Inspired by a performance of his favorite play, "Volpone," 20th-century millionaire Cecil Fox devises an intricate plan to trick three of his former mistresses into believing he is dying. ...
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Joseph L. Mankiewicz
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After yet another smash-and-grab goes wrong, a bungling trio of small-time crooks flash an idea of using a fire engine as a getaway vehicle. But they keep being mistaken for genuine firemen and it starts to become a flaming nuisance.
Inspired by a performance of his favorite play, "Volpone," 20th-century millionaire Cecil Fox devises an intricate plan to trick three of his former mistresses into believing he is dying. Although the women are wealthy in their own right, all have good reason to covet his fortune. To assist him in his scheme, Fox hires William McFly, a gigolo and sometime actor, to act as his secretary/servant. Fox is soon visited at his "deathbed" by the three former mistresses: Merle McGill, a fading Hollywood sex symbol; Princess Dominique, who once took a cruise on Fox's yacht; and Lone Star Crockett, a Texas hypochondriac who travels with an enigmatic nurse/companion. As Fox and McFly act out the charade, things take an unexpected turn from comical farce to full-blown murder mystery. Written by
Joseph L. Mankiewicz first script contained several novelties that never made it to the screen. Among them was a series of memos from a theater-chain owner (made to look as though they had been slipped in front of the projector) that commented on the action taking place. Also, there was to have been a running argument (resembling backstage squabbling) between a theater manager and the actor playing Cecil over such things as lines and cues. See more »
Coming at the end of a prosperous string of all-star mystery films, THE HONEY POT suffered more from a lame title and timing than anything on screen when first released (an even worse title, "Up Pops Murder" didn't help when the film was first released to television).
The typically superb script and direction from Joseph L. Mankiewicz, from a play by mystery writer Frederick Knott, inspired in turn by Ben Johnson's classic play, VOLPONE, THE HONEY POT could not have had a better cast with Rex Harrison (at the top of his game) as the supposedly super-wealthy Cecil Fox mentally tilting with his secretary, Cliff Robertson, and a nosy nurse/love interest for Robertson, a very young Maggie Smith (younger viewers may be interested to see this very different performance from HARRY POTTER's Professor McGonagall - as well as her amazing Desdemona opposite Olivier's OTHELLO) and a trio of ex-loves, Edie Adams, Cappucine and Susan Hayward all in Fox's beautiful Venetian palatzo (the exterior shots are as gorgeous and the interiors).
A death happens (accident? perhaps murder?) and a Venetian police inspector, Adolfo Celi, enters the picture (lovely side note as his family at home is enraptured with PERRY MASON on American TV more than his real-life work) and the film starts to leave Ben Johnson's Volpone behind and delve into more complex games.
To be frank, this film has long been among my favorites - I have been accused of teaching an entire university course on Mystery Writers just to develop an audience for it. Showing the film at the conclusion of the course, after considering the progression of great mystery writing from Poe to Conan Doyle to Christie, Hammett and beyond, this marvelous under-appreciated work from Knott & Mankiewicz never fails to grab them. It's well worth a look for anyone interested in good literate fun, great performances and writing that don't depend on splatter gore, special effects or CGI.
While the ongoing box-office clout of stars Harrison and Hayward got the film a limited VHS release, it's hard to a copy today - but well worth the search.
Wonderful film...if only it had a better title.
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