Ernest Borgnine, Stephen Boyd, Joseph Cotten, Jill St. John, Tony Bennett, Edie Adams, Eleanor Parker, and Elke Sommer in The Oscar (1966)


(director/writer: Russell Rouse; screenwriters: from a novel by Richard Sale/Harlan Ellison/Clarence Greene; cinematographer: Joseph Ruttenberg; editor: Chester W. Schaeffer; music: Percy Faith; cast: Stephen Boyd (Frankie Fane), Elke Sommer (Kay Bergdahl), Milton Berle (Alfred ‘Kappy’ Kapstetter), Eleanor Parker (Sophie Cantaro), Joseph Cotten (Kenneth Regan), Jill St. John (Laurel Scott), Tony Bennett (Hymie Kelly), Edie Adams (Trina Yale), Ernest Borgnine (Barney Yale), Broderick Crawford (Sheriff ); Runtime: 119; MPAA Rating: PG; producer: Clarence Greene; Columbia; 1966)
A dreadful empty film.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A dreadful empty film about Hollywood by Hollywood, that only Hollywood could screw up so royally. This is no All About Eve (1950) or The Big Knife (1955). Some viewers who love bad films will be drawn to this one because it’s so tacky that they might take it for side-splitting camp when it’s meant to be taken as straight dramatics. The character singer Tony Bennett plays (his sole dramatic role in films, that proves he’s no actor) sums up this sleazy soaper when he tells the heartless Stephen Boyd character who betrayed him: “Lie down with pigs and you get up smelling like garbage.” Russell Rouse (“The Well”/”The Thief”/”The Fastest Gun Alive”)cowrites and directs this pathetic film laden with stilted dialogue, limp acting from its celebrity cast (featuring a miscast Boyd), an overbaked unrealistic melodramatic plot and a base sensationalist take on Hollywood in-fighting. It’s loosely based on the Harold Robbins exploitation type of best selling pulp novel by Richard Sale, and is cowritten by Harlan Ellison and Clarence Greene. There are many cameos from Hollywood personalities such as Bob Hope, Merle Oberon,Hedda Hopper, and Edith Head. The Academy of Arts and Sciences gave this crappy film permission to use its Santa Monica site where it holds the Oscar presentation (allowing them to re-enact the ceremony of giving out the Academy Awards, and thereby giving such a mean-spirited phony film a sense of false reality).

It’s the story of a vicious heel, Frankie Fane (Stephen Boyd), who claws his way from the bottom to superstardom in Hollywood by stepping over others on his selfish rise to the top.

It opens at the Oscar ceremonies, where Frankie Fane has been nominated for Best Actor and wants more than anything else to win. He sits alone since he’s been abandoned by everyone. Also at the ceremony is Hymie Kelly (Tony Bennett), the cad’s former childhood best friend who became Frankie’s PR man. Hymie relates the entire story in flashback of how his fellow impoverished neighborhood friend finally arrived at the prestigious ceremony and betrayed him and others. They include the following: the aging lonely heart acting coach Sophie Cantaro (Eleanor Parker), the oily agent Kappy Kapstetter (Milton Berle), and the long-suffering girlfriend Kay Bergdahl (Elke Sommer). The flashback includes all the nasty things the unscrupulous thug did to get there, starting with Frankie as the announcer in a small town seedy bar strip club for his sexy girlfriend stripper Laurel (Jill St. John) and skipping town with his partner Hymie and Laurel after beating up the bar manager who tried to stiff him. Frankie had to payoff the corrupt sheriff (Broderick Crawford), who framed the trio on prostitution charges and demanded a kickback to drop the charges. It then follows Frankie’s circuitous route to fame and success at any price.

The N.Y. Herald Tribune, the now defunct newspaper, pointed out that the film’s laughable comforting message was that “Heels may get to Hollywood but once there, rest assured, they do not win Oscars.