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‘The Last Tycoon’ misses the appeal of classic Hollywood

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Kelsey Grammer and Lily Collins embrace old Hollywood style.
Photo: Amazon Prime Video / Courtesy

Two stars

The Last Tycoon Season 1 available July 28 on Amazon.

F. Scott Fitzgerald died before finishing his final novel, the Hollywood saga The Last Tycoon, but that hasn’t stopped it from being collected, published and adapted, most notably as a 1976 feature film starring Robert De Niro. The fragmentary nature of the story means it has plenty of gaps to be filled in, and Amazon’s new TV-series version takes basic elements from the book as a jumping-off point for a drama about classic Hollywood.

Set in 1936, the show takes place at the fictional Brady-American Pictures, where studio executive Monroe Stahr (Matt Bomer) is a moviemaking golden boy, producing hit after hit while treating everyone around him with respect and compassion. Bomer is incredibly good-looking and can be quite charming, but Monroe is a complete bore, so full of good intentions that he comes across as a one-dimensional saint in a world of corruption and narcissism. Monroe’s counterpart at Brady-American is studio chief Pat Brady (Kelsey Grammer), who’s more ruthless and pragmatic. While Monroe pines for his late movie-star wife and romances a wholesome waitress, Pat makes unsavory business deals and works on sleeping with every starlet in Hollywood. His macho-capitalist bluster is nearly as dull as Monroe’s integrity.

Lily Collins brings a bit of complexity to the third lead character, Pat’s daughter Celia, a young aspiring movie producer with a massive crush on Monroe. Her storylines offer the best opportunities to explore the details of the 1930s film industry, although they’re still full of awkward, hokey dialogue and clumsy contrivances. Even the production values are mediocre; the occasional clips meant to replicate ’30s-era movies are especially phony and unconvincing. Fitzgerald based Monroe on real-life studio executive Irving Thalberg, but the show has Thalberg appear as a separate character, and the consistently ineffective mix of real and fictional characters highlights how poorly the series captures such a fascinating world.

Tags: Film, Television
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