By Richard Winters
My Rating: 2 out of 10
4-Word Review: Actor’s career on decline.
Frank Fane (Stephen Boyd) is a flippant, self-centered, and arrogant man who makes a living by setting up gigs for his stripper girlfriend Laurel (Jill St John) at local strip joints. By pure chance he watches the rehearsal of a play and in a fit of frustration jumps onto the stage to show the actors how to perform a knife fight when he doesn’t think they are doing it right. This impresses Sophie (Eleanor Parker) who uses her influence to get him signed to a contract at a big movie studio that makes Frank a star almost overnight, but as the years pass the quality and quantity of his roles diminish. His overspending begins to catch up with him and just when he thinks his career may have faded he gets nominated for the Oscar. He feels a win will revive his career and will stop at nothing and use every dirty trick he can in order to influence the vote.
Adapted from the Richard Sale novel this is high drama at its worst. The scenarios are over-the-top and soap opera-like while bearing little relation to reality. The characterizations are on a kindergarten level and a composite of every Hollywood cliché and stereotype rolled together. The dialogue sounds like it was taken from a 50’s B-movie and comes off more like rants and speeches than anything any real person would actually say. Any attempt at gaining any insight into the behind-the-scenes world of Hollywood is lost with a script that becomes wildly off-center until it becomes absurd and ludicrous. Famed science fiction writer Harlan Ellison who scripted this mess was completely out of his realm here and the film is so botched, over-long, and redundant that it isn’t even good for laughs.
If the film had a glossy visual quality to it then it could at least be entertaining on that level, but director Russell Rouse shows no visual flair, or imagination. The scenes are lighted too brightly, which washes out the color and makes the sets look flat and one-dimensional. The music is too loud and used in a heavy-handed way similar to the canned laughter on some sitcoms. Every time there is some dramatic revelation, or shift the music comes booming out in order to alert the viewer who apparently was perceived by the filmmakers to be too dumb to pick up on it otherwise.
I did like Boyd in the lead. He has good looking chiseled features and parlays the necessary arrogance of the part, but the character is wholly dislikable and only gets worse as the film progresses and having to spend two hours watching a jerk be nothing but a jerk is too much.
The only time he shows any slight compassion is when he finds a fellow actor (Peter Lawford) down on his luck, but it is too extreme to believe that a one-time headlining movie star could one day fall to the point that he would have to wait tables to make a living and thus makes this moment as ridiculous and everything else in the movie. An ‘A’ list actor may fall down to becoming a ‘B’ list actor, or having to go from movies to guest spots on TV-shows, or even doing commercials, or infomercials, but having to become a waiter at a restaurant just isn’t plausible.
Elke Sommar gives a sincere performance and her German accent is sexy, but her character becomes too much of an emotional yo-yo. One minute she loves Frank then the next minute she hates him, only to quickly fall in-love with him again and then hate him shortly after that. Parker, as Frank’s mistress on the side, is good, but wasted despite looking as elegant as ever.
Tony Bennett is badly miscast as Frank’s best friend Hymie. This was to date his one and only film role and he may be a great crooner, but as an actor he is uncharismatic. Milton Berle fares almost as poorly playing Frank’s agent. Initially it was interesting seeing him take a dramatic turn instead of being the perennial comic ham, but his acting skills appear limited and his drama becomes as hammy as his comedy.
Ernest Borgnine gives the film’s only real solid performance as a shady and conniving private detective. The scene where Frank slugs him and it sends him flying backwards and toppling over his desk before crashing against the back wall is the film’s only good moment unless you count St John’s opening striptease.
Lots of cameos by famous stars and celebrities including famed costume designer Edith Head in a non-speaking part and gossip columnist Hedda Hopper in a part she did just before her death.
A good movie can inspire the viewer and expand their thinking and imagination, but this film had the absolute opposite effect. It made me feel like my mind had been sucked away by a giant vacuum. I felt depressed after watching it and continued to feel depressed the next day when I woke up.
My Rating: 2 out of 10
Released: March 4, 1966
Runtime: 1Hour 59Minutes
Director: Russell Rouse
Studio: Embassy Pictures Corporation
Available: VHS, YouTube