Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Let's Go on an Adventure(er)!

The notorious 1969 howler The Adventurers (based on a Harold Robbins novel) can be called many things: long, tasteless, idiotic, even dull to some folks, but it can never be called cheap. This is an expensive and often, visually anyway, quite impressive saga with many glorious scenic views and jaw-dropping interior locations. Stargazers like myself can also take pleasure in the parade of internationally known faces that pop up throughout. A rather racy film in its day, it includes plentiful violence, some nudity and even rape, among other things. The poster, incidentally, has artwork taken from a naked, poolside love scene, but someone has dicreetly drawn "bathing suit" lines on the bodies!
The story concerns Dax Xenos who, as a boy (Loris Loddi, the star of the film for the first thirty minutes), witnesses the savage slaughter of his mother and sister at the hands of soldiers in his native country of Corteguay (a sort of made-up stand-in for Colombia or similar South American nation.) His father (Fernando Rey), a revolutionary, assists the new leader Alan Badel in rising to power and taking over the nation, but pays the price when his family is slain in retaliation.

The murders ignite a hatred in the boy, who very quickly becomes a man and opens fire on some of the captive enemies. He is placed in the home of Badel where he begins to get to know his daughter, who is close to him in age. Unfortunately, that compound is attacked and the two children must flee, eventually undertaking a horrendous journey through rugged terrain. They form a bond with each other that lasts, in some way or another, for the rest of their lives.

He is sent away to boarding school where he initially fights with, but eventually forms lifelong friendships with, two other boys of privilege. The three young men remain closely knit for the rest of their days, first as schoolmates, then as playboys, then as entrepreneurs. (If young Loddi looks at all familiar, he played Caesarian, Elizabeth Taylor's son, in the epic Cleopatra several years earlier.)

Cut to a dozen or so years later and Dax (now played by Bekim Fehmiu) is an idle, polo-playing ladies man in Rome who has practically forgotten about the long ago savagery in Corteguay. He pursues the lovely Delia Boccardo (or, rather, she pursues him!) However, when new events in his homeland draw his attention, he sets out to earn enough money to exact revenge and begin yet a new regime in the endlessly war-torn country.

What better way to earn dough than to rent himself out as a gigolo to rich American wives such as Olivia de Havilland?! That's actually only step one in his plan. He uses the money from that enterprise to help build a fashion house (!) with his dethroned, Russian-royal schoolmate Thommy Berggren. When even that takes too long, he sets his sites on pretty American heiress Candice Bergen, who he meets through de Havilland, but once again he falls off the track of his ultimate goal until he finds that he has more to fight for than just his homeland. His childhood sweetheart (now played by Leigh Taylor-Young) displays to him what he needs in order to reignite his fighting spirit and rebuild Corteguay.

This is a sprawling story from an even more sprawling book. The posters and ads proclaimed the fact that “nothing has been left out of The Adventurers,” but, in truth, plenty was omitted despite a long running time. (It had to be or the film would have run six hours!) The still photo shown here to the left is from a scene of the movie itself that was “left out!” Also, a chunk of Fehmiu's life is skipped over and two of his marriages aren't even shown!, but it could have been whittled down just a little if the opening scenes had been streamlined and some of the unwieldy battle sequences shortened a bit. As it stands, viewers tuning in for the action scenes are bored by the soap opera histrionics while lovers of camp and over-the-top melodrama are bored by all the explosions and gunplay.

However, for those willing to wait out the bad for the good (no matter which is which), there are a few things here worth seeing. The cinematography of the film, by Claude Renoir, is magnificent. He also photographed Barbarella and The Spy Who Love Me among many others. The scenery, the production design, the lighting, the decor and the costumes are all eye-catching. (Production design is by the same man who did 2001: A Space Odyssey.) Lawrence of Arabia’s Oscar-winner Anne Coates did the editing, though she could have pruned even more if you ask me. The battle scenes are well done and the amount of extras used is staggering to behold. Long before CGI came along, someone had to wrangle the thousands of people present in the various scenes shown here and it pays off magnificently. The director also helmed three James Bond films among many others in his lengthy career (though they aren’t considered the very best ones by too many fans: You Only Live Twice, The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker.)
As for the acting... Fehmiu is legendarily bad. He has a few effective moments, but is nowhere near appealing and multidimensional enough to carry a role like this in a film like this! Considered by many to be an attractive and virile (if wooden) leading man, he is something of a hatchet face with a lean, well-defined body. The character is never completely likable, but is made even less so by having such an uncharismatic, sullen, inexpressive person in the lead. He has two love scenes that are riotous. One with Boccardo by a pool has him surrounded by almost voyeuristic statues leering and looming and another with Bergen in a steamy, exotic greenhouse has genetalia-esque plants hovering and staring! Fehmiu’s character (allegedly based in part on Porfirio Rubirosa) was first offered to George Hamilton and Alain Delon, both of whom turned it down.

Bergen is very uneven. Her early scenes are a bit awkward, her middle scenes better, but her later ones are hysterically awful as she inexplicably affects a bizarre accent that comes out of nowhere and she wanders around as if lobotomized. She is undeniably lovely, however, most of the time. Her wedding gown is very unusual, but I like it a lot. As she slips further into mental deterioration, she still remains quite glamorous. In fact, this shot of her in black is probably, for me, about the best she ever looked. I love the tousled bedroom hair (I was never much of a fan of her blow-dried Murphy Brown look.) Her character is inspired by heiress Barbara Hutton and the role was first offered to Mia Farrow, who also took a pass on the rather sordid script.

