It’s a backhanded criticism, but there’s something too classy about this version of the Harold Robbins novel. It’s too tame. And too solemn.
To be blunt, where’s the raunch? This should be Peyton Place with plenty of flesh. Don’t entice audiences with the name of an author associated with a long list of best-selling seamy novels and then deliver a 125-minute film you wouldn’t be embarrassed to bring your mother to.
The script has four main interests: cars, sex, money and power. It’s an American movie. Laurence Olivier is retired auto tycoon Loren Hardeman Sr, founder of Bethlehem Motor Co, now interested in manufacturing a revolutionary car – one too efficient, too practical and too benevolent for American industry. It is to be called the Betsy, after his great-granddaughter.
Through a series of flashbacks, Olivier ages from 40 to 90. Complete with midwest accent, he’s on target, maybe too much so. Ditto for Robert Duvall as his grandson and current president of the auto company, Jane Alexander as Duvall’s wife and Katharine Ross as Olivier’s daughter-in-law and lover.
Tommy Lee Jones as a dare-devil race driver hired by Olivier to build the dream car plays his role with a mixture of edginess and off-handedness – a combination of Burt Reynolds and Harvey Keitel. His style – it’s got a sense of humor and a campy quality to it – seems more to the point. It’s almost trashy. (Now that’s Harold Robbins.)