Thursday, May 17, 2012

Mrs. Pollifax—Spy (1971)

          Following in the tradition of Agatha Christie’s elderly Miss Marple character, author Dorothy Gilman introduced a sleuth of a certain age with her 1966 novel The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax, launching a lengthy book series that continued through to 2000’s Mrs. Pollifax Unveiled. In Gilman’s storyline, Mrs. Emily Pollifax is a New Jersey widow so bored with her life that she volunteers to work as a spy for the CIA, declaring herself an ideal candidate for espionage because she’s expendable. Through comic circumstance, Mrs. Pollifax ends up getting a real assignment and performing her mission beautifully, leading to a new career. It’s not surprising this material caught the attention of aging actress Rosalind Russell, whose box-office luster had faded by the early ’70s. Using an alias, Russell wrote the screenplay for the first Hollywood adaptation of Gilman’s series, clumsily titled Mrs. Pollifax—Spy, as a showcase for herself. Given Russell’s commitment to the project, it would be heartening to report she crafted an offbeat gem. Alas, not so. Directed with supreme indifference by TV hack Leslie H. Martinson, Mrs. Pollifax—Spy grinds through a series of ridiculous episodes lacking originality and tension.
          Mrs. Pollifax’s entrance into the CIA is handled so quickly that no credibility is established, and then her adventure proceeds with so little momentum that it seems as if she’s on a vacation instead of a mission. Worse, Mrs. Pollifax—Spy doesn’t have a single funny joke. Russell’s inexperience as a writer dooms every scene, because she relies on comedic clichés and long-winded dialogue when cleverness and economy would work better. In fact, the whole picture feels like a trite domestic sitcom, because Mrs. Pollifax ends up imprisoned by Soviet soldiers alongside a fellow American spy (Darren McGavin); they banter their way through repetitive scenes as if they’re lounging poolside at a resort. Although McGavin survives this movie with his mischievous charm intact, supporting players including John Beck, Dana Elcar, and Harold Gould spend their screen time spewing pointless prattle. As for Russell, she’s bland in the extreme.

Mrs. Pollifax—Spy: LAME

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