Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Morely, The Merrier! A Thanksgiving Weekend Double- Feature Saluting Robert Morely

British character actor Robert Morley (1908—1992) was one of cinema’s wittiest character actors—but if it had been up to his family, he would have ended up in the diplomatic service instead!  Luckily for us Morley fans, he was much more interested in acting instead.  His accolades included a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for his comical turn in Marie Antoinette (1938), and classic movies including The African Queen; Topkapi; Beat the Devil; Around the World in 80 Days; Theatre of Blood; and so much more!  We of Team Bartilucci are spotlighting two of our favorites for our Robert Morley double-feature—enjoy!

Dorian's Pick: Who is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe? (1978)

Good to see you, Mr. Hitchcock! 
Oops, so sorry, Mr. Vandeveer, my mistake!
Ah, here come the holidays!  With Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanza, and any number of festive food-centric holidays descending upon us, Who is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe? (let’s save time and call it Great Chefs for short, shall we?) is a delicious way to kick off the first of half of our Robert Morley double-feature.  Before there were Julia Child, The Food Network, and The Cooking Channel, there were Nan and Ivan Lyons’ witty 1976 whodunit novel Someone is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe (1976). I read the novel when it was on best-seller lists, and it certainly had its moments of wit, sex, and clever violence.  Still, it seemed to me that the authors were so determined to cram in as much plot as possible that, for me, I’m afraid I eventually found it more exhausting than entertaining.  Nevertheless, the Lyonses wrote a 1995 sequel, Someone is Killing the Great Chefs of America, so brava to them, I say!

Happily, I found Ted Kotcheff’s 1978 film adaptation, Who is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe? (from Lorimar/Warner Bros.  Best of all, the script was from one of Team Bartilucci’s favorite screenwriters, Peter Stone (Charade; Arabesque; Mirage), a funny, suspenseful, romantic romp, with plenty of wit and fabulous food to boot! (Fun Fact:  director Kotcheff also co-starred in the 2003 fact-based drama Shattered Glass.) Just hearing Henry Mancini’s majestic yet playful score had me smiling!  Even when the characters are trading witty bon mots, there’s always a subtle, almost candlelit touch of sexy romance in the air, courtesy of Director of Photography John Alcott (The Shining; A Clockwork Orange; Barry Lyndon). 
And dig this international cast:

*Jacqueline Bisset — Her first name is pronounced “Jacque-lean,” and her last name rhymes with “Kiss It.” After debuting as “Miss Goodthighs” in the James Bond spoof Casino Royale, Bisset was on her way with such hits as Airport; Two For the Road; Rich and Famous; Murder on the Orient Express; The Deep.  I liked Ms. Bisset’s fashions by Oscar-winning costume designer Donfeld (not for Great Chefs, though.)  I admit Bisset's wardrobe might not work for every gal, but I rather liked Bisset’s rakish woolen coat and her Civil War outerwear; if it doesn’t bother Civil War re-enactors, I’m OK with it!  Fun Fact: Bisset is Oscar-winner Angelina Jolie’s Godmother!

*George Segal  Ship of Fools; Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf; The Hot Rock; A Touch of Class; TV’s Just Shoot Me, and The Goldbergs.  Segal and Bisset had a delightful Tracy & Hepburn vibe in Great Chefs that I really enjoyed, especially with Stone’s aforementioned sparkling dialogue!

Robby's making plans for Nigel to turn that 
sweet little health food joint into 
Ranger Pete's Texas Burgers, complete with 
slaugherhouse! Another coup for 
American Fast Foods!
When we first meet Epicurious  publisher and gourmand Maximilian Vandeveer (Morley), we see that Max is a mountain of a man, huffing and puffing and scaring innocent pedestrians as they try not to be steamrollered by Max’s formidable girth. Dr. Deere (John Le Mesurier from I’m All Right, Jack; The Pink Panther; The Italian Job ).  Max is always accompanied by his assistant, Meacham (Madge Ryan of A Clockwork Orange), Max's assistant. As usual, Max is being a wiseacre, calling Dr. Deere “Doctor Darling” and such other wry barbs, but this time, Dr. Deere has worrisome news for Max:

Dr. Deere: “Would you care to remove your overcoat?”
Max: “Why? Is your diagnosis going to take us through a change of seasons?”
Dr. Deere: “Mr. Vandeveer, you are not a well man.”
Max: “That’s why I came to you instead of my florist.”

