The best part about “Don’t Say No Until I Finish Talking: The Story of Richard D. Zanuck” comes at the very end, when viewers are informed the producer/executive got to see the finished film three days before his death last July. It certainly would have been a shame if Zanuck had missed Laurent Bouzereau’s tribute, which hails him as the “consummate movie guy.” Produced by Steven Spielberg — whose career took off after making “Jaws” with Zanuck — the Turner Classic Movies production is warm and heartfelt, although to fully do Zanuck’s career justice, you’re going to need a bigger doc.
Zanuck — who died at the age of 77 — is interviewed discussing at length his complicated relationship with his famous father, studio chief Darryl F. Zanuck, who told him he would have to “overcome the circumstances of your birth” in terms of perceptions of nepotism. Their interaction took on an almost Shakespearean quality when the younger Zanuck ran 20th Century Fox, only to have his father help hasten his ouster.
Raised by a nanny, Zanuck recalls hanging out with the likes of Ernest Hemingway as a kid and getting into a lot of fist fights, before the documentary swings into the meat of his career — first at Fox, where he “saved” the studio with “The Sound of Music,” only to see his luck run out by betting on expensive musicals like “Doctor Doolittle” and “Hello, Dolly!”
Perhaps best, Bouzereau zeroes in on the unique set of skills that defines a producer’s role: identifying material, while managing both talent and studio execs. Zanuck (initially with David Brown) championed a string of hits that included “Jaws,” “The Sting,” “Cocoon” and “Driving Miss Daisy” — the last of those, incidentally, providing part of the germ behind the movie’s title.
Not surprisingly, a veritable who’s who of Hollywood is featured singing Zanuck’s praises, including Spielberg, Tim Burton (with whom he produced six movies), Johnny Depp, Clint Eastwood, William Friedkin and Ron Howard. Yet the most interesting observation might come from former Fox chief Tom Rothman, who notes how under Zanuck, Fox released three memorable war movies in 1970 — “Patton,” “MASH” and “Tora! Tora! Tora!” — that could hardly be more different in their tone and politics.
Wearing his executive’s hat, one suspects that’s a strategy Zanuck might well have appreciated, too.
(Documentary; TCM, Wed. May 8, 8 p.m.)