This award winning film on the life of the legendary Paramount Pictures producer Robert Evans is a must for those interested in the inner workings of cinema. The film is based on an autobiography by Evans and traces his life from the time he came to Beverly Hills to set up the LA branch of Evan Picone, fashion designers who got women into slacks! At the poolside he was spotted by Norma Shearer, convinced by her to act in a film. He then juggled the clothing business and an acting career for a few years. He was offered an acting gig to play a matador in The Sun Also Rises and put in lots of practice in Mexico. But Hemingway was horrified to hear that a two bit actor would portray a character he had based on himself. A telegram flew from the man, was co-signed by Tyrone Power, and Ava Gardener asking that Evans be fired from the film. But the 20th Century production giant Daryl Zanuck saw his matador act and shouted into his megaphone “No way! The Kid stays in the picture!” Evans was smart enough to know that his acting career was pathetic and going nowhere. He thought he’d rather be the one deciding that the kid could stay in the picture. Thus began the hunt for a product he could sell – he finally found s story and pitched it to 20th provided he could produce it, and got the job. But even before the film could begin he was called to the Big Apple and offered the job of CHIEF of Production at Paramount pictures, a near defunct outfit that was the lowest on the rung of production houses!
The film traces the meteoric rise of Evans as he first identified a riveting story (Rosemary’s Baby), then found a suitable producer (the “Polack” Polanski) and started off on his first production. Roman was a maverick and the film ran into delay after delay. Mia Farrow was to star in a film with Frank Sinatra (and she was then married to him), but she needed to finish Rosemary’s Baby before that. Frank threatened divorce if she did not show up on the appointed date, Mia went into hysterics! Evans then showed her the rushes and convinced her to stay as she “was a shoo in for an Academy Award”. She stayed, was served divorce papers, but the film was completed and turned into a mammoth success. To Mia’s glee it was much bigger than the Sinatra venture that had ended her marriage. The film is peppered with such vignettes and actual footage of these individuals – Mia bouncing off the walls as she hears of Rosemary’s success.
Then Chinatown was made with a unique story and Jack Nicholson in the lead. Jack went to bat for Evans later in life and help him over a tremendously rough patch. Evans was to be associated with such films as Love Story – and to marry Ali McGraw before the filming even began. He also produced Godfather – and talks of the pitched battle with Coppola in the making of that film. The rough cut was 2 hrs long and he recalls telling Coppola to go and turn this trailer into a movie! Their later collaboration on The Cotton Club led to lawsuit where Coppola tried to restrain Evans from “interfering” with the film.
The film utilizes pictures and makes them move in ingenious ways, but also has ample actual footage of the personalities and events. But the most amazing part is the narration by Evans, and his voiceover for all the personalities involved! There are gems from Evans on the cyclic nature of film production, where big budget films with big stars eventually start to fade in appeal, and new material that can capture the imagination of people has to be discovered. He talks at length of the primacy of the script, helping in the creation of writing for films that went on to become bestselling literary material (like Love Story and Godfather), and the process of juggling priorities in the making of a film. This film provides incredible insight into a brilliant mind with an acute sense of what will work, and also into the making of some of our most cherished movies. It is also a tale of hope and despair, and the eventual clawing back to the top by a fighter who starts in the picture and stays in the picture.
This piece first appeared here