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Joseph L. Mankiewicz
A quartet of international crooks -- Peterson, O'Hara, Ross and Ravello -- is stranded in Italy while their steamer is being repaired. With them are the Dannreuthers. The six are headed for Africa, presumably to sell vacuum cleaners but actually to buy land supposedly loaded with uranium. They are joined by others who apparently have similar designs. Written by
Ed Stephan <firstname.lastname@example.org>
I'm surprised at the lack of positive reviews written here for this witty film-noir spoof. The movie is certainly conceived in standard noir fashion, based on a story about colonial exploitation which is ripe with opportunity for double-dealing and triple-crossing, and populated with a cast of stereotypical film-noir characters. But then something strange happens. It's as if the characters are given self-awareness. Because these would all be boring and mundane people in real life, they live out their fantasies by embracing the limited nature of their scripted alter-egos and playing them to the extreme. This is how superficial, cardboard-thin film-noir characters might behave if forced to live in the real world without a script to guide them.
The story is about several travelers who meet in port while waiting for a ship to take them to Africa. Three unlikely criminals - "the committee" - are on their way to pull off a uranium swindle. Their hired agent, Dannreuther, is the reluctant but ever capable leading man, married to a beautiful young Italian who dreams of being English. Harry Chelm is English to the point of absurdity. He is every bit the exaggerated epitome of a British aristocrat, except that he lacks the wealth and title to actually be one. His wife, a charming mythomaniac, manages to convince everyone else otherwise.
Complications arise when this group is confined to a small port and then to an even smaller ship. The three criminals scurry about like a pack of mismatched meerkats. Robert Morley is absolutely hilarious as the criminal mastermind cursed with a face and body completely incapable of hiding even the smallest emotion. Peter Lorre has some wonderful scenes playing an unflappable, philosophical German named O'Hara. Jennifer Jones, Gina Lollobrigida, and Edward Underdown deliver outstanding comedic performances while Bogart effortlessly cycles through every leading character he's ever portrayed.
I don't think it will spoil the film to point out that the uranium deal is nothing but a MacGuffin. The real value of this movie is the understated comic situations and mannerisms which arise when the characters are allowed to break free from the restraints of standard film-noir style. They do so in a totally natural manner using their own self-awareness but still restricted by the limited personalities and abilities of the stereotypes they represent. The results are unique, unpredictable, and completely charming.
10 of 13 people found this review helpful.
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