One of the most popular pulp novels of the early 1960s was Harold Robbins' The Carpetbaggers, a steamy mix of power, sex, business, and Hollywood. The 1964 movie version was directed by Edward Dmytryk and had an introduction by Joan Collins. Many consumers didn't realize that the playboy-tycoon protagonist played by George Peppard was a parody of Howard Hughes. In this telling, Peppard's friend is a silent film cowboy named Nevada Smith, played by Alan Ladd in his last film role. Carroll Baker has the lead female role. It's a glossy, pandering feast of Hollywood melodrama that succeeds brilliantly in its acerbic portrait of its principal character. Two years later, a prequel called Nevada Smith was released, with Steve McQueen taking Ladd's part; it bombed. But The Carpetbaggers remains a symbol of the heyday of the Hollywood blockbuster.
Edward Dmytryk brings Harold Robbins' trashy, dirt-dishing Hollywood best-seller to the screen with George Peppard starring as Jonas Cord, a rancidly-sketched portrait of Howard Hughes. In 1925, when his father dies of a stroke, Jonas inherits the Cord Chemical factory, a manufacturer of dynamite and other explosives. Jonas proceeds with several cut-throat transactions, making a settlement with his sexy stepmother Rina (Carroll Baker) and liquidating the stock owned by cowhand Nevada Smith (Alan Ladd, in his final American film role). With the help of Mac McAllister (Lew Ayres), his father's attorney, Jonas builds his father's company into a multi-million dollar business, expanding into plastics and aeronautics. Meanwhile, Rina has become a top fashion model and movie star and Nevada Smith has parlayed his laconic demeanor into a career as a popular silent film cowboy idol. Jonas then marries, then ignores, the well-meaning Monica Winthrop (Elizabeth Ashley), and ruins her father's company in the process. Then, with the advent of sound films, Jonas helps Nevada Smith through the sound film crisis by offering financial backing for a film to star both Nevada and his ex-mother-in-law Rina. Jonas decides to direct the film himself, hoping to seduce Rina. But Jonas's insensitive and egomaniacal behavior causes Monica to leave him. Jonas invests all his time in film production but the alcoholic Rina dies in a car accident. The owners of the film studio -- Bernard B. Norman (Martin Balsam) and Dan Pierce (Robert Cummings) -- want to sell the studio to Jonas but hide the fact that Rina, the studio's biggest star, has died. Jonas buys the studio and when he finds his biggest asset is gone, he goes on a drunken binge. But Jonas quickly meets call girl Jennie Denton (Martha Hyer), who he decides to turn into a superstar modeled upon Rina. Despite having made her a star, Jonas's vile treatment of Jennie repulses both her and his old friend Nevada Smith, and Smith decides it's time to beat some sense into Jonas's head.