Sunday 9 October 2022

Movie Review: The List Of Adrian Messenger (1963)

A detective crime drama, The List Of Adrian Messenger is an initially decent but ultimately wayward whodunnit, cluttered by disguised celebrity stunt appearances.

The Marquis of Gleneyre (Clive Brook) hosts popular fox hunts at his English estate. At the end of one hunt, Adrian Messenger (John Merivale) seeks help from retired intelligence agent Anthony Gethryn (George C. Scott) to investigate a list of recently deceased men. Messenger himself is then killed when his flight is destroyed by a suitcase bomb. Gethryn teams up with his old pal Raoul Le Borg (Jacques Roux), who survived the airline bombing and heard Messenger's final words. Messenger's cousin Jocelyn (Dana Wynter) is also eager to help, fearing for the life of her young son Derek.

Gethryn and Le Borg race to locate the men on the list who are still alive. But the last to die is Slattery (Robert Mitchum) who survived longest because of subterfuge. Gethryn deduces the victims are linked by their wartime exploits in Burma. The suave George Brougham (Kirk Douglas) then shows up at Gleneyre claiming to be the Marquis' nephew from Canada. Gethryn has to keep young Derek safe while finding a way to expose the murderer.

Written by Philip MacDonald and directed by John Huston, The List Of Adrian Messenger also "stars" Burt Lancaster, Tony Curtis, and Frank Sinatra in small and essentially walk-on roles. They join Mitchum and Douglas under cakes of makeup, although how much each participated in filming is open for debate. Regardless, they all appear after "the End" to rip off the facemasks and smile at the camera. The stunt casting doubtless increased audience appeal, but only distracts from an already middling Agatha Christie-type mystery.

The first half adequately engages by establishing the puzzle of what connects the dead men, with all the killings made to look like accidents. Messenger's cryptic final words are carried by Le Borg to set the investigation on its way. But Huston then seems to lose interest, and after the last man dies, the back-end deflates. Endless scenes are occupied by one foxhunt after another, the drama and tension seeping out of the film with every yapping hound and galloping horse. By this stage the villain's identity is strongly suspected, and yet they are allowed to carry on with plotting murders instead of being hauled off for a thorough interrogation.

A none-too-serious undercurrent helps the mood, with a sense that all the actors are playing British uppercrust dress-up, the elaborate celebrity disguises just an extreme version of the airs everyone puts on. Scott does not try for an English accent but still holds the centre together, although he is established as a cerebral investigator then robbed of a satisfying showdown with his foe. The rest of the actual cast members in the form of Jacques Roux and Dana Wynter don't contribute much beyond the initial exchanges of a tepid romance.

The List Of Adrian Messenger is intriguing as a premise, but trots towards the wrong field.

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