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THE KID STAYS IN THE PICTURE

Review by Michael Jacobson

Narrator:  Robert Evans
Directors:  Brett Morgen, Nanette Burstein
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio:  Warner Bros.
Features:  See Review
Length:  93 Minutes
Release Date:  August 19, 2003

“Was it worth it?  You bet your ass it was.”

Film ****

Robert Evans was, and continues to be, a larger-than-life figure.  The story of his life, his successes and his failures is so incredible that had it been conceived as fiction, no one would have bought into it.  That's part of what makes the documentary The Kid Stays in the Picture such an achievement.  Had it simply come from some writer's imagination, it wouldn't have worked.  But the story is very real, so we hang on every turn with keen anticipation and emotional resolve as we learn about how this man made it to the top of a seemingly unscalable mountain, only to find out what a long way there was for him to fall.

Robert Evan's life plays like a collection of tall tales, yet every one of them is true.  How as a once-failed actor turned businessman, he attracted the attention of Hollywood icon Norma Shearer at a swimming pool in Beverly Hills, who offered him the role of her late husband Irving Thalberg in the Lon Chaney biopic The Man of a Thousand Faces.  How within six months, Fox mogul Daryl Zanuck hand picked him to play the matador in The Sun Also Rises.  How the cast of that movie, along with novelist Ernest Hemingway, tried to get him fired from the movie.  And how Zanuck, after watching him play a couple of scenes, made the now legendary proclamation, “The kid stays in the picture.”

And that's barely the start of Evans' adventure in Hollywood.  Recognizing himself to be a second-rate actor, he turned his ambition toward producing.  At that time, no movie actor had ever made such a leap.  But earning a three picture deal at Fox was only the beginning.  Soon, the Gulf+Western corporation would buy Paramount, and a young Robert Evans would soon find himself running a major Hollywood studio.

A dream come true?  Not really.  At the time, Paramount was in last place in Hollywood.  Evans set out to change that starting by brining in good properties to turn into great films.  His first endeavor was Rosemary's Baby, which not only changed the face of the modern horror picture, but brought American attention to Roman Polanski as a director as well.  Yet his first success was hardly smooth sailing.  You'll marvel as Evans had to face no less an adversary than Frank Sinatra himself as a hurdle to completing his picture!

By the time he was ready for his second major success in Love Story, he faced an even bigger challenge.  Gulf+Western had decided to pull the plug on Paramount in 1970.  Asking for a half hour of the board's time, Evans single handedly stopped the dismantling of the studio with a promotional film he made with director Mike Nichols (it's included in its entirety on this DVD).  Evans was a gambler at heart.  He rolled the dice and won.  Without that chutzpah, there might have been no more Paramount.  No Godfather movies.  No Apocalypse Now.  No Chinatown.  It's almost unimaginable.

But Evans string of sevens continued, though never without a share of difficulties.  The Godfather became an American classic, yet he had to fight almost every step of the way to get his talented but still unproven director, Francis Ford Coppola, to make the movie into the epic he know it could be.  During Love Story he had wooed and married star Ali MacGraw, only to lose her while his attentions were so wrapped up in his Mafioso movie.  Chinatown also became a classic, but he had to deal with the indignity of having Roman Polanski's name more prominent than his, though Polanski spent only 9 months on the picture while Evans worked on it for 4-5 years.

Paramount became the number one studio of the 70s, but the 80s would bring troubles to Robert Evans, starting with a drug bust that soiled his reputation in some circles, and cumulating in the now legendary scandal of The Cotton Club murder.  Though Evans was never named as a suspect and frankly had nothing to do with the crime, the attention his name brought to the story stigmatized him and his studio.  And Paramount, the company that was literally saved from the wrecking ball by Evans, would be asking him to resign.

The Kid Stays in the Picture is a remarkably well made documentary based on a remarkable story.  Robert Evans himself narrates based on his own autobiography in a pleasant voice that shows his charm, even when he makes eyebrow raising asides, like calling Polanski “the little Polack” or Ali MacGraw “Snotnose”, or venting his anger on Coppola by asking him if he left the best part of the movie “in his kitchen with his spaghetti”.  Not exactly PC, but it's all a part of what makes Evans such a colorful character.  As I said, no writer could have dreamed up Robert Evans and made him believable.  It's an extraordinary life that had to be lived for real or not at all.

Happily, Robert Evans is still with us and still doing what he does best.  His glory days of the 70s may be behind him, but thankfully at last, so is the scandal that almost ruined him.  He's back at Paramount, and he's still producing pictures with a degree of success.  The Saint, with Val Kilmer, was a $100 million plus hit.  It was no Godfather, but it proved that Evans still had the touch.

Video ***

This documentary is a mix of new and vintage footage, photographs animated to look like (gasp!) moving pictures, and pieces through the years shot on both video and film.  The resulting hodgepodge is still a pleasant viewing experience, though unavoidably hit and miss in the margins.  The fresh footage of Evans' beautiful California home is stunningly detailed and richly colorful.  Older film and TV clips may show some age, but overall, they hold up pretty well and serve to remind us of the temporal scope of the story.  High marks.

Audio ***

The 5.1 audio is nicely done…though undemanding by nature, the filmmakers still manage to bring in the rear stage to accentuate crowd noise or bits of overlapping dialogue.  The music, which features many popular songs of the era, is a nice touch, and Evans' own voice is a pleasant, resonating one that keeps us engrossed in his story.

Features ***1/2

In addition to a trailer and a commentary by directors Brett Morgen and Nanette Burstein, the features are divided up into two sections.  “The Truth According to Bob” shows the aforementioned film that saved Paramount, and “The Kid Speaks” showing clips of different Bob Evans speeches, including receive the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Producers Guild.

“The Truth According to Others” features TV and film clips of OTHERS speaking about Bob, from showgirls to celebrities like Larry King, Jack Valenti, Matthew McConaughey, Brett Ratner and others.  There is also a gag reel from “Marathon Man” as Dustin Hoffman parodies his boss and pal.

Summary:

The Kid Stays in the Picture is a one of a kind feature…a stylistically different documentary that entertains, engrosses and informs as it follows the almost too incredible to believe true story of Robert Evans, a man who once scaled a mountain, tumbled down the other side, and lived to climb again.  His eyes remain on the prize, and that's what this DVD is.  Unreservedly recommended.