(director: Peter Glenville; screenwriter: from a Graham Greene novel/Graham Greene;
Decae; editor: Francoise Javet; music: Laurence Rosenthal;
Taylor (Martha Pineda), Richard Burton (Brown), Alec
Guinness (Major Jones), Peter Ustinov (Ambassador
Pineda), Paul Ford (Smith), Lillian Gish (Mrs. Smith),
Zaeks Mokae (Michel),
George Stanford Brown
Runtime: 150; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Peter
Glenville; MGM; 1967)
"Uninspired political drama."
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
political drama adapted from a novel by Graham Greene,
with the author also writing the script. Under the
lumbering direction of Peter Glenville ("Hotel
Paradiso"/"Becket"/"Summer and Smoke")
the pic flounders, as
the well-known cast acts if their hands were tied
behind their backs when trying for transcending drama.
Only supporting actors Alec Guinness and Paul Ford
come out of this plodding pic in fine shape. It was
filmed in the
African nation of Dahomey (now Benin).
The topical story has
cynical world-weary Britisher Brown (Richard Burton)
returning from New York after three months to
poverty-stricken Haiti and his once posh hotel,
inherited from deceased mom, now deserted without
tourists, after failing to sell it. Brown discovers
the country has been taken over by blood-thirsty
despot 'Papa Doc' Duvalier and that his braggart Brit
fellow passenger Major Jones (Alec Guinness), who Brown
befriended on the boat, has been arrested while
trying to enter Port-au-Prince. Brown's other fellow
passengers are an eccentric American couple, Mr. and
Mrs. Smith (Paul Ford and silent star Lillian Gish),
in Haiti to open up a 'vegetarian restaurant' but
are taken aback when the Haitian minister they had
prior contact with in the States is killed.
The pic goes off track to
focus too much attention on Brown's trivial
adulterous affair with Martha Pineda (Elizabeth Taylor), the vulnerable
German-born wife of Manual Pineda (Peter Ustinov), the Latin American ambassador to Haiti, instead
of following the more interesting story of Papa Doc's
ruthless regime that held power through force,
intimidation and voodoo.
Characters with significant roles include James Earl Jones as a doctor leading the rebellion, Raymond St. Jacques as the head of the Tontons Macoutes (secret police), Roscoe Lee Browne as the head of Haiti's public relations department, Cicely Tyson has a few lines as a bar prostitute and Alec Guinness as the suave charlatan who claims to be a retired war hero military officer but only to hide that he's a shadowy weapons dealer. In the end, the apolitical Brown sees the light and joins the small number of inexperienced rebels fighting a hopeless battle in the hills for freedom.
Despite getting it right
about what Greene's novel was haunted about, it
faltered because it was so clumsily translated onto
the screen and bombed at the box office. Also not
helping matters was the misleading title, which was
the same as the
novel. But the
film is not a comedy as one would think from the
title--The Comedians are meant to be the European
and American characters in Haiti who are frauds,
putting on a phony happy face while living in a
dreadful police state.
It's too bad this film shot itself in the foot and
failed to be influential at the time, because it was one of
Hollywood's rare attempts at examining in a serious
way the harsh realities of third-world politics and
was filmed at a time when the despot was at the height
of his power carrying out his human rights atrocities.
Such a film could have done the despot much damage
world-wide if taken more seriously.
REVIEWED ON 3/25/2012 GRADE: C+
Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"
© ALL RIGHTS RESERVED DENNIS SCHWARTZ