“The Carpetbaggers” (1964)
Running time: 150 minutes
Written by: John Michael Hayes
Directed by: Edward Dmytryk
Featuring: George Peppard, Alan Ladd, Bob Cummings, Martha Hyer, Elizabeth Ashley, Lew Ayres, Martin Balsam, Ralph Taeger, Archie Moore, Leif Erickson and Carroll Baker
Jonas Cord: “What do you want to see on your honeymoon?”
Monica Winthrop: “Lots of lovely ceilings!”
Released recently on DVD and Blu-ray is the now classic “The Carpetbaggers” (1964), a drama that when it was originally released was a precursor to the new Hollywood that was to come with the arrival of Arthur Penn’s “Bonnie and Clyde” (1967), what set it apart is the fact that it still has Hollywood tropes, a very out of place happy ending and whose entire narrative is a classical themed story about salvation (of sorts). What “The Carpetbaggers” almost does is to expose a part of classical Hollywood that had rarely been seen, while at the same time attempting to lift the lid on one of the more enigmatic larger than life people who ever lived in the billionaire Howard Hughes. The movie was a sexual awakening of sorts, with many scenes that at least allude to sex unlike many mainstream Hollywood movies before. However like many Hollywood movies before it the main character can have any woman he likes at a whim, not only this some scenes are almost rape like in their setting but without any consequences for either the perpetrator or the many victims. This coupled with the ending means this is a flawed movie, especially for today’s audiences, however the performances of George Peppard, Alan Ladd and Elizabeth Ashley for me make this a much watch particularly as this is Ladd’s last onscreen performance.
Much like Howard Hughes the main character in “The Carpetbaggers”, Jonas Cord, seems to answer to no-one while taking risks that always seem to pay off while at the same time alienating almost all the people that are directly involved with him or even care. The movie is a character piece of sorts although at a running time of two and half hours and being filmed in Panavison it seeks to have a Hugh scope. Like Hughes himself it seems Cord is on a journey of self destruction because of a variety reasons some obvious, some not so while it seems we are, as an audience asked to understand Cord as flawed but of good character, for reasons that to really are a little too much to ask.
“The Carpetbaggers” concerns Jonas Cord a thoroughly spoilt and disagreeable man who inherits a fortune when his Father dies of a heart attack while they are arguing. After the death Cord begins young starting airlines, building his own planes, directing films and involving himself in a string of affairs as well as building more of a fortune in the corporate world and 1930’s Hollywood.
Directed by Edward Dmytryk “The Carpetbaggers” sees him in excellent form as a classical Hollywood director who made some of the best examples of anything within the genres he operated in. This is no different here, any weaknesses in the movie come from the actual script as well as the aims that the studio had in producing this movie. This movie would not be anywhere Dmytryk’s best work but in truth this was one of the last movies he directed. This is a movie that is a dichotomy, one one hand it is trying to be something new and inventive but it is held back or restrained by its structure, its conclusion and the fact that it is a melodrama that requires softer hands to manipulate it into something greater than what is on the page.
Led by a pitch perfect performance in the form of George Peppard who would never have another character like Jonas Cord to play again he relishes in his portrayal, in fact this was possibly as close Peppard got to playing himself onscreen as he had some of the same issues Cord did but in his own life. The only real issue is that the character, not the performance is one note for ninety percent of the movie, he lacks any nuances that say Jonathan Shields played by Kirk Douglas had in the classic “The Bad and the Beautiful” (1952) which is a missed opportunity.
“The Carpetbaggers” has much edge to it, in fact it is much harder edged than the later Martin Scorsese film “The Aviator” (2004) which really did play to Howard Hughes being a misunderstood genius instead of a spoilt man child who had to have everything his own way to the detriment of everyone else, so much so that when he didn’t get his own way he went mad. The difference within this movie is that just because he is a ruthless undustrialist then all his behavior is forgiven and it appears he lives happy evert after.
Even with some of the negatives this is a compelling movie that I would recommend to watch especially on blu-ray as the picture really pops on the right screen.