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November 24, 2023

The Carpetbaggers

Carpetbaggers-The-FM001 copy.tiff

Edward Dmytryk - 1964
KL Studio Classics BD Region A

There is an inspired moment in The Carpetbaggers where the camera rests on the entry to a bathroom in a mansion. George Peppard is seen walking into the bathroom where Carroll Baker has been taking a bath. We do not see them but we hear the dialogue. I do not know who came up with this idea, director Dmytryk or screenwriter John Michael Hayes, but there are a couple more scenes that have similar moments. In any case, there is a soup├žon of visual wit in a film that is otherwise not known for being subtle.

The Carpetbaggers already was pre-sold, based on an enormously popular novel loosely based on the life of Howard Hughes. The pre-release publicity was centered on Carroll Baker's nude scene, part of the European theatrical version, unseen stateside. Producer Joseph Levine may have seemed high-minded with the arthouse releases under his name, but he understood that the audience for Contempt was there for Brigitte Bardot's backside and not Jean-Luc Godard's philosophy. The Carpetbaggers was made in part to challenge the U.S. production code that would be in place for another five years.

The Carpetbaggers is every bit as garish and vulgar as the red velvet wall paper on the walls of the Cord mansion. To call the acting melodramatic is an understatement. The story is almost a parody of Greek tragedy with Peppard worried that he will suffer the madness that took his twin brother, takes on the coldness and cruelty of the father he hated, and has a volatile relationship with Carroll Baker, the girlfriend who became is step-mother. While Peppard and Baker represent the last vestiges of the studio system, the majority of the cast also features older Hollywood stars Alan Ladd, Lew Ayres and Audrey Totter. Only the former boxer, Archie Moore as Peppard's chauffeur, keeps his dignity intact. While Joe Levine was unable to have onscreen nudity in a Paramount film, he does have a scene with the young widow Baker in black diaphanous lingerie, and Martha Hyer in nothing but a white fur stole.

This new blu-ray edition comes with two commentary tracks. The more serious of these is by film historian Julie Kirgo. The first forty minutes are spent discussing The Carpetbaggers, both the novel and film, within the context of the cultural changes in the early 1960s. There is also the expected coverage of the main stars and the filmmaking team. Note to Ms. Kirgo that Edward Dmytryk's The Juggler might still be available on Tubi. Historian David del Valle and filmmaker David DeCoteau provide a casual conversation mostly discussing the cast members. Agreed by all concerned is that in spite of his ill-health, Alan Ladd's performance could have initiated a career resurgence had he not died prior to release of the film.

Edward Dmytryk made a second adaptation of a Harold Robbins novel, Where Love is Gone. Based on the murder of of Lana Turner's gangster boyfriend, Johnny Stopanato, that film is almost as entertaining. The ending of The Carpetbaggers is abrupt, although it is from the novel. Even as a work for hire, the film's conclusion does fit in with several other Dmytryk films such as The Juggler and Christ in Concrete in which a questionable man finds redemption in the end.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 06:39 AM