Warner Archive DVD release of the 1978 drama 'Harold Robbins' The Betsy' extend well beyond Sir Laurence Olivier heading a truly all-star cast in this epic erotic tale of most varieties of lust. Olivier shares the screen with young lion Tommy Lee Jones, Katherine Ross of "The Graduate," Robert Duvall, Jane Alexander, Lesley-Anne Down, and several other Hollywood royals. Lovers of '70s sitcoms will enjoy seeing Inga Swenson of "Benson"as a snoopy servant.
"Betsy" opens in 1975 as Olivier's 86 year-old retied auto industry executive Loren Hardeman (a.k.a. Number 1) recruits auto racer Angelo Perino to design the titular car that Number 1 wants to meet every need of the car-buying public. Number 1 naming this car after his college-age great-granddaughter continues a tradition that flashbacks shows us dates to the early '30s wedding of Number 1's son Loren II.
The ensuing events teach Perino the same tough lessons that outsiders discover on entering the inner-circle of the Ewings on the prime time soap "Dallas" of the same era. The briefest of recaps is that Perino gets swept up in family drama that spans 40 years, finds his work thwarted, and has his life threatened.
The timeline of the suds fun begins with the married Number 1 coupling with a maid on the day of the wedding of Loren II. This act being witnessed leads to a scandalous coupling that is pure Robbins; the cross-dressing and related blackmail attempt associated with this greatly contribute to both the guilty pleasure of this aspect of the film and to the events of 1975.
For his part, Perino gets close to both the real-life Betsy and to the designing woman (Downs) who simultaneously is the mistress of Loren III (Duvall). Needless to say, Number III learns of his rival and reacts in a vengeful manner.
The awesome climax to all this again is pure Robbins and related prime time soap; a threat from out of left field changes everything in a manner that clearly shows that there is a new Number 1 in town.
The life imitating art aspect of "Betsy" is that family businesses tend either to fail or to be sold to outsiders by the third generation; this reflects the same principle as cloning in that each subsequent generation is an increasingly flawed version of the one that precedes it. One only need watch "Dallas" to confirm this.
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