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Monday, May 11, 2009

THE COMEDIANS (1967)

The passing years and the continuing human tragedy of Haiti have allowed the better elements of Peter Glenville’s uneven film to rise to the surface. (A lot of credit goes to the great lenser Henri Dacaë who handles landscape & Liz Taylor’s hair with equal aplomb.) Graham Greene adapted his own novel, but was unable to balance the romantic angle (Richard Burton is hot for Liz Taylor who is married to Peter Ustinov and may be carrying on with arms dealer Alec Guinness) against the far more interesting political meltdown. (Odd since the basic structure is hardly unfamiliar; think CASABLANCA/'42 meets FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS/'43 among dozens of templates.) In addition to the four stars mentioned (all in top form, with Liz pulling off a tricky foreign accent), there’s outstanding perfs from Paul Ford & Lillian Gish as proselytizing American vegetarians (!). You keep expecting Greene to savage them, but he ends up admiring their grit & jealous of their naivete. Plus, in support, a veritable who’s who of up & coming black actors, circa 1967: Cicely Tyson, James Earl Jones, Georg Stanford Brown, Zakes Mokae, Raymond St. Jacques & Roscoe Lee Browne. Good as everyone is, the final couple of reels belong to Burton & Guinness who give masterclasses in film acting & just plain acting acting. When Guinness drops the mask in his final scenes, the effect is simply devastating.

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