Dr. Deere cuts to the chase:  “Mr. Vandeveer , you are suffering from gout, enlarged liver, duodenal ulcer, spastic colon, heart murmur, and severe hardening of the arteries.  You are suffering from these maladies because you are calamitously fat. Unless you drastically alter your eating habits, you are most certainly going to die.”

Max: “Dr. Sweetheart, deprived of everything I adore, what makes you think I want to live?  Come along, Beecham!” 

Beecham looks like a woman thinking, 
a la Bugs Bunny, "Oh, brother! There goes 
me bread and butter! I gotta do something!

Why did the chickens cross the road? So Robby
could pitch an omelet franchise!
Of course, here in the 21st century, Max’s health can be improved with less-draconian methods than they had in 1978, but since that’s when Great Chefs was made, feel free to consider it a period piece if you like! (Or watch The Biggest Loser, if that’s your cup of Spirulina or whatever.) 

Enter Robby Ross (Segal), head honcho of food conglomerate American Fast Foods.  At the moment, Robby’s in London, donning a cowboy hat and freaking out the patrons of the health-food restaurant The Potted Shed when he announces they’re starting a new franchise right next door: “Ranger Pete’s Texas Burgers!  A hundred percent pure meat!”  It’ll apparently do their own butchering on the premise. As Robby says: “You won’t hear that hammer go *smack* or nothin’!”   Robby cheerfully tells the hapless waiter (Nigel Havers of Empire of the Sun; Chariots of Fire).  Oh that Robby—what a sneakypuss!  The diners sure are running away faster than chariots of fire, for sure! 
Nowadays there are far less draconian ways to get healthy, but after all, this was 1978; think of this as a period piece if you like!  (Or watch The Biggest Loser, if you like that sort of thing.)  Robby’s ex-wife is Natasha O’Brien (Bisset), renowned for her fabulous desserts, not to mention she’s gorgeous. I wonder if she exercises like mad to keep her girlish figure?  Interestingly, I couldn’t help noticing Natasha is frequently described as “an American cook,” and yet she has an obvious British accent.  Did Natasha grow up among British emigres?  Was she naturalized in the U.S.?  Just curious!. But I digress…

Royal Food Fight at the Palace! 
Louis Kohner vs. Auguste Grandvilliers! 
Place your bets!
 It’s an exciting time for Natasha, as the renowned  food magazine Epicurious  has anointed Natasha to be one of the talented cooks whose work comprises “The World’s Most Fabulous Meal” for none other than Queen Elizabeth herself! 
 *Louis Kohner (Jean-Pierre Cassel) for his baked pigeon  in crust;
*Jean-Claude Moulineau (Phillippe Noiret of Coup de torchon) for his pressed duck.
*Fausto Zoppi (Stefano Satta Flores)
*And of course, our gal Nat makes the dessert, Le Bombe Richelieu!

Who says too many cooks spoil the broth?
Not Nat & Louis!
Mmm, this is one Bombe we wouldn't ban!
At snack time, Natasha and Louis have
their own version of "special sauce"!

Then there’s Auguste  Grandvilliers (Jean Rochefort of Tell No One), who’s furious that he was not on the list!  As Max explains, “This is for The World’s Most Fabulous Meal, not The Most Underrated Meal.”  Ouch! 

Oops! Guess happiness isn't a warm gun!

