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The Carpetbaggers part two: Elizabeth Ashley makes her screen debut

Of all the women who figure into Jonas’ life, she is the only one who isn’t a prostitute.

The Carpetbaggers: duking doubles George Peppard and Alan Ladd (or reasonable facsimiles of each).
The Carpetbaggers: duking doubles George Peppard and Alan Ladd (or reasonable facsimiles of each).

My analysis of The Carpetbaggers was pitched as either a cover story or a column entry to be presented in two parts. Guess who lost the coin toss. Here’s part two.

The Carpetbaggers (1964)

Somewhere between the invention of passenger flights and conquering Hollywood, Jonas Cord (George Peppard) happened upon another fortune waiting to be tapped, this one unwittingly bequeathed him. His father’s death left Jonas on the ground floor of a sensational new product that would soon revolutionize the world: plastics. The setup: McAllister will run the company while Jonas is in Germany learning his new trade. (It’s the only time in the film Jonas places his corporate leash in the hand of another.) That leaves Buzz to look after the factory.

Monica (Elizabeth Ashley) appears before Jonas (George Peppard) with hat in hand.

Elizabeth Ashley makes her screen debut playing Monica, the first Mrs. Cord. Of all the women who figure into Jonas’ life, she is the only one who isn’t a prostitute. Hayes’ dialogue sharply replicates what it might sound like were a billionaire to encounter a sultry, husky-throated stranger lying in wait on the couch of his hotel room. The exchange is so intimate, so relaxed, that it takes a moment before one stops to question who she is and what’s behind her breaking and entering gambit. She’s there on the night Jonas is supposed to finalize a deal with her father Amos Winthrop (Tom Tully). Monica asks that Jonas go easy on the old man, allowing him to part company with his pocketbook (and dignity) intact. Conversely, Daddy’s little temptress insists that Jonas not go easy on her, comparing her chassis to a hand-rubbed fuselage that never stalls. She digs his pawing of her upholstery while answering Amos’ call. They arrange to meet in the second floor men’s room (subtle but effective), where in exchange for $25,000, Amos hands over ownership in his company and sells out his daughter. (When asked about the film, Ashey says the one line people remember is, “Lots of lovely ceilings,” It’s her response when Jonas asks what she’d like to see on their honeymoon.)

Nevada (Alan Ladd) knows how to show Rina (Carroll Baker) a good time.

Nevada is both friend and father figure to Junior, a square, self-effacing sot, the last to see dollar signs when looking in Jonah’s direction. You’d sooner find him perched on the stairs in the corner of the frame than seated in one of Jonas Sr.‘s engulfing leather chairs. And Nevada is the only one allowed to address Jonas II as Junior. Jonas, loving paranoiac that he is, hires a private detective agency to dig into his surrogate dad’s past. Nevada (nee: Max Sand) was born a “half-breed” — cowboy father, Indian mother. Orphaned at a young age, he gunned down the trio of desperados who killed his parents. Later a whorehouse bouncer, Sand was wanted in six states before he went soft, leaving his gunslinging days behind to look after a motherless child who wishes it was his father who went to the grave. Not even Jonas, Sr. knew of the existence of Max Sand. He trusted his pal, never thinking of siccing Pinkertons on Nevada’s tail. Jonas leaves the Sand file in Nevada’s care, though not exactly out of kindness — though this is the closest Jonas comes to expressing loving emotion for someone, not something. In Max Sand, he sees the makings of a masterpiece. And it’s Max who later accuses Jonas of acting his way through life, using make believe as a cloak with which to hide behind. Everyone in the cast is longing to act out the part of someone else. No wonder Jonas spends more time on his Hollywood backlot than he does building bombers for the government.

Video:

Carpetbaggers fight scene

The first indication of hereditary madness associated with the huge load of loss Jonas finds himself carting around is the symbolic gold pocket watch, — a gift from his mother that he lifts from his father’s corpse. He later consults the timepiece while confirming the precise moment of death for Rina Marlowe (Carroll Baker), the widow Cord. (Her averted gaze is a clear indication that she understands the significance of the watch.) All alone in the house and with Nevada on the road with a Wild West Show, Jonas pays a visit to his dead brother’s bedroom, draped off at the end of the hall. The door jambs could use a good dusting, ditto the artfully arranged cobwebs that connect the four-poster bed with the atrophied hobby horse. Rather than resort to a flashback, the sounds of Senior confronting Junior are heard, reminding him that the past doesn’t exist. Half the frame flares red as Jonas’ face grows cold and he starts bawling. The slow pull-in ends with Jonas joining Junior’s cries of “Let me go!” This time, rather than Dad dragging Junior from the room, it’s family servant Jedidiah (professional boxer Archie Moore) who breaks the delusion by removing Mr. Jonas from the room.

