Friday, February 27, 2015

F. Scott Fitzgerald At The Movies-Almost-The Last Tycoon

Book Review

From The Pen Of Frank Jackman

The Last Tycoon, F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1941

I suppose that it is just a matter of taste, or maybe just being a cranky literary guy of sorts, but publishing a well-known author’s last unfinished work, as here with F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Last Tycoon seems rather sacrilegious or perhaps just publisher’s greed to play off one last time on an author’s fame. I have no problem with, say, a publisher publishing a posthumous book like one did in 1964 with Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast since that book had been  completed and moreover provided a great snapshot into the self-imposed American literary exile community, including some interesting insights into Fitzgerald as well, of post-World War I Paris.

The subject here, the partially told saga of the last of the self-made maverick movie producers, is hardly definitive, or as compellingly told about the corporatization of that profit-filled medium. Moreover the pieces here add nothing to Fitzgerald’s reputation which will always hinge on the novel, The Great Gatsby, maybe Tender Is The Night, and a slew of his prolifically produced short stories.             

That said, that off my chest I will say that Fitzgerald who did do work as a screenwriter, although it is not clear how successfully, has a pretty good idea of what was going on in Hollywood once the “talkies” came in and forced the story line and dialogue of a film to ratchet up several notches. And then there is the question of putting what looks like a good idea on the screen with many times temperamental actors and inadequate financial backing. In any case the movie producer here, Monroe Stahr, is foredoomed to be the last of the independent filmmakers not only by the new system coming in place but by the fact that despite his “boy wonder” status for producing mostly hits and getting the most out of his employees come hell or high water he is headed for an early grave due to rough living and a weak heart.

The story, his story as far as it goes, is told by the daughter of one of his associates who is young enough, a college student at Bennington, to be seriously in love with him although he is only, at best, tepid toward her. The reason, or rather the big reason Monroe was still in thrall to the memory of his late actress wife, and, was smitten by a woman he met randomly on his studio lot who preternaturally looked like his late wife. That short tremulous love affair which ended in sorrow and departure is the human interest center of the story. Additionally there are scenes like how screenwriters write individually and collectively (or don’t write under either category), the importance of skilled cameramen in getting just the right effect that the director or producer whoever is hanging over him or her, how stars are made (or unmade), which gives an insight into the collective nature of the film industry no matter who produces, who directs, and who stars. That theme was done very well cinematically in the 1950s film, The Bad and the Beautiful about a post-World War II Monroe Stahr –like figure and the director, the rags to riches actress and the screenwriter he put the screws to in order to produce what he thought were great films.

There are also some interesting scenes, and some references sprinkled throughout The Last Tycoon, about the coming unionization of the industry, the fears that thought produced in the movie moguls, including Stahr, and a decidedly more morbid fear about the “reds” bringing revolution to their Hollywood front door which, perhaps, foreshadowed the post-war  red scare Hollywood Ten blacklist night. Nice pieces, nice insights but as a whole he does not hang together since the driven Fitzgerald have not worked out all the kinks in the story-line. Enough said.            

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