- The Washington Times - Friday, August 9, 2002

By a happy coincidence Akira Kurosawa's great parable about human perversity, "Rashomon," has returned to the American Film Institute Theater on the same weekend that the Robert Evans chronicle, "The Kid Stays in the Picture," makes its debut at a trio of local art houses. Most respected as the production supervisor at Paramount Pictures from the late 1960s through the early 1970s a resurgent period that made him the executive in charge of realizing "The Godfather" Mr. Evans trifles with his own variation on the "Rashomon" theme of conflicting, self-interested versions of the same events.

At the outset he pontificates, "There's my side, and there's your side and we both think we're telling the truth. No one is lying." Not consciously, anyway. The funny thing about this declaration is that "Kid" proves an irresistibly one-sided account of the highs and lows of Robert Evans' career as a Hollywood interloper and then insider. There are no competing or contradictory points of view. Moreover, they would seem superfluous while savoring the alternately hardboiled, reflective, profane and slapstick accounts of a life in the movie business as recalled by a knowing, humorously self-dramatizing survivor.

A priceless documentary freak, the first audio-book movie in the history of the medium, "Kid" is sustained by its soundtrack, which consists for the most part of Robert Evans' voice as recorded in 1997, when he transferred the text of his warts-and-all 1994 autobiography to an audio-book edition. He was still recovering from a series of strokes while the film was being assembled, so there is no recent talking-head footage of the protagonist. Though the producers could draw lavishly on Mr. Evans' memorabilia, a good deal of the illustrative material seems patchy and never does rival the narration as a source of immediacy and comic impact.

An exception needs to be made for the finale, a gem from the Evans archives. An adornment to the end credits, this sequence consists of a Dustin Hoffman impersonation of Mr. Evans improvised on the last day of shooting for the suspense thriller "Marathon Man," released in 1976.

It's common knowledge within the movie business that Mr. Hoffman drew on Mr. Evans when playing the movie-producer-turned-White-House-spin-consultant in "Wag the Dog." Now we realize that the actor had a substantial head start on his Evans masquerade. In fact, his impromptu first version defies improvement. An obscenely brilliant caricature, the "Marathon Man" riff may now be revered as the comic high point of Mr. Hoffman's acting career.

The complete recitation of the book ran about six hours. Numerous stories fail to make the cut in the movie, a 90-minute autobiographical ramble and joyride. However, the horse's-mouth summaries of Mr. Evans' shaky debut as a Hollywood pretty face in the late 1950s and his command decisions at Paramount while supervising such hits as "Rosemary's Baby," "Love Story" and "The Godfather" provide the film with more than adequate entertainment value, edification and vintage gossip.

The title derives from the late Darryl F. Zanuck, who provided Mr. Evans with an ultimate career model by diverting to independent production after running a major studio. At the time they met, in 1956, Mr. Evans was the odd man out in the cast of the Zanuck production of "The Sun Also Rises." Several principal players wanted him fired. Mr. Zanuck decided that the kid was trying his best and could remain. This trust was never justified by an Evans acting career, but it did set a pattern of similar acts of faith by men in authority that allowed Mr. Evans to prove himself and eventually acquire a comeback mystique that endures to this day. Having recovered from near-fatal strokes, Mr. Evans is again an active producer, based at Paramount.

The most amusing and rollicking anecdotes revolve around Mr. Evans' manipulation of Mia Farrow, Ali MacGraw and Francis Ford Coppola during the production of "Rosemary's Baby," "Love Story" and "The Godfather," respectively. Having written a definitive pan of "Love Story" for the Christmas season of 1970, I found it especially nostalgic to hear Mr. Evans reminisce about his courtship of Miss MacGraw, who provided a fleeting sensation as the movie's insufferable, ill-fated heroine.

Gallantry tends to fail him, since their marriage proved a casualty to infidelity when she was on location with Steve McQueen for "The Getaway." Mr. Evans was, by his own account, preoccupied to a fault with "The Godfather." I never really expected to hear a satirical recollection of the Evans-MacGraw love story. Much obliged, in a way.

The movie edition of "Kid" leaves several gaps in the Evans life story. Press material mentions liaisons with such stars as Ava Gardner, Grace Kelly, Lana Turner and Raquel Welch. The movie never gets around to these chapters, although the Gardner connection would be worth pursuing, since she was one of the performers in "The Sun Also Rises" who urged his dismissal.

Mr. Evans devotes ample time to the disreputable swoon that accompanied his reunion project with Mr. Coppola, "The Cotton Club." On the other hand, his disastrous return to acting, when cast by Robert Towne in "The Two Jakes," a sequel to "Chinatown," is overlooked. The mutual blunder proved so severe that the production was shut down. A few years later the project was revived with Jack Nicholson as both star and director. Harvey Keitel was cast in the role that Mr. Evans evidently botched.

The subject is more candid than I anticipated when recalling a prolonged addiction to cocaine that began at the start of the 1980s. In many respects the woes of "The Cotton Club" derived from this vice. Perhaps the nuttiest time-capsule fragment in the movie preserves clips from the public service spots Mr. Evans produced as part of his rehab penance after being busted: a star-studded singalong on the supposedly redemptive theme "getting high on yourself." It's a mind-boggler.


***

TITLE: "The Kid Stays in the Picture"

RATING: R (Frequent profanity and occasional sexual allusions; fleeting allusions to a murder case in one sequence)

CREDITS: Directed and produced by Brett Morgen and Nanette Burstein. Adaptation by Mr. Morgen, based on the audio book version of the autobiography, "The Kid Stays in the Picture," by Robert Evans.

RUNNING TIME: 93 minutes

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