The Weekend Australian - Review - - Television - Dorothy Rabi­nowitz The Last Ty­coon Graeme Blun­dell


It’s clear, early on, that this new adap­ta­tion of The Last Ty­coon isn’t go­ing to be the long-awaited faith­ful trans­la­tion of F. Scott Fitzger­ald’s novel, un­fin­ished at his death in 1940. It’s much bet­ter than that. Af­ter the first two hours, in fact, the echoes of Fitzger­ald’s book grow ever dim­mer as this pow­er­house of a drama se­ries rolls on with a voice all its own, its riv­et­ing pic­ture not only of 1930s Hol­ly­wood but of Amer­ica and Europe, too. It man­ages to wed all that to ro­mance of a high order and also a low kind — this is a drama that pays exquisitely close at­ten­tion to the mat­ter of the moguls and the women who serve them — and to scathing satire strik­ingly free of any­thing car­toon­ish. Which is why the film’s chief mogul, Pat Brady (a match­less Kelsey Gram­mer), who clearly con­sid­ers the avail­able sex to be part of his job ben­e­fits, and who is also ca­pa­ble of any bru­tal­ity in order to keep his busi­ness afloat, is none­the­less a tremen­dously ap­peal­ing char­ac­ter.

He can be soft-hearted; he hands money to the home­less at the Hooverville De­pres­sion-era shanty town set up near his stu­dio, while hat­ing them for be­ing there. But he’s pre­pared to ac­com­mo­date the Nazis, who have strict pro­hi­bi­tions against any­thing in a Hol­ly­wood film that the Third Re­ich finds of­fen­sive.

Any pic­ture, for in­stance, in which a non-Jew is mar­ried to a Jew — a vi­o­la­tion of the Nazi racial laws. That’s in ad­di­tion to the re­quire­ment that all the stu­dio’s Jews em­ployed in Ger­many be fired.

The de­mands are pre­sented to Brady by a Re­ich rep­re­sen­ta­tive, Dr Gyssling, who car­ries a brief­case adorned with a shiny swastika and who is, in fact, based on an ac­tual spe­cial con­sul from Ger­many in the 30s. The Re­ich agent in the film has no trou­ble per­suad­ing stu­dio heads to agree. Ger­many, Brady says, is the sec­ond­largest in­ter­na­tional mar­ket for Hol­ly­wood.

Tak­ing all this in is Brady’s supremely tal­ented young pro­ducer Mon­roe Stahr (Matt Bomer), who is, un­like his boss, ex­quis­ite look­ing — pos­i­tively aglow with de­cency. Also, un- like Brady, he’s Jewish. Not that any­one would know from his name, which he changed in the in­ter­est of his ca­reer. He had scarcely known his hard­work­ing fa­ther, he con­fides sev­eral episodes on in a scene vi­brant with con­tained emo­tion — a tone in which Bomer is skilled.

His char­ac­ter, Mon­roe, is a moral­ist, but a kind ev­ery­one can love and does. Mon­roe leads a very com­pli­cated life. In mourn­ing for his beloved ac­tress wife, who died in a fire, he finds so­lace, briefly, in an af­fair with Rose (Rose­marie De Witt), wife of his boss, a man with whom he has an even more com­pli­cated re­la­tion­ship.

De Witt is stel­lar as Rose, heart­break­ingly and cut­tingly to the point about her need to con­tinue the af­fair. Mon­roe wants out — every­thing about this vi­o­lates his sense of pro­pri­ety. Rose, like nu­mer­ous oth­ers around him, is in love with Mon­roe, who is every­thing her hus­band is not — her hus­band be­ing, as she in­forms him one night in a bit­ing sum­ma­tion, a man who takes sex­ual ad­van­tage of women who work for him, doesn’t mind im­pov­er­ish­ing em­ploy­ees, and traf­fics with Nazis.

The sump­tu­ous pe­riod de­tail here will in­vite com­par­isons to Mad Men, but there’s in­fin­itely more in this re-creation of an era than its fi­delity to the look of things — though that look is, al­ways, in­escapably cap­ti­vat­ing, whether it’s of peo­ple hop­ing for a ca­reer in pic­tures, or of those, like the re­gally beau­ti­ful Margo Taft (Jen­nifer Beals), who al­ready have one. A star­dom so pow­er­ful she’s known to de­mand that any direc­tor want­ing to work with her sub­mit to hav­ing her mea­sure his pri­vate parts.

Then there’s the look, no less en­thralling, of the ac­tual movie moguls as they traded, bar­gained and en­gaged in mur­der­ous com­pe­ti­tion, in­clud­ing black­mail threats such as leaked scan­dals, in­volv­ing some ri­val stu­dio’s star. MGM’s Louis B. Mayer is por­trayed, wickedly, by Saul Ru­binek; he bears no re­sem­blance to Mayer but you get the pic­ture, es­pe­cially from the scene in which Mayer de­liv­ers a heart­felt fu­neral eu­logy.

The Last Ty­coon — from Billy Ray and Christo­pher Keyser, ex­ec­u­tive pro­duc­ers and writ­ers — has, in ad­di­tion to its looks, su­perb writ­ing, wit and huge am­bi­tion, its grasp of the pas­sion­ate po­lit­i­cal heart of the era.

There are no dead spots. streams on Ama­zon Prime Video. re­turns next week.

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