Jedidiah (Archie Moore) saves Mr. Jonas (George Peppard) from his past.

I forget to mention another pseudonymous performance: the patterning of Senior after Joseph Kennedy. Both men were embarrassed to have fathered intellectually challenged children, so much so that they hid them from public view. Mr. and Mrs. Cord were parents to twin brothers, one who died at age 9 due to incurable insanity. From the day he died, Senior feared that some of the insanity might be hereditary. It’s because of this that Jonas was terrified of having a child — afraid that, as Nevada puts it, “he might have some of his brother in him.” But he’s not like his brother. He’s like his father. Three of Jonas’ closest confidants refer to him as “crazy.” It’s Mac who first calls Jonas’ sanity into question with, “From a business standpoint, you’re crazy.” That remark cost him his job. The second one to use the “c” word in reference to Jonas is second Mrs. Cord (Martha Hyer). To its credit, Jonas’ illness is never sentimentalized or exploited. That’s a pretty bold move for a film from its era.

They could have danced all night.

It’s right around the time Nevada backs up his “I think you’re crazy” with a sock on the jaw that the film goes veering off the rails. Next stop, one of the most ineptly staged fight scenes this side of the Three Stooges. The stuntman for a billionaire industrialist has a bare-knuckles beatdown with the stuntman for an aging alcoholic cowboy star. (Ladd didn’t live to see the film’s release). Ladd was his generation’s Harrison Ford, the kind of wood that doesn’t float. Do the geezer math. Ladd was fifty when he died and looked sixty. His character is forty-three and looks thirty. Rina, the future Mrs. Smith, is twenty and looks thirty. Even worse, his double had him by at least twenty pounds and twelve inches. Who in their right mind thought that in his condition, Ladd could execute even the simplest stunt? Chicago was one of the last major markets to be wired for cable. (Everybody got their cut!) My first Jerrold Box offered four channels, one of which was TBS. Bill Tush hosted a Sunday morning slot that showcased movies with epic running times. With commercials, this film ran over three hours and each time it aired, I sat in rapt anticipation, awaiting the final confrontation. Accelerated motion to add force is one thing. (Check out the slaps in Hawks’ His Girl Friday.) At least have the good sense to dub over the speeded up sounds.

Truth in advertising: this was Hollywood's most daring and revealing picture of 1964.

Somewhere in the inner recesses of my mind, I recall hearing that the final scene was tacked on to forever unite Monica and Jonas in happy-ever-after land. (Offscreen, Ashley and Peppard hooked up during production and were wed two years later. By all accounts, the marriage ended badly, with Ashley likening her ex to Jonas.) One thing I’ll probably never again hear is Frees’ closing narration: “And so ends the legend of Jonas Cord…” It must never have made it to the DVD. I saw the film once on the screen — a museum screening in my youth of a pan-and-scan 16mm print (in dye transfer Technicolor®) — as well as four screenings on TBS. In each case, Frees ended the show. I await a restored, uncut, and reunion-free blu-ray.

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The Carpetbaggers: duking doubles George Peppard and Alan Ladd (or reasonable facsimiles of each).
The Carpetbaggers: duking doubles George Peppard and Alan Ladd (or reasonable facsimiles of each).

My analysis of The Carpetbaggers was pitched as either a cover story or a column entry to be presented in two parts. Guess who lost the coin toss. Here’s part two.

The Carpetbaggers (1964)

Somewhere between the invention of passenger flights and conquering Hollywood, Jonas Cord (George Peppard) happened upon another fortune waiting to be tapped, this one unwittingly bequeathed him. His father’s death left Jonas on the ground floor of a sensational new product that would soon revolutionize the world: plastics. The setup: McAllister will run the company while Jonas is in Germany learning his new trade. (It’s the only time in the film Jonas places his corporate leash in the hand of another.) That leaves Buzz to look after the factory.

