When I heard about this blogathon topic, I knew right away what my choice would be: the 1964 adaptation of Harold Robbins’ potboiler novel The Carpetbaggers.
The interesting thing about this book is it was actually adapted for the screen twice: once using only the backstory for one of the characters. This resulted in a pretty decent Western, Nevada Smith, starring Steve McQueen.
This more straightforward adaptation of the book is almost hilariously bad. So bad it’s highly entertaining, and one of my all-time favorite guilty pleasures.
Loosely based on the life of eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes, it stars George Peppard as Jonas Cord, Jr. He inherits an explosives company from his abusive, alcoholic father. He parleys that inheritance into a massive empire by investing in the aircraft and movie businesses.
To say he has daddy issues is putting it mildly. His father married Jonas’s girlfriend Rina (Carol Baker) who remains hot for her ex.
His true father figure is Nevada Smith (Alan Ladd), who was an outlaw during the frontier days.
There’s no two ways about it: Jonas is a dick. He betrays just about everyone in his life, including Nevada. He destroys a man named Winthrop while romancing his daughter Monica ( Elizabeth Ashley).
Monica overlooks how crappy he is to her father and marries him anyway. Big mistake. He abandons her when she pushes to start a family.
Of course, there is a Big Horrible Secret that explains why Jonas is a destructive asshat. His twin brother died insane while locked in the attic by their father, who told Jonas he would one day end up the same.
Jonas takes over a second rate movie studio and decides to make that his primary focus. Rina returns from a tragic sojourn in Paris to quickly become a major Hollywood sex symbol with Jonas’s help. She marries Nevada, who Jonas has turned into a Western star, playing a character based on his own life.
Unfortunately, fame destroys Rina, who dies in a car crash while driving drunk. Nevada blames Jonas but is bound by contract to keep working for him.
Jonas, who turns his back not only on Monica but also their daughter, soon finds a new star and romantic partner named Jennie Denton (Martha Hyer).
When they become engaged, Jennie tries to confess to him about her past as a prostitute and her inability to have children. He reveals he knew all along and that he didn’t want children, just her sex. Horrified, Jennie throws her engagement ring at him and runs away.
Now we get to my favorite part of the movie. Nevada, finally fed up with Jonas’s cruelty, insist on fighting him.
Bear in mind how much older Ladd was than Peppard (this was his last movie role) as well as how much shorter.
Reader, he kicks Jonas‘s ass. He also, in between punches, works out all of Jonas’s neuroses, so that after the fight he’s not an asshat anymore. He goes to Monica and begs forgiveness, and for some reason, she obliges and reunites with him.
The dialogue is atrocious, the acting (by some really talented actors, it should be said) is overwrought, and the redemption story is trite and cliched.
But, really, who cares? It’s a blast to watch.