George Peppard and Carroll Baker in The Carpetbaggers (1964)


(director: Edward Dmytryk; screenwriters: from the novel by Harold Robbins/John Michael Hayes; cinematographer: Joseph MacDonald; editor: Frank Bracht; music: Elmer Bernstein; cast: George Peppard (Jonas Cord Jr), Carroll Baker (Rina Marlowe), Alan Ladd (Nevada Smith), Bob Cummings (Dan Pierce), Martha Hyer (Jennie Denton), Elizabeth Ashley (Monica Winthrop), Tom Tully (Monica’s father), Lew Ayres (McAllister), Martin Balsam (Bernard B. Norman), Leif Erickson (Mr. Cord Sr.), Lew Ayres (‘Mac’ McAllister), Ralph Taeger (Buzz Dalton), Audrey Totter (Whore); Runtime: 150; MPAA Rating: PG; producer: Joseph E. Levine; Paramount; 1964)

“The sleazy pulp film was a blockbuster smash hit upon its release, proving to Hollywood that bad taste pays big dividends.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A fact is stranger than fiction trashy soap opera that’s a thinly veiled biopic on the contemptible eccentric billionaire tycoon Howard Hughes. It’s based on the trashy best-selling novel by Harold Robbins and adapted to the screen by John Michael Hayes. Edward Dmytryk (“Cornered”/”Warlock”/”The Falcon Strikes Back”) directs it with an eye for piling on the dirt and shows how he managed to move from making meaningful small noir films in the 1940s to becoming a journeyman director creating this meaningless big-budget studio films (this one was budgeted at $3 million and grossed ten times that much) in the 1960s, with a stop along the way as an imprisoned blacklisted director and later an informer on Hollywood Commies getting him back in the good graces of the studios. George Peppard plays with vigor the domineering, glowering playboy Jonas Cord Jr., the airplane manufacturer turned movie director who is one-dimensionally ruthless in his aims to acquire enormous wealth and be a bigger success than his father.

The sleazy pulp film was a blockbuster smash hit upon its release, proving to Hollywood that bad taste pays big dividends. Alan Ladd, by this time in the down side of his career and a heavy closet drinker, plays one of the few characters in the film who is bearable and stands out for his valiant performance as the good ole cowpoke Nevada Smith who still seems human and is around to offer Jonas moral guidance. It was the 43-year-old Ladd’s last film appearance, he died of an accidental overdose of sedatives and alcohol after the film was shot. The flashy role goes to sexpot Carroll Baker, who has the right body parts for the part of the Harlowesque figure and makes the most of her juicy role. Lew Ayres also does a nice job as Cord’s long-suffering attorney, though it’s nothing special.

In 1925, Jonas Cord Jr.’s father (Leif Erickson) dies of a stroke and the wastrel son inherits the Cord Chemical factory, a manufacturer of dynamite and other explosives. The twentysomething son immediately assumes control of the company, gets rid of the minority shareholders in a buyout, gets his father’s lawyer Mac McAllister (Lew Ayres) to stay on and run the company after giving him a considerable raise. Old family pal Nevada Smith takes a powder, while Rina Marlowe (Carroll Baker), the girlfriend Jonas brought home only to have his father steal her from him by marrying her, exits to Europe when Jonas rejects her advances. The ambitious cold-hearted Jonas expands dad’s company into aviation and plastics, marries the flippant Monica Winthrop (Elizabeth Ashley) and becomes an even more rotten guy than first thought by totally ignoring his bride.

Nevada goes to Hollywood and catches on as a popular silent film cowboy idol (some say Ladd was playing the part of Ken Maynard, silent-screen cowboy star and friend of Hughes’s father), and Jonas produces his films. Rina becomes a fashion model and actress, who Jonas produces films for and makes into a star. Then Jonas has to battle movie mogul Bernard B. Norman (Martin Balsam) and duplicitous agent Dan Pierce (Robert Cummings), and when he tires of Rina he converts ex-prostitute Jennie Denton (Martha Hyer) into a star to replace Rina. Hyer’s character was supposedly inspired to be on Jane Russell, a Hughes protege. There’s even an unearned moralistic conclusion whereby Jonas gets his comeuppance and the heel becomes a repentant figure who goes back to his good wife after being humbled and realizing the folly of his ways. I found that contrived ending even worse than all the sleaze tossed around for the dull 150 minutes of this empty film.