Monica (Elizabeth Ashley) appears before Jonas (George Peppard) with hat in hand.

Elizabeth Ashley makes her screen debut playing Monica, the first Mrs. Cord. Of all the women who figure into Jonas’ life, she is the only one who isn’t a prostitute. Hayes’ dialogue sharply replicates what it might sound like were a billionaire to encounter a sultry, husky-throated stranger lying in wait on the couch of his hotel room. The exchange is so intimate, so relaxed, that it takes a moment before one stops to question who she is and what’s behind her breaking and entering gambit. She’s there on the night Jonas is supposed to finalize a deal with her father Amos Winthrop (Tom Tully). Monica asks that Jonas go easy on the old man, allowing him to part company with his pocketbook (and dignity) intact. Conversely, Daddy’s little temptress insists that Jonas not go easy on her, comparing her chassis to a hand-rubbed fuselage that never stalls. She digs his pawing of her upholstery while answering Amos’ call. They arrange to meet in the second floor men’s room (subtle but effective), where in exchange for $25,000, Amos hands over ownership in his company and sells out his daughter. (When asked about the film, Ashey says the one line people remember is, “Lots of lovely ceilings,” It’s her response when Jonas asks what she’d like to see on their honeymoon.)

Nevada (Alan Ladd) knows how to show Rina (Carroll Baker) a good time.

Nevada is both friend and father figure to Junior, a square, self-effacing sot, the last to see dollar signs when looking in Jonah’s direction. You’d sooner find him perched on the stairs in the corner of the frame than seated in one of Jonas Sr.‘s engulfing leather chairs. And Nevada is the only one allowed to address Jonas II as Junior. Jonas, loving paranoiac that he is, hires a private detective agency to dig into his surrogate dad’s past. Nevada (nee: Max Sand) was born a “half-breed” — cowboy father, Indian mother. Orphaned at a young age, he gunned down the trio of desperados who killed his parents. Later a whorehouse bouncer, Sand was wanted in six states before he went soft, leaving his gunslinging days behind to look after a motherless child who wishes it was his father who went to the grave. Not even Jonas, Sr. knew of the existence of Max Sand. He trusted his pal, never thinking of siccing Pinkertons on Nevada’s tail. Jonas leaves the Sand file in Nevada’s care, though not exactly out of kindness — though this is the closest Jonas comes to expressing loving emotion for someone, not something. In Max Sand, he sees the makings of a masterpiece. And it’s Max who later accuses Jonas of acting his way through life, using make believe as a cloak with which to hide behind. Everyone in the cast is longing to act out the part of someone else. No wonder Jonas spends more time on his Hollywood backlot than he does building bombers for the government.

Video:

Carpetbaggers fight scene

The first indication of hereditary madness associated with the huge load of loss Jonas finds himself carting around is the symbolic gold pocket watch, — a gift from his mother that he lifts from his father’s corpse. He later consults the timepiece while confirming the precise moment of death for Rina Marlowe (Carroll Baker), the widow Cord. (Her averted gaze is a clear indication that she understands the significance of the watch.) All alone in the house and with Nevada on the road with a Wild West Show, Jonas pays a visit to his dead brother’s bedroom, draped off at the end of the hall. The door jambs could use a good dusting, ditto the artfully arranged cobwebs that connect the four-poster bed with the atrophied hobby horse. Rather than resort to a flashback, the sounds of Senior confronting Junior are heard, reminding him that the past doesn’t exist. Half the frame flares red as Jonas’ face grows cold and he starts bawling. The slow pull-in ends with Jonas joining Junior’s cries of “Let me go!” This time, rather than Dad dragging Junior from the room, it’s family servant Jedidiah (professional boxer Archie Moore) who breaks the delusion by removing Mr. Jonas from the room.

Jedidiah (Archie Moore) saves Mr. Jonas (George Peppard) from his past.

