Film Review: The Adventurers (dir by Lewis Gilbert)


The 1970 film, The Adventurers, is a film that I’ve been wanting to watch for a while.

Based on a novel by Harold Robbins, The Adventurers was a massively expensive, three-hour film that was released to terrible reviews and even worse box office.  In fact, it’s often cited as one of the worst films of all time, which is why I wanted to see it.  Well, three weeks ago, I finally got my chance to watch it and here what I discovered:

Yes, The Adventurers is technically a terrible movie and Candice Bergen really does give a performance that will amaze you with its ineptitude.  (In her big scene, she sits in a swing and, with a beatific look on her face, begs her lover to push her “Higher!  Higher!”)

Yes, The Adventures is full of sex, intrigue, and melodrama.  Director Lewis Gilbert, who did such a good job with Alfie and The Spy Who Loved Me, directs as if his paycheck is dependent upon using the zoom lens as much as possible and, like many films from the early 70s, this is the type of film where anyone who gets shot is guaranteed to fall over in slow motion, usually while going, “Arrrrrrrrrrrrgh….”  A surprisingly large amount of people get shot in The Adventurers and that adds up to a lot of slow motion tumbles and back flips.  Gilbert also includes a sex scene that ends with a shot of exploding fireworks, which actually kind of works.  If nothing else, it shows that Gilbert knew exactly what type of movie he was making and he may have actually had a sense of humor about it.  That’s what I choose to believe.

Despite the fact that The Adventurers is usually described as being a big-budget soap opera, a good deal of the film actually deals with Latin American politics.  For all the fashion shows and the decadence and the scenes of Candice Bergen swinging, the majority of The Adventures takes place in the Latin American country of Cortoguay.  If you’ve never heard of Cortoguay, that’s because it’s a fictional country.  Two hours of this three-hour film are basically devoted to people arguing and fighting over who is going to rule Cortoguay but it’s kind of impossible to really get to emotionally involved over the conflict because it’s not a real place.

Ernest Borgnine plays a Cortoguayan named — and I’m being serious here — Fat Cat.  Seriously, that’s his name.  And really, how can you not appreciate a movie featuring Ernest Borgnine as Fat Cat?

Fat Cat is the guardian of Dax Xenos (Bekim Fehmiu).  Dax’s father is a Cortoguayan diplomat but after he’s assassinated by the country’s dictator, Dax abandons his home country for America and Europe.  While he’s abroad, Dax plays polo, races cars, and has sex with everyone from Olivia de Havilland to Candice Bergen.  He also gets involved in the fashion industry, which means we get two totally 70s fashion shows, both of which are a lot of fun.  He marries the world’s richest heiress (Bergen) but he’s not a very good husband and their relationship falls apart after a pregnant Bergen flies out of a swing and loses her baby.

Throughout it all, Fat Cat is there, keeping an eye on Dax and pulling him back to not only Cortoguay but also to his first love, Amparo (Leigh Taylor-Young), who just happens to be the daugther of Cortoguay’s dictator, Rojo (Alan Badel).  In fact, when Fat Cat and Dax discover that an acquaintance is selling weapons to Rojo, they lock him inside of his own sex dungeon.  That’s how you get revenge!  And when Dax eventually does return to Cortoguay, Fat Cat is at his side and prepared to fight in the revolution.  Incidentally, the revolution is led by El Lobo (Yorgo Voyagis), who we’re told is the son of El Condor.

The Adventurers is melodramatic, overheated, overlong, overdirected, and overacted and, not surprisingly, it’s eventually a lot of fun.  I mean, the dialogue is just so bad and Lewis Gilbert’s direction is so over the top that you can’t help but suspect that the film was meant to be at least a little bit satirical.  How else do you explain that casting of the not-at-all-Spanish Bekim Fehmiu as a Latin American playboy?  Candice Bergen plays her role as if she’s given up any hope of making sense of her character or the script and the rest of the cast follows her lead.  Ernest Borgnine once said that The Adventurers was the worst experience of his career.  Take one look at Borgnine’s filmography and you’ll understand why that’s such a bold statement.

The Adventurers is three hours long but it’s rarely boring.  Each hour feels like it’s from a totally different film.  It starts out as Marxist agitprop before then becoming a glossy soap opera and then, once Fat Cat and Dax return home and get involved in the revolution, the film turns into “modern” spaghetti western.  It’s a film that tries so hard and accomplishes so little that it becomes rather fascinating.

And, if nothing else, it reminds us that even Fat Cat can be a hero….

 

A Movie A Day #343: Looker (1981, directed by Michael Crichton)


Someone is murdering models and trying to frame Larry Roberts (Albert Finney), a plastic surgeon.  Larry suspects that the actual murderer is somehow involved with the Digital Matrix research firm, a shadowy organization that is headed by James Coburn and Leigh Taylor Young.  Digital Matrix has developed a new technique where they digitally scan a model’s body and then generate a 3-D duplicate that can be used in commercials and on film.  The real-life models stand to make a fortune from the royalties, assuming that they are physically perfect and they do not end up getting murdered immediately after being scanned.  Larry’s girlfriend, Cindy (Susan Dey), is just the latest model to have been scanned and now Larry suspects that she might be targeted for death as well.

When I was growing up, Looker was one of those movies that always seemed to be on HBO.  I don’t know why this box office bomb was so popular on cable but I do remember seeing it several times.  I guarantee you that anyone who has ever came across this movie on HBO in the 80s and 90s will remember it.  They might not remember the title but they will remember that the bad guys used light guns that would cause people to briefly go into a catatonic state.  Everyone who has ever seen this movie remembers the model standing frozen in the doorway of her apartment.

As for the movie itself, the guns are cool and so is the scene where Susan Dey gets scanned but otherwise, Looker is not very good.  Michael Crichton later said that he had conflicts with Warner Bros during the editing of Looker and, as a result, there were some important scenes that did not make it into the final cut.  For instance, it is never really explained why the models are being killed.  Albert Finney was in one of his periodic career slumps when he starred as Larry and he looks uncomfortable going through the motions of being an action star.  Two years after Looker came out, Finney’s career would be reinvigorated when he received an Oscar nomination for The Dresser and three years later, he would give his career best performance in Under the Volcano.

As it typical of Michael Crichton’s work, Looker was ahead of its time in predicting the use of CGI in media but otherwise, it’s nothing special.  If you want to see a good Crichton-directed film, stick with Westworld and The Great Train Robbery.

Back to School Part II #20: Secret Admirer (dir by David Greenwalt)


Secret_admirer

After I finished watching Girls Just Want To Have Fun, it was time for the 1986 film, Secret Admirer!

Secret Admirer is a fairly good example of a film that is dependent upon the idiot plot.  Every plot complication could have been avoided by the characters not being idiots.  The entire storyline could have been resolved within five minutes if some of the characters had been willing to ask questions before jumping to assumptions.  Idiot plots tend to fun when they deal with teenagers, largely because, when you’re that age, you can get away with being an idiot.  That’s part of the charm of being a teenager and why nobody ever wants to grow up.  When you’re a teenager, you’re not expected to have any common sense or knowledge of the real world so you can get away with a lot more.  At the same time, idiot plots involving adults tend to be annoying because adults really should know better.  The idiot plot of Secret Admirer involves both teenagers and adults and, as a result, the film is half-charming and half-annoying.

Smart but shy Toni (Lori Loughlin) has a crush on her lifelong friend, the sweet but kinda stupid Michael (C. Thomas Howell).  So, Toni writes Michael an incredibly eloquent love note and slips it into his locker.  When Michael finds the note, he assumes that it was written by Debbie (Kelly Preston), who is pretty and popular but only dates college students.  When Michael attempts to write a response to Debbie, he is sabotaged by his limited vocabulary, lack of eloquence, and general dimness.  Luckily, Toni finds the note and, wanting to spare Michael any embarrassment, rewrites it for him.  Debbie is so touched by Toni’s note that she goes out on a date with Michael.  Toni is forced to stand in the background and watch while the boy she loves falls for a girl who is obsessed with shopping.  (Secret Admirer suggests that this obsession indicates that Debbie is shallow but seriously, who doesn’t love to shop?)  Will Toni tells Michael that she loves him or will she leave him so that she can spend a year studying abroad?  (Personally, I would leave and have fun exploring Europe but then again, I also love to shop so obviously, Toni and I have conflicting worldviews.)

But that’s not all!  Michael’s dad, George (Cliff DeYoung), also finds the note and assumes that it was written to him by Debbie’s mom, Elizabeth (Leigh Taylor-Young).  Of course, Debbie’s father, a police detective named Lou (the always gruff Fred Ward), also comes across the note and becomes convinced that George and Elizabeth are having an affair.  He somewhat forcibly recruits George’s wife, Connie (Dee Wallace Stone), to help him expose George and Elizabeth for being the cheaters that he believes them to be….

I got annoyed with the parents fairly quickly.  It’s always fun to watch Fred Ward grimace and glare at people but otherwise, all of the adults were way too stupid and their behavior reminded me of that terrible episode of Saved By The Bell where the exact same thing happens to Mr. Belding.  Secret Admirer works best when the adults are pushed to the background and the film concentrates on the relationship between Toni and Michael.  They’re a sweet couple and you really want to see them end up together.  Michael may be stupid but he’s still really cute and the film is perfectly charming whenever it concentrates on him and Toni.

Incidentally, Michael has several friends.  They all ride around in a van and look through old issues of Playboy together.  Most of the friends are interchangeable but I did like Ricardo (Geoffrey Blake), just because he was wearing a suit and a fedora for no particular reason.  Ricardo didn’t really get to do much but his fashion sense made a definite impression.

By the admittedly high standards of 80s teen films, Secret Admirer is a minor film.  It’ll never be mistaken for Sixteen Candles or Pretty In Pink.  That said, it’s still an entertaining and occasionally sweet film.  You’ll want to skip over the scenes involving the adults but the scenes involving C. Thomas Howell and Lori Loughlin are perfectly charming.