. Following the book is much easier and if I must say so, a lot more seductive. Comparing the book to the movie, I can only appreciate the film is quicker to entice me to stay interested. The novel is superior, yet the cast in the film is much more believable. Directed by Daniel Petrie, " The BETSY " relates the story of Angelo Perino (Tommy Lee Jones) a professional race car driver and third generation Italian with Mafia connections. Nearly killed in a race, he is summoned to the Hardeman mansion where Loren Hardeman (Laurence Oliver), the patriarch of the family dynasty, purposes to him a secret plan to design a new car, called the BETSY. Although intrigued by the offer, Perino at first refuses, until he is promised a great deal of money and special options to purchase stock in the family run corporation. He must also run the gauntlet of family members out to prevent the secret plan. Among the more powerful is Loren Hardeman III (Robert Duvall) who has definite motives for preventing the building of the new car. Katharine Ross, Jane Alexander and Lesley-Anne Down as Lady Bobby Ayres play the powerful women of the Hardeman family, each, it is discovered have their own reasons for the success or failure of the venture. Betsy Hardeman (Kathlee Beller) is the lynch pin on which Perino and his ambitions will fail or not. Joseph Wiseman and Edward Herrmann are two key players which provide the inner mechanisms of and for the Betsy's future. The over all movie is split into both past and present happenings of how and why family members gravitate towards Perino's project. Steamy scenes and dark family secrets provide the novel's interest and were it not for the powerful performances of Laurence Oliver, Tommy Lee Jones and Robert Duvall, the film, would have tanked. Instead it is now accepted as a film Classic and one representative of the times. ****
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