DATELINE: Art Buchwald Satire
Mitzi & Noël sing and dance!
Sir Noël, showman and epitome of the English gentleman, made a plethora of movies from the late 1950s to the late 1960s. He only turned down playing Dr. No in the James Bond spy movie.
From Our Man in Havana to the Italian Job, he lent his delectable presence in costarring roles. In 1960 he went opposite Yul Brynner in the Stanley Donen comedy called Surprise Package.
The big surprise is that it was written by satirist Art Buchwald, though you would never know it. Our favorite humorist seems lost in this adapted script.
Apart from the delicious scenes between mobster Nico March (Yul) and the deposed and exiled King Pavel the Patient (Noël), the movie is not really funny or smart. However, every time you find Brynner and Coward in matchup mode, there is something extraordinary going on.
You almost have the sense that the film was meant for someone else: perhaps James Cagney, to shoot dialogue like a machine gun. Mitzi Gaynor seems to be playing Judy Holiday. Brynner is on top of it, impressive as always.
No one else in movies could have played the deadpan, throwaway lines like Noël Coward. He’s in his own movie world, like Mae West. The rest of the cast is along for the ride.
Coward steals every moment on camera, like the master showman he always was. He could depose Burton and Taylor in Boom, and so going up against Yul Brynner shortly before the Magnificent Seven might have amused Noël.
It’s a soufflé, for sure, and perhaps the success of Donen brought Coward in for the Greek isle locations shooting.
Yul had just finished another comedy with Donen, and likely enjoyed the change of pace from epical heroes and villains.
Surprise Package would be a bad TV movie nowadays with execrable actors. However, when the legends at the top of their game deign to appear in silly roles, you must pay attention.