Michael Sauter
October 01, 1993 AT 04:00 AM EDT

When low-profile actor John Turturro took on his pet project, Mac, he kept it small and intimate. When megastars bare their artistic souls, the scope can get grander, the budget bigger, and the stakes higher. But that doesn’t necessarily make the movies worse. Here’s what happened when six famous actors put fortunes, reputations, and power bases on the line for the sake of realizing their cherished visions.

Invitation to the Dance (1957, MGM/UA) Gene Kelly had long dreamed of directing an all-dance movie that would bring ballet to a mass movie audience. MGM reluctantly agreed to let him try-as long as he agreed to do the lion’s share of the dancing. The resulting mixed bag of modern ballet pieces sat on the shelf for five years before MGM released it to an indifferent public, who apparently didn’t love the dance as much as Kelly did. B

The Alamo (1960, MGM/UA) John Wayne sank some of his own millions into this historical epic, a project he’d nurtured for nearly 15 years. What was so special about the Alamo? To the Duke, it was a symbol of the American passion for freedom-and a shining beacon to Commie-threatened nations all over the globe. Making the movie, he said, made him feel ”useful in this world.” Appropriately, perhaps, the movie didn’t make any money until almost the whole world had seen it. B

The Razor’s Edge (1984, Columbia TriStar) Bill Murray wouldn’t say yes to starring in Ghostbusters until Columbia agreed to subsidize his passion to do this serious remake of a 1946 Tyrone Power drama. Like so many comedians, Murray wasn’t content making people laugh. He wanted to move them, the way he had been moved by Somerset Maugham’s spiritually questing hero. Strange then, that Murray (who cowrote the screenplay) plays this part as if he isn’t quite serious. C+

Bird (1988, Warner) ”A man’s gotta know his limitations,” Dirty Harry once said. Clint Eastwood gutsily tested his own with this stylized portrait of the great bebop saxophonist Charlie Parker. A labor of Eastwood’s first love, jazz, this dark, impressionistic film didn’t make a quarter, but Eastwood’s stock as a serious director shot way up-and stayed there. A-

Dances with Wolves (1990, Orion) On the verge of superstardom, Kevin Costner chose to produce a three-hour Western from an old friend’s obscure novel. But Costner believed so strongly in the story that he directed it himself, and deferred most of his salary. Before Hollywood saw it, they called this project Kevin’s Gate. Later, they would shower it with Oscars. B+

Mr. Saturday Night (1992, New Line) ”This is the first time I’ve done my comedy on film,” Billy Crystal declared about his directorial debut. Like a typical comedian, he seized the opportunity to turn deadly serious. Starring as stand-up comic Buddy Young Jr. (a character he’d created years earlier), Crystal reveals the selfish, insecure man beneath a ton of old-age makeup. Somewhere along the line, he crosses over into self-indulgence and never comes back. C+

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