Loren Hardeman (Laurence Olivier) is a wealthy industrialist who has long since retired to rest on his laurels, but now as an elderly man his faculties are as sharp as they ever were - as is his business acumen. Therefore he is interested in making a return to the world he once left behind, and after watching motor racing driver and engineer of his own vehicles Angelo Perino (Tommy Lee Jones) crash during a competition he immediately contacts him as he recuperates. Hardeman has a proposition for him: design and craft a new car with both speed and efficiency and he will reward him handsomely from his own deep pockets. Perino cannot refuse that offer, and so the wheels are set in motion to build the Betsy, named after Hardeman's great-granddaughter (Kathleen Beller)...
However, not everyone is happy to see the old man make a comeback, which should have played out as a ripsnorting and over the top adaptation of one of Harold Robbins' blockbusting novels, trash city basically, just as the source was. Only it didn't work out that way, as for some barely believable reason the filmmakers thought they were making something of artistic worth for the ages, or that's how it looked they were thinking, so when it begins with the crash you wonder if the rest of it will be high octane melodrama, and then you're "treated" to lengthy conversations on car manufacture and the heart sinks. Apparently Robbins thought this was the best version of his work to reach the screen, though how little that said for the others was difficult to ignore.
Really this was punishingly boring, and indicative of how the potential audience wanted to see how the other half lived on the small screen rather than the big, as about this time the inception of the major glitz-tastic television soap operas such as Dallas and Dynasty was right around the corner, proving there were millions of folks around the globe willing to lap this material up. So why was it when the same kind of plots reached the cinemas they were ignored to a greater extent? It could have been the series had more room to breathe and adapt, allowing the viewers to get used to the characters and relish their behaviour, whereas if a movie went on as long as this did all one the one note boredom set in early and never dissipated, especially knowing there was nobody here particularly worth giving the time of day to.
The script teased us this was going to get a lot more steamy and tawdry than it ever did: within five minutes of her initial appearance, Beller has taken off all her clothes and given us a look at her which left nothing to the imagination, but this was dangling a carrot of sleaze that the film never followed up on. Robbins' books didn't sell in their millions because the readers were fascinated with boardroom politics, but that's what this production was under the impression was the case, so whereas if you plunged headfirst into his world you would be drinking in all the sex and violence in the format of a pageturner you would ever want, with the movie the sex scenes were mostly shot above the neck and the violence was not anything you wouldn't get on contemporary TV every night. It was just too staid.
There was one person through sheer force of will attempting drag this into a shiny gutter as it would be better suited, and that was Sir Larry. His performance, complete with ridiculous American accent(s), constantly threatened to render this far more entertaining than it actually was, whether cackling like Walter Brennan over his latest scheme or in one of the flashbacks witnessing his daughter-in-law Sally (Katharine Ross) breastfeeding his grandson and taking it as his cue to seduce her. He only does that on her insistence, as she cannot get the image of him shagging a maid on her wedding day out of her mind, and wished she and the maid could have swapped places. Stuff like that could have been ludicrously amusing for camp aficionados, and to be fair for some it is, yet it's presented with such misplaced gravitas the whole affair is weighed down with self-importance, leaving fun thin on the ground. Its all star cast squandered, including Robert Duvall and Lesley-Anne Down doing their best under trying circumstances, The Betsy quickly sputtered and died. Music by John Barry.