Preminger’s Last Film

DATELINE: Graham Greene Spy Novel!

 Robert Morley.

Based on a Graham Greene novel, this movie is the ultimate in dry British style. In some ways it is the antithesis of what you’d expect from James Bond or George Smiley. There is really no action, but it is hilarious in its microcosmic scenes.

The Human Factoris a far-cry from the action flicks Preminger gave us fromLaura  to Stalag 17  to Bunny Lake is Missing,and on and on. Preminger’s list of credits is astounding. So, this may be a bit of a shock to fans who may think the old master had lost it in old age.

The cast is nothing short of dead-pan marvelous: Nicol Williamson, John Gielgud, Derek Jacobi, Richard Attenborough, and Robert Morley in fine fettle.

It’s 1979 and there is a leak in security at the MI-5 HQ. Maybe it’s serious, and maybe they are just over-reacting—think of Kim Philby.

Preminger just lets the actors downplay. As for the plot, it has to do with Britain’s involvement in apartheid Africa, which is lost on most American audiences. Flashbacks a decade earlier show Williamson with his beautiful African wife, Imam. You know it’s a flashback because he doesn’t have a mustache.

In between the dull parts, you have Robert Morley mugging at the girls in a strip bar, most unconvincingly but comic for sure. It’s all veddy-veddy British.

It is almost quaint to see the simple tools of spying, dropped off messages, phone calls on land-lines, and simple codes.

Noted actress Ann Todd appears in a pivotal, harsh role as Williamsson’s mother toward the end—and the defector games seem almost like Edward Snowden modern.

Otto Preminger’s low-budget effort is in a minor key, but he stayed active and possibly relevant, even in his final movie directing.






Unloved One, Disrespected Then and Now


 John Gielgud played a dead man twice in 1965, here with his dedicated mortician, Mr. Joyboy (Rod Steiger) in a scene that has to be seen in The Loved One.

Back in 1965, on the heels of Dr. Strangelove, dark comedy was all the rage.

So, Evelyn Waugh’s The Loved One came to be produced. It was a scandalous tale about the funeral industry. And, it billed its tagline as the movie to offend everyone.

The first offense came with Robert Morse, a kind of all-American nerd who played a British national moving to Hollywood. He had so much trouble with his English accent that they had to record his lines and sync them in later.

The rest of the cast is brilliant—from Rod Steiger as Mr. Joyboy, an effeminate mortician, to Liberace as the coffin salesman. The roles seem reversed with those two.

John Gielgud played a dead body for the second time that year (first being in Woman of Straw). He proved to be a pliable and expressive dead man.

The end result resembles the end of Von Aschenbach in Death in Venice.


Other notables dot the entire production, making it fun to see the stars doing a cameo turn. Yet, the overall effect is neither offensive, nor witty. As written by Christopher Isherwood and Terry Southern, the tale seems full of sound and fury, written by the cottage industry scripters of the age.

Tony Richardson directed right off his highly entertaining and Oscar winning Tom Jones. He should have quit while he was ahead. But, to see Jonathan Winters in his young prime wanting to shoot the stiffs into outer space is worth every moment. He plays dual roles, becoming an American Peter Sellers here.

When an elderly British artist hangs himself as the studio fires him, his nephew has a Fellini 8&aHalf trip to make the funeral arrangements. Actually the scenes in the Forest Lawn mockup look like Last Year at Marienbad.

The tour of Whispering Glades cemetery takes up a goodly amount of time to the strains of Wagner’s Tristan & Iseult in a Disneyland for the Dead.

Black and white and black comedy all over, it won’t make you laugh, but it will drop your jaw now and then. Whether you like it or not, or whether it is fine cinema or not, you should see it.

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