The Last Tycoon (1976 film)

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The Last Tycoon
Last tycoon.jpg
Theatrical release poster by Richard Amsel
Directed by Elia Kazan
Screenplay by Harold Pinter
Based on The Last Tycoon
by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Produced by Sam Spiegel
Cinematography Victor J. Kemper
Edited by Richard Marks
Music by Maurice Jarre
  • Academy Pictures Corporation
  • Gelderse Maatschappij N.V.
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release date
  • November 17, 1976 (1976-11-17)
Running time
123 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$5.5 million [1]
Box office$1.8 million [1]

The Last Tycoon is a 1976 American period romantic drama film directed by Elia Kazan and produced by Sam Spiegel, based upon Harold Pinter's screenplay adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's unfinished novel The Last Tycoon . It stars Robert De Niro, Tony Curtis, Robert Mitchum, Jack Nicholson, Donald Pleasence, Jeanne Moreau, Theresa Russell and Ingrid Boulting.


The film was the second collaboration between Kazan and Spiegel, who worked closely together to make On the Waterfront . Fitzgerald based the novel's protagonist, Monroe Stahr, on film producer Irving Thalberg. Spiegel was once awarded the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award.

The Last Tycoon did not receive the critical acclaim that much of Kazan's earlier work received, considering the level of talent involved, but it was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Art Direction (Gene Callahan, Jack T. Collis, and Jerry Wunderlich).

The story itself was Fitzgerald's last, unfinished novel, as well as the last film Kazan directed, even though he lived until 2003.


Set in the 1930s, Monroe Stahr is a young production chief and the most creative executive of one of the biggest studios of the Golden Age of Hollywood studio noted for his intuitive ability to make critically acclaimed and financially profitable films. Working long hours that compromise his health, Stahr is active in all facets of moviemaking. During the viewing of dailies, he provides specific and inspired orders for editing the footage. From a discreet distance, he oversees the production of a film of the Writers Guild of America, and watches an aging diva, Didi, undermine the authority of director Red Ridingwood. Stahr mourns for his deceased wife, Minna Davis, a famous actress whose dressing room has been left as a memorial and is a highlight of the studio's public tours.

One evening, Pat Brady an older and more powerful producer, meets with Fleishacker, the studio's New York attorney. Coveting the recognition Stahr receives, Brady claims that he is the strong base on which Monroe Stahr rests. Brady's college-aged daughter, Cecilia comes home for the summer and arrives at Brady's office shortly before an earthquake jolts the studio. Brady and Cecilia race to Stahr's office, where they find him knocked unconscious by fallen debris. After he awakens, Stahr organizes the studio workers to respond to the damage caused by the earthquake. Broken pipes have unleashed a flood and created a small river on the studio lot. As Stahr surveys the area, a piece from a film set, a giant head of the goddess, Siva floats into view. Clinging to its sides are two women who have taken refuge from the water. Entranced by the surreal sight, Stahr is particularly drawn to one of the women, an ethereal beauty who reminds him of Minna. During the night, Stahr dreams that Minna tells him she has come home. The next day, he initiates a search for the woman. Meanwhile, Cecilia, who is infatuated with Stahr, asks him to escort her to the Screenwriters' Ball.

She talks about marriage, but he says he is too old and too tired to undertake such a thing. When Cecilia boldly challenges him by saying 'undertake me', Stahr resists, explaining that he does not think of her in a romantic way. He allows their conversation to be interrupted by the arrival of Rodriguez, a matinee idol who seeks a private conference. When Rodriquez confides that he is suffering from impotency, Stahr counsels him and the actor leaves with renewed confidence. Over an executive lunch, Brady and several studio trustees discuss the threat posed by Brimmer, the communist leader of the writers' union. When an aged executive expresses complete faith in Stahr's ability to solve all problems and calls him our production genius, Brady defensively claims he was the first to refer to Stahr that way. When Stahr joins the group, he skillfully fields their questions about current and prospective projects, validating their trust in his abilities. When he receives a call reporting that the woman riding the Siva head has been located, he arranges to meet her that evening.

