Plot Details: This opinion reveals major details about the movie's plot.
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Director John Huston will always be best known (and deservedly so) for his appearance in Chinatown (1973) and for his great films from the 1940s and 1950s. But a few lesser gems are scattered among his later films, one of the best of which is The List of Adrian Messenger (1963).
George. C. Scott and Kirk Douglas have the lead roles. Scott is a retired operative of MI5, the British security intelligence agency. He investigates the death of his friend Adrian Messenger (John Merivale), and the trail soon leads to estate heir Douglas, a master of disguises.
Supporting players include familiar faces Dana Wynter (Invasion of the Body Snatchers), Herbert Marshall, and Gladys Cooper. Clive Brook is a gregarious fox hunter, while Jacques Roux is a wealthy hedonistic businessman.
Interest is further added by the film's promotional gimmick. Several big name Hollywood stars of the era have cameo roles, with their famous faces obscured by latex masks and makeup. Robert Mitchum is easy to spot, while the viewer will have trouble finding Burt Lancaster, Tony Curtis, and Frank Sinatra.
One reason for is because these three actors allegedly did not appear in the film until the very end. Other actors, with similar makeup, stood in for the highly compensated stars until the epilogue unmasking sequence. Of course, this minor fraud does not really have any impact on the quality of the film, since the roles are so small.
Also in cameo roles were John Huston and his son Tony Huston. It was the only film role for the latter, although he did write the screenplay for his father's final directorial effort, The Dead (1987).
Although the cast was stellar, Huston nonetheless hired Paul Frees for post-production dubbing. Cartoon voice veteran Frees was known as "The Man of a Thousand Voices", and he softened the various accents of the British and French actors.
The film's suspenseful tone is lightened not only by the search for star cameos, but by Jerry Goldsmith's somewhat mocking dixieland jazz score.
Little attention was paid to The List of Adrian Messenger upon its release, and its game of "Spot the Star" distracted critics from appreciating its wit and skill. The film was not nominated for Academy Awards on either side of the Atlantic, although it likely would have been if the Best Makeup category had existed at the time.
Nonetheless, the film is quite entertaining. In particular, Kirk Douglas gets into the spirit of things, and seems to be having a great time while plotting the murder of much of the cast. Huston cagily adds a romantic triangle subplot without allowing it any denouement. The cat and mouse game between Scott and Douglas is always the true focus of the story.
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Viewing Format: VHS
Video Occasion: Fit for Friday Evening
Suitability For Children: Suitable for Children up Ages 8