She and Fehmiu have one of the all-time loony courtship montages, something that was (and I guess still is!) a popular component of any cinematic love story. They are shown strolling together, bicycling, buying balloons and other usual stuff, but then there’s a shot of her biting into a massive shank of watermelon with no regard for the juice, seeds or anything, as she makes a big ol’ mess! (You really do need to click the photo and enlarge to see how disgusting it really is...) Her character remains a virgin until her 21st birthday, an occasion marked by a splediferous celebration, topped off by the aforementioned hothouse rutting session. Bergen also has one of the all-time crazy miscarriages, which, unfortunately, is more hysterically funny than sad, thanks to the circumstances, the styling, the music and the (obvious) male stuntman who takes the hit!

Ernest Borgnine, who plays Fehmiu's longtime personal bodyguard and friend, is ludicrous in sound and appearance at first, being completely miscast, but, fortunately, improves greatly as the film wears on. His initial scenes have him in a preposterous $4.99 brown Halloween wig, but that gives way to a more natural appearance in the later scenes. In one section of the film, he and Fehmiu are reunited after a long while and Borgnine, in a dress suit, is grappled by a dripping wet Fehmiu in teeny navy blue trunks. Fehmiu goes wild, embracing him and even hopping on his back and riding him like a bull for a moment!

De Havilland (still showing off quite a trim figure atthis juncture) does what is probably the closest thing she ever had to a nude scene, with only a sheet thrown over one shoulder as she romances Fehmiu and, at one point, a sliver of outer breast exposed as he snuggles up to her in bed. Her elegant character longs for the affection she doesn’t receive from her husband John Ireland. (Ireland, by the way, only appears in one scene, with his hands in his pockets for nearly the entire time, revealing something quite petrifying going on down below. No wonder Joan Crawford liked to take very long lunches with him during their movies together!) Anyway, Olivia manages to get through the movie relatively unscathed, as does Rossano Brazzi in a smallish role as one of Rey's Roman contacts and the father of Boccardo (though in one scene Brazzi has the dubious honor of having to traipse through a mansion full of strategically naked young people, worn out after a night of heavy partying and carousing!) Taylor-Young is handed a fairly colorless role, but is able to bring a little heart and appeal to it. She always drives me crazy due to her affinity for whispering every one of her lines, but at least she’s easy on the eyes. Ali MacGraw was offered this part and wisely said no thanks!

Charles Aznavour, one of France’s most beloved singing and acting personalities, has a sizeable role as one of Fehmiu’s business associates. He doesn’t perform any songs this time out. One hilarious camp highlight of the film is his secret den of iniquity, which, truly, must be seen to be believed. Words cannot do justice to the red velvet carpet, wrought iron and female nude statuary/furniture that combine to make up his soundproofed lust nest. He winds up regretting that he ever constructed the whole thing, however. One of his many female companions is (real life) opera singer Anna Moffo, who warbles part of a song as Berggren asks, “Is she that loud in bed?” Moffo, an American born child of Italian immigrants did quite a bit of work in Italy, including hosting a television program of her own from 1960 to 1973, which helped bring opera to the casual viewing audience.
Berggren, by the way, was a very popular Swedish actor who worked a few years prior to this in the highly successful Elvira Madigan and later worked with Ingmar Bergman-scripted Sunday's Children. He plays the friend who designs all the crazy clothes for the fashion house. Check out the hat his paying customer has on here, one of two she displays in her brief part in the film! It looks like it was designed by Mister Softee.

Another sequence not to be missed by any fan of 60's culture is the preposterous, ludicrous and thoroughly irresistible second fashion show (complete with it's "plethora" of seven outfits!) As the planet's funkiest song radiates across a flashing dance floor, the models thrash around in a wide array of styles that seem highly unlikely to be part of a particular “collection.” Their choreography is scream-out-loud hysterical. All sorts of people have gathered together to witness this rib-tickling spectacle that is more performance art than runway show.

Cinema fashion shows are always a riot because the style is antiquated sometimes as early as the film's release date and this one is high in the pantheon of rancidness and wondrousness. Reporting on the clothes is none other than "Teen Magazine reporter" Jaclyn Smith in one of her very earliest roles! I said second fashion show because there is an earlier one set inside a cave (!) with footmen and chariots bringing each model to the audience area (I am not making this up!) That one is hooty as well, but can’t hope to measure up to the one with the pulsating disco lights and throaty rock song.
The Adventurers is long, it's tacky, it's wacky and it's empty-headed, but it's also stylish, attractive, intriguing and quite a treat for fans of all-star casts and hopeless kitsch. Robbins’ pulpy novels were really best suited to the miniseries format where a few of them wound up such as 79 Park Avenue and The Dream Merchants. Typically, when his novels were adapted for the big screen, such as in The Carpetbaggers, Where Love Has Gone, The Betsy or The Lonely Lady, hilarity ensued, though that’s fine by me, too! I devour each of those wedges of cinematic cheese with relish.


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