Tuesday, February 12, 2013

11 Harrowhouse (1974)



The title of actor/humorist Charles Grodin’s first memoir, It Would Be So Nice if You Weren’t Here, stems from the making of this caper film. In the book, Grodin recalls that he and costar Candice Bergen were killing downtime by chatting in a lovely room of a large English estate where the production was shooting. Then a representative from the estate discovered the actors and explained they’d ventured into an off-limits space: “It would be so nice if you weren’t here,” the representative said. If only the film had as much dry humor as Grodin’s anecdote. Instead, 11 Harrowhouse is a moderately diverting picture elevated by charming performers but weighed down by a flat screenplay. Grodin plays Howard Chesser, a diamond merchant drawn into a criminal enterprise involving the theft of a valuable jewel from a high-security facility. Bergen plays Howard’s girlfriend, who aids in the crime, and the great James Mason plays an unlikely accomplice. (Other veteran British actors in the cast include John Gielgud and Trevor Howard, both droll in their distinctive ways.) Adapted from Gerald A. Browne’s novel by Grodin himself, and polished into a final script by Jeffrey Bloom, 11 Harrowhouse aspires to soft-spoken pithiness of a veddy British sort, which would seem to suit Grodin’s reserved screen persona. Unfortunately, the onscreen events aren’t quite novel enough to sustain interest, and Grodin lacks onscreen counterpoint—he’s best when bouncing his deadpan energy off an expressive costar, but in 11 Harrowhouse, everyone is as taciturn as Grodin. The result is monotony, even when the story twists and turns through clever-ish developments. Further, the script doesn’t withhold enough information from the audience, so there aren’t many surprises; thus, even when the execution of a complex crime is shown, the only tension derives from the possibility of error. One misses the fun of discovering an imaginative scheme as it unfolds. 11 Harrowhouse isn’t a total bust, of course—how could it be, with so much talent involved?—but it badly wants for an injection of vitality.

11 Harrowhouse: FUNKY

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