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Amazon's 'The Last Tycoon' Isn't Perfect, But Certainly Worth Watching
July 26, 2017  | By David Hinckley

Thought-provoking and melancholy, like all good F. Scott Fitzgerald stories, The Last Tycoon delivers a good summer watch.  

Our latest interpretation of Fitzgerald’s final novel, a nine-episode series starring Matt Bomer (top), Lily Collins, and Kelsey Grammer, becomes available Friday on Amazon.

Set in Hollywood, where Fitzgerald repaired during the 1930s to earn a living, The Last Tycoon begins in 1936.

Ace producer Monroe Stahr (Bomer), a whiz kid favorite of Brady Studios boss Pat Brady (Grammer, right), has just started making a movie about deceased starlet Minna Davis.

This one is personal. Stahr was married to Minna Davis until two years earlier when she died in a fire that swept through their mansion.

Stahr wants a film that will cement Minna’s legacy forever.  

Soon, however, the real world of 1936 crashes into the fantasy factory of Brady Studios. An emissary from Germany tells Pat Brady that under Germany’s new racial codes, no film can be imported that shows a Gentile marrying a Jew.

Minna Davis was a Gentile. Monroe Stahr is a Jew.

Pat Brady is a friend of Monroe’s. That doesn’t always make him an ally.

Germany is the second-largest overseas market for Hollywood films, Brady reminds Monroe. Without Germany, a film likely cannot make a profit and help keep the studio in business during the current hard times.

No, it’s not fair, Brady says to Monroe, patting him on the shoulder. But “there is no art without commerce.”

It’s hard not to remember here that real-life Hollywood in the 1930s had no trouble enforcing its own malevolent racial codes, the ones under which black characters who didn’t fit subservient and segregated stereotypes were edited out of films shown in the South.

In any case, the Nazi shadow isn’t the only drama or minidrama in The Last Tycoon. There’s ample romance, some of it involving the lovely Kathleen Moore (Dominique McElligott, below, with Bomer) and some touching Brady’s daughter Cecilia (Collins, left), who has a mad crash on Monroe.

But the echo of the distant jackboots sets a tone and direction, and triggers much of what follows.  

It also helps set up the three best reasons to watch The Last Tycoon.

First, Bomer (Stahr) and Grammer (Brady) form a charismatic pair. Stahr is the boy wonder who feels like he always must slip into the skin of total confidence. Brady is a businessman for whom movies are a product that helps people escape the Great Depression.

Second, it’s a story that’s about something. It’s about a couple of things, in fact.

It’s about the dark shadow Germany was already casting over the world, and the ways in which well-meaning people reacted, long before we knew what we know now, or what the world knew just a decade later.

Less apocalyptic, but fascinating on its own, The Last Tycoon contemplates the relationship between art and life, and the importance of that intersection.  

Third, it just plain looks great. It’s got that lavish look of ‘30s musicals, Hollywood’s deliberate attempt to give moviegoers as great an escape as possible.

The Last Tycoon has gilded ballrooms, high fashion and star-spangled tap dancers. It’s a visual banquet.

All this said, The Last Tycoon has taken some critical heat, and not without cause. It has several unsparkling passages and weak spots.

In truth, that’s consistent with the whole history of The Last Tycoon. Fitzgerald had roughly finished only about half of it when he died at the age of 44, and there have subsequently been two “finished” versions based on his notes. It has been adapted into a 1957 TV play, a 1976 movie, and a 1993 stage show.

This current TV series was originally ordered by HBO, which decided to drop it and leave it to Sony, which produced it for Amazon.

Had Fitzgerald lived to finish it in the first place, all of these productions would have had clearer markers along the path.

But he left plenty from which to spin a good tale.

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