Inspired by a performance of his favorite play, "Volpone," twentieth century millionaire Cecil Fox (Sir Rex Harrison) 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 (Cliff Robertson), 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 (Edie Adams), a fading Hollywood sex symbol; Princess Dominique (Capucine), who once took a cruise on Fox's yacht; and Mrs. Lone Star Crockett Sheridan (Susan Hayward), a Texas hypochondriac who travels with an enigmatic nurse/companion (Dame Maggie Smith). As Fox and McFly act out the charade, things take an unexpected turn from comical farce to full-blown murder mystery.Written by
Loosely based on "Volpone," a play by Ben Johnson, Joseph L. Mankiewicz's literate, yet complex film, "The Honey Pot," is an often overlooked gem from the 1960's. Ensconced in his lavish Venetian palazzo, Cecil Fox devises an elaborately staged game to play on three of his former paramours. Hiring a handsome stage manager named McFly, he writes a letter to each woman telling her that he is on his death bed and she could be heiress to his estate. Needless to say, each arrives in Venice with an expensive gift and a desire to rekindle the fire with Fox. Each woman brings a time piece, and the theme of passing time is woven throughout the film.
The film was the second successful collaboration between Mankiewicz and Rex Harrison, the first producing Harrison's Oscar-nominated performance in "Cleopatra." Harrison is a sly delight as Fox, a devious, manipulative schemer, whose dreams of being a dancer send him flitting flamboyantly around his bed chamber; in keeping with the film's theme, he even cavorts to "The Dance of the Hours." Cliff Robertson is McFly, a man with a checkered past, who stages the deception with ambiguous motives of his own. The three objects of Fox's deceit are played by Susan Hayward, Capucine, and Edie Adams. Hayward's Mrs. Lone Star Crockett Sheridan is the most colorful, and her tough-talking Texan character is missed when she is off-screen. Capucine's Princess Dominque is properly cool and regal, and Adams's Merle McGill is crass and common. In a role that resembles her work in "The V.I.P's," Maggie Smith is the under-estimated brains among the group; as Sarah Watkins, nurse-companion to Mrs. Sheridan, Smith is described by Fox as "the bouncy one," and she is indeed.
"The Honey Pot" may be too slow and wordy for those nursed on Marvel Comics super heroes, but patient viewers have much to relish. Mankiewicz won Oscars for his biting screenplays for "All About Eve" and "A Letter to Three Wives," and also won nominations for writing "Skippy," "No Way Out," and "The Barefoot Contessa." His sharp and witty dialog is deliciously delivered by Harrison and Hayward in particular, who have the best lines; however, the entire cast, which includes four Oscar winners, does well, and each has his or her moments. Gianni Di Venanzo's well rendered cinematography of Venice and of the rich interiors of Fox's palace is colorful, and John Addison's score enhances the proceedings. Boasting excellent technical credits, a sterling cast, and a script and direction by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, "The Honey Pot" offers solid entertainment for discerning viewers and a few twists and surprises to keep everyone attentive until the end.
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