Archive for The Abominable Dr Phibes

Cuisine of the Crime

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on January 30, 2019 by dcairns

I hadn’t seen WHO IS KILLING THE GREAT CHEFS OF EUROPE for decades and Fiona had never seen it. And I only just realized that Peter Stone had a big hand in the script — he’s also a key figure in the writing of CHARADE, ARABESQUE, MIRAGE, FATHER GOOSE, SWEET CHARITY… which are all quite sprightly examples of the dying days of the golden years of Hollywood. And this one tries hard to evoke the feel of classic romantic comedy thrillers, while sharing some DNA with the novelty murder cycle begun by THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES.

Someone IS killing the great chefs of Europe, in their own kitchens and using their own favourite methods. Meanwhile dessert chef Jacqueline Bisset (last on the menu) and her ex-husband, fast food entrepreneur George Segal, are squabbling and wooing in a manner vaguely reminiscent of Cary Grant & Ros Russell in HIS GIRL FRIDAY. Jackie B proves a very able performer in this genre, and Segal of course is a very fine light comedian but perhaps makes his already seedy character a bit too brash and unlikable and lupine. The only moment where he begins to gather some sympathy is a fine bit of writing where he seems about to be humiliated on UK TV after trying, in a quite well-meaning way, to save his ex’s life. But this happens at the very end of the film, so it’s a little too late.

The Hollywood trick of casting actors who are NOT like the character they’re playing — think Joel McCrea as a pretentious film director in SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS — might have been handy here. But for a brash and sleazy businessman, who do you cast in the seventies who’s NOT a bit sleazy?

Robert Morley hams with relish, but one of the film’s real treats is the casting of top European acting talent in rare English-speaking roles: Jean-Pierre Cassell, Philippe Noiret, Jean Rochefort and walking special effect Daniel Emilfork. Fascinating to watch them in a second language: Cassell’s suavity transmutes into an engaging goofiness, Rochefort hams it up enormously and is a joy, and Noiret is really extraordinary, holding the eye and producing an effect of massive comedic overemphasis while actually underplaying like crazy. His tiniest ocular glint is like an explosion.

The mystery is well-played, delivering a genuine surprise out of a very limited (and ever-shrinking) field of suspects, and plays reasonably fair, though when you think about it, given the identity and motive of the killer, it does seem highly unlikely that they’d choose the novelty homicide MO we’ve all been enjoying. But Jackie gets to sleep with the most attractive Frenchman and doesn’t get punished for it, even though the plot positions her as potential final victim. (Neither the PHIBES films nor THEATRE OF BLOOD think of making the most sympathetic character the last person in jeopardy — though maybe we’re *intended* to care about Joseph Cotten and Ian Hendry?)

If the film, as directed by Ted Kotcheff, doesn’t quite come off, maybe it’s because it’s set in and made in the late seventies, with a brownish colour palette and all-location shooting in cavernous rooms. It somehow never has the lighter-than-air soufflé feel the story demands. We’re in London and Paris and Venice, and it always seems overcast and a bit dreich. Not Cary Grant weather at all. Although, if you have Cary Grant, ALL weather is Cary Grant weather. If you have George Segal instead, better hope for sunshine.

WHO IS KILLING THE GREAT CHEFS OF EUROPE? (AKA TOO MANY CHEFS) stars Miss Goodthighs, Quiller, King Louis XVI, King Louis XIII, Cardinal Mazarin, Le colonel Louis Marie Alphonse Toulouse, another different Cardinal Mazarin, Dr. Branom, De Nomolos, Krank, Ralph Earnest Gorse, Sgt. Wilson and Wallace.

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Organ Stops

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on June 23, 2014 by dcairns

phibes1

Vincent Price conducts his septet of wind-up Frank Sidebottoms.

Arrow’s Blu-ray edition of THE COMPLETE PHIBES was a pleasure to review for Electric Sheep. Here.

Incorporating gossip gleaned from the great Mike Hodges.

The Ten Plagues of Christmas

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on December 29, 2011 by dcairns

At this magical time of the year

I feel a small frisson of fear

I was scared as a child

By the voice, soft and mild

Of a gentleman ever so queer.

It’s true — a Hogmanay screening of THEATRE OF BLOOD so terrified me as a kid, I couldn’t walk into a room for months afterwards without imaging the severed head of Arthur Lowe waiting for me. I think it was the fact that he’s murdered in bed, the place of childhood safety, and in a slow, methodical, surgical manner…

I once had a flat mate similarly traumatised, but by Robert Morley’s demise in the same film, choked to death on a cream-of-poodle pie rammed down his throat through a funnel. She couldn’t eat chicken pie ever again.

So this time of year often makes me think of Vincent Price. And since it’s near the climax of the Vincentennial, the blogospheric celebration of his hundredth blood-curdling year, it seemed mete to sing his praises.

I limbered up with this little rhyme, then decided to indulge in a ten-lim marathon celebrating each of Phibes’ phiendish phorays.

Thus: The Wreckalogue.

A further entry in the Vincentennial, dealing with the gripping WITCHFINDER GENERAL, is here. And make sure you check out everyone else’s rhymes! A big thankyou to Hil for having me.