The excitement of playing the Palace takes a terrifying turn when Natasha wakes up from her sexy roll in the hay with Louis to discover he’s been baked to death!  Robby quickly comes to console her, but now the London police are giving Robby and Nat the Hairy Eyeball, and they soon realize other cooks on the Epicurious list are turning up dead, too!  It’s enough to spoil your appetite, if it weren’t for that delightful cast, witty dialogue, and lovely European locations!  Whodunit?  Watch it and enjoy this smart, sexy romp for yourself!

So many great lines, too! Here's one of my favorites:
Natasha, noticing she and Robby only have one bed (before they kiss and make up):
“How come the only bed in this entire hotel comes with you in it?"

Robby: “There’s a convention in town.”
Natasha: “The Optimists, no doubt!”
Yikes! Poor  Louis' been overdone, bigtime!
In Venice, two's company and three's a crowd!
Rub-a-dub-dub, Nat & Rob in a tub!

No one will be seated during the duck-press killing; it's too gruesome!

Mother of gastronomy, is this the end of Max?

"I knew that divorce was too good to last!"

 Vinnie Picks at the plate - They say that Hitchcock used to film murder scenes the way others shoot love scenes, and vice versa. Well, this film shot food like others shot naked women. This may well have been where we got the term "Food Porn." Kotcheff hangs lovingly over the most opulent banquets ever seen on the screen to date.

I've always had trouble enjoying George Segal -- his acting is a bit broad for me. He always seems to be opening his mouth just a tad too wide, waving his hands just a bit too much. He's doing a very good job on ABC's The Goldbergs as the Grandpa; he seems to have pulled it back just a hair. But his not-quite-manic delivery works well here, as he's supposed to be a loud brassy American who sticks out like a sore thumb in the hallowed banquet halls and restaurants of Europe. The audience, like the cast, should have no idea what Jacky Bisset saw in the boor.

The final sequence in Television Centre is delightful, as Segal blunders his way through studio after studio looking for the cooking show. It's a sequence that's been done plenty of times, from Blazing Saddles to Pee-Wee's Big Adventure, but that's because it's such fertile comedic soil.

Vinnie's Pick: Hot Millions (1969)

Peter Ustinov has graced the posts of this blog more than a few times, and rightly so.  He was an astounding character actor, equally at home in drama as comedy, though usually providing the lighter characters in the dramatic turns.  Hot Millions is one of his lesser known films, And That's Terrible.  Like The Wife's selection, it's available from Warner Archive, which is allowing fans of more obscure films to finally own them, as well as opening them up to a new audience.  He co-wrote the script with Ira Wallach, and it was nominated for an Oscar for best original screenplay, one of his many award nominations, and two Oscar wins. 
We meet Marcus Pendleton (Ustinov) on his last day in prison, ending his turn for embezzlement of the National Conservative Party (Asked why he chose that target, he calmly replies "I'm a Liberal"). He finishes up the warden's tax return for him, ensuring him that they're bona fide, and is wished well, with the caveat that in this new electronic age, computers are making it harder for embezzlers to succeed. (In a subtle callback later in the film, he passes a newsstand displaying the headline that the warden was arrested for tax fraud).

Robert Morely serves as means to an end
in the film, giving Marcus Pendleton
his "In" to the world of business
Marcus realizes quickly that the warden has a point, and makes the logical move - to become a computer programmer, thus being the person in charge of writing all the security that makes it so hard for embezzlers.  So after a quick visit to a haberdashers for a City-worthy suit, he pops into a posh club for the upper class to troll for information.  Posing as a recruiter for an American company, TaCanCo, he's given the name of Cesar Smith (Robert Morely).  Smith is loath to take a new job, and Marcus is more than happy to convince him to follow his life's dream of traveling to South America to write a books about moths.  He's barely on the plane before Marcus assumes his identity and snaps up the job of lead computer program designer.  Executive Carlton J. Klemper (Karl Malden) acts from his gut, even though his V.P.  Willard Gnatpole (Bob Newhart) advises checking the naff Smith's credentials.  But when Smith shows Gnatpole up by suggesting a new method of coding practice that eliminates a bug he's been working on, he earns Klemper's nod and Gnatpole's ire.

