PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.

Featured: Top of Home Page

'The Carpetbaggers' (1964)

Needs more bagging.


The Carpetbaggers

Director: Edward Dmytryk
Cast: George Peppard, Alan Ladd
Distributor: Warner Archive
Rated: Not rated
Year: 1964
USDVD release date: 2013-09-08

Based on a novel by Harold Robbins, The Carpetbaggers is trash of the glossy, leering, "lifestyles of the rich and bastardly" variety, which of course is the reason anyone would watch it. One of the big hits of 1964, it's part of Hollywood's attempt in that era to catch up with Britain, France, Italy, and other European countries whose movies were frankly admitting that their characters had sex out of wedlock and perhaps not even in the missionary position. Hollywood's version is that characters may behave in this way, but they're terribly unhappy. This was as Britain was not only giving us James Bond but the Oscar-winning and guilt-free good times of Tom Jones.

The story is improvised from the life and legend of Howard Hughes (although apparently Robbins denied this, fruitlessly). When callow Jonas Cord (George Peppard) mouths off to his daddy (Leif Erickson), who's trying to dress him down about his amorous escapades, the old man promptly drops dead of a convenient aneurism and is required to spend no more time in the picture. Jonas takes over dad's aircraft firm and runs it like a spendthrift visionary. Then he goes to Hollywood and becomes a director and studio tycoon, making a star out of his sexpot stepmom (Carroll Baker) and inflicting misery on his wife (Elizabeth Ashley), who suffers nobly while trying to stand by her man, even after the d-i-v-o-r-c-e. While Jonas is transforming into his hated father and seethes with fury if anyone calls him "crazy", he's motivated by a dark secret and childhood trauma, whose hints cause Edward Dmytryk's otherwise flat widescreen direction to get darkly expressionist while Elmer Bernstein's grand score burbles with turmoil.

Ooh, he's complicated--a ruthless, selfish genius who makes and ruins people on a whim, as the opening narration tells us bluntly. Shades of Charles Foster Kane? They wish. Childhood mentor Nevada Smith (Alad Ladd in his final role) is a former Wild West outlaw turned cowboy star, and his solution is to knock some sense into Jonas the manly old-fashioned way, leading to an ending more resoundingly unreal than anything heretofore. This ending characterizes the way Hollywood still couldn't handle Robbins' 1961 bestseller, which took advantage of recent Supreme Court rulings protecting graphic literature such as Lady Chatterley's Lover--but not movies, yet.

The script by John Michael Hayes, whose career transitioned from several of Alfred Hitchcock's 50s classics to such star-studded, "daring" and "controversial" soapers as Peyton Place and Butterfield 8. He was probably the best man for the job (with the possible exception of Delmer Daves, who was doing Youngblood Hawke), and his dialogue is often sharp and clever, but there's not much he can do with these narrow-yet-sprawling antics and unconvincing resolution. The actors don't do much with it either. Baker is clearly playing a variant of Jean Harlow, and would actually play Harlow in a Hayes-scripted biopic the following year. Hayes also wrote another Robbins adaptation for Dmytryk, Where Love Has Gone, and more significant than any of these, he scripted a sequel to Carpetbaggers (or what they now call a prequel) about the early years of Nevada Smith, now played by Steve McQueen. It's a better movie.

Seen around the edges are Robert Cummings, Lew Ayres, Martha Hyer, Martin Balsam, 50s noir icon Audrey Totter (cameo as a motherly prostitute), and former boxing champ turned actor Archie Moore, who played an excellent Jim in the 1960 Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and who's thrown away in a nothing role as a family retainer despite his big billing. The out-of-print Paramount DVD is now available on demand through Warner Archives.

3

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Books

Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.

Film

Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.

Music

Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".

Music

John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.

Music

The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.

Music

Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.

Music

In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.

Music

Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.

Books

Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.

Music

'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.

Music

Jazz Composer Maria Schneider Takes on the "Data Lords" in Song

Grammy-winning jazz composer Maria Schneider released Data Lords partly as a reaction to her outrage that streaming music services are harvesting the data of listeners even as they pay musicians so little that creativity is at risk. She speaks with us about the project.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 100-81

PopMatters' best albums of the 2000s begin with a series of records that span epic metal, ornate indie folk, and a terrifying work of electronic music.

Books

The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.

Books

'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.

Music

1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.

Film

'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.

Music

The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.