Savage Haiti of ‘Papa Doc’ Upstages Characterization in ‘Comedians’ – By Clifford Terry (Chicago Tribune 1967)

Chicago Tribune – Tuesday November 14, 1967 – Page 37

  • Savage Haiti of ‘Papa Doc’ Upstages Characterization in ‘Comedians’
  • By Clifford Terry
The Comedians 1967 lobby card

The savage stage upon which “The Comedians” strut and fret their pathetic parts is the island of Haiti, that harbor of hate stuck in the middle of Tourist Land and dominated by the sound and fury of “Papa Doc” Duvalier.

Elizabeth Taylor and Peter Ustinov in The Comedians 1967

Onto this set have been built the props, cemented in power and poverty: political purges, dungeons, blackouts, firing-squad reprisals, intimidation and murder, and 5,000 sunglass-concealed, strong-arm sadists known as the Tonton, the Carribean counterpart of the Gestapo. From offstage obscurity, enter the personae, fitted with the simplest of names, unknowingly cast as charade cogs absurdly and pitifully floundering in the midst of games tyrant play: Brown [Richard Burton], the wry, witty owner of a hand-me-down hotel in Port-au-Prince and an outspoken Duvalier detractor; Martha [Elizabeth Taylor], Brown’s lover and wife of a weak-willed diplomat [Peter Ustinov]; Jones [Alec Guiness], a shifty –British munitions profiteer who thrives on nostalgic war stories about how he won the Burma campaign; and Smith [Paul Ford], a candidate in the 1948 American Presidential election [on the Vegetarian ticket], and his surprisingly spunky wife [Lillian Gish].

Paul Ford and Lillian Gish – Still frame from ‘The Comedians’ 1967

As the film progresses, it becomes evident that circumstance has upstaged characterization [in spite of some rather tidily-packaged soul-searching], as Novelist-Script-Writer Graham Greene calls upon blood and brutality, violence and voodoo, to powerfully portray what’s up with Papa Doc.

Peter Glenville – The Comedians 1967

Altho dragging a bit in its last laps, the two-and-one-half-hour “Comedians” nonetheless is a good, solid film, showing the best side of Director Peter Glenville [“Becket”], who has erased the bad taste of his last attempt “Hotel Paradiso.” While the entire cast give fine performances, honors belong to Burton, who keeps on top of the most important role – the apparently strong, unbending Englishman who really is as insecure as his fellow fumblers, whose words about “no faith in faith” give way to reluctant action as he leads a quixotic coup against the despots.

Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton on set – The Comedians 1967

Looking remarkably lovely and svelte [especially after her broad-beamed shots in “Virginia Woolf” and “Reflections in a Golden Eye”], and speaking with some kind of an accent which turns out to be German, Miss Taylor does quite well in spite of a part that is closer in challenge to “The V.I.P.’s” than her latest roles.

The Comedians 1967 poster MGM one sheet

As the Babbitty business man, Guiness is an excellent, transcending one of those illusion-into-reality character changes that has become extremely overworked. And in a bit of offbeat casting, Ustinov is remarkably weak and sensitive in portraying the cuckold’s laissez-faire lethargy.

Lillian Gish in “The Comedians” – Photo Gallery

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