Smith/Pendleton is shows the company's mainframe, and its security system is pointed out, a blue light that blocks all unauthorized access. He gets a secretary, who turns out to be Patty Terwilliger, who has a flat in the same boarding house as him, and who has suffered through a steady stream of jobs that she loses under calamitous circumstances.  She's confused as to why the man she knows as Marcus Pendleton is working here as Cesar Smith - he hastily explains he's working under his mother's name because of reasons.  They genially conspire to keep each other secret - she agrees not to talk about his name, and he agrees not to mention that she's not all that wonderful a secretary.

Smith immediately begins a campaign against that blue light, spending many a long night trying to hack his way around it.  He's ready to give up before he learns that the charwomen regularly disable it with a bang of their bucket against the back of the machine, as the inside of the computer is perfect for keeping tea warm.  Once that shackle has been freed, he begins his main plan, setting up phantom companies and authorizing payments to them. 

A perfect rendition of the old joke "So dumb she can't
change a typewriter ribbon without taking her dress off"
All the while, his friendship with Patty becomes more genial, as they begin to spend more time together.  The rest of the staff (especially Mr. Gnatpole) notices that she's not a very good secretary, and assume that she must be good in the sack.  Gnatpole begins a campaign of his own, to become close with Patty, one that she doesn't rebuff - she doesn't even grasp that he's trying.  There's a spectacular and dialogue-free scene when he offers to drive her home - as they drive, he keeps seeing signs like "Yield" and Make Way", and she sees signs reading "Stop" and "Do Not Enter"

Marcus' life goes very well, both professionally and personally - he's amassed a fortune in ill-gotten-gains, and has fallen in love with and married Patty.  When she reveals that she's "in the club" as she so delightfully puts it, he realizes it's time to cut and run.  Marcus and Patty emigrate to Rio and seem quite happy, and Klemper and Gnatpole are nearly breaking their arms pointing fingers at each other. It's about then that the REAL Cesar Smith, returned from South America, pops by TaCanCo when he learns that he's apparently been working there for some time.  He discovers Marcus' plan quickly, admiring it for its elegance.  They're ready to give up their money as lost, except they ge a telegram from "Smith", advising them as to where he is, and inviting them down to talk.  Cesar Romero has a delightful cameo as a Brazilian customs agent who almost kills Klemper with sarcasm when, discovering that he's brought instant coffee with him to Brazil (Coals to Newcastle, indeed), says to him, "To confiscate this is not enough; throw it away", making him not just toss it in the bin, but open it and shake the contents out. 

Not to divulge the ending, but nobody goes to jail, and nobody is sad, except for Mr. Gnatpole, mainly because nobody else is.

Bob Newhart is the unavowed modern
master of the Slow Burn.
Ustinov is a comedic master - you can't break concentration for a moment lest you miss one of his mumbled asides that will shatter you.  Malden plays a very model of a modern business-minded American, and Bob Newhart once again knocks it out of the park in the role of Small Angry Man that he does better than no other.  Maggie Smith has never turned in a bad performance, and this film is no exception.  Her Cockney accent gets full acceptance here, playing Patty as the classic flibbertigibbet.

Maggie Smith was great friends with Kenneth Williams, star of the "Carry On" films.  In this vintage clip she talks about him and their relationship.  In a clip tacked on to the end, Kenny shares a tale from years before in a department store.

Dorian checks over the books - We're big Peter Ustinov fans here at Team Bartilucci HQ, and Vinnie was the one who turned me on to Hot Millions, which in turn also turned me on to both Ustinov and Maggie Smith, thanks in part to our longtime pal John Wirenius. With Hot Millions' droll wit and the rest of the wonderful cast, we were hooked, thanks to "gateway drugs" like Topkapi, Grendel Grendel Grendel, and so much more!


  1. Great double feature! I've not seen either of these films, and it looks like I'm missing a lot. I can't believe there was a movie with Robert Morley, Peter Ustinov AND Bob Newhart! Well, I'm certainly glad you brought it to my attention.