After lunch he fires Ridingwood telling him he can neither handle Didi nor elicit her best performance. Later, when Brady calls to set up an urgent meeting for that evening, Stahr declines. That evening, Stahr is disappointed to discover that his appointment is with Edna, the other woman on the Siva head, but realizing his disappointment, she takes him to the apartment of Kathleen Moore, the woman he seeks. Although Kathleen seems pleased to meet him, she will only chat with him outside and will not invite him into her home. They part, expressing hope that they will meet again. The next day, Stahr mediates between Boxley, an English writer who thinks movies are beneath him, and his two colleagues. To inspire Boxley, Stahr tells an impromptu story, in which a woman enters a room and empties the contents of her purse on a table. His interest piqued, Boxley asks about an unresolved element in the story, a nickel spilled from the woman's purse. Stahr tells Boxley the nickel was for the movies, a reminder of the nickels upon which the industry is built. At the Screenwriters' Ball, Stahr unexpectedly encounters Kathleen and they dance as the Hollywood community looks on. Kathleen says she cannot date him, but when she leaves, he follows her.

Stahr and Kathleen spend the next day at Stahr's uncompleted beach house and remain there until after dark and make love. Kathleen tells Stahr about her previous relationship with an important man who misused her and says another man rescued her. Stahr tells Kathleen that he does not want to lose her, but she answers that she wants a quiet life. Later, when he returns home alone, Stahr's butler hands him an envelope that fell out of his car. Inside, Stahr finds a note from Kathleen stating that she will be married soon and cannot see him again. At the studio, Stahr deals with a drunken Boxley and has him escorted off the lot. Despite Kathleen's note, she and Stahr return to the beach, where she confirms her plans to marry an engineer who she says saved her life. Undeterred, Stahr later calls Kathleen and excitedly plans a weekend getaway. However, while viewing rushes in a projection room, he receives a telegram from Kathleen, reporting that she was married at noon. In the aftermath of Kathleen's rejection, Stahr attends an important meeting with Brimmer, the writers' union leader at Brady's residence. The two men joust verbally as Stahr dismisses writers as gag men with whom he will share money but never power. He drinks heavily at dinner and, seeing Brimmer and Cecilia flirt, proposes a game of ping-pong. The game gets hostile and the drunken Stahr declares his intention to beat up Brimmer. He throws a punch but Brimmer fends it off easily and knocks the producer to the ground with a single blow. During the night, Cecilia cares for the battered Stahr. When daylight arrives, Brady tells Stahr he has called an emergency meeting. When he arrives at the meeting with a bruised eye, Brady informs Stahr that the New York office has expressed dissatisfaction with his mishandling of the meeting with Brimmer and suggests he take a long vacation.

Returning to his office a final time, Stahr wrestles with a flood of memories. He envisions Kathleen as the girl in the story he told Boxley, spilling a nickel from her purse. In his thoughts, Stahr pleads to Kathleen, stay out the far side, he walks past a row of sound stages and, thinking, he enters a cavernous sound stage and walks into darkness.



The character Monroe Stahr is full of associations to Irving Thalberg, the production chief at M-G-M in the period between the late 1920s and 1930s. The background is Hollywood in the Golden Thirties, when studios made 30 to 40 productions a year and every backlot could simultaneously sustain motion pictures being set in multiple locations around the world such as New York City, Africa, the South Pole and Montmartre. The background of the film has a close bond to stories of Hollywood at that time, as well as to Fitzgerald's own life and career.

The theme of unfinished ambitions and the unattained love of the young and beautiful in Hollywood, embodied by the beach house, have great significance for both the Novelist and Director at the end of their luminary careers.[ citation needed ]

Vincent Canby of The New York Times writes:

None of the changes that Mr. Pinter has made in the novel seem to me to damage the style or mood of the book. More than any other screen adaptation of a Fitzgerald work—with the exception of Joan Micklin Silver's fine adaptation of the short story Bernice Bobs Her Hair The Last Tycoon preserves original feeling and intelligence. The movie is full of echoes. We watch it as if at a far remove from what's happening, but that too is appropriate: Fitzgerald was writing history as it happened. [2]


The critical reaction to The Last Tycoon has been mixed. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes retrospectively collected reviews from 27 critics to give it a rating of 33%. [3]

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  1. 1 2 Nat Segaloff, Final Cuts: The Last Films of 50 Great Directors, Bear Manor Media 2013 p 146-148
  2. Canby, Vincent (November 18, 1976). "'Tycoon' Echoes 30's Hollywood". The New York Times .
  3. "The Last Tycoon". Rotten Tomatoes .