The Kid Stays In The Picture

2002, Movie, R, 93 mins


Based on flamboyant producer Robert Evans's autobiography of the same name, Brett Morgan and Nanette Burstein's documentary is a highly stylized exercise in Hollywood hagiography — Morgan himself dubbed it "cinema mythologica." It traces Evans' volatile career from his inauspicious beginnings as a pretty boy actor to the glory days when, as a Paramount Pictures executive and solo producer, he was attached to a string of critical and box office hits, including ROSEMARY'S BABY (1968), LOVE STORY (1970), THE GODFATHER (1972), CHINATOWN (1974) and MARATHON MAN (1976). A cocaine bust, THE COTTON CLUB (1984) debacle, bankruptcy, depression and Evans' tangential association with the 1983 murder of entrepreneur Roy Radin helped sink his career, but he recovered sufficiently to work again in the '90s. Rewind to the beginning: After a minor career as a child radio actor, Evans (born Robert Shapera) went into business with his brother, co-founder of Evan-Picone sportswear company. While goofing off during an L.A. business trip, Evans was spotted by veteran actress Norma Shearer in the Beverly Hills Hotel pool and got him a role playing her husband, studio wunderkinder Irving Thalberg, in the Lon Chaney biopic MAN OF A THOUSAND FACES (1957). Similar serendipity landed Evans the role of bullfighter Pedro Romero in THE SUN ALSO RISES (1957), and when the film's veteran cast and crew rebelled, imperious studio head Darryl Zanuck declared, "The kid stays in the picture, and anybody who doesn't like it can quit." Realizing that producers and studio heads held all the high cards, Evans optioned a novel, The Detective, leveraged it into a studio deal, then went to Paramount and succeeded beyond anyone's expectations. Evans was reportedly the inspiration for producers played by Robert Vaughn in SOB (1981) and Dustin Hoffman in WAG THE DOG (1997), and the fact that Burstein and Morgan include a long clip of Hoffman doing a surreally foul-mouthed Evans imitation lends considerable credence to the latter rumor. Driven by Evans' mannered, tough-guy hipster narration (recorded for the audio-book version of his autobiography), Morgan and Burstein eschew talking-head interviews in favor of a mix of archival footage and old photographs, cut out and digitally superimposed onto various backgrounds. The result is a snazzy kick that's never less than hugely entertaining and should in no way be mistaken for an unbiased account. But then, Evans is the quintessential Hollywood character, and what's more Hollywood than crafting your own legend? leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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