I forget to mention another pseudonymous performance: the patterning of Senior after Joseph Kennedy. Both men were embarrassed to have fathered intellectually challenged children, so much so that they hid them from public view. Mr. and Mrs. Cord were parents to twin brothers, one who died at age 9 due to incurable insanity. From the day he died, Senior feared that some of the insanity might be hereditary. It’s because of this that Jonas was terrified of having a child — afraid that, as Nevada puts it, “he might have some of his brother in him.” But he’s not like his brother. He’s like his father. Three of Jonas’ closest confidants refer to him as “crazy.” It’s Mac who first calls Jonas’ sanity into question with, “From a business standpoint, you’re crazy.” That remark cost him his job. The second one to use the “c” word in reference to Jonas is second Mrs. Cord (Martha Hyer). To its credit, Jonas’ illness is never sentimentalized or exploited. That’s a pretty bold move for a film from its era.

They could have danced all night.

It’s right around the time Nevada backs up his “I think you’re crazy” with a sock on the jaw that the film goes veering off the rails. Next stop, one of the most ineptly staged fight scenes this side of the Three Stooges. The stuntman for a billionaire industrialist has a bare-knuckles beatdown with the stuntman for an aging alcoholic cowboy star. (Ladd didn’t live to see the film’s release). Ladd was his generation’s Harrison Ford, the kind of wood that doesn’t float. Do the geezer math. Ladd was fifty when he died and looked sixty. His character is forty-three and looks thirty. Rina, the future Mrs. Smith, is twenty and looks thirty. Even worse, his double had him by at least twenty pounds and twelve inches. Who in their right mind thought that in his condition, Ladd could execute even the simplest stunt? Chicago was one of the last major markets to be wired for cable. (Everybody got their cut!) My first Jerrold Box offered four channels, one of which was TBS. Bill Tush hosted a Sunday morning slot that showcased movies with epic running times. With commercials, this film ran over three hours and each time it aired, I sat in rapt anticipation, awaiting the final confrontation. Accelerated motion to add force is one thing. (Check out the slaps in Hawks’ His Girl Friday.) At least have the good sense to dub over the speeded up sounds.

Truth in advertising: this was Hollywood's most daring and revealing picture of 1964.

Somewhere in the inner recesses of my mind, I recall hearing that the final scene was tacked on to forever unite Monica and Jonas in happy-ever-after land. (Offscreen, Ashley and Peppard hooked up during production and were wed two years later. By all accounts, the marriage ended badly, with Ashley likening her ex to Jonas.) One thing I’ll probably never again hear is Frees’ closing narration: “And so ends the legend of Jonas Cord…” It must never have made it to the DVD. I saw the film once on the screen — a museum screening in my youth of a pan-and-scan 16mm print (in dye transfer Technicolor®) — as well as four screenings on TBS. In each case, Frees ended the show. I await a restored, uncut, and reunion-free blu-ray.

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Comments
7

Alan Ladd had to stand on a box, as he was short (5' 6"). And he probably couldn't have killed a housefly without a Bazooka! He once owned Alan Ladd Hardware in Palm Springs.

Sept. 17, 2021

For my money, the most overrated actor to emerge from the studio system. (Does Audie Murphy really count?) Ladd was his generation's answer to Harrison Ford. He was at his best as the background gunsel with little dialog in "This Gun for Hire." I cheer for Jack Palance in "Shane." And as you point out, his biggest claim to fame came from standing on apple boxes.

Sept. 24, 2021

Hey Scott, don't forget Victor Mature. He couldn't act his way out of a toga! But he kept making turkey after turkey.

Sept. 24, 2021

Admittedly, the lion fight in "Samson and Delilah" is right up there with the "The Carpetbaggers," but Victor Mature was John Malkovich compared to Ladd. For that matter, the FAO Schwarz lion in S&D was a better actor than Ladd.

Sept. 24, 2021

Speaking of which, I loved "Being John Malkovich" written by the marvelous Charlie Kaufman with his wacko brain. And I remember co-star Mary Kay Place, back in my University of Tulsa days. Not ever friends, but I watched her talents growing, even then.

Oct. 5, 2021

RE: "“Lots of lovely ceilings" One of the funniest old movie lines by actresses, and I never heard it before. Good chuckle!

Sept. 17, 2021

Haha, whenever the Reader decides to publish a book collecting Scott Marks reviews, they have to name it "I cheer for Jack Palance in Shane." Who wouldn't buy that?!

Sept. 24, 2021

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