Although director Elia Kazan ultimately failed in this uneven if brilliant attempt to bring his best-selling semi-autobiographical novel to the screen, it is a wonderful sociological portrait of a man driven to the edge of madness and despair by what material and career success does to his soul. Kirk Douglas is terrific as Eddie Anderson, the deeply conflicted Greek-American second-generation crossover who buys into the pursuit of American business success and now feels as though his talent and creativity have been totally corrupted and squandered in pursuit of the bitch goddess of success. He has it all, money, sex, and power, and all the toys and accessories such material success means. But his life is increasingly ashes in his mouth, a bitter, lonely, empty and unfulfilling existence that is literally driving Eddie insane.
We watch enraptured as he plunges head-first into a disastrous mid-life crisis, spiraling dangerously down the slippery slope toward madness and involuntary commitment, until slowly and painfully he begins to figure out what is wrong and how to fix it, although all this is obviously done at an amazingly hurtful and angst-filled cost to himself and his loved ones. Deborah Kerr co-stars as his loving but also self-concerned and controlling wife, and Faye Dunaway turns in a compelling performance as the insightful and sarcastic love interest who draws him out of his mid-life diversions and makes him see how expensive his sell-out has been to the real Eddie underneath all the glitz and glamour.
They say this movie had it all in the can, but that somehow author/producer/director Elia Kazan blew it all by cutting and editing it terribly, leaving it disjointed and hard-to-follow. Even though this seems to be true, the movie is uneven but still quite good, with a number of intense and moving scenes with Douglas, Dunaway, Kerr and Richard Boone that are among the best dramatic footage I have ever seen. Watch for the scenes late in the film when Eddie tries to explain himself and his actions to his wife, tryng to verbalize the very complicated reasons he simply cannot work at the ad agency any more. Although she coaxs him into the monologue, promising him she'll do "ANYTHING, god-dammit!" to make him happy, in the end she is quite conflicted, as well, and as a result totally misunderstands him, discounting his problems and conflicts and not hearing his plaintive pleas because she really doesn't want to give up their privileged lifestyle. He pours out his heart and needs, but she isn't listening, reacting angrily instead to what she sees as his selfishness even though she has begged him to be honest about what he really wants.
Such powerful scenes honestly and accurately document the terrible failed attempts at critical communication that too often characterize the destruction of life-long relationships and tragic divorce. Richard Boone of the TV series "Have Gun, Will Travel", an old Douglas friend and associate, also turns in a wonderful performance as Eddie's domineering and senile Greek-immigrant father, a once successful rug-importer who torments Eddie because he wants Eddie to bankroll him for another chance to control his own life. The way all this spins together was the powerful driving stuff behind a best-selling novel. The movie isn't quite as good, but it is still a wonderful, entertaining and powerful drama eminently worth watching.