    As for "Great Chefs", I'm keen to see this just for the food photography alone.

    Thanks for a wonderful double feature! :)

    1. Ruth, my friend, thanks for your kind words about our Morley double-bill! With great casts for both films, Vinnie and I hope you check out both of these films; we're sure you're going to love them both! They're also both available on Warner Archive; find them and enjoy! :-)

  2. Well I'm glad to learn that Vinnie isn't the only one who hasn't really developed an attraction for George Segal. THE QUILLER MEMORANDUM was a film I enjoyed more for Alec Guinness than for Segal (and, if I were Segal, I wouldn't boast too loudly about being the voice of Dr. Quest in THE REAL ADVENTURES OF JONNY QUEST).

    Having said that it becomes obvious that my choice in this article must be HOT MILLIONS. Not only does it feature Morley, but the audience gets a nice dose of Peter Ustinov involved in a very sweet romance with Maggie Smith (the sort of relationship I'm always a sucker for), plus a very watchable performance by Bob Newhart. On top of that it's a computer film back when computers were interesting to look at.

    1. Michael, even if George Segal isn't generally your cup of tea, he's doing rather well on TV lately as the grandpa (yes, the grandpa!) on TV's THE GOLDBERGS (no, not those Goldbergs, to my knowledge). In any case, I'm delighted, though not surprised, that you love HOT MILLIONS, with that great cast, especially Peter Ustinov and Maggie Smith in that wonderful grownup romance! You know, Michael, you're right: computers really WERE more interesting to look at back in the day! Glad you've joined our Morley fun and frolic, my friend!

  3. When you guys plan a double feature, you do it up in style. Teasing and tempting us with a night full of delightfully sly mayhem, and a reminder of the unmatched Morley.

    Grand to see the love for Canuck Kotcheff.

    1. Caftan Woman, beaucoup thanks for your kind words and rave review of Team Bartilucci's Morely two-fer! My sweet hubby (a fellow Canuck, you'll recall :-) were delighted to salute Ted Kotcheff along with Our Man Morely! We hope you and yours are having a happy holiday season, my friend!

  4. CHEFS is one of those movies that I was always curious about because of that title. Good to know that it's as funny as I imagined it was.

    1. Rich, thanks for your swell comments, and congratulations on your coup at NaNoWrimo as well! If you haven't already had the pleasure of watching both ...CHEFS... and HOT MILLIONS, do check it out on Warner Archive; you'll be glad you did! Have a great holiday season, pal!

  5. loved reading these, they make a great double feature. I have both --just recently got my hands on Great Chefs actually-- so now obviously I can't wait to check them out. I'm usually not a new movie curmudgeon, not one of those people who say new movies suck, but there's really nothing quite like this genre anymore, the all star zany comedy.

    1. Kristina, my friend, you have superb taste in snappy, soignee comedy-suspense movies, one of my very favorite genres! By golly, I think it's high time for suave, funny romantic-comedy movies to launch a comeback! Where are the new CHARADEs, ARABESQUEs, MIRAGEs, ...GREAT CHEFS...for the 21st Century, with endearing stars and snappy dialogue? We must bring back these kind of fun comedy-thrillers! We need a petition or something for the next Peter Stone or Ernest Lehman! :-) In any case, I'm glad you enjoyed my post, and I wish all health and happiness to you and yours, as always!

  6. dang my first comment didn't go thru. as I was saying, i'm not usually a new movie curmudgeon but they really don't make this genre anymore, the allstar zany adventure treasure hunt or mystery.. I have both of these-- just recently got Great Chefs, so now I can't wait to check them out! cheers

    1. Kristina, I'm glad to hear you enjoy these all-star comedy-thrillers as much as I do! I hope you'll enjoy ...GREAT CHEFS... as much as we of Team Bartilucci do! :-D Warmest wishes to you and yours, my friend! Oh, and for the record, screenwriter Peter Stone rules!