As a young man in the nineteen-fifties, Robert Evans was at the head of a business selling womens' slacks, indeed, he took the credit for starting the fashion for such things. He happened to be lounging by a pool one day when thirties movie star Norma Shearer wandered up to him and offered him a job starring as her late husband Irving Thalberg in the upcoming Lon Chaney biopic Man of a Thousand Faces. He took a screen test, won the part and so began a long career in the movies - not as a movie star as he expected, but as a big shot producer. One of the biggest in Hollywood, as it turned out.
Robert Evans' book The Kid Stays in the Picture was heralded as one of the best memoirs about Hollywood, and so an audio book recorded by the man himself was duly created. This is what formed the basis for the documentary, where Evans' croaky voiceover takes you on a journey through his life from discovery through mammoth success to drug hazed disaster and back to success, if not quite the at the same level. The films that are listed at the end to illustrate what he's done since the eighties are less than impressive, but at least you can say he was still working after his bumpy ride.
The film should presumably most appeal to those who enjoy director's commentaries on DVDs, because that's what it most resembles. No interviewees are introduced and those impressive names on the cast list above are present in archive footage only so the account is entirely one sided. A quote from Evans at the beginning informs us there are three sides to every story - mine, yours and the truth - which presumably excuses the exclusively Evans version here.
Nevertheless, it's an undeniably interesting tale our narrator weaves as he takes us through a life of stars, blockbusters and tragedy. Once he left acting (the title hails from producer Darryl F. Zanuck's demand that Evans stay in the cast of Hemingway adaptation The Sun Also Rises) he was one of the youngest heads of a Hollywood studio ever, Paramount in this case, and in the sixties oversaw such hits as Rosemary's Baby and The Detective, giving him the opportunity to tell us about Frank Sinatra's boorishness and Mia Farrow's glee at beating her then-husband at the box office.
And so it goes on to take in the success of Love Story and Evans' marriage to its star Ali MacGraw, their subsequent divorce, how he single handedly saved The Godfather from doom, and how he was the brains behind Chinatown. All this tends towards the self-aggrandising, so by the time the eighties come around the less charitable viewer may well relish the producer's fall with such money-wasting flops as The Cotton Club. Evans still keeps your attention as he relates his drugs hell and depression war stories, but you can't help but feel an audio book is the best medium to relay this as the well edited yet rather monotonous feature attempts to end on a high note. In fact, the original book may well be the best medium for it, unless someone tries a more cinematic biopic of Evans. Worth seeing for Dustin Hoffman's impersonation over the end credits, however.