By Erin Free

Written with scathing insight by author and screenwriter, Budd Schulberg (On The Waterfront), this 1941 novel is amongst the most lacerating and unforgiving works ever published about Hollywood. Driving the narrative is the titular Sammy Glick, a character of monstrous ambition and ruthless determination. A poor Jew from New York’s rough-and-tumble Lower East Side, Sammy first gets a job as a copy boy at The New York Record, and from there begins a sharp ascent engineered through lying, theft, betrayal, backstabbing, and the brutish force of his own unstoppable desire to hit the big time. Watched over by Al Manheim – the newspaper’s decent but ineffectual drama critic, who serves as awed and often frightened mentor to the young upstart – Sammy steals the work of aspiring young screenwriter, Julian Blumberg, and sends it under his own name to powerful Hollywood talent agent, Myron Selznick. Employing the weak spirited Blumberg as his ghost writer, Sammy then rises to the top of the screenwriting trade, before embarking on a career as a producer. Along the way, Sammy romances young novelist Catherine “Kit” Sargent (who Al Manheim eventually falls in love with) before finally meeting his match in the form of equally unscrupulous banker’s daughter, Laurette Harrington, the first person to find the chinks in Sammy’s seemingly indestructible armour.

There’s a long history of movies about Hollywood (from Sunset Boulevard to The Day Of The Locust and The Player and this week’s Trumbo and Hail, Caesar), and What Makes Sammy Run? could certainly join this high-tone company. Boasting a sprawling story; an opportunity to create a dark, lush picture of Hollywood in the forties; and, most importantly, a central character of fascinating complexity, this could be a grand piece that actually has something to say about today’s fame-and-wealth-hungry world. Though the book has been adapted as a television play, and reworked into a popular Broadway musical, it has never been filmed, though Ben Stiller came close to directing and starring in a proposed version in 2001. Even the late Budd Schulberg himself doubted that a film would ever be made. “It’s too anti-industry,” he proclaimed. Regardless, What Makes Sammy Run? would make a great movie.

British director, Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Skyfall), could bring his famously jaundiced outsider’s eye to American culture once again with What Makes Sammy Run? His facility for stunning visuals, combined with his tested ability to get the best out of his actors, would perfectly serve this potentially blue ribbon character-based drama.

gangster-squad-movie-image-ryan-goslingWHO SHOULD BE IN IT?
Ryan Gosling could masterfully essay the dark heart of Sammy Glick, while his natural charm and charisma would offset the character’s pure, venal hatefulness. Edward Norton’s flinty sensitivity would be just right for the keenly intelligent Al Manheim, while there would be strong supporting roles for Jesse Eisenberg (as screenwriter, Julian Blumberg), Harvey Keitel (as talent agent, Myron Selznick), Richard Gere (as kind hearted producer, Sidney Fineman), and Alec Baldwin (as Wall Street banker, H.L Harrington). The film’s major female roles – sweetheart Kit and the steely Laurette – would be finely filled by young starlets, Zooey Deschanel and Scarlett Johansson, respectively.


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