Yes, Dame Agatha Christie could have made a tentacular mystery out of this situation. A dozen or so people in an isolated setting, and somebody is knocking them off, one by one. Come to think of it, Christie already has. As I remember, it was called "And Then There Were None," or, under its original, racist cognomen, "Ten Little N******." Eleanor Parker is the doyenne of the high fashion world, or at any rate she used to be. She's terribly rich and now is determined to make a come back but has become a career juice head. Her name is Regine Danton, the first phoneme uses a French-like uvular "r". She hires Jessica Walters' modeling agency to provide the slinky bodies to show off her new line of clothing -- designed in secret by one of her resentful flunkies. She invites potential buyers to the big show at her mountain-top retreat. The vast estate can be reached only by cable car -- which promptly breaks down after everyone arrives -- or by a perilous trip climbing up or down the mountain.
The first model, Candy, drops dead after applying some "lip gloss" -- that's "lipstick" to you and me -- that contains enough cyanide to kill an elephant, let alone a skinny young girl. Moral: Never lick your lips. If you have to lick lips, lick somebody else's. The second sylphid expires after spraying her hair with a can of Army nerve gas. Those two murders are worthy of Agatha Christie, but thereafter the homicides turn rather humdrum. There's -- let me think -- a hanging, a bashing out of brains, a neck broken with a single blow, and some unidentified methods as the corpses begin to pile up.
So WHODUNNIT? That's the kind of movie this is, full of television stars and movie personalities on a downward career trajectory. You can't possibly CARE about any of the characters. You just wait to see who will be bumped off next. And principally you wait for the murderer to be exposed.
Is it the lovely Connie Sellecca, with her bland beauty and that nose that seems to have been designed using a set of plastic French curves left over from high school geometry? She's certainly ambitious enough to knock off her rivals. Or could it be Clive Revill, who is "not interested in women" and would like to steal away Regine's hunky young subordinate who does the actual designs? Maybe it's Gretchen Corbett, angry at the others because she's been "fat" and called "a dog" all her life. (I wasn't convinced but then baseness is in the eye of the beholder.) There's a lesbian big-game hunter in the group, and a sullen and stupid would-be rapist too. Well, hell, any one of them could have done it. The arrival of a sheriff helps not at all. He's a little sneaky too.
Why go on? The movie is a shambles. I understand femininity is determined partly by the XX genes of the individual, but this movie seems to be informed by XXXXXXXX genes. If I were John Wayne, I'd protest that this is a movie fer WIMMIN. Where's the Y factor? And actually I couldn't care less about Regine's new line of hand-sewn, crepe-oriented, peplums with just a touch of Oriental elegance in the mixolydian mode. Even if I DID, I wouldn't have been able to see them because all the images are so dark.
It would have been an improvement if the writers had simply turned this mystery into the comedy it so yearns to be. Eleanor Parker's overacting is outrageous. On the phone, speaking to someone she's trying to coax a favor out of, her voice takes on the contours of a roller coaster. She caresses herself, her steely bouffant hair, her arms, her chest. When she meets Jessica Walters -- the two women hate each other -- they spout effusions and kiss the air, mwah, beside each other's cheeks while rolling eyes and wearing moues that are simply delicious in their design and properly accessorized.
Decent acting awards go to (envelope, please): Jessica Walters for not humiliating herself more than the script demands; John Rubenstein for being merely flavorless rather than sickening; Gretchen Corbett for allowing her striking features to be filmed unflatteringly; and Seamon Glass for having the most interesting name. The Big Reveal is the epitome of stupidity.
You know what might have given this extraordinarily sloppy and ill-considered movie some élan? Let's see all those beautiful young women changing their wardrobes, bathing, and whatever else they might do that would introduce some gratuitous nudity. John Wayne would have approved, although he wouldn't have admitted it.
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