“The Kid Stays in the Picture” is not a documentary. Documentaries, as a rule, aim for objectivity, or when they are biased, they at least interview several subjects to support that bias.
This film, on the other hand, has one source: Robert J. Evans. He narrates the film, and the film is nothing more than a visual version of his memoirs. When he relates an anecdote such as the one where it was his idea for “The Godfather” to be a three-hour film instead of two, you have no choice but to believe him, because no one else’s memory is consulted. This isn’t a documentary; it’s an old guy telling stories.
And what stories they are! This is a ridiculously fascinating, thoroughly unobjective account of one man’s wild ride through Hollywood in the ’60s and ’70s, recounted with humor and energy by the man who lived it.
Evans was a child actor who stumbled into major roles in “Man of a Thousand Faces” and “The Sun Also Rises” in 1957. During shooting on the latter film, everyone wanted him out, including Ernest Hemingway, on whose book the film was based. The producer, Darryl Zanuck, declared, “The kid stays in the picture.” Evans knew acting wasn’t for him, but producing was. “I wanted to be the guy who says, ‘The kid stays in the picture,'” he tells us.
He quickly rose to be head of production at Paramount Pictures, where he oversaw landmark films like “Love Story” (whose co-star, Ali MacGraw, he married), “Rosemary’s Baby” and “The Godfather.” Paramount went from No. 9 among studios to No. 1. How much of that credit should go to Evans is debatable, though it seems beyond question in his own eyes.
Evans’ self-assuredness accounts for much of the fun of this film. He is the quintessential movie producer: brash, arrogant and speaking with a New York accent. He refers to women as “broads” and “dames” and turns phrases like ” ‘Love Story’ didn’t open, it exploded.” He uses profanity here and there, but uses it effectively every time. Those of us who are movie buffs will find an evening of stories at his knee utterly irresistible.
“The Kid Stays in the Picture” was directed stylishly by Nanette Burstein and Brett Morgen. There is archival footage and a lot of still photos, all accompanied by Evans’ narration. But even the still photos don’t stand still. A shot of Evans sitting in the backseat of a car will be put in front of a moving background, for example, just for fun. When it’s over, it doesn’t seem like you’ve just watched a slide show, even though that’s essentially what it is.
It’s interesting to note that when Evans stopped working for Paramount and started actually producing films, they weren’t very good ones. He produced “Chinatown” and “Marathon Man,” yes. But then he produced “Popeye,” “Urban Cowboy” “Jade,” “Sliver” and “The Out-of-Towners,” too. By his own admission, he wasn’t much of an actor. His track record demonstrates he’s not that great a producer, either. So what is he good at? Shmoozing. Watch “The Kid Stays in the Picture” and see how entertaining a 91-minute shmooze session can be.
B+ (1 hr., 31 min.; )