I am hesitant to give this below par television movie a "4" out of "10". It had one of the best comic casts for the time (1968) in a television movie. And it was a rarity: the star was a brilliant comic who appeared in many worthy films but almost never as the star. For the star was Jonathan Winters, possibly the most inventive comedian on television between Ernie Kovaks and Winters' friend and semi-pupil Robin Williams.
For years Winters had been developing his madcap wit and humor, usually in his favorite guise of looking at some odd object like a hanger or a pith helmet and concocting the most bizarre mini-sketches imaginable. Frequently his routines would enliven even the wittiest of Jack Paar or Johnny Carson's shows. Long before MONTY PYTHON discovered that you did not have to have a formal ending to top off a sketch, Winters discovered it and would drop one improvisation for another one.
The best way to show off Winters talents (short of a well-written character part in a film, like THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING, THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING, or in THE LOVED ONE) was on a special or on a variety show. In later years he was also able to demonstrate (with Williams) he could have a weekly television role, in the concluding year of MORK AND MINDY. But the worst thing to do with Winters was to put him into a movie as the central figure without bothering to carefully plan to use his talents in the script. And that is what happened in this monstrosity.
Winters is an art curator who is handling an exhibition of a Rembrandt. He is not (as is put down in the description on this thread) an incompetent, like Rowan Atkinson's "Mr. Bean" was in a recent film. He has a history of sorts with Jack Weston, here playing also against type (the typical New Yorker, Weston is made to be a sinister rich Arab sheik here). Weston cheated Winters out of a hefty commission in procuring the sale of an art object a number of years before the film begins, and now Winters secretly contacts the Sheikh to offer him a crack at getting the Rembrandt. Weston is aware of the unusual nature of the offer, but is willing to go along with it...figuring that he is smarter than Winters and might get something for nothing again.
Winters hires a pair of eccentric artists (Steve Allen and Jayne Meadows) to paint the duplicate Rembrandt he needs for the scam he is going to perform. I remember the first scene that Allen and his wife had in the film...it was supposed to be rather daring for 1968. They are seen painting each other in the buff (of course their easels and the cameras angles are suggestive of them being naked, but the scene would be considered pretty mild today). While they are at work with their job, WInters has another worry. The valuable painting was delivered to his care while being watched by another curator, Gabrielle Monet (Luciana Palluzi). She is very intent on protecting that painting, so Winter has to preoccupy her...by romancing her.
Jonathan Winter is many things - he has played the somewhat crocked Maudy Frickett (who is about 90, but lively as a wire), and the slightly crooked King Kwazi of Kwazistan. But he has never played a romantic type. He doesn't look it (put another way...he's as romantic looking as Jack Weston was...but Weston at least once showed a happy marriage in the film THE FOUR SEASONS). To have concocted the romantic business between the attractive Ms Palluzi and Winters was ridiculous. Possibly the writers realized this too late. They kept giving Winters bits of his typical business while going out with Ms Palluzi (like taking a pair of Chinese chopsticks and converting them into impossibly large fang like teeth). The results were not amusing as they could have been in other circumstances. I have a feeling on a real date the young lady would have been bored of such behavior quite quickly.
The plot eventually becomes what is Winters up to, and will Weston be outsmarted or will he come out on top again. By the time the film reached it's climax one no longer really cared. It was that feeble a story.
It had at least three, possibly four performers in it whom I enjoy, and I even see some supporting faces that I like, such as Richard Kiel ("Jaws" in the Bond movies), Marcel Hillaire, and Roy Roberts. But the result was really second rate. So...with deepest regret...this film is only raised to a "4" for the cast members I enjoy. Otherwise it would be a troubling "2".
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