List of Adrian Messenger, The (DVD Review)8 Mar, 2010 By: Mike Clark
Available Now via Amazon.com CreateSpace
Stars George C. Scott, Kirk Douglas, Dana Wynter.
A review at the time opined that this odd cinematic lark disguised as a mystery was directed by a distracted John Huston — his mind apparently more on fox hunting in Ireland (which was then his home). Well, it could have been worse: Fox hunting is at least a component of the story, and the central stunt that reduces the film to one itself is (as far as I know) unique and definitely an affable goof.
You’ve heard of red herrings? Well, the ones here are latex. Sprinkled throughout the movie are brief appearances by well-known actors with faces buried under mounds of makeup (starting with Kirk Douglas), and at least part of the mystery has to do with our guessing who they are.
Unlike his fellow slummers — Tony Curtis, Burt Lancaster, Robert Mitchum, Frank Sinatra — Douglas is required to don multiple disguises, and his character is an integral part of the story. As a result, the movie makes no effort to disguise his identity for very long, even though it does a pretty fair job of obscuring his chin dimple.
The Adrian Messenger character (killed in a plane crash early on) had been suspicious that a series of preceding fluke-ish deaths hadn’t been accidental, which means that his own fate piques the sleuthing interest of a friend and retired British Intelligence officer played by George C. Scott.
Also on hand at a posh country estate where the mystery unreels is a widow played by an ill-used Dana Wynter (never to be forgotten as that gorgeous pod Becky Driscoll in the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers) and a marquis played by predominately ’20s and ’30s screen presence Clive Brook (his final screen appearance). As a much younger man, Brook starred with Marlene Dietrich in one of the most important Hollywood movies not on DVD — Josef von Sternberg’s 1932 cinematography Oscar winner Shanghai Express — and remains the only actor for whom I ever heard my maternal grandmother express “hots.”
From 1958’s The Barbarian and the Geisha up to the Fat City comeback 1972, much of Huston’s direction was dispiritingly slack. This is no exception, and the script doesn’t help matters by divulging Douglas as the heavy fairly early in the narrative. And yet, when the actor eventually shows up at the estate — by now, not in disguise but looking like his familiar self — to pour on what we know is phony charm, the movie gets a needed jolt of star power from one who really knows how to command a scene. Scott, of course, could as well … most times … but seems somewhat off his game here.
Even so, the gimmick keeps you watching, and the post-movie wrap-up is grand fun, when the cameo celebs yank the goop off their faces the way guests used to do on TV’s ancient “Masquerade Party” after the regular panelists guessed their identities. It has been said that doubles stood in for some or even most of the stars throughout the actual movie (and the visual evidence supports this assertion). But this cannot possibly be true of Mitchum, whose identity is so obvious when he shows up midway in that his appearance gets the biggest